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The Rise of the Robot Reporter

In addition to leaning on the software to generate minor league and college game stories, The A.P., like Bloomberg, has used it to beef up its coverage of company earnings reports.

“When you start to talk about mass media, with national or international reach, you run the risk of losing the interest of readers who are interested in stories on their smaller communities,” Mr. Gilbert said.

During the Olympics, for instance, The Post set up alerts on Slack, the workplace messaging system, to inform editors if a result was 10 percent above or below an Olympic world record.

For an earnings report article, for instance, software systems may meet their match in companies that cleverly choose figures in an effort to garner a more favorable portrayal than the numbers warrant.

Between Living and Nonliving

Ionat Zurr is an artist, Head of the Fine Arts Discipline at University of Western Australia (UWA), and co-founder of the pioneering art/science laboratory SymbioticA at UWA and the art practice Tissue Culture and Art (TC&A), with partner Oron Catts.

Their work investigates the disembodied cellular cultures used in technoscience, which they call the “semi-living”, and often references the Golem myth, the Jewish story of a being created from mud.

An expert on robots, she is now co-curating a major new show on artificial intelligence, AI: More than Human, at London's Barbican Centre, opening in 2019.

As Uchida explains, in Japan, Shinto animist beliefs draw different boundaries between these categories, providing other ways to think about our relationships with “nature” and design.

How might non-Western (or non-monotheistic) technological and cultural approaches affect the way humans around the world think about, and potentially design, the living?

Ionat Zurr: I’d like to think about the differences in distinctions between life and nonlife from your Japanese perspective, and my own, the Judeo-Christian tradition, which is based on the Western dualistic idea of, “This is alive, this is not alive.’’ I would love to hear more from your view, because our tradition is very much about life being carbon-based.

In the traditional Japanese family, we have the rice cup for me, and the rice cup for father, and it has a different color or whatever, and everybody takes care of their cup.

there's no ethical discussion, it's more about what kind of lifelike characteristic and “intelligence” the robot can show.

If everything is alive--whether animal, rock, or an object--why should the robots have to imitate lifelike characteristics as they are understood in “Western” views of life?

driverless cars, artificial intelligence systems, and animated robotics), while there is hesitation about treating moist, living organisms as a technology of manipulation?

And probably one reason for this is that in Japanese culture, a person is considered dead only when her heart has stopped working, even if they are brain-dead.

The fields of regenerative medicine, induced pluripotent stem cells (iPS), are developing rapidly, but it's a bit different with genetic engineering.

Maholo: In Japan, whether it’s tissue engineering or manipulation of a robot to make it human-like, it’s totally open and free.

Even in Europe, if you communicate with nature very deeply, like a winemaker or a farmer does, then maybe you also have some sense of “taking care” of food together with nature too.

Ionat: This is a beautiful re-thinking, because in the scientific lab it is more about keeping the posture of “being objective.” That means that you have to assume the behaviour associated with “objective analysis”: you need to “objectify” your subject of analysis.

I suspect, from my experience, that in every lab scientists do give names and perform rituals of caring, also with nonhuman subjects.

Obviously, labs treat humans differently than the nonhuman, following the Judeo-Christian view that humans are separate and more important than others.

What rituals are there that create this connection that is more about taking care, and getting to know the “Other” life, in order to be able to work with it, rather than control it.

Maholo: We can think about today compared with what we could see one hundred years ago, when we didn't have very strong microscopic technologies and couldn’t see what we were controlling.

And animals or bacteria myths, they don't talk or write, so we don’t know exactly what happened.

When scientists build robots, do you think they have this kind of relationship with the robots, and as they look after the robots?

With human-like robots it’s very easy to understand why the researcher takes care of it as if it were a human, because it looks human, and it was meant for this kind of relationship.

It looks kind of weird, but once you start to play with it, and the aibo locks eyes with you, and it goes, "ah, ah", then everybody goes crazy for it...

In Western countries, the term “robot” started as a laborer, but in Japan, although the word came from the West, we had autonomous robots in the Edo period, 400 years ago: tea-serving and tea-carrying robots [Karakuri].

There is a scene where the scientists or engineers kick the dogs to demonstrate the robot’s abilities to recover from the fall.

Maholo: The term nature is a really, really difficult one, because it's not like when we talk about nature as something green or a plant, and that’s the end of the discussion.

Japan was closed for a long time, and then 250 years ago suddenly we opened up and imported Western culture: literature, law, business manners and everything, in just a few decades.

Maholo: The original meaning of the Kanji character for “love” is feeling a need to protect something fragile, weak, cute, and tiny, with all of your heart.

For the exhibition I’m co-curating on AI, I want to mix future visions with Shinto and animism thinking, to melt everything together, because we cannot make defined categories anymore.

What we need to do is to accept that certain categorizations limit our future, and find a new approach, a new stance for communicating with others.

If I just accept that AI is a new species— maybe more controlled than other species— because it’s a species still run by a human-made program.

We always translate language to enable communication, but for example with your partner, or family, you don't always communicate through spoken language.

In other situations in human activities where you need language to share, to communicate, it’s often with somebody distant from your cultural or physical background.

For example look at the tree: It has a language that is non-textual, nonverbal, but it's probably a richer-than-human form of communication.

I believe that in many respects, because we are ecosystems with a lot of fauna and flora as part of us, that sometimes it's the bacteria that are communicating.

We think we communicate but it's our bacteria who are actually communicating through pheromones, smells, et cetera...

Do you believe that one day using AI, we will be able to create machines that can be as complex as, for example, as a living organism?

Maholo: I think you have many questions about the living that are representative of Western culture and thinking, but I actually think what you're doing is a little bit more Asian.

Ionat: I grew up in Israel, and I’m not religious, but the Judeo-Christian background that I come from dictates that there is one God that put us here, that gave us control and dominion over nature, whatever nature is.

The more I work in laboratories, and the more I work with life, the more I realize how much we have no control and no dominion, and how much we are living entities entangled with our environment, in both intentional and unintentional ways.

As I said before, in science, you have to—supposedly—completely remove yourself and your emotion, and work objectively with the living materials that are around you, whereas as an artist, I bring the opposite.

With the artists and students I'm working with, we are questioning, for example, issues concerning tissue engineering: we create tissue constructs that are living but need an artificial support mechanism to sustain them, to keep them alive within the environment.

However, we find it easier and cuter to engage with a robot that looks like a dog or a human and is designed to meet our own anthropocentric sensitivities.

If people can imagine the cell as living, as you think it is, then maybe it’s the same as thinking about a robot living, or a mountain living, or the wind living.

We looked, as a symbolic gesture, at how non-human living systems can become surrogate bodies for human (or more than human) living fragments.

Rather than optimization in the sense of engineering control—the electrical incubator in the science laboratory—we looked at living systems as ideal surrogate bodies.

This is part of our (Oron and myself) ongoing artistic exploration loosely based on the story of the Golem (which means literally crude, unshaped or raw in Hebrew) and which explores the ‘alchemical’ transformation of different materials into substrates with the ability to support and act on life.

Our artistic meditations attempt to destabilize the current dominant logic of the transformation of life into raw material for engineering ends (such in the field of Synthetic Biology).

Our piece poetically re-staged the creation of the Golem in order to touch upon some of the important lessons of the story: the creation of life from crude matter and human knowledge and the point that hubris and the creation of life should not be coupled.

Ionat: In today’s crazy world, I sometimes find it difficult to imagine a positive future constructed by humans.


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