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Licensed Unlicensed Requires Authentication Published by De Gruyter April 21, 2020

Digital Voodoo: Who Does What?

Paola Carbone and Giuseppe Rossi
From the journal Pólemos


It is obvious that AI is marking its entry onto the global scene. Anyway, since any AI is supposed to perform a task in such a way that the outcome would be indistinguishable from the outcome of a human agent working to achieve the same task, it is more and more difficult to recognize its presence in our daily life. Issues of transparency and ethics are crucial not only to be aware of the presence of an AI, but mostly to know how the algorithm is actually working and to verify the ‘quality’ of its dataset. It is important to realize that only the engineers know what an AI does, even if it enacts actions in real life. For common people, and even for regulators, it may turn out to be a digital voodoo that goes far beyond their understanding. Who does what? That is the question.

The first part of the essay discusses the claims of “digital philosophy” (or “digital ontology”) under the light of legal analysis. The assumption that humankind and “intelligent” machines share the same digital/algorithmic ontology (as parts of an all-encompassing “digital universe”) could deprive the law of its ethical and emotional foundations. A sound regulation of both the circulation of digital information and AI requires adequate knowledge of technology (transparency) and the capacity to make ethical choices based on wide social consensus, in order to safeguard the fundamentally “human” nature of the law.

The second part of the essay is an inquiry into AI as a machine-writing system, that is into the capacity of an AI to produce literary texts. Three examples will be discussed and a comparison to electronic literature will be pointed out. What seems to be fundamental is the idea of a literary output stuck on the very moment of its generation (process of writing) which is conceived by the reader as an anaesthetic experience. More than creativity, it is the perception of creativity that rules such literary works. This literary production can make readers aware of the power of an underlying algorithm.

Published Online: 2020-04-21
Published in Print: 2020-04-28

© 2020 Walter de Gruyter GmbH, Berlin/Boston