BrusselsThomas Depas: loss landscape
No Tears in the Loss Landscape
In her essay Does HAL Cry Digital Tears?, Rosalind W. Picard mentions how an intelligent computer—HAL from 2001: a Space Odyssey to be specific—achieves aesthetic appreciation. As she reports, HAL expresses a certain judgment about a drawing made by his human friend; “that is a nice rendering, Dave. I think you’ve improved a great deal,” HAL declares.
Delving into the role that emotions play in the interaction between humans and machines, Picard highlights the breakthrough of a computer enjoying a pretty artwork. If emotions are important for the computer of the future, for its proper functioning in an efficient society, the very sophisticated emotion of aesthetic pleasure must be the end of the quest for this computer perfection; a true Eureka moment.
Picard adds that the mere realism of Dave’s drawing is of course not sufficient to justify the computer’s positive review of it. No proper art connoisseur would be content with a merely realistic drawing, and neither would a proper mechanised art connoisseur. The sophisticated HAL critic is more than an image matcher. HAL understands art, and takes pleasure from it. It even expresses an opinion: “what a nice rendering, Dave.”
Towards the end of her essay, Picard concludes with a classic question, that is whether computers can be creative. Interesting or not, this question swings with anthropomorphism. It asks us to think of an autonomous computer behaving like a real person, a replicant going to an art exhibition and fool us around with the perfect imitation of an exhibition goer. A fair achievement indeed, but should we really be content with imitation?
As a thought experiment, let us imagine a different creative computer, one that is other than the copy of a creative and aesthetically satisfied human. Let us imagine something more, for example an artistic partner, a truly responsible ally. Mind you that examples of such partnership can be old. The 1960s algorithmic drawings of Sylvia Roubaud, Edward Zajec and Florin Maxa pop to mind, but the list of those artist-controlled computer outputs is much longer.
And yet, there are other partnerships. For example, there is a different commitment between collaborators that don’t fully understand each other. Imagine algorithms that are so complex they no longer ask for the human partner to fully grasp their functioning. The artist, the one who is flesh and blood, is then left to embrace the machinic output with some kind of genuine trust; a sort of partnership where gifts are given and taken without much discipline.
Using billions of uploaded portraits as they were school books for literacy in human physiognomy, a computer somehow generates faces that don’t exist; a true expressive moment, at least from the perspective of the human artistic partner, who might act upon these images by following up with further artistic choices. The synthesis in the artwork—for example a print of these given images on a specific marble slab—can be seen as a “recognition of and respect for the nonhuman others we did not make,” to quote Ursula K. Heise.
Real kind of partnership can also be troubled of course, and we can imagine a truly awkward moment between the computer and the human, one in which the computer manages to put the artist in a difficult situation, a legal impasse for instance. Say the spread of this other creative computer–this wild partner–gives the artist the chance to show how law and order are not keeping up with such pace. Troubled indeed, this relationship is a relationship, and an artwork would not exist without it.
Lastly, no computer is creative without humans. The contrary would be like an ice cream without the ice cream. This doesn’t mean the creative computer should be human, sounding like HAL with its soothing voice, declaring that Dave’s artistic skills have improved a great deal. A horizontal game between machine, the artist and spectators, where images and artworks are generated without no strict control of one player over the other, without a quixotic hunt for mechanic dummies, helps this human/computer partnership turn fine; another Eureka moment perhaps, a nice rendering.
Text by Piero BiselloCourtesy of the artist and Damien & The Love Guru, Brussels