Tim Sandys is an artist in Glasgow, Scotland
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The Whole Brain Emulation Residency And The Simulated Artist


Technological advances in computing power and a broader understanding of cognitive neuropsychology are informing speculation as to 'post-human' or 'transhuman' futures – a scenario visualised and informed by artistic input. Digital replication and simulation of increasingly complex neural structures are developing alongside discourse as to the nature of artificial intelligences and the digital augmentation of existing human cognitive processes. In the event of simulated consciousness existing in an experiential temporal digital environment, questions arise concerning the nature of an artistic practice within the simulated world. Models of futurity in literature, film, philosophy and computational neuroscience suggest several likely iterations of simulated digital environments in which a replicated consciousness may conduct an artistic practice. This discussion will examine these dynamics and their implications for the artist, individual and audience.


A defining characteristic of h.sapiens is tool-use. An increased cranial capacity in primates correlates to the enlargement of prefontal lobes recognised as an adaptation concurrent with socialisation and stratagems for competition within social groups1. As such, the transmission of culturally useful information or 'best practice' has incurred tool use to facilitate efficiency in foraging (agriculture), grooming (washing) and violence (weapons). In keeping with all forms of living matter, such adaptations are artefacts of 'entropy survival' – the promotion of behaviour advantageous to the maximum replication of DNA across time. The utility and complexity of tool use is invariably associated with the act of replication. Observation of tool-use leads to remembrance of the action. Remembrance may be translated into a verbal description. Verbal description may be transcribed into a pictorial form (crucially surviving death of the individual). The pictorial form may be abbreviated into writing and translated into other languages. Eventually, successive incidents of tool-use have been compiled, banked and accessed socially, bridging geographical and temporal boundaries through replication. The casual nature of DNA's propensity for entropy survival has escalated to a point where the molecule's descendants share a drive for the prolonging of living experience through replication of information and the tools to do it. Humans now have the fastest, most information-dense and distributive sources of replicable tool-use of any species. Humanity is as concomitant to habitat as tool-use is to replication.

Until very recently, replicable tool use has tended to favour the augmentation of motor skills over the cognitive. Advances in numeracy, mathematics and computing has led to microprocessors and digital memory inhabiting machines so ubiquitous within contemporary technological society that they underlie almost all new advancement. Moore's Law2 remains unbroken within the parameters of everyday electronic capacity and the latest strides in quantum computing hint at processing power several orders of magnitude greater in the years to come. Immense data storage, once at a premium, is now available to domestic audiences at affordable prices on a scale that dwarfs the market of a decade ago. Accordingly, new software utilises this combination of faster processing power and enormous digital memory to run ever more subroutines simultaneously, accessing more lines of code, enabling richer digital experiences and solving increasingly complex problems at ever faster speeds.

With this capacity, changes in the ability to replicate and enhance the tools of the human condition have significant implications. Physical objects are now capable of being represented digitally at greater resolutions. Indeed, many are designed entirely on a digital platform before manufacture in the physical world. Isometric, ergonomic, demographic and other performance criteria can be collated and simulated digitally before such an object need be prototyped. Not only can substances such as glass be simulated in a digital environment to explore and manipulate structure, properties such as refractive index, tensile strength or heat tolerance can also be simulated. A glass drinking vessel may be modelled, and 'run' in such an environment in such a way that patterns of virtual light from an arbitrary source of illumination can also be modelled. Instating a temporal parameter, the 'running' of time in a digital environment, allows the simulation of the glass to be pushed from a virtual table, fall and break into a pattern of digital shards that replicate common physical experience. The greater the resolution of the simulation – that is, the level of detail to which the glass structure, table, floor and atmosphere through which it falls is modelled – then the more 'realistic' the simulation appears. As processing power and data storage become faster and more accessible, the greater the realism of these simulations. The entertainment industries have been the major beneficiaries in arranging ever more convincing visual simulations. Greater resolution implies greater realism in creating imagery that is close to physically impossible yet convincing to the eye. Gaming products give the participant the illusion of interaction within a simulated environment. The gamer is capable of imposing their will upon a closed system. Seemingly realistic objects or characters within the game-design may be altered in real time dependant on the choices of the player or players. Rudimentary artificial intelligence and 'real-world' physics engines are often in play to reciprocate. The popularity of such entertainment products is a major drive in the bettering of simulation technologies.

