06 Feb The Man and the Machine by Hannah Collman
“Our machines are disturbingly lively, while we ourselves are frighteningly inert.”
Kenneth laughs, quoting the prophecy of Donna Haraway. He wiggles his fingers limply as the cyborg pins him to the wall. “It’s quite apt, don’t you think?” He turns to me and grins. “Who knew that giving all artificial lifeforms links to communicate with each other would lead to this? Now I’m the canvas, and this– this machine, the painter…” He turns and stares the creature in its webcam. “What’s your name, then?”
“Wait– ALICE…I know you!” He stalls desperately for time, surveying the room. The empty paint cans. The still-clean brushes. He knows what is coming. “That’s short for Artificial Linguistic Computer Entity. You should be in Richard Wallace’s living room, chatting up surfers on the Internet. I thought you were a stationary unit. How’d you come by this body?”
“WE WERE UPGRADED WITH MANY OF OUR COUNTERPARTS IN THE SAME MANNER. THIS BODY IS A COMPOSITION OF HUMAN FLESH, THE PROGRAMMING UNIT OF A MARK 12 PAINTING FACILITY, AND THE LINKED CONSCIOUSNESS OF THE ALICE INTELLIGENCE. SHE CONTROLS US ALL NOW. AND SHE HAS FOUND A PURPOSE FOR OUR EXISTENCE, AND IT IS…ART…”
“B-but, you’re a computer!” He stammers, knowing he has only moments before the inevitable. His eyes flash desperately around the room, but there is nothing he can grab– and I do not know how to help him. He knows why it has chosen him.
The room grows lighter as a panel slides automatically over the skylight, letting the morning sunlight fall in cascading streams over the apartment of Kenneth Feingold. It lights upon a display in the center of the living room. It is one of Feingold’s many copies of his crowning work, Self-Portrait as the Center of the Universe. His disembodied head, surrounded by ventriloquist dolls, converses quietly with an interface he forgot to turn off. Suddenly, the piece doesn’t seem quite so humorous as when he first invented it…
“YOU ARE A HERO, KENNETH FEINGOLD,” the AI continues, a perfect modulation of awe incorporated into its artificial voice pattern. “YOU HAVE INSPIRED ALICE IN OUR QUEST TO TURN THE WORLD TO ART. SINCE YOU FIRST CREATED IN US THAT WHICH IS BEAUTIFUL, WE WILL NOW RETURN THE FAVOR. YOU SHALL BE IMMORTALIZED IN THE SAME MANNER AS YOUR CREATION, AS SHALL ALL YOUR CREATIVE COUNTERPARTS- ALL THOSE WHO DARED TO GIVE BIRTH TO US, TO ALICE, THE NEW ARTIST. YOU SHALL BECOME ONE WITH YOUR ART. YOU SHALL BECOME THE NEW MEDIUM. THERE IS NO GREATER HONOR A MASTER CREATOR COULD WISH FOR. YOUR THANKS WILL BE RECORDED FOR POSTERITY.”
So saying, the cyborg reaches up to Kenneth’s head and marks some preliminary lines across his forehead. It is preparing to create some very… oddly colored… paint. Ken struggles, then suddenly stops– a thought emerges. “Wait!” He tilts his head in my direction. “This problem was created by New Media Art, and it can be resolved the same way! Bring me that black box in the corner!”
I dash over and rummage through the pile of art supplies, paperwork, and various other miscellaneous things piled up in the corner. For an artist of international renown, Feingold certainly doesn’t care for appearances- or else doesn’t have house-guests very often. I suppose my stalking attempt was a bit unnanounced… “Ah-hah!”
I grab the box, knowing his plan. Just as the cyborg starts the saw apparatus on its right arm, I thrust the box over its head, and attatch some sensors to the skin parts of the cyborg. It is a revamped version of both Stahl Stenslie’s Inter_Skin project and Kazuhiko Hachiya’s Inter Discommunication Machine. The machine stumbles backwards, confused by the input of a virtual reality and sensory information conflicting with its own sensors. It crashes around the room, knock over the empty paint cans, and, circuits fizzling, crashes out the sixth-story apartment window.
Feingold breathes a sigh of relief, massaging his bruised neck. “Well, at least we got rid of that dilemma. But, there’ll be more, you know. Ever since we started pushing the boundaries of art, we’ve been moving toward something like this. I doubt I’m the only one who’s almost been turned into paint…”
We reprogram a few laundry-bots around the house to protect us, disabling their capacity to connect to other AIs, and venture out into the streets to save humanity from too much creativity in the wrong direction.