Critical Response #3: Message in a Bottle

Laura Schütz

To all human beings,

What does it mean to be human? In an age where the line between the technosphere and the ecosphere becomes blurrier by the day, what are distinct human features (not AI features) that make us human and set us apart from humans with the artificial brains? We have created AIs that perform “human” task some of them even better than we ever could. Technology has changed power structures, political systems, society, and human behavior. What will the impact on life on earth when AI is as ubiquitous as air?

Now that we have created this techno species that inhabits our planet alongside us, how do we decide to live with it? Is our future already decided upon or can we still intervene and change the trajectory of AI? Will we keep it small and try to restrict and control it as much as possible? Will we let it grow carelessly and allow it to take over all aspects of our lives and ecosystems. Or will we welcome it as an equal being and share tasks and experiences with it? What if we cultivate each other’s intelligence, what is we foster AI and human capabilities through collaboration?

We, as the entirety of human existence can choose, and we need to choose. Now. If we wait for subject experts, software engineers, product managers, VCs, and big tech to decide how AI evolves, we might wake up in a dystopian reality rather sooner than later. But how do we overcome the fear of speaking up when we are not subject experts? How do we encourage and invite all humans to participate in the conversation? If we fail to include all perspectives into the decisions around AI development, the number of perspectives diminishes, and we run the risk of not asking all the questions we need to ask. So, I am asking you: How do you want to live with AI?

I can only speak for myself, and I am overcoming the fear of saying the wrong thing by speaking up because like most of you, I am not an AI expert. But I am speaking up because I care about our lives, our society, and our planet: I want to live in harmony with AI. I want to share tasks and experiences with it. I want it to be a friendly companion species that helps us and enhances our daily lives. I want AI to be as diverse as we humans are. I want the outcome of every human-AI collaboration to be unique. Unique to the human and the AI that created it. To achieve this or any vision of the future we must define new values and develop new philosophies for interacting, working, and inhabiting planet earth together with AI. There is much work to be done and the future is unknown, but with uncertainty comes possibility. And what could be more exciting than a blank canvas?

Some of the ideas in this letter are inspired by a presentation the conceptual artist Anicka Yi gave at the “research and the artistic (im)pulse” symposium by the Stanford Arts Institute on March 9th, 2023. Displayed above is Anicka Yi's Biologizing the Machine (spillover zoonotica), 2022