In scrolling through various year-end lists of what’s to come in 2023, I have seen several predictions about the coming commercial exploitation of generative AI models (large-language models, text-to-image generators, predictive recommenders, “algorithmic culture” in general), which many commentators insist are
Rob, this is a very nice piece; thank you for sharing. I have been following your writings on AI reverently--surrounded by a world enamored with its false promises, I have struggled to put into words my exact critiques of AI. This does so nicely. I particularly liked this quote: “The cryogenic freezing of all knowledge so that it can be resurrected; knowledge passes into immortality as sign-value.”
I will add a though if my own to this, based in part on some research I did on technology as a toxin for an anthropology seminar I took last semester.
Wisdom is knowledge contextualized. The deeper we fall into the digital world, the more knowledge is codified for resurrection. That resurrection, however, can only be done my today’s necromancers: big tech, global hegemonic powers, and the most influential capitalists. We laypeople do have access to that knowledge, but only through those necromancers. It is they who get to contextualized it--to turn it into wisdom that dictates the world of tomorrow. That process of re-contextualization (it seems to me that the translation of all worldly knowledge into data is a deliberate act of decontextualization) may be done obviously through AI bots and image generators, but it is also down in less overt ways: the search results we are funneled through Google and the ads we are delivered daily.
Following from some writing by James C. Scott, the industrial settler-colonialist world has acted to reduce all vernacular language and life into homogeneity. Modern semiotics are no longer done regionally or with vernacular. The people I we are physically closest to are digital worlds apart--if I pick up my sister’s phone and open her Instagram, it looks nothing like mine. And my other sister’s Instagram is nothing like that. Who makes symbols now? And for what ends?
It seems to me that *we* are no longer the semioticians of today; that role has been subsumed by the necromancers of the likes of Google and the NSA. Chatbots and image generators act as another layer of translation between those necromancers and us, cementing the symbology they create for their own ends (generating capital) as facts of life and the world. Perhaps we need to learn to raise our own Dead.
Baudrillard: "Here is my premise. Now we must journey deep into Crazy Town."
Me: "I don't really want to go to Crazy Town."
Baudrillard: "Shut up! No questions! Here is your fork!"
Love the bringing in of Baudrillard in your analysis of new AI technologies. I took a tact toward the analysis of AI Art as an example of lost futures in cultural forms, if you’re so inclined to read. Kind of a critique of AI as a symptom of a bleak condition. Looking forward to your Substack.
I couldn't help picturing 2001 Space Odyssey in my mind as I read this. Keep up the great work, Rob.