Universität KonstanzExzellenzcluster: Kulturelle Grundlagen von Integration

Emergent Intelligences

Neural and Artificial Nets in Science, Cinema and Art

Prof. Dr. Yvonne Förster

Abstract

Intelligent technologies are highly interconnected and self-learning. The neural net represents a structural blueprint for these technologies which increasingly shape the world we live in. Machine intelligence is modelled according to human intelligence and vice versa. My research focuses on the concepts of intelligence in science, art and cinema. The goal is to understand how neuroscience and technology shape our understanding of what it means to be human in life-worlds shaped by smart devices and sensing technologies. 

Intelligent technologies are highly interconnected and self-learning. The neural net represents a structural blueprint for these technologies which increasingly shape the world we live in. Machine intelligence is modelled according to human intelligence and vice versa. The project aims at understanding the interconnectedness of philosophical, scientific and artistic knowledge. The central question is how concepts and images of cognition and hence intelligence travel through these three fields, how they evolve, vary and shape what we think of intelligent and conscious beings. This question touches the very core of contemporary discussions of Artificial Intelligence, the relation of humans and technology as well as the design of future societies. My aim is to bridge the gap between humanities, life sciences, technology and art by using a philosophical concept, namely embodied cognition as a tool to observe and discuss the various notions of cognition used in the respective fields. The core task will be to give an account of how neuroscience influences current AI and robotics as well as future visions of technological life-worlds.

This project proposes a novel approach to understanding the concepts of intelligence and cognition by using a phenomenological approach regarding the usage of these concepts in Neuroscience and technology. Currently there is a growing amount of research in philosophy of mind stemming from phenomenological theories of embodiment. The famous 4-e's (embodiment, embeddedness of cognition, enactive and extended concepts of cognition) drive approaches in neuroscientific research and cognitive sciences as well as in robotics. Those approaches usually focus on either technological implementation of embodiment (robotics, e.g. Andy Clark) or on the integration of embodied experience in neuroscience (Evan Thompson). The project will focus on the mutual influence of neuroscience, cognitive sciences and technology by using theories of embodied cognition as conceptual starting ground. This way it can be analyzed how cognition is framed and communicated through neuroscience, technological design and art/cinema. The working hypothesis is that there exists a distinctive tension between embodied and disembodied concepts of cognition, which in turn leads to specific conceptions of human-machine relations.

Neuroscience has transformed the neural net into a continuously influential metaphor for emergent technologies and connected environments. These emerging technologies are in a relation of co-production with neuroscientific knowledge about the brain. It is my aim to further our understanding of the ways that contemporary research on neural nets and human cognition influences concepts of artificial neural networks (machine learning, deep learning), such as the various iterations of the internet and highly interconnected environments such as smart cities or the Internet of Things (Sprenger, Engemann 2015). For the distinctive properties of connected environments the project will draw on established system theories developed by Niklas Luhmann or Francisco Varela and Actor-network theories (Bruno Latour).

The second part of the project will take a cultural scientific approach. In the future visions of human-machine-relations in cinema and art the neural net turns into a metaphor for the emergence intelligence. These scenarios, as told in stories of various registers, usually involve the transcendence of human intelligence by superior techno-humanoid or purely artificial intelligences (as described in Bostrom 2014). Cinematic narratives from Ghost in the Shell (Mamoru Oshii, 1995) to Her (Spike Jonze, 2013) and Transcendence (Wally Pfister, 2014) use the image of an artificial net developing into a superintelligence. I take these cinematic examples as symptomatic narratives for the contemporary conditio humana (nervosa, if you will). Within art and popular culture it is possible to understand how scientific and technological developments influence human self-understanding, and are reshaped in turn. I intend to investigate what cultural artifacts tell us about the conditio humana in technological permeated life-worlds.

The puzzling phenomenon, which drives this inquiry into neuroscience, technology and culture is the fact that the microstructure of nervous tissue tends to be taken for the macrostructure of the future world. This metaphorical shift calls for an interpretation of its philosophical implications, but also for the deployment of a philosophical approach to explain technological innovation.