Collaborative AI across Borders
I was born on Pearl Harbor Day, a remembrance of the attack that brought the United States into World War II. The history has always held a strange fascination for me. Living in Japan for several years, I also got to experience Japan’s participation in the war through the lens of the Japanese people themselves. Unsurprisingly, the narratives they hold differ in many ways from the stories to which I had been exposed.
Almost every person willing to talk about the war was impacted by it in some way. Families were devastated with persistent reminders around the home of those lost in the form of hanging images or small domestic shrines. The time between America’s entry into the war is as far from us as it was from the American Civil War. History rhymes, however, and we are bearing witness to a new round of mobilized mistrust in service to the needs of the few at the expense of the many.
The ascendance of China is being accompanied by another in a seemingly endless rounds of rhetoric and nationalism and this is particularly true in the world of AI. I have been fortunate to be connected to AI work in China, and despite the fear and anxiety being provoked in the West, the creative action on the ground around AI is more similar than different among nations in the “West” and in China.
We should be cautious when conflating the actions of a government from the motivations of its people. Anti-Chinese racism has a long history in Canada, and it has accelerated through COVID. Some benefit from hostility among the people of nations and patterns of ‘othering’ trickle down into our day-to-day interactions to our collective harm.
China will be a leader in AI. The scope and depth of the integration and development of cognitive technologies in China are immense. This is leading to a flourishing scene of creation and experimentation. And just as North American efforts to make sense of AI are informed by our ontological assumptions and frameworks for innovation, the same holds true in China. There is much to be gained from understanding the evolution of AI in China and through open exchanges that might improve the direction these technologies take in service to public benefit.
David Graeber and David Wingrow’s The Dawn of Everything describes a process whereby adjacent cultures come to define themselves in relation to each other and move apart in service to this process of differentiation. Whether it be the Indigenous communities of the Pacific Northwest and those in coastal areas of California, or China and the United States today, this process of separation limits our ability to learn and share in the very human process of making sense of the changes we are experiencing.
Today, I hope to share some of the cool institutional work that’s happening in China around AI and art and perhaps inspire more conversation and interest going forward. Future messages will focus on grassroots activity and the potential for ‘unofficial’ ideologies to emerge.
There will inevitably be abuses – in China, in America, in Germany, in Kenya, and elsewhere – but the excesses of institutional actors can and should be differentiated from the actions of people living their everyday lives and struggling to make sense and beauty from torrents of change.
The Place: Aiiiii Art Center
Located in an old industrial park in Shanghai, the Aiiiii Art Center was founded in 2022 as a home for exploring artificial intelligence and artistic creation. The Center will actively support, promote, and incubate creators and works related to intelligent algorithms at home and abroad. Through a commitment to free expression, the Center will explore the boundaries of AI and the creative possibilities it entails. The Center collaborates with domestic and international partners and is currently presenting The Book of Sand. Located in Shanghai’s “peri-urban” area, the park was formerly a heating station, established in the 1990s to provide steam 24 hours a day to nearly 30 key enterprises in Shanghai's Weizhuang Industrial Zone. Today, it has been renamed the Digital Art Community and is positioned as a new landmark for digital art and artificial intelligence art.
Event: The Book of Sand
The Book of Sand is the inaugural exhibition for the Aiiiii Art Center and features works from Certain Measures, Dabeiyuzhou, Entangled Others, Jake Elwes, Obvious, Sofia Crespo, and Yuqian Sun.
Aiiiii Art Center is structuring its practice around annual research topics. Following the the theme of the 2021 International Conference on AI and Art held at Tongji University, Shanghai, May 20–21, 2021, The Book of Sand takes on the question “What is the author?”
The exhibition employs a literary imagination to juxtapose seemingly infinite, random generative art with Borges’s Book of Sand, a book that possess neither a beginning nor an end. The reader can turn the pages of the book but cannot predict the outcome, just as we cannot fully comprehend the operational logic of the “black box” embedded by and into a neural network.
The Book of Sand is an exhibition made by the joint efforts of machines and humans. The output of the machines interferes with human curatorial and artistic practices as soon as machine translation and language models are employed. The exhibition hopes to build a poetic imaginary space through an enigmatic and fleeting constellation of AI artworks.
The Book of Sand is curated by Xi Li.
Filippo Fabrocini and Kostas Terzidis of Tongji University College of Design and Innovation serve as academic hosts.
The Artist: Yugian Sun
Yuqian Sun was born in Beijing and attended Tsinghua University, receiving a B.A. in Information Design. She's currently a year-2 MFA student of computational arts at Goldsmiths, University of London. As a computational artist and designer she is inspired by childhood memories of conversations between virtual characters in video games. She produces works that steer with curiosity. Her art projects range from generative arts, interactive installations to AI practices that focus on narrative and intimacy in human-AI interaction.
The Review: Beyond Human Boundaries
The Art of Artificial Intelligence Unfolds Here
"It's not so much that the "Book of Sand" exhibition at Shanghai AI Factory Artificial Intelligence Art Center is an in-depth exploration of AI, but rather a beginning: breaking the narrative tradition of human-centered dual opposition at the basic level, artists use their work to present the thinking path of machines, telling us that AI, like many tools invented by humans, is one of the means by which human beings tell their stories. They ask a series of questions about human real life, and are the idealistic anthems that artists sing through AI."
(translated through Google translate)
What is clear is that the stories being told and the questions posed strongly resemble the works in other places. In future letters we will explore non-institutional AI artistic production in China (and elsewhere) as this is really where the interesting divisions begin to emerge.
National ideologies and cultures will inform the development and deployment of artificial intelligence. However, our propensity to authoritarian structures and ontologies of control will play a much larger role in determining the kinds of AI we get. The desires of the Chinese government or Facebook to centralize data are related urges. AI is being overwhelmingly leveraged in support of ‘official ideologies’ and these ideologies are remarkably similar, regardless of the nation state behind them. Thankfully, in China and Canada, the United States and Ghana, we can see ‘unofficial ideologies’ coming to the fore, and complicating the stories that AI elevates and excludes.
What stories do you hope to see? Let us know what you think!