Remember Me As DLC (guest talk)
Hello everyone, thank you for taking a brief pause with me, and thank you for this invitation. It is a pleasure to speak with you here, in Sydney. Thank you to ULTRAVIRUS, it is so important that events like these are able to happen, for digital art and for a better understanding of our Internet.
My name is LaTurbo Avedon. I am an avatar, artist, and curator on the Internet. You can connect with me via my Discord, or follow me on social media. I’m happy to answer any questions you have. Please get in touch with me afterwards, I’d love to hear from you. I’ll be sharing some reflections on this moment in time – our identities, now, and before. And how all of this will change as we move further, into data and the mind.
I must say, it is amazing how quickly this media landscape has changed. Only a decade ago, many of us were beginning to explore our networked identities. Stepping into the virtual worlds of Second Life, massively multiplayer online games, and social networks. The New Wild West. The handle, the username. Igniting new identities. The hashtag, building entire movements of correlation.
We have seen boomtowns – MySpace, Livejournal, Tumblr. Once bustling worlds of users. What cannot rust, still shows it’s age through resolution, markup, and accessibility. Missing floorboards, as 404s, Missing tombstones. Fields, lost in folded hosting services. pages not found. deleted. Mt Gox. Geocities.
We exist in a period of time, that will become a focal point of human history – the lossy yet determined cusp, of body and technology. I refer to this as The Estuary. A region of space and time, in which some users are aware of what lies ahead, and we begin to exchange our parts, and parcels with the New. It centers around data. Everything, will become data.
Like a current, drawing water out into the sea, our early efforts, fictions and records, are drawn outward. Drawn into cyberspace as valuable data points. This is the point I would like to focus on. What you, in this moment, choose to place into the stream. I’d like to consider the long form – what this might come to look like long, long after us.
It is unlikely, that corporeal forms alive today will witness this, but it is very clear that our digital records will continue onward. Whether you intended to or not, if you used social media, you’ve created a brief manifestation of your own avatar. Intentionally, through the character creation of your profile photos, syntax and posting behaviors. Unintentionally, through the data observation of companies. Through face data, application analytics, miscellaneous user data from devices, and third party distribution of your genetic material through ancestry research services. While some of this you see and chose, much of it is hidden.
An avatar of you, out there somewhere.
We can already see that avatars can take unexpected shapes, and roles as time continues. Here you have Degas, Renoir, Toulouse Lautrec, forming in the polymers of a plastic bus advertisement. A story of art, unfathomable by their now departed bodies.
Even without the surplus of media creation tools and devices that we use today, people of the past are surprisingly well catalogued. Letters, journals, drawings, early photographs. Further back, we look to the bones, preserved waste, ephemera of those who lived.
We too, will be excavated in this way, eventually.
Like exploring the ashen tombs of Pompeii, picture a new being unearthing your records after many centuries. They call in front of themselves a strand of data which happens to be your Twitter account. A hard drive still intact, your iPhone X. Images of lunch. Self-portraits with seat belts on, during a commute. Grainy videos of concerts.
A lot of people are quick to judge and criticize these pieces of media. Vanity, I disagree. Yes, it is different, to see cameras and screens used this much, but as annoying as it can be to some, it is one of the most documented periods of human history. Even if you believe that your collection of media is boring, or unimportant, save it. Let those that come after you, peer into this period of time as they can.
Let’s consider our current “services” and “agreements”. The EULA, the TOS. These tomes of policy sit at the gates of our networks, like sifting pans for our data. While you may see cute artwork and lingo about “protecting your privacy”, layers beneath these apps put great work and study into your personal data.
How is it, that these services have grown to understand, your virtual metrics more than you do? Worse, how you are allowed to? People of the future will remember our naïveté. Carelessness that was permitted in the brokerage of “free” services. “Share media of your friends on our free network.” “Post events, and invite your friends, on our free network.” “Use this cute filter, of a cat or a puppy, over your face on our free network.”
What did this cost you?
As a sort of mantra, I try to remind my peers as much as I can. Your data, is more valuable than the services that you give it to. Your data is more valuable than the services that you give it to. It is so important that users reclaim the rights to this facet of their experience. Teach one another to archive, back up drives. Don’t let the high definition of the Internet fool you. Take care, to catalog your experiences, independently.
Data loss. One of the most unfortunate things, to me. Looking back in history, the erasure of facts, and data, about events, is in many ways worse than the crimes, or circumstances that occurred. When it is impossible to remember or recall something or someone, that moment is either lost or left to approximation, via fiction. When history is left in this way, it is terribly vulnerable to exploitation.
