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Painting by Numbers: Digital Technology and the Art of Living

ABSTRACT: The digital relies on computation. Programming uses algorithms. Algorithms are sets of rules that solve problems in a finite number of steps. In this sense, the digital world is governed by quantities, numbers, fixed rules. The degree of freedom seems to be very limited. Artistic agency and creativity, on the other hand, rely on openness, freedom, and qualitative experiences. Such experiences are not only vital to artistic expression but also to everyday life. Technological life-worlds as they are represented through current technologies (e.g. smart homes or automated driving) and science fiction do not seem to accommodate such open structures. The philosophy of technology is divided: Many hold that to a large extent technology determines human cognition (such as Mark B.N. Hansen, Bernard Stiegler) and thus subordinate human cognition to mechanical organizations. Others take a different approach and reflect on the creative potential of new technologies (e.g. Erin Manning, Jaime del Val).
This article discusses theories that address the human-machine relationship as complex structures that go beyond the dystopian idea of humans being transcended or incorporated by technology. Such approaches are central to the discussion on the future of human beings and cultural-political shaping of life-worlds. To understand how human-machine relationships can be framed as open and creative processes, I present epistemological accounts of embodied cognition, artistic examples of performance strategies with algorithmic set-ups, and finally embed these aspects within a broader picture of conceptualizing technology and human life as a continuum rather than standing in opposition or being determined by the other.
KEYWORDS: Technology, Artificial Intelligence, Experience, Phenomenology, Art.