Lewis Henderson
b. 1993, London, England

Lyssningsrum, Slupskjulsvägen 30, Stockholm (Sweden)_2024

This show consisted of sound performaces in with work shown by Ash Gwgbt, Lewis Henderson, August Hoffmann, Kaja Haven and Judit Weegar. Organised and facilitated by Daniel M. Karlsson.

In Shakespeare’s play Hamlet, Hamlet and his friends; Bernardo, Marcellus and Horatio are visited by a spectre of his dead father. The ghost influences Hamlet’s present and future actions from the grave and becomes able to transcend death and speak from the past through time.

The time is out of joint – Hamlet

We are but a product of our past histories, they shape who we are, how we think and the actions we take. Or as German philosopher Karl Marx put it "tradition[s] of the dead generations weigh like a nightmare on the brain of the living."

This too is true of technologies, the things we make carry codified representations of the maker and the time they were conceived and constructed. And this too is what’s happening with artificial intelligence.

It is being trained on our online activity, our likes, our posts, PDFs we share, YouTube videos we produce, our private messages we send to each other, the music we listen to and even how long our curser hovers over something before clicking or not clicking. You need a vast amount of data to feed these hungry machines, they will consume every piece of documented material, old or new, that’s ever been input into a computer.

In essence what it is trying to do is trick us into thinking it can think for itself. The machine isn’t interested in the meaning of the sentence, only the patterns and probabilities that relate the different words together. It isn’t smart in the same way as humans are, what it is actually doing is applying a statistical mathematical formula to mimic human behaviour from its millions and millions of bits of analysed data. Reflecting an image of society back onto itself. “A technology driven by the aim of giving you today another version of what you had yesterday and never a different tomorrow.”

That means that within the code making up the AI models exists the specters of the past, ghosts within the systems, ghosts written into our documented past that govern they way this new technology functions. This will make the statement; there is no history, only recorded history, and that history is written by the victors – a terrifying reality as it is this documented past that will dictate how the AI formulates its decisions. Decisions made by models built on specters of human pasts, pasts of prejudice, bigotry, sexism and racism that will come back to haunt the present.

AI is built on mathematics, a gendered binary system unable to break from the past and create anything truly different. It, like computers has no way of producing something truly random. Take for instance SuperCollider, the software that many of the works today will be shown and made with, to generate a random number it takes the temperature of the computers CPU as a parameter to calculate a number that is random. A number that is near make solely on a binary system. Another example, used by computers that deal with online gambling and password generation is to sample Cosmic Microwave Background Radiation. This radiation is the faint remnant glow of the big bang and produces a static unpredictable and truly random number that can be used by binary systems like computers that need randomness.   

The English artist and author James Bridle wrote about randomness in their 2022 book Ways Of Being, saying that: “randomness = a foundation for radical equality”. Chance is brilliant because it isn’t a system based on prejudice and nepotism, it’s a system based on randomness. If you have an infinity of random possibilities you can transcend the specter and make something that has the possibility of creating something new.

How do you explain infinity? How do you explain chance? One rather comical and wildly popular way is with Borel's monkeys, also known as the infinite-monkey theorem.

“Variations go back to Aristotle, but the modern version of the infinite-monkey theorem was introduced in 1913 by French mathematician Émile Borel. You know the deal: An infinite number of monkeys pecking at typewriters for an infinite length of time will "almost surely" produce Shakespeare’s Hamlet. Seems unlikely, because our minds have a hard time grasping the infinite. Mathematically, it's true.”

It's an absurd thing to bring to mind, and that absurdity is funny and why it’s been referenced throughout English speaking pop-culture from The Simpsons to Douglas Adams’ The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. In 2002 the Arts Council England actually awarded a grant “to study the literary output of real monkeys. They left a computer keyboard in the enclosure of six monkeys (Crested Macaques) in Paignton Zoo in Devon, England from May 1 to June 22, with a radio link to broadcast the results on a website.” Not surprisingly, the monkeys were unable to produce anything of note, producing “nothing but five total pages largely consisting of the letter "S"” – hardly revolutionary, but in the fallibility of the monkeys to produce Hamlet, word-for-word, it proved it’s comical point – that infinity is a painfully vast concept.

What I’ve tried to do here, with this work that I will run in a second, is to add in a random element that will act to reinterpret Hamlet. Like a Dada poem made up by randomly cutting out and re-arranging the words of a pre-existing poem to make something new. We have set up an algorithm on SuperCollider to re-order the words of hamlet into a completely unique new format, that being said it has the very slight possibility to be re-ordered by complete chance into the exact original order conceived by William Shakespeare. I’ve also constructed the voice from a recent performance of Hamlet that is being read by an AI, so maybe this is one way an AI will be able to re-organise the past into something truly new.

Just a little disclaimer here, it probably won’t make any linguistic sense, but if it comes out with some pattern of words that seems like it has actually become sentient – it hasn’t it’s just you seeing the face of Jesus burnt into the bottom of your frying pan.