Tag Archives: Berggruen Institute

Mad, bad, and dangerous to know? Artificial Intelligence at the Vancouver (Canada) Art Gallery (1 of 2): The Objects

To my imaginary AI friend

Dear friend,

I thought you might be amused by these Roomba-like* paintbots at the Vancouver Art Gallery’s (VAG) latest exhibition, “The Imitation Game: Visual Culture in the Age of Artificial Intelligence” (March 5, 2022 – October 23, 2022).

Sougwen Chung, Omnia per Omnia, 2018, video (excerpt), Courtesy of the Artist

*A Roomba is a robot vacuum cleaner produced and sold by iRobot.

As far as I know, this is the Vancouver Art Gallery’s first art/science or art/technology exhibit and it is an alternately fascinating, exciting, and frustrating take on artificial intelligence and its impact on the visual arts. Curated by Bruce Grenville, VAG Senior Curator, and Glenn Entis, Guest Curator, the show features 20 ‘objects’ designed to both introduce viewers to the ‘imitation game’ and to challenge them. From the VAG Imitation Game webpage,

The Imitation Game surveys the extraordinary uses (and abuses) of artificial intelligence (AI) in the production of modern and contemporary visual culture around the world. The exhibition follows a chronological narrative that first examines the development of artificial intelligence, from the 1950s to the present [emphasis mine], through a precise historical lens. Building on this foundation, it emphasizes the explosive growth of AI across disciplines, including animation, architecture, art, fashion, graphic design, urban design and video games, over the past decade. Revolving around the important roles of machine learning and computer vision in AI research and experimentation, The Imitation Game reveals the complex nature of this new tool and demonstrates its importance for cultural production.

And now …

As you’ve probably guessed, my friend, you’ll find a combination of both background information and commentary on the show.

I’ve initially focused on two people (a scientist and a mathematician) who were seminal thinkers about machines, intelligence, creativity, and humanity. I’ve also provided some information about the curators, which hopefully gives you some insight into the show.

As for the show itself, you’ll find a few of the ‘objects’ highlighted with one of them being investigated at more length. The curators devoted some of the show to ethical and social justice issues, accordingly, the Vancouver Art Gallery hosted the University of British Columbia’s “Speculative Futures: Artificial Intelligence Symposium” on April 7, 2022,

Presented in conjunction with the exhibition The Imitation Game: Visual Culture in the Age of Artificial Intelligence, the Speculative Futures Symposium examines artificial intelligence and the specific uses of technology in its multifarious dimensions. Across four different panel conversations, leading thinkers of today will explore the ethical implications of technology and discuss how they are working to address these issues in cultural production.”

So, you’ll find more on these topics here too.

And for anyone else reading this (not you, my friend who is ‘strong’ AI and not similar to the ‘weak’ AI found in this show), there is a description of ‘weak’ and ‘strong’ AI on the avtsim.com/weak-ai-strong-ai webpage, Note: A link has been removed,

There are two types of AI: weak AI and strong AI.

Weak, sometimes called narrow, AI is less intelligent as it cannot work without human interaction and focuses on a more narrow, specific, or niched purpose. …

Strong AI on the other hand is in fact comparable to the fictitious AIs we see in media like the terminator. The theoretical Strong AI would be equivalent or greater to human intelligence.

….

My dear friend, I hope you will enjoy.

The Imitation Game and ‘mad, bad, and dangerous to know’

In some circles, it’s better known as ‘The Turing Test;” the Vancouver Art Gallery’s ‘Imitation Game’ hosts a copy of Alan Turing’s foundational paper for establishing whether artificial intelligence is possible (I thought this was pretty exciting).

Here’s more from The Turing Test essay by Graham Oppy and David Dowe for the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy,

The phrase “The Turing Test” is most properly used to refer to a proposal made by Turing (1950) as a way of dealing with the question whether machines can think. According to Turing, the question whether machines can think is itself “too meaningless” to deserve discussion (442). However, if we consider the more precise—and somehow related—question whether a digital computer can do well in a certain kind of game that Turing describes (“The Imitation Game”), then—at least in Turing’s eyes—we do have a question that admits of precise discussion. Moreover, as we shall see, Turing himself thought that it would not be too long before we did have digital computers that could “do well” in the Imitation Game.

The phrase “The Turing Test” is sometimes used more generally to refer to some kinds of behavioural tests for the presence of mind, or thought, or intelligence in putatively minded entities. …

Next to the display holding Turing’s paper, is another display with an excerpt of an explanation from Turing about how he believed Ada Lovelace would have responded to the idea that machines could think based on a copy of some of her writing (also on display). She proposed that creativity, not thinking, is what set people apart from machines. (See the April 17, 2020 article “Thinking Machines? Has the Lovelace Test Been Passed?’ on mindmatters.ai.)

It’s like a dialogue between two seminal thinkers who lived about 100 years apart; Lovelace, born in 1815 and dead in 1852, and Turing, born in 1912 and dead in 1954. Both have fascinating back stories (more about those later) and both played roles in how computers and artificial intelligence are viewed.

Adding some interest to this walk down memory lane is a 3rd display, an illustration of the ‘Mechanical Turk‘, a chess playing machine that made the rounds in Europe from 1770 until it was destroyed in 1854. A hoax that fooled people for quite a while it is a reminder that we’ve been interested in intelligent machines for centuries. (Friend, Turing and Lovelace and the Mechanical Turk are found in Pod 1.)

Back story: Turing and the apple

Turing is credited with being instrumental in breaking the German ENIGMA code during World War II and helping to end the war. I find it odd that he ended up at the University of Manchester in the post-war years. One would expect him to have been at Oxford or Cambridge. At any rate, he died in 1954 of cyanide poisoning two years after he was arrested for being homosexual and convicted of indecency. Given the choice of incarceration or chemical castration, he chose the latter. There is, to this day, debate about whether or not it was suicide. Here’s how his death is described in this Wikipedia entry (Note: Links have been removed),

On 8 June 1954, at his house at 43 Adlington Road, Wilmslow,[150] Turing’s housekeeper found him dead. He had died the previous day at the age of 41. Cyanide poisoning was established as the cause of death.[151] When his body was discovered, an apple lay half-eaten beside his bed, and although the apple was not tested for cyanide,[152] it was speculated that this was the means by which Turing had consumed a fatal dose. An inquest determined that he had committed suicide. Andrew Hodges and another biographer, David Leavitt, have both speculated that Turing was re-enacting a scene from the Walt Disney film Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937), his favourite fairy tale. Both men noted that (in Leavitt’s words) he took “an especially keen pleasure in the scene where the Wicked Queen immerses her apple in the poisonous brew”.[153] Turing’s remains were cremated at Woking Crematorium on 12 June 1954,[154] and his ashes were scattered in the gardens of the crematorium, just as his father’s had been.[155]

Philosopher Jack Copeland has questioned various aspects of the coroner’s historical verdict. He suggested an alternative explanation for the cause of Turing’s death: the accidental inhalation of cyanide fumes from an apparatus used to electroplate gold onto spoons. The potassium cyanide was used to dissolve the gold. Turing had such an apparatus set up in his tiny spare room. Copeland noted that the autopsy findings were more consistent with inhalation than with ingestion of the poison. Turing also habitually ate an apple before going to bed, and it was not unusual for the apple to be discarded half-eaten.[156] Furthermore, Turing had reportedly borne his legal setbacks and hormone treatment (which had been discontinued a year previously) “with good humour” and had shown no sign of despondency prior to his death. He even set down a list of tasks that he intended to complete upon returning to his office after the holiday weekend.[156] Turing’s mother believed that the ingestion was accidental, resulting from her son’s careless storage of laboratory chemicals.[157] Biographer Andrew Hodges theorised that Turing arranged the delivery of the equipment to deliberately allow his mother plausible deniability with regard to any suicide claims.[158]

The US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) also has an entry for Alan Turing dated April 10, 2015 it’s titled, The Enigma of Alan Turing.

Back story: Ada Byron Lovelace, the 2nd generation of ‘mad, bad, and dangerous to know’

A mathematician and genius in her own right, Ada Lovelace’s father George Gordon Byron, better known as the poet Lord Byron, was notoriously described as ‘mad, bad, and dangerous to know’.

Lovelace too could have been been ‘mad, bad, …’ but she is described less memorably as “… manipulative and aggressive, a drug addict, a gambler and an adulteress, …” as mentioned in my October 13, 20215 posting. It marked the 200th anniversary of her birth, which was celebrated with a British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) documentary and an exhibit at the Science Museum in London, UK.

She belongs in the Vancouver Art Gallery’s show along with Alan Turing due to her prediction that computers could be made to create music. She also published the first computer program. Her feat is astonishing when you know only one working model {1/7th of the proposed final size) of a computer was ever produced. (The machine invented by Charles Babbage was known as a difference engine. You can find out more about the Difference engine on Wikipedia and about Babbage’s proposed second invention, the Analytical engine.)

(Byron had almost nothing to do with his daughter although his reputation seems to have dogged her. You can find out more about Lord Byron here.)

AI and visual culture at the VAG: the curators

As mentioned earlier, the VAG’s “The Imitation Game: Visual Culture in the Age of Artificial Intelligence” show runs from March 5, 2022 – October 23, 2022. Twice now, I have been to this weirdly exciting and frustrating show.

