This week → Entangled intelligence ⊗ Infinite images and the latent camera ⊗ The medium really is the message ⊗ Liminal Creativity
Doug Bierend riffing off of James Bridle’s recent book Ways of Being. In part, he opposes longtermism and transhumanism (I’d add singularitarians) to a “more than human” vision where “more” doesn’t represent an enhancement but rather a “mega-category that collects within it essentially everything, from microbes and plants to water and stone, even machines.” Bierend and Bridle favor, as I do, the latter and ask “At what point does our expanding view of the universe inspire humility instead of hubris?”
It’s somewhat besides the point of the article (read it!) but one thought formed when reading this take on longtermism; “[i]ts most extreme version represents a kind of interstellar manifest destiny, human exceptionalism on the vastest possible scale.” I started to wonder, if you skip over a few blockers and take that end goal as worthy, why does it have to imply dominating Earth and ‘conquering’ what’s outside? Beyond being wrong, isn’t that also inefficient? Wouldn’t the greatest mastery of our inventiveness and technologies be shown in equilibrium with nature? Isn’t it an even higher challenge to curtail our excesses and instead progress while respecting other life forms and the cradle of our existence? Not a big surprise, considering its proponents, but their fantasy seems not only short sighted, but lacking true ambition.
If our minds are exceptional, it is still only in terms of their relationship to everything else that acts within the world. That is, our minds, like our bodies, aren’t just ours; they are contingent on everything else, which would suggest that the path forward should involve moving with the wider world rather than attempting to escape or surpass it. […]
But technology today largely exists as a tool of capital, servicing its fundamental drive toward accumulation, competitive advantage, and private gain, and helping reinforce assumptions of human dominion over the nonhuman. […]
[T]he most effective way of charting an unfamiliar space is to explore it randomly, suggesting a kind prosaic, primordial intelligence underlying all things and a wisdom in letting the world do some of our thinking for us.
The mysterious inner life of the octopus → For more on other intelligences and a more than human perspective, octopuses are always a good place to look. “The ability to feel pain is just one of the many facets of consciousness – there is also the ability to feel pleasure, to feel bored or interested, to experience companionship, and many more. With more research, scientists may be able to devise similar scales to measure more of these different aspects of consciousness in animals.”
Thanks to a quick workshop about prompt craft (thanks Dré!) and some current client work, I’ve been taking a closer look at synthetic media, and especially prompt-based image generators. This piece by Holly Herndon and Mathew Dryhurst from a couple of months back hit the spot. They offer a parallel with the late 19th century Pictorialists and use some of their own experiments to paint a picture (pun intended) of how AI tools might evolve and be integrated in artists’ work. It’s not the first time I read or listen to their ideas and, although largely correct, they seem to too easily gloss over copyright issues and the impact on artists who aren’t as at ease with technology as they are. That being said, they are launching an organization because “non AI artists need options to see themselves thriving in (and not steamrollered by) the AI art economy.”
To return to the original idea of extending a painting to reveal more of the scene, what might it mean to be able to produce infinite worlds from a single painting or photograph? This significantly augments the capacity of what we understand of generative art, when a coherent world, or narrative, can be spawned from a single stylistic or linguistic prompt. […]
We propose a term for this process, Spawning, a 21st century corollary to the 20th century process of sampling. If sampling afforded artists the ability to manipulate the artwork of others to collage together something new, spawning affords artists the ability to create entirely new artworks in the style of other people from AI systems trained on their work or likeness. […]
Memes are a distillation of a consensual/archetypical feeling or vibe, in much the way that the “Holly Herndon” embedding with CLIP is a distillation of her characteristic properties (ginger braid and bangs, blue eyes, often photographed with a laptop), or the “Salvador Dali” embedding is a distillation of his unique artistic style.
