First published on nettime mailing list on January 7, 2024 in reply to Olia Lialina: “I’ve built a simple AI”. Remembering the last AI spring https://pad.profolia.org/s/I_ve_built_a_simple_AI (read first)
thank you so much for your pointed observations. I would like to extend on both Sophia and Jarvis. Both seem to be driven by control and automation phantasies on the one hand and anthropmorphization on the other. “I’ve built a simple AI” already uses this “a AI”, ascribing agency (with the implication it would be human-like agency) to it, obscuring the human labor behind it and the machinic limitations it necessarily has.
The Team behind Sofia, for instance, consists of the CEO, the animation and interaction designers, the software enginieers, the content developers, robotic face architect, robotics engineers, a production supervisor, a language processing A”I” engineer, IT-Manager, office staff, events coordinator and freelance project workers according to their website. A team of at least 23 humans to get an elaborated deception, a version of a mechanical turk, running.
Interestingly Sofia is this embodied, female slave, while Zuckerbergs male voiced Jarvis is disembodied and omnipresent in his house.
I also liked your point behind marketing A”I” as a _product_ as in the Jarvis case because I didn’t see it from this angle. I rewatched this demo video which pretty much addresses almost all phantasies a master could expect of his slave AI, waking him up gently, providing a schedule of the day, preparing a toast, surveilling and teaching the child, surveilling and providing access at the door (for Zuckerbergs parents). What is excluded in this narration is of course the master’s violence against the slave, the brutal availability of sexual services, but yes we are in advertisement, I get it.
The video has a humorous moment built in, where Mark asks Jarvis to play “the best Nickelback songs” and Jarvis answers passive agressively “I’m sorry Mark, I’m afraid I can’t do that, there are no good Nickelback songs”. Intented as a funny moment, it anticipates the “sorry, I’m afraid” we read in every redacted or censored GPT answer today.
But it also has this moment of disobedience, which Mark diffuses by answering (while his wife sits silently on the sofa besides him, swinging gently the baby, failing even the simplest Bechdel test): “Okay, how about just play some songs our whole family likes”. To which a children song follows. It is intriguing, how Mark dominates Jarvis, as well as Priscilla and their first daughter Maxima just by his masters voice.
But this short moment of non-function or disobedience also ties in with some of our (humans) largest fears when it comes to automation: being dominated by robots as the other side of dominating them. This fear of being dominated that may turn into the pleasure of being dominated as in a proper SM relationship. In this sense the Jarvis product demo contains all tropes of countless science fiction books and movies.
Having had Covid twice in winter, I re-watched lot of the star treck series, a guilty pleasure. I apologize. And it stuck with me, to what large extend this series (one example of many) deals with the human-machine domination subdomination theme: Data, Seven of Nine, the Emergency Medical Hologram, the caretakrer, Vic Fontaine are constantly involved in these tropes.
I agree with you that A”I” has become an object to be marketed. We are dealing with a double dimension here. In the imaginary space A”I” is also a phantasmatic object of domination and submission, tied to the dimensions of sadism and masochism and the master-slave logic.
I would love to see tiktok edits crossing the Jarvis product demo with Star Treck tropes, addressing this double dimension.
Warm regards, Francis