Science fiction stories, based primarily on scientific and technological advancement, also require journeys into the realm of futuristic imagination. While the two genres may share more differences than similarities, human creativity is indispensable to both. A world without creativity is not only one without stories or myths, it would be a world without the possibilities of advancement. Many imaginative scenarios are often considered impractical when they exist in creative bubbles, such as the Red Pill and Blue Pill from ‘The Matrix’ years ago as well as the three-dimensional hologram technology and the artificial intelligence (AI) software that can instantly redesign Tony Stark’s armours in the movie series of ‘Iron Man’. Some of these seemingly unachievable software and hardware have already materialised and become part of our lives. While the world appears to have been held hostage by the pandemic over the past two years, science and technology are still keeping their flow. What felt surreal yesterday have strangely become the reality of today. That’s why we depart from the idea that “Yesterdays’ fiction is Today’s realities” when we approach this year’s festival. We try to keep rewriting the possibilities of the near future while looking for fragments of old sci-fi. We try to construct a virtual dialogue with the public with our exhibits, through which we hope to get a hang of contemporary scientific research and fashion a future with your creativity.
Let’s start with something simple and straightforward. You must have heard of the tradition of giving chocolate on Valentine’s Day? Have you ever thought that the tradition is partly backed by science? Chocolate can trigger the brain to release endorphins and hence promote feelings of happiness and bliss. The tryptophan in chocolate can also help produce serotonin and phenethylamine can induce feelings of love. Perhaps the Valentine’s Day chocolate is a gift of love. From Cupid in Greek mythology to Yue Lao — the Chinese god of love and marriage, countless men and women have paid worship in temples for their pursuit of the other half. Many of them at least give a try and take a red string from Yue Lao temple. “Red Silk of Fate – Tamaki's Crush” by Sputniko! draws on an East Asian mythology in which god ties an invisible red string between those who are destined to be together. The artist puts a spin on the myth by inserting genes of a coral into silkworm eggs, so that the silk from the moths would contain DNA extracts from the red-glowing coral. When we understand that love is actually scientific, that a hormone is triggered when one falls in love (or simply hugs), inserting the coral’s gene into silkworm eggs produces oxytocin-induced red silk. The genetically engineered “red string of fate” is a result of a design idea that injects imagination into science. No matter love comes or not, creativity has already opened a new gate — welcome.
Have you even wondered who that is when you look in the mirror? Throughout the pursuit of self-worth, we have come across the seemingly perpetual question on existence and being when we read Sophie’s World. Given present technology, what appears in a mirror is not necessary a reflection of reality. It can be an interface that magnifies the reality. When a mirror becomes a camera lens, what do people see in the videos taken under the technology of deepfake? In an era where facts are almost inseparable from fictions, the ‘Star Wars’ deepfakes that went viral online and videos clips of an animated Mona Lisa become easily within reach. “Lend Me Your Face!”, co-created by Tamiko Thiel and /p, invites visitors to participate and improvise. You can choose to dive into a deepfake world and instantly turn yourself in a projection, embracing the magic of mixing the real with the fake within just a matter of few minutes. When a face is all it takes to unlock a phone, can visitors return to a state where they have that mirror that magnifies reality after having navigated between the private and public domains, fun and complex political messages? When the internet has fully penetrated the world, the fight between real and fake videos is deadlocked. On the one hand, there is a counter mechanism to keep deepfakes in check. In fact, Google started building an open-source AI database of deepfake videos for authentication purpose. The idea that everything has its pros and cons prompts endless conflicts and balance. What about the wrestling between humans and artificial intelligence? “Google Maps Hacks” by Simon Weckert manages to fool Google Maps and subsequently affect drivers on the road with just one person and 99 smartphones. The artist loads a red cart with 99 smartphones — each of which has opened the Google Maps app — and wanders around with it to create a virtual traffic jam. Would any drivers in the area who use Google Maps want to run into the “traffic”? Exchanges between the online and offline worlds are thus ridiculed. Artificial intelligence may be within our arm’s reach, how well do humans actually understand artificial intelligence which is inevitably sharing our future?