Bruce Grenville, VAG Chief/Senior Curator, seems to specialize in pulling together diverse materials to illustrate ‘big’ topics. His profile for Emily Carr University of Art + Design (where Grenville teaches) mentions these shows ,

… He has organized many thematic group exhibitions including, MashUp: The Birth of Modern Culture [emphasis mine], a massive survey documenting the emergence of a mode of creativity that materialized in the late 1800s and has grown to become the dominant model of cultural production in the 21st century; KRAZY! The Delirious World [emphasis mine] of Anime + Manga + Video Games + Art, a timely and important survey of modern and contemporary visual culture from around the world; Home and Away: Crossing Cultures on the Pacific Rim [emphasis mine] a look at the work of six artists from Vancouver, Beijing, Ho Chi Minh City, Seoul and Los Angeles, who share a history of emigration and diaspora. …

Glenn Entis, Guest Curator and founding faculty member of Vancouver’s Centre for Digital Media (CDM) is Grenville’s co-curator, from Entis’ CDM profile,

“… an Academy Award-winning animation pioneer and games industry veteran. The former CEO of Dreamworks Interactive, Glenn worked with Steven Spielberg and Jeffrey Katzenberg on a number of video games …,”

Steve Newton in his March 4, 2022 preview does a good job of describing the show although I strongly disagree with the title of his article which proclaims “The Vancouver Art Gallery takes a deep dive into artificial intelligence with The Imitation Game.” I think it’s more of a shallow dive meant to cover more distance than depth,

… The exhibition kicks off with an interactive introduction inviting visitors to actively identify diverse areas of cultural production influenced by AI.

“That was actually one of the pieces that we produced in collaboration with the Centre for Digital Media,” Grenville notes, “so we worked with some graduate-student teams that had actually helped us to design that software. It was the beginning of COVID when we started to design this, so we actually wanted a no-touch interactive. So, really, the idea was to say, ‘Okay, this is the very entrance to the exhibition, and artificial intelligence, this is something I’ve heard about, but I’m not really sure how it’s utilized in ways. But maybe I know something about architecture; maybe I know something about video games; maybe I know something about the history of film.

“So you point to these 10 categories of visual culture [emphasis mine]–video games, architecture, fashion design, graphic design, industrial design, urban design–so you point to one of those, and you might point to ‘film’, and then when you point at it that opens up into five different examples of what’s in the show, so it could be 2001: A Space Odyssey, or Bladerunner, or World on a Wire.”

After the exhibition’s introduction—which Grenville equates to “opening the door to your curiosity” about artificial intelligence–visitors encounter one of its main categories, Objects of Wonder, which speaks to the history of AI and the critical advances the technology has made over the years.

“So there are 20 Objects of Wonder [emphasis mine],” Grenville says, “which go from 1949 to 2022, and they kind of plot out the history of artificial intelligence over that period of time, focusing on a specific object. Like [mathematician and philosopher] Norbert Wiener made this cybernetic creature, he called it a ‘Moth’, in 1949. So there’s a section that looks at this idea of kind of using animals–well, machine animals–and thinking about cybernetics, this idea of communication as feedback, early thinking around neuroscience and how neuroscience starts to imagine this idea of a thinking machine.

And there’s this from Newton’s March 4, 2022 preview,

“It’s interesting,” Grenville ponders, “artificial intelligence is virtually unregulated. [emphasis mine] You know, if you think about the regulatory bodies that govern TV or radio or all the types of telecommunications, there’s no equivalent for artificial intelligence, which really doesn’t make any sense. And so what happens is, sometimes with the best intentions [emphasis mine]—sometimes not with the best intentions—choices are made about how artificial intelligence develops. So one of the big ones is facial-recognition software [emphasis mine], and any body-detection software that’s being utilized.

In addition to it being the best overview of the show I’ve seen so far, this is the only one where you get a little insight into what the curators were thinking when they were developing it.

A deep dive into AI?

it was only while searching for a little information before the show that I realized I don’t have any definitions for artificial intelligence! What is AI? Sadly, there are no definitions of AI in the exhibit.

It seems even experts don’t have a good definition. Take a look at this,

The definition of AI is fluid [emphasis mine] and reflects a constantly shifting landscape marked by technological advancements and growing areas of application. Indeed, it has frequently been observed that once AI becomes capable of solving a particular problem or accomplishing a certain task, it is often no longer considered to be “real” intelligence [emphasis mine] (Haenlein & Kaplan, 2019). A firm definition was not applied for this report [emphasis mine], given the variety of implementations described above. However, for the purposes of deliberation, the Panel chose to interpret AI as a collection of statistical and software techniques, as well as the associated data and the social context in which they evolve — this allows for a broader and more inclusive interpretation of AI technologies and forms of agency. The Panel uses the term AI interchangeably to describe various implementations of machine-assisted design and discovery, including those based on machine learning, deep learning, and reinforcement learning, except for specific examples where the choice of implementation is salient. [p. 6 print version; p. 34 PDF version]

The above is from the Leaps and Boundaries report released May 10, 2022 by the Council of Canadian Academies’ Expert Panel on Artificial Intelligence for Science and Engineering.

Sometimes a show will take you in an unexpected direction. I feel a lot better ‘not knowing’. Still, I wish the curators had acknowledged somewhere in the show that artificial intelligence is a slippery concept. Especially when you add in robots and automatons. (more about them later)

21st century technology in a 19th/20th century building

Void stairs inside the building. Completed in 1906, the building was later designated as a National Historic Site in 1980 [downloaded from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vancouver_Art_Gallery#cite_note-canen-7]

Just barely making it into the 20th century, the building where the Vancouver Art Gallery currently resides was for many years the provincial courthouse (1911 – 1978). In some ways, it’s a disconcerting setting for this show.

They’ve done their best to make the upstairs where the exhibit is displayed look like today’s galleries with their ‘white cube aesthetic’ and strong resemblance to the scientific laboratories seen in movies.

(For more about the dominance, since the 1930s, of the ‘white cube aesthetic’ in art galleries around the world, see my July 26, 2021 posting; scroll down about 50% of the way.)

It makes for an interesting tension, the contrast between the grand staircase, the cupola, and other architectural elements and the sterile, ‘laboratory’ environment of the modern art gallery.

20 Objects of Wonder and the flow of the show

It was flummoxing. Where are the 20 objects? Why does it feel like a maze in a laboratory? Loved the bees, but why? Eeeek Creepers! What is visual culture anyway? Where am I?

The objects of the show

It turns out that the curators have a more refined concept for ‘object’ than I do. There weren’t 20 material objects, there were 20 numbered ‘pods’ with perhaps a screen or a couple of screens or a screen and a material object or two illustrating the pod’s topic.

Looking up a definition for the word (accessed from a June 9, 2022 duckduckgo.com search). yielded this, (the second one seems à propos),

objectŏb′jĭkt, -jĕkt″

noun

1. Something perceptible by one or more of the senses, especially by vision or touch; a material thing.

2. A focus of attention, feeling, thought, or action.

3. A limiting factor that must be considered.

The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, 5th Edition.

Each pod = a focus of attention.

The show’s flow is a maze. Am I a rat?

The pods are defined by a number and by temporary walls. So if you look up, you’ll see a number and a space partly enclosed by a temporary wall or two.

It’s a very choppy experience. For example, one minute you can be in pod 1 and, when you turn the corner, you’re in pod 4 or 5 or ? There are pods I’ve not seen, despite my two visits, because I kept losing my way. This led to an existential crisis on my second visit. “Had I missed the greater meaning of this show? Was there some sort of logic to how it was organized? Was there meaning to my life? Was I a rat being nudged around in a maze?” I didn’t know.

Thankfully, I have since recovered. But, I will return to my existential crisis later, with a special mention for “Creepers.”

The fascinating

My friend, you know I appreciated the history and in addition to Alan Turing, Ada Lovelace and the Mechanical Turk, at the beginning of the show, they included a reference to Ovid (or Pūblius Ovidius Nāsō), a Roman poet who lived from 43 BCE – 17/18 CE in one of the double digit (17? or 10? or …) in one of the pods featuring a robot on screen. As to why Ovid might be included, this excerpt from a February 12, 2018 posting on the cosmolocal.org website provides a clue (Note. Links have been removed),

The University of King’s College [Halifax, Nova Scotia] presents Automatons! From Ovid to AI, a nine-lecture series examining the history, issues and relationships between humans, robots, and artificial intelligence [emphasis mine]. The series runs from January 10 to April 4 [2018], and features leading scholars, performers and critics from Canada, the US and Britain.

“Drawing from theatre, literature, art, science and philosophy, our 2018 King’s College Lecture Series features leading international authorities exploring our intimate relationships with machines,” says Dr. Gordon McOuat, professor in the King’s History of Science and Technology (HOST) and Contemporary Studies Programs.

“From the myths of Ovid [emphasis mine] and the automatons [emphasis mine] of the early modern period to the rise of robots, cyborgs, AI and artificial living things in the modern world, the 2018 King’s College Lecture Series examines the historical, cultural, scientific and philosophical place of automatons in our lives—and our future,” adds McOuat.

I loved the way the curators managed to integrate the historical roots for artificial intelligence and, by extension, the world of automatons, robots, cyborgs, and androids. Yes, starting the show with Alan Turing and Ada Lovelace could be expected but Norbert Wiener’s Moth (1949) acts as a sort of preview for Sougwen Chung’s “Omnia per Omnia, 2018” (GIF seen at the beginning of this post). Take a look for yourself (from the cyberneticzoo.com September 19, 2009 posting by cyberne1. Do you see the similarity or am I the only one?

