“For seeing life is but a motion of limbs, the beginning whereof is in some principal part within, why may we not say that all automata (engines that move themselves by springs and wheels as doth a watch) have an artificial life?” Thomas Hobbes
Hobbes poses a hypothetical question here which is an over simplification, yet gets at a notion
in contemporary thought which is broadening the boundaries of what is capable in the evolving
contemporary technocentric context. Engines that move themselves, programs that evolve and create
new designs, algorithmic mechanisms in society mediating and disseminating the information we
consume, all point in the direction of an artificial life, a virtual life. Hobbes is talking of automata at a time when foundations in scientific thought are being constructed and the math and physics of gravity itself were being postulated on by minds such as Hooke, Newton and Hailey. The question of do machines have an artificial life has evolved to how much life can we imbue upon machines? Languages of code and processing power of computer chips are burgeoning forward into a heightened frenzy of ios updates and outmoded power jacks. Artificial life and the virtual world are bottom-up accelerating the pace of our real lives and in this acceleration we grasp for purchase of a present that is more and more paradoxically dissipating into the hazy future. As an artist navigating this acceleration in society and technology I am faced with a seemingly insurmountable sea of information. I am obliged to swim in these streams in order to find my way, develop my context and improve my knowledge. I must be connected in order to be contemporary or relevant. A foundation of this new contemporary condition is found in the algorithms that permeate our societies flow and function. In this paper I will look at this flow and function. I will detail a selection of artists that use algorithms in their work intentionally and I will look at others who don't. I will talk a bit on the relationship of the creative process with technology. I will entertain the notion that perception of reality and all decision making can be seen as an algorithmic process and that when related to the mechanism of sight and neuron collaboration between the eye and brain, highlights basic issues with our own perception. I will continue this path and ask how we can imbue artificial intelligence into machines when our own mechanism of vision/perception are based on faulty hardware in collaboration with reconstructive software. To end the paper, a dialogue on the creative process and a customary tale of how the ghost snuck out of the machine.
How are Algorithms affecting us on a daily basis? We are either subject to, a participant with or
designer of an algorithm. Through categorization we are placed on consensus sheets and statistic
reports, the bills we pay represent the usages we utilize or squander. We are parts of a larger system which at any given moment in time can hone in on nebulous information on the web to exact any number of details, actions, characteristics and likes of any one particular part. The media we gaze upon has an exacting way of gazing back. We are algorithmically blocked into categories by our very consumption and movements through media. The constant classification and categorization of the part (individual) in the whole (society) serves to assert the overall systems stability and authority or lack there of. Algorithms are employed to control, surveill, and manipulate society. Google and Facebook have done everything in their power to embrace and facilitate the open net, freeing information through democratizing it, but this has been a double edged sword as we are then made vulnerable as everything we do is collected/categorized and open. The pervasive nature of algorithmic reality in our daily lives via societal conditioning, heightened technological connectivity, and ultra-efficient means for information transfer could possibly be transforming our own conception of awareness. The Algorthmic reality is a term here i want use to express the ubiquitous nature of algorithms involvement in society. The accumulating Information glut can be accommodated for as we shift from humans with spears to humans with multiple computers and an invisible connection to everybody and possibly everything. The problem is that these new spears come with the magic ability for hitting a mark on the other side of the world and even on others. The virtual world we coexist with has been filled with Hobbess automata and web bots are crawling around the cloud doing the work of millions of people, collecting info and predicting our own real futures. Humanity has automated the spear and has sharpened both ends. So what then? Are we falling into a surreal universe of highly adaptive potential and ability or getting co-opted by a device centric technosphere? One telling characteristic of the Internet is the presence of predictave modeling, harnessing data and texts across the internet into hypothetical scenarios rated on possibility and logic. The automaton is now a collection of thousands of millions of bit-bound automatons collecting data and accumulating created predictions of the future. To answer Hobbes, yes it does, the watch has an artificial life, but it is palpable and as real as our own in the sense that it is intertwined in almost all aspects of our lives with very real consequences. Some notable artistworks and visualisations have utilized crowd sourcing and analytics data of the web in novel ways for creative means but I dont want to concentrate on the currrent creative strides reached in the technosphere. I will continue to detail a selection of arists who exemplify to me the basic logic and ideals of algorithmic art.
