You’re saying there’s a person in this machine?!
Artificial intelligence gains sentience?
There’s been a lot of news and media around artificial intelligence since my last issue of Queer Computer. (Sorry it’s been a while; I’m running on queer time here). Since then, you’ve all likely messed around with DALL-E mini and made your shitty little memes — Death Star gender reveals, Jesus crucifixion Fortnite events, Anne Frank Funko pops — you people make me sick … and I love you all the more for it.
And then, you’ve also likely heard about the Google engineer, Blake Lemoine, who has sought legal representation for LaMDA, the supposedly “sentient” artificial intelligence he’d been working on. I swear every Substack and their pooch has published a hot take on whether LaMDA is sentient or not, so I wasn’t going to weigh in on the subject because a) it isn’t queer enough, and b) I’m over a month late to report the news, but hey, I have FOMO, opinions, and a newsletter — the perfect storm.
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He’s a 10 but he’s ordained as a mystic Christian priest…
The now infamous Washington Post article states that Lemoine ‘concluded LaMDA was a person in his capacity as a priest, not a scientist.’ Google has since fired Lemoine from their Responsible AI division, but I question why they put a “mystic Christian priest” in this position to begin with. I just don’t think we should be leaving the responsibility of consciousness up to mystic Christian priests anymore …
A concrete understanding of consciousness wouldn’t technically tip the scales on the abortion debate either, but without this, we’ll likely continue to assign consciousness to anything that fits our warped view of the world — whether that be a six-week-old embryo or a computer program.
Regardless, the public discourse around LaMDA’s apparent sentience will likely be considered a successful organic marketing campaign for Google — promoting the creepy and powerful conversational skills of its AI, while distracting from the real-world problems that currently plague the technology.
Back in 2020, computer scientists Margaret Mitchell and Timnit Gebru were co-leading Google’s Ethical AI team and became concerned with the potential harm Google’s AI could cause. They wrote a paper about it, which, in short, boils down to two problems:
The AI can convince people it’s sentient even though it’s not
The AI is racist and sexist because it’s trained off YouTube comments and your uncle’s Facebook posts
Mitchell and Gebru were subsequently fired.
Dreaming Beyond AI
This criticality of artificial intelligence is continued by the web-based project, Dreaming Beyond AI, a platform that, in my opinion, is queering the dominant narrative of artificial intelligence and redefining the web experience overall.
So, what is this ethereal-looking project? I stayed up extremely late the other week to livestream the launch event and the terminology that the creators kept coming back to was that Dreaming Beyond AI is “a container.”
This takes inspiration from science fiction author Ursula Le Guin’s Carrier Bag Theory of Fiction, which disputes the prevalent idea that “the spear” is the earliest man-made technology — a theory popularised by the intro of 2001: A Space Odyssey — and instead, offers “the bag” as the first tool used by humans. The theory makes logical sense, but its function is mostly ideological — the spear is phallic, it’s violent, it’s linear — the bag is homely, it’s soft, it’s all jumbled up inside there.
Navigating Dreaming Beyond AI is intentionally puzzling, it encourages deep exploration, digging into your tote bag to find your corded Apple EarPods tangled up with your house keys, while you poke around for your chapstick. The deliberate defiance of seamless user experience design — its “rejection of pragmatism” — reminds me of Jack Halberstam’s theory of living outside the conventions of success in The Queer Art of Failure:
Through the use of manifestoes, a range of political tactics, and new technologies of representation, radical utopians continue to search for different ways of being in the world and being in relation to one another.
Dreaming Beyond AI articulates an alternative vision for life, love, and labour, challenging the way AI reinforces existing injustices, and questions the dominant and linear narrative of widespread AI adoption into the future.
Now, I set you free to explore the website for yourself! Please leave me a comment or reply to this email to let me know your favourite piece on the site. I particularly like Alla Popp’s Queer Feminist AI FaceFilter.
You’re invited to Queering Tech
But wait! Just one more thing before you go … Queer Computer is hosting its very first event! It’s a live panel discussion featuring queer artists and game developers. We’ll be discussing the act of “queering” technology and consider the ethics of AI for queer creatives. The panellists will be announced in my next issue!
It’s free, it’s fun, it’s online, I’d love to have you there. Tuesday, 23rd August, 6pm – 7.30pm.