Professor’s New Book Explores Impact of Emerging Technologies on Art

By Tom McLaughlin

Sculptures that morph telekinetically with a sculptor’s thoughts. Moving gallery images that interact with viewers. “Living art” that merges living organisms with inanimate materials.

While it all might sound make-believe, says LiQin Tan, it’s actually closer to reality than you think.

Singularity Art covers more than 50 examples illustrating how future art could be driven by technological singularity.

In the art world, affirms the Rutgers University–Camden researcher, “future leads today” – so, like it or not, we’d better get used to the idea.

For the past several years, the artist and art professor has been busy telling anyone willing to listen that the future of art is – and will continue to be – invariably impacted by technological singularity – the notion that artificial superintelligence will trigger runaway technological growth, resulting in previously unforeseen changes to human civilization.

“The concept of singularity is already being explored and discussed widely in fields such as futurology, science and technology, anthropology, physics, and economics,” says Tan, a Cherry Hill resident. “Why should art be any different? This is the new direction of art; no one can escape it.”

Tan ventures where many are still reluctant or skeptical to go in his new book Singularity Art: How Technology Singularity Will Impact Art (China Machine Press, 2018).

The book covers more than 50 examples illustrating how future art could be driven by technological singularity. The cases are based on technologies that have been already revealed in research labs or predicted technologies that may soon be on the horizon.

As Tan explains, current research in the field is based on the integration of existing art tendencies and the exponential growth of technology suggested by Moore’s Law, the observation that the number of transistors per square inch in integrated circuits doubles about every two years. These inquiries explore potential art across a range of fields, such as artificial intelligence, quantum mechanics, biotechnology, nanotechnology, smart materials, and 4D smart printing, among others.

“These advances could result in significant revelations in contemporary art, design, animation, film, and science fiction,” says Tan, who is head of the art animation program and teaches a “Singularity Art” course at Rutgers–Camden.

According to the artist and researcher, a major shift in the technological singularity era will be the merging of biological (human) intelligence and non-biological (AI) intelligence. Nanorobots would be located in the blood, brain, and nervous system, enabling humans to interact telekinetically with materials outside the human body.

It’s not much of a stretch, says Tan, noting that nanorobots have already been introduced to the blood stream to detect cancer and destroy tumors.

“Humans and machines would merge, and human would evolve from ‘homo sapiens’ to ‘homo optimus,’” he says. “This evolved state could also be called ‘post-human’ or ‘post-biological.’”

Tan maintains that advances in technological singularity could result in significant revelations in contemporary art, design, animation, film, and science fiction.

In another example of singularity art, says Tan, sculptures may someday be made from AI smart materials, incorporating a multitude of autonomous abilities and qualities, such as deep learning, self-assembly, self-adjustment, self-parameterization, and self-adaption.

Such sculptures, he explains, could be flexible and constantly changing in terms of material mass, architectural construction, shapes, and surface color. Moreover, these changes could be influenced by weather or environmental changes, or through interactions with humans and other living organisms.

“The possibilities are endless,” says Tan. “Such art completely subverts the millennia of traditional, classical frameworks – the concept of an ‘eternally still’ sculpture.”

For the doubters, says the Rutgers University–Camden researcher, it is important to take note of current art practices that are already being driven by emerging technologies. This includes AI art; bio art, which incorporates living organisms and tissues; interactive art; 3D printing art; and nanoart, which creates art using electrically charged particles.

“These emerging categories help inform what future art could look like,” he says. “More importantly, technological advances could usher in nothing short of an art revolution in the coming decades.”

However, cautions Tan, various social, cultural, and ethical conflicts may arise as a result of technology’s unintended consequences.

His next book, Singularity: Subversive BioArt (Guangdong People’s Publishing House), due out by the end of 2018, explores the unchartered world of bio art, which allows artists to use genes, DNA, and cells to create living artworks.

“Of course, we always think that everything new is a monster,” says Tan, who, for more than two decades, focused his art on ink-brush drawing on rice paper before being introduced to computers in the early 1990s.

In the end, says the Rutgers–Camden artist and researcher, technological advances continue to be made at an unfathomable rate; it’s up to us as humans – and artists – to realize their untapped potential.

“In the art world, if you do something that no one has ever done before, you call it ‘creative,” says Tan. “Technological singularity has the ability to alter our course and open up a new world that has never been explored before.”

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