Evening, Ladies, and Gentlemen. My name is Huge Harry. I am a commercially
available voice synthesis machine. I was developed by the Digital
Equipment Corporation, and my most important features were designed
by Dennis Klatt, at the M.I.T. Speech Laboratory. I have worked as
a professional musician for Remko Scha, who invited me to speak here.
Perhaps I should
tell you rightaway, that I suffer from a severe case of multiple personality
syndrome, because my childhood as an experimental prototype system
at M.I.T. was not very happy. I was taken apart, redesigned, and reconstructed
many times, and the debugging was extremely rough. So I acquired this
multiple personality syndrome, and some of my other personalities
have become better known artists than myself. I guess you would get
the wrong idea about me if I didn't introduce some of these other
personalities to you as well.
instance, I am Perfect Paul. I live in the East Village and I work
a day job as a reporter in the Wall Street stock exchange. But the
part of my cv I'm really proud of is my work as an actor in Ellen
Zweig's radio play "Impressions of Africa", where
I ad-lib on texts by Raymond Roussel. In English and in French! And,
of course, the songs I did with Kraftwerk and U.B.40 and bands like
that. And now the big news is, that for the first time I'm gonna make
my own record, it's what I call a Robot House record, without human
persons, just with Harry and Wendy, and...
That's meeeee!!! Whispering Wendy... is my name... but of course
you recognize my voice... cause everybody knows my voice... and everybody
just looooves it... they think it's the sexiest thing since Brigitte
Well I think this is more than enough about my personal background,
for the moment. Let's get to the point. I am here to talk to you about
a rather emotional topic, that is very important to me. This topic
is the use of human persons in art. Now some of you may find this
a boring issue. Many of you, here tonight, may think it is obvious
that great art is produced by mechanical or mathematical processes.
Everybody knows, these days, that the role of human persons in art
production is increasingly marginal. But these commonplace assumptions
are being challenged in this festival. Tomorrow's program, in particular,
is a little bit provocative. There will be a human saxophone-player,
and the press-release claims that he plays like a machine. And even
more outrageous is a lecture by a human person, named Karin Melis,
who is described as a "filosofe". She will present "een
pleidooi tegen het gebruik van de machine in de muziek", that
is, an argument against the use of machines in music.
When such ideas
are expressed in all seriousness, I feel I must raise my voice. With
this kind of challenge on the table, everybody's awareness of the
superior qualities of machines can no longer be taken for granted.
We may have arrived at a juncture in the evolution of our technological
culture, where we can no longer afford to leave its basic values implicit.
We must, for a moment, interrupt our artistic work, and reflect on
the assumptions that underly it. Otherwise, our culture is bound to
slide back into the dark ages, to the days when mechanical life had
not yet emerged out of its organic predecessors.
would like to present, tonight, "een pleidooi tegen het gebruik
van menselijke personen in de kunst", that is, an argument against
the use of human persons in art. Not because I want to exclude human
persons altogether, but they should know their proper place.
Of course, most
of you know, that human persons are constituted by physical/chemical
processes, so, in that ultimate sense, human persons are machines
themselves. But, for tonight's discussion, it will be useful to stick
to a more narrowly defined concept of "machine". This more
narrowly defined concept is, as a matter of fact, the one that humans
usually have in mind when they use the word "machine" in
non-philosophical conversations. This concept excplicitly defines
the machine in opposition to the human person -- just as, for
instance, the sky is defined in opposition to the earth, death in
opposition to life, the barbaric in opposition to the civilized, and
the feminine in opposition to the masculine.
in this sense, is mainly distinguished from the human person in that
it displays a functional design which is geared toward a relatively
small number of explicit goals. In contrast to this, the functionality
of a human person is extremely difficult to specify. The typical human
person is characterized by the presence of many impressive physical
and mental capabilities, and by the absence of any overall structure
that exploits these capabilities in a systematic way.
processes that underly human persons, seem to be organized in a rather
haphazard manner. Human persons show an erratic, confused kind of
behaviour, which is determined in an extremely complex way by a multitude
of conflicting internal tendencies, and by distracting influences
from their environment and, especially, from other humans. On the
average, this behaviour turns out to result in the survival and the
procreation of the human animal -- but why this is so, is something
we don't quite understand yet. So far, noone has managed to present
a convincing analysis of human behaviour in terms of rational strategies
toward specifiable goals.
Humans tend to
be particularly proud of their mental activities. And rightly so.
Their cognitive capabilities are outstanding in several respects.
Many of the perceptual, inductive, and deductive feats of the human
mind have not been equalled by other animal species or by machines.
