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What is this about?

Automated and algorithmic systems are becoming increasingly common and are being asked to make a wider and wider range of decisions. These systems are overwhelmingly designed with efficiency and scale in mind. In service to these ambitions, certain aspects of life are abstracted, ignored, or discarded. We increasingly become objects in need of optimization.

Local Disturbances is a place where I (Jerrold McGrath) and others might look into ways of complicating or interrupting these systems. We need a language to talk about the changes that happen when our lives become administered by artificial intelligence and other cognitive technologies. We need approaches that draw attention to these changes and offer other paths of development.

The problem is not the tool, but rather the ends to which the tools are applied. AI can be developed that prioritizes sovereignty, compassion, or joy and I hope to contribute to that conversation.

AI is driven by a spoken or unspoken need to understand people and the world as ‘finalized’ objects of an automated process. Our exploration must therefore be multi-subject and multi-epistemic if we hope to create structures of meaning, creation, and action. And by placing subjects into these relational structures of interpretation we become answerable for what happens next. Rather than just talking about these things, we need to develop an active practice of prototyping and experimentation.

AI is a move toward the monological, where scale and efficiency become moral positions driving development. If the idea of progress - the promise of a better future and ever-faster ways to get there - is no longer valid, then AI offers some sense of control, at least to avoid the worst disasters.

Local Disturbances is a place to conceive, incubate, and prototype systems that are built around dialogic and genuine encounters among human beings and within communities and the natural world.

I hope to celebrate the possibility of change rather than focus too much on the specific changes themselves.


Jerrold McGrath
Mostly centrifugal / Research Lead at UKAI Projects / Responsible Leader at the BMW Foundation / Partnership Lead - North America at David Graeber Institute