Still20 20 Posthoc20 London20 Salon20 Summer20202320 20 Michael20 Muthukrishna20 Agnieska20 Pillat
Aug 17, 2023

Embracing the Future of Humanity with Art & Artificial Intelligence - Michael Muthukrishna & Agnieszka Pilat (video)

Hear perspectives on humanity's relationship with technology from a professor of economic psychology and a robot-assisted artist.

By Templeton Staff with Posthoc

Dr. Michael Muthukrishna, author and professor of Economic Psychology at the London School of Economics, is interested in "who humans are, how we got here, and where we’re going." His research explores what distinguishes humans from other animals, and the psychological and evolutionary processes that underlie culture and social change — including how information is transmitted, maintained, and modified. He looks for ways that what we learn from examining these topics can be used to tackle challenges to human flourishing. With funding from Templeton World Charity Foundation (TWCF), he is examining the intelligence of human collectives.

In anticipation of his forthcoming book, The Theory of Everyone, we invited Muthukrishna to a salon discussion, co-moderated by Andrew Serazin, president of TWCF, and Susan MacTavish Best, founder of Posthoc. Robot-assisted visual artist, Agnieszka Pilat was also invited as a speaker on the panel. The event in London's Shoreditch area brought together the community for a lively conversation about the co-evolution of humanity and technology. Listen to a podcast that captured the discussion.

During the conversation, Muthukrisha shares, "There's what I consider four laws of life — or lenses through which you can look at the world. They are energy, the innovation and efficiency with which you can use that energy, how we cooperate with one another, and the rules of cultural and genetic evolution in shaping all three.” Muthukrishna explains, "In a 'nutshell,' the theory of everyone is about the rules by which people learn from one another, and how those rules changed us and our societies. It’s also about how they will continue to do so in the future."

Cooperation with each other and with technology are key to humanity's next steps. Muthukrishna notes that when societies reach a higher level of "abundance, they have excess energy. And that can be put toward making your place nicer." This can be through art, through music, through innovations. "Reaching that next level of energy abundance is critical for advancing our future. But to reach it, we need to work together."

Pilat, as an artist, works closely with two different robots as painting assistants. She explains why she's not afraid of co-evolving with artificial intelligence (AI). "The AI machine-learning models are totally skewed because AI lives on the internet, and we don't live in the internet — we live in the real world! There's a disconnect, and that's why you see disturbing data." Pilat contends that there's no reason to be afraid of how fast technology is moving, and that if anything we should see ourselves as a parent of its evolution and be conscious of how we use it as an extension of our minds.

Once the floor was opened up to question and answer, so many hands were up that Muthukrishna commented on how coming to salons like this makes us more clever as we grow curious and engage. But for many, these types of in-depth conversations with like-minded people take place online. "I think the biggest thing the internet has done has given small groups of people who are interested in very niche things the chance to find one another, to grow as a community and attract others," says Muthukrishna. "It's empowered cooperation. It has empowered our ability to find and assort with other people who are interested in and share our values...And make you not feel weird."

Human connection empowering cooperation was one of the big takeaway messages of the evening, and both panelists encouraged us to not be afraid or take for granted how far we've come as a globally-connected society. 

There was also some conjecture about whether AI is a tool artists can use to create or is creativity something an AI can learn. Muthukrishna muses, "We might be able to describe how artists are learning from one another and trying to reflexively take, recombine, but also distinguish...We might even be able to talk about the way that AI and generative AI might be able to come up with some of these things. But if we were able to go back to the beginning universe and rerun it, we would probably discover that the world is made of atoms, and we would probably discover that there's a periodic table, and we’d discover that the Earth goes around the Sun and not the other way around. But I don't think we would get back Mozart. We wouldn't get back Lana Del Rey. We wouldn't get back those key bits of art. You would never be the same twice. There's a uniqueness there that is very human." Pilat explains how she sees this from an artist's perspective. "No machine is the artist. It's part of the ecosystem. I come from classical painting, I'm not an artist-engineer. I'm just an artist and I think as artists we embrace new technologies to express ideas — for storytelling." She points out storytelling is part of art and humanity, and it's key to finding creative solutions to global challenges.

Both panelists are optimistic about the future. Pilat emphasizes that "the conversation [around AI] needs to shift from 'them versus us'. We live together. Especially, I want to highlight that in the medical field, a lot of problems are going to be solved because of new technology and because of AI." Muthukrishna says, "I recognize that there are multiple potential futures ahead of us, and the decisions that we make today will determine which of those futures is our future. I'm optimistic because I think there have been these rapid changes where for the first time we understand the system. My hope is that spreading that understanding will allow us to mitigate threats, and to pick a more abundant future, and realize the potential of our species."

The interview was peppered with musical interludes, brilliantly performed by local London musicians, rapper Madame Gandhi and soul singer J. Warner. Hear both the conversation and musical performances via the Posthoc Podcast on Spotify, Apple or wherever you listen to podcasts.

Listen to the Posthoc Podcast here for the full conversation.

POSTHOC Salons by Susan MacTavish Best celebrate the power of gathering by bringing people together to share ideas, stimulate conversations, spark connections, and build community. The salon series POSTHOC hosts with support from the Templeton World Charity Foundation asks thought-leading experts what it means to flourish.