In his 1993 essay “The Coming Technological Singularity”, mathematician and author Vernor Steffen Vinge writes that, in light of the upcoming technological singularity, the new superintelligence would continue to upgrade itself and would advance technologically at an incomprehensible rate, and that would signal the end of the human era. What Vinge refers to back then is probably the development of artificial intelligence. The Singularity is Near, a 2005 book by futurist Ray Kurzweil, predicts that the singularity will occur by 2045 and the nonbiological intelligence created in that year will be one billion times more powerful than all human intelligence today. Kurzweil’s predictions are highly accurate and widely circulated online. Frankly, now is not the time to convince people to believe as AI is already rapidly advancing. As AI has invisibly made its way around the whole world, this is the time to learn more about this frenemy invented by humans so as to prevent a sticky end. The two robot series by Alvaro Cassinelli — “The Toro-Bots and the Generative Garden” and “Move on, nothing to see (Shy Bot)” — are robots developed by AI. They can look simple and cute, they can have names and characters, also certain curiosity for humans (and learn about human reactions). But the more human-like they are, the more they remind the possible arrival of technological singularity. The interactions between the two must involve observation of each other. There is also a third “eye”; the introduction of CCTV has prompted many to talk about 1984. Surveillance is here everywhere. And that of course does not simply mean humans watching each other, but surveillance developed by technology. Known for his approach to issues of technology and privacy, Dries Depoorter uses AI surveillance technology in “Surveillance Speaker” so that the audience can hear what the spy camera sees, while being able to interact and counter-control the people and things it shows (and broadcasts). The world’s civilisation has become so complicated that it is impossible to be void of sentiments despite rapid scientific and technological advancement. Perhaps this is what a computer cannot calculate. The artwork “Co(AI)xistence” centres on the subject of emotions — can a machine learn emotions, as humans cannot be void of sentiments? Do relationships exist only between humans? Are they possible between humans and things, or between humans and machines? “TFN/ Technological Finding Netbot”, a collaboration with Taiwan’s Future Media Arts Festival, uses a real-time computing programme and displays LED columns created from real-time stock quotes from a NFT sales platform. It allows viewers to read and worship the information and showcases a foreseeable resurgence of sales made possible by technology.
No one knows what lies ahead in future. Even though many futurists and prophets have made multiple speculations, what we can see with the naked eye is still the contemporary world. However, a heart that loves to listen to stories can always help pass the torch on. Besides in the form of text, stories can be passed down by word of mouth and artworks can outlast generations. The word “can” alone implies countless possibilities. This “yesterdays’ fiction” weaved together by science and technology will soon become a seed that leaves a mark on the hearts of passers-by and grow into a spiritual animal that can tell sci-fi stories after being nurtured. Stories of yesterday become today’s business. As Mark Twain writes, “History doesn’t repeat itself, but it often rhymes.” When yesterday belongs to the past and tomorrow is unpredictable, we can only pat the dust off our clothes and press on with science and technology as the compass.
