Techno-nightmares and Retro-futures

Techno-nightmares and Retro-futures
a syllabus of equivocal material

by Jad Youssef

*Some of the ideas/images were created in collaboration with GPT, Dall-e2 and Runway.
*Only the works are fictitious, while people, names and collectives/institutions are all “real.”

Module i. Description:
Digital and virtual marginalization, exclusive datasets, and the unequal spread of dis/connectivity

This syllabus proposes a collection of nodes, some connect, some drift aimlessly like a stray square in John Conway’s Game of Life. The urge to speculate does not stem from mere curiosity, but perhaps from a desire to influence and guide future algorithms: to have an impact in the present, on the dataset (re)sources of future outputs. The following assemblage of hypothetical material is designed to revisit the creators and authors behind the works, extrapolating from current trends and excavating future knowledge in order to procure a human-guided dominance over algorithmic production. That is, to sway and shape the future outputs of smart systems by manipulating and molding current datasets’ content.

As smart systems grow more prevalent and significant in our lives, it is crucial to understand that the creation and application of these systems are not neutral or unbiased processes. They are influenced by social, economic, and political pressures that may maintain current power disparities and inequities. So, larger social and political conflicts for justice and equality cannot be separated from the establishment of a human-guided supremacy over algorithmic production.

The conventional distinctions between human and machine intelligence are starting to dissolve as we transition to a more automated and algorithmic environment. A single, interconnected system that combines human and machine intelligence is now possible because of the development of augmented cognition and brain-computer interfaces. As we become more closely connected to the algorithms that govern our life, this could result in a fundamental shift in how we see the world and ourselves.

Humans may be able to have a significant impact on the future outputs of smart systems as long as they continue to shape and modify present datasets. Humans may be able to influence the creation of algorithms to produce particular results by intentionally adding biases to the training data, maneuvering the inputted data aesthetics, intentionally highlighting or hiding particular data points. This could result in a society where intelligent systems are built to give some values or interests priority over others, reflecting the prejudices and goals of those in charge of the data. 

This kind of manipulation could have unforeseen effects and the algorithms generated might not be as precise or efficient as they would be if permitted to evolve naturally—but no such permission is being deployed. We are witnessing a rather one-sided influence, similar to the pre-augmented intelligence era dominated by surveillance capitalism.

As such, the challenge will be to find a balance between human guidance and algorithmic autonomy, in order to create smart systems that are both effective and aligned with our values. As well, to secure an equitable accessibility to smart systems and to resist any pre-established exclusions. The data of humans who currently lack online representation will suffer when subsequently excluded from the output. This exclusion from output finds its roots in the tentacles of equally exclusive dataset sources and the unequal distribution of connectivity. Algorithms become coercive, reflecting our deepest human prejudices and ethical fallacies rather than refining humans to the promise of solutionism and AI neutrality.

Perhaps we can discuss regaining some of our autonomy, anonymity, control, selective AI integration, and future decision making processes by radically altering and influencing our inputs, in the present.

The following list of material is the result of a collaboration between human and AI to propose a future where art, literature and music is produced in a similar collaborative process, rather than a completely algorithmically-dominant mode of production.

Module ii. Material for discussion:

—In 2031, a newly restored and remastered version of Jean Daniel Pollet’s film essay “Méditerranée” was diffused into the corneas of gallery visitors at the prestigious Galerie Mythique, for historic and geographical education. One of the gallery visitors, Brian Massumi, was inspired to invest time into a techno-affectual theory of perception, leading to his 2036 magnum opus “Techno-Affects and the Underground Cognition”:

In this book, Massumi delves into how exclusion from datasets resulted in technological freedom and emancipation from virtual control. “Techno-Affects and the Underground Cognition” explores techno-affects: the impact of technology on human emotions and the proliferation of emotion driven datasets. Massumi theorizes that those who were excluded from datasets in the past are now living underground in cognitive social dissociations, developing unique cultures and post-linguistic modes of communication. The book also argues that the out-of-body practices of those who surrender their physical being for an eternity in cyberspace, resulted in a hyper-emotional cyberculture.

—Artists Paolo Cirio and Trevor Paglen’s “Artificial Instabilities,” 2030-2032, is a collaborative project that reverse engineers a sophisticated emotion-recognition software and rewrites it as an algorithm sculpture that interacts, behaves, and shapeshifts in real time according to the dominant environmental practices around it. In this virtual exhibit, people daydream inside a cyber landscape that exists in perpetual aesthetic fluctuations. They witness and confront axes of disintegrated dimensions, leading to an apparition and dissipation chain of microtraumas.

