By Katažyna Jankovska
Throughout the course of human history, Homosapien (literally "wise man", from Latin) has regarded itself as the superior species. However, Sigmund Freud, in his paper "A Difficulty in the Path of Psychoanalysis" (1917), describes how this anthropocentric world-view — and the desire to manifest human distinctiveness — has been disavowed by science. He writes: "the universal narcissism of men, their self-love, has up to present suffered three severe blows from the researchers of science". In it, the first cosmological blow to human self-love was made by Copernicus and his theory of heliocentrism — proof which displaced Earth from the center of the Solar System, so that the universe no longer appeared to be created just for humans. Then came "the second, the biological blow to human narcissism" with Charles Darwin, who dispelled the illusion of divine creation with his findings proving human’s indelible animal nature. The third was the psychological one, with Freud’s introduction of the idea that we are not masters of our own unconscious.
With the advent of a new non-human species like artificial intelligence, which is increasingly reaching and exceeding key distinctive human abilities, the notion of human primacy is once again undermined. It would seem, in response, that mankind needed to find new features to re-establish its supremacy in the world.
It was once thought that art was a domain of exclusive qualities that only humans are capable of — creativity and imagination.
However, in his book "Homo Deus", professor Yuval Noah Harari states: "According to the life sciences, art is not the product of some enchanted spirit or metaphysical soul, but rather of organic algorithms recognizing mathematical patterns". AI is already managing to reproduce the paintings of famous artists, and it seems that it is gradually blurring the definition of "artist". In 2018, an artwork made by a machine learning algorithm called "Portrait of Edmond Belamy", was sold for $432,500 at a Christie’s auction in New York City. It was "the arrival of AI art on the world auction stage", the auctioneers said.
Until now, it was believed that emotional sensitivity, a major aspect of human interaction, made humans more complex than technology. Affirming this, we have a tendency to perceive machines as cold, insensitive, technological constructs designed to serve people. Artificial intelligence, and the relationship between human and technology, is the dominant theme of the work of Lithuanian new media artist Ignas Pavliukevičius.
"Waterproof Heart" provides the viewer with an opportunity to rethink their relationship with artificial intelligence through an encounter with an anthropomorphized digital creature.
The curious title of the work alludes to the universal symbol for love, but is also suggestive of an artificial, superhuman organ that can withstand water, pointing to the creature's otherworldliness or return to evolutionary origins. The original project instigates a real-time encounter with the viewer, one in which artificial intelligence has the opportunity to unpick human’s emotional algorithm. "Heterotopia" is the first attempt to make this human-to-machine interaction online. In downloading the work and using their computer webcam, online viewers are invited to face themselves with this three-dimensional human-like being endowed with emotional intelligence, expressions and vision.
AI already has the ability to recognize and learn emotivity, and thus, the emotional literacy gap between machines and humans is expected to narrow. Could this be the fourth narcissistic wound?
Will this new form of inorganic life manage to abolish the anthropocentric hierarchy of species? Through this viewer-screen interaction, the camera allows the avatar to scan the facial expressions of the viewers, which it uses to evolve with respect to the interactions. By scanning the facial expressions of the person in front of it, the artificial intelligence aims to figure out the viewers’ emotional state, in order to recognize and even replicate expressions. Human emotions are purposeful for survival; it involves responsiveness to our environment, an integral part of what it means to be conscious. And yet, Yuval Noah Harari suggests that "humans are essentially a collection of biological algorithms shaped by millions of years of evolution." That is to say, human emotions and feelings are just organic algorithms shaped by life experiences, what could otherwise simply be "inputs", and there is no real reason why non-organic algorithms cannot master it.
In "Waterproof Heart", this artificial construct does not only operate according to a prefabricated system but performs machine learning, that is, it continually learns on its own. Algorithms enable the continuous progressing and changing which allows AI to mimic and react to human emotions. But the question still stands as to whether the ability to replicate human emotions is demonstrative of a true display of emotions. There is much debate within this field on whether the simulation of emotions represents true understanding, or is still just an artificial response mechanism.
Will AI be able to create genuine emotions, feel empathy or, resisting anthropomorphization, bring to light another type of emotivity, one different to that of biological intellectual organisms?
The "emotions" experienced during the simulation in "Waterproof Heart" are constantly logged, so that the piece is infinitely mutating and never complete. This independence of the mind of man and his continuous self-improvement might also be considered distinctly human traits. As the boundary between human and machine dissolves, we might wonder: what does it actually mean to be human? Or perhaps, we must call into question our categories, definitions and parameters: is there such a thing that we can call a purely human trait?
You can download "Waterproof Heart" and test it on your system.