The Culture of the Artificial

Program Committee
  1. M. Beatrice Fazi
  2. Matthew Fuller
Date: Wednesday 2nd April Website: Description:
In 1964, when AISB was founded, computing was largely associated with the repetitive operations of the large mainframe machines employed by the military, by industry and by space programmes. Alan Turing, who had died prematurely just a decade before, had formalised the notion of what it means to compute in his seminal work of 1936, and in 1950 he had speculated again as to the association between computation and mental operations. Yet in 1964, the mechanisation of computation through digital means was generally only familiar to the scientist, the businessman and the maverick. Today, by contrast - half a century later - much has changed: from taking a phone call or a picture, from shipping goods to organising labour, without risk of exaggeration one could say that few activities in the contemporary world can evade the computational altogether. To all intents and purposes, we live in a computational culture, many of the principles and possibilities of which were established and reinforced in those mid-century explorations from which the AISB originated. In this symposium we take computational culture as our topic and object of enquiry. We argue for the existence of a specific 'culture of the artificial', to paraphrase Herbert Simon's expression, and contend that its foundations, limits and potentials can be best approached and analysed only if this artificiality is granted the possibility not just of imitating, amplifying or speeding up the cultural, the societal, and the economic but of producing them in its own terms, times and modes. The Culture of the Artificial symposium will therefore bring together cultural theorists, philosophers, scientists, mathematicians and practitioners to investigate how computational artificiality and algorithmic simulation are not simply passive markers of 21st century culture, but amongst its most active players and decision-makers. For this symposium we invite contributions that engage with the theoretical and historical foundations and implications of this scenario, and possibly help to define strategies and methodologies for understanding its future developments. This event thus aims to move beyond general arguments about the rapidity and power of the information society, about the distribution of computational technology or about the commercialization of the Internet (factors that have, for material as much as ideological reasons, certainly contributed to the establishment of computational culture as such). Similarly, we want to move beyond some of the traditional critiques of the artificial and of the simulated that have been perpetuated, at various points, by cultural theory. 'Cyberculture', 'digital media', 'information revolution' are familiar cultural tropes, synecdoches for something more significant; computation was a component part of all of them, but now needs to be studied in its own peculiarity and distinctiveness. Making this claim of course does not equate to advocating a naive embrace of the rationalization and quantification of life and society, but actually asks us to be even more attentive to and critical towards the detail and operation of such dynamics. The event is organized in the context of the Society for the Study of Artificial Intelligence and Simulation of Behaviour annual convention due to two main motives. On the one hand, we argue for historical and conceptual resonances between the emerging condition of a computational culture and the development of the AI programme: the former arguably stemmed from the contingencies and formalisms that the latter initiated or participated in. Equally, the condition of computational culture shares much of the hopes, fears, sensibilities and practicalities of the broad AI field and its historical precedents. Software studies approaches drawing on computing, media and cultural theory, philosophy, art, science and technology studies are means of attending to these resonances. Our second motive is more methodological: computational culture is a culture where notions of the artificial and the natural blur, where science and the humanities converse, where the empirical and the formal clash, but in which each needs and tangles with the other. Equally, computation produces fully-fledged ontologies and epistemologies, many of which originated in primarily technical contexts but are now active as and with cultural forms in their own right. This condition creates a novel context for the understanding of forms of intelligence and behaviour and for the development of new research programmes operating in a fully inter-disciplinary or post-disciplinary manner. Topics of Interest We welcome submissions from various fields of expertise and areas of research related to the rationale of this event. Topics include, but are definitely not limited to:
  • Software Studies analyses of historical artificial intelligence and simulated behaviour artefacts;
  • Critical and philosophical analyses of the legacy and achievements of Alan Turing in relation to culture;
  • Developments in modes of collaboration and mutual problematisation between cultural theory and artificial intelligence and robotics (such as for instance the "Critical Technical Practice" proposed by Philip Agre);
  • Artificiality and simulation as modes of speculative culture;
  • The cultural and political conditions of the pursuit of AI agendas in the generalization of computational forms of life;
  • Speculative possibilities for a theoretical and practical exploration of what intelligence is or might be said to be in relation to the computational turn in culture.