Hosted by Open Austria on behalf of The Grid
With an ambition to celebrate collaborative artworks that explore the interplay of artificial and human creativity, Open Austria, on behalf of The Grid, hosted the first virtual eVe Award Ceremony at South by Southwest 2021 on March 17th. The Grid’s co-founders Clara Blume and Martin Rauchbauer moderated the ceremony, welcoming esteemed guests such as EU Ambassador to the US, Stavros Lambrinidis, and Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff, as well as the first eVe award winners European bestselling author Daniel Kehlmann and American philosopher and AI scientist Bryan McCann.
The eVe award 2021 honored “AI Storytelling,” a collaborative, artistic exploration initiated by the Open Austria Art + Tech Lab in February 2020. Daniel Kehlmann and Bryan McCann explored the role that artificial intelligence tools, called natural language processing models, could play in storytelling. Language models are trained to predict which words are most likely to occur given a prompt from the user - the words, to borrow Calvino's phrase, likely to “give birth to one another.” McCann had designed a new language model called CTRL to give users more control over the AI text generation process. Working together, Kehlmann and McCann explored a novel mode of storytelling that integrates AI as a collaborator. While CTRL generated suggestions based on internalized statistical patterns of language use, Kehlmann deftly wove those suggestions together, at times cutting them, diverting them, or subverting them, in order to “test the extent to which words could fit with one another." By introducing an artificial collaborator into the process, “AI Storytelling” produced moments of surprise, laughter, disappointment, and awe. The collaboration contributes to a broader narrative of how AI might be used as a tool of self-reflection, allowing us to investigate our language, our stories, our histories, and ourselves.
The virtual ceremony was made possible through a powerhouse of three multiple-award-winning Austrian design companies. The eVe logo and animation were designed by Dockyard Creative Studio. The new eVe trophy was designed by Julia Koerner, who 3D printed the 100% bio-resin trophies and designed the trophies to represent the merge between art and technology. The moderators were situated in front of a #PocketStage, a mobile, cardboard-constructed TV studio setting designed by Papertown.
The conversation started with Ambassador Lambrinidis emphasizing AI Storytelling as “an outstanding example of how art and technology can amplify the impact of each other by melding them together.”
Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff shared the important observation that “Technology itself is never good or bad, it’s what we do with it that matters,” further stating that The Grid offers a unique opportunity to showcase art as a tool for technological exploration for good.
Further into the discussion, the panel’s participants came eye to eye to the fact that the line between machine and human is a rather blurry one. This collaborative, interdisciplinary project changed their perspectives on storytelling and AI. Kehlmann was faced with having to think on a deeper level about the mechanisms that writers use when it comes to storytelling - it is not just language that plays an essential role, but also the underlying dramaturgical expectations of both the reader and the writer. McCann pointed to the crucial role that AI can play in this process, by giving us a better understanding of how we use language and how we consequently create meaning, an essential question when thinking about the future of technology in the Digital Age.
Echoing Marc Benioff, Eric Loeb, the Executive Vice President of Government Affairs at Salesforce, underlined the importance of a human-centered approach to technology through using multiple perspectives. In his words, “It’s about the importance of engaging and understanding different perspectives and of reaching out of one's comfort zone to engage with people who have different experiences and different views and Daniel and Bryan express that so nicely. [...] It’s about the process of engagement.”
“Innovation, however, needs collaboration. And the ability to identify such collaboration, to let them grow, to let them bloom, is essential - and this is what The Grid does. It creates a space for this conversation. It brings together the worlds of art, policy, and technology and it [...] brings together people.’’ - Ambassador Lambrinidis
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By Lena Kopetzky