Wednesday, 26 September 2007

Google Ads Loves All Its Children

Doing the good ol' vanity search on Technorati, I came across a blog linking to my roundup of links regarding bacteria. I won't link to them, for the sole reason that they are a site whose main focus is in drawing ad-link clicks, disguised under a thin veil of fashion content. At first glance, with the clean and pleasing interface and fancy quotation marks, one is drawn in with a feeling that perhaps the blog is maintained by a quote hungry fashion student. Then when one looks at the 80 posts written so far in September, you start to notice things like, well...

Spam, of course - for ads. That's not entirely offensive, although certainly in bad taste -- but I am always fascinated by the levels of bad taste that are reached through odd, and traditional techniques. Cut up spam messages some times strike me as so horribly wonderful that I save them and keep them for later - because somehow in the mad frenzy to sell me vicodin, valium and viagra, the random string of words sets off this chain reaction within me to find meaning within the passages, and consider the possible symbolic significance within them -- even though I know they are impossible gibberish, or generated randomly.

Looking at the spam splattered across the ad-blog, I get this dystopian shudder of a world of content controlled by machines, who cannot fathom the meaning of the work they produce. Today I was digging on Technorati to find information on 'big apple cake'.. And this is one of the first results I found: quote quote. I tried several more searches on 'big apple cake' but after 10 minutes I got tired, gave up and posted this entry to 'Big Cakes'. Still, I think it was an interesting time. A cornucopia of meaninglessness, to reel in mouse clicks -- production under false pretenses, which wouldn't be so offensive to me, only there is the sense of banality surrounding the whole ordeal which makes me grit my teeth.

I think it might be a niggling feeling that, if I was to presume that human beings sense of consciousness is an evolutionary accident, purely a function created so as to avoid getting mauled by lions on an open savanna, we are in a sense like blog fogger used to generate ad-clicks. Perhaps al the meaning we try to install in the languages we use, aural and visual, is ultimately meaningless gibberish. Like the spam generators compiling these linked blog entries next to their lines of ads, we cannot fathom the ultimate meaning of the life-content we produce.

The utopian side of me -- which is for the moment stronger them my dystopian side -- tells me that the very realisation of our lack of understanding ultimate meaning, or the possibility of ultimate meaning not existing outside our consideration for it, facilitates understanding of self-meaning, thus validates the, er, validity of our thinking and attempting to create meaning in the first place. Ultimately, the quest for meaning is meaningless and impossible on a grand scale -- the much more interesting aspect to me, is the thinking about meaning in the first place.

Regardless of my gibberish (which is only slightly more evolved than that of spam...), I start to wonder if the ongoing research in AI leading potentially to synthetic intelligence, will allow for a wider context of meaning. What creates meaning? Or value? Can we make a machine understand meaning, and if we could, would it be ethical for us to force meaning upon that machine?

I am faced with the argument of meaning/value every day at school - internally from within my course, and externally from other factions at my University. A machine can be made to produce a painting in the style of Pollock, but why is one worth a substantially large amount more than another? Meaning we invest in the artist, not the work itself? I'm not sure. Film and fine art students tell me digital medium (my medium of choice!) is less valid, because I am working in a less tangible way - not with the physics of light to film, not with the chemistry of paint to canvas, but the mathematics of binary which have been dressed up fancy with coding and packaged into aesthetic GUIs. We are still in such a position where our physical counterparts, two party interaction between body and objects, are considered pivotal to creating meaning.

When you record a scene in digital format, there are three parties -- the object, the virtual representation, and yourself. In Photoshop, there is the compiled image, the virtual image, and yourself. In synthesised music - the sound, the virtual sound, yourself... Writing on a computer is an illusion of writing - the reality is the words I see are symbolically there, but that doesn't take away from their meaning -- because of the human interaction.

Which makes me feel obliged as a Human to expand my own understanding of general context, connections between things and possibilities things have in relation to one another. If context equals meaning, it might be the thing separating me from being generated spam.

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