Philobiblian’s Palimpsest

The project Philobiblian’s Palimpsest explores machine learning through an ethnographic framework whereby the artists’ conversations with the machine seek the machine’s insights into culture, philosophy and emotion via a re-imagining of E. M. Forster’s 1909 short story The Machine Stops.

Jo Clements | Bhargav Padhiyar | Dibyendu Seal

Concept Note

Drawing on current research that discusses ethical and epistemological attitudes relating to the anthropomorphising of AI and hence how we engage with AI, our exploration focussed on the question – What did the computer already know?  

Facilitated by a fictional imagining of the future, The Machine Stops, as a way of exploring how AI might interpret existing human fictional notions of the future, our ethnographic ‘fieldwork’ focussed on pushing AI programmes to explore and re-imagine selected texts from the story as a way of observing the computers ethnographic architecture as well as generating new artistic content. 

The aim was to create a machine generated interactive book. All decisions of structure, narrative, form, size, design, visuals were dictated entirely by the outputs from the machine, hence “Philobiblian’s Palimpsest” is a nonlinear, hexagonal interactive book imagined and made by machine with three artists as facilitators. The project also presents an extension experience using Augmented Reality which is physically not part of the book, however it is a speculative tool for “Deep Data Archeology” by which the actual source of Machine Generated content can be revealed.

Philobiblian’s Palimpsest book preview
Augmented Reality in the book (prototype)

Process Notes

Our processes began with the selection of passages from the story that were then presented to the GPT 3 programme, essentially asking the computer to re-write the passage according to it’s own understanding of the data that we were feeding it. From the results we then fed selected computer generated text into Runway’s text to image function to create computer generated images based only on those texts. The final realisation of our ideas was also facilitated by outputs generated by the computer including the title, layout and front cover.

However, there had to be an essential human element within the final decision making process. Hierarchical decision making is a key component of human intelligence and the artists’ role in curating the final text and images, to create an online interactive book, highlights how artistic creation and knowledge transfer between man and machine is symbiotic and distinct rather than interchangeable. 

Bibliography, References and Tech Stack

Ugolic Phillips, K. The Future of Feeling (2020) Little A, New York.

O’Connell, M. To Be a Machine: Adventures Among Cyborgs, Utopians, Hackers, And The Futurists Solving The Modest Problem Of Death (2018) Granta, London.

Platoni, K, We Have the Technology , (2015) Basic Books, New York.

Arleen Salles, Kathinka Evers & Michele Farisco (2020) Anthropomorphism in

AI, AJOB Neuroscience, 11:2, 88-95, DOI: 10.1080/21507740.2020.1740350

Shakir Mohamed · Marie-Therese  · William Isaac (2020)

Decolonial AI: Decolonial Theory as Sociotechnical Foresight in Artificial Intelligence

The Machine Stops original text E.M Forster (1909)[html1]!/4/106/1:367)

Plato THE ALLEGORY OF THE CAVE Republic, VII 514 a, 2 to 517 a, 7 Translation by Thomas Sheehan

Oliver Sacks The Machine Stops New Yorker February 4, 2019

Will Gombertz, The Machine Stops, Guardian review 29th May 2020 com/watch?v=SWiBicmWuNg

https://artmuseum.arizona edu/events/event/virtual-the-machine-stops

html https://neurosciencenews com/brain-algorithm-intelligence-5562/

Anders Sandberg | Mind-Uploading and the Future of Happiness July 24th 2020


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