Wuthering Heights Tag

Machine Unlearning

Vision calibration from Machine Unlearning (2020). Photography by Elody Libe. Image courtesy of the artist.

Machine Unlearning is a video installation in the style of an ASMR roleplay, in which the artist offers a treatment administered through a chip she inserts at the back of the viewer’s neck. This chip allows the artist to directly administer the outputs of an LSTM algorithm through her whispered voice to the mind of the viewer as the algorithm unlearns language previously learned from the novel Wuthering Heights. This roleplay is complimented by a variety of physiological calibration routines and hypnotic hand gestures that play at visual rhythm and implied first person experience.
The combination of machine learning outputs and ASMR is intended to draw parallels to how the autonomous systems of algorithms are similar to the autonomous reactions of human sensory systems. Just as ASMRtists use specific sounds and visual patterns in their videos to “trigger” physical reactions in the user using stimuli, acting on the unconscious sensory processing of the listener as they watch the video, the algorithm also unconsciously responds to patterns perceived by its limited senses in order to develop its learning (and unlearning) processes.

Credits: Photography and videography by Elody Libe.

Production Support: Machine Unlearning video installation was produced at Perte de Signal with the support of the MacKenzie Art Gallery for the exhibition To the Sooe (2020) curated by Tak Pham.

The roleplay performance was developed during my artistic residency at Locus SonusÉcole Superieur d’art d’Aix en Provence and Laboratoire PRISM.

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The use of the word “intelligence” in the metaphor of AI focuses on higher functions of consciousness that algorithms do not possess. While algorithms have not meaningfully achieved a humanistic consciousness to date, today’s algorithms act autonomously on sensory information, processing data from its environment in unconscious, automatic ways. The human brain also responds unconsciously and automatically to sensory data in its environment, for example, even if you are not conscious of how hot a stove is, if you place your hand on a hot stove, your hand will automatically pull away. These unconscious, physiological actions in the sensory realm points to an area of common experience between algorithms and the human.  For more explanation of these ideas, take a look at the work of postmodern literary critic N. Katherine Hayles in her 2017 book Unthought: The power of the cognitive nonconscious.  In this way I wonder if the expression “autonomous intelligence” makes more sense than “artificial intelligence”, however like posthumanist feminist Rosi Braidotti I am deeply suspicious of the humanist pride that our species takes in the word “intelligence” as something that confers a special status and justification for domination of other forms of life on earth.

Live Performance

This work was first developed as a performance that debuted at Cluster Festival, Winnipeg in 2019.  During live performance, each audience member dons a pair of wireless headphones.  The performance allows the audience members to see the ASMR “result” of the performance for camera, simultaneous with the ability to see my “backstage” manipulation of props and light in real time.

Machine Unlearning (2019) Performance at Cluster Festival, Winnipeg. Photo: Leif Norman.

Machine Unlearning (2019) Performance at Cluster Festival, Winnipeg. Photo: Leif Norman.

Machine Unlearning (2019) Performance at Cluster Festival, Winnipeg. Photo: Leif Norman.

of the soone

A disembodied voice invites the listener to partake in a speculative audio treatment that promises to awaken underdeveloped neural passageways through exposure to the non-human processes of neural network language acquisition.

of the soone is the first in a body of work Erin Gee made in collaboration with artist Sofian Audry that explores the material and authorial agencies of a deceased author, a LSTM algorithm, and an ASMR performer.

The work in this series transmits the aesthetics of an AI “voice” that speaks through outputted text through the sounds of Gee’s softly spoken human vocals, using a human body as a relatively low-tech filter for processes of machine automation.

of the soone, Gee welcomes the listener to a speculative neural treatment called “language processing and de-processing”, preparing the listener as a subject by dressing them in a fluffy terry robe and EEG cap to monitor brainwaves. She introduces the listener to the many benefits of this language processing and de-processing “treatment”, as  sonic exposure to machine learning processes allow one to to subliminally reinvigorate under developed neural-linguistic pathways in their own human mind.

During the aural treatment, the subject listens to Gee’s voice reading out the results of a process enacted by a deep recurrent neural network agent known as “long short term memory” (LSTM). The algorithm “reads” Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights character by character, familiarizing itself with the syntactical universe of the text. As it reads and re-reads the book, it attempts to mimic Brontë’s style within the constraints of its own artificial “body”, hence finding its own alien voice.

The reading of this AI-generated text by a human speaker allows the listener to experience the neural network agent’s linguistic journey, and to experience the augmentation of this machine-speech through vocalization techniques adapted from Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response (ASMR). ASMR involves the use of acoustic “triggers” such as gentle whispering, fingers scratching or tapping, in an attempt to induce tingling sensations and pleasurable auditory-tactile synaesthesia in the user. Through these autonomous physiological experiences, the work aims to reveal the listener’s own cyborgian qualities as part of the hybrid system in place.

Exhibition History:

April 2018: NRW Forum, Düsseldorf, Germany

March 2018: XXFiles Radio @ Nuit Blanche, Montreal

January 2018: Her Environment @ TCC Gallery, Chicago

text 2018. Courtesy of artists.