Seth Giddings was invited to give a talk at Beyond Humanism: cyborgs – animals – data swarms, the Cologne Summer School in Interdisciplinary Anthropology, a.r.t.e.s. Graduate School of the Humanities, University of Cologne September 23rd-27th 2019.
Entitled ‘AI and other animals: ontologies and ethologies of the cyborgian everyday’, the talk addressed artificial intelligence and artificial life in videogame play; forms of nonhuman agency that have transformed everyday media culture and could be regarded as harbingers of an emergent posthuman world. It took play with synthetic animals – zoomorphic videogame characters and robot toys – as an extended case study, bringing together two broad streams of critical posthumanism: technoculture and inter-species relationality. It argued that studying playful artificial animals offers insights into established and emergent cyborgian relationships between the nonhuman and human: relationships of play and being played with, of training and being trained, nurturing and being nurtured. And that the animality of AI and A-Life entities is real and not metaphorical, opening up ontological questions of AI: what kind of speciation gives rise to particular agents, what habitats and what kinds of behaviour characterise their existence? What anthropological or ethological methods might we employ to study these behaviours? And how is the status of both ‘animality’ and ‘intelligence’ achieved from the cyborg assemblages of code, digital hardware, animated imagery, bodies and minds in play?