Jeremy Speed Schwartz, an associate professor in the Digital Media and Animation Department, was part of a group of artists that recently received a Lumen Prize for Digital Art. “Degenerative Cultures,” by Cesar & Lois with Jeremy Speed Schwartz, was honored with the British Computer Society Artificial Intelligence in Digital Art Award.
Cesar & Lois is a collective formed by Brazilian media artist Cesar Baio (University of Campinas in Sao Paulo) and media artist Lucy HG Solomon (California State University San Marcos). “Degenerative Cultures” is a “biohybrid” agent that blurs the limits between biological and artificial intelligence.
“Books documenting the human impulse to control nature are consumed by a slime mold,” Speed Schwartz said. “This process of consumption degrades the text, which is periodically photographed and run through an optical character-recognition process, the end result of which Tweets the remaining text of the book at the Twitter handle ‘@HelloFungus.’ A digital simulation of the mold growth will respond to Twitter users through an AI component utilizing natural language analysis and cellular automata.”
According to a description of “Degenerative Cultures” on the Lumen Prize website, the artists’ goal “is to learn from the biohybrid interactions across biological, social, and technical networks. The resulting system makes visible those entropic patterns in human culture that have carried us into the Anthropocene.”
Solomon explained, “What would happen if our technology worked in the same way as nature? What if the underlying logic of the technological agents that drive decision-making reflected nature’s logic? By layering biological and digital networks, we hope to shift how we make decisions. The Lumen Prize in Artificial Intelligence sends the message that the reorientation of technology to nature is urgent.”
Baio asked, “How can we respond to an historical moment in which the symbolic and physical existence of humanity is challenged both by climate change and AI? 'Degenerative Cultures' – a biohybrid system – suggests the need for a non-human-centered mindset. Perhaps we should be less human.”
“The standard concept of Artificial Intelligence is an imitation of human intelligence,” Speed Schwartz added. “Re-examining this assumption is at the core of ‘Degenerative Cultures.’ In our striving to create intelligences like our own, perhaps we overlook (or in some cases destroy) the intelligences that are already here. The support of the Lumen Prize helps us bring this piece to a significantly wider audience, and hopefully shift the conversation around AI development through playful dialog with our microbial cohabitators.”
According to its website, the Lumen Prize for Digital Art celebrates the very best art created with technology through a global competition, exhibitions, and events worldwide. Lumen, the website continues, is owned by Lumen Art Projects Ltd., a not-for-profit based in the UK that is dedicated to providing opportunities for digital artists globally.