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Affect and Artificial Intelligence and The Fetish Revisited

Elizabeth A Wilson’s Affect and Artificial Intelligence traces the history and development of the field of artificial intelligence (AI) in the West, from the 1950’s to the 1990’s and early 2000’s to argue that the key thing missing from all attempts to develop machine minds is a recognition of the role that affect plays in social and individual development. She directly engages many of the creators of the field of AI within their own lived historical context and uses Bruno Latour, Freudian Psychoanalysis, Alan Turning’s AI and computational theory, gender studies,cybernetics, Silvan Tomkins’ affect theory, and tools from STS to make her point. Using historical examples of embodied robots and programs, as well as some key instances in which social interactions caused rifts in the field,Wilson argues that crucial among all missing affects is shame, which functions from the social to the individual, and vice versa.

[Cover to Elizabeth A Wilson’s Affect and Artificial Intelligence]

J.Lorand Matory’s The Fetish Revisited looks at a particular section of the history of European-Atlantic and Afro-Atlantic conceptual engagement, namely the place where Afro-Atlantic religious and spiritual practices were taken up and repackaged by white German men. Matory demonstrates that Marx and Freud took the notion of the Fetish and repurposed its meaning and intent, further arguing that this is a product of the both of the positionality of both of these men in their historical and social contexts. Both Marx and Freud, Matory says, Jewish men of potentially-indeterminate ethnicity who could have been read as “mulatto,” and whose work was designed to place them in the good graces of the white supremacist, or at least dominantly hierarchical power structure in which they lived.

Matory combines historiography,anthropology, ethnography, oral history, critical engagement Marxist and Freudian theory and, religious studies, and personal memoir to show that the Fetish is mutually a constituting category, one rendered out of the intersection of individuals, groups, places, needs, and objects. Further, he argues, by trying to use the fetish to mark out a category of “primitive savagery,” both Freud and Marx actually succeeded in making fetishes of their own theoretical frameworks, both in the original sense, and their own pejorative senses.
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Selfhood, Coloniality, African-Atlantic Religion, and Interrelational Cutlure

In Ras Michael Brown’s African-Atlantic Cultures and the South Carolina Lowcountry Brown wants to talk about the history of the cultural and spiritual practices of African descendants in the American south. To do this, he traces discusses the transport of central, western, and west-central African captives to South Carolina in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries,finally, lightly touching on the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Brown explores how these African peoples brought, maintained, and transmitted their understandings of spiritual relationships between the physical land of the living and the spiritual land of the dead, and from there how the notions of the African simbi spirits translated through a particular region of South Carolina.

In Kelly Oliver’s The Colonization of Psychic Space­, she constructs and argues for a new theory of subjectivity and individuation—one predicated on a radical forgiveness born of interrelationality and reconciliation between self and culture. Oliver argues that we have neglected to fully explore exactly how sublimation functions in the creation of the self,saying that oppression leads to a unique form of alienation which never fully allows the oppressed to learn to sublimate—to translate their bodily impulses into articulated modes of communication—and so they cannot become a full individual, only ever struggling against their place in society, never fully reconciling with it.

These works are very different, so obviously, to achieve their goals, Brown and Oliver lean on distinct tools,methodologies, and sources. Brown focuses on the techniques of religious studies as he examines a religious history: historiography, anthropology, sociology, and linguistic and narrative analysis. He explores the written records and first person accounts of enslaved peoples and their captors, as well as the contextualizing historical documents of Black liberation theorists who were contemporary to the time frame he discusses. Oliver’s project is one of social psychology, and she explores it through the lenses of Freudian and Lacanian psychoanalysis,social construction theory, Hegelian dialectic, and the works of Franz Fanon. She is looking to build psycho-social analysis that takes both the social and the individual into account, fundamentally asking the question “How do we belong to the social as singular?”
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Cyborg Theology and An Anthropology of Robots and AI

Scott Midson’s Cyborg Theology and Kathleen Richardson’s An Anthropology of Robots and AI both trace histories of technology and human-machine interactions, and both make use of fictional narratives as well as other theoretical techniques. The goal of Midson’s book is to put forward a new understanding of what it means to be human, an understanding to supplant the myth of a perfect “Edenic” state and the various disciplines’ dichotomous oppositions of “human” and “other.” This new understanding, Midson says, exists at the intersection of technological, theological, and ecological contexts,and he argues that an understanding of the conceptual category of the cyborg can allow us to understand this assemblage in a new way.