[sourced from Google images, Source:life) & downloaded from https://cyberneticzoo.com/cyberneticanimals/1949-wieners-moth-wiener-wiesner-singleton/]

Sculpture

This is the first time I’ve come across an AI/sculpture project. The VAG show features Scott Eaton’s sculptures on screens in a room devoted to his work.

Scott Eaton: Entangled II, 2019 4k video (still) Courtesy of the Artist [downloaded from https://www.vanartgallery.bc.ca/exhibitions/the-imitation-game]

This looks like an image of a piece of ginger root and It’s fascinating to watch the process as the AI agent ‘evolves’ Eaton’s drawings into onscreen sculptures. It would have enhanced the experience if at least one of Eaton’s ‘evolved’ and physically realized sculptures had been present in the room but perhaps there were financial and/or logistical reasons for the absence.

Both Chung and Eaton are collaborating with an AI agent. In Chung’s case the AI is integrated into the paintbots with which she interacts and paints alongside and in Eaton’s case, it’s via a computer screen. In both cases, the work is mildly hypnotizing in a way that reminds me of lava lamps.

One last note about Chung and her work. She was one of the artists invited to present new work at an invite-only April 22, 2022 Embodied Futures workshop at the “What will life become?” event held by the Berrgruen Institute and the University of Southern California (USC),

Embodied Futures invites participants to imagine novel forms of life, mind, and being through artistic and intellectual provocations on April 22 [2022].

Beginning at 1 p.m., together we will experience the launch of five artworks commissioned by the Berggruen Institute. We asked these artists: How does your work inflect how we think about “the human” in relation to alternative “embodiments” such as machines, AIs, plants, animals, the planet, and possible alien life forms in the cosmos? [emphases mine]  Later in the afternoon, we will take provocations generated by the morning’s panels and the art premieres in small breakout groups that will sketch futures worlds, and lively entities that might dwell there, in 2049.

This leads to (and my friend, while I too am taking a shallow dive, for this bit I’m going a little deeper):

Bees and architecture

Neri Oxman’s contribution (Golden Bee Cube, Synthetic Apiary II [2020]) is an exhibit featuring three honeycomb structures and a video featuring the bees in her synthetic apiary.

Neri Oxman and the MIT Mediated Matter Group, Golden Bee Cube, Synthetic Apiary II, 2020, beeswax, acrylic, gold particles, gold powder Courtesy of Neri Oxman and the MIT Mediated Matter Group

Neri Oxman (then a faculty member of the Mediated Matter Group at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology) described the basis for the first and all other iterations of her synthetic apiary in Patrick Lynch’s October 5, 2016 article for ‘ArchDaily; Broadcasting Architecture Worldwide’, Note: Links have been removed,

Designer and architect Neri Oxman and the Mediated Matter group have announced their latest design project: the Synthetic Apiary. Aimed at combating the massive bee colony losses that have occurred in recent years, the Synthetic Apiary explores the possibility of constructing controlled, indoor environments that would allow honeybee populations to thrive year-round.

“It is time that the inclusion of apiaries—natural or synthetic—for this “keystone species” be considered a basic requirement of any sustainability program,” says Oxman.

In developing the Synthetic Apiary, Mediated Matter studied the habits and needs of honeybees, determining the precise amounts of light, humidity and temperature required to simulate a perpetual spring environment. [emphasis mine] They then engineered an undisturbed space where bees are provided with synthetic pollen and sugared water and could be evaluated regularly for health.

In the initial experiment, the honeybees’ natural cycle proved to adapt to the new environment, as the Queen was able to successfully lay eggs in the apiary. The bees showed the ability to function normally in the environment, suggesting that natural cultivation in artificial spaces may be possible across scales, “from organism- to building-scale.”

“At the core of this project is the creation of an entirely synthetic environment enabling controlled, large-scale investigations of hives,” explain the designers.

Mediated Matter chose to research into honeybees not just because of their recent loss of habitat, but also because of their ability to work together to create their own architecture, [emphasis mine] a topic the group has explored in their ongoing research on biologically augmented digital fabrication, including employing silkworms to create objects and environments at product, architectural, and possibly urban, scales.

“The Synthetic Apiary bridges the organism- and building-scale by exploring a “keystone species”: bees. Many insect communities present collective behavior known as “swarming,” prioritizing group over individual survival, while constantly working to achieve common goals. Often, groups of these eusocial organisms leverage collaborative behavior for relatively large-scale construction. For example, ants create extremely complex networks by tunneling, wasps generate intricate paper nests with materials sourced from local areas, and bees deposit wax to build intricate hive structures.”

This January 19, 2022 article by Crown Honey for its eponymous blog updates Oxman’s work (Note 1: All emphases are mine; Note 2: A link has been removed),

Synthetic Apiary II investigates co-fabrication between humans and honey bees through the use of designed environments in which Apis mellifera colonies construct comb. These designed environments serve as a means by which to convey information to the colony. The comb that the bees construct within these environments comprises their response to the input information, enabling a form of communication through which we can begin to understand the hive’s collective actions from their perspective.

Some environments are embedded with chemical cues created through a novel pheromone 3D-printing process, while others generate magnetic fields of varying strength and direction. Others still contain geometries of varying complexity or designs that alter their form over time.

When offered wax augmented with synthetic biomarkers, bees appear to readily incorporate it into their construction process, likely due to the high energy cost of producing fresh wax. This suggests that comb construction is a responsive and dynamic process involving complex adaptations to perturbations from environmental stimuli, not merely a set of predefined behaviors building toward specific constructed forms. Each environment therefore acts as a signal that can be sent to the colony to initiate a process of co-fabrication.

Characterization of constructed comb morphology generally involves visual observation and physical measurements of structural features—methods which are limited in scale of analysis and blind to internal architecture. In contrast, the wax structures built by the colonies in Synthetic Apiary II are analyzed through high-throughput X-ray computed tomography (CT) scans that enable a more holistic digital reconstruction of the hive’s structure.

Geometric analysis of these forms provides information about the hive’s design process, preferences, and limitations when tied to the inputs, and thereby yields insights into the invisible mediations between bees and their environment.
Developing computational tools to learn from bees can facilitate the very beginnings of a dialogue with them. Refined by evolution over hundreds of thousands of years, their comb-building behaviors and social organizations may reveal new forms and methods of formation that can be applied across our human endeavors in architecture, design, engineering, and culture.

Further, with a basic understanding and language established, methods of co-fabrication together with bees may be developed, enabling the use of new biocompatible materials and the creation of more efficient structural geometries that modern technology alone cannot achieve.

In this way, we also move our built environment toward a more synergistic embodiment, able to be more seamlessly integrated into natural environments through material and form, even providing habitats of benefit to both humans and nonhumans. It is essential to our mutual survival for us to not only protect but moreover to empower these critical pollinators – whose intrinsic behaviors and ecosystems we have altered through our industrial processes and practices of human-centric design – to thrive without human intervention once again.

In order to design our way out of the environmental crisis that we ourselves created, we must first learn to speak nature’s language. …

The three (natural, gold nanoparticle, and silver nanoparticle) honeycombs in the exhibit are among the few physical objects (the others being the historical documents and the paintbots with their canvasses) in the show and it’s almost a relief after the parade of screens. It’s the accompanying video that’s eerie. Everything is in white, as befits a science laboratory, in this synthetic apiary where bees are fed sugar water and fooled into a spring that is eternal.

Courtesy: Massachusetts Institute of Technology Copyright: Mediated Matter [downloaded from https://www.media.mit.edu/projects/synthetic-apiary/overview/]

(You may want to check out Lynch’s October 5, 2016 article or Crown Honey’s January 19, 2022 article as both have embedded images and the Lynch article includes a Synthetic Apiary video. The image above is a still from the video.)

As I asked a friend, where are the flowers? Ron Miksha, a bee ecologist working at the University of Calgary, details some of the problems with Oxman’s Synthetic Apiary this way in his October 7, 2016 posting on his Bad Beekeeping Blog,

In a practical sense, the synthetic apiary fails on many fronts: Bees will survive a few months on concoctions of sugar syrup and substitute pollen, but they need a natural variety of amino acids and minerals to actually thrive. They need propolis and floral pollen. They need a ceiling 100 metres high and a 2-kilometre hallway if drone and queen will mate, or they’ll die after the old queen dies. They need an artificial sun that travels across the sky, otherwise, the bees will be attracted to artificial lights and won’t return to their hive. They need flowery meadows, fresh water, open skies. [emphasis mine] They need a better holodeck.

Dorothy Woodend’s March 10, 2022 review of the VAG show for The Tyee poses other issues with the bees and the honeycombs,

When AI messes about with other species, there is something even more unsettling about the process. American-Israeli artist Neri Oxman’s Golden Bee Cube, Synthetic Apiary II, 2020 uses real bees who are proffered silver and gold [nanoparticles] to create their comb structures. While the resulting hives are indeed beautiful, rendered in shades of burnished metal, there is a quality of unease imbued in them. Is the piece akin to apiary torture chambers? I wonder how the bees feel about this collaboration and whether they’d like to renegotiate the deal.

There’s no question the honeycombs are fascinating and disturbing but I don’t understand how artificial intelligence was a key factor in either version of Oxman’s synthetic apiary. In the 2022 article by Crown Honey, there’s this “Developing computational tools to learn from bees can facilitate the very beginnings of a dialogue with them [honeybees].” It’s probable that the computational tools being referenced include AI and the Crown Honey article seems to suggest those computational tools are being used to analyze the bees behaviour after the fact.

