Saturday, June 01, 2024

Postcreation: a new world. AI is not the machine, it is now ‘us’ speaking to ‘ourselves’, in fruitful dialogue.


There is an interesting idea from the French writer Bourriaud, that we’ve entered a new era, where art and cultural activity now interprets, reproduces, re-exhibits or utilises works made by others or from already available cultural products. He calls it ‘Postproduction’ I thank Rod J. Naquin for introducing me to this thinker and idea. 

Postproduction. Culture as Screenplay: How Art Reprograms the World (2002) was Bourriaud’s essay which examines the trend, emerging since the early 1990s, where a growing number of artists create art based on pre-existing works. He suggests that this "art of postproduction" is a response to the overwhelming abundance of cultural material in the global information age.

The proliferation of artworks and the art world's inclusion of previously ignored or disdained forms characterise this chaotic cultural landscape. Through postproduction, artists navigate and make sense of this cultural excess by reworking existing materials into new creations.


I’d like to universalise this idea of Postproduction to all forms of human endeavour that can now draw upon a vast common pool of culture; all text, images, audio and video, all of human knowledge and achievements – basically the fruits of all past human production to produce, in a way that can be described as ‘Postcreation’.

This is inspired by the arrival of multimodal LLMs, where vast pools of media representing the sum total of all history, all cultural output from our species, has been captured and used to train huge multimodal models that allow our species to create a new future. With new forms of AI, we are borrowing to create the new. It is a new beginning, a fresh start using technology that we have never seen before in the history of our species, something that seems strange but oddly familiar, thrilling but terrifying – AI.


AI, along with us, does not simply copy, sample or parrot things from the past – together we create new outputs. Neither do they remix, reassemble or reappropriate the past – together we recreate the future. This moves us beyond simple curation, collages and mashups into genuinely new forms of production and expression. We should also avoid seeing it as the reproduction of hybrids, reinterpretations or simple syntheses.

Like a ‘palimpsest’, a page from a scroll or book that has been scraped clean for reuse, we can recover the original text if we scan it carefully enough, but it is the ground for a genuinely new work. It should not be too readily reduced to one word, rather pre-fixed with ‘re-’; to reimagine, reenvision, reconceptualise, recontextualise, revise, rework, revamp, reinterpret, reframe, remodel, redefine and reinvent new cultural capital. We should not pin it down like a broken butterfly with a simple pin, one word, but let the idea flutter and fly free from the prison of language.


We have also moved beyond seeing prompt engineering as some sort of way of translating what we humans do into AI speak. It is now, quite simply, about explaining. We really do engage and speak wto and with these systems. The move towards multimodality with generated and semantically understood audio, is a huge leap forward, especially in learning. That’s how we humans interact.

Romantic illusion

We have been doing this on a small scale for a long time under the illusion, reinforced by late 18th and 19th century Romanticism, that creation is a uniquely human endeavour, when all along it has been a drawing upon the past, therefore deeply rooted in what the brain has experienced and takes from its memories to create anything new. We are now, together, taking things from the entire memory of our cultural past to create the new in acts of Postcreation.

Communal future

This new world or new dawn is more communal, drawing from the well of a vast shared, public collective. We can have a common purpose of mutual effort that leads to a more co-operative, collaborative and unified effort. There were some historical dawns that hinted at this future, the Library at Alexandria, open to all containing the known world's knowledge, Wikipedia a huge, free communal knowledge base, but this is something much more profoundly communal.

The many peoples, cultures and languages of the world can be in this communal effort, not to fix some utopian idea of a common set of values or cultural output but creation beyond what just one group sees as good and evil. This was Nietzsche’s re-evaluative vision. Utopias are always fixed and narrow dystopias. This could be a more innovative and transformative era, a future of openness, a genuine recognition that the future is created by us, not determined wholly by the past. AI is not the machine, it is now ‘us’ speaking to ‘ourselves’, in fruitful dialogue.

No comments: