Do Electric Birds Dream of Empty Tweets?

2019

Made of disposable glass Pasteur pipettes, wire, nails, rubber, and plastic carrier bags, electromechanical birds flock to the latest retweets of trending topics and verify each other's movements on a “flock”-chain. They mimic our own technophilic impulses to follow the latest thing while our natural surroundings suffocate in the mounting detritus of technocratic consumption—while plastic clings to branches and fills gullets on ever rising tides. We seem to think our human natures will evolve positively with the progress we make in our inventions, that better technology betters us, and if only we had better tools we could make a better world. The promise of Artificial Intelligence to transcend the limitations of our own abilities, to process huge datasets and find patterns we might never see, to improve itself and even become superintelligent feels game changing. AlphaGo beat our best Go player and showed a glimmer of super-human creative problem solving in move 37, but with all its uncanny appeal is Artificial Intelligence really any different from technology that’s come before? It will be trained on billions of data points of our best and worst behaviour, of our greatest works along with our most careless remarks. Can we expect it to overcome our faults and biases, or just amplify them? Will we watch the ersatz creatures of our own making evolve beyond our flawed selves or will they just spin and flap in sycophantic servitude to our every thoughtless whim? When we’ve replaced the living with artificial life will their synthetic minds be rich with imagery, memory and longing or as empty as our last tweet?