Yes, I can imagine a future where ‘strong’ AI (such as you, my friend) is in ‘dialogue’ with the bees and making suggestions and running the experiments but it’s not clear that this is the case currently. The Oxman exhibit contribution would seem to be about the future and its possibilities whereas many of the other ‘objects’ concern the past and/or the present.

Friend, let’s take a break, shall we? Part 2 is coming up.

Art in the Age of Planetary Consciousness; an April 22, 2022 talk in Venice (Italy) and online (+ an April 21/22, 2022 art/sci event)

The Biennale Arte (also known as the Venice Biennale) 2022: The Milk of Dreams runs from April 23 -November 27, 2022 with pre-openings on April 20, 21, and 22.

As part of the Biennale’s pre-opening, the ArtReview (international contemporary art magazine) and the Berggruen Institute (think tank with headquarters in Los Angeles, California) are presenting a talk on April 22, 2022, from the Talk on Art in the Age of Planetary Consciousness on the artreview.com website (Note: I cannot find an online portal so I’m guessing this is in person only),

Join the artists and ArtReview’s Mark Rappolt for this panel discussion – the first in a new series of talks in collaboration with Berggruen Arts – on 22 April 2022 at Casa dei Tre Oci, Venice

We live in an age in which we increasingly recognise and acknowledge that the human-made world and non-human worlds overlap and interact. In which actions cause reactions in a system that is increasingly planetary in scale while being susceptible to change by the actions of individual and collective agents. How does this change the way in which we think about art? And the ways in which we think about making art? Does it exist apart or as a part of this new consciousness and world view? Does art reflect such systems or participate within them? Or both?

This discussion between artists Shubigi Rao and Wu Tsang,who will both be showing new works at the 59th Venice Biennale, is the first in a new programme of events in which ArtReview is partnering with the Berggruen Institute to explore the intersections of philosophy, science and culture [emphasis mine] – as well as celebrating Casa dei Tre Oci in Venice as a gathering place for artists, curators, artlovers and thinkers. The conversation is chaired by ArtReview editor-in-chief Mark Rappolt.

Venue: Casa dei Tre Oci, Venice

Date: 22 April [2022]

Time: Entry from 4.30pm, talk to commence 5pm [Central European Summer Time, for PT subtract 9 hours]

Moderator: Mark Rappolt, Editor-in-Chief ArtReview & ArtReview Asia

Speakers: Shubigi Rao, Wu Tsang

RSVP: rsvp@artreview.com

About the artists:

Artist and writer Shubigi Rao’s interests include libraries, archival systems, histories and lies, literature and violence, ecologies, and natural history. Her art, texts, films, and photographs look at current and historical flashpoints as perspectival shifts to examining contemporary crises of displacement, whether of people, languages, cultures, or knowledge bodies. Her current decade-long project, Pulp: A Short Biography of the Banished Book is about the history of book destruction and the future of knowledge. In 2020, the second book from the project won the Singapore Literature Prize (non-fiction), while the first volume was shortlisted in 2018. Both books have won numerous awards, including AIGA (New York)’s 50 best books of 2016, and D&AD Pencil for design. The first exhibition of the project, Written in the Margins, won the APB Signature Prize 2018 Juror’s Choice Award. She is currently the Curator for the upcoming Kochi-Muziris Biennale. She will be representing Singapore at the 59th Venice Biennale.

Wu Tsang is an award-winning filmmaker and visual artist. Tsang’s work crosses genres and disciplines, from narrative and documentary films to live performance and video installations. Tsang is a MacArthur ‘Genius’ Fellow, and her projects have been presented at museums, biennials, and film festivals internationally. Awards include 2016 Guggenheim Fellow (Film/Video), 2018 Hugo Boss Prize Nominee, Creative Capital, Rockefeller Foundation, Louis Comfort Tiffany Foundation, and Warhol Foundation. Tsang received her BFA (2004) from the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC) and an MFA (2010) from University of California Los Angeles (UCLA). Currently Tsang works in residence at Schauspielhaus Zurich, as a director of theatre with the collective Moved by the Motion. Her work is included in the 59th Venice Biennale’s central exhibition The Milk of Dreams, curated by Cecilia Alemani. On 20 April, TBA21–Academy in collaboration with The Hartwig Art Foundation presents the Italian premiere of Moby Dick; or, The Whale, the Wu Tsang-directed feature-length silent film with a live symphony orchestra, at Venice’s Teatro Goldoni.

I’m not sure how this talk will “explore the intersections of philosophy, science and culture.” I can make a case for philosophy and culture but not science. At any rate, the it serves as an introduction to the Berggruen Institute’s new activities in Europe, from the Talk on Art in the Age of Planetary Consciousness on the artreview.com website,

The Berggruen Institute – headquartered in Los Angeles – was established in 2010 to develop foundational ideas about how to reshape political and social institutions in a time of great global change. It recently acquired Casa dei Tre Oci in Venice as a new base for its European activities. The neo-gothic building, originally designed as a home and studio by the artist Mario de Maria, will serve as a space for global dialogue and new ideas, via a range of workshops, symposia and exhibitions in the visual arts and architecture.

In a further expansion of activity, the initiative Berggruen Arts & Culture has been launched with the acquisition of the historic Palazzo Diedo in Venice’s Cannaregio district. The site will host exhibitions as well as a residency programme (with Sterling Ruby named as the inaugural artist-in-residence). Curator Mario Codognato has been appointed artistic director of the initiative; the architect Silvio Fassi will oversee the palazzo’s renovation, which is scheduled to open in 2024.

Having been most interested in the Berggruen Institute (founded by Nicolas Berggruen) and its events, I’ve missed the arts and culture aspect of the Berggruen enterprise. Mark Westall’s March 15, 2022 article for FAD magazine gives some insight into Berggruen’s Venice arts and culture adventure,

In the most recent of his initiatives to encourage the work of today’s artists, deepen the connection between contemporary art and the past, and make art more widely accessible to the public, philanthropist Nicolas Berggruen today [March 15, 2022] announced the creation of Berggruen Arts & Culture and the acquisition of the historic Palazzo Diedo by the Nicolas Berggruen Charitable Trust in Venice’s Cannaregio district, which is being restored and renovated to serve as a base for this multi-faceted, international program and its activities in Venice and around the world.

At Palazzo Diedo, Berggruen Arts & Culture will host an array of exhibitions—some drawn from Nicolas Berggruen’s personal collection—as well as installations, symposia, and an artist-in-residence program that will foster the creation of art in Venice. To bring the palazzo to life during the renovation phase and make its new role visible to the public, Berggruen Arts & Culture has named Sterling Ruby as its inaugural artist-in-residence. Ruby will create A Project in Four Acts, a multi-year installation at Palazzo Diedo, with the first element debuting on April 20, 2022, and on view through the duration of the 59th Biennale Arte.

Internationally renowned contemporary art curator Mario Codognato, who has served as chief curator of MADRE in Naples and director of the Anish Kapoor Foundation in Venice [I have more on Anish Kapoor later], has been named the artistic director of Berggruen Arts & Culture. Venetian architect Silvio Fassi is overseeing the renovation of the palazzo, which will open officially in 2024, concurrent with the Biennale di Venezia.

Nicolas Berggruen’s initiatives in the visual arts and culture have spanned the traditional and the experimental. As a representative of a family that is legendary in the field of 20th-century European art, he has been instrumental in expanding the programming and curatorial autonomy of the Museum Berggruen, which has been a component of the Nationalgalerie in Berlin since 2000. As founder of the Berggruen Institute, he has spearheaded the expansion of the Institute with a presence in Los Angeles, Beijing, and Venice. He has supported Institute-led projects pairing leading contemporary artists including Anicka Yi, Ian Cheng, Rob Reynolds, Agnieszka Kurant, Pierre Huyghe, and Nancy Baker Cahill with researchers in artificial intelligence and biology, to create works exploring our changing ideas of what it means to be human.

Palazzo Diedo is the second historic building that the Nicolas Berggruen Charitable Trust has acquired in Venice, following the purchase of Casa dei Tre Oci on the Giudecca as the principal European base for the Berggruen Institute. In April and June 2022, Berggruen Arts & Culture will present a series of artist conversations in partnership with ArtReview at Casa dei Tre Oci. Berggruen Arts & Culture will also undertake activities such as exhibitions, discussions, lectures, and residencies at sites beyond Palazzo Diedo and Casa dei Tre Oci, such as Museum Berggruen in Berlin and the Berggruen Institute in Los Angeles.

For those of us not lucky enough to be in Venice for the opening of the 59th Biennale Arte, there’s this amusing story about Anish Kapoor and an artistic feud over the blackest black (a coating material made of carbon nanotubes) in my February 21, 2019 posting.

Art/sci and the Berggruen Institute

While the April 22, 2022 talk doesn’t directly address science issues vis-à-vis arts and culture, this upcoming Berggruen Institute/University of Southern California (USC) event does,

What Will Life Become?

Thursday, April 21 [2022] @ USC // Friday, April 22 [2022] @ Berggruen Institute // #WWLB

About

Biotechnologies that push the limits of life, artificial intelligences that can be trained to learn, and endeavors that envision life beyond Earth are among recent and anticipated technoscientific futures. Such projects unsettle theories and material realities of body, mind, species, and the planet. They prompt us to ask: How will we conjure positive human futures and future humans?

