Play with AI
The acclaimed writer and founder of Google’s Artists + Machine Intelligence program asks: What if we imagined a healing AI?
Mar 2, 2023
I’ve often framed AI as a kind of poison, one that we can use in a healing way or in a harmful way, depending on our approach.
This relational and ecosystemic point of view can seem utopian. But recently, I’ve experienced a darker side of interspecies being. I spent more than a year fighting illnesses both physical and mental, only to discover I’d been living with toxic black mold. Interspecies relations, of course, include predation and toxicity. While certain plants and animals produce toxins we like and use medicinally or recreationally, other plants and animals protect themselves with toxins that harm. In doing everything I could to remove this toxin from my home and body, I spent a great deal of time wondering what black mold wanted from me, why it poisoned me, what it all meant. I felt like I invoked an interspecies shadow through my positive speaking and writing about non-human intelligence.
I’ve often framed AI as a kind of poison, one that we can use in a healing way or in a harmful way, depending on our approach. In raising the issue of healing and harm in the context of AI, I’ve been asked what healing AI might look like. While there are already many medical applications for AI (such as computer vision applied to medical imaging), one of the most healing aspects of AI that I have witnessed is the application of machine learning to art and creativity. For artists, AI can be a tool, a concept, a myth, an enemy, and many other things. But for the artists who choose to engage it, AI is a creative surface, and like all creative surfaces, it enables play.
Play is not easily summarized but I’ll give it a shot. Play is a free but structured activity that produces fun. But what is fun? My partner once asked me this. After some thought, I answered: fun is anything that is so enjoyable that you want to keep doing it. My partner asked me this question because we were both in the depths of a mold-induced depression, immersed in a persistent joylessness and doom. Without realizing it, I had lost my ability to play. What did this look like in my daily life? It looked like mere survival, function without inspiration, a drab and soulless utilitarian trudge from appointment to appointment. Days were exhausting; ideas would not come; purpose was sapped from my favorite activities like writing and dreaming of strange new futures.
As an AI researcher, I have to ask: what is the nature of our relation to computational non-human intelligence?
K Allado-McDowell is a writer, speaker, and musician. They are the author, with GPT-3, of the book Pharmako-AI, and are co-editor of The Atlas of Anomalous AI. They created the neuro-opera Song of the Ambassadors, and record and release music under the name Qenric. K established the Artists + Machine Intelligence program at Google AI. They are a conference speaker, educator, and consultant to think-tanks and institutions seeking to align their work with deeper traditions of human understanding.
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