Saturday, July 29, 2023


Mimicked Meanings Gouache on paper 56 x 76 cm 2023

I am speaking on an AI and Creativity panel at the Something Digital Festival, Brisbane, 29-30 August. Please check out the website. I am very excited about being part of the Festival's program.


Programmed Mimicry
These two new works on paper channel my interests in robotic and AI programmed mimicry of human behaviour. For example, a robotic companion in a childcare centre or a nursing home may display behaviours, through gesture and sounded words, of caring, interest and concern. These displays are designed to ensure that human beings feel cared for, protected, and even that they are experiencing a helpful relationship, albeit an unreciprocated one. 

BUT, what if we thought of programmed mimicry as programmed deception? For example, what if a robotic medical assistant first responder to an accident detects, via various sensors, that at human being's vital signs indicate death is 90% likely to occur within half an hour? If the injured person asks "Am I going to be ok?", the robot could give a factual statement that the person has a 90% likelihood of dying unless x y or z happens within half an hour. This may, in fact, cause a heart attack due to shock and severe distress - and the person dies before half an hour - before medical intervention can take place. Or, the robot could mimic a caring human being, sounding out words associated with comfort, calming and caring. For example, the robot could sound out the words "You will be ok. The ambulance will be here in very soon. I will hold your hand while we wait."

Sound Out or Speak Out
You may notice that I use the term "sound out" and "sounded words", rather than "speaking" and "spoken words" to indicate an audible robotic response to a situation or a question. I am experimenting with words we use to describe robotic or AI capabilities eg: thinking, creating, seeing, hearing, sensing. Is the use of these kinds of humanising words predisposing us to believing that robots and AI are becoming more like us? "Speaking" and "spoken words", I propose, carry so much more information about the character of being a human being. The term "spoken word" is laden with the multiple attributes of human expression! I add here that I am not excluding words spoken by those human beings who are deliberately manipulative and deceptive. A robot or AI cannot be deliberately deceptive, as that would imply some kind of intention - and intention is another of those words we seem to automatically use to describe robotic or AI capabilities. Intention ascribes a will to do or affect something. I would not describe AI or robots as having a will. Some would say - not yet! 

Deception has long been a tactic in warfare. Robotic systems offer opportunities to  mimic human behaviours to deceive an enemy. They could even possibly mimic caring as a form of programmed weaponised deception. Another example is AI-faked social media accounts that deceive, churning misinformation and fake news as tactics of information-warfare. 

Mimicked Meanings and WHO/WHAT CARES?
These new paintings are like visual thought bubbles. I use painted binary code, accompanied with words, to indicate algorithmic mimicry. I paint neural-network-like patterns or computer circuitry as creeping kinds of contagion. In Mimicked Meanings I place a robotic quadruped with a real dog, an eye with scoping crosshairs, and binary code 'instructing' the word EMPATHY with the word EMPATHY. There are other visual entendres indicating synthetic mimicry, but I will let you find them! 

In both Mimicked Meanings and WHO/WHAT CARES? I play with Douglas Hofstadter's idea of the ambigram to suggest that same/same in the age of AI is not a game. In both paintings the background of the painting is marked with evenly spaced dots, clues to a world digitally geo-mapped for robotic systems.

And, the fact that these are paintings, not reliant on digital or AI-assistant technology, is an act of resistance!

There's more to say - but, I will leave it to you now! 😊

WHO/WHAT CARES? Gouache on paper 56 x 76 cm 2023