My understanding of media studies is definitely not at a level I’d like, far from it. Which is why I’ve got the feeling some will have hands rising up at inaccuracies or missed points in this piece by Ezra Klein. Still, I quite enjoyed this overview of some of the thinking of Marshall McLuhan, Walter Ong and Neil Postman. Klein writes about his changing opinion of the internet, the influence of social networks, the corruption of news on tv, and tech oligarchs’ blindness (and/or blatant irresponsibility) to the havoc their businesses are wrecking on public discourse.
I adored my new land. The endless expanses of information, the people you met as avatars but cared for as humans, the sense that the mind’s reach could be limitless. My life, my career and my identity were digital constructs as much as they were physical ones. I pitied those who came before me, fettered by a physical world I was among the first to escape. […]
McLuhan says: Don’t just look at what’s being expressed; look at the ways it’s being expressed. And then Postman says: Don’t just look at the way things are being expressed; look at how the way things are expressed determines what’s actually expressible.” In other words, the medium blocks certain messages. […]
I have come to think the same of today’s technologists: Their problem is that they do not take technology seriously enough. They refuse to see how it is changing us or even how it is changing them. […]
We are who we are, in this moment, in this context, mediated in these ways. It is an abdication of responsibility for technologists to pretend that the technologies they make have no say in who we become.
Context collection, not context collapse → This post by Doug Belshaw, where he quotes Jenny Odell, pairs well with the above, and even with the first piece. “I propose that rerouting and deepening one’s attention to place will likely lead to awareness of one’s participation in history and in a more-than-human community. From either a social or ecological perspective, the ultimate goal of “doing nothing” is to wrest our focus from the attention economy and replant it in the public, physical realm.”
Liminal Creativity → “But some people seem to be more comfortable than others in liminal spaces. They crave transformation, often changing jobs or careers, moving places, persistently looking for surprising ideas and working on new projects. Once they reach a certain level of comfort, they start searching for the next rite of passage — the next liminal space. … Roam the edge of practices, where they permeate several trends and communities, creating gateways between worlds of ideas; push the boundaries of knowledge by connecting seemingly unrelated ideas; direct your curiosity towards questions that haven’t even been formulated yet.“
Futures, foresights, forecasts & fabulations → Two Mobility Futures 0∞ “[I]s a research project that encompasses storytelling, a democratic decision making platform, a city model, and an immersive exhibit.” ⊗ Framing the future as ‘just and regenerative’: why and how. “A just and regenerative approach means strengthening the capacity of all living systems to adapt, replenish and regenerate; respecting everyone’s human rights and potential to thrive; and rewiring our economies and societies to serve both people and the planet. We describe this using a ’three horizons' framework.”
No.231 Asides ⊕ See Note
- 😎 🇨🇦 🇪🇸 🇩🇪 Louis-Jacques Darveau, who initiated The Alpine Review, which we first co-imagined and co-edited … 10 years ago (!!) has now made all the archives public on a really nifty and well-organized new website. If you’ve never seen the philosophical ancestor of this newsletter, you can now browse around to your heart’s content. Still holds up and, if you’ll excuse some own-horn-tooting, pay attention to the dates, some of those topics were caught pretty damned early.
- 🤩 🎥 🌳 🇺🇸 The Biggest Climate Bill of Your Life - But What does it DO!? Excellent explainer by Hank Green on some of the details, impacts, and hopes behind Biden’s recent plan.
- 😍 😍 😍 🔭 Make way for the king of the solar system! 👑 New Webb images of Jupiter highlight the planet's features, including its turbulent Great Red Spot (shown in white here), in amazing detail. These images were processed by citizen scientist Judy Schmidt.
- 🤔 🔋 🇨🇭 Rechargeable aluminum: The cheap solution to seasonal energy storage?. “Aluminum, used in a redox cycle, has a massive energy density. Swiss researchers believe it could be the key to affordable seasonal storage of renewable energy, clearing a path for the decarbonization of the energy grid”
- ☕️ 🤓 🎥 This is probably highly unoriginal, but I’ve been on a bit of a viewing spree of James Hoffmann’s videos about coffee making. Great quality, superb explanations, fascinating obsessing over the details, and just enough self-deprecation.
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