Matt Nish-Lapidus

Boundary Conditions

; KronoScope, Journal for the Study of Time .

Originally published in KronoScope No. 2 2020.

Boundary Conditions

There was a time when this was a joke,
in the 90s,
when children were watching sitcoms
about children in the thirties.

Out of time
but the whole effect of it,
as it seems to me,
is not so much to be expected
of the time-displaced
as of their being in the same state of
mental timidity.

He shrugged:
“I had better find out.
Who are you talking to?”

Sequential order,
as though he were addressing a child.
Short and sweet, with no more to do,
just as an eye would an image.

“What image?”

Some things are temporary, young man.
Having temporarily attained
this level of ‘being’ and ‘levelling’.

We have been extracting data
for approximately ten years.

We have been extracting data
for approximately twenty years.

We now collate this data
and present it to you in this manner.

He remembered the agony of her eyes
laced with corporate and political references.

The hot fluid, mixed with
the other particles, had become a ball of rock.

And the other one, the one who made it out
of the past fifty-years.
Transients of small change
a result of the speed at which
communication decays.

Genetic information was a hot area:
though he knew that his daughter
had chosen to incorporate it into her
cosmetic dossier
for her own benefit,
and not for the benefit of either
the visitor or the historian
who would be representing her.

To cite a somewhat extreme example:
the matter might well have been
filed under the heading of “Genetic Stuff.”

But what mattered was that she would allow them
to photograph her death,
and she would allow them to make a
documentary about it.

If she allowed him to have it,
the film would bring her back.

And before long
they had run a series on her lifestyle,
to no avail.

The same man, a visiting
student in Paris, had put out a special program
to aid in the research.

Just outside the blue wall
the screen started to fill.

How long ago did we have permanent lockdown?

The lane shifts more
and more wind up in the depths of
centuries of commercial real estate.
The building is overflowing. Filling.
There will be more crowds than usual
in the coming hours.

Advisers outside the perimeter of the compound have
brought with them a motley
array of props, small and large.

These visitors are drawn to the stress of a building
they understand that presence
is the real killer.

They will be responding to our needs, no different
from the visitors who manage to entry-point themselves,
or even the security team, but
they will learn a great deal about the structure of things, and
overcome with trauma, a fear of death and destruction.
I am placing these visitors’ needs above all things.

“They aren’t here to take anybody,” he said.

And if you think this leads you to the
pointless, pointless, pointless
problem, look no further
than this company whose business interests
are you.

Incidentally chosen as the centre
of America’s most recent global media scene.

They orbit so slowly here,
in their current configuration, that we
actually begin to wonder.
We begin to wonder what the
drastic de-protection had looked like
when she woke from
this sleep in November.

We discover that our visitor is the man,
researched into ever since,
a confidential personal assistant whose
pervasive nature allowed for an even greater vacuum.

We discover that she is no more than
an instrument of her own power.

And then we receive the message
from some few years ago
left in her head, a music video, that immediately
indicates the magnitude of her own isolation.

We imagine that isolation being conducted
with ruthless appeal,
in the shadow of global media,
where she finds herself in the middle of
something she couldn’t reach before.

We’re damaged, she understands;
it’s her culture. Expensive, but crucial in
removing an unwanted spirit.

But she knows it exists,
exactly as she does:
through the medium of her father.

She sees ourselves as nothing
more than spheres of influence,
we are ancient,
for she knows that these
spheres have long since
been erased.

We are everywhere
but more particularly, we freeze
the aspect of our current situation;
we allow ourselves
to be drawn into their clutches, to become
perpetrated, to be circulated.

We draw near, but
beyond impact.

We join his cause as well,
but alone in our solitude.

Statement on Process

This is a work for collaborative poetry, the output of an ongoing creative engagement between myself and a specially trained version of the GPT-2 machine learning model. GPT-2 is designed to write realistic english text, trained from a dataset of scraped from the public web (social media, blogs, corporate websites, news, etc). I then fine-tune the training of the generalized network with a more specific corpus—for this ongoing series of works I used a collection of science fiction and pop-science writing about artificial intelligence. Training the machine to think about itself through humanity’s gaze, artificial introspection.

To create the poem I begin by writing sentence fragments, stanzas, phrases, and words that set the tone and topical motif. A small Python script processes my text through the network, generating a few hundred words at a time. I then take the generated text and rework it, and then run the new text through the process again. Eventually I shape the resulting language through editing, formatting, and additional writing, into a poem. The resulting work is a collaboration, a back-and-forth, between my gestures as a writer and artist, and the machine’s limited language intelligence.

Both the training and the collaborative interchange create a form of temporal geometry, the movement of words and ideas across time and space between two different forms of emergent thinking—myself and the trained model. The back and forth facilitates a process of individuation, where the generalized model becomes specific to both the training data and my own artistic intents. We undergo, together, a process of transduction, what Gilbert Simondon calls the ongoing process of becoming that makes individuals individual. It is an ongoing process over time in which structures, in this case texts (semantics), recursively become the foundation for further structures. This processes is continuous and self-referential, it collapses time into vectors of growth.

For Boundary Conditions I consider life in pandemic lock-down. The boundaries of home, of time dilation over the past eleven weeks, of relationships, and the boundaries of our digitally surveilled lives that birth these emerging artificial intelligences. AI is a peak anthropocene technology. It is evolved from surveillance capitalism, as the original life in earth evolved from the just-right chemical conditions. Surveillance capitalism relies on “the cloud,” one of the great energy consumers and terraforming projects of the last decades. A technology that changes the earth through energy consumption, pollution, and massive physical infrastructure projects. A technology that we also rely on more than ever in our new online-first pandemic life. A massive positive feedback loop that learns from us in order to better shape its own world.