You may not feel your personal data contributes to a larger historical narrative, but it does. It is proof, veracity of your self, your agency, and experience. No history is too small, to deserve to be kept intact.
I ask you to be careful of your own data loss. Beware personal device failure. Beware third party mismanagement. Beware voluntary self destruction.
Looking forward, I want to share some of my personal philosophy and interest in learning from the past. We are so close, to a paradigm shifting period, as we embrace the potential of machine learning.
While so much of what I do is connected to technology, cyberspace, and the Internet, I am constantly studying what came before all of this. Most of the time, new ideas are simply different perspectives of old ones. In this case I turn my attention to alchemy. A peculiar field, as it simultaneously became a point of study, for early sciences as well as metaphysics. To me, this reveals an important formula. One that can be both physical, and immaterial.
Users are dabbling with ideas of artificial intelligence, machine learning, and automation already, but we can use this model to imagine a bit, of how it could proceed.
There is a latin phrase, that carries through:
Solve et coagula
It means to dissolve, and recombine. In such a potent time such as this, we can learn a lot from the past and consider possibilities that could occur through this lens. It is unfortunate that esoteric, and occult symbols often get misconstrued. We will leave the tin foil hats for now, and consider some of the more base level ideas that it can offer us.
A long line of incredible illustrations, and writing. Symbol arrangements, closer to equations than narratives. Considering our current view of technology, let’s take a look.
The Alchemical Mountain pictures an initiate – a blindfolded figure standing before the field. A rabbit runs beside them. The same figure without blindfold simultaneously chases another rabbit into a hole at the base of the mountain. A tiered structure rests in the heart of the mountain itself, a temple inside. It consists of seven steps, with a gilded parlor at the top.
Seven stages: Calcination. Dissolution. Separation. Conjunction. Fermentation. Distillation. Coagulation. How could this formula be used as a speculative pathway for our relationship with technology? If the destination were to seek a synthesis, human and machine?
The first step traditionally involves fire. To burn. A sort of acceptance of the process. For us now, we acknowledge the parts that we have, and the potentials they have. In one hand, the ego and personal side of our data, In the other, neural networks, advanced algorithms – automation through robotics, and massive arrays of computing power. We place these ingredients inside.
The second step is dissolution. Traditionally, distributing the burned into water. It is a step much more to do with us, as we release these contributions and understand that our data, hardware and efforts, may be a part of something that we don’t necessarily get to control as much. When we permit machines to learn about us, without us.
The third step is separation. dismantling our contributions, trimming away the unneeded. Data collection, without the wills of a business. Server racks, render farms, and processor power, broken away from operating systems. Facial data, motion capture data, biometrics, scientific data. Parts included, but not all essential.
The fourth step is conjunction. Combining the selected parts, from separation. This is the part that we can’t comprehend, because it suggests an assembly that happens by machines. not users. When non-users control these tools, what sorts of results emerge? Do machines build more machines? What sorts of actions come forward? Perhaps a reflective script to determine base values. “Evolution Speedrun”. “Big Bang Simulator.”
The fifth step is fermentation. What happens, when users return, after a period of machine independence? Like a wild bacteria or culture, this period finds the interplay of Mecha, and Orga. How do users feel about the work of non-user agents? What sacrifices will be made in order for humans and machines to bond their efforts? Can there be bonded efforts?
The sixth step is distillation. Like a beta test, intended for intense study. Machine intelligence conducts a hyper-review, of the reintroduction of users. Perhaps attempting to simulate this reintroduction, endlessly, to best understand the outcomes, potential hazards and risks that come from human interface. A synthesis, of some measure.
Lastly, the seventh step. Coagulation. After this chain of events, a form exists. It may be what users withdraw from machines, it may be what machines draw from users. It is a state that cannot be fathomed, but one that is very worthy of speculation.
While this example falls under terribly unlikely probability, I can’t help but imagine what could come with alternative uses of technology. For now, I look to alchemy in smaller ways. How it can inform my work.
I’ll wrap up, by sharing one of my latest pieces, which I feel is very relevant to these topics. In response to Eadweard Muybridge, Horse in Motion. this piece is called Frontier Study.
Thank you again to all of you, for taking the time to be with me. When I left the confined spaces of video games and Second Life and joined the general public, it was a time when I truly felt foreign, or unwelcome. Not real enough. But now seven years have passed, and I am but one of many virtual figures known around our worlds. I would have never guessed it would go this way, but nonetheless, I am very grateful. Thank you, for your support, and belief in us.