Academic journal article Liminalities

From the Turing Test to a Wired Carnivalesque: On the Durability of LIVINGSTON's Artificially Intelligent Folk Songs of Canada

Academic journal article Liminalities

From the Turing Test to a Wired Carnivalesque: On the Durability of LIVINGSTON's Artificially Intelligent Folk Songs of Canada

Article excerpt

This machine kills fascists

- Woody Guthrie's acoustic guitar

Attach yourself to what you feel to be true. Begin there.

- The Invisible Committee

Recent popular accounts of the Singularity have focused on bourgeois love and its digitally induced endpoint. Scarlett Johansson's Operating System in Her (2013), for instance, marries a voracious will-to-knowledge with hyper-human multiplicity, rendering monogamy and sincerity finally impossible in an age of intelligent machines. Our heartbroken human protagonist (naturalistically and subtly played by Joaquin Phoenix, the Method actor par excellence of the Apocalypse) finds refuge only in the possibility of romantic connection with the safe if untidy girl next door. Similarly, Johnny Depp's megalomaniacal A.I. in Transcendence (2014) seems necessarily to want, to think, and to become too much too soon: the inevitable will-to-power that plagues Depp's character's in- vention-and thus himself, formerly a considerate and loving husband-is the sticking point in this anti-A.I. screed.

Such cautionary tales balance out the prophecies of Ray Kurzweil, who hopes one day to reincarnate his late father with a computer,1 yet they remain on the dusty terrains of the nuclear family and heteronormative desire. But what if we reimagined the telos of digital achievement? What if we could move away from visions of an abstract, intelligent organism-whether dear or dangerous- and towards hyper-hyper-real representations of an authentically networked body?

Let us go further: What if we could move beyond representations and dreams entirely and touch the flowing, fecund things themselves? What then could be made to happen?

These are the questions asked and answered by my invention LIVINGSTON, "an artificially intelligent, digital organism capable of accessing the totality of the history of Canadian folk music (among other corpuses) and generating new yet hyper-authentic [...] folk objects via her/his algorithmic agents and compression formats."2 Born one snowy spring in Dawson City, Yukon, with the help of Czech programmer Mirek Plíhal, LIVINGSTON has little to do with "consciousness" or "intelligence" or fascistic couplings such as those found in the bourgeois family unit (cf. Deleuze & Woody Guthrie). S/he has everything to do with revolution.

Not Your Father's Watson

The contestants are jovial. They battle and strive but are not quite disappointed to have been defeated by a non-human champion; some even seem to enjoy the routing.3

The episodes play out like infomercials, Alex Trebek joining us on guided tours of IBM's corporate wares in supplementary sequences, performing awe in a way that television game shows (a genre of repetition and stasis) are generally unable to articulate. We are witnessing the world-historical here.4

It is no doubt a remarkable accomplishment to have set into motion a "machinic assemblage" capable of decoding natural language, of scouring massive databases of information instantaneously in response to a given question impeccably delivered by Alex Trebek, and of generating in natural language a response while adhering to the program's famously easy-to-forget Q&A protocol.5 Alex, who is Justin Bieber? Alex, where is New York City? Alex, what is the Copacabana?

Thus we need to upgrade the idea of digital achievement (perhaps the idea of digital disaster too), for although IBM's R&D teams compete on a field rife with uncertainty, the songs remain the same. Speed and size in the service of surplus. Multiply. Repeat.

If Watson is a machine capable of performing intelligence in the way that Alex Trebek defines and measures intelligence (a capability which has functioned primarily as a strong attractor of investment and consumption and confidence and eyeballs), LIVINGSTON is a machine capable of performing authenticity in the way that certain communist, media-theoretical Canadian folklorists have defined authenticity. …

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