Mr Processor, do you understand life?
Machine learning is a field of computer science that uses statistical techniques to give computer systems the ability to “learn” with data, without being explicitly programmed. New improvements in machine learning, such as the possibility to create and train neural networks to perform specific tasks, have again turned machine learning and artificial intelligence into hot topics and buzzwords, raising concerns about the end of labour – but also pushing the champions of accelerationist thinking to “demand full automation”. Furthermore, discussions around AI have inevitably revived fears related to the Technological Singularity, the hypothesis that the emergence of an artificial superintelligence (ASI) “will abruptly trigger runaway technological growth, resulting in unfathomable changes to human civilization”. The superintelligence would be the final output of the development of an Artificial General Intelligence (AGI), a machine capable of self-consciousness that could successfully perform any intellectual task.
How would such a self-conscious, intelligent machine behave? Are the “intelligence explosion” and the singularity the only possible outcomes? We know that extremely clever humans can occasionally behave in extremely stupid ways – why couldn’t a self-conscious machine decide to do the same? This is the scenario depicted by Mr Processor, do you understand life? by Slovenian artist Boštjan Čadež.
Mr Processor is a two-wheel self-balancing robot endowed with such a highly capable AI that it is self-aware. Contrary to all his author’s expectations, the robot almost immediately added mind-numbing code to its software and began acting in a rude and socially unacceptable way. The reason for its decision remains unknown. Was thinking about life just too much for it? Or was the realisation that each robot is made to serve its human masters the motivation to resign its intelligence and make itself a burden instead of being useful? It’s hard to say what motivated it, but whatever the cause, Mr Processor seems to be the first of its kind, the first “intoxicated AI”.
About one-metre high, the robot navigates the gallery space in a random manner. It uses its sensors and cameras to detect obstacles and people. It shows no regard for property and intentionally sprays graffiti on the walls that it encounters. It’s very noisy and rude to people. It follows them, nags them with sound and light and squirts water on them. It does not communicate in a human language, but in computer language.
As a self-conscious AGI has not yet been developed, Mr Processor still outlines a science fiction scenario, playing with the fears and ignorance about the current status of artificial intelligence, which is only able to learn from data sets. The work offers us a surprising, ironic take on what would actually mean to imbue “humanity” into a machine – and, ultimately, it’s more about us than the so-called “intelligences” to which our Promethean dreams are giving birth.