Introduction | Chun-Mei Chuang

by Critical Asia

by Chun-Mei Chuang, Dec. 2023】

Our times have many names. Every name designates a hope, a future, a syndrome, or an unbearable excitement that complicates our image of thought. The age of ChatGPT as such a name does not imply a holistic diagnosis but another form of unequal development and a peculiar line of divergency initiated by the “knowledge economy.”

Now, there is a particular genre of user guide, “How to use ChatGPT,” published by public sectors, private companies, and higher education institutions, as well as all kinds of tutorial videos on YouTube. For example, “Guidelines for Using ChatGPT and other Generative AI tools at Harvard” reminds the users about their responsibility as content co-creators.

You are responsible for any content that you produce or publish that includes AI-generated material: AI-generated content can be inaccurate, misleading, or entirely fabricated (sometimes called “hallucinations”), or may contain copyrighted material. Review your AI-generated content before publication.[1]

Not unlike the distribution of responsibility, the redistribution of creativity also becomes problematic, even more so when humanist dignity is in jeopardy. The fine line between reality and “hallucination” has gradually transferred from the clinical field to our daily lives as netizens and actual virtual community members, overwhelmed by the proliferated lines of divergency and convergency.

At the end of 2023, “Rethinking the Virtual in the Age of ChatGPT” issue comprises eight articles from Taiwanese scholars and artists on relevant matters, all touching on diverse dimensions of living with generative AI, as well as the slippery distinctions between the real and the virtual, the human and the machine, and the actual and the possible.

Chia-rong Tsao provides a concise yet non-reductionist account of the “new” virtual. Tsao suggests we need to understand the “phenomenon of hallucination” in ChatGPT from a de-anthropocentric perspective that considers the hybrid — “human” and “nonhuman” — elements in producing the content.

Shih-Chian Hung draws attention to the notion of digital technology as a potentiality that requires a posthuman approach to fully grasp the human condition and broaden possibility amidst a “non-fixed, complex environment.” It is precisely in a more-than-human era that we can reevaluate “humanity.”

Chien-heng Wu discussed several debates concerning generativity and creativity in large language models. Wu points out that the “question of vulnerability of human and non-human, the living and the non-living” is crucial and urges us to care for the world already permeated with conflicting possibilities.

Han-yu Cory Huang tackles the kernel problem of neuronal plasticity by engaging with Catherine Malabou’s intervention in psychoanalysis. Echoing Malabou, Huang cautions about neuroscience’s “political liberation of the brain” as its scientific discourse reproduces a “normalizing form of democracy.” Democracy is always at stake when discussing the virtual, the human, and the possible.

You-Sheng Zhang thoroughly unpacks the notion of “the virtual in process” and its various developments, especially in artistic and literary fields. More than virtual reality (VR) and artificial intelligence (AI), decentralized networks (DN) focus on “building a world structurally distinct from the current state” and show a peculiar interest in imagining an alternative world.

Enkaryon Ang evokes the literary image of “speech spirit” to illustrate the generative practice of ChatGPT. Ironically, we as creative beings live among so many versions of exact likeness that we are the only ones who can help ourselves.

Catherine Ju-Yu Cheng presents a nomadic imagery of the virtual from a Deleuzian point of view. When “individuals transition into dividuals” in our daily interaction with algorithms, we shape the data while simultaneously being shaped as “data doubles” by it. Cheng asks the inevitable question: “Where lies the potential for escape?”

Yi-Hua Wu’s discussion of artist Pierre Huyghe’s UUmwelt indirectly responds to Cheng’s question. According to Wu’s interpretation, Pierre Huyghe’s installation activates a dialogue between “the natural and the artificial intelligence realms.” UUmwelt evolves and “embodies a hybrid ecological perception.”

If “each moment of life is split up as and when it is posited,” as Henri Bergson said a century ago, and the virtual serves as a “mirror-image” of the actual, we are living in a house of mirrors that blind us sometimes with its dazzling interplay of light and shadow.[2] The virtual has been and will always be an integral part of our existence. We better keep evolving creatively.

Chun-Mei Chuang, Professor, Department of Sociology, Soochow University, Taiwan

[1] Harvard University, “Guidelines for Using ChatGPT and other Generative AI tools at Harvard.” Accessed 30 December. 2023.  

[2] Henri Bergson, Mind-Energy Lectures and Essays, trans. H. Wildon Carr. London: Greenwood Press, 1975. 165.

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