Im not interested in the emotions of a computer

Art and digital Modernism – a talk

Christoph Thun-Hohenstein and Eva Grubinger / photo: Christian Wind

If digital technology is radically changing the world, we need art as Utopia. It has to free us from the almighty power of algorithms and become the core of a new, humanist Modernism – thus the words of Christoph Thun- Hohenstein, General Director of the MAK Austrian Museum of Applied Arts / Contemporary Art, on this year’s VIENNA ART WEEK motto. Art – and here Thun-Hohenstein and artist Eva Grubinger are in complete agreement with each other in their conversation – plays an important role in the discourse on digital Modernism.

Christoph Thun-Hohenstein: New innovations crop up every day; we lost the overall perspective ages ago. Science always wants to achieve new breakthroughs; firms are interested in the success of their digital business models. However, it’s less clear where the overall picture of these developments is negotiated. Especially here I see great demands being made on the arts and art institutions to place these themes in the limelight. The development of digital technology isn’t a marginal but a crucial issue for our civilization.

Eva Grubinger: Artists have always grappled with technological developments and have come up with new technologies when they needed them for their works. Many themes that arrived in the mainstream had been anticipated in the arts. However, I get the impression that in the past more critical questions were posed. Initially the Internet seemed to many to be a space with enormous freedom potential, but it has lost this nimbus now. Technological progress harbors dangers that many people are not aware of. Every posting, every Google search trains artificial intelligence. In the near future the brain itself might become the hub of a constantly growing network. But I don’t want my brain to belong to someone else. In the 1970s we heard the cry “My body belongs to me!” Today the slogan is: “My brain belongs to me.” I see a challenge in this for artists to create new images for these processes.

Christoph Thun-Hohenstein: Artificial intelligence is only possible when machines are trained through our activity. The revolution came in 2007 with the introduction of the smartphone. It has turned us into permanent data suppliers. Many of us organize their whole life with the smartphone, both at work and during leisure time, which makes it possible to collect data on the majority of people. Based on the data we deliver, it’s possible to create targeted options for ourselves, to manipulate ourselves, even by way of politics. But people aren’t sufficiently aware of this. Social media are seen as a gratuitous option, while in fact they are the very opposite of this. We are paying a high price in the form of information and data that we disclose, and we get nothing in return. I’m not saying it’s all bad, but after the initial euphoria we are now realizing that the new technologies are in thrall to commerce. A new movement has to kick in so as to exploit the technologies for long-term, sustainable interests of mankind – keyword: ecological footprint. Algorithms are perfect for changing attitudes and promoting a quality-aware culture and quality growth instead of mass consumption. This isn’t a question of budget, but of awareness and the availability of more sustainable, affordable options. We can’t afford to do “business as usual” any longer, either in the arts, in industry, or in social politics. Science is already working on a super intelligence capable of overtaking us human beings and manipulating everything that is digitally controlled today. We have to be careful now already to avert total manipulation of our everyday life.

Eva Grubinger: But we’re right on track for this to happen! We don’t have to wait until a super intelligence comes, the danger is already here, even if the advantages seem to outweigh the disadvantages, as is claimed for instance in medical applications. If we place the access to loads of information on the same level as intelligence, we’re on the wrong track. The idea of intelligence is to learn something, develop something. It’s often claimed that artificial intelligence would relieve us of this very aspect and so bequeath us more time for the good things in life. But the acquisition of knowledge, work, feelings, new experiences with one another … all of this is the very secret of a good life. I don’t want a computer that has emotions; I’m not interested in the slightest in the emotions of a computer.

Text by Silvie Aigner:

Silvie Aigner studied art history at the University of Vienna, with postgraduate studies in cultural management at the Danube University Krems and a doctorate from the Art History Department at the University of Applied Arts Vienna. She currently works as an author and curator of international and Austrian museums and collections, mainly in the field of contemporary art. Aigner has been editor-in-chief of the art magazine “PARNASS” ( since May 2014.

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