Art & AI

I’ve been thinking a lot about Artificial Intelligence lately. I chose to study AI because I think it is the final bridge between art & science. Our relationship to the physical world is mediated by perception: art reflects the nature of these perceptions and AI in some sense attempts to mimic them theoretically. So far in human history, our utilization of theoretical methods has been limited to physical space. In the 20th century, both artists and scientists made the leap from Euclidean to non-Euclidean geometry with the rise of Relativity and Cubism. The scientific use of such geometry allowed us to analyze physical space in new ways. Cubism, on the other hand, warped conscious and visual space beyond simple perspective projection. But no one has even attempted to mathematically understand cubism, or even how we perceive art, despite advances in fields like computational geometry and computer vision!

It seems intriguing that humans would warp space/time and visual space/time simultaneously in history.

Gino Severini, 1911, La danseuse obsedante 

Anyone who paints knows the mental mapping that is created over time between ‘actions’ (smudging, adding color, darkening, lightening) and ‘perception’ or feeling. We have mathematical tools to understand what creates drama and feeling within our visual systems. But academia hasn’t yet taken an interest.

It seems to me that a lot of the discussion of “general” AI is centered around what such an AI would allow us to do, rather than what such an AI would reveal to us about the mechanisms that create the conscious worlds we inhabit — what tools it could give us to study ourselves in a more precise way. I see AI as less about building things that do things we can do or want to do, but rather as building a new kind of physics — a physics of consciousness. Mathematical precision enables us to make predictions about physical space that cavemen would never have dreamed of. If conscious space can be precisely analyzed as such — just imagine where that could take us. The artists and shamans have been exploring and mapping these conscious spaces for ages… and much of the symbology of the world we inhabit is a result of their efforts.

One of my favorite artists, Wolfgang Paalen, has a theory of Cosmogones: visual entities that represent the conscious state of a society. The image at the bottom of this post is his painting Combat of the Saturnian Princes. He painted this image in 1937 — attempting to characterize the drives within European society giving rise to unrest. This post has a nice analysis of the pieces:

Paalen’s Saturnian creations are metaphoric superhuman zoo-robots which are, in their essence, in their spirit, presiding over massive human communities already today. They are not robots imitating human individuals but the one which are organic mutation of old-fashion human race. Saturnian princes are, literally, the heads-leaders of social life and not only global but galactic worriers with godly ambitions and with bodies consisting of low rank fighters.

Paalen is painting a mindset and zeitgeist, an algorithm that runs inside multiple minds and percolates it’s secondary effects through society.  AI, the bridge between art & science might someday allow us to turn these brush strokes into equations.