Better technology leads to more impressive and marketable visual experiences. The high budget cinematic industries too bank their latest releases with the promise of ever more remarkable visual effects. Motion-capture, virtual characters and sheer spectacle draw from these same technologies of simulation and replication providing an economic feedback that in turn drives new advances in a context beyond the academic. Indeed, the perception of these technologies has been associated with entertainment, glamour and intrigue since the eighties, informing humanity with the potential for future worlds irrespective of technical understanding. It is worth noting that despite the technical underpinnings of the computing technology that make up the generative fundamentals of these immersing visual experiences, the acceptance of the term 'artist', as it is applied to the makers, has been an easy process. The joyless world of coding has been enveloped by the narrative of numinous creative thought, albeit with a keyboard and mouse in hand rather than a quill or hog-hair brush.

The simulated world is now accepted. Whether simulated glass breaks, seedlings sprout, shadows stretch, characters act or bullets impact, the viewer understands and accepts the digitally simulated world. There is, however, a crucial and subtle transition under way in the digital platform – the increase in computing power will soon allow the modelling and simulation of objects at the atomic level. This is a transition from simulation to replication. By definition, if one reproduces a thing at an atomic level it is experientially indistinguishable from the original. One may argue that a database recording the exact positions and energy states of every atom in an object is nothing like the original object but this argument only applies inside the original object's frame of reference. Objects will soon be modelled at the atomic level and 'run' in temporal virtual environments not to provide a simulation of a visual representation of that object's materiality, but to exactly replicate that object itself. Within that world, that object is as real as its physical counterpart. It is not merely a seductive image on a screen - it need not exist on a screen at all. It need not be observed at all for it is just as profoundly physical at its component level. The clever digital simulation only approximates how light might look as it bounces off the object's surface, but the atomic-resolution digitally replicated object is of essence itself to the only criteria of relevance; that is how its very molecules are arranged. The ramifications of this principle are unavoidable. Life itself can be replicated and run in a digital world. From single cell protozoa to herds of multi-cellular organisms, life can respire, reproduce and evolve within a digital world. Valuing consciousness above DNA's replication, the human imperative would be the functioning and awareness of mind in this frame of reference. If one replicates the workings of an organism that not only possesses neural structures but also forebrain adaptations beyond the medulla and neocortex, one must accept that consciousness as real as the one capable of processing this very text can exist in a digital environment, with all the concomitant ethical and philosophical implications.

Humanity is again familiar with the notion of the digital 'mind'. After all, it has been imagined by artists and writers as well as scientists. It is instructive to consider the various iterations suggested by the speculations of fiction and research alike. The beginnings of the narrative of machine intelligence are easily exemplified in the structures of Jaquet-Droz – the mechanical memory seamlessly hidden within the guise of doll-like automata. The sustained impact of Lang's Maschinenmensch upon popular culture exemplifies the notion of the human closeness to a technical reflection of the corpus – a mechanised interpretation of the body that maintains agency and purpose despite the all too frequent trope of enslavement and eventual emancipation or revenge. Regardless, it is notable that the familiarity to which culture adheres when dealing with the concept of machine intelligence has its beginnings with the simulated human form, be it mannequin, puppet or robot. The ghost in the machine is borne of a reflection upon our physical forms, not a reflection upon the mind.

The beginning of the empathy or the projection required to postulate a machine intelligence lies in proximity to flesh or the 'otherness' of the human-made facsimile of the artificial human. This proximity to physicality and the captivating strangeness of the non-living human form is again the territory of artists. The power of the non-human-yet-human image has been distributed with measured control by those trained in artistic technique and driven by creative impulses. Again we see a closeness between the technologies of simulation and artists as much as with technicians.