On Thursday, April 21 [2022] and Friday, April 22 [2022], the Berggruen Institute and the USC Dornsife Center on Science, Technology, and Public, together with philosophers, scientists, and artists, collaboratively and critically inquire:

What Will Life Become?

KEYNOTE CONVERSATION
“Speculative Worldbuilding”

PUBLIC FORUM
“What Will Life Become?”

PANELS
“Futures of Life”
“Futures of Mind”
“Futures in Outer Space”

WORKSHOP
“Embodied Futures”

VISION

The search for extraterrestrial biosignatures, human/machine cyborgian mashups, and dreams to facilitate reproduction beyond Earth are future-facing technologies. They complicate the purported thresholds, conditions, and boundaries of “the human,” “life,” and “the mind” — as if such categories have ever been stable. 

In concert with the Berggruen Institute’s newly launched Future Humans Program, What Will Life Become? invites philosophers, scientists, and artists to design and co-shape the human and more-than-human futures of life, the mind, and the planet.

Day 1 at USC Michelson Center for Convergent Bioscience 101 features a Keynote with director and speculative architect Liam Young who will discuss world-building through narrative and film with Nils Gilman; a Public Forum with leading scholars K Allado-McDowell, Neda Atanasoski, Lisa Ruth Rand, Tiffany Vora, moderated by Claire Isabel Webb, who will consider the question, “what will life become?” Reception to follow.

Day 2 at the Berggruen Institute features a three-part Salon: “Futures of Life,” “Futures of Mind,” and “Futures in Outer Space.” Conceptual artists Sougwen Chung*, Nancy Baker Cahill, REEPS100, Brian Cantrell, and ARSWAIN will unveil world premieres. “Embodied Futures” invites participants to imagine novel forms of life, mind, and being through artistic and intellectual provocations.

I have some details about how you can attend the programme in person or online,

DAY 1: USC

To participate in the Keynote Conversation and Public Forum on April 21, join us in person at USC Michelson Hall 101 or over YouTube beginning at 1:00 p.m [PT]. We’ll also send you the findings of the Workshop. Please register here.

DAY 2: BERGGRUEN INSTITUTE

This invite-only [mephasis mine] workshop at the Berggruen Institute Headquarters features a day of creating Embodied Futures. A three-panel salon, followed by the world premieres of art commissioned by the Institute, will provide provocations for the Possible Worlds exercises. Participants will imagine and design Future Relics and write letters to 2049. WWLB [What Will Life Become?] findings will be available online following the workshop.

*I will have more about Sougwen Chung and her work when I post my commentary on the exhibition running from March 5 – October 23, 2022 at the Vancouver Art Gallery, “The Imitation Game: Visual Culture in the Age of Artificial Intelligence.”

East/West collaboration on scholarship and imagination about humanity’s long-term future— six new fellows at Berggruen Research Center at Peking University

According to a January 4, 2022 Berggruen Institute (also received via email), they have appointed a new crop of fellows for their research center at Peking University,

The Berggruen Institute has announced six scientists and philosophers to serve as Fellows at the Berggruen Research Center at Peking University in Beijing, China. These eminent scholars will work together across disciplines to explore how the great transformations of our time may shift human experience and self-understanding in the decades and centuries to come.

The new Fellows are Chenjian Li, University Chair Professor at Peking University; Xianglong Zhang, professor of philosophy at Peking University; Xiaoli Liu, professor of philosophy at Renmin University of China; Jianqiao Ge, lecturer at the Academy for Advanced Interdisciplinary Studies (AAIS) at Peking University; Xiaoping Chen, Director of the Robotics Laboratory at the University of Science and Technology of China; and Haidan Chen, associate professor of medical ethics and law at the School of Health Humanities at Peking University.

“Amid the pandemic, climate change, and the rest of the severe challenges of today, our Fellows are surmounting linguistic and cultural barriers to imagine positive futures for all people,” said Bing Song, Director of the China Center and Vice President of the Berggruen Institute. “Dialogue and shared understanding are crucial if we are to understand what today’s breakthroughs in science and technology really mean for the human community and the planet we all share.”

The Fellows will investigate deep questions raised by new understandings and capabilities in science and technology, exploring their implications for philosophy and other areas of study.  Chenjian Li is considering the philosophical and ethical considerations of gene editing technology. Meanwhile, Haidan Chen is exploring the social implications of brain/computer interface technologies in China, while Xiaoli Liu is studying philosophical issues arising from the intersections among psychology, neuroscience, artificial intelligence, and art.

Jianqiao Ge’s project considers the impact of artificial intelligence on the human brain, given the relative recency of its evolution into current form. Xianglong Zhang’s work explores the interplay between literary culture and the development of technology. Finally, Xiaoping Chen is developing a new concept for describing innovation that draws from Daoist, Confucianist, and ancient Greek philosophical traditions.

Fellows at the China Center meet monthly with the Institute’s Los Angeles-based Fellows. These fora provide an opportunity for all Fellows to share and discuss their work. Through this cross-cultural dialogue, the Institute is helping to ensure continued high-level of ideas among China, the United States, and the rest of the world about some of the deepest and most fundamental questions humanity faces today.

“Changes in our capability and understanding of the physical world affect all of humanity, and questions about their implications must be pondered at a cross-cultural level,” said Bing. “Through multidisciplinary dialogue that crosses the gulf between East and West, our Fellows are pioneering new thought about what it means to be human.”

Haidan Chen is associate professor of medical ethics and law at the School of Health Humanities at Peking University. She was a visiting postgraduate researcher at the Institute for the Study of Science Technology and Innovation (ISSTI), the University of Edinburgh; a visiting scholar at the Brocher Foundation, Switzerland; and a Fulbright visiting scholar at the Center for Biomedical Ethics, Stanford University. Her research interests embrace the ethical, legal, and social implications (ELSI) of genetics and genomics, and the governance of emerging technologies, in particular stem cells, biobanks, precision medicine, and brain science. Her publications appear at Social Science & MedicineBioethics and other journals.

Xiaoping Chen is the director of the Robotics Laboratory at University of Science and Technology of China. He also currently serves as the director of the Robot Technical Standard Innovation Base, an executive member of the Global AI Council, Chair of the Chinese RoboCup Committee, and a member of the International RoboCup Federation’s Board of Trustees. He has received the USTC’s Distinguished Research Presidential Award and won Best Paper at IEEE ROBIO 2016. His projects have won the IJCAI’s Best Autonomous Robot and Best General-Purpose Robot awards as well as twelve world champions at RoboCup. He proposed an intelligent technology pathway for robots based on Open Knowledge and the Rong-Cha principle, which have been implemented and tested in the long-term research on KeJia and JiaJia intelligent robot systems.

Jianqiao Ge is a lecturer at the Academy for Advanced Interdisciplinary Studies (AAIS) at Peking University. Before, she was a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Chicago and the Principal Investigator / Co-Investigator of more than 10 research grants supported by the Ministry of Science and Technology of China, the National Natural Science Foundation of China, and Beijing Municipal Science & Technology Commission. She has published more than 20 peer-reviewed articles on leading academic journals such as PNAS, the Journal of Neuroscience, and has been awarded two national patents. In 2008, by scanning the human brain with functional MRI, Ge and her collaborator were among the first to confirm that the human brain engages distinct neurocognitive strategies to comprehend human intelligence and artificial intelligence. Ge received her Ph.D. in psychology, B.S in physics, a double B.S in mathematics and applied mathematics, and a double B.S in economics from Peking University.

Chenjian Li is the University Chair Professor of Peking University. He also serves on the China Advisory Board of Eli Lilly and Company, the China Advisory Board of Cornell University, and the Rhodes Scholar Selection Committee. He is an alumnus of Peking University’s Biology Department, Peking Union Medical College, and Purdue University. He was the former Vice Provost of Peking University, Executive Dean of Yuanpei College, and Associate Dean of the School of Life Sciences at Peking University. Prior to his return to China, he was an associate professor at Weill Medical College of Cornell University and the Aidekman Endowed Chair of Neurology at Mount Sinai School of Medicine. Dr. Li’s academic research focuses on the molecular and cellular mechanisms of neurological diseases, cancer drug development, and gene-editing and its philosophical and ethical considerations. Li also writes as a public intellectual on science and humanity, and his Chinese translation of Richard Feynman’s book What Do You Care What Other People Think? received the 2001 National Publisher’s Book Award.

Xiaoli Liu is professor of philosophy at Renmin University. She is also Director of the Chinese Society of Philosophy of Science Leader. Her primary research interests are philosophy of mathematics, philosophy of science and philosophy of cognitive science. Her main works are “Life of Reason: A Study of Gödel’s Thought,” “Challenges of Cognitive Science to Contemporary Philosophy,” “Philosophical Issues in the Frontiers of Cognitive Science.” She edited “Symphony of Mind and Machine” and series of books “Mind and Cognition.” In 2003, she co-founded the “Mind and Machine workshop” with interdisciplinary scholars, which has held 18 consecutive annual meetings. Liu received her Ph.D. from Peking University and was a senior visiting scholar in Harvard University.

