East Contemporary

transmediale Marshall McLuhan Lecture: Jason Edward Lewis “Expansive, Embracing, Evolving: Looking Beyond Impoverished Intelligences”

Berlin, January 29, 2021, http://transmediale.de

Lewis talked about computer game workshops he conducted with indigenous Hawaiians. He talked about the importance of creating one´s own questions and narratives, instead of accepting the generous help of caretakers, who unfortunately also impose their own worldviews in the caretaking process. He pleaded for a digital emancipation of indigenous subculture.

His criticism of artificial intelligence applications followed a similar vein. It is not a coincidence, that AI algorithms replicate old hegemonic narratives and a white-male worldview. It is simply a product of the white-male programmer’s brain designing the code.

This made me wonder, how he knows that the majority of programmers are white males. I would almost assume they are more likely to be brown or yellow humans of an unspecified gender. But maybe even those “minority” programmers’ brains have been infected by the hegemony and they are just replicating those ideas imposed upon their brains.

Lewis gave an anecdotic example from the field of modernist architecture, pointing out that according to some studies, most of the well-known architects were in fact anti-social as individuals and far away from the “average” person for whom they claimed to design. He made a parallel with a certain kind of technocratic mindset that sits behind all of the artificial intelligence innovations, rooted in quantification and control.

I felt a bit conflicted about pinning these issues to individuals. On one hand, I agree that (so far) there is a human individual behind everything, also behind every algorithm written. On the other hand, we must also admit, that technological tools have a certain material propensity towards one or another kind of use. Any kind of “digital” machine is at its very core based on a binary logic, on a logic of counting, and any kind of fuzzier, emotional aspect can only ever be a simulation of the observable behavior that the intuitive, non-rational, animistic side within human nature produces.

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