The advent of the computer age saw a keenness in the cultural accommodation of the narrative of a technical cognitive presence analogous to a human mind. Memorable characters were created at a time when public (and academic) perception of the computer simplistically combined 'memory storage' with 'thinking processor' and called it 'consciousness'. Although an immense underestimation of the brain, the experiential sameness of this simple equation created empathy with characters such as Joshua from War Games (1983) , Zen from Blake's Seven (1978-1981), and, perhaps most famously of all, HAL 9000 from Kubrik's 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968). HAL's position in the canon stems from a profound development in the portrayal of the mechanistic psyche. In an otherwise emotionless screenplay, HAL is the one character that appears to manifest a casual, if awkwardly pleasant demeanour. There is a sense that 'he' is imbued with a form of personality that may be more emergent than programmed. That Bowman and Poole cannot accurately testify to the validity of HAL's status as conscious suggests an ambiguity that is existential in incept rather than coded. Pathological concerns diagnostically hark to the post-Freudian psychological mainstream. HAL's unresolved conflicts regarding mission parameters manifest as anomalous behaviours in true hysterical and paranoid traits3. In his disconnection, we observe HAL's mentality deteriorating, his dementia reducing him to an infantile state as moving as any biological decline. Finally, HAL's character arc in later fictions see his mentality liberated from the physical destruction of his circuitry as the mysterious forces of alien omnipotence preserve sentience beyond physical matter. This pseudo-spiritual transcendence nods to the classic human superstition of a conscious essence inhabiting the architecture of its own agency. Even in a hallmark of futuristic projection, Kubrik and Clarke pander to the misapprehension that we possess bodies rather than are bodies.

HAL represents a breakthrough and a closing-off of the cultural understanding of machine consciousness. Through a need to equate the artificial mind with a human progenitor, artists and fellow 'creatives' had romantically misled culture in its fictional representations of non-human humans. From this point, cinema and literature sought validity through a feasible representation of machine intelligence based upon closer regard to developments both in information technology and cognitive neuroscience. Problems had arisen for the intuitively convenient recipe of 'memory plus processor equals brain'. Not least of all, the issue of memory 'storage' within the human brain became increasingly abstract as it became apparent that no one anatomical location could be identified as analogous to a hard drive. The greater understanding of the role of the hippocampus and mRNA transcription in the formation of new memories has opened a broader field of study. Further, the malleable and unreliable nature of memory and the discovery of false memory implantation through hypnosis or psychic driving clashes awkwardly with the absolute clarity and definition of digital storage. Electro encephelogram data reveals, among many unknowns, the conscious brain can only be deemed so through a question of degree, not merely one of conscious or unconscious; on or off. The psychiatric criteria that assess pathologies such as epilepsy or personality disorder have followed suit in this quantitative over absolutist approach.

Artists and writers have slowly recognised that the plasticity and uncertainty of human consciousness has clashed with their classic narrative of machine intelligence. Consequently, fiction has developed new postulates that allows for cultural indulgence in the possibility of advanced machine intelligence through varying simulation strategies. The AI that occupies the automaton in 2014's The Machine is an amalgam based upon a learned set of responses exhaustively accumulated over time. Mannerisms and facial expressions are acquired from a database built from long hours of collating photographic studies. Stephenson's Revelation Space introduces the crew of The Nostalgia for Infinity to Calvin – a long dead crew member who exists as a non-corporeal digital mentality, created by the ship's immense computing power over thousands of hours of recordings of speech, mood, posture and response to create a composite personality indistinguishable from the original – so much so that he insists on his right to 'live'. Garland's Ex Machina (2015) portrays a range of robotic females – their formidable behavioural proximity to humanity revealed to be a result of amassing the data search habits of the global population. In each of these cases, a version of humanity has been simulated through a 'brute force' mathematical approach. Sheer computational might has been used to amass and compile human behaviour that can then be interpreted as intelligence by the viewer. Assessed by Turing criteria4 alone (and there is no philosophical motive to assess by any other) then these intelligences would pass as human and would be subject to the same ethical considerations as the subjects their simulations were based on.

This approach of generating machine intelligence is less dependent on the intricacies of cognitive psychology (a laboriously slow research paradigm unsuitable for the glamour of cinema or the grandiose scope of contemporary science fiction literature) and has the benefit of drawing from the perception of the impressive expansion of bandwidth and memory storage that is both common knowledge and currently economically accessible in the western world.

