„Hacking into Aesthetics and Politics of (AI-)Avatarization and algorithmic faciality“
In Neil Stephanson’s 1992 dystopian sci-fi novel „Snowcrash,“ the Metaverse is an escape from the reality of the novel’s main character, Hiro, a nearly broke computer hacker and pizza delivery driver who spends much of his time „there.“ He accesses the Metaverse by wearing goggles and earphones and appears within the Virtual world as his own customized Avatar. In computing, an Avatar is a graphical representation of a user or the user’s character, a playable character or persona, a „playable figure“ -besides a prosthetic marionette. A digital Avatar can also be a virtual assistant, a representative in the digital world, such as the Metaverse. This standard working definition of the Avatar leads to theoretical tensions between primarily computational or computer-generated gamification (games) and ludification (human play and its ludic actors) and respective control and degrees of freedom.
The use of artificial intelligence (AI) to create avatars with human-like facial features can impact how we interact with technology and each other significantly and how we become others. These avatars, which can be used as virtual assistants or in gaming and different virtual environments, can mimic human behavior and emotions (cf Ekman´s FACS), leading to the possibility of anthropomorphism. While interacting with LLM-based conversational agents (such as Chat-GPT) may create the illusion of being in the presence of a thinking creature, these systems are fundamentally not like humans. They can be inscrutable, presenting a mix of superhuman and inhuman abilities. It may take time for us to learn how to handle these new kinds of entities and resist the temptation of anthropomorphism, especially if endowed with algorithmic faciality. However, the use of AI avatars also raises questions about agency, control, and dependency, as well as the potential for manipulating individuals through these avatars. The use of AI to create realistic avatars also raises aesthetic concerns, such as the influence of an avatar’s „cuteness“ or likability on people’s preferences and the potential for reinforcing normativity of specific beauty standards and aesthetic manipulation of behavior.
Additionally, using AI avatars in work and social situations brings up issues of identity and blurring boundaries between the virtual and physical worlds. As AI technology continues to advance and the use of AI avatars becomes more widespread, it will be essential to consider this development’s ethical and social implications. Ganism and other computer-generated or machine-learning algorithms produce sociality via platformed faciality as the mimetic algorithmic social-political designed system of platformed digital life without alterity experience, present -in contrast- in between humans‘ face-to-face encounters (Levinas). This talk will hack with artistic and activist dramaturgies/strategies into algorithmic faciality.
Alexander Gerner (PhD) is a playwright and researcher in philosophy of science and technology at the Faculty of Sciences of the University of Lisbon. He holds a PhD in History and Philosophy of Science (Faculty of Sciences, University of Lisbon 2012) where he is Vice-head of the Research Group RG3- Philosophy of Technology, Human Sciences Art and Society at the Centre for Philosophy of Sciences, University of Lisbon (CFCUL). Gerner teaches, among others in “History and Philosophy of Technology“ and „Computer and Society“ at FCUL. At the moment he is writing on a book on aesthetic, anthropotechnical, political and ethical impact of AI Avatars. He investigates human technology, social resonance, ethics and AI aesthetics in a critical approach to algorithmic rationalities in his research project „Hacking Humans. Dramaturgies and Technologies to become other.“
About the Lecture Series
This semester we focus on concepts that can critically address the ongoing crises of the digital age (e.g. information, climate, resources, discrimination) and might help to develop new critical practices, an understanding of the present and the future that we are facing. These concepts are Aesthetics & Evidence, Critique and Imagineries, (Data) Governance and Activism, (Interactive/value-sensitive) Design and Decolonialism. Even though all of these concepts deserve a lecture series on their own, we chose to have for each of these topics one lecture in order to create a kaleidoscopic and interdisciplinary perspective on what critical practices and future “Politics of Data and Semi-Autonomy” can look like.
The lecture series takes place as a hybrid event Wednesday from 2 to 4 pm c.t.. External guests can join online by registering here.