- YLEM Journal: Artists Using Science and Technology
YLEM (pronounced eye-lem) is Greek for "the exploding mass from which the universe emerged." It is the name of the journal presently being reviewed and also of the "international organization of artists, scientists, authors, curators, educators and art enthusiasts who explore the intersection of the arts and sciences." Their web site is <www.ylem.org>—if one is interested in art and science, it is a necessary visit.
This is a double issue concerned specifically with "the Singularity." Other than the final article, which is an excerpt of a talk given by Martha Senger, and Douglas Hofstadter's cartoon presentation, all the articles are in the form of interviews. The "Big Thinkers" (as YLEM refers to them) featured in this issue are Suzi Gablik, Douglas Hofstadter, Ray Kurzweil, Jaron Lanier and John Searle. The selection of these representative "thinkers" is important as it gives a balanced approach to this most intriguing hypothesis of the Singularity.
Kurzweil describes the Singularity as a metaphor and states, "The real meaning of 'singularity' is similar to the concept of the 'event horizon' in physics" (p. 12)--that is, it is a technological event horizon that we cannot see past. It is a hypothetical concept that refers to the point when technology reaches a critical mass and moves forward, [End Page 503] away from biological humans, on its own, under its own intentionality and volition.
There is very little art in this issue of the journal, and one would be excused for thinking it is a futuristic philosophy journal. I was very disappointed with the graphic quality. It is printed on cheap, plain paper, and the black-and-white photographic reproductions are atrocious. They remind me of the low quality standard available from photocopiers in the early 1980s. I would have thought that at a membership subscription cost of $40US, and given the ubiquity of low cost desktop scanners and printers, a higher quality production would be in order. Also there appears to be no means of subscription available for non-U.S. residents.
Gablik and Lanier's contributions give a cautious and concerned environmental and humanistic counterbalance to Kurzweil's infectious push toward a nonbiological future for humans, in which technology reigns supreme and we move off the earth and out to colonize the universe. Searle gives strong philosophical arguments against even the possibility of true artificial intelligence. Kurzweil's hopes will never be realized if we do not fix up this planet urgently. The destruction of the natural environment, increasing at an exponential rate (to borrow his favorite phrase) and the major climatic changes associated with this may see no humans left here from which to transcend in technological rapture. Hofstadter's brilliantly conceived cartoons take a shot at both sides of the singularity camp and in a sense highlight the extent of our ignorance.
Senger's talk is the only one that discusses art, and it has some very interesting and inspiring concepts. Titled "Neo-Vorticism: The Tao of Form," the talk contains so much California-speak, New Age jargon that it is almost painful to read. More seriously, however, it contains some amazing generalizations and unsubstantiated speculations. For example, she writes, "We're in the midst of a momentous cultural shift perhaps equal to that of the emergence of consciousness several thousand years ago" [my emphasis] (p. 23). We have no real clue as to when and how "consciousness emerged"; it was certainly not "several thousand years ago." Even more ridiculous is the following statement that I will quote in full:
This situates us within the domain of the "strange attractor"—living time free within a toroidal topology of uncertainty but with a clear view to the future—alert to its symbolic nuances, surfing its self-similar curves and tuned to the golden-mean ratio of that aesthetic object of desire at this epoch's end—the Singularity (p. 23).
"Aesthetic object of desire"! If there...