Note: Established in 1996, Microwave International New Media Arts Festival embarks its 25th anniversary in 2021. We have gone through so much with members of the public under the banner of different annual curatorial directions. “Connecting The Dots”, inaugurated online in early 2021, features interviews with a number of media art practitioners in a bid to delineate a map of Hong Kong’s media art development through a series of online curation. “Connecting The Dots” is launched again during this year’s festival, so as to connect as many dots and lines and planes as possible both online and offline and create a real yesterdays’ fiction.
許多幻想存在於創作的泡泡裡的時候經常被認為不切實際，例如多年前「廿一世紀殺人網絡」的紅藍藥丸又或者「鋼鐵人」裡面長年出現的立體投映與即時改裝設計鐵甲的軟硬件操作等，有些似是遙不可及有些卻已經早早出現在身邊。這兩年當全球被疫症弄得似時光停留，科技科學仍然堅定串流不息，一些昨日的似是而非在今天卻變得那麼真實，是故今年藝術節以Yesterdays’ fiction is Today’s realities作為策展開拓，一邊找尋過往的科幻碎片段一邊編輯近未來的可能性，透過展出的作品去嘗試與群眾建構一場虛擬對話，在裡面找著當今科研，用閣下的創造力衍生一段未來。
照鏡子看看自己的臉，有沒有一刻疑問過那是誰？在找尋自我價值的過程中，我們讀過《蘇菲的世界》，因為存在或如何存在似乎正是那永垂不朽的問題。今日鏡子在科技加持下變成裡面看到的不一定是現實的對照，它可以是擴張實境下的介面，那當鏡子變成鏡頭，喀嚓一聲再透過深偽技術而成的錄像，人們看見的又變成什麼？真假難分的世代來臨，由網上普及流傳的星戰換臉錄像， 到讓蒙娜麗莎在畫框裡活過來的影片，都變得垂手可得。蒂勒‧多美子 及 /p合作的《借借你個樣》讓觀者即興參與，在閣下選擇進入深偽操作的世界， 把自己配置在即時的投映裝置中，在數分鐘裡可體驗真假顛覆的神奇；一個人的臉可以成為解鎖手機秘密的鑰匙，於是在私密與公開之間，在好玩和複雜的政治訊息中，觀者會不會像似回到照著那面擁有擴張實鏡的鏡子當下？在網絡全面介入世活中，與真假視頻的角力死磕到底，一面深偽就有另一面壓制，兩年前其實谷歌就已開始進行人工智能(AI)開源的深偽檢測集以進行真偽識別。但每每甫一想到什麼都有正反，巡迴不息的對抗與平衡就會產出；人與人工智能之間的角力又怎麼樣？西蒙‧韋克特造了《虛擬塞車》，一個人加99部智能手機便可以先騙倒谷歌地圖，繼而影響現世在駕車的各路人士。打開了99部手機的谷歌地圖，用手拉車裝著手機們四處徒步遊走，一場網絡虛擬塞車就能輕鬆上演，那些看著谷歌地圖的駕車人士哪敢塞過去？線上線下就這樣互通訕笑，人工智能的近在咫尺，作為命運共同體的人類到底有多了解人工智能？
1993年同為數學家及作家的弗諾‧文奇(Vernor Steffen Vinge)在他的名為《技術奇點即將到來》(The Coming Technological Singularity)的隨筆中說：藉由即將到來的技術奇點，新的超級智慧(Superintelligence)會持續自我更新，以技術上不能理解的速度不斷進行，並宣告人類時代的結束。現在看一看，不難想像指的就是人工智能發展。而及後未來學家雷蒙‧德庫茨魏爾(Ray Kurzweil)在2005年所撰寫的《奇點臨近》(The Singularity is Near)一書中預測奇點將於2045年發生，時候到了，人類的能力會被徹底推翻，因為一年內人工智能所創出的智慧會是今日人類所擁有的智慧十億倍之強。雷蒙基於科技的預測命中率之高，可隨意在網上搜查，老實說這不是要說服人們相信的時候，而是人工智能已在高速前行，在肉眼無法看見的情況下全面包裹世界，多多了解這個由人類發明的友敵同體的時候，知己知彼以免死無葬身之地。由阿法羅‧卡西內利所創作的兩個機器人作品系列《燈燈燈櫈》及《走吧！走吧！沒什麼好看的！(害羞機器人)》都是以人工智能開發的機器人，外型可以簡單可以可愛，他們有名有性格，對人有一定的好奇心(他們也會學習人的反應)，他們可以越來越似人卻又令人想起奇點來臨的可能性，在兩者互動之間兩者都有觀察對方的必然。同場還有第三隻「眼睛」；由CCTV到來已有不少人提及《1984》，裡面的監控無處不在，那當然指涉的不是單純人看人，而是科技發展下的監控。擅長探討科技與隱私的命題，德賴斯‧德普爾特以《監控揚聲》以人工智能監控技術讓觀者一試現在即聽監控揚聲立萬，但同時閣下可以以肢體互動，反控裝置看到(說出來)的人事物。世界的文明變得如此複雜，一方面談的是科學科技神速驅進，同時又不能脫離情愫，這也許是計算機無法精確運算的一環，作品《與愛(AI)同在》勾起情感的一筆，人們無法全然忘情，此情是機器可以學習的嗎？此情只發生在人與人之間還是可以在人物或人機之間？同場的最後還有與台灣未來媒體藝術節協作的《線上爬》，用即時運算程式以LED立柱形式陳列在NFT銷售平台的即時買賣資料，讓觀者讀數膜拜，呈現一場在可見未來由科技而來的人世間買賣復潮。
沒有人知道未來怎麼樣，即便有許多未來學家或預言家造出推測，肉眼看到的仍然是現世，然而一顆愛聽故事的心會讓薪火傳承，故事不一定要以文本流傳，可以口口相傳，可以以作品流世，就單單「可以」這兩個字已具化作萬千的可能。這一場由科技科學編譜而成的「今未來」即將成為烙在路過的人心裡頭的一顆種子，終會吸收養份長成曉得娓娓道來近世科幻(故)事的靈獸，昨日之故今日事，有空多讀書，像馬克‧吐溫(Mark Twain)寫過：「歷史總是驚人的相似，但不會簡單重複。」(History doesn’t repeat itself, but it often rhymes)，昨日之日不可留，明日之日既然不可預期，我們就拍拍身上的粉塵，以科技科學作羅盤砥礪前行。