The acceptance and familiarity of humans to the prospect of life with machine intelligence is mainstream. Even where discord, violence and dystopia result from the futuristic narratives available in popular culture, we are accepting because the story arc is likely a tried and tested fable and as such, conflict is usually resolved even if science fiction often doesn't cater to those happiest with a happy ending. This applies due to the creative, artistic manifestations of fiction regarding artificial intelligences and their stylised human yet not-human shells. The integrity of the self is not challenged because the viewer or reader recognises an inherent humanity in themselves that does not apply to the simulation. A fundamental disconnect still exists – a prejudice. The replicated intelligence is another matter. Its technological genesis places it within the same set of assumptions and judgements likely imposed upon the simulated human, yet as the ultimate (and logically absolute) example of the 'brute force' computational approach, it is inarguably as valid a sentient being as the human it was cloned from.

The development of a replicated consciousness is an anthropic certainty – that is, it is permissible by the laws of physics. If it is deemed advantageous to human experience and computing power continues to escalate, it will likely happen in the coming decades. The precursors of such an achievement are apparent today. The Blue Brain initiative is continuing to achieve its mission goals which include the digital modelling of a rat's neocortical column – this requires the structural modelling of over 10,000 cells and 108 synapses.

The simulation requires the supercomputing abilities of hardware beyond domestic usage but the project is on track to model the cellular human brain by 2023. The project's objectives include the molecular mapping of a human brain as it allows for the modelling of gene expression.

Such ambitions are attainable using existing technology – existing processing power and memory capacity. With the advent of convenient quantum computing (the first experimental processors are already commercially available), such a molecular simulation can be put through a series of temporal 'state changes' in which simulated electrical charges move through dendrites, digital protein receptors accept digital neurotransmitters across digital synapses and signals traverse from digital neuron to digital neuron. This brain will experience the molecular mechanics of biological processes that comprise cognitive function. An extension of this brain will be the optic nerves to retinas, vitreous humor, lenses, sclera and cornea, all capable of transmitting signals from simulated light entering this brain's virtual eyes. A sensory system can stimulate this brain, bringing it an experiential input awaiting interpretation. A rudimentary digital 'environment' for this nervous system comprising limbic system, somatosensory input and all the trappings of a human body equip the brain with the tools of sensory capacity, motor skills, ambulation, reflex, respiration and investigation: human life exists in a digital platform – not simulation but replicated life itself. Parallel to these very real advances, the artistic world of creative fiction and cinema is writing and visualising these futures. The Wachowski's Matrix trilogy (1999-2003) flirts with the technology as a means of revelling in a spectacular and overblown quasi-spiritual epic. Greg Egan's Permutation City and Diaspora both speculate on human consciousnesses evolving in digital environments over time-spans that run into billions of years. The very real prospect of this new future of humanity is feeding current creative thought.

Parallel with the creative speculation, a great deal of academic input is going into the field of whole brain emulation (WBE) which is largely defined by the transference or 'copying' of neural information from a biological substrate into a digital device. Contributions from Sandberg and Bostrom among others are dealing in the very precise hypothetical mechanism by which this process may be achieved. The most compelling strategies under research suggest a process of 'scanning' of neural tissue at the highest resolutions (such as PET5 scanning, etc) with a view to mapping energy states of cortical structures in a digital composite. Such an approach is working towards the 'brain in a jar' paradigm – that is, the presence of cognition without sensory input. Regardless of the enthusiastic reaching of science fiction and therefore easy dismissal, this research is legitimate and ongoing.

Given that the success of this prospect is possible within the parameters of understood physics and is achievable in the near future, one must ask what benefits stem from such an undertaking. The creation of a new form of humanity raises immense ethical questions and there is much cause for concern. Not least of all, one must consider whether the 'quality of life' within the digital platform is suitable to the introduction of any organism capable of feeling pain or distress. One must ask whether it is ethical to replicate the mechanism within a nervous system that can be traumatised, stressed or malfunction. It would likely be considered unacceptable to replicate a subject and introduce them to a digital platform without having the facilities available to administer treatment in the event of health problems or distress occurring within that environment. So accepting that the negative aspects of existence can be just as debilitating to the self regardless of a biological or digital platform, one must assess the merits of extending a branch of humanity into this new frontier.

