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Hackernoon logoCultural Standardization in the Age of Machine Intelligence by@bruno.pimenta.2000

Cultural Standardization in the Age of Machine Intelligence

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@bruno.pimenta.2000Bruno Pimentel Teixeira

We can easily notice the most varied examples and implications of machine learning, in which most cases outperform humans in efficiency and endurance, automating a great range of traditionally human activity.

However, less perceived by us, a particular implication, that it can lead to decrease the cultural diversity over time. The emerging relationships between humans and intelligent machines raise the automation of cultural artifacts, under these circumstances, tends to go towards a cultural standardization.

First of all, talk about culture is not an easy task, even for many theorists who work extensively with this subject, there is no unanimous concept, furthermore, its definition changes over time.

If we take into account the point of view of the scholar and cultural theorist Terry Eagleton, the culture is complex and ambivalent, sometimes considered its opposite, “nature”, which also confers enormous difficulty to be explained.

In his book, The Idea of Culture, centered on discriminating different meanings of culture, exposes that it is possible to define culture in its classical conception, where the etymological origin of the word “culture” comes from the Latin colere, which can mean to cultivate agriculture or agricultural cultivation.

The original meaning of agricultural cultivation has been extended to the cultivation of human faculties, in which culture passes from the idea of cultivating grains to cultivating the mind.

But what happens when the cultivation of the mind transcends the human being and start to be accomplished also by machines?

The Artificial Intelligence — especially in the form of Machine Learning, such as reinforcement learning — is being frequently employed in the modern world to make more efficient and secure a crescent range of tasks, as like fraud prevention, credit decisions, shopping recommendations, and so on.

This scenario is not exclusive in the business context, once, in fact, intelligent machines start to appear more and more in our homes, usually in forms of smart assistants like Siri, Google Home, Alexa, as well in our leisure time, including places where the human being expresses his creativity, such as museums and cultural centers.

As an instance, the Museum of Modern Art in Buenos Aires have used cognitive conversation between people and art pieces.

The assistant, the cognitive machine, allowed a closer experience than the one when using an audio guide. This could have made the interaction between the art and the visitors of the Argentine museum easier.

In a similar manner, through a smartphone and headphones borrowed from the Pinacoteca de São Paulo museum, visitors could talk with some paintings and sculptures.

The chatbot, would, by smartphone, answer visitors’ questions about some of the artwork in the collection of this Brazilian Art Museum.

In another scenario, we can see AI and deep learning in creative works that look like human-generated, in a special manner, in visual art, music or even poetry. As a result, emerges a fertile place to bring new concerns about the realm of the creation of art.

Aware to this new scenario, some places have been doing a phenomenal job bringing to the discussion this theme, as a good illustration of that, the Artificial Intelligence Art and Aesthetics Exhibition of the japanese Okinawa Institute of Science and Technology Graduate University.

In all cases, some people can see the closest relationship with AI as part of the artwork, on the other side, some critical currents can fully reject this idea — 
to be or not be part of the art is a big discussion, I strongly recommend the text Art in the Age of Machine Intelligence of Blaise Aguera y Arcas about this subject.

However, in the examples above, creates a fertile ground to automate massive ways of production and distribution of cultural products. It drove us to the question: Could the uniformity of culture reproduced by AI methods, lead us to a cultural standardization?

All right, we are talking about artificial intelligence, bots, machine learning, deep learning, cognitive machines… but this is not a new question. In a not so closest past, we had similar concerns regarding technologies as photography, radio, television, and cinema.

Close to one hundred years ago, some theoretical currents criticise the emergence of massive ways of production and distribution of cultural products. Scholars like Adorno and Horkheimer, in The Culture Industry: Enlightenment as Mass Deception masterpiece, gave a strong weight for the understanding of the uniformity of culture reproduced by radio, films, magazines etc.

The author’s concerns, was centered around the automation and the rise of the culture industry, which resulted in the standardization and rationalization of cultural form. This, in turn, has been weakening, atrophying and destroying the capacity of the individual to think and act in a critical and autonomous way.

However, there is no consensus among many experts and scholars, about how is consumed by the people the massive production of culture produced by the industry. We can not assume that the audience passively receives all mass cultural production.

There is a kind of “negotiation” and “opposition” by the audience. An approach of the cultural theorist Stuart Hall, one of the main proponents of reception theory. He developed in 1973 an essay called ‘Encoding and Decoding in the Television Discourse’, that contributes to theoretical approach of how media messages are produced, disseminated, and interpreted.

The author is not talking only about television discourse, he talks about a message or product, could be a book, movie, or other creative work, whatever, that is not simply passively accepted by the audience. In his understanding, the reader/viewer interprets the meanings based on her or his individual cultural background and life experiences.

What he said sounds fine, but as we can see, effects in our culture as result of new kinds of art and media, are unpredictable and permeated with ambiguity. Cultural theorists and specialists have not unanimity about the consequences in so complex and so slippery world.

Like the invention of the radio, the printing press, cinema, television, and computers, we believe machine intelligence is an innovation that will profoundly affect art and culture. Is emerging a scenario where machines start to learn, spread and influence our culture.

In the nearer term, it will change our understanding of external reality and our perceptual and cognitive processes. We can assume that our culture begins to be extended to machines, and more, with great power to reproduces and changes it in new ways.

Sterlac, a performance artist who often explores the boundary between human and machine, talk that our body is obsolete, and it needs to be upgraded. If the Sterlarc says that our body needs to be extended, in this point of view our mind and culture can be considered obsolete as well.

Alternate Anatomical Architectures | Stelarc | TEDxVienna

If on the one hand, our body and culture are obsolete, on another hand, we are developing technologies that can hack and extend both. In 19s century steam machines extended and automated our power at a level never seen before, and now, we see machines that start extends our body, mind, and culture in levels never seen before.

To finish, we are testifying going away a time of human been and machines in each side, nowadays, however, we are starting to see a process of hybridization that mix analogical and digital in an unprecedentedly way, in this way, arises humans more machines and machines more humans.

Deeper than crossed on earlier innovations, substantially more complex than cultural standardization, artificial intelligence will extend our mind and culture; ultimately transform society in ways that are hard to imagine from today’s vantage point.

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