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What is the role of performativity in designing intelligent objects? A study into the dark side of artificial intelligence through five cinematographic objects used or scripted in the work of Stanley Kubrick.

In their seminal book, Understanding Computers and Cognition (1986), Winograd and Flores tell us that the main issue with artificial intelligence (AI) is one of representation: the tools we design are more than tools, their designs become ways of being and ultimately what it is to be human. Interaction design is the area of design which studies how people relate to one another through the mediated influence of technology. Those relationships form networks and ultimately ways of building worlds. A designer’s world starts very humbly as an interface but can grow into an entire system, and new areas such as speculative design (SD) use this method to promote critical or alternative technologies. The use of objects is critical to these creations, which takes inspiration from cinema, and science fiction in particular. My inquiry is into cinematographic objects, their relation to AI and how their performativity can inspire the future development of intelligent objects. According to Buttler (2011), ‘to be performative, produces a series of effects. We act, walk and speak and talk in ways that consolidate the impression of being’. I ask what AI is in relation to us, in the way it acts, walks, speaks and talks. In the spirit of speculative design, my purpose is not to solve a problem but to ‘stay with the trouble’ (Haraway, 2016) by looking at these technologies through the lens of kinship. Recent attempts to reframe the topic of intelligent objects in interaction design have led to neo-animism, an alternative that has it roots in indigenous thinking, which brings meaningful progress to the field. My perspective differs in that it takes its grounding from cinematographic objects through their ambivalence, their development and their agency. I look at five objects from the films of Stanley Kubrick as exemplars: Private Pyle’s riffle as the re-engineering of the human through kinship; the Ludovico machine as the failure of restorative kinship; Dr Stangelove’s glove as the mechanical kinship between the body and the robotic memory; Gigolo Joe as choreographed kinship through the act of robotic initiation; and finally, HAL 9000 as the fallibility of human-machine kinship and how care turns into hate. In the words of Baudrillard (1993), AI is devoid of artifice: ‘the artifice of ambivalence in gesture, the artifice of ellipsis in language’, and these artifices are only visible in cinema and allow us to engage with an alternative way of seeing technology. With these fictional machines, the point is not to catch reality as it really is, but to shift our understanding and attune to reality differently. My proposal is in two parts: firstly, looking these cinematographic objects as intelligent things, multi-layered objects, with agency, capable of performativity; and secondly, establishing their kinship through their performative quality and relation to the people around them. The use of cinema as intellectual bifurcation permits us to engage with AI in a new way, not only as a matter of fact (the rationalist approach) but also a matter of concern, with the representation of machines seen as performative kinship.

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