Why Re:Humanism? What made you decide to take part in the contest?
I was in my second year of my PhD which is about art but it is, in the end, very technical. For 2 years I was flooded with new information about AI, Machine Learning, I had to learn new coding languages, techniques etc etc… It was great and I loved every piece of it but eventually I felt totally disconnected to my artistic-self. My recurrent question was: “what I am I doing? I am not a computer scientist and I don’t want to be one…” So, I knew I had to do something about it. When I found the open call, I thought it could have been a good opportunity. In complete honesty, I didn’t really think of being selected, it was more a way for me to reboot my dormant artistic practice, I guess… My question was, how do I use my scientific research for an art piece? Good thing is that both my scientific research and artistic practice investigate the same things from 2 different perspective: human expressivity and the relation of humans with technology. The installation Grammar#1 gets a bit of both and at the same time provides me new information for my scientific research. I think I was just lucky enough to be selected. It was a great experience and Rome has a special place in my heart too.
Your work investigates the intrinsic meaning of the drawing as a means humans use to express themselves. Do you think an AI can allow such expressivity as well when it comes to generating and conveying a message?
Well, this is one of the things I am investigating in my research, so I hope to give a proper answer very soon. For now, I want to point to two things though. When I say expressivity, I am not necessarily interested in the “message” if you intend that as a “concept” with moral/ethical/political connotations. Expression for me is a broader concept that includes non-verbal or cross modalities, which are probably my main concern. That’s also why I like to work with automatisms and abstractions. Expression for me goes from the simple smile to the more complex wordy essay and both can be used as a political statement if you think about it!
What led me to explore drawings in my art practice and research is that they have the special property of conveying… (let’s say) “information” (for now), beyond their content. Drawings are connected to gestures and are connected to primordial skills of human species. It is such a fascinating domain.
To answer your question, I think that artificial agents can be used effectively for human expression, even with drawings. There has been evidence of this From AARON by Harold Cohen in the 1970s to Paul the Robot by Patrick Tresset or Sougwen Chung with D.O.U.G. these days, just to mention a few examples. However, I do think there are differences in which we express ourselves with intelligent agents and the way we do it with non-intelligent agents but doesn’t make it any better or worst, just different. Even though automated technologies like GANs for instance, are reaching impressive results, in the end, as far as I understand this, the human factor plays a substantial role in whatever generated content is produced. The trick is always trying to find the “human” in the “artificial” 🙂 But this would need a much longer answer. I wrote something about it if you want to know more anyways.
Why did you choose the drawing as the means of the message? Couldn’t you use words instead? How do you think your work would have been had you used a dataset of known words rather than of drawings?
As mentioned before, drawings are very special for humans for many reasons, from a perceptual and cognitive point of view. We process drawings as if they were real things and not just a bunch of lines. In a certain sense, the comparison you do is not inappropriate. In fact it seems that we process drawings similar to the way we process words. So, for instance, if we see the drawing of a “mouse” we represent it in our head similarly as if we were reading the word “mouse”. So why do I choose drawings? Because they are an amazing medium and because I’ve been drawing for my whole life and that’s what I do 🙂
I am personally fascinated by words and languages but I didn’t work too much on them as a medium, so far. I think because despite their great flexibility they are deeply connected to cultural settings whereas drawings are more universal and even more flexible.
As per how my installation would have been with words instead of drawings… I guess it would be another installation, but I rather not think too much about it because otherwise I want to make it! 🙂
We already are in a hybrid reality, where we find difficult to discern between outputs generated by machines from the ones made by humans. What do you believe we should expect in the next ten years?
The concept of deception is super interesting but not new, if you think about the flow of information through the mass in human history. What is real what is fake? That question has been there forever. It taps to our believes, prejudices, fears and desires. It is quite a clever mechanism. Now it just emerged in other fields like robotics or using new media like the internet. Think about the robots by the Boston Dynamics. People were thinking the robots were completely autonomous. As far as I know, they are not. Or Sophia the robot by Hanson robotics that was given Citizenship in Saudi Arabia, a country that granted the driving license to women just recently. Samsung also is working on this NEON humanoids but I didn’t look too much into it because it sounds a great marketing operation to me. Mass narrative always plays a great part in the perception of what is real and what not. Nevertheless those robots are a great piece of technology as far as I am concerned.
Then, StyleGAN achieved a level of realism that is stunning. The other day I fell for a generated face thinking it was real. I had to zoom in to check the artefacts. Recent transformers technologies like GPT-2 by Open-AI and BERT by Google are surprisingly good but still not there if you compare to human language. Can this technology be used to trick people? Possibly yes. What will happen in 10 years time? I wish I could say it. I am a very optimist person, to the level of complete denial, it is a philosophical choice and I usually pay the consequences of it. Still, I want to think we are in a transition moment of our global society where we are more and more aware of the agency we have as humans and as a collective. No doubts there will be advances in technologies and some will find ways to use it for greed, I guess this moment in history is calling for a greater connection to human nature and the environment. so I don’t really know what the future will be like but I am working with technology so that we can know better ourselves as humans and connect to nature as much as possible.