Artificial Intelligence and the Planetary Sublime

Markus Kanzler

Much hope rests upon the shoulders of artificial intelligence as the tool to deliver us into a terraformed sublime. Markus Kanzler’s beautiful floating planet is a vision of order, control, and harmony. It’s intoxicating sereneness hovers alluringly next to Benjamin Bratton’s call for a more intentional and worthwhile terraforming.

The image of a factory in Shenzhen not as a factory but as a ‘garden of machines’ jolts me from the spell.

In luck, I’m also reading Kate Crawford’s Atlas of AI: Power, Politics, and the Planetary Costs of Artificial Intelligence which reminds that artificial intelligence is an ‘extractive industry’ reliant on ‘exploiting energy and mineral resources from the planet, cheap labour, and data at scale’.

Lithium, an essential ingredient for rechargeable batteries, is a paradigm example of this extraction. Lithium mining is toxic and ecologically destructive, but we are addicted to our smartphones.

David Maisel addresses mining in Desolation Desert. The images are abstract and beautiful, but they are not a view from nowhere. They show an already terraformed sublime. A consequence of the remote Atacama Desert becoming part of the planetary.

Lithium Extraction, Chile, 2018 © David Maisel

The conceit of planetary data and artificial intelligence is that they will lead to planetary intelligence, which is akin to planetary wisdom. There is no objective function for the multiple futures which are due.

Wisdom exists in not being seduced or horrified by artificial intelligence or the planetary sublime and instead to understand them as sites of aesthetic, ideological, and political power.