Machine Yearning

Kieran Cook (He/Him)

In response to our species’ access to the internet, our attitudes towards our bodies are changing. Fortunately, this allows freedom for the underrepresented, and attitudes towards gender identity (gradually) becoming more progressive. Unfortunately for the LGBTQ+ individuals who have built safe havens online, this metamorphosis is only able to operate under the oppressive eye of the digital world. Whilst today’s internet fails to mirror his idyllic dream of what ‘cyberspace’ would look like, John Perry Barlow’s utopian manifesto envisioned for the internet remains supremely influential: “A Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace” eerily predicts the lengthy social media debates of modern-day, all the way as far as 1996. Before the WWW even resembled anything close to the internet we have access to today, Barlow writes: “Your legal concepts of property, expression, identity, movement, and context do not apply to us. They are all based on matter, and there is no matter here. Our identities have no bodies, so, unlike you, we cannot obtain order by physical coercion. We believe that from ethics, enlightened self-interest, and the commonweal, our governance will emerge.” Online, our identities have become everything. In curating a version of ourselves online, we translate an image (both literally and conceptually) of ourselves through cyberspace. We often fail to consider the technological aspects of this. We find ourselves giggling at videos of ourselves with Snapchat filters, yet we fail to consider the artificial intelligence that lies behind it.

This software has one single task. To identify you. How does it go about doing this? By studying. Artificial Intelligence software can digest a theoretically infinite amount of information, with every eyelash & every pore analysed to gain an improved understanding of the human face. Although an AI’s understanding of the human body is infinitely more precise than a human ever could be, Its ability to fully understand the human body in a romantic, human way, is lacking. In order to illustrate this, I ‘fed’ Artificial Intelligence hundreds of images by the contemporary American photographer Robert Mappelthorpe. Mappelthorpe was a young, gay man, revelling in the glorious debauchery of 1970s New York. His images perfectly balance the intensity of the borderline pornographic with the deft yet soft hand of a masterful sculpture. Mappelthorpe’s black and white images are touched with uncannily human warmth. Despite the young artist’s untimely death to HIV in 1989, his photographs remain timeless captures of the thralls of human intimacy. I could think of little better to confuse the cold-blooded glare of an AI. In the 3,200 images produced by the AI, none display anything close to the understanding we have of our bodies. In an ironically progressive way, the lines between typically ‘male’ & ‘female’ bodies are blurred & engage in a digital metamorphosis. Artificial Intelligence may rise up & take over the world someday, but at least we don’t have to worry about cancelling it on Twitter.

Words: Kieran Cook, Year 2 Photography, @destructionmanual

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