Thursday, September 28, 2023

I Think Therefore...


Weaving is full of complexity.  I think about that.  A lot. 

Perhaps that is why weaving or other textile arts are so frequently found as metaphors in 'fairy tales'.

All the way back to ancient Greece where  our 'hero' was given a ball of string to help find his way through the maze - and back out again.

The Brothers Grimm and others collected folk tales from what we now call Europe and guess what?  They actually took out the more gruesome bits to make them more acceptable to 'polite' company.  Now even those versions are being 'cleaned up' because they are still too gruesome for our current sensibilities.  

Princess pricks finger on a spindle and falls asleep for a hundred years.  Princess has 7 brothers turned into swans, must make - from scratch - shirts from nettles to change them back again, with a very tight deadline.  Lowly peasant girl catches eye of the prince and brags of being an excellent spinner, then must turn a room full of flax into 'gold' and calls on the help of a nasty 'goblin', then must forfeit her first born son.  Etc.

These stories are not meant to be taken literally, but as object lessons for the listener to learn from.

So the question becomes - does 'artificial intelligence' actually *think*?

And if we allow such a thing to begin to dominate how we live our lives, are we going the way of the dodo bird?

It was Descartes who said "I think, therefore I am".

I think.  A lot.  About a lot of things.  One of the ways I think through a conundrum is to go to the loom, and if only surface attention is required the question I'm nibbling on wanders around in my brain trying to work out the knot.  Sometimes I can work out a solution to a weaving - or life - problem I'm having.  Sometimes I come to the computer and start musing.

Like this morning.

The concept of AI is on my mind, for obvious reasons.  

If we stand aside while a computer program who very obviously does not, can NOT think, just scrape words off the internet, then disgorge them pretending to some kind of expertise, then I suppose we will deserve what we get.

OTOH, there are multiple voices crying out warnings.  Too bad too many people cannot hear the truth over the noise of disinformation and outright lies being told by too many.

Why does it matter?  Because if we don't understand what we are doing, we cannot become proficient at any skill.  Not just textiles, but anything that requires skill - from cooking to medicine, teaching to repairing technology that breaks.  *Inventing new things*.

In my lifetime we have gone from records on vinyl (my mother had actual bakelight 78s, and yes we played them), to tape recordings, to CDs.  I still have a turntable, although it is so old the drivebelt is probably too old and would break if I were to try to play any of my LPs.  I still play cassette tapes.  And CDs.

I don't stream anything.  I do have music loaded onto my iPad, but I copied the music files from a CD to my desktop, then transferred them to the iPad. 

If we insist that we humans must make money, and if we can't make money being creative, or we go on strike for better wages for our creative work, and the capitalist response is to say 'we don't need you we have AI', then steals the work of creative people, what are we as a society, then?

I hear people 'defending' AI as just being another new sort of technology that we can use to our benefit.  They might be correct.  But I fear, as with so many other things, the lowest common denominator will become the new 'norm'.

So no, I won't be using Chat GPT or any other form of content scraping.  So far I doubt my personal production of words will be fodder for any LLM.  I did a quick look at the list of authors that were 'stolen' from, and I could not find any weaver whose content had been scraped, but I didn't check every weaver who publishes.  Mine were not included, which was a relief.

Sometimes being 'small' and addressing a slice of a niche market, NOT going the mainstream publishing route, but self-publishing, is a Good Thing.  Other times, it's not much fun, especially when the load to market my work falls on my shoulders, with no help from a marketing division to get the word out.

I'm still waiting for reviews of Matrix, by the way.

OTOH, I have been sitting on this email for several months, not sure I would - or should - share.  It's a response from Elaine Igoe, whose book broke open my thinking last year and set me on a new path for thinking about how threads interlace.

I've decided that she would most likely be ok with my sharing so here goes:

Hi Laura
Thanks so much for sharing this with me! It really makes me so happy and validated that you have connected with it. I really love the way that technical weave information, pedagogy and subjective creative journey are all there on the page. And I've only read the first few essays! The connection to Yunkaporta is really interesting too.

Would you mind if I shared your work with my colleagues and students? I would be happy to pay for a copy of your book or make a donation to somewhere of your choice?

At Chelsea, students are asked to undertake what they call 'critical practice' projects - aimed at integrating practice with theory, the outcome being both practical and written. I think your work would provide a great example to them. My colleague who coordinates 'critical practice' would be fascinated too, I'm sure. 

Your book's turn to become the teacher!

Very best wishes,

Dr Elaine Igoe (she/her)
Senior Lecturer and Year 3 Leader, BA (Hons) Textile Design
Chelsea College of Arts, University of the Arts London

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