Theater of Cruelty

In our blind spot

Machines that think
Forfatter: Inga Strümke
Forlag: Kagge Forlag, (Norge)
ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE / Sci-fi could help us see our own times, but now we are sci-fi. Computer screens are icons of our time. Inga Strümke just received the Brage prize for this year's non-fiction book.


In the late 1990s, I worked part-time as a journalist in a company that created local intranets and other websites. I was twenty-five and had barely managed to get a Hotmail account. My first task was to call the airports in Norway to obtain information for an intranet with information from all the airports in our country. Often it was the desk clerk who had to answer my questions about the airport facilities. While the information I was getting was being plotted, the programmer showed me the inside of internet pages with strips of html code and compared them to a hand-knotted blanket. It felt unreal to be able to click from one page to another.

To read as if it were poetry

The company I worked for joined the trend then The IT bubble burst in the 2000s. According to Bår Stenvik in the book The big game (2021) it was around the same time that Google, on the brink of bankruptcy, changed its business model and started making money from information about users. Both what is inside and behind the image on my screen is now much more complex than the hmtl codes of the 1990s. So I tape over the little camera eye for fear of being watched and I find myself facing something unreal real that I don't understand and every time I do I remind myself of one of the most important things I learned when I took a master's degree in theater at the Oslo Academy of Arts a few years ago. A wise teacher introduced me to the art of approaching difficult theoretical texts by reading as if they were poetry, not caring whether I got everything in, reading as if listening to music, enjoying the sound of words, an interesting twist , a new word I don't know before. And slowly, slowly, the complex and difficult seeps in, and maybe it is only after a few days or months in a conversation with someone or in the reading of something else that what I now do not understand, but still read, falls into place.

The fourth industrial revolution

Inga Strümke, researcher at Artificial Intelligence at NTNU and author of the book Machines that think (2023), point out that we are now in the fourth industrial revolution. Sci-fi could help us see our own times, but now er vi sci-fi. We've been there before too, but now we really are, aren't we? We are here, but where are we really? Some technologists will stop, others will fire on. Which narratives will now help us see ourselves?

Strümke turns to philosophy and Martin Heidegger: She freely paraphrases him by saying that technology is a way of seeing oneself, and that we create our worldviews based on the technology we surround ourselves with.

But what when technologyone resembles the human? It is as if technology is so close to us that it remains in the blind spot. The sci-fi genre's distance in time and place has been zeroed out. The membrane between us and the stranger, which in turn can lead to the discovery that the stranger is in me, is gone. I feel stupid when I have to read in the newspaper that technology has become such a big part of our everyday lives that we don't think about it. I'm just as addicted to google as I am of my glasses. And I don't stop googling even though I know that every time I google, I leave traces that are used for machine learning, so someone makes money off of me. I have to remember it, know it, update myself and be alert. Because there is always something behind the picture.

Strümke turns to philosophy and Martin Heidegger

"Behind the image is God", says the English painter and writer John Berger in the iconic TV series Ways of Seeing from 1972 when he talks about the icon paintings and the age of reproduction – when people stopped visiting the church to experience ikonone. From the second half of the 1900th century, the icons could be owned privately, as reproductions. Was God still behind the picture on everyone's walls? Or did the icon become just an image among other images?

Now is computer screenone of the icons of our time. And even though we know that it is the big technology companies that are behind the screens and trap us with algorithmsne sine, we often talk about artificial intelligence (AI) as a being with purpose and thoughts, not unlike John Berger's statement about the icon paintings: "Behind the image is God." While Strümke points out that KI is not even a countable noun. You can't say én AI. It is certainly like saying én biology.

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Digital ethics

Fortunately, professionals from various fields have formed NORTH, a separate council or think tank for digital ethics with, among others, the aforementioned Stenvik and Strümke. I imagine that this advice places itself in our blind spot and regularly knocks, because dealing with AI is a bit like author Thure Erik Lund describes the writing process in an interview with Morgenbladet about the novel vertebrae, where KI himself speaks: "You know what you're writing, but at the same time you don't really before you have unfolded it.”

See also NORTH; and–2/

Hanne Ramsdal
Hanne Ramsdal
Ramsdal is a writer.

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