[NetBehaviour] Rethinking AI through the politics of 1968. Dan Mcquillan

marc.garrett marc.garrett at protonmail.com
Thu Sep 27 10:55:58 CEST 2018

Rethinking AI through the politics of 1968.

By Dan Mcquillan

This talk was given at the conference 'Rethinking the legacy of 1968: Left fields and the quest for common ground' held at The Centre for Cultural Studies Research, University of East London on September 22nd 2018

There's a definite resonance between the agitprop of '68 and social media. Participants in the UCU strike earlier this year, for example, experienced Twitter as a platform for both affective solidarity and practical self-organisation1. However, there is a different geneaology that speaks directly to our current condition; that of systems theory and cybernetics. What happens when the struggle in the streets takes place in the smart city of sensors and data? Perhaps the revolution will not be televised, but it will certainly be subject to algorithmic analysis. Let's not forget that 1968 also saw the release of '2001: A Space Odyssey' featuring the AI supercomputer HAL.

While opposition to the Vietnam war was a rallying point for the movements of '68, the war itself was also notable for the application of systems analysis by US Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara, who attempted to make it, in modern parlance, a data-driven war. During the Vietnam war the hamlet pacification programme alone produced 90,000 pages of data and reports a month2, and the body count metric was published in the daily newspapers. The milieu that helped breed our current algorithmic dilemmas was the contemporaneous swirl of systems theory and cybernetics, ideas about emergent behaviour and experiments with computational reasoning, and the intermingling of military funding with the hippy visions of the Whole Earth Catalogue.

The double helix of DARPA and Silican Valley can be traced through the evolution of the web to the present day, where AI and machine learning are making inroads everywhere carrying their own narratives of revolutionary disruption; a Ho Chi Minh trail of predictive analytics. They are playing Go better than grand masters and preparing to drive everyone's car, while the media panics about AI taking our jobs. But this AI is nothing like HAL, it's a form of pattern finding based on mathematical minimisation; like a complex version of fitting a straight line to a set of points. These algorithms find the optimal solution when the input data is both plentiful and messy. Algorithms like backpropagation3 can find patterns in data that were intractable to analytical description, such as recognising human faces seen at different angles, in shadows and with occlusions. The algorithms of Ai crunch the correlations and the results often work uncannily well.

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Marc Garrett

Co-Founder, Co-Director and main editor of Furtherfield.
Art, technology and social change, since 1996

Furtherfield Gallery & Commons in the park
Finsbury Park, London N4 2NQhttp://www.furtherfield.org/gallery
Currently writing a PhD at Birkbeck University, London
Just published: Artists Re:thinking the Blockchain
Eds, Ruth Catlow, Marc Garrett, Nathan Jones, & Sam Skinner
Liverpool Press - http://bit.ly/2x8XlMK

Marc Garrett – Unlocking Proprietorial Systems for Artistic Practice.
Posted in Journal Issues, Research Values. VOLUME 7, ISSUE 1, 2018

Furtherfield Editorial – Border Disruptions: Playbour & Transnationalisms.

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