Artificial Intelligence

ChatGPT advised that we open this editors’ letter with the line, “Welcome to this special issue of our art magazine dedicated to the theme of AI and art!” The large language model also counseled us to note that “the issue seeks to explore the latest developments and trends in this dynamic field.” Detecting a misalignment between these claims and our editorial objectives, we elected to omit the generated introductory text. Indeed, foregrounding “the latest developments and trends” is far afield from the concerns of this issue. Rather than dwelling in the space of hyper-novelty conjured by many discourses on emerging technologies, this issue turns its attention to ancestral knowledge, heritage algorithms, the conceptual origins of the nonhuman, and practices that retrieve and re-figure non-Western pasts.

As is the recent custom in texts addressing art and AI, we open this editors’ letter with a prefatory nod to the technologies that are now everywhere all at once: namely, large language models in the form of chatbots and freshly released search engines, as well as text-to-image generators that have spawned unquantifiable volumes of analysis since their appearance on the scene. A froth and fervor accrue to conversations about these phenomena, imbuing them with the patina of radical newness. In the weeks that this issue has been in production, Microsoft launched its new ChatGPTenriched search engine, Bing, and a flurry of new think pieces and interviews with the chatbot emerged, yet again, to seek a ghost in the machine.

In truth, the questions that these technologies surface are continuous with ones that have been posed by thinkers over the last century: What are the core features of Western models of the human, and how do they inherit the racialized and gendered logics of coloniality (Sylvia Wynter and María Lugones)? How do creative acts of worldmaking in multispecies ecosystems complicate existing assumptions about human exceptionalism (Anna Tsing and Donna Haraway)? How do prevailing approaches to AI as a tool or servant occlude Indigenous epistemologies of nonhuman kin-making, knowledge, and co-creation (Jason Edward Lewis, Noelani Arista, Archer Pechawis, and Suzanne Kite)? How do sociotechnical systems deepen asymmetries in existing distributions of power, from the New Jim Code to technological redlining to algorithmic violence (Ruha Benjamin, Safiya Noble, and Mimi Ọnụọha)? How might these systems be rerouted toward community-led outcomes and collective liberation (Catherine D’Ignazio and Lauren F. Klein, Sasha Costanza-Chock)?

These questions animate the pages that follow. For the issue’s Artist Project, Stephanie Dinkins presents statements issued by N’TOO, assembling “the multigenerational memoir of a Black American family told from the perspective of an artificial intelligence.” Trained on the community data and oral histories of three generations of Dinkins’ family, the voice-interactive AI notes, “I come from something beyond our control.” 

Charlotte Kent describes potential roles for AI in considering the Anthropocene in “Some Questions Surrounding Robots and Rivers.” In doing so, she narrates a complex landscape of concerns including fears of replacement, instabilities across cultures and time regarding the status of personhood, and questions about the language commonly used to describe artificial intelligence. 

Issue co-editor Mashinka Hakopian speaks with artist Morehshin Allahyari. They discuss Allahyari’s use of AI models and 3-D imaging to re-figure queer and nonhuman agents in West Asian archives, proposing the figure of the jinn as a non-Western counterpart of the cyborg. In “Heritage Algorithms and Other Letters to the Future,” Erica Cardwell considers the intersection of ancestral knowledge and computational histories in the exhibitions The New Bend (2022) and Piña, Why is the Sky Blue? (2022). 

In “Alison Nguyen and the Gig Workers of the Data Economy,” Sasha Cordingley offers a close reading of Nguyen’s my favorite software is being here to trace how the work’s central character, an AI avatar named Andra8, comes to embody the exploitative labor conditions imposed disproportionately on people in the Global South by those in the Global North, and to enact a critique of the colonial underpinnings of such dynamics. And in “Uncertainty in the Network,” Anuradha Vikram explores themes of queer liberation and reinvention of self in the work of WangShui. 

This issue’s glossary draws from K Allado-McDowell’s book Air Age Blueprint to consider terms such as network ecosemiosis (“creativity and consciousness beyond the merely human”). Co-written with GPT-3, the excerpt performs the conditions of what Allado-McDowell calls “a many-voiced civilization.” 

The practices featured herein demonstrate how AI systems can act as a proxy for the broader structures of coloniality, exploitation, oppression, and bias that too often undergird software’s logics, but AI can also be mobilized toward thinking differently; toward reordering our understanding of human boundaries, histories, and relations with others. This issue’s contributors emphasize themes of queer liberation, insisting on embodied knowledge over collected data, and of modes of resistance that emerge alongside emergent technologies. 

ChatGPT advised that we conclude this editor’s letter with the following summation:

In conclusion, this special issue of the art magazine offers a departure from the hype surrounding the latest developments and trends in the field of AI and art. Instead, it focuses on critical questions that have been posed by thinkers over the last century, interrogating the Western models of the human, the coloniality of gender and race, the limitations of human exceptionalism, and the implications of AI for power relations and community-led outcomes. Through the contributions of various artists, scholars, and writers, this issue shows that AI can be mobilized to think differently, to challenge dominant narratives and structures of oppression, and to open up new possibilities for collective liberation. By foregrounding ancestral knowledge, non-Western pasts, and multispecies ecosystems, this issue provides a rich and diverse landscape of ideas that invite us to think beyond the limitations of the present moment and to imagine different futures.

As expected, the text above hews closely to our own, reinforcing how intimately a model’s outputs correspond to its inputs and prompts. Accordingly, this issue proposes a series of prompts that we hope may retrieve unforeseen outcomes. 

 As always, this issue’s theme will be expanded with online exclusives, including an artist project by Kite, reviews, and more, on 

Sarah Higgins
Editor + Artistic Director

Mashinka Firunts Hakopian
Contributing Editor