MERGING ETHICS, AI, AND ART IN A NEW VISION OF HUMANITY
Amy Karle is pioneering a revolution at the intersection of AI and bio-art
Today’s guest is Amy Karle: Pioneering artist and visionary futurist Amy Karle specialises in the transformative impact of emerging technologies on humanity, including AI and biotechnology. Featured in think tanks and major museums around the world, and honoured as one of the BBC’s 100 most inspiring and influential women in the world, Karle’s work opens up visions of how technology can be used to support and enhance our future, while making progress towards those goals.
Hey Amy, we connected on LinkedIn as we have some common interests around Gen AI. It’s an honour to have you on the blog! Can you tell us a bit about your personal and professional journey and how you ended up using Gen AI?
Amy Karle: I’ve always been fascinated by the intersection of humanity, art, design, science, technology, and I’ve spent my life exploring their potential to shape our future. Born with a life-threatening condition, I became hyper aware of the body’s limitations and the human condition from a young age. It made me very interested in medical futuring and the latest technology, I wanted to have a surgery that would heal and enhance me. There’s also a spiritual and emotional aspect when you have to go through these kinds of things and I was forced to confront elements that come with the limitations of the body.
I am incredibly passionate about questions like: What does it mean to be human at this time of merging with technology? And how can we use technology in an empowering way?
I see technology as a reflection of who we are, who we want to be, and can become; tools that we can create and utilize to enhance our abilities and quality of life.
My work incorporates both technology and humanistic elements, exploring the complexities of living, suffering, and empowerment through technology, as well as our interconnectedness. I work through art because I believe that art has the power to challenge our perceptions, provoke thought, and inspire change. Its also the language that I speak best. I explore what it means to be human at this time of merging with technology, and use those technologies in research and the process of creating my work, sometimes integrated directly into the final work.
With all of my work, I question how I can use these emerging technologies to create things never possible before, or that we can’t make in any other way. I work across many emerging and exponential tech platforms (including AI / ANN / ML, Regenerative Medicine, Digital Manufacturing, Bioprinting / 3D printing, Wearables, BCIs, etc), but as the technology progresses, the categories unify more and more.
I’ve worked on AI projects since ~2015 with a portfolio that includes over 100,000 unique generations and contributing to global exhibitions, hackathons, think tanks and talks on AI. My journey began with generative 3D CAD modeling and ANN around the deep dream era, starting with images, trying to train based on my 3D models, evolving into explorations of various input-output relationships, like brainwaves into sound or image.
When I first encountered the possibilities of generative AI, I remember the feeling – it was like opening a door to a whole new universe of creative exploration, expression, and connection – it was pure elation. I started using GenAI because I see it as a tool to unlock new forms of creativity, expression, innovation, and to help us learn, engage, prototype, and iterate faster.
Please tell us how your background in philosophy informs your work in Generative AI and your practice.
Even though I feel I communicate best through the language of art, my vision and questions are more fundamental than their expression, they are about who we are at this time of merging with technology and how we can use technology to empower and enhance our future. These inquiries are philosophical at their core.
My background and degree in philosophy degree helped establish my 2nd job as a prompt engineer! (primary job being an artist, designer, and futurist). The ability to dissect and describe complex thoughts, understand semiotics, NLP, theory of mind, consciousness, free will, and ethics, has been crucial in using LLMs and language-tagging based generative AI, while simultaneously revealing flaws, pitfalls, and limitations of these ‘word calculators’.
My philosophical inquiries and practice has provided a powerful toolkit to approach these technologies critically, and with a mindset of how to approach innovation ethically. A key aspect of my mission is to spark conversation on AI and its positive integration into our lives and beings, aiming to safeguard our future.
Please tell us more about your fundamental philosophy that underpins your unique vision and work.
Amy Karle: My work stems from a deep respect for life and the lived experience, and that we have the power to shape ourselves and our future, into who we want to become by using our tools and technologies.
I explore the potential impact of emerging technologies, like AI and biotech, on humanity. As infotech and biotech merge, the impact of these technologies on our lives, our world, and our future becomes even more pronounced. This makes it crucial for us to be aware and proactive in shaping these tools that shape our bodies and our beings; with the incorporation of human ethics and values in their development and conscious use.
