Olia Lialina, circa 2024 AD

Tuesday 2nd January, 2024 - Bruce Sterling

“AI where it is now – a whirlwind of crap”! *Yeah, that’s Prof. Olia Lialina, all right. It’s good to hear from Olia.

Happy new year, dear nettimers!

In the mid of AI summer, I often think back about last spring, and one product, or rather it’s announcement, that brought us to where we are now.

/https://pad.profolia.org/s/I_ve_built_a_simple_AI — illustrated version with links /

AI’s 75 year history is a chain of periods filled with excitement and anticipation of the singularity, taking turns with times of ignorance known as AI winters. I on purpose count from right after WWII – 1946, when Mechanical (later Machine) Translation effort has started, and not from 1956 when the term AI was coined, because the term is less important when the idea that machines can perform understanding (of languages), and also because it was exactly the failure of Machine Translation that designated beginning of the first known AI winter in the beginning of 1960’s.

On the eve of 2024 we, no doubt, are enjoying AI midsummer. It’s so brutally, unnaturally hot, that some start to suspect that this time it won’t be just a winter that will compensate for the heat, but rather something usually depicted as an ice age or a nuclear winter is in front of us. It will be very cold and dark for a very long time…

The last winter, which was caused by the failure of the 5th generation computer and logic based AI systems in the late 80’s was rather short. It was over in the mid 90’s. From that time research in machine learning grew steadily. But science and industry seasons do not necessarily correlate to the one’s in mass media. Public attention at that time was glued to the Internet, WWW, Social Networks and all of the above becoming magically available on mobile devices in the end of the noughties.

In the beginning of the tens mass media started to report about Big Data and the Internet of Things. Let’s, from today’s perspective, call it a thaw.

Real spring, or mass media AI spring started in 2016. I see 3 events that made a break in popular consciousness:– Hanson’s humanoid robot Sophia,– Google’s neural network algorithm Deep Dreamand– Mark Zuckerberg’s Jarvis.

One still remembers Sophia’s glorious appearances at the United Nations and on the covers of lifestyle magazines. Sophia’s existence also started a wave of discussion about ethics in AI and social robotics, that are still actual and vital.

Psychedelic images of Deep Dream are also hard to forget. And the impact of the algorithm is still here since style transfer and surreal visuals became AI’s flagship businesses.

But Jarvis? Why do I even mention this rather modest personal project of Zuckerberg to control his house facilities through his phone? The app itself was not remarkable, but the words that announced it were.

There were two posts. On January 3, 2016, Zuckerberg published his New Year resolution: “My personal challenge for 2016 is to build a simple AI to run my home and help me with my work.” And on December 19, 2016 he reported “I’ve built a simple AI”.

These posts quoted many times during 2016 and 2017 started a trend talking about AI as if it is an app, a product, something at hand.

“I’ve built a simple AI” played a big role in bringing AI to where it is now – a whirlwind of crap, when not only every further automation in software products, but simply every new function or feature is marketed as Artificial Intelligence.

That AI became a synonym to a chatbot is somewhat historically justifiable. But there is hardly any app today that is not marketed as AI. A filter is an AI, a file is referred to as an AI output. Ai (only A is upper case, as if a given name) in the slang of Humane and name of their Ai Pin is the sign of the same process. AI is an object, let’s call it Ai.

In 2016 “I’ve built a simple AI” suggested that AI was a thing. Could be simple, could be complex, but a thing, ready to be packed. In my opinion, it was the event that marked the beginning of objectification of the Artificial Intelligence concept, its oversimplification, and devaluation.

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