“Form is set by the process of giving form, which is more important than the form itself.” Paul Klee
Wassily Kandinsky and Paul Klee shared similar idealogies on the synthesis of art and wrote
extensivly on their explorative creative practice. They both championed “the necessary, simultaneous
application of intuition and calculation” in the process of making. Kandinsky spoke of the goal of art to exist as “the Great Synthesis” of form and content while employing multiple modalities of human experience. Klee contended that the dynamic process or genesis of an art form follows a biological model or is a composition of forms that adhere to a type of organic computation. In Klees emphasise on using analyses to set our selves in motion to construct a synthesis, he is following an algorithmic model.He is taking content and forming a synthesis through action. This is the basis of algorithmic design. When comparing these two artists works to Ellsworth Kelly’s produced merely a decade after Kandinsky’s death you can start to see the digital seeping in. In 1951 Kelly started his series Spectrum Colors Arranged by Chance I to VIII. Klee and Kandinsky were exploring the process of making via balancing intuition with calculation where as Kelly was exploring the automation of a design. In the vein of a Shape Grammar, Kelly was distancing from intuition, streamlining his artistic choices which in effect formed the content/composition of the work. The continuation of exploring the relationships between form and constraint are still evident in his work today. In contrast to the subtlety of form of Kelly another Artist of the same era was exploring chaos. Jackson Pollock created form in an algorithmic process similar to that of Kelly to much different effect. Pollock made form through chance application of paint. The “Drip Paintings” were a series of designs employing a few rules and chance to the generation of an image. Pollock never compared his work to any algorithmic process, he never equates his process with any formal system other than expressing his will to distance himself from the regular conditions of painting. Pollock stated that “technique is just a means to arrive at a statement” in effect discounting the process of making in relation to the end result. As Kandinsky and Klee began focusing on the synthesis of form and content, opening a path into the feild of abstraction, Kelly and Pollock trimmed the creative process further applying rules to methods of construction while attempting to improve efficiency of production and exactness of meaning. The veil of an antiquated classical mindset was lifting to unearth a new sensitivity toward the perception of logic in art and the Id of the collective conscious was entering the outer layers of a massivly expanding techno-sphere.
Buckminster Fuller wrote on Synergy in the creative process with society as a whole. He was a
proponent of the ideal that the whole system is not only the sum of its parts but this sum is also unpredictable from the whole properties of the total parts. He designed a structure for a Synergetic algorithm which was a set of rules for guiding the creative process and its result/synergy in society and the greater world sphere. He suggested synergy be a balance between multiple systems and that its main actions were to ephemeralize design and do less with more. The computization of a design is a succesful design installed into the world if it would increase potential and wealth in the sense of facilitating the regeneration of life. In Fullers ideal the computer was to aid human thoughts competition with the forces involved in the decision process during design and construction. It is a tool to facilitate efficiency and to search for an equilibrium through the present state of expansion and acceleration in the developing world in concern with all its inter-related systems.
