At the opening of Impakt Festival 2014 on Wednesday October 29th the famous cyberpunk author Bruce Sterling gave the keynotespeech at Theater Kikker. In his speech Sterling discussed the theme of the festival “Soft Machines – where the optimized human meets artificial empathy”. With examples from literature, philosophy and art Sterling reasoned that the human being will never be optimal and that machines will never have empathic abilities.
Among the many visitors were bloggers from Studium Generale, who for eight weeks discussed the theme man and machine on their site. Melanie Peters, head of the Studium Generale, described Sterling’s talk as follows:
“Maybe you can’t help but to bond with machines”, Sterling commences his story. Even he has a virtual personal assistant (Siri, on his Iphone), not yet as evolved as the operating system in the movie Her (2013), but getting close: a beautiful voice, conformed to Sterling’s preferences, with the ability to recognize and remember daily rhythms in a household. “But get real”, warns Sterling us. “My virtual assistant doesn’t love me! It’s like I love Amsterdam, I admire its complexity, but Amsterdam doesn’t love me!”
The notion that man and machine will one day converge so much that there will be no distinction between the two in regards to capacities and emotions finds Sterling naive, thus writes Melanie Peters of Studium Generale. She quotes Sterling:
“Of course machines evoke emotions, but you have to compare it to an actress who dies in a play. No one will rush on stage to save her. No matter how much you feel for her. It’s naive to do so. A category mistake, according to Sterling. Machines, even though they are more evolved than ever, will never become more humane. We project this on them and we have to stop doing that.”
You can read the entire report of Sterling’s speech by Melanie Peters here (Dutch only).
Bruce Sterling College Tour
The residence of Bruce Sterling continued on Thursday 30 October when he talked to festival curator A.E. Benenson and Stephen Kovats in a College Tour manner. Input for the discussion mainly came from the audience, consisting of students and professors of University Utrecht and the HKU, as well as universities elsewhere in the Netherlands. Beneath you can watch the integral afternoon-session.
About Bruce Sterling
Writer and critic Bruce Sterling is one of the most original minds when it comes to science fiction and technology. Sterling introduced the neo-noir futurism of Cyberpunk with his groundbreaking book Mirrorshades (1986). Because of The Difference Engine (1990, co-author William Gibson) readers came in contact with the alternative historic genre ‘Streampunk’. Sterling has written since then a large amount of novels and non-fiction books, through which he has refined his critical view.
In his books and contributions to the magazine Wired Sterling combines a profound understanding of technology with a nuanced approach to our political and social history. With a mixture of analysis, criticism, humor and speculations his lectures explore the implications of the new developments in aesthetics, online activism, technology and design.
Sneller dan ik hebben kan
Autumn 2014 Studium Generale organized a series of lectures called Sneller dan ik hebben kan. With these talks the power of information and new technology was explored. Eight speakers from different disciplines showed, from their own field of expertise, how to deal with the current developments in technology in our society.