Xianglong Zhang is a professor of philosophy at Peking University. His research areas include Confucian philosophy, phenomenology, Western and Eastern comparative philosophy. His major works (in Chinese except where noted) include: Heidegger’s Thought and Chinese Tao of HeavenBiography of HeideggerFrom Phenomenology to ConfuciusThe Exposition and Comments of Contemporary Western Philosophy; The Exposition and Comments of Classic Western PhilosophyThinking to Take Refuge: The Chinese Ancient Philosophies in the GlobalizationLectures on the History of Confucian Philosophy (four volumes); German Philosophy, German Culture and Chinese Philosophical ThinkingHome and Filial Piety: From the View between the Chinese and the Western.

About the Berggruen China Center
Breakthroughs in artificial intelligence and life science have led to the fourth scientific and technological revolution. The Berggruen China Center is a hub for East-West research and dialogue dedicated to the cross-cultural and interdisciplinary study of the transformations affecting humanity. Intellectual themes for research programs are focused on frontier sciences, technologies, and philosophy, as well as issues involving digital governance and globalization.

About the Berggruen Institute:
The Berggruen Institute’s mission is to develop foundational ideas and shape political, economic, and social institutions for the 21st century. Providing critical analysis using an outwardly expansive and purposeful network, we bring together some of the best minds and most authoritative voices from across cultural and political boundaries to explore fundamental questions of our time. Our objective is enduring impact on the progress and direction of societies around the world. To date, projects inaugurated at the Berggruen Institute have helped develop a youth jobs plan for Europe, fostered a more open and constructive dialogue between Chinese leadership and the West, strengthened the ballot initiative process in California, and launched Noema, a new publication that brings thought leaders from around the world together to share ideas. In addition, the Berggruen Prize, a $1 million award, is conferred annually by an independent jury to a thinker whose ideas are shaping human self-understanding to advance humankind.

You can find out more about the Berggruen China Center here and you can access a list along with biographies of all the Berggruen Institute fellows here.

Getting ready

I look forward to hearing about the projects from these thinkers.

Gene editing and ethics

I may have to reread some books in anticipation of Chenjian Li’s philosophical work and ethical considerations of gene editing technology. I wonder if there’ll be any reference to the He Jiankui affair.

(Briefly for those who may not be familiar with the situation, He claimed to be the first to gene edit babies. In November 2018, news about the twins, Lulu and Nana, was a sensation and He was roundly criticized for his work. I have not seen any information about how many babies were gene edited for He’s research; there could be as many as six. My July 28, 2020 posting provided an update. I haven’t stumbled across anything substantive since then.)

There are two books I recommend should you be interested in gene editing, as told through the lens of the He Jiankui affair. If you can, read both as that will give you a more complete picture.

In no particular order: This book provides an extensive and accessible look at the science, the politics of scientific research, and some of the pressures on scientists of all countries. Kevin Davies’ 2020 book, “Editing Humanity; the CRISPR Revolution and the New Era of Genome Editing” provides an excellent introduction from an insider. Here’s more from Davies’ biographical sketch,

Kevin Davies is the executive editor of The CRISPR Journal and the founding editor of Nature Genetics . He holds an MA in biochemistry from the University of Oxford and a PhD in molecular genetics from the University of London. He is the author of Cracking the Genome, The $1,000 Genome, and co-authored a new edition of DNA: The Story of the Genetic Revolution with Nobel Laureate James D. Watson and Andrew Berry. …

The other book is “The Mutant Project; Inside the Global Race to Genetically Modify Humans” (2020) by Eben Kirksey, an anthropologist who has an undergraduate degree in one of the sciences. He too provides scientific underpinning but his focus is on the cultural and personal underpinnings of the He Jiankui affair, on the culture of science research, irrespective of where it’s practiced, and the culture associated with the DIY (do-it-yourself) Biology community. Here’s more from Kirksey’s biographical sketch,

EBEN KIRKSEY is an American anthropologist and Member of the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, New Jersey. He has been published in Wired, The Atlantic, The Guardian and The Sunday Times . He is sought out as an expert on science in society by the Associated Press, The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, Democracy Now, Time and the BBC, among other media outlets. He speaks widely at the world’s leading academic institutions including Oxford, Yale, Columbia, UCLA, and the International Summit of Human Genome Editing, plus music festivals, art exhibits, and community events. Professor Kirksey holds a long-term position at Deakin University in Melbourne, Australia.

Brain/computer interfaces (BCI)

I’m happy to see that Haidan Chen will be exploring the social implications of brain/computer interface technologies in China. I haven’t seen much being done here in Canada but my December 23, 2021 posting, Your cyborg future (brain-computer interface) is closer than you think, highlights work being done at the Imperial College London (ICL),

“For some of these patients, these devices become such an integrated part of themselves that they refuse to have them removed at the end of the clinical trial,” said Rylie Green, one of the authors. “It has become increasingly evident that neurotechnologies have the potential to profoundly shape our own human experience and sense of self.”

You might also find my September 17, 2020 posting has some useful information. Check under the “Brain-computer interfaces, symbiosis, and ethical issues” subhead for another story about attachment to one’s brain implant and also the “Finally” subhead for more reading suggestions.

Artificial intelligence (AI), art, and the brain

I’ve lumped together three of the thinkers, Xiaoli Liu, Jianqiao Ge and Xianglong Zhang, as there is some overlap (in my mind, if nowhere else),

  • Liu’s work on philosophical issues as seen in the intersections of psychology, neuroscience, artificial intelligence, and art
  • Ge’s work on the evolution of the brain and the impact that artificial intelligence may have on it
  • Zhang’s work on the relationship between literary culture and the development of technology

A December 3, 2021 posting, True love with AI (artificial intelligence): The Nature of Things explores emotional and creative AI (long read), is both a review of a recent episode of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation’s (CBC) science television series,The Nature of Things, and a dive into a number of issues as can be seen under subheads such as “AI and Creativity,” “Kazuo Ishiguro?” and “Evolution.”

You may also want to check out my December 27, 2021 posting, Ai-Da (robot artist) writes and performs poem honouring Dante’s 700th anniversary, for an eye opening experience. If nothing else, just watch the embedded video.

This suggestion relates most closely to Ge’s and Zhang’s work. If you haven’t already come across it, there’s Walter J. Ong’s 1982 book, “Orality and Literacy: The Technologizing of the Word.” From the introductory page of the 2002 edition (PDF),

This classic work explores the vast differences between oral and
literate cultures and offers a brilliantly lucid account of the
intellectual, literary and social effects of writing, print and
electronic technology. In the course of his study, Walter J.Ong
offers fascinating insights into oral genres across the globe and
through time and examines the rise of abstract philosophical and
scientific thinking. He considers the impact of orality-literacy
studies not only on literary criticism and theory but on our very
understanding of what it is to be a human being, conscious of self
and other.

In 2013, a 30th anniversary edition of the book was released and is still in print.

Philosophical traditions

I’m very excited to learn more about Xiaoping Chen’s work describing innovation that draws from Daoist, Confucianist, and ancient Greek philosophical traditions.

Should any of my readers have suggestions for introductory readings on these philosophical traditions, please do use the Comments option for this blog. In fact, if you have suggestions for other readings on these topics, I would be very happy to learn of them.

Congratulations to the six Fellows at the Berggruen Research Center at Peking University in Beijing, China. I look forward to reading articles about your work in the Berggruen Institute’s Noema magazine and, possibly, attending your online events.

Congratulations! Noēma magazine’s first year anniversary

Apparently, I am an idiot—if the folks at Expunct and other organizations passionately devoted to their own viewpoints are to be believed.

To be specific, Berggruen Institute (which publishes Noēma magazine) has attracted remarkably sharp criticism and, by implication, that seems to include anyone examining, listening, or reading the institute’s various communication efforts.

Perhaps you’d like to judge the quality of the ideas for yourself?

Abut the Institute and about the magazine

The institute is a think tank founded by Nicolas Berggruen, US-based billionaire investor and philanthropist, and Nathan Gardels, journalist and editor-in-chief of Noēma magazine, in 2010. Before moving onto the magazine’s first anniversary, here’s more about the Institute from its About webpage,

Ideas for a Changing World

We live in a time of great transformations. From capitalism, to democracy, to the global order, our institutions are faltering. The very meaning of the human is fragmenting.

The Berggruen Institute was established in 2010 to develop foundational ideas about how to reshape political and social institutions in the face of these great transformations. We work across cultures, disciplines and political boundaries, engaging great thinkers to develop and promote long-term answers to the biggest challenges of the 21st Century.

As the for the magazine, here’s more from the About Us webpage (Note: I have rearranged the paragraph order),

In ancient Greek, noēma means “thinking” or the “object of thought.” And that is our intention: to delve deeply into the critical issues transforming the world today, at length and with historical context, in order to illuminate new pathways of thought in a way not possible through the immediacy of daily media. In this era of accelerated social change, there is a dire need for new ideas and paradigms to frame the world we are moving into.

Noema is a magazine exploring the transformations sweeping our world. We publish essays, interviews, reportage, videos and art on the overlapping realms of philosophy, governance, geopolitics, economics, technology and culture. In doing so, our unique approach is to get out of the usual lanes and cross disciplines, social silos and cultural boundaries. From artificial intelligence and the climate crisis to the future of democracy and capitalism, Noema Magazine seeks a deeper understanding of the most pressing challenges of the 21st century.

Published online and in print by the Berggruen Institute, Noema grew out of a previous publication called The WorldPost, which was first a partnership with HuffPost and later with The Washington Post. Noema publishes thoughtful, rigorous, adventurous pieces by voices from both inside and outside the institute. While committed to using journalism to help build a more sustainable and equitable world, we do not promote any particular set of national, economic or partisan interests.