“There is no art with out constraint. To say that music is an art is to say that art obeys rules. Pure chance represents total liberty, and construct means precisely to revolt against chance. An art is exactly defined by the set of rules it follows.” Abraham Moles
So far the topics of a.i. in society , algorithms involvement in society, and conceptual ideals in art
have been brought up in conjunction with the overlaying title The Algorithmic Horizon: A look at the intrinsic boundaries of Logic. I want to make a loose conection between these three topics to the biological mechanisms of the eye and sight. The algorithmic horizon here simply means the outer bounderies of algorithmic capability. Algorithmic capability is technologies reach in our phyisical world coupled with the computaional power of the systems we use to facilitate equilibrium in the most general sense, that of harmony with nature and the systems that govern our known universe. The conceptual ideals brought up in this paper are examples of artists attempts at symbolising abstract concepts and exploring the process of creation. I view their explorations as micro scale decission trees which resemble algorithmic structures. Furthur it seems that sensitivities in the collective creative conscious were veering away from simple representationism or classical realism and falling into explorations of logic and process in the begining of the 20th century. Kandinsky and Klee where examples of the fruits of the “Enlightment” and their new ideas where very much influenced by the progress of scientific ressearch. In their time I believe the whole involvement of science and technology in the arts was purely a source for the generation of new ideas and approaches to the system of art creation. Technology had not yet achieved an integrated role in society or usability for facilitating processes of making in Fullers sense. They spoke of synthesis at a time when they could not foresee the computational power of computers. Now a loose connection to the ideals of the post enlightenment artists mentioned here to the mechanisms of sight is that of light.
In a poetic sense the enlightenment opened the eyes of the world to the complex nature of electricity, light and the sciences in general. The artists were looking at these new forms of thinking, universal truths and strategies for understanding and applying it to their work, computing their inspiraitions into products of thought rather than products of classical realism. Complex ideals and theory integrated into Art practice as the Enlightenment reved up and crossed into the Industrial age. As for the mechanism of the Eye here following will be a short overview.
The very way we transform the light that hits the backs of our eyes into understandable images
of space still eludes our understanding to a high degree. The Eye and its hardware are well documented
and understood. The rods and cones of the eye translating wavelenths to electrical impulses via neurons
which travel through the optic nerve to the brain is well understood but once the electrical impulses hit the brain the mystery jumps to center stage. Where in the haywire do the signals get transformed into line, form and color? As painters search for the inherent logic and expressiveness of form and color, the brain computes visual info while relating it to memory via biological technology. This tech is in the form of electrical impulses from neurons translating wavelengths of light. It is easy to compare this seemingly tactile connection between eye and mind as an interface and the mind as an internal hard drive storing its relationships and learned/saved data but the understanding of how the brain computes the external world, after recieving the data, has turned into an enigma of observational bias. How can we see our own consciousness? In Pixel to Voxels: Modeling Visual Representation in the Human Brain the authors wrote of their experiments with algorithmic encoding models that predict brain activity resulting from complex natural imagery. They had human subjects look at images and record the resulting brain activity in a particular region of the brain where the optic nerve runs to. A 100,000 voxel cube was analysed with fMRI and computed. Algorithms were designed to make predictions of the brain response and over time learned features of those responses that made their predictions more succesful. This type of experimentation is done without the human bias of annotation and is largly autonomous. What would Hobbes have said if we told him that the machines not only have a life but also know what we will think. The eye is the oculus with which we gather our visual data and this data is transformed through rods and cones via neurons and the optic nerve to the brain. The Eye is laid out so that the output of the optic nerve sits at the lower back end of the eye where it connects to the brain. This placement of the optic nerve leaves us with a blind spot in each eye. The brain makes up for this blind spot by means of some fancy crosswiring of source material. What would the Cyclops see? The world around a black dot? My contention here is that technology and a.i. is inherently cycloptic. The cyclops would see a world at a great disadvantage. Maybe thats why they aren’t around that much.
// The algorithmic horizon is tethered to the “consciousness” of the greater sum of its associated algorithms.So we are left with the uneasy point of departure that must say the algorithm is technologies rod or cone. It is either or. It does not have the capacity to see with two eyes. it does not have the ability to correct its wrongs humanely. The blind spot is inherent in technology if you see it in this way. It is a tool to find greater clarity and efficiency yet it will always lack, to a greater degree, sensitivity or awareness as it will always be a 1 or a 0. A bit. Nothing more. Just arranged in so many different ways.//