Distributed Consciousness

Memo Akten

Distributed Consciousness (2021) is a multi-faceted work that spans themes of artificial intelligence, distributed computation, distributed cognition, evolution, phenomenology, ecological awareness, climate change, activism, and cephalopods.

The project consists of two NFT collections on the ecologically friendly Tezos blockchain. The first is a collection of 256 (28) unique cephalopod-like tentacular critters🐙 created using artificial Intelligence / machine learning. A month after this collection was released, a secret was revealed: every one of the 256 images has text cryptographically encoded in it – a verse, hidden amongst the pixels and invisible to the human eye, but readable by code. The entire collection of images is in fact a poem, a book, a manifesto, and every cephalopodic image is a verse from that poem, a page from the manifesto. Furthermore, the entire text was generated with AI. It is a human-machine co-creation and a meditation spanning consciousness, free will, life, death, art, technology, ritual, ecology, economy, and sustainability. As part of the secret reveal, each verse was also released as an audio-visual reading. These are also in their own collection.

Cephalopods are not only incredibly intelligent, their intelligence is extremely alien to us. Only 10% of their neurons are in a central brain, while the rest are distributed across their body, with two thirds in their tentacles. In a sense, they have a decentralized nervous system. Distributed Consciousness draws parallels between the distributed computation performed by smart-contract based blockchains and the distributed cognition of cephalopods. The project also uses the extraordinary alien intelligence of cephalopods to reflect on the new synthetic alien intelligences we are building in machines in the form of AI. Taken together, the project invites us towards a de-centring of human exceptionalism and to face our final Copernican trauma - to face the realisation that we may not be the sole keepers of what we think of as intelligence, creativity, or even consciousness. As a result, in these times of ecological collapse and urgency, we are invited to let go of the dangerous dichotomy of Man vs Nature, and instead embrace the interconnectedness of all human, non-human, living and non-living things across manifold scales of time and space, and to actively work towards multispecies flourishing.