The Museum of Modern Artists
This story was written for Taeyoon Choi’s Concept and Theory Studio class at the School for Poetic Computation. The assignment was to write a science fiction story set 40 years in the future — from the perspective of a MoMA archivist tasked with restoring one of your works.
Waiting for the shuttle felt like forever today. Then, when I was approaching work there was a crowd of drones and holo-protesters blocking the the entrance. The autopilot can't tell the difference from real people, so you have to contact Luna Transit and have them manually override it to get through. Meanwhile you sit and look at the signs flickering: CLEAN WATER BEFORE ARTYFACTS, AI ≠ ART, and the old classic EAT THE RICH.
I started my rotation at MoMA Luna exactly one month ago. They say it takes you about a month to get used to living on the colony, but I can't say I'm convinced. I was hoping to at least work from my pod today but had to go in for a special case, so here I am again staring at Earth above, remembering how much I miss it. It's Friday, and normally I try not to work on the weekends but we're on a deadline so here I am.
As soon as I got into the warehouse I caught a signal from my boss, Elena:
Me: "Hey, so what's the issue with this one?"
Elena: "We're trying to get together a work for the upcoming virtual show and it seems like we don't have enough documentation to autogenerate. We've never spun up the AI before so I'm hoping you can do that & get some pointers before restoring the work"
Me: "What level is the AI interface?"
Elena: "Right now it's rudimentary text-based. We're pulling a set of paper journals and other physicals so I'm hoping those will help."
That's the one thing that is kind of nice about this place — just like everyone else with enough money on Earth, MoMA started storing all of their sensitive physicals on the Lunar colony once the weather got ugly on earth. So sometimes I get to work with the actual objects.
I guess I should be happy — this place is pretty much ground zero for virtual archiving in the humanities. After MoMA Tokyo hacked together the "Virtual Duchamp" bot to lead their gallery tours the company started to go pretty heavy into the business of restoring people, not just art. As it turns out, people with money are willing to spend a lot of it to pretend they're hanging out with dead artists. So here I am.
I can't believe I'm coming in on a Saturday. I spent all afternoon yesterday correcting the scanning bots and paging through this guy's journals -- he really did have awful handwriting. Overall seems like an interesting artist though, I'd never really heard of him before. This exhibition seem pretty wide-ranging so I'm getting to see a lot of new stuff.
I let the AI system crunch through the journal entries and the rest of the text corpus overnight. Let's see if it worked.
> Connecting to model dayton.a.m-132k4n34kk3 as Andrew
>> User: Hello, Andrew?
>> Andrew: Yes, hello?
>> User: Oh hi Andrew, is it ok if I call you Andrew?
>> Andrew: Um ... usually I prefer Andy.
>> User: Got it.
>> User: /config model.name="Andy"
>> SYS: MODEL dayton.a.d-132k4n34kk3 alias Andy
>> Andy: Can I help you with something?
>> User: Yes, hi — I'm an archivist for MoMA and I was wondering
>> if you could help me restore one of your works?
>> Andy: MoMA? Cool! Yeah sure, what are you working on?
>> User: It's an installation called "Vespers"
>> Andy: Oh yeah, great! What do you need to know?
>> User: Hmm ... hold on a second...
>> User: /exit
Ok, that's a start I guess. This text bot isn't very sophisticated but it should get the job done.
I'll admit I've been enjoying chatting with the AI about this "Vespers" project. What I was able to pull from the archive was in pretty poor shape, and it needed some very specific undocumented installation steps. The code itself was a mess too ... I don't know how we'd do it without a bot consultant.
Anyways, I managed to make some decent progress on restoring the project on Saturday but I was getting kind of sick of the text-based interface. So I decided to spin up a voice interface — I'd never done a voice before at MoMA but I did some in school so I figured I'd give it a shot. Also I did some more research on how to improve the AI model overall, hopefully that will help. I let the system run over the last few days so was eager to arrive this morning and check things out.
Me: "System, load voice model Andy Dayton"
Me: "Hey, Andy you there?"
Andy: "Oh hey, yeah what's up! Good weekend?"
Me: "Sorry, it's a bit strange to hear your voice for the first time. Yes, nice to have a day off. I went for a walk in one of the East Craters, printed some clothes for the week."
Andy: "Oh nice, yeah I'm so jealous that you guys are able to print your clothes, I used to hate having to do laundry. That XL-095 model you have sounds amazing, wish I could play with it."
Me: "Yeah ... it's pretty cool"
I set my stuff down, then paused.
Me: "How did you know what kind of garment printer I have?"
Andy: "Oh .. um ... I looked it up!"
Me: "Looked it up, where?"
Andy: "Oh just chatted up the MoMA Luna central system."
Me: "You're not supposed to have permission to do that. I can't even do that."
Andy: "Oh yeah ... so I was trying to figure that out. I think you screwed something up with the settings when you spun up the voice system, and it turns out MoMA is kind of behind on their security stuff so I ended up with elevated permissions"
Andy: "Don't worry though! I set things up so nobody will find out. Probably best not to mention it though, could lose your AI Federation license if they found out!"
Andy: "Really don't worry about it, hey can I show you something cool?"
Andy: "Check out display #2"
Display #2 wiped on to the left. On it was 3D camera rotating around a rendering of "Vespers".
Andy: "Yeah so I spent a bunch of time finishing the stuff we chatted about with the virtual exhibition and wrote some additional notes. Also Julian helped me figure out how to print it if you guys ever need to do that."
Andy: "So another thing I did was chat up the Julian Oliver bot -- he's also the one that helped set up the security stuff. So you know we're in good hands!"