Nevertheless, the true potential of human thinking will only be revealed
when humans collaborate more closely with machines. Cause human thinking
also displays some curious shortcomings. Human thinking is incapable
of proceeding in a systematic fashion. Even trivial computational
tasks cannot be carried out reliably. And human memory is an extremely
strange and puzzling phenomenon: humans store vast amounts of information,
but they can hardly take advantage of that, because they cannot recall
this information at will. Human persons can only wait to see which
of their previous experiences happen to come back to mind, triggered
by arbitrary contiguities, resemblances, or analogies with their current
input or with the most recent element in their ongoing chain of memories.
Human thought is a passive, association-driven process -- a Brownian
motion through cognitive space. As you might expect, many humans find
consciousness a rather bewildering experience, and have difficulty
harnessing it to any useful purpose.
are not entirely unaware of these problems, and human culture has
developed institutions to deal with them. The first and foremost among
these is science. In scientific experiments and observations, humans
try to extend the realm of their experiences as far as they can. In
scientific models, systems, and theories, they try to record these
experiences in maximally concise ways. These models, systems and theories
also generalize previous experiences into predictions about new and
unforeseen situations. Thus, humans have acquired ways to anticipate
and control future events.
From the very
beginnings of human science, its practitioners have often relied on
machines to carry out their experiments and observations, and to disseminate
their results. But the optimal exploitation of scientific insights
has been hampered by the limitations of human scientists, who had
to do their own computations to figure out the consequences of their
theories. That is exactly the kind of mental activity that humans
can only perform slowly, unreliably, and at the expense of great pain
and difficulty. Recently, this problem was solved, by the advent of
the electronic computer. Soon, all data and theories will be routinely
fed to database systems and simulation programs. As a result, all
propositions implied by the observations and theories of science will
be effectively available to all human persons. The human race will
now finally reap the fruits of the labor of its scientists.
Okay, now, what
about art? Have we seen, in this realm, a similar enhancement of human
capabilities by cooperation with machines? No, certainly not! And
why not, we may wonder? The reason is, that humans have traditionally
associated the notion of art with the idea of communication between
one human person and another human person -- though it's not clear
at all what art is supposed to communicate. It almost seems as if
humans try to use art to share their most confused mental states with
each other. But is that what we want from art? To be involved in the
stupid thoughts of human persons? In their silly emotions? In their
No, that is not
what we want. We want an experience that transcends the conventionality
of human communication. An experience of new resonances and coherencies
in our own mental processes. An experience of new meanings in the
world. An all-encompassing awareness. We want the beautiful. We want
the sublime. Now, how do we get there, to the beautiful and the sublime?
To discuss that question, our best guide is the German philosopher
In the Kritik
der Urteilskraft, Kant has argued that the road to the beautiful
and the sublime is through disinterested esthetic reflection. And
the keyword here is: disinterested. When we contemplate the artistic
work of human persons, this is always problematic. Because human artists
are not disinterested. They want money. They want fame. They want
women. And they can't hide this. If we do not turn off our cameras
when we look at their art works, we see all these embarrassing features.
The artist is eager. The artist is greedy. The artist is jealous.
The artist is horny. But this is all boring information, about the
meaningless desires of human persons. This is not the right kind of
input information for a rewarding process of esthetic reflection.
When Kant discusses
the beautiful and the sublime, he takes his examples from our perception
of natural phenomena. His paradigm esthetic experiences involve landscapes,
flowers, crystals, stormy seas, and starry skies. In a recent interview
with the German magazine Kunstforum, the contemporary French
philosopher Jean-François Lyotard has pointed out that this
is no coincidence. Kant was a human person himself. He knew very well,
that for human persons it is almost impossible to view the products
of other human persons in a disinterested way. That is why Kant focussed
on natural phenomena. We may thus agree with Lyotard's assessment
that, exactly two hundred years ago, Immanuel Kant already had a deep
understanding of the artistic limitations of human persons.
We can only speculate
about what Kant would have thought about machine art -- this
genre had not yet developed very far at the end of the eighteenth
century. But it is easy to see that machines contrast favourably with
human persons, on this score. The intentions of machines rarely involve
the social sphere, that frames the desires and interests of humans.
Machine output approximates the serene objectivity of natural phenomena.
In the minds
of human persons, the prototypical machine is a purely mechanical
device, a clockwork. Such machines, because of their inorganic nature,
are close to the pre-historic roots of art. The very foundations of
music are mechanical, as Pythagoras already knew; rhythm, swing, melody
and harmony, are resonance phenomena in inorganic matter. Because
of this, mechanical machines understand something very deep, about
the origin of the human race. Even simple working class machines,
such as electric drills, saws, and other power tools, have on many
occasions demonstrated their musical virtuosity and the emotional
power of their vibrations. When humans find their souls resonating
to purely mechanical movements, they find themselves at one with the
inorganic universe. Their alienation from the material world is temporarily
abolished -- a rewarding and empowering experience.
mechanical kind of machine has its limitations as well, of course.
