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Undoing Gracia (ESR 5)

How the self becomes undone in the algorithmic borderlands

The pervasive integration of artificial intelligence (AI) technologies in society’s cultural fabric, for better or worse, is challenging established research methods within design and HCI in terms of how we understand and study the self in relation to the world mediated by AI. In an era where predictive systems are designed to achieve certainty, predictability, and control, we increasingly rely on simulations or twinning technologies that create abstract representations and illustrations of reality to make sense of the self in the world, implicating the self as a fixed data subject. As a result, such predictive systems risk reducing one’s sense of futurity by steering us towards probabilistic actions and decision-making. 

In response to these developments, the experiment Undoing Gracia, takes up ‘queering’ in relation to first-person research in design as a fundamental reorientation towards the self in relation to algorithmic systems. The experiment explores queering as a means to disturb legacy boundaries and centres within HCI research – particularly that of user-centred or human-centred design. It does so by asking:  If we see ourselves as multiple and becoming with and through human-AI relations, how might we research such relations? How can predictive futures remain imbued with potentiality? And what might the inquiry reveal about shaping AI systems that actively render the world knowable to us? To address these questions, Undoing Gracia works towards an initial exploration of what queering as method might provide in the design of AI predictive systems through the (un)making of an Agent-Based Model (ABM). Conceptualised, designed and implemented as a borderland, Undoing Gracia draws inspiration from Gloria Anzaldua’s Borderlands La Frontera, The New Mestiza (2021), taking issue with normalised, fixed orientations towards the self within HCI. Within the experiment, Grace positioned herself as a data subject integrated into the ABM to explore how selfhood and, by extension, the futurity of the self is interpellated through human-AI co-performativity and relational becomings within the simulation. Effectively, Grace created a subjective digital twin of their world named Gracia, inhabited by three generative agents named Lex, Tortugi and Luna, who were modelled on Grace’s lived experience, personal memories, and personality traits. In other words, they are Grace’s subjective digital twins, who she co-performs with for the duration of the simulation. The total simulation runtime lasted three weeks, starting in 2023 and ending in 2072. By then, the log of conversations was 107630-word long, 92 new locations were created, and agents mutated 55 times. 

In the Sonic Utopias radio show, Daphne Xanthopoulou hosts a conversation with Grace Turtle and their collaborator Blazej Kotowski to reflect on the conseptualisation, design and implementation of Undoing Gracia. Together they discuss different aspects of the experiment, examining the expression, embodiment and enactment of Gracia and its agents, such as how agents performed with each other, how they hybridised, and how narratives about the world of Gracia shifted over time. 

Listen to the radioshow here: here

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