—Lil Yachty’s virtual avatar, after being dormant for a decade, produced his debut posthumous album “It Ends Here,” an amalgamation of sonic movements without any sound production, experienced collectively in the cloud, through sensorial stimuli while suspended in reality-deprivation tanks. The first track, titled “moonglasses,” is an atmospheric depiction of post-techno-capital indignation and romantic solitude.

—Geert Lovink, “Post-Politics Syntax: The Rearrangement of Hyperdigital Discourse,” 2029

In this text, published in e-flux, Geert rethinks the historical ontology of digital media and its covert impact on non-digital cultures and other communities living in marginalization within smart systems. Geert suggests that the long battle between hacker and surveillant has ended and it is time for a counter-war. 

—Rashad Becker’s album “Traditional Music of Notional Species Vol. II,” 2016, got a remastering and restructuring update in 3016, with different artworks and a new cover, by the sophisticated newly developed AI label known as “Kouligas.”

—Jodi Dean, “The Threshold of Digital Integration: Limits of Data,” 2032

The book suggests that unequal access to automated systems has led to a virtual inequality mimicking the experiences of material sentients of the past. Dean breaks down the leap from class struggle to a virtual hierarchy of cyber-segregation and cyber-economic exclusions.

—Mark Fisher, “The Hyperreal Condition in a Post-Truth World,” 2030

In this book, Fisher explores how our perception of reality is becoming increasingly mediated by technology, and how the proliferation of deepfakes, virtual reality, and other forms of simulation is leading to a “hyperreal” condition where the boundaries between the real and the fake are blurred deeper into the Baudrillardian desert. Fisher takes as an example the newly opened “The Line” project by MBS for Saudi 2030. 

This book initiated the revival of Cybernetic Culture Research Unit (CCRU).

—Laura U. Marks, The first chapter “Technologies of Attention: Aesthetic Practices in the Digital Age” from her book “Touching and Tracing Cyber-Islam,” 2043

Building on her previous work on the intersections between cinema and Islam, Laura Marks explores how contemporary media technologies are transforming our experiences of attention, perception, and immersion. She investigates how new forms of visual culture, including virtual and augmented reality, are changing our understanding of the senses and the body, and how they might be used to develop new ways of aesthetic engagement and political activism.

—Lev Manovich’s secret lecture series “On The Myth of Decentrality,” date unknown

The first ever lecture to be decentralized, divided into pieces, and dispersed across a web of servers in order to protect its entirety. In this series, Lev traces the histories of Generative Artificial Intelligence and Artificial General Intelligence (AGI), and their impact on real life manifestations of conspiracies. How events cross from the virtual to the real, tracing back to the infamous QAnon-led capitol riot. Building on texts by Paul Virilio and Rasheedah Phillips on one hand, and the films of Theo Anthony and Trinh T. Minh-ha on the other, Manovich constructs a post-anthropocentric genealogy of time, conspiracies, and ethnographies. He threads his own conspiratorial narrative of phylogeny, from single-celled organisms to augmented AGI, from inception to propagation to induction, through virality, genetic mutations, and human regeneration.

—John Akomfrah, “Afro Virtuality: A Black Ontology of Digital Being,” 3012-ongoing

Individually catered, customized, and experienced exhibition.

—Beny Wagner and Sasha Litvintseva, “Mapping Cyber Anatomy,” 2030

A film essay that analyzes previously published studies of conspiratorial propagation of misinformation and fake news; how this particular cybersphere shapes and is shaped by social issues and how they thrive in times of crisis. The film exposes an emergent organized narrative that dictates the flow of conspiracy theories and allows them to flourish without any challenge by logic and inquiry. Instead, the structures of logic and trust get shaken by the mere existence of a conspiracy, even when these structures get challenged into erasure.

—IAMC: International Augmented Museum of Cultures 

Field trip day

IAMC is a virtual museum that holds the full world collection of all artifacts, art, texts, images, music, knowledge, oral histories, etc.; a collection initiated by the Arctic World Archive (AWA) to create an infinite cloud of evergrowing and forever existing simulations of the world’s data.

Module iii. Practice:

If incapable of implementing, write a short description imagining how such systems can be deployed.

Exercise i. A cybernetic culture—create a cybernetic project that replaces the educational system and its structural implementation in the form of schools and academies with a fast-deep-learning algorithmic method that automatically inputs data into members of society, following the need to maintain an equilibrium of diversity between people.

Imagine the ultimate balance of knowledge between different societies and different individuals within the collective, then sketch out a plan to create a cybernetic infrastructure in charge of injecting knowledge, via deep learning neural chips (or suggest other methods), based on self-corrective feedback loops that adapt to the constant shifts and trends in cultures and societies.

Exercise ii. The gift economy—find collaborators and create a massive cyber archive of free, open source, and publicly owned and shared media and data.

For a closer look, zoom in or download the image file.