bonfires and robots

Victoria Ward
Victoria Ward

At a bonfire on the weekend, and in rural Ontario this is a fairly normal occurrence – to be at a bonfire on the weekend, I was given a lovely little catalogue for an exhibition I did last year. The exhibition was themed around ideas of local and all the artists involved lived in my rural county. The essay in the catalogue deconstructed the idea of what it is to be local (or not) and was hilariously well written. It did make me think however that this whole concept of local isn’t so easy to define.

For a decade now, we in Ontario have been subject to an overwhelming amount of local-culture-promotion and that attending it, buying it, eating it and wearing it makes it the best solution to everything from right wing extremism to environmental catastrophe. I hadn’t been thinking about the idea of local when the shocking violent attack upon unsuspecting citizens in my former home Toronto happened last week. Suddenly the biggest city in Canada became a very ‘local’ place where people helped each other, cared about each other and said hello to each other (something that city has been unfairly accused of not doing). If you are familiar with the city you know that it is essentially a very large collection of neighbourhoods. People don’t just say, “I’m from Toronto” they also say, “I live on the Danforth” or “I live in Leaside”. The violent van attack that happened last week where people were killed by a very disturbed young man happened in Willowdale – a large area north on Yonge St. Even if you have never been to Willowdale, if you’re a Torontonian you know it because it is part of a larger idea of ‘local’.

Artists Chris Hanson & Hendrika Sonnenberg’s Booth Street exhibition showing local artists. The catalogue mentioned was for this lovely, local event.

That larger idea is perhaps a latent desire to be a part of something – a local place where you get to know the coffee shop people, the mechanic at the gas station, the guy behind the fish counter etc. People who live in Toronto love this about Toronto. I live in a very small place where everyone knows everybody and being ‘local’ becomes a different desire than in Toronto. Being local where I am simply means you are not just here for the weekend. The bonfire party had for the most part people who had moved into my area, not people born up here. In some ways this is another layer of local as there are the local who are born into a place and then those of us who choose where to live. Toronto is remarkable in that it is a place where people from every corner of the earth have chosen to live. Variations on the idea of local abound in a place like Ontario.

Which brings me to robots. If you are in an industry and think you will never be replaced by a robot you are wrong. Everyone can be replaced by a robot. However, if you are smart you will begin training yourself to be the human interface with your robot colleagues. Say you are a teacher, a robot will be taking over your curriculum however individual students who have problems interacting with the robot teacher will need a human being to help make the learning and connection smooth and productive. I continue to hear people say that robots can’t be artists – but they already are. There are many artists who are making machines their art work and using technology to remove themselves further and further from the process. This is fact, not science fiction.

One of my concerns is will robots know what being local is?

When people think robots they think this. Though dystopic T2 inspired my love affair with technology.

One would assume a robot will be Chinese made with an American interface like a Smartphone – you know, the robot in your pants. So, how to make that local? If your community doesn’t know how to interface or add a local app to the robots coming to your neighbourhood how do we negotiate what is local with them?

The Airbnb platform is essentially technology that assists you in finding and creating accommodations. They are slowly beginning to include local guides/experiences with their site (unless they get kicked out of all the countries they are in, but I think a good business decision for them would be to start playing by the rules which I bet they will do). Eventually they will have an AI aspect to their app that you can use so that you will know who the best barber is on Hunter Street in Peterborough or where is the best grilled cheese sandwich in Sudbury. And this app may also include the robots and the human interface employee’s (let’s call these people HIEs) names who work there. Suddenly you can be in Macau or Brampton and you’ll feel local because you will know all the robots and HIEs there. That world is coming. In many ways it is already here.

But what if something goes drastically wrong like it did in Toronto? Robocop would easily hunt the van down and perhaps take that screwed up guy peacefully like that amazing cop did but what about the stunning love and kindness showed toward the hurt by the local people and businesses? Can we count on robots to be thoughtful, and compassionate? The people in AI I know say that may never be a possibility. Are we then going to have Troy types from Next Gen empath-ing all over the place? Please, no.

When it comes to local, being in a place where you feel you belong, are known and know others makes you want to care. This is at the core of why this ‘local’ movement is still a very real thing. Being local perhaps is a state of mind – a human mind.

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