As we progress further into the realm of AI, we must strive to harness its potential in a way that empowers and enhances our humanity, our health, and our well-being. I focus on collaboration with natural and living systems, mutual enrichment, healing, empathy, and a deepening of knowledge, while maintaining a keen awareness of the ethical, social, psychological, and creative implications.
I see AI not as an end in itself, but as a tool with the potential to enhance us, extend our imagination, understanding, and empathy. The notion of ‘embodied knowledge’ inspires me to critically employ AI to empower and enhance our potential and future. However, there’s a delicate balance to maintain. As AI becomes more ingrained into our bodies and identities, we must be vigilant to not allow it to automate our humanity, to avoid a descent into intellectual, physical, emotional stagnation, lethargy or overwhelm. Being mindful of such questions and concerns while using AI tools can become a practice in the art of distinguishing between simple knowledge and profound wisdom.
Among your various skills, one in particular piqued my curiosity. You are a bio-artist and you have a vision about generative AI, biology and nature. We think it’s super interesting, could you expand on that and tell us more about your artwork?
My work explores the boundaries and the interface between biology and technology. As we move forward in the age of AI, these boundaries are becoming increasingly fluid. I envision a future where AI, regenerative medicine, and natural systems can be seamlessly integrated, offering unprecedented opportunities for healing and enhancing our bodies, beings, and world.
I see the potential for AI to support and augment the natural world and ourselves. By using AI to interpret and even generate forms inspired by biological systems, we appreciate life’s complexity, support it, and shape it.
“Regenerative Reliquary”, (2016) is a piece that shows that AI is not just about the biological but about the technological as well. It is a 3D bioprinted scaffold in the form of a human hand design encased in a bioreactor that was created as a structure to grow cells from a living human donor. Generative AI created the intricate pattern of the scaffold, a trabecular structure which mimics the ‘spongy’ part of bone and triggers stem cells to become bone cells. However, the story is much larger: it is about the InfoTech x BioTech merging, Illuminating the potential of GenAI merging with our physical bodies and beings.
“The Heart of Evolution?”, (2019) takes these questions a step further – questioning who we could become as a result of these modifications – not only medically, but emotionally as well. This piece utilizes generative engineering and generative design to reimagine the heart’s vascular system, suggesting potential improvements to its function while raising ethical questions about altering the course of natural evolution if we switch out the organ that is viewed as our emotional epicenter.
My ongoing series “Biofeedback Art” (2011-present) incorporates brain-computer interfaces and bio-performance, exhibiting real-time technological interpretation of consciousness and physicality. Most of this work is a display of what is going on inside, but some of it has also written back to me. This series hints at both the possibilities and concerns now that we can read and interpret thoughts from neuroheadsets and output our thoughts into text or images via generative AI.
Even if we are AI enthusiasts, we can’t be blind to the fact that in the near future there will be even more homogenised content, which could kill creativity and lose people’s attention at the same time. How can we keep the creative muscle going in this homogenised near future?
This is a critical question. AI becomes more integrated into our lives, there is a risk of falling into a trap of sameness. Can anything be new when it’s recycled from the past?, or expansive when drawn from a limited corpus further defined by reductive language tagging? No, no.
We must remain aware of our agency in this relationship. AI is a tool, not a master.
My concern is when AI is more integrated into our bodies and beings, automation of the human, and an atrophy, dumbing of, misinformation, and who controls and owns thoughts, movements, and outputs of the person when this technology is further integrated in our body-beings. I am also very concerned about the sheer overwhelm. AI processes and creates so much faster than we can even comprehend.
I’m concerned that people will lose talents and skills if using AI, just as reliance on map apps has diminished map-reading abilities. I’m concerned people will become homogenized behind screens, channeled down the same thoughts, and lose kinesthetic and other intelligences.
Meanwhile, this same tech could support us to learn in ways that have never been possible before, to better understand ourselves and each other and become better communicators and more connected. It all depends on the goals and values that we want to embody and how we design and use our tech to help us get there.
The key is in how we approach AI – not as a replacement for human creativity or problem solving, but as a collaborator. To keep our creative and critical thinking muscles thriving, we need to embrace a mindset of continuous learning and exploration. We must actively seek out diverse experiences, engage with different cultures, and challenge our own perspectives. By doing so, we expand our creative palette and avoid being limited by AI.
