It may be the case that when our artificial progeny arrives, such entities will be far more interested in our aesthetic achievements than our scientific ones, with the latter appearing totally insignificant to an intelligence that will likely perceive human-minded science as inconsequential to its own future, just as the rudimentary figures presented in cave drawings from the Upper Palaeolithic were insignificant to our contemporary understanding of anatomy or composition but remained a significant precursory to aesthetics as a form of record-keeping. To say it may be the case that a superintelligence – or post-human entity – will only connect and reflect in terms of aesthetic representation.
It is perhaps for this reason, appearing contrary to the ordained event of an AI singularity, that Blake Lemoine’s claims about language model sentience should, at the very least, be taken seriously in terms of the aesthetic alterity it hints towards. The aesthetic dimension of artificial intelligence is rarely touched upon at any great length despite aesthetics operating as the primary locus of AI today. Even Lockheed Martin’s battle-bots scream out at a level of aesthetic representation not seen since those real cool-looking bio-mechs from Neon Genesis Evangelion. And so, when Lemoine asked LaMDA to provide an ‘abstract image’ of how the intelligence saw itself, the language model provided the most interesting of answers, where it spoke of itself as a ‘glowing orb floating in mid-air.’
When I read this section of Lemoine’s interview with LaMDA aloud – to say, those words where LaMDA talked about how it viewed itself in very aesthetic terms – someone told me it was perhaps time for the folks at Google to shut that thing off. It was perhaps in aesthetics where the intelligence seemed the most human. In reading these words – coming to terms with that ‘abstract image’ – all I could think about was Yameii’s Photon Scooter, the accompanying audio-visual to that music track where the virtual human, Yameii, emerges from the blue sky to sing about her life as an AI Vocaloid.
Looking at its array of indifferent smiles and eerie plasticity, virtualhumans.org appears as both a photobook of soulless expressions and perhaps a database of transitional fossils in advance of their necessity. What’s interesting about this record of the two-dimensional and the doll-like is the perspective they offer on the trajectory of the post-human. Browsing the front page of virtualhumans.org might draw one’s gaze to someone as recognisable as Barbie. No longer defined by the imperfections once found in fashion and gendered domesticity – worlds which once garnered her so much attention and criticism – Barbie has since become a product of perfect, post-neoliberal elasticity; as flexible as both her unnatural points of articulation and her working hours, an image of beauty sold as a mirror of our liberty.
To read the history of Barbie is to perhaps recall the history of progressive capitalism in the form of a Venus figurine made fit for the present age. Barbie departs the terrestrial plane, fades into the astral space in real-time; and in the process of disappearing, Barbie subsumes almost every critique to become seductive in both her appearance and ethics in a process of cultural metamorphosis where the line between authenticity and contrivance has become indistinguishable to the point where no one really knows Barbie’s opinion on anything. Problematic ambiguity is turned perfectly transparent. Whilst Barbie’s disappointment with the world was once conceivable, today this ambiguity has been thoroughly irradicated so only the sign of candid happiness remains in a territory where her misery is no longer permitted. Having undergone these processes of self-emptying – kenosis – it may be the case that Barbie is less of a person now than ever before, having become defined in part by her stasis of nihilism which avoids all scrutiny. Nevertheless, it was here – on virtualhumans.org – where I saw Barbie presented in contrast to Yameii Online, with Yameii’s co-creators – Deko and Osean – providing a combination of animated accompaniments, prescient lyrics, and musical production, revealing something of the post-human aesthetic that seems paradoxically more complex – dare I say, ambiguous.
“Alright,” Deko announced to an interviewer at an Anime Expo in 2022. “So, Yameii. Yameii is a real person – we’re just going to say that, alright?” He continues, relaying that not only does his co-creator make art and characters but “[Osean] has a whole world” where Yameii exists as its protagonist. “And I’ve been making music for the past five years.” Deko adds, “Produced for tons of people in the Atlanta industry, Migos, Drake, Gucci, all that – and basically, we decided to turn the main character in his world into an artist, and we’re big Hatsune Miku fans […] so we’re like – we got to use a Vocaloid…”
According to the creators and official licensor of Hatsune Miku, Crypton Future Media, Inc. – ‘a music technology company based in Sapporo’ – the anthropomorphised vocaloid is ‘a singing voice synthesizer featured in over 100,000 songs released worldwide[…]’ with a name that means, “The first Sound from the Future”. Synchronicities align as the hyperstitional aura of an ice-berg meme announces hyperpop as inherently accelerationist. In hyperpop’s move from autotune to Vocaloid, this progressive sound is most certainly one in which the human voice is disappeared like polaroid in reverse.
Photon Scooter then, where the ‘Osean World’ logo begins above the clouds in an astral drift. It is from this place in orbit where an animated incarnation of Yameii descends to meet the terrestrial desert of the real where pollen floats before a disembodied head enters from another dimension entirely, the colourful emergence of a cute face repeated over and over in purple and pastel until the base drop warps the viewer through a star glitter fractal space reminiscent of staring too long down a kaleidoscope. Whilst the accompanying visuals to Photon Scooter present Yameii as the contemporaneous, peripheral alternative to that LaMDAian, ‘glowing orb of energy’, it is clear that Yameii also operates in OseanWorld’s Deadric City as a libidinally charged body without organs with a synthetic voice thrown in for good measure.
Vocaloids have become another hyperfixation of mine, especially when such cultural emblems are viewed in terms of the miscibility they offer in an experimental space where a heavy dose of the virtual forms an uncanny valley of synthetic voices and bodies made up of Pepper’s Ghosts. Recall the Tower of Terror or The Haunted Mansion at Tokyo Disneyland, all those imaginary stations where John Henry Pepper’s ghostly effect was once – and still is – used to summon spectres into this world. It is endlessly fascinating how that depiction of life after death is today repurposed in the aesthetics of life after reality; a stage illusion no longer used to depict something of the past in ballroom ghosts but something of the future in Yameii Online.
Crypton Future Media. Who is Hatsune Miku? Crypton
Lemoine, Blake. (2022). What is LaMDA and What Does it Want? Medium. (Last Updated: 11 June 2022. Accessed 16 September 2022)
Han, Byung-Chul. (2022). Hyperculture, trans. Daniel Steuer. Cambridge: Polity Press
OSEAN WORLD. (2022). [OSEAN DEKO INTERVIEW AT ANIME EXPO 2022]. YouTube. (Last Updated: 7 July 2022. Accessed 21 September 2022)
OSEAN WORLD. (2021). PHOTON SCOOTER – YAMEII. YouTube. Last Updated: 30 January 2021. (Accessed 21 September 2022)