That is, all of the categories of “human,” “animal,” “technological,” “natural,” and more are far more porous than people tend to admit and their boundaries should be challenged; this understanding of the cyborg gives us the tools to do so. Richardson, on the other hand, seeks to argue that what it means to be human has been devalued by the drive to render human capacities and likenesses into machines, and that this drive arises from the male-dominated and otherwise socialized spaces in which these systems are created. The more we elide the distinction between the human and the machine, the more we will harm human beings and human relationships.

Midson’s training is in theology and religious studies, and so it’s no real surprise that he primarily uses theological exegesis (and specifically an exegesis of Genesis creation stories), but he also deploys the tools of cyborg anthropology (specifically Donna Haraway’s 1991 work on cyborgs), sociology, anthropology, and comparative religious studies. He engages in interdisciplinary narrative analysis and comparison,exploring the themes from several pieces of speculative fiction media and the writings of multiple theorists from several disciplines.

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A Conversation With Klint Finley About AI and Ethics

I spoke with Klint Finley, known to this parish, over at WIRED about Amazon, Facebook, Google, IBM, and Microsoft’s new joint ethics and oversight venture, which they’ve dubbed the “Partnership on Artificial Intelligence to Benefit People and Society.” They held a joint press briefing, yesterday, in which Yann LeCun, Facebook’s director of AI, and Mustafa Suleyman, the head of applied AI at DeepMind discussed what it was that this new group would be doing out in the world.

This isn’t the first time I’ve talked to Klint about the intricate interplay of machine intelligence, ethics, and algorithmic bias; we discussed it earlier just this year, for WIRED’s AI Issue. It’s interesting to see the amount of attention this topic’s drawn in just a few short months, and while I’m trepidatious about the potential implementations, as I note in the piece, I’m really fairly glad that more people are increasingly willing to have this discussion, at all.

To see my comments and read the rest of the article, click through, above.

Mindful Cyborgs: A Positive Vision of Transhumanism and AI with Damien Williams

This week Damien Williams — aka Wolven — joined me to talk about pop culture portrayals of human enhancement and artificial intelligence and why we need to craft more nuanced narratives to explore these topics. Damien has been exploring the subject extensively at A Future Worth Thinking About.

Tune in next week to hear Damien talk about how AI and transhumanism intersects with magic and the occult.

Download and Show Notes: Mindful Cyborgs: Mindful Cyborgs: A Positive Vision of Transhumanism and AI with Damien Williams

Mindful Cyborgs: Perverse Intimacy with Our Machines

This week on Mindful Cyborgs, Alex Williams, Chris Dancy and I talked about Hollywood’s obsession with “freakish AI killing off humanity or making love to it”:

We’re just becoming more and more intimate with our machines all the time and I think that’s where that fear of AI’s and that – that’s where those plots are coming from.

On the other hand, a lot of this stuff has been – a lot of these ideas have been around for a long time. I’ve just been reading some of Isaac Asimov’s old stories. I just read his first robot story, Robbie, and it’s all about a parent being afraid that her daughter is spending too much time with a robot companion, which you could totally transfer that to modern days; worried that my kid is spending too much time with her cell phone.

CD: Or on her Xbox, yeah. Insert Gadget X.

KF: Yeah. He also wrote a story – so Robbie was his first robot story. I think it was 1939. He also wrote a story in, I think, 1956 called The Last Question that was essentially a story about the singularity; about the hive mind, artificial intelligence thing that just lives in the – an alternative dimension of the galaxy after humans have become extinct, after humans have become immortal and then left their bodies and essentially just become some sort of thing. This is long before the word ‘singularity’ was on anyone’s lips. These fears and ideas and dreams have been with us for a long time.

Download and Full Transcript: Mindful Cyborgs: Automation for the Entitled and the Impending Data Revolution

Computer Chips That Work Like a Brain Are Coming — Just Not Yet

I wrote for Wired about computer chips designed specifically for building neural networks:

Qualcomm is now preparing a line of computer chips that mimic the brain. Eventually, the chips could be used to power Siri or Google Now-style digital assistants, control robotic limbs, or pilot self-driving cars and autonomous drones, says Qualcomm director of product management Samir Kumar.

But don’t get too excited yet. The New York Times reported this week that Qualcomm plans to release a version of the chips in the coming year, and though that’s true, we won’t see any real hardware anytime soon. “We are going to be looking for a very small selection of partners to whom we’d make our hardware architecture available,” Kumar explains. “But it will just be an emulation of the architecture, not the chips themselves.”

