Towards Decolonizing AI: Propositions by Isabella Salas, Nora Golic and Moisés Horta Valenzuela
Since technologies are the product of human brains and sensibilities and are developed under specific social and political contexts, it seems to go without saying that they reproduce certain patterns characterising those structures. Moreover, considering the resonance they have in terms of accessibility and circulation, they often perpetuate or even reinforce these apparatuses without there being any real control over how these can be reused and to what extent individuals’ behaviours may be steered. Or worse, they can be subjected to exploitation to make precise beliefs proliferate. These topics are touched upon by two artists participating in the exhibition Uno, Nessuno, Centomila currently at Electric Artefacts: the duo formed by Isabella Salas with Nora Golic, and Moisés Horta Valenzuela.
AI systems are based on schematisation and simplification processes of multilayered and composite realities, according to the needs, expectations and aims of the ones in charge of these mechanisms of information extraction. At the same time, this dynamic leads to a phenomenon of universalisation while elaborating the outputs coming from the data collected. It is, therefore, almost utopian to believe that all the diverse social strata can be contained and taken into account during the analysis, mostly when regarding minorities or underrepresented groups and communities.
When systems reflect the values of creators belonging to privileged or authoritarian backgrounds, the risk is that through the distribution and the wide consumption of technologies unjust credences can spread. Hence, the danger of building machines and writing software that promotes principles valid only for certain slices of society, and that stereotypes and prejudices will be nurtured, is very present. Plurality and diversity appear to be muted and, according to the approaches which may be more or less ethically susceptible, even neglected altogether.
Salas and Golic co-created a multi-media installation called “INTERHUMAN”: it consists of a series of ever-changing photographs of people from different backgrounds and with diverse cultural origins. The artists use the mechanism of algorithm recognition on the portraits taken to make the machine provide several combinations, and always showing a potential new person in transition. The aim is to address a larger audience by revealing a wider scope of traits and facial expressions, and to allow the co-existence of diverse identities to which the viewer can relate to. Involvement and inclusion, thus, appear as key-words to delineate the purpose of their work, a purpose that is also taken up in the other two exhibited works by them and respectively entitled “TRANSHUMAN” and “CONHUMANITY”. The latter artworks convey glaring attention to multiculturalism and diversity, by putting into a visual dialogue portraits disclosing different states, both emotional and in terms of ethnicity, that are open to being freely interpreted and deciphered by the observer.
Moisés is a Mexican sound artist, technologist and electronic musician known as 𝔥𝔢𝔵𝔬𝔯𝔠𝔦𝔰𝔪𝔬𝔰. With his series “Imicca Tanima”, meaning “The death of the soul”, he relates to the theme of the ephemerality of existence and self. Starting from the images of pre-hispanic artefacts that attest to a colonial past in the Americas, he synthesises them by a process of artificial intelligence training, making visible through an unstable imaginary and fleeting combination of objects, the historical background of such leftovers. The result seems to be a chimerical juxtaposition of elements that, while being aesthetically intriguing, trigger a reflection on an harsh reality that still affects our perception.
Under this light, AI can be conceived as a critical tool to stimulate divergent thinking and discourse around bias that besiege our minds. Manipulating datasets in such a way that they don't follow standardised agendas, could therefore be understood as an urgency to be considered, if not to eradicate certain misconceptions, at least to propose alternative visions.