Kevin Mack is a VR artist who has created a series of surrealistic immersive experiences including Zen Parade, Blortasia, and Anandala. Mack starts with mathematically-inspired geometric forms that are generated by collapsing a 5-dimensional icosodohedron down into 3D space in order to create a series of uniquely interconnected tunnels that allow the user to endlessly navigate. He then adds some psychedelical fluid shaders that are resonating at specific frequences to induce different levels of brain entrainment (more details on that in my previous interview with Mack).
At the Spatial Realities art show in October 2018, Mack was showing off the latest iteration of his next project, which is titled Anandala. It has a lot of structural similarities to Blortasia, but a big difference are the blorts who respond and react to your movement in such a compelling way that Mack feels like he’s on the cusp of creating some profound perceptual illusions of what feels like a level of creative and behavioral intelligence. Inspired by principles like embodied cognition, neuroscientist Craig Chapman likes to say “movements provide a window into deciding and thinking.” I learned from going through Mack’s experience, that we typically think of as “intelligence” may be based upon how an entity reacts to us based upon our movements within an environment. Moving in an unpredictable way that’s reactive to our own movements seems to be a critical threshold in our judgement of the intelligence of artificial agents within virtual environments.
Tuning these artificial agents has proved to be both time consuming and tedious. Mack uses a genetic algorithmic approach that involves “directed randomness” with random over production, and then selection based upon some criteria. Mack says that usually intelligence serves the function of selecting for competition, conflict, predator/prey relationships, selection pressures, environmental pressures, and resource management. But entities in virtual environments don’t follow the same type of resource constraints that biological systems do, and so Mack wants to cultivate conscious artificial life forms that are native to virtual environments that are based more on love, cooperation, and creativity rather than competition and conflict.
I had a chance to catch up with Mack at the Spatial Reality show back in October 2018 where we talked about his cultivation of these artificial life forms in Anandala. We also unpack how he architects for wonder and awe by,trying to find the sweet spot between order and chaos. We thrive on perpetual novelty, and so once we recognize the patterns of an experience, then it quickly becomes boring. The challenge for Mack is that in order to counter this dynamic and to maintain a constant regenerative feeling of novelty means that he has to create an experience that is in a state of constant evolution. It’s a tricky balance because we like to be able to predict things, but we like to be surprised. So we don’t want to be able to predict some completely, because it becomes boring. And we don’t want to be surprised constantly, because that quickly becomes overwhelming. Striking the balance means that the novelty generates a lot of learning, and results in a lot of dopamine hits.
Mack believes that there are universal patterns to design the character of these objects, and he’s determined to experiment and come up with the different mathematical parameters to help attune the fundamental qualities and character of these artificial intelligent blorts. It’s a slow process of establishing parameters, setting ranges, experimenting with adjusting plasticity of how random it can go, and then a series of manual adjustments followed by a slow process of observation. Mack says that humans have no problem with assigning a character or personality of these abstract objects moving in an unpredictable and non-human way. He’s hopeful that interacting with these types of entities could help to catalyze an expansion of consciousness and that there could be other immersive experiences that could lead us to the shortcut the road to enlightenment. He’d love to technology help to create a world that’s free of conflict and disease, and that provided that we’re in alignment and integrity with ecological sustainability with our technologies, then perhaps it’ll eventually allow us to be able to do anything, be anyone, and go any where. With so many potential dystopian potentials for the future of artificial intelligence, Mack wanted to provide a counter example of AI that is compassionate and collaborative, and helps humans reach into our own potentials for Art, self-expression, creativity, entertainment, and storytelling.
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