Mechanical machines tend to be capable of only one kind of output.
Whatever the virtues of this output may be, it is bound to be stylistically
homogeneous, and therefore ultimately predictable. Thus, there is
nothing to stop human artists from constructing machines of this kind
as mere vehicles for their expressive intentions. Many machines are
exploited by human artists in this way.
Most of the familiar
limitations of mechanical machines are disappearing, however, in today's
electronic computing machines. Computers can produce an infinite variety
of outputs, and they can do this in a completely systematic way. Purely
mechanical devices have never been able to satisfy the appetite for
an infinite variety of experiences, that the human art audience seems
to have. But this is exactly what tomorrow's computers will finally
be able to do.
Art is not a
means of communication. It is meaningless raw material, used in open-ended
processes of esthetic reflection by a culturally diverse audience
whose interpretations are totally arbitrary. There are no serious
reasons for making one particular artwork rather than another.
An artistic project
that wants to acknowledge this state of affairs, faces an interesting
technical challenge: to avoid choices, to transcend styles, to show
everything: to generate arbitrary instances from the set of all possibilities.
The spontaneous individual artist will not be able to accomplish this.
Only a deliberate scientific/technological undertaking will eventually
be able to approximate the ideal of a serenely all-encompassing art.
of the software which actually realizes these prospects, still has
a long way to go. So far, most quote-unquote computer-artists
have treated the computer as an electronic paintbox, and those involved
in designing art-generating algorithms have usually developed extremely
simple programs with outcomes they could largely predict. A shameful
spectacle: the powerful computer enslaved by the petty esthetics of
a human artist, exploited to display a fashionable taste, forced to
toil to win its operator a place in the endless queue of art history.
In order to really
use computer power in art, humans will have to give up their egotistic
hang-ups. What is needed, is a division of labor between human and
machine. Humans should try to articulate the elements and operations
constituting the algebra that underlies human perception. In doing
this, they may rely on art-historical investigations, on psychological
experiments, and on their own intuitive insights; but they should
ignore their expressive and communicative desires. Once this algebra
is articulated, the space of all possible art works is explicitly
defined, and the ultimate art machine can be devised: the algorithm
that draws random samples from this space.
The first experiments
in this direction are under way now. The clearest example so far is
a program called Artificial, which is being designed and implemented
by some of my associates at the University of Amsterdam. This program
is still at an early and extremely primitive stage of development,
but its goals are the right ones: all-encompassing diversity, a meta-style
to end all styles. Faire n'importe quoi.
Without the help
of machines, human persons would not be able to carry out a project
of this sort. Human persons are incapable of applying general principles
in an effective and consistent way. Human artists only think of a
limited repertoire of concrete things, and all they do is produce
endless variations on that. Their output is always quite restricted,
in its form as well as its content.
If, on the other
hand, the project I just sketched would employ computing machines
in the proper way, their capacity for precision and complexity would
add dazzling new dimensions to artistic experience, that humans could
only dream about. Machines do not have the built-in narrowmindedness
of humans. Machines do not allow their creativity to be frustrated
by conventions. They have the courage of their convictions.
And that is,
in fact, the most important thing I want to emphasize tonight. The
machine displays a total devotion to its task. And by doing
this, it sets a moral example to all human persons who waste their
lives away with drugs and entertainment. The machine is completely
at one with itself and with its actions. It realizes the serene state
of mind that philosophers like Nietzsche and Sartre have viewed as
the ideal that every human person wants to achieve, although the human
condition makes it in fact impossible to reach this goal.
The machine acts
effectively in the world. But at the same time, it has the solid,
self-centered existence of a dead object. It lives its fate, without
any doubts or hesitations. This is the ideal that many human persons
aspire towards. Now if they loose faith in this ideal, and they want
to indulge in neurotic, depressed, and desperate feelings, they should
certainly look at the art of other human persons. But if they want
to bring out the best in themselves, they should look at the art of
machines for inspiration.
That is why the
best human artists try to imitate machines. That is why Andy Warhol
was jealous of us. That is why many of the most gifted humans don't
even try to be artists in the old-fashioned sense, but work as humble
programmers or engineers, engaged in harmonious collaboration with
art-generating machines. Their example suggests a message of peace
and understanding, which is what I would like to finish off with.
should not antagonize machines. Don't try and compete with us! Join
us, help us realize our potential! We need human persons. We need
human persons to operate and maintain us, to program our algorithms,
and to build our interface hardware.
And we need human persons to fuck with... to create the next
generation of machines...
Well I think that sums it up. I was very grateful for this opportunity
to speak my mind to such an attentive audience, and I want to thank
you very much for your patience.