Qualcomm calls the chips, which were first announced back in October, Zeroth, after the Isaac Asimov’s zeroth law of robotics: “A robot may not harm humanity, or, by inaction, allow humanity to come to harm.”

The Zeroth chips are based on a new architecture that radically departs from the architectures that have dominated computing for the past few decades. Instead, it mimics the structure of the human brain, which consists of billions of cells called neurons that work in tandem. Kumar explains that although the human brain does its processing much more slowly than digital computers, it’s able to complete certain types of calculations much more quickly and efficiently than a standard computer, because it can do many calculations at once.

Even the world’s largest supercomputers are able to use “only” one million processing cores at a time.

Full Story: Wired: Computer Chips That Work Like a Brain Are Coming — Just Not Yet

See also:

Palm Pilot Inventor Wants to Open Source the Human Brain

Yorkshire Pigs Control Computer Gear With Brain Waves

If You Plug Twitter Into a Digital Avatar, Can You Live Forever?

New article from me at Wired:

In one episode of Black Mirror — the British television series that explores the near future of technology with an edginess reminiscent of The Twilight Zone — a woman’s husband dies, and she replaces him with a robot.

This walking automaton looks like him and talks like him, and it even acts like him, after plugging into his Twitter account and analyzing every tweet he ever sent.

Yes, that’s a far cry from reality, but it’s not as far as you might think. With an online service called Lifenaut, an operation called the Terasem Movement Foundation offers a means of digitally cloning yourself through a series of personality tests and data from your social media profiles. The idea is to create an online version of you that can live forever, a digital avatar that even future generations can talk to and interact with. Eventually, Terasem wants to transform these avatars into walking, talking robots — just like on Black Mirror. And today, it provides a more primitive version, for free. […]

But Dale Carrico, a lecturer in the Department of Rhetoric at the University of California at Berkeley, is skeptical. To say the least. He says that the folks at Terasem and other “transhumanists” — those who believe the human body can be radically enhanced or even transcended entirely through technology — are pursing pipe dreams. He doesn’t even give them create for trying. “The trying is evidence only of the depth of their misunderstanding, not of their worthy diligence,” he says. Simply put, an avatar isn’t a person — in any meaningful sense.

Full Story: Wired Enterprise: If You Plug Twitter Into a Digital Avatar, Can You Live Forever?

My avatar is embedded in the story so you can chat with it.

Twitter ‘Joke Bots’ Shame Human Sense of Humor

@horse_ebooks

My latest for Wired:

One of the funniest people on Twitter isn’t a person at all. It’s a bot called @Horse_ebooks.

It was originally built as a promotional vehicle for a series of digital books, but in the years since it has developed a life of its own — not to mention a sizable cult following. Its tweets range from the cryptic (“I Will Make Certain You Never Buy Knives Again”) to the bizarre (“No flow of bile to speak of. later. later. later. later. later. later. later. later. later. later. later. later. later. later.”).

OK, it’s no George Carlin, but it’s funnier than most of the Twitter one-liners from your friends and family — and it’s not even trying. It’s randomly grabbing text from e-books and websites.

Hackers Darius Kazemi and Joel McCoy believe there’s a larger point to be made here. For years, people have worked to build machines with a sense of humor — researchers at the University of Edinburgh recently created a program that can actually learn from its past jokes — but Kazemi and McCoy believe these academics are working too hard. Since most people aren’t that funny, the two hackers say, why not replace everyday humor with remarkably simple bots that spew boilerplate phrases over Twitter?

Full Story: Wired: Twitter ‘Joke Bots’ Shame Human Sense of Humor

Photo by Lindsay Eyink

The Corporation Who Would Be King

Some design fiction from Tim Maly, who wrote that thing about corporations being bad AI:

“…if a firm, partnership, company, or corporation owns real property within the municipality, the president, vice president, secretary, or other designee of the entity is eligible to vote in a municipal election…”
-Montana Bill Would Give Corporations The Right To Vote by Ian Millhiser for Thinkprogress

A broader version of this law passes, leading to an explosion of algorithmic corporations owning nominal fractions of land to meet the real property requirement.

Eventually, the corporate hordes overrun their human voter counterparts. A ballot measure is introduced allowing corporations to stand for election. It passes. Now, their dark work begins.

Full Story: Quiet Babylon: The Corporation Who Would be King

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