HAMTRAMCK, Mich. — We are a technology-obsessed culture. As futurist Ray Kurzweil wrote in his essay, “The Law of Accelerating Returns”: “An analysis of the history of technology shows that technological change is exponential, contrary to the common-sense ‘intuitive linear’ view. So we won’t experience 100 years of progress in the 21st century — it will be more like 20,000 years of progress (at today’s rate).” In other words, if Kurzweil is to be believed, technology is going to match roughly 40% of the progress we’ve made in 50,000 years of modern human history, in the span of 100 years. One cannot help but wonder if our biological nature can adapt quickly enough to support such innovation, or if the only improvement we’ve made on the dinosaurs is to design the comet that will destroy us.
Artists are often prone to adopting new technologies in their efforts to explore and expand the boundaries of their expressive media of choice. It is tempting to draw distinctions between classic disciplines and their more contemporary counterparts, but even oil painting has seen radical innovations, such as standardized, pre-mixed pigments. At one time, a crucial part of an apprenticeship was learning to mix the very colors that form the raw materials of the painting. Some artists still mix their own paints, but very few gather, dry, and grind the substances that make up the base pigments. That still pales in comparison to the closed loop slowly being formed within, say, video art; you cannot get more future-is-now than this story about a machine learning thesis project by Terence Broad. “Autoencoding Video Frames” taught AI to watch and reconstruct video frames—using, appropriately, Blade Runner, the seminal film based on a Philip K. Dick novel about machines that impersonate humans. In a sense, Broad has produced the first non-human video artist.