First anniversary

Noēma’s anniversary is being marked by its second paper publication (the first was produced for the magazine’s launch). From a July 1, 2021 announcement received via email,

June 2021 marked one year since the launch of Noema Magazine, a crucial milestone for the new publication focused on exploring and amplifying transformative ideas. Noema is working to attract audiences through longform perspectives and contemporary artwork that weave together threads in philosophy, governance, geopolitics, economics, technology, and culture.

“What began more than seven years ago as a news-driven global voices platform for The Huffington Post known as The WorldPost, and later in partnership with The Washington Post, has been reimagined,” said Nathan Gardels, editor-in-chief of Noema. “It has evolved into a platform for expansive ideas through a visual lens, and a timely and provocative portal to plumb the deeper issues behind present events.”

The magazine’s editorial board, involved in the genesis and as content drivers of the magazine, includes Orhan Pamuk, Arianna Huffington, Fareed Zakaria, Reid Hoffman, Dambisa Moyo, Walter Isaacson, Pico Iyer, and Elif Shafak. Pieces by thinkers cracking the calcifications of intellectual domains include, among many others:

·      Francis Fukuyama on the future of the nation-state

·      A collage of commentary on COVID with Yuval Harari and Jared Diamond 

·      An interview with economist Mariana Mazzucato on “mission-oriented government”

·      Taiwan’s Digital Minister Audrey Tang on digital democracy

·      Hedge-fund giant Ray Dalio in conversation with Nobel laureate Joe Stiglitz

·      Shannon Vallor on how AI is making us less intelligent and more artificial

·      Former Governor Jerry Brown in conversation with Stewart Brand 

·      Ecologist Suzanne Simard on the intelligence of forest ecosystems

·      A discussion on protecting the biosphere with Bill Gates’s guru Vaclav Smil 

·      An original story by Chinese science-fiction writer Hao Jingfang

Noema seeks to highlight how the great transformations of the 21st century are reflected in the work of today’s artistic innovators. Most articles are accompanied by an original illustration, melding together an aesthetic experience with ideas in social science and public policy. Among others, in the past year, the magazine has featured work from multimedia artist Pierre Huyghe, illustrator Daniel Martin Diaz, painter Scott Listfield, graphic designer and NFT artist Jonathan Zawada, 3D motion graphics artist Kyle Szostek, illustrator Moonassi, collage artist Lauren Lakin, and aerial photographer Brooke Holm. Additional contributions from artists include Berggruen Fellows Agnieszka Kurant and Anicka Yi discussing how their work explores the myth of the self.

Noema is available online and annually in print; the magazine’s second print issue will be released on July13, 2021. The theme of this issue is “planetary realism,” which proposes to go beyond the exhausted notions of globalization and geopolitical competition among nation-states to a new “Gaiapolitik.” It addresses the existential challenge of climate change across all borders and recognizes that human civilization is but one part of the ecology of being that encompasses multiple intelligences from microbes to forests to the emergent global exoskeleton of AI and internet connectivity (more on this in the letter from the editors below).

Published by the Berggruen Institute, Noema is an incubator for the Institute’s core ideas, such as “participation without populism,” “pre-distribution” and universal basic capital (vs. income), and the need for dialogue between the U.S. and China to avoid an AI arms race or inadvertent war.

“The world needs divergent thinking on big questions if we’re going to meet the challenges of the 21st century; Noema publishes bold and experimental ideas,” said Kathleen Miles, executive editor of Noema. “The magazine cross-fertilizes ideas across boundaries and explores correspondences among them in order to map out the terrain of the great transformations underway.”  

I notice Suzanne Simard (from the University of British Columbia and author of “Finding the Mother Tree: Discovering the Wisdom of the Forest”) on the list of essayists along with a story by Chinese science fiction writer, Hao Jingfang.

Simard was mentioned here in a May 12, 2021 posting (scroll down to the “UBC forestry professor, Suzanne Simard’s memoir going to the movies?” subhead) when it was announced that her then not yet published memoir will be a film starring Amy Adams (or so they hope).

Hao Jingfang was mentioned here in a November 16, 2020 posting titled: “Telling stories about artificial intelligence (AI) and Chinese science fiction; a Nov. 17, 2020 virtual event” (co-hosted by the Berggruen Institute and University of Cambridge’s Leverhulme Centre for the Future of Intelligence [CFI]).

A month after Noēma’s second paper issue on July 13, 2021, the theme and topics appear especially timely in light of the extensive news coverage in Canada and many other parts of the world given to the Monday, August, 9, 2021 release of the sixth UN Climate report raising alarms over irreversible impacts. (Emily Chung’s August 12, 2021 analysis for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation [CBC] offers a little good news for those severely alarmed by the report.) Note: The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is the UN body tasked with assessing the science related to climate change.

Telling stories about artificial intelligence (AI) and Chinese science fiction; a Nov. 17, 2020 virtual event

[downloaded from https://www.berggruen.org/events/ai-narratives-in-contemporary-chinese-science-fiction/]

Exciting news: Chris Eldred of the Berggruen Institute sent this notice (from his Nov. 13, 2020 email)

Renowned science fiction novelists Hao Jingfang, Chen Qiufan, and Wang Yao (Xia Jia) will be featured in a virtual event next Tuesday, and I thought their discussion may be of interest to you and your readers. The event will explore how AI is used in contemporary Chinese science fiction, and the writers’ roundtable will address questions such as: How does Chinese sci-fi literature since the Reform and Opening-Up compare to sci-fi writing in the West? How does the Wandering Earth narrative and Chinese perspectives on home influence ideas about the impact of AI on the future?

Berggruen Fellow Hao Jingfang is an economist by training and an award-winning author (Hugo Award for Best Novelette). This event will be co-hosted with the University of Cambridge Leverhulme Centre for the Future of Intelligence. 

This event will be live streamed on Zoom (agenda and registration link here) on Tuesday, November 17th, from 8:30-11:50 AM GMT / 4:30-7:50 PM CST. Simultaneous English translation will be provided. 

The Berggruen Institute is offering a conversation with authors and researchers about how Chinese science fiction grapples with artificial intelligence (from the Berggruen Institute’s AI Narratives in Contemporary Chinese Science Fiction event page),

AI Narratives in Contemporary Chinese Science Fiction

November 17, 2020

Platform & Language:

Zoom (Chinese and English, with simultaneous translation)

Click here to register.

Discussion points:

1. How does Chinese sci-fi literature since the Reform and Opening-Up compare to sci-fi writing in the West?

2. How does the Wandering Earth narrative and Chinese perspectives on home influence ideas about the impact of AI on the future

About the Speakers:

WU Yan is a professor and PhD supervisor at the Humanities Center of Southern University of Science and Technology. He is a science fiction writer, vice chairman of the China Science Writers Association, recipient of the Thomas D Clareson Award of the American Science Fiction Research Association, and co-founder of the Xingyun (Nebula) Awards for Global Chinese Science Fiction. He is the author of science fictions such as Adventure of the Soul and The Sixth Day of Life and Death, academic works such as Outline of Science Fiction Literature, and textbooks such as Science and Fantasy – Training Course for Youth Imagination and Scientific Innovation.

Sanfeng is a science fiction researcher, visiting researcher of the Humanities Center of Southern University of Science and Technology, chief researcher of Shenzhen Science & Fantasy Growth Foundation, honorary assistant professor of the University of Hong Kong, Secretary-General of the World Chinese Science Fiction Association, and editor-in-chief of Nebula Science Fiction Review. His research covers the history of Chinese science fiction, development of science fiction industry, science fiction and urban development, science fiction and technological innovation, etc.

About the Event

Keynote 1 “Chinese AI Science Fiction in the Early Period of Reform and Opening-Up (1978-1983)”

(改革开放早期(1978-1983)的中国AI科幻小说)

Abstract: Science fiction on the themes of computers and robots emerged early but in a scattered manner in China. In the stories, the protagonists are largely humanlike assistants chiefly collecting data or doing daily manual labor, and this does not fall in the category of today’s artificial intelligence. Major changes took place after the reform and opening-up in 1978 in this regard. In 1979, the number of robot-themed works ballooned. By 1980, the quality of works also saw a quantum leap, and stories on the nature of artificial intelligence began to appear. At this stage, the AI works such as Spy Case Outside the Pitch, Dulles and Alice, Professor Shalom’s Misconception, and Riot on the Ziwei Island That Shocked the World describe how intelligent robots respond to activities such as adversarial ball games (note that these are not chess games), fully integrate into the daily life of humans, and launch collective riots beyond legal norms under special circumstances. The ideas that the growth of artificial intelligence requires a suitable environment, stable family relationship, social adaptation, etc. are still of important value.

Keynote 2 “Algorithm of the Soul: Narrative of AI in Recent Chinese Science Fiction”

(灵魂的算法:近期中国科幻小说中的AI叙事)

Abstract: As artificial intelligence has been applied to the fields of technology and daily life in the past decade, the AI narrative in Chinese science fiction has also seen seismic changes. On the one hand, young authors are aware that the “soul” of AI comes, to a large extent, from machine learning algorithms. As a result, their works often highlight the existence and implementation of algorithms, bringing maneuverability and credibility to the AI. On the other hand, the authors prefer to focus on the conflicts and contradictions in emotions, ethics, and morality caused by AI that penetrate into human life. If the previous AI-themed science fiction is like a distant robot fable, the recent AI narrative assumes contemporary and practical significance. This report focuses on exploring the AI-themed science fiction by several young authors (including Hao Jingfang’s [emphasis mine] The Problem of Love and Where Are You, Chen Qiufan’s Image Maker and Algorithm for Life, and Xia Jia’s Let’s Have a Talk and Shejiang, Baoshu’s Little Girl and Shuangchimu’s The Cock Prince, etc.) to delve into the breakthroughs and achievements in AI narratives.

Hao Jingfang, one of the authors mentioned in the abstract, is currently a fellow at the Berggruen Institute and she is scheduled to be a guest according to the co-host’s the University of Cambridge’s Leverhulme Centre for the Future of Intelligence (CFI) page: Workshop: AI Narratives in Contemporary Chinese Science Fiction programme description (I’ll try not to include too much repetitive information),

Workshop 2 – November 17, 2020

AI Narratives in Contemporary Chinese Science Fiction

Programme

16:30-16:40 CST (8:30-8:40 GMT)  Introductions

SONG Bing, Vice President, Co-Director, Berggruen Research Center, Peking University

Kanta Dihal, Postdoctoral Researcher, Project Lead on Global Narratives, Leverhulme Centre for the Future of Intelligence, University of Cambridge  

16:40-17:10 CST (8:40-9:10 GMT)  Talk 1 [Chinese AI SciFi and the early period]

17:10-17:40 CST (9:10-9:40 GMT)  Talk 2  [Algorithm of the soul]

17:40-18:10 CST (9:40-10:10 GMT)  Q&A

18:10-18:20 CST (10:10-10:20 GMT) Break

18:20-19:50 CST (10:20-11:50 GMT)  Roundtable Discussion

Host:

HAO Jingfang(郝景芳), author, researcher & Berggruen Fellow

Guests:

Baoshu (宝树), sci-fi and fantasy writer

CHEN Qiufan(陈楸帆), sci-fi writer, screenwriter & translator

Feidao(飞氘), sci-fi writer, Associate Professor in the Department of Chinese Language and Literature at Tsinghua University

WANG Yao(王瑶,pen name “Xia Jia”), sci-fi writer, Associate Professor of Chinese Literature at Xi’an Jiaotong University

Suggested Readings

ABOUT CHINESE [Science] FICTION

“What Makes Chinese Fiction Chinese?”, by Xia Jia and Ken Liu,

The Worst of All Possible Universes and the Best of All Possible Earths: Three Body and Chinese Science Fiction”, Cixin Liu, translated by Ken Liu

Science Fiction in China: 2016 in Review

SHORT NOVELS ABOUT ROBOTS/AI/ALGORITHM:

The Robot Who Liked to Tell Tall Tales”, by Feidao, translated by Ken Liu

Goodnight, Melancholy”, by Xia Jia, translated by Ken Liu

The Reunion”, by Chen Qiufan, translated by Emily Jin and Ken Liu, MIT Technology Review, December 16, 2018

Folding Beijing”, by Hao Jingfang, translated by Ken Liu

Let’s have a talk”, by Xia Jia

For those of us on the West Coast of North America the event times are: Tuesday, November 17, 2020, 1430 – 1750 or 2:30 – 5:50 pm. *Added On Nov.16.20 at 11:55 am PT: For anyone who can’t attend the live event, a full recording will be posted to YouTube.*

Kudos to all involved in organizing and participating in this event. It’s important to get as many viewpoints as possible on AI and its potential impacts.

Finally and for the curious, there’s another posting about Chinese science fiction here (May 31, 2019).

Singapore as banyan tree, bonsai, and nanotechnology: a truckload of metaphors

There’s a fascinating essay and political analysis by George Yeo (former Foreign Minister of Singapore, etc.) about Singapore’s state of affairs on it’s 50th anniversary in The World Post (a Huffington Post and Berggruen Institute partnership project). From Yeo’s Aug. 3, 2015 essay,

Why Singapore at 50 Is Like a Banyan Tree, a Bonsai and Nanotechnology

Under the late Lee Kuan Yew, Singapore — which this week is celebrating its 50th anniversary as a nation — was unabashedly a hierarchical society. When asked if Singapore was a nanny state, he replied that, if it were one, he was proud to have fostered it. But he also knew that Singapore society was entering a new phase.

In November 1990, Lee Kuan Yew stepped aside to let Goh Chok Tong take over as prime minister. The state retreated a little; controls were carefully loosened; greater diversity was tolerated if not selectively encouraged. As minister for information and the arts, I was happy to push some boundaries — censorship, use of dialects and Singlish, greater emphasis of pre-PAP history and promotion of our diverse ancestral heritage. These were all sensitive issues and I had to manage senior cabinet colleagues artfully. A speech I made about the need to prune the banyan tree in order that civic participation could flourish resonated with many Singaporeans. Pruning the banyan tree means cutting down hierarchy. …

Diversity causes tension. In hierarchical societies, diversity is frowned upon because it makes top-down organization more difficult. Standardization improves efficiency but it also leads to oppression.

Many years ago, the late Cardinal Jan Schotte told me this story about Pope John Paul II, whom he served as the secretary of the Synod of Bishops in the Vatican. Drafting a speech for the Holy Father, Cardinal Schotte inserted a sentence for the pope to say that “despite our differences, we are one.” John Paul II gently chided him and replaced “despite” with “because of.” “Because of our differences, we are one.”

The particularity of the individual is sacrosanct. Each of us is unique; each is ultimately responsible for his own life. The correction by the pope was not of style but of deep principle. Diversity is not to be merely tolerated; it is to be celebrated. For those who believe in God, every human being carries a divine imprint which unites us. For Confucianists and atheists, every human being has a moral core which also makes us one. …

I was most interested in the nanotechnology metaphor and how Yeo relates it to Singapore,

During his first term as chief minister of the southern Indian state of Andhra Pradesh, N. Chandrababu Naidu compared the workings of Singapore to nanotechnology. Yes, we are small but we pack a lot into a tiny space and are able to network Singapore to the entire world.

Singapore is not intelligible in itself. Its economy, culture and politics can only be understood in the context of the region it serves. Singapore is only one node in a dense network of many nodes. Whether the Singapore node grows or shrinks depends on the health of the network and our ability to link up with other nodes and add value. Our diversity is therefore a great strength.

He abandoned the nanotechnology metaphor fairly quickly to talk about diversity, independence, and military preparedness,

Diversity is, however, also our vulnerability. Every channel which connects us to the outside world also brings infection. Maintaining Singapore’s integrity and security is therefore a continuing challenge. Two conditions have to be met for a city-state to be independent.

First, its foreign policy has to be nimble to adjust to a shifting external balance of power. Second, the citizenry must be united in its common defense against external subversion and aggression. The external and internal equations have to be solved simultaneously. Only when Singaporeans feel secure about their own place at home can they turn outwards and do big things together. I spent 16 years as a soldier, first in the Army, then the Air Force and, finally, in the Joint Staff. The Singapore Armed Forces is a well-equipped and well-trained militia. Its fighting ability is completely dependent on the unity of diverse Singaporeans and their commitment to a common, righteous cause. By being prepared for war, we are more likely to have peace. It is better not to be put to the test.

If we can maintain peace in Asia for another 10 to 20 years, the region will be transformed beyond recognition and become a powerhouse of the global economy. While trials of strength are inevitable, Sino-U.S. relations are unlikely to deteriorate too badly. Even when China’s economy overtakes that of the U.S. in size, the U.S. will remain the dominant military and political power in the world for decades to come. American popular culture has already taken over the world.

Unlike the U.S., China is not a missionary power. So long as it is able to maintain its own political and cultural universe within, China has no ambition to compete with the U.S. for global supremacy without. If China is also a missionary power, like the former Soviet Union, another hot or cold war is inevitable. Happily, China is not and a titanic clash between the U.S. and China is not inevitable.

Between China and India, they are more likely to cooperate than to fight. Except for a minor border war in 1962, which has been largely forgotten in China, the long history of contact between them has been peaceful. Each recognizes the other as an ancient people.

Yeo provides a very interesting perspective, that of an insider intimately involved in Singapore’s evolution as a city-state.  I don’t entirely agree with his analysis about China. While they may not have the ‘missioinary’ society he sees in the US, China has been expansionist in the past and are currently busy absorbing Tibet.

You can find out more about George Yeo Yong-Boon here. As I think the Huffington Post is sufficiently well known that a description is unnecessary, I don’t think the same can said of the Berggruen Institute, so here goes. From the Berggruen Institute home page,

The Berggruen Institute is dedicated to the design and implementation of new ideas of good governance — drawing from practices in both East and West — that can be brought to bear on the common challenges of globalization in the 21st century.

We are an independent, non-partisan “think and action tank” that engages cutting edge entrepreneurs, global thinkers and political leaders from around the world as key participants in our projects.

The great transition of our time is from American-led globalization 1.0 to the interdependence of plural identities that characterizes globalization 2.0 as the dominance of the West recedes with the rise of the rest. A political and cultural awakening, amplified by social media, is part and parcel of this shift, and good governance must respond by devolving power and involving citizens more meaningfully in governing their communities. At the same time, we believe that accountable institutions must be created that can competently manage the global links of interdependence.

In another life, I was quite interested in diversity and viewpoints that contrast with my own from a cultural perspective. This foray, given the essay title, was a surprise and a delightful one at that.