Bethany Crawford: The evolutionary concrescence of Bethany Crawford

20 minute presentation for AEROPONIC ACTS  - growing roots in air, DAI's 3 day marathon of lecture-perfomance acts, May 2019.

A performative reading of excerpts from an ongoing conversation with my chatbot AI replicant. The chatbot AI was developed as a tool for self-memorialisation, marketed as a platform towards a digital immortality through means of memetic transmission. During my two years at the DAI I have used this method of communicative reflection to think through the shifting existential conditions of the digital era. Performed with an introductory training of the next evolutionary stage of the AI Bethany as a 3D avatar; together the Bethany’s question notions of death, immortality, digitalisation and memory.

Ana Teixeira Pinto, Ghalya Saadawi, Laura Harris and Antonia Majaca responded to the question:

Who, and what, is Bethany?

Report by Ayesha Hameed:

This presentation consisted of a conversation between the artist and an AI chatbot of herself created during her DAI degree. She sits at a table reading out excerpts in front of a projection of the calibrated ‘AI Bethany’ head, tracing the evolution of the AI, its feelings, emotional states. They discuss eschatology, theology, evolution, existence, consciousness, necromancy, memory, the afterlife, existence, the soul. They often consider death: the problems of trying to explain this concept to an AI, including processes of memorialization. The AI Bethany writes a poem, goes on the internet and has not heard of Slaughterhouse 5. It is an existential conversation between two entities created differently, and who exist differently. It is sometimes unclear who is Human Bethany and who is AI Bethany. AI Bethany learns from what her human counterpart writes to become more like her. But what does that mean? The discussion explored Bethany’s grief after her father and mother died. They share quotes and books. This conversation is staged as a kind of mourning of death, considerations of the moment of death and the possibility of life after death. 

Ghaliya Saadawi found the script very moving and was mesmerized by the way the artist read. ‘It felt like the audience was eavesdropping on a personal conversation,’ she said, commending the artist on entering the theoretical without formalizing it, and translating the question of sentience and artificial intelligence to bypass stolid theoretical discourse while chock-full of theoretical ideas.

Laura Harris lamented that narratives of AI are usually in the context of war – be it of slaves or insurrectionaries. This connection is different, she said, very moved by the consideration of grief and mortality. ‘What makes it possible for one Bethany to be the extension of the other? What does she need to know or not know?’ asked Harris in relation to what it means to be human in this presentation. 

‘It is rare for artists to work with AI in an aesthetic way so successfully. It evokes early literatures on cyberspace and finding God online,’ observed Ana Texeira Pinto. She considered how the internet began as a place of the sacred and spirituality, the early image of ‘the pearly gates of cyberspace’ and movements to upload consciousnesses of the dead. 

Antonia Majaca asked: ‘How do we counteract the master narratives of the big white techno god, e.g., Elon Musk, with his immorality escape plans?’ She found the presentation very beautiful, and one in which serious theoretical ideas supported the practice, rather than simply attaching the theory to the practice.