Our future heritage

Future heritage of a posthuman world

 What memory space is left for the humans to come? 

Conceptual framework of the proposal in relation to my artistic research

Thinking about science and technology from the perspective of the humanities allows us to project the type of society we want to be in the future. We must be aware that, in order to face current challenges, we have to break down cultural divisions to gain a transversal understanding of the world. Now, thanks to scientific and technological development, that we know we will never know everything, we need to learn to live with uncertainty and mystery. Creative thinking, and specifically art, allows us to explore the unknown without seeking an absolute answer to everything, as sometimes there is simply no answer, but new questions that we couldn’t imagine before.

For the past few years, I have been immersed in the development of artistic research projects around technology, which combine critical thinking and technical experimentation. My main interest lies in opening and inhabiting, from art and imagination, a conceptual rift around the techno-scientific challenges that are presented to us today. This mind expanding proposal, aligned with Yuk Hui's thought, points towards (bio) techno-diversity, cosmotechnics and pluralism (Hui 2019), seems to me the most appropriate for the historical and technological present: from the imposition of cybertime and machinic recursion, passing through the perception of otherness in artificial cognitive systems, up to the need for a decolonization of technology. All of them urgent issues that concern us culturally. 

Through the development of different pieces of electronic art, I have allowed myself to speculate on possible post-singular technological identities embodied in conscious robots. To create the common thread of each narrative, I start from the experimental exercise of putting myself in the place of these technological identities, as simulations of the human mind, imagining an emotional, existential and hybrid coexistence between organic and artificial species. The artificial entities that feature in these scenarios, are in contrast to other dystopian, catastrophic or technologically dominating projections and are always endowed with the condition of multiple subjects, acting as a reflection of the (post) human collectivity.

Data Gossiping Robots. Mónica Rikić, 2019.

As an allegory, these pieces represent the evolution of technological objects in organic systems, proposing a way of understanding technologies as something separate from the human and inviting us to value machines within their own existence. 

The relevance of addressing these questions using art is found in the need to offer spaces for collective thinking from which to pose the posthumanist question of what technological beings we are or want to be (Braidotti 2015, 23). Taking care of the world means assuming it as one's own responsibility, even where the conditions, or the environment, have not been created by us (Araujo 2017, 213).

The acceleration of time has led us to have an uncritical relationship with technology. Technology without criticism has no power. Power devices saturate us with stimuli and invade spaces of resistance, because without a void, virtual power cannot be updated. (Muntadas 2020, 37-40). Without that update, we continually become obsolete and at the end of history (or time) we become a constant repetition of ourselves. Inhabiting a permanent now destroys the historical dimension of the past along with the possibility of the utopian projection of the future. The future, then, is offered to us as a product already given, to be consumed without question, without leaving room for other potentials or possibilities, since the frustrated individual tears themselves apart with the need to constantly renew themself in the eternal present.

La computadora que quería ser incomputable. Mónica Rikić, 2021.

In an accelerated present aligned with the rhythm of cybertime, we are urged to recover memory, imagination and utopia to regain our own time in the war against the obsolescence of the subject. Art offers us a framework for free experimentation, ideal for slowing down cybertime and creating spaces for collective critical reflection. In my artistic practice, I am interested in creating those spaces to share experiences (speculative or not) about possible future scenarios where consciousness of different natures coexist. My purpose is to break down barriers between science and humanities, artificial and organic, reality and fiction, for a greater understanding of the world.

My artistic research starts then from the speculative assumption of the existence of a post-singular artificial consciousness. Within these scenarios, being a conscious machine means having a sufficiently complex cognitive capacity to generate, not only abstract thought, but to have a unitary sense of "I-am-ness". To this day, no one has managed to explain what consciousness is to reproduce it in a machine, but in these experimental projects I want to imagine its possibilities from a speculative approach. By doing this exercise of digital discretion of the "I-am-ness”, I want to create a mirror effect to reflect on the bases of our identity through technology.

Artificial cognitive systems

The problem of defining, in a universal way, what human ‘intelligence’ means.

Currently, technology is a social agent that cannot be considered or used solely as a means to as specific end, but is established as the container and generator framework of a social construction by itself. The rise of interest in developing technological ‘intelligent’ systems and the use and abuse of devices in social interaction processes, invites us to review the role machines play in shaping the world and our identity.

Traditionally, in Western culture, our approach to the other, human and non-human, has always been from a position of higher power. However, our perception of the technological ‘other’, and more in recent years with the popularization of artificial intelligence, is changing to meet, for the first time, with a conception of someone / something equal or superior.

I believe that we can associate this fact with two conflicting, determining factors when defining, in a universal way, what human ‘intelligence’ means:

1. Competition

The first is related to the main values ​of capitalist societies, based on productivity and efficiency. By replicating these values ​​in machines and, therefore, defining our intelligence in those terms, we will never surpass machines, a fact that motivates an absurd human-machine competition. This latent competition between agents of different natures generates a senseless frustration, solely by not accepting that we are of different essences.

If we stop to analyze an example, one of the most popular techniques used in AI is Machine Learning, based on generating ‘intelligence’ by finding patterns, suppressing difference and, therefore, diversity. By defining this act as 'intelligent', we automate the human cognitive process and reduce it to accumulation and selection. Cognitive automation is the digital colonization of the human par excellence, since it implies the imposition of logic and prediction in thought and, therefore, behavior. In this way, in addition to suppressing diversity, control and power are created without using physical violence. AI techniques, in order to be able to imitate human intelligence, reduce the extreme complexity of human thought to this automation.

Digitality has very specific rules that homogenize relationships and, furthermore, disassociate the incarnation of bodies from the communicative process. It is an unprecedented human and social mutation to which we do not know how to react, at least 

2. Myth

The second is based on myth. The more you know the techniques that control technological systems and robotic thinking, the more you realize that our narrative of how technology works is often based on myth, which in turn influences the development and applications of the tool. We can relate this myth about the technological other to  studies  such as Edward Said's critique of orientalism and stereotyped perceptions, which oscillate between the exoticism that attracts us and the uncertainty that terrifies us (Said 2016, 19- 54).

In the same way that Said’s proposals hinge on the vision built by the settlers of the East, we cannot understand  a priori, the reality that is offered to us through the acceleration of the life experience motivated by techno-capitalism and unlimited cyberspace, and thus we try to endow it with meaning based on what we know about: competition, war, being overcome by someone else (Said 2016, 19-54). The human brain, as a bioconscious organism, needs time to process and elaborate emotional responses to the data it is receiving. The human organic mind is neither infinite nor extendable, it has limits in relation to the emotional and sensitive dimension of the conscious organism. (Berardi 2003, 41).

The Western desire to give meaning to things that we do not know, leads us to exercise a domestication adapted to our beliefs around technology, thus generating a universalization of technological development colonized by Western thought. By doing this, we deny the possibility of alternative visions of technology, dominated by other cultures or thoughts, as we did with humanism at the time of colonization.

This attempt to universalize technology is revealed in a very obvious way in the cultural representation of science fiction, which corresponds directly to the myth. If we pay attention to what other cultures recognize in technology through fiction, we can learn both from our own culture and from new cultural perspectives that open up other different ways of perceiving the social world. Observing cultures of Shinto heritage, such as the Japanese, or Afrofuturist proposals, can give us a good example of this. Reformulating the myth will allow us to transform reality.

Embracing a diverse conception of technology will help us overcome the most important challenges of the moment. Moving away from the myth of cultural supremacy implies, nowadays, destroying the idea of technological domination, readapting the social role it exercises and recognizing our responsibility in the future formation of the technosocial paradigm. We can only use imagination, creativity and art as tools to destroy the myths imposed by the dominant narrative, in order to be able to take responsibility for our role in this new cosmology.

Project proposal for Contested Desires - D6

The process of desubjectivation of humans implies that they perceive themselves as mere cogs in a machinery that controls present-future events and the image of the past. The proliferation of technological dystopias in the scientific and humanistic fields are an example of this, showing a general feature of technology as a dominant sovereign master, out of control and with its own agency. 

This fusion between the mechanical and the organic of the enormous cybernetic systems that dominate our social reality, transfers the role of technology to a biopower and forces us to see it as our own living organ within the configuration of the world, beyond the mind. and the human body.

Objects become biorganisms and humans become objects in an immaterial virtual world. Objects then transform into living agents of our history of a millennial heritage. What memory space is left for the humans to come? 

The first step towards overcoming this battle of technological time against humanity, probably lies in the collective thinking of the sense of "human being", towards a new relationship with technology and cybertime of interconnected and synchronized becoming. Inhabiting cybertime implies valuing mutual interdependence with other human and non-human beings and systems, including non-organic ones, such as algorithms, networks, and the entire technological apparatus.

We must recover the desire to live through mutual care and attention to life and, with it, the capacity for a utopian projection of becoming through creative thinking.

Inspired by the objects seen in Vindolanda, in this project I want to create a set of small robotic sculptures that represent living artificial systems from a future heritage of a post human world. The development of the project will force me to define, from both an artistic and a philosophical perspective and by intertwining critical thinking with technical experimentation, what conditions machines must meet to be considered living organisms. The growing de-subjectivisation of the human leads to the subjectivisation of technological systems. This set of artistic objects will represent our evolution towards organic systems.

Conceptually, the project seeks to answer the post-humanist question of whether, after the division between nature and culture is broken, can technologies become a living and active part of the multispecies configuration?

We must think about technologies beyond Simondon's open machines, to place them in different cosmic realities. Pluralism cannot exist without technodiversity, and imagining them from art helps us challenge the idea of ​​the totalization and universalization of machines. We urgently need to include other thoughts in the reconfiguration of the world. A new language to speak about technology in which art plays a fundamental role, due to its freedom of experimentation and capacity to create these new imaginaries that we need so much.