How Experiential Technologies Enhance the Arts, Perception, and Culture
I recently attended a keynote speech titled "The Relationship Between Art and AI" by Jennifer Sukis of IBM Watson.
She presented at Moogfest amidst stellar musical performances (like Kelela and Midori Takada), installations, workshops, and conversations about cutting-edge technologies and culture as a whole.
At her keynote, Sukis mentioned that recent experiments in AI in art root primarily in imitation.
Elements from human culture are inputted into some algorithm or program and the computer is told to either combine the elements, to mimic them, or to create something opposite.
This is referred to as style transfer. As Sukis wrote in an article on this subject, "style transfer... uses deep neural networks to replicate, recreate and blend styles of artwork. It identifies and combines stylistic elements of one image and applies them to another."
But AI's capabilities exist far beyond 'simple' imitations. If art reflects culture, what would art created purely by AI look like? And how can AI develop its own culture?, not just remix and fragment human culture?
Perhaps answers to these questions find resolution, or a bridge, when AI is used for collaboration.
A beautiful example of AI and human collaboration comes from NSynth Super.
The program creates new tones using acoustic qualities of the inputted sounds resulting in sounds that are a fusion of multiples. For example, piano timbre melded with bongo and harp.
And, as Sukis highlighted in her speech, what this comes back to is in many senses perception and who we are or who we believe we are, what we value, and how we spend each day awake.
Human understandings of the universe across time are shaped by revolutions in science (like the telescope), in art, in religion, in technology, and in experience as a whole.
New technologies and applications of such technologies are changing, for example, how artists create art and what they create in the first place.
VR tours, 360° content, and AI's ability to process gargantuan amounts of data (& what it does with it), are all seeing groundbreaking applications across disciplines. (For an example of what this looks like in the arts, check out this artist creating comics in 360° https://kuula.co/post/7lxFw!)
A shared thread between AI and VR exists, perhaps, in the vein of the experiential and enhancement of perception in new ways.
I often wonder, for example, how many people would play games like Call of Duty if they were in VR where pain was fully felt. Such games are enjoyed in part for their distance from the real thing. (And this is not an assault upon, nor an approval of, violent video games.)
When humanity is put in perhaps literal touch with what have so far been nearly impossible experiences (like being able to fly through a wasteland designed in the style of Dali's art) – what will that mean for our understanding of time and space? Where are we when we are manifesting live in a VR version of the Gaza Strip?, or onto Everest?
Whether we tune out in horror, are inspired to do more with our lives, or become complacent to never travel again because the world is in our headsets, what remains is the power of such experiences. Arts & Sciences and application, to my mind, reign integral. I.e., we can have all the revelations in the cosmos under the influence of VR where our perceptive eyes travel bodyless, or we can make new discoveries via AI, but it's what we do with that that matters.
As an example, Beaumonde co-founders Shep & Caro are using their 360° camera to create a virtual tour of an exhibit at the Gregg Museum titled "Design Duet" so that one of the artists, who is unable to physically attend, can experience their art in the gallery as if she were there in person.
What emerges with respect to new technologies is not some superior medium for communicating feelings, ideas, and memories.
Rather, with immersive technologies like 360° cameras and VR, and with AI machine learning creating new art forms, we are simply forging further into the frontiers of imagination and intellect.
As a book's language weaves the stories of people together with the embellishments of symbolism, imagery, context, and numerous other devices of language that augment reality; so, too, does a 360° photograph enhance reality with its own available language of hyperlinks, embedded videos, motion graphics, etc.
Author's Note: While I was writing this piece several questions came to mind:
- Is experiencing nature with our 5 attuned senses while walking awake more real than experiencing nature through a VR headset where all 5 senses are attuned to the world? What about perceiving nature in a vivid and almost familiar lucid dream? Or through creative language as in books?, treading evergreen forests high in snowy mountains?
- If nature is real, can it be synthesized through technologies?
- At what point does a computer move from processing to understanding? From programmed mechanism to sentient being?
Comment below with any ideas you may have or if you wish to share a fun memory related to use of VR, 360°, etc.
Andrew Cheek is the Head Writer and Content Coordinator for Beaumonde. He graduated from North Carolina State University and is in process of polishing the manuscript for his children’s novella. With a background in literature and film, and a taste for half-marathons, Andrew’s inspirations range from Virginia Woolf to Wes Anderson to his Adidas running shoes. You can find Andrew on Twitter and LinkedIn.