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Posted by:

Jo Lansdowne Executive Producer

on Tue 26 Sept 2023

What if humans aren’t the most intelligent things in the world? And, what if that is ok? What then?

Posted on Tue 26 Sept 2023

Jo Lansdowne discusses how the Pervasive Media Studio are supporting people to think about and experiment with AI differently.

It is quite hard not to think about Artificial Intelligence (AI) at the moment – over the last few days I have heard it being joked about on the radio as a replacement for our politicians, read another newspaper article about the threat to jobs, a friend recruited chat GPT to write a restaurant review triggering a free reward, and in our online team meeting this morning we were offered a new ‘companion’ to help take notes. 

There is a lot of excitement about, and a lot of concern.  

What we tend to hear less of is people asking… ‘Wait, what actually is ‘intelligence’? Whose definition are we using? And what makes something ‘artificial’ anyway?’ Which seems a shame because, given that many humans aren’t doing a brilliant job of caring for each other or the planet, asking these kinds of questions might be really useful. Perhaps if we let go of the idea that because we are the ones that know most of the things, we will be able to answer all of the problems, then we might learn something.  

We have been profoundly inspired by James Bridle’s Ways of Being. Trees communicate to send resources to the part of the forest where they are most needed, slime mould creates highly efficient and complex transport routes, bees vote on where to focus their harvest, computers analyse huge amounts of information very fast, plants can mine metals and ants allocate jobs based on collective need and individual preference. That all sounds pretty intelligent to me. 

Intelligence, then, is not something to be tested, but something to be recognized, in all the multiple forms that it takes. The task is to figure out how to become aware of it, to associate with it, to make it manifest…. It involves changing ourselves, and our own attitudes and behaviours. James Bridle, Ways of Being  

Of course there are long histories of people that do approach life in this way. Many non-western, indigenous and animistic understandings of human-ness are founded on recognising that we are part of an interdependent ecosystem - full of networks of intelligence that we may not understand but can work in partnership with. But those are not the systems of knowledge and belief that are normally being drawn on when technology companies make stuff. And that means that we risk missing the potential for AI to become our partner in revealing the world, rather than another tool with which to control it.  

What are we planning? 

Over the next year we want to support people to think about and experiment with AI differently – to collaborate with the world around them, to share questions and perhaps to make things that contribute in some small way towards our collective futures.  

We don’t know what might emerge but we are excited by the ways that technology can help us to observe things at previously impossible scales (very small and very big), to sense our environment in new ways (seeing and hearing beyond our usual range), to recognise patterns and connections that we don’t notice (by processing large amounts of data), to form relationships with living things that are beyond our reach (because of conditions that don’t suit our bodies) and to reflect the things that we do back at us from a different perspective.  

Within Pervasive Media Studio we will be hosting exploratory conversations with our community of makers to dig deeper into what new things might be possible – with strands of thinking around queer resilience, climate futures and rituals – and hosting international visits to broaden our thinking. Plus:

  • If you are a maker you can apply to join the Studio (we are particularly looking for people making work that engages with artificial intelligence at the moment).

  • We will also be commissioning new work through an Other Minds themed Winter Residency and prototype funding through More than AI Sandbox (details to be announced in October).  
  • Sign up for our newsletter to receive details about these funding opportunities (and events to share the outcomes) as they are announced.

  • We want to have a wider conversation about what AI means in different contexts. From watching a film and having a chat afterwards in the bar, to playing with a work in progress, we hope that people who are less familiar with how the technology works will get involved.   
  • Join our First Friday mailing list to come and test early stage work

  • Keep an eye on our Friday lunchtime talk programme to hear more about how people from around the world are working with AI (with upcoming sessions from speakers like Sarah Brin, UKAI and Bang & Lee

  • We will also be planning more film screenings, talks and one off events as the year progresses so make sure that you are kept in the loop and if you have any other ideas for things that we should be doing, please do let us know. Email: studio@watershed.co.uk to get in touch.

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