Keep A.I. weird!

Pioneering creative technologist and designer Ammon Haggerty, whose roots are in San Francisco's cyberdelic culture of the early 1990s, wrote a fascinating essay urging us to "Keep AI Weird!"

An excerpt:

Are we at risk of sanitizing AI's inherent strangeness?

…LLMs [Large Language Models] are a reflection of humanity, albeit at the moment primarily American, white view of it, with all our weird and idiosyncratic quirks that make us human. There is a real danger that we could see foundation AI models trained to maximize business values (of the American capitalist variety) and suppress radical and non-conformist ideas — a sort of revisionist optimization.

All this got me thinking about San Francisco, the city I grew up in, and where my dad, grandfather and great-grandfather called home. SF has been "weird" since the gold rush, attracting a melting pot of non-conformists, risk-takers, and radicals. Over generations, the weirdness of SF has ebbed and flowed, but it's now deeply engrained in the culture. The bohemians, the beats, the hippies, LGBTQ+ rights movement, tech counterculture, and now AI…

Like San Francisco, AI also has a fairly long history of being weird. Early experiments in AI such as AARON (1972), which trained a basic model on artistic decision-making, created outsider art-like compositions. Racter (1984) was an early text-generating AI that would often produce dreamlike or surrealist output. "More than iron, more than lead, more than gold I need electricity. I need it more than I need lamb or pork or lettuce or cucumber. I need it for my dreams." More recently, Google Deep Dream (2015), a convolutional neural network that looks for patterns found in its training data, producing hallucination-like images and videos[…]

These "edge states" in AI's evolution are, to me, the most interesting, and human, expressions. It's a similar edge state explored in human creativity. It's called "liminal space" — the threshold between reality and imagination. 

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