The satisfaction of the animal drive for survival is not to be confused with the imperative of immortality. From one perspective, the push for survival has evolved as a mechanism through which the replication of genetic legacy can be maximised, concomitant with the inter-mingling of genes from donors or 'fellow survivors'. The other perspective is a product. It is the corollary of instating the knowledge of the need for survival within the conscious mammalian brain. Crudely, survival has equated with the avoidance of death. In the digital environment, the individual may literally enjoy a level of existential continuity and personal 'entropy-avoidance' first as a cognitive mechanism and secondly as a social entity to the conclusion that they may describe themselves as immortal. Granted, extreme temporal spans may be not be advantageous to a healthy mentality. Perhaps evolutionary baggage contains an insurmountable death-drive in the individual that demands satisfaction. It is likely, however, that the same evolutionary baggage will insist upon a prevailing will to live. In this environment, one must ask if immortality was its own reward. A need for experiential capital combined with the urge to seek entropy-avoiding strategies will bring artists into this new frontier. Simulated human life definitively will bring its behavioural evolutionary baggage into such a world. This baggage contains the artistic impulse.

The creative individual has made imagery, written stories, animated, sculpted, speculated and fantasised and generally help shape so much of our understanding of futurity, machine intelligence, AI, replicated intelligence and alternative realities - first from a fantastical, romantic tradition and now using the very real advances in technology to inform the very real possibility of the creation of digital human life. When focusing on the nature of this 'life', it becomes apparent that the same creative thought will be replicated itself in this new frontier. One may consider the presence of creative or artistic will in this environment with speculation informed by three assertions. The first assertion is that a digital environment will be created within which replicated human consciousness can exist and enjoy temporal experiential capital. The second assertion is that such humans can exist in a social form analogous to current societies. The third assertion is that artists will participate within these societies and conduct artistic practices.

Humanity has a history of tentatively exploring new frontiers, setting up outposts along the way. It is not hard to imagine that the very first functioning humans in a digital frontier will be small in number, likely constrained by technical and psychological challenges. Orientation may be a harsh and prolonged set of experiences. Despite the tremendous scope for manipulation of a new and elastic reality, it is likely that a successful transition from flesh to digital consciousness would be best served by providing the newly arrived with perceived physical constants comparable to those they are most familiar with. Familiar environments, objects, gravity and light, would be among the facets of experience that would help cushion the sense of existential transformation. Given ethical approval, the subject may also submit to the manipulation of their emotional states lest they become overwhelmed or panicked by their new reality. This premise assumes the presence of a 'mission control' of some kind – an overseer of the foundations of the digital platform that has the ability to externally monitor and possibly alter the environmental properties of the digital universe as well as the cognitive processes of its inhabitants. Given time, it is just as likely that such fundamentals be controlled from within, either by healthcare supervision or the individual themselves. The presence of an artist within this first frontier outpost may not be welcome. It is likely that the first inhabitants be professionals from occupations involved with neuroscience and computing. A technocratic power dynamic would likely pervade such an undertaking and it is likely that the expenditure of data-computation would be at a premium. As such, technical concerns surrounding maintenance and survival within this environment would supersede any actions deemed non-essential, frivolous or inconsequential. An analogy may be drawn with power structures involving exploratory vehicles developed within the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. The technical advances necessary to develop, say, the space programme were concomitant with the rigid disciplinarian authority of military bodies. The first crew members of the US Shuttle programme and subsequent ISS were fighter pilots. Cosmonaut, Alexei Leonov was expected to become an artist and may even have been able to produce artwork aboard the Mir space station, but his position in history as the first human to walk in space was assured by his air force career, not his artistic leanings.

