Kinship and AI

The essay, titled “Making Kin with the Machines,” is co-authored by Lewis, Kite, Noelani Arista (University of Hawai‘i atMānoa) and Archer Pechawis.

Chosen out of 260 submissions, it is one of 10 essays published in a special edition of the Journal of Design and Science by MIT Press. One reviewer wrote that it might be the only essay in the collection that opens up truly new ways of thinking about AI.

The essay argues that Indigenous knowledge systems are much better at accommodating the non-human than Western philosophies, because the Indigenous worldview does not place man at the centre of creation. The writers seek a relationship to non-human intelligences — beyond that of merely tools or slaves — as potential partners who exist in a living system of mutual respect.

The essay states that there is currently no consensus on how to approach human relations with AI. Opinions vary widely within the small network of Indigenous scholars, artists, designers, computer programmers and knowledge-holders who consider the topic. Different Indigenous communities approach questions of kinship differently; some disavow kinship with machines entirely.

Concordia’s Jason Edward Lewis wants ethical artificial intelligence with an Indigenous worldview, April 29, 2019, Andy Murdoch

On the same day as I read the above, I listened to an interview with Genevieve Bell, former anthropologist at Intel, and now leads the 3Ai Institute which is working on creating a new applied science to take AI safely to scale. She describes this work starting at the 42 minute mark.

“There’s a connection to anthropology. Want to know what it is?”

“I sure do!”

“It’s a good one. So, there was a mathematician named Norbert Weiner back in 1946, 1947. He organized a series of conferences called the Macy Conference of Cybernetics and cybernetics was a term he coined. And for him, cybernetics meant a dynamic system that included technology, nature, and human beings. So a technical system that included biology, humans, and technology.   A system that included computation, the environment, and humans.”


“Yeah, and in ’46, that is a radical proposition.

It’s radical now.

“Well what’s interesting is that in ’46 he started to curate these conferences and he reached out to someone he had met to help him curate them…”

“Who was an anthropologist!”

“It was Margaret Mead. It was just not any anthropologist. It was Margaret Mead and Gregory Bateson.”

The Familiar Strange #32, “Hula Hoops not Bicycles” Genevieve Bell talks Anthropology, Technology & Building the Future (46 minute mark)

Here a space opens for an artistic materialism

Here a space opens for an artistic materialism. Parallel to the Marxist tradition runs an aesthetic one, from Cezanne to Miro and the Bauhaus artist Paul Klee. Crucial to Jorn’s reworking of Marxist thought is his radical revision of the locus and significance of the aesthetic. Art belongs to the infrastructure of society, not to the super-structure. Art is a fundamental kind of social production. Marxism breaks with classical tradition by assigning priority to action rather than contemplation, but its error error is to consider art only as a form of contemplation. Art is action.

Engels wrote that “the economic structure of society always furnishes the real basis, starting from which we can alone work out the ultimate explanation of the whole superstructure of juridical and political institutions as well as of the religious, philosophical and other ideas of a given historical period.” Jorn would agree with this, but with the proviso that aesthetic practice is part of the economic structure, not just one of the “other ideas” within the superstructure. The qualitative practice of art is as much part of the base of the capitalist social formation as its qualitative production process. The ontological failure of capital, its inability to perceive and produce its own reality, stems from the domination of the quantitative over the qualitative process.

Jorn breaks with privileging of science that he finds particularly in Engels. Jorn distinguishes between what he calls a worldview and an attitude to life. Both, he insists, can be materialistic, but they do not always go together. Even when science has a materialistic worldview, it does not necessarily have a materialist attitude to life. It remains Apollonian…
Aesthetic experiment is the necessary complement to scientific experiment, but it is not an imitation of science. While science extends knowledge and expands the material worldview, art creates a way of life by shaping material characteristics according to desire. If science concerns itself with objective truth, then art will search for subjective truth. “Rather an entangled and chaotic truth than a four-square, beautiful symmetrical and finely-chiseled lie.” But, crucially, Jorn sees subjectivity as non-individualistic. The art that matters is a subjective realism that extends beyond the individual and invokes a collective practice: “art, therefore, is not a representation, a mirror, of nature but a direct transformation of nature. Art is experimental social practice which transforms nature into second nature, but without reducing nature to essence or order.

McKenzie Wark, The Beach Beneath the Street: The Everyday Life and Glorious Times of the Situationist International

Reading Foucault is like taking a master class on how the game of scholarship is to be played

Michel Foucault (1926-1984) undermines the romantic theory of authorship by speaking of discourse as a distribution of author functions. For Foucault, a statement is authorized by a particular form of discourse, a regime of truth, a procedure for assigning truth-value to statements. It’s not hard to see why this captivated the minds of academics. It made the procedures in which academics are obsessively drilled the very form of power itself. As if that by which academics are made, the molding of their bodies to desks and texts, that about which they know the most, even more than they know their allotted fields, were the very index of power. Reading Foucault is like taking a master class on how the game of scholarship is to be played, and with the reliable alibi that this knowledge of power, of knowledge as power, is to be used in the interests of resistance to something or other. Détournement on the other hand, turns the tables, upends the game.

The device of détournement restores all the subversive qualities to past critical judgements that have congealed into respectable truths. Détournement makes for a type of communication aware of its inability to enshrine any inherent and definitive certainty. This language is inaccessible in the highest degree to confirmation by any earlier or supra-critical reference point. On the contrary, its internal coherence and its adequacy in respect of the practically possible are what validate the symbolic remnants that it restores. Détournement founds its cause on nothing but its own practice as critique at work in the present. Détournement creates anti-statements. For the Situationalists, the very act of unauthorized appropriation in the truth content of détournement.

Needless to say, the best lines in this chapter are plagiarized. Or rather, they are détourned. (It hardly counts as plagiarism if the text itself gives notice of the offense – or does it?) Moreover, many of these détourned phrases have been corrected, as Lautréamont would say. Plagiarism uploads private property in thought by trying to hide its thefts. Détournement treats all of culture as common property to being with, and openly declares its rights. Moreover, it treats it not as a creative commons, not as the wealth of networks, not as free culture or remix culture; but as an active place of challenge, agency, strategy and conflict. Detournement dissolves the rituals of knowledge in an active remembering that calls collective being into existence. If all property is theft, then all intellectual property is détournement.
Not surprisingly, official discourse has a hard time with this concept. The decline of critical theory in the postwar years is directly correlated to the refusal to confront détournement as the most consistent approach to a knowledge made by all. The meandering stream that runs from the Letterist International to the Situationist International and beyond is the course not taken, and remains a troubling memory for critical thought. The path not taken poses the difficult question: what if one challenged the organization of knowledge itself? What if, rather than knowledge as a representation of another life, it is that other life?

McKenzie Wark, The Beach Beneath the Street: The Everyday Life and Glorious Times of the Situationist International