Bots, Avatars and the Abolition of Consciousness

Posted by Rhizome | Sun Feb 9th 1997 1 a.m.

Bots, Avatars and the Abolition of Consciousness: part 2 of 3 excerpted
from the Consciousness Reframed listserve

[The Consciousness Reframed listserve was an internet based discussion
forum for artists, theorists and others associated with the
Consciousness Reframed conference at Newport, Wales, UK. The conference
was called by Roy Ascott, Professor of New media at the Gwent College of
Art, to discuss the impact of new technologies on notions of self and
consciousness.]

1.29.97

Bill Seaman wrote: "New technologies transform how we see and understand
ourselves. I think you are correct here, it does present 'an interesting
model of how we wish to see ourselves at this time' - 'formally' this
can include both working toward the highest level of portrait -
'wonderful' VR Realism, to various levels of pictorial abstraction to
pure digital abstraction 'as a proxy of the portrait.' I am thinking
more of reflecting our inner selves, felt experiences - states of
meaning..."

Simon Biggs wrote: I think here you misunderstood what I meant by
portrait. What I intended was to suggest that we create our artifacts
not in our image, but in the image we wish ourselves to be. The computer
is an expression of this. In that sense it is a collective
auto-portrait, but only in a very general sense. So, I guess I am
talking about "inner-selves", although I personally would avoid that
word. It is laden with associations I cannot swallow.

Bill Seaman wrote: "I think the difference here is in the potential for
a 'response' to the viewer. These 'responses' are also abstracted
mirrors of ourselves. I can imagine very interesting levels of
poetic-responsive environments that function on quite complex levels.

"I think the difference here is in the potential for a 'response' to the
viewer. These 'responses' are also abstracted mirrors of ourselves. I
can image very interesting levels of poetic-responsive environments that
function on quite complex levels."

Simon Biggs wrote: Check out what I've been doing at
http://www.easynet.co.uk/simonbiggs/ Click on a mouth (you will know
what I mean when you get there) and go to The Great Wall of China. Here
we have a recursive self-generative realtime language machine on the
Net, using the principles I outlined in my last posting; that is, an
avoidance of the notion of an "articifical author" and rather the use of
a linguistic model that generates patterns of association than can be
interpreted as meaning in the mind of the reader. There is no story
telling model...there is no real model at all, as such. Instead a sort
of neural net is employed, where the only thing in the database
(although the work is entirely OOPs, so it is incorrect to use the terms
database or procedure, as these things are a singular function of the
objects involved) are single words and at the procedural (ditto) level
just a few simple grammatical rules to do with relations between nouns,
verbs, adjectives, etc, and some secondary rules for conjugation, tense
and plurality. Not much really. Meaning emerges not from a model of an
author, nor of a story, nor out of an avatar, but rather out of a
language that is seen to be "alive", or sentient, in its own right. The
sentences have a behaviour. It is an ecology of language.

Bill Seaman wrote: "This notion of the 'machine that can be any machine'
is central to this interest. I can imagine this 'responsiveness' in
terms of 'Bots,' 'Avatars,' 'synthetic actors' (on the realist edge)
moving across a potential series of abstractions, to non-objective
environmental changes brought about by viewer interactivity. This
interactivity isn't just a 'click of cancel or save' I am thinking about
intellectual and poetic feedback. It isn't easy."

Simon Biggs wrote: When you talk about avatars or bots then I know we
are on different wavelengths. It is just these ideas I am trying to
avoid. I am looking to language itself as a form of sentience, without
the requirement for some form of agent to contain it. In fact, I would
suggest that agents are entirely contained within language, including
agents known as "real" people. Language is sentience. People are the
vehicles that carry this around. I do not see it as the other way
around. I do not believe there is such a thing as a "person" as we
traditionally conceive it in the Western world. I am probably closer to
a Zen position, although I reject 90% of Zen as well as vacuous
mysticism.

In this I am in agreement with Foucault, and his idea of the Panopticon
and the individual as simply an "instance" of the flow of control and
meaning which is essentially the linguistic "organism" getting on with
its life. We are just the "cells", not the "being".

Bill Seaman wrote: "Think of your favorite book - it inspires - brings
growth, change, heightened understanding - information may or may not do
this."

Simon Biggs wrote: Yes, but that is not energy as I understand it. A
book is an instance of textuality. I respond to it less as information
and more as intent. In the information there are subtexts, and these I
interpret. Some may be intended on behalf of the author, others may be
entirely of my own invention (an expression of my own intent). This is
not particularly important. What is important is this instance of text
that I, as the reader, have constructed from the raw resources at hand
(the book). The "energy" comes less from the book and more from myself.
The authors expenditure of labour is certainly appreciated, and in the
case of a good author their sophistication, a sophistication that allows
a fluid and motile reading, is even more appreciated (Derrida).

Bill Seaman wrote: "If you map a dance which is expressive - then apply
this map."

Simon Biggs wrote: But can you map a dance? That is the essential
question. Yes, you can notate it, such that it can be reproduced in a
formal manner. You cannot map what makes the dance a good or specific
dance. This is a limit of modelling.

1.30.97

Bill Seaman wrote: "What term would you use for the voice inside you
which speaks, but not out loud; the reflective person; the subjective
self?"

