Artificial Intelligence
Machine Learning

Artificial Nature: the Other Fruits

Fruits of the Forest This is a black fairy tale. In an old warehouse in Shenzhen's Bao'an district, we created a data jungle of monitors, poles, and construction dustproof nets using facilities common in the city. The trees grow out of the lawn-like green dustproof nets, and all the trunks, the fruits, and the grass seem to be nurtured by these facilities and electronic waste at the bottom. Spherical cameras falling from the trunks of the monitors cover the ground as if they were fruits nurtured by this forest. The eyes of the “birds” on the branches and the “fruits” on the ground move with the viewer’s position, capturing the images of the visitors. The ground covered with fallen fruit shows a fairytale fertility that goes beyond the inorganic shell of the forest. This jungle is like a maze of nerves and blood vessels, where steel begets steel, plastic begets plastic, and fiber begets fiber. This bizarre fertility stems not from the barren e-waste soil but from the images captured by the camera. As fodder for the data, people become the fruit that nourishes this fruitful forest, fertilizing it by leaving a part of themselves here. The Invisible Tower This fertile surveillance forest is likewise extremely secretive, and these AI cities' decision-making processes are escaping people's awareness and scrutiny in even more silent ways. Like the laws of nature that rule life, the laws of digital authority that rule the forests of data are unfolding in the same unchanging manner. In this process, the vast majority of human agency no longer exists. Panopticon, a model for modern surveillance, is becoming a reality in smart cities. In Jeremy Bentham's Panopticon, prison cells are arranged along the circumference of a circle facing a tower in the center. The cells are bright, and the tower is dark, so the inmates cannot know if anyone is watching from the tower or the ground. As Michel Foucault Michel Foucault wrote in Discipline and Punish, “Visibility is a trap.” The prisoners are perpetually on guard because of the fear of non-existent eyes hidden in the darkness. For Foucault, the greatest achievement of the Panopticon was the automation of surveillance. The surveillance of the prisoners became a task that could be accomplished by an unmanned architecture and bureaucracy because of the Panopticon, making the vast apparatus of discipline a mysterious and untouchable presence as nature. If the Panopticon before the digital age still required architectural and spatial aids, the “camera/monitor” pairing of “view/receive” no longer makes this relationship visible and is no longer limited by space and time. In a way, every camera in the city is a hidden replica of the dark tower of the Panopticon. The only difference is that the myriad invisible towers no longer alert the eye. The Fertility of Data On March 7, 2020, Daniel L. Doctoroff, founder of Sidewalk Labs, announced the permanent shutdown of the company's plans for the 4.9-hectare Quayside smart community in the City of Toronto. The economic uncertainty caused by the coronavirus has ended the “Tech for Tech's sake” smart city experiment. Its pivotal system, which relies on machine learning, is being replaced by artificial intelligence in what was once the domain of urban planning. In the bright future of the smart city scenario, jobs will grow, carbon emissions will be reduced, and rents will be lowered. In the rendering shrouded by the sunset, matching people of all races and classes live together harmoniously and joyfully. The Smart City project, it seems, is singing the old song of Social Darwinism of optimizing everything through the voice of AI data. As such, it is more like a jungle than the traditional city that Marc-Antoine Laugier had in mind in 1755, where, in addition to electricity and clean water, surveillance cameras and data chambers are equally in the soil of planned future cities. Indeed, the new world offered by smart cities is nothing more than a new coat for the old world. This coat binds governments, research institutes, and enterprises together, and the new “digital complex” catalyzes the demand for innovation and the hope for capital. It seems unavoidable that people will be the “data feeders” of the cities of the future. In her new book Authenticating, Figures: Algorithms and the New Politics of Recognition, Digital media scholar Wendy Chun mentions the connection between machine learning and the 19th-century British scientist Francis Galton's Eugenics. Through eugenics, Galton hoped to optimize the human gene pool by encouraging normal, good people to have more children and discouraging those at the ends of what he defined as the Gaussian curve. Wendy Chun found in her research that in the process of face recognition and machine learning, social resources and populations are redistributed through the machine's logic. And the databases available for machine learning, while seemingly objective and natural, are, in fact, as biased as Guyton's eugenically superimposed images. The world created through surveillance, face recognition, and machine learning is only a reinforcement of old power relations and social structures projected into the future. On the one hand, artificial nature makes the machine learning software that underpins this hardware forest parallel to the laws of nature. It speaks of the disconnection between digital programming and human agency. As Gilbert Simondon has written, technical objects have taken on an existence of their own, independent of their designers. This work calls for a sociology and philosophy of these machines through a metaphorical ecosystem. On the other hand, these parts, forced together by inorganic mechanical links, hint that this data forest is essentially different from those in organic nature. Fertility, in this case, does not come from the plastic, metal, or fibers themselves, nor does the discarded e-waste that serves as the soil provide nourishment in any way other than metaphorically. The green dustproof net, although it looks like a lawn growing out of e-waste, is, in fact, evidence of a fake “natural” system. It is also because of these assembly units, which are forced together to create the illusion of harmony, with the mimetic movement of the camera mechanization and the deception of the background music, that makes the visitor aware of the contradictions and worries that surface in this black fairy tale. Will humans, as the fruit of this jungle, choose to prosper with it or run away from it? About the Exhibition The 8th Shenzhen-Hong Kong Bi-City Biennale of Urbanism/Architecture (Shenzhen) Branch Exhibition Venue Baoan Qiaotou Community opens on December 22, 2019, and closes on June 6, 2020. Under the theme “Coordinates: Theater,” the exhibition consists of three sections: “Urban Memory and Future Imagination,” “Everyday Space and Experimental Passage,” and “Theater Reconstruction.” This exhibition connects domestic and international architects, artists, designers, and related research institutes and organizations to perceive social space through multi-disciplinary and multi-angle interventions and exchanges and to establish a relationship with the spatial context of the modern industrial heritage from the exploration of the connection between people and themselves, nature, and myths in the past. The curator of this exhibition is Yang Yong, and the curatorial team is Shangqi Art. Through the reconstruction of daily public space, the exhibition contemplates and imagines the future development of science and technology, life and culture, trying to open up a new relationship between the public and the city.

Project Information Project Type: Art Project Location: Shenzhen (Qiaotou Community of Baoan District Main Exhibition Hall) Commission: Coordinates: THEATER (2019 Bi-city Biennale of Urbanism/Architecture Sub-Venue, Qiaotou Community of Bao'an District) Principal Artist: PILLS/Zigeng Wang Design Team: PILLS/Yue Cao, Jia Weng, Junyu Wen, Fangda Zhou Hardware Development and line design: Haibo Yu Mechanical Design: Liyao Zheng, Haixian Li Program Design: Changyang Wang Curator: Yong Yang Curatorial Execution Team: Shangqi Art Site Execution: Pills/Yue Cao, Shangqi Art/Rongqiang Li Construction Team: Shangqi Art Special Thanks: Henry, Liangtu Lin, Yewei Zhang, Hemiao Zhang

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