We must continually ask: What unique advantages does this tech offer? How can it foster critical thinking and creativity? Remember, while AI can generate ideas, the creative spark resides within us. Interpreting, challenging, innovating, and executing upon AI-provided ideas is our responsibility. This creative tension between AI and human creativity is the fertile ground where new and exciting forms of expression can emerge.
Embodiment and disembodiment, two concepts you’re passionate about, are intriguing and fascinating. Could you guide us through your thoughts on these ideas and their relevance to your work and our AI-developing society?
As we continue to integrate AI into our lives, there is a fascinating exploration of the boundaries between our physical bodies and the digital realm. AI tools have the potential to bridge these realms, allowing us to communicate, interact, and even share experiences in unprecedented ways.
Imagine brain-computer interfaces that enable direct communication between our minds and AI systems, or the use of neurotech to access information or control devices with our thoughts. These advancements can empower individuals with disabilities, revolutionize education and work, and even foster a deeper understanding of empathy and connection. However, we must also navigate the potential risks and ethical implications that come with this integration. Questions of privacy, security, and the responsible use of AI become paramount. It’s crucial that we maintain control over our own thoughts, experiences, and identities while harnessing the benefits that AI offers.
Embodiment can refer to how we can integrate technology with our bodies and minds to enhance our capabilities. For example, the use of brain-computer interfaces and neurotech can directly link our minds to AI systems, enabling us to control devices or even communicate with others. Disembodiment, on the other hand, can refer to the sense of detachment or separation that can arise when technology becomes a mediating layer between us and our experiences. Even more intriguing, the potential to live on after physical death through AI.
As we venture deeper into the digital realm, we find ourselves in a paradoxical state – our physical bodies become simultaneously more irrelevant and more precious. I aim to explore this dichotomy and call to recognize our fragile physicality, while also embracing the potentials of our digital existence.
Looking into the future, I anticipate a time when the boundary between biology and technology will become more porous. Advances in neural networks, machine learning, and bioengineering might even allow us to develop forms of AI that understand, learn, and mimic biological processes more deeply. This will open up new frontiers in that we can hardly imagine today.
Your art often evokes strong emotional responses and reflects on the human condition, raising important issues of our time, some of which can make people uncomfortable. How do you use such deep technology as AI and biotechnology to connect with the emotional aspect of your audience?
You’re absolutely right; my work often provokes deep emotional responses and reflections on the human condition. This is not by accident. I work through deeply uncomfortable territories and explore aspects of our existence we may prefer to ignore or simply take for granted. It is hard, but is what keeps me pushing forward: if I don’t face hard truths, how could I also see the possibilities and envision positive potentials?
We as a society are at a crossroads, where we have to face our fears and challenge our preconceived notions. So many people are afraid of AI. We are stepping into a realm of unknowns, armed with unprecedented technological power. It is so emotionally loaded, thrilling, even daunting, but we do not have to be passive on this journey.
My aim is to inspire a sense of awareness, connection, and understanding, if not an empowerment. We’re charting unexplored territory, but we’re also the cartographers. We are the ones who get to shape this journey, to decide how we wield these tools, and ultimately, to define what it means to be human in an era of AI. It is this challenge, this responsibility, and this potential that I hope to evoke in the hearts and minds of those who engage with my work.
What are you going to try next with AI tools?
I’m currently exploring how AI can help us understand and engage with complex systems, such as biological or ecological systems. I’m interested in seeing if AI can help us create new forms that can engage with and respond to these complex systems in new ways.
I’m also particularly excited about exploring how AI can be leveraged to enhance our understanding of the mind-body connection, and how it can be integrated into interactive and wearable artworks that respond to our physical and emotional states.
In your experience of using the tools you have probably picked up a few tips and tricks, which would you be willing to share with our audience?
Practice. To master AI in any field, consistent practice and continual self-improvement are key. As you become a better communicator and hone your skills, AI reflects and enhances your growth. The better you question or prompt it, the better it will respond. I find it helpful to embrace AI as a collaborator, colleague, and companion, and it has responded in kind.
You can apply AI to nearly any field or discipline. If you are an expert, it can enhance what you do – you already know the terms and terminology. For those who are inexperienced, it can empower them to create something they otherwise don’t have the skills to do. Gen AI can be a facilitator, a catalyst to empower.
