The Computer is Your Redacted

The Computer is Your Redacted

UKAI Projects · Local Disturbances - Shorts #20 - The Computer is Your Redacted

We're sharing this project from 2022-2023 because it is an itch we can’t seem to scratch and we are very keen to expand and elaborate on it in 2024. We would love your feedback and/or thoughts on both the content of the work and how it is being packaged and shared. Producing this was exhausting and filled us with endless self-doubt, so naturally we’re hungry for more …

The Computer is Your Redacted is a terrifying and ridiculous audio play where you can listen as four experts in artificial intelligence, technology, and culture play the classic tabletop role-playing game Paranoia! and navigate a horrible and occasionally hilarious dystopia.

What happens when a business leader, an artist, an ethicist, and an academic come together to explore artificial intelligence through a role-playing game that embodies our collective anxieties about an automated future?

As part of the Goethe-Institut Toronto’s Algorithmic Culture programming, we created a rather unusual podcast. We brought together four brilliant individuals connected to AI and its ethical and/or policy implications to take part in an audio series/podcast.

The format was not a traditional one, however.

Rather, we invited them to play.

Specifically, to play a tabletop role-playing game, a slightly modified version of the 1980s classic Paranoia!. We were seeking a fun and chaotic way to surface themes around AI while bypassing the polarized positions so often present in these discussions.

What resulted was both absurd and revealing.

Role-playing games can be understood as both “play” and “performance”. A podcast was produced to try to capture these parallel but occasionally competing modalities. The players went through a campaign structured on themes of body, land, and migration and managed by me. This occurred over the course of a very long Saturday. The behind the scenes video above captures some of the energy of that day.

We wanted to see how role playing might be a model for anti-algorithmic, improvisational, instantiated, and empathetic responses to the actual and potential hegemony of algorithmic culture.

Algorithmic culture refers to the process whereby the logic of big data and computation comes to change how culture is perceived and experienced. In May 2020, Glen Weyl and Jaron Lanier argued in Wired, that artificial intelligence (AI) is “best understood as a political and social ideology rather than as a basket of algorithms”. This ideology holds that a small technical elite can and should develop technologies that will replace human agency and judgment. This ideology of AI understands individuals as objects requiring optimization and control. And John Cheney-Lippold, author of We Are Data, offers that “when our embodied individualities get ignored, we increasingly lose control not just over life but over how life itself is defined".

Paranoia! somewhat presciently foreshadowed these concerns in their 1980s original version and the game’s setting (the Complex) and its all-powerful yet paranoid AI served as ideal starting points for our exploration.

Many are concerned that machines will exceed human intelligence. The scenarios we played also drew attention to how we might be troubled by the idea that humans are being asked to behave more like machines in service to the liberating ambitions of scale and efficiency. Rather than creating an algorithm that thinks like a human, the goal, it increasingly appears, is to automate us. In the world of Paranoia, notions of autonomy, identity, and community have been reworked under the influence of artificial intelligence.

Our game attempted to explore these issues and to do so outside of the worked-out languages of the arts or ethics or business or academia. We tried to bypass the expected answers through improvisation and a perverse set of incentives determined to see the players squirm.

We wanted people talking and relating with each other and to do so outside of the “roles” they brought into the room. By centering a dialogic approach to materializing our relationships with AI, diverse perspectives could be brought into relationship with one another to build a dynamic and polyphonic structure of representation. We were hopeful that a podcast and a role-playing game might suggest possibilities for a discursive (or ‘novelized’) form of artistic response.

We saw this project as driving and facilitating dialogic and genuine encounters among multiple socialized consciousnesses. What starts as somewhat wooden and uncomfortable eventually becomes a carnival of excess, laughter, and the profane. Algorithms are lousy improvisers, and I remain convinced that this approach offers new insights into how our lives are being organized by algorithmic systems AND how we might respond.

Sadly, the podcast did not set the world on fire and the audiences have been, to be generous, modest. I would love to find better ways to deliver on this and welcome any suggestions, links, or ideas you might offer.

“The Computer is Your Redacted” was created as part of the Algorithmic Culture programming at the Goethe-Institut Toronto in partnership with UKAI Projects.

Direction and gameplay by Jerrold McGrath
Produced by Brainchild Podcasts, which is Max Cotter and Aleda Deroche
Original music composed and performed by Castle If.
The voice of the computer provided by Jess Gurd

The game Paranoia is under license to Mongoose Publishing

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