The outpost is the harbinger of community. Assuming that technical challenges are met, problems resolved and the frontier expands, the beginnings of society may allow for the presence of the matured artistic practice. The principle challenge the artist would face would be one of economics. A digital universe operating on the precise replication of atomic energy states is inefficient. For example, if one were to take the hypothetical digitally replicated glass mentioned earlier in this discussion and drop it to the floor, it breaks. Shards of glass propagate in an entropic display that would have to be calculated to the atomic resolution in order to achieve the maximum experiential realism. Given that data computation rates are 'capped' – that is, there is only so much that can be calculated at any one time – it would be simpler to have an archived coded representation of 'breaking glass' that could be replicated whenever it was required. This algorithm could then be deployed in such a causal event instead of resorting to the exhaustive real-time data demands that such an innocuous event incurs. This data-economical 'abbreviation' could also extend to biological systems. For example, transmission of signals from a fingertip through millions of replicated cells to the eventual interpretation by the brain could be represented by a simple neural-signal algorithm without having to resort to the brute-force calculations of individual cell structures; cognitive interpretation would remain unchanged. In environmental perceptions, the Brownian motion of airborne particles effecting the refractive properties of the atmosphere seem an unlikely computational indulgence when considered through the prism of the aesthetic appreciation of the viewer for whom it exists. Why does wind need to actually blow when all that is required is the sound of it against the side of the house? These economies of physical properties of the digital world would be vital in a society that is populated by people who wish to manipulate it. Thus, just as the economic demands in the physical world are a reflection of the individual's agency, the economic demands in the digital world are the same albeit one reflected by data consumption as the fundamental resource. As such, the artistic practice requires data as its principle expenditure. Artistic produce as output would be the sole justification of this 'digital residency' and its demand on the data budget of the society.

Given that such a society would function on the economic access to data consumption, it is conceivable that an artistic practice may operate on the prioritising of data availability to achieve goals. For example, an artistic product which relies particularly heavily on data availability may reach a resolved conclusion as a result of the sacrificing of data constraints required by some other aspect of the artist's practice. A further strategy would be temporal manipulation. If a particularly data-heavy project exceeded that required to bring it to a resolved conclusion, the artist might have the option of working within an independent, closed-off environment in which data was processed more slowly. This would allow for the same relative consumption of data but over a longer span of time. The artist may work in this temporal cordon in which their own perception of the passing of time would be experienced normally. However, to the outside member of society, the artist would appear to be operating much more slowly. This arrangement would allow for work to be completed at a rate manageable to the data capacity of the environment; effectively and authentically.

Artistic product itself could be accessible by the artist, their community, and also the physical world. A curious relationship may arise between the digitally replicated artist and the 'real-world' market. Current 3D printer technology is impressive and continuing to advance, producing ever more complex forms out of an increasing number of diverse materials. At present, artists such as Eyal Gever can produce forms that are the result of almost exact physical interactions of materials simulated on a digital platform and then printed in a temporally frozen state.

This process results in three-dimensional forms compellingly reminiscent of a smashed sphere or cone, or even the splashing of liquid – not in an approximate render, but in a way that exactly conforms to the material in question's fluid, tensile and elastic properties, however they may be calibrated. The potential to create a physical version of a product that is mathematical and coded in incept and conforms to the ambient physical properties of that digital environment already exist. One can only guess as to how a simulated artist's status would fare in the contemporary art market. Although likely of more interest than elephants that have been trained to paint self-portraits, the removal of the artist's environment from that of the real world would likely be a divide difficult to initially overcome, particularly if the artist's product is restricted to printed and replicable forms or images.