Simon Biggs wrote: My general position regarding the notion of the
"self" is very complex, and I have not elucidated this here as yet. It
does not allow for things like an "inner voice". Not that I am saying
that this does not exist...just that I do not think the idea has value.
Perhaps this, something I wrote to someone else recently, will outline
what I mean. It is relevant to you, as you were in the same place, at
the same time, as the person I was writing to (ISEA Sydney '92).

Do you remember the piece (Solitary) I did in Sydney in 1992? That piece
was very much about what we are talking about. Perhaps, if you try to
remember the work, and think about what I am saying here you will get an
idea of my position on this subject.

I think that "self" does not exist in an absolute sense. I do not
believe there is such a thing as a person, a personality, an ego or
conciousness, or whatever you want to call it. I do believe (and I guess
it is a very minimalist belief) that something exists, and that this
something is able to have a relationship with other things. I believe
that out of these relations that something takes form, and only out of
those relations. To begin with the something is formless.

As this something, and many other somethings, emerge from one another,
through their interactions, then conventions and habits also emerge.
Collectively all these somethings create an illusion that seems very
real. It seems real because these somethings are actually deriving their
sense of self, of identity, from this illusion. Without it they would be
selfless, and as such they would not exist as self-concious things, and
nor would they recognise the existence of others. The means of
differentiation, even whilst those means and the resulting meanings are
illusory, are nevertheless a necessity.

Of course here "somethings" are individual people, and the illusion they
create is society. We have created collectively an amazing edifice of
fantasies out of which we now form ourselves as aspects or instances of
that fantasy. It seems all very real...but I do not see it as real. It
is just a relative, and contingent, set of dreams. If, as an individual,
we choose to recognise this, and to follow through its implications,
then we face a situation where we are threatened in the very heart of
our existence. The very means and stuff of what we are made evaporates
before us. We stop existing. We lose ourself.

This is what the piece in Sydney was about. At the time I said it was
about the extreme "thinness" of being (not a paraphrase of Kundera, so
do not entertain that notion), about how as individuals we create the
illusion of self by mutual agreement and mutual actions. That the self
emerges out of interactions between different people, and that if you
destroy the connections (which are themselves a complex fantasy...here I
am thinking of language, morals, ethics, etc, all the things that allow
us to live together) then the self is exposed for what it is...a
discontinuous and incoherent collection of bits (what we call memories)
that do not add up. We dissolve, we fragment, as all the webs of deceit
are brushed away.

Perhaps this has more to do with Zen than with contemporary psychology.
I have often thought so, even though I have never made an in depth study
of that subject, nor subscribe to it in any form (how can one, when you
recognise it is just another contingent illusion?).

Nevertheless, this is how I see the self, and "read" what people do
(individually and collectively) as following from this angle of
perception.

On the subject of interpersonal relations, and particularly the subject
of love, perhaps you begin to see what I am trying to say, and what my
perspective on this is. I feel that one of the things that everyone
desires most is to escape the reality of their circumstances...that is,
to avoid recognising the impossibility of their own existence. One of
the main ways of achieving this is to collectivise the illusion. If
other people believe the same thing as you then it becomes "real". Love
is the most intense form of this need. It is where we seek to affirm our
own existence with the greatest intensity (and thus veracity) by close
contact with another being.

Strangely, it is also through love that we can come closest to losing
ourselves...exposing the real situation. This is what makes love
dangerous. Perhaps this why the French also call that moment of extreme
connectedness "le petite mort" (the little death).

Bill Seaman wrote: "I am suggesting that when you write a 'linguistic
model' which you base your neural net on, you are an 'author' also.

"I think we are in a period which is exploring 'States' of authorship.
In terms of the computer there is an intermingling of the system of
authorship with the system which houses the system of authorship. The
brain also allows us to be an author and to think about authorship, but
not to present that authorship until it is spoken or translated into
some medium (codified). Unlike the brain, in computer-mediated
interactive work, a viewer can intermingle with the system and interact
with it. What is interesting is that it gives the viewer a chance to
enter into a dialogue (if you will) with the 'artifacts of thought'
which the initial author has placed in the system. In the case of
hyper-mediated systems there is a potential for an inter-authorship.
There are different levels of this inter-authorship.

"I am quite interested in a kind of poetics that requires one kind of
response, someone like Paul Sermon presents a very different kind of
interaction - different (more / less) emphasis is placed on the viewer's
own creative input into the system. There is no right way - different
people have different creative focuses."

Simon Biggs wrote: This for me is not an argument. What I am trying to
suggest is not the problematisation of the author (an old issue) through
the use of hypermedia, but something else. I am trying to suggest, as I
mention above, the erasure of self, the abolition of conciousness
(something I find an unsustainable idea). I really cannot buy the idea
of self. As such, I am seeking to erase both author and reader, and let
the text speak itself. If we are all just instances of the word, then
text/being is no more than a linguistic system talking to itself anyway.

Bill Seaman wrote: "Language as a virus? (Burroughs)"

Simon Biggs wrote: Well, sort of...more language as life itself. Viruses
are just an instance. Rather than Burroughs I think of Robbe-Grillet's
texts that touch on this subject, such as "A Project for a Revolution in
New York".

[...]

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