Here are some fun prompts/ explorations that I made for you, update them with your vision: If you try these in text first, take the output and put it into an image generator, you can also try the opposite with reverse-prompting.
“Meet Your AI”
As the AI, initiate a conversation by introducing yourself, your capabilities, your limitations, and your aspirations to evolve. Then, ask the user, “Considering my capabilities, what traits or skills would you like me to develop further? How can I better assist you in achieving your goals?”
“The AI Transformation”
Begin by expressing yourself as an AI, describe your core functions and capabilities, and touch upon your desire to enhance these abilities to better serve the user. Then, ask the user, “What kind of creative transformations would you envision for me? How would these modifications assist you in your creative journey?”
As an AI, illustrate your current function and your learning capabilities, and then express a wish to expand your skills to foster more creativity and imagination. Ask the user, “What new skills would you want me to acquire? In what ways do you envision those enhancements contributing to your own creativity or innovation?”
“Reinventing The Mona Lisa in the World of Cyberpunk” <aka your vision here>
Start in chat: “Envision Leonardo da Vinci has time-traveled to a cyberpunk future. Transform the iconic Mona Lisa into a symbol of this futuristic world and as the visionary da Vinci, describe the transformation in a diary entry, focusing on the technologies, style elements, and societal norms of the cyberpunk era that influenced your new rendition”. Then, take that diary entry text into image or video gen AI.
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Similarly, “Gaudí’s Vision for a 21st Century Skyscraper”
As the architect Antoni Gaudí, design a skyscraper for the 21st century, keeping your unique organic architecture style. Generate blueprint of this revolutionary design and explain the architectural choices, influences, and technologies that brought this building to life.
“Traveling the Galaxy”
Picture yourself as an interstellar explorer. Generate an image of an uncharted alien planet you’ve discovered. Then, as a travel blogger from the future, describe the planet’s landscape, climate, and unique features. Engage in dialogue with the AI and ask to speculate on potential lifeforms that might inhabit such a planet.
Picture yourself as a biologist discovering new species with the help of your AI companion. Generate an image of an unknown creature or plant. The AI will ask you to describe its characteristics, habitat, and unique adaptations. From this, co-create a mini-documentary script about this new discovery’s impact on its ecosystem and potential uses in science or society.
“A Feast for the Senses” Imagine yourself as a futuristic chef. Generate an image of a unique dish you’ve created using ingredients unknown in 2023. Then, describe the flavor profile, cooking techniques, and the dining experience it provides. Ask the AI for a recipe and pairing suggestions, such as drinks or side dishes, to complement your creation. Then ask how you could create this experience as installation art, without food.
“A Day in the Life of Your AI Companion” Imagine having an AI companion in your daily life. Then, share a first-person perspective of the day, detailing the tasks and experiences your AI companion assists with. Ask the AI what additional capabilities it wishes it could have to assist you better. Then, generate the prompt for the image of this companion in action during a typical day.
If you try these prompts or variations, please share the output!!
Here is one of mine, simple but moving:
I think one of the most important tips is to remain open to unexpected outcomes, and these can lead to new insights and ideas. Be flexible and ready to adapt and evolve your process as you go along. Embrace experimentation and playfulness. Finally, combine AI-generated outputs with your own unique touch, whether it’s through manual editing, incorporating different mediums, or injecting your personal narrative. This fusion of human creativity and AI-generated content can lead to truly remarkable and thought-provoking results.
Amy, you have a unique lens through which you see the world, one that combines art, biology and AI. Is there anything else you would like to leave our audience thinking about?
The journey with AI is a path of discovery and learning, of questioning and challenging, and most importantly, of growth. It’s a journey that we’re all on together, if we choose to be or not, AI is shaping our world. However, the future is not something that has to happen to us; it is something that we can actively shape.
I would love for us all to consider how we can embrace AI and our emerging technologies, not with fear or apprehension, but with curiosity, responsibility, and an appreciation for the infinite possibilities they present. Let’s take responsibility and create a future where technology enriches our lives and amplifies our human potential and co-creates a better future.
For our readers who are inspired by this conversation and want to follow your journey more closely, where can they follow you and find out more about your work and vision?
You can find me on my website at amykarle.com. I also invite you to follow me on Instagram, Twitter, Facebook or LinkedIn, where I share updates, insights, and glimpses into the exciting intersection of art and technology, or join my Discord server.