A Is For Another: A Dictionary Of AI

This Website

A traditional online search assumes that a seeker already knows what they are looking for and can type it into a box. But as Mitchell Whitelaw tells us: "Search is ungenerous: it withholds information, and demands a query...” His generous interfaces approach suggests an alternative: “rich, browsable interfaces that reveal scale and complexity.”

Padmini and Pratyush — the designers of this website — applied Whitelaw’s approach to reflect my own journey of learning about AI’s [other] dimensions and futures: meandering, serendipitous, non-linear. This process has involved reading about the history of AI as documented in official archives; visiting art exhibitions and cultural events and attending lectures; interacting with futurologists imagining autonomous cars through animal intelligence, and so on. It has been both bewildering and illuminating — and not all connections are strong; sometimes the path is more interesting than where you end up. 

This process has primarily involved searching online; but using the internet for research is a tricky exercise. There are paywalls (and ways to get around them, sometimes), a structural politics to who creates knowledge online, and closely-guarded, proprietary algorithms curating what will appear higher up in your search results. Human curators and guides have been essential to my wayfinding by making material available, and suggesting connections to domains of knowledge not all of which appear related to each other at first glance. 

What do these journeys look like when transposed onto a digital experience? 

The grid view is like the familiar experience of consulting a dictionary: solitary, specific and top-down. It comprises curated, unique and whimsical entries offering different perspectives on humanity and AI. Each entry is a body of text with hyperlinks to references outside this website. 

The relational view is a visualisation of all these references together. Every reference’s hyperlink is assigned a handful of tags; for example: ‘non-human’, 'ecology', ‘posthumanism’, or ‘robots’. These tags are visualised as yellow bubbles; the larger the bubble, the more references associated with that tag. Clicking on a tag bubble reveals smaller white bubbles that link out to that reference. The tag bubbles themselves are not clickable. Pratyush has programmed various cues into the visualisation to orient you to your journey through the material. The visualisation works best when viewed on a desktop screen.

Comparing the grid and relational views, we might say that the grid view is like swimming in a pool, and the relational view is like swimming out into the ocean. In the words of Anna Tsing, this is not a “logical machine” but an “open-ended assemblage”; it “gesture[s] to the so-much-more-out-there.”

This dictionary is neither exhaustive nor comprehensive. It is a snapshot of small and situated data aggregated over years of summer schools, workshops and seminars. This dictionary is not closed either; it is open to material that takes this thinking to new places. There is space for new entries, collaboration and further research and pedagogy, so please get in touch: hello at aisforanother dot net

Maya Indira Ganesh. Berlin, April 2020