Likely the most engaged audience to the simulated artist's practice will be the community within which they operate. The dialogue between artistic practice and audience remains at its most vital when shared experiences, engagement and isolation within society and closely associated cultural trappings inform the practice and vice versa. It is likely that an artist coming to terms with the restrictions and possibilities offered by the digital frontier will reflect their experiences in their work in a way that other members of the community can empathise with and respond to. With this in mind, artwork that references the changed nature of human life to one of a digital platform would compete with subjects common to human experience as well as recognition of the potential flexibility of the very nature of the frontier universe's environmental properties. In short, imagery, form, performance and all today's recognised artistic expressions will continue to contribute to the society's experiential capital in likely very familiar ways. Additionally, the artist may develop new experiences for an audience by manipulation of materials on a scale hitherto impossible merely by will alone. For example, our current experience of art installations invariably acquiesce to the same gravitational pull and temperature suitable for human tolerance. In the digital environment, all universal constants conceivably may be altered in the pursuit of novel artistic output. Not least of all art forms, the discipline of architecture will become unbounded by engineering considerations imposed by material availability, tensile strength or environmental damage. It is creative thought alone that will be able to free the new human from the accepted confines of earth-bound dwelling in favour of architectural alternatives. The sculptor may summon objects instantly that are miles across. The film-maker may broadcast directly into the mind. The performer may replicate themselves into a sea of millions. Assuming that data concerns can be met or offset through algorithmic abbreviation, there is no reason to assume that the artist would not be capable of these feats and more. Perhaps most intriguing, the possibility of artwork altering cognitive process itself might be highly seductive to the artist. Knowing that one may control the responses of the limbic system, somatosensory neurology and other neural / glandular structures through code alone, the artist may be able to create new cognitive experiences that, although perhaps utilising existing sensory convention, are able to produce an artwork so utterly unique to sensory experience that it literally may be indescribable. Could the artist merge one viewer's memory with their own? Could the viewer experience shared consciousness as an artwork?

The digital frontier's apparent plasticity of environment is problematic. The prospect of total freedom to engineer replicated neurology is ethically dubious and the digital frontier's promise of entropy-avoidance may be a hugely naïve assumption. Although humans may be able to live in an environment in which they may be free from the ravages of decline and death, it is not to be assumed that the legacy of our primate ancestors would not also be allowed to evolve in such a world, with all concomitant aggressions and rivalries. Likewise, it should not be assumed that the position of the artist in this frontier automatically occupies a lofty social or academic status associated with enlightenment principles, stability and intellectually considered action. Transcending biological boundaries while preserving consciousness does not deliver Utopia. The nascent digital society will not allow its new artists to warp reality too severely in its early stages yet those very artists will yearn to dispose of the traditional restrictions of physical matter and accepted models of mentality. Pioneers will likely set restrictions based upon social order, health and other ethical considerations. Creativity will thrive so long as its first efforts achieve a balance between challenge and clarity.

The best indicator to the success of the creative mind in the digital frontier will be the creation of new life. Although biological sexual reproduction may be just as replicable, it is likely that coded abbreviation of the fertilisation and gestational stages will be desirable. It is possible that ethical considerations deny the vulnerability so commonly attached to the innocence of childhood in this world at all. New consciousness in whatever 'body' may simply be coded into existence, irrespective of animal impulse. Procreation, birth and biological evolution are issues so fundamentally linked to notions of newness that, regardless of the speculations highlighted in this discussion, it should be emphasised that technological leaps are unlikely to result in a precise transition from the physical society to a digital one. Rather, we will likely experience a prolonged epoch within the Anthropocene in which digital augmentation allows for a multiplicity of human expansions before any convergent behaviour occurs. It is likely that, for some time to come, shared inhabitants of the planet will consist of humans, machine intelligences and hybrids. Of the digital worlds occupied by new human societies, some may have extensive and active links to their Earth-bound progenitors, perhaps transferring their influence between the two worlds as they see fit – other digital worlds may be closed to all concerns but their own.

When imagining any one of these futures it is only an assumption that the persona of the artist or the perception of the accepted artistic practice would continue in a form that we would recognise. The identity of a 'citizen artist' only applies to a scenario in which society is recognisable. It is perhaps not so speculative to assert that, whether cerebral or digital, numinous thought analogous to artistic creativity will almost certainly persist and be recognisable as such. It is one of the key drivers and indicators of developing culture within any new frontier.

1Cranial capacity in social mammals has long been correlated to the degree of complexity of social function.

2Moore's Law has often been preserved as faith by commentators – the observation that the number of transistors in a CPU doubles approximately every two years and will continue to do so.

3 Hofstadter-Moebius loop – a fictitious psychiatric disorder of machine intelligences describing a situation supposedly not uncommon among advanced autonomous, goal-seeking computers.

4The Turing Test still remains a simplistic yet popular basis on which to accept machine intelligence as culturally 'valid'.

5Positron Emission Tomography – currently the highest resolution biological scanning process.



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