James Bridle vs the current form of Artificial Intelligence

Monday 20th March, 2023 - Bruce Sterling

Artificial intelligence in its current form is based on the wholesale appropriation of existing culture, and the notion that it is actually intelligent could be actively dangerous
by James Bridle


he weirdness of AI image generation exists in the output as well as the input. One user tried typing in nonsense phrases and was confused and somewhat discomforted to discover that Dall-E mini seemed to have a very good idea of what a “Crungus” was: an otherwise unknown phrase that consistently produced images of a snarling, naked, ogre-like figure. Crungus was sufficiently clear within the program’s imagination that he could be manipulated easily: other users quickly offered up images of ancient Crungus tapestries, Roman-style Crungus mosaics, oil paintings of Crungus, photos of Crungus hugging various celebrities, and, this being the internet, “sexy” Crungus.

So, who or what is Crungus? Twitter users were quick to describe him as “the first AI cryptid”, a creature like Bigfoot who exists, in this case, within the underexplored terrain of the AI’s imagination. And this is about as clear an answer as we can get at this point, due to our limited understanding of how the system works. We can’t peer inside its decision-making processes because the way these neural networks “think” is inherently inhuman. It is the product of an incredibly complex, mathematical ordering of the world, as opposed to the historical, emotional way in which humans order their thinking. The Crungus is a dream emerging from the AI’s model of the world, composited from billions of references that have escaped their origins and coalesced into a mythological figure untethered from human experience. Which is fine, even amazing – but it does make one ask, whose dreams are being drawn upon here? What composite of human culture, what perspective on it, produced this nightmare?…