“It’s really a wild moment in time right now,” Laurie Anderson says over the phone. “I have no idea what will happen next.”
Anderson is dialling in from somewhere in Adelaide’s nascent tech precinct on Lot Fourteen, where she has taken a few days out from that wild international schedule to become ensconced in the University of Adelaide’s Australian Institute for Machine Learning on Lot Fourteen as its inaugural Artist in Residence.
From her breakthrough performance piece United States Live in the early 80s (which spawned her hit song O Superman) to more recent projects collaborating with everyone from Kronos Quartet to NASA, Anderson’s work has long roamed the boundaries between technology, innovation and expression. Finding the art in artificial intelligence is, on balance, a pretty average Wednesday for the artist.
“We’re in the middle of the AI project, we’ve just started,” she says. “We’re not sure which way it’s going to go but it’s very exciting – we’re working with something called ‘Froyd’.”
An ‘AI self-help guru’, Froyd is a language-based AI that creates some surprisingly coherent, even meaningful auto-generated aphorisms. Its best motivationals are then cherry-picked by humans and, like any self-respecting influencer, posted to Twitter:
“It’s like collaborating with the
biggest brain you could imagine,” Anderson says. “It’s very, very cool.”
When I confess to only tenuously understanding much of what Anderson has said of the Institute’s work, she is nonplussed. “It’s such an array of things, [that] no one can understand all of that stuff,” she says, reassuring me that this is where the importance of collaboration comes in.
“For me it’s a little bit like working with VR; I do a lot of virtual reality stuff [but] I’m really not able to do the engineering or the programming, and that’s much of the creative work. But without collaboration, most people won’t be able to work with technology, so this is a really unique opportunity that artists have to work with super powerful intelligences and see what happens.
“The head of the department was telling me that much of the heavy lifting is going on in medicine and medical research, but this is a program that gives artists a chance to use some of that power.”
Artists, she says, play an important role in bringing meaning – and humanity – to technological innovation. “I was part of the jury in the Venice [Biennale] VR festival, and saw a lot of very technologically advanced virtual reality pieces, and they were quite amazing, done by very big Chinese teams that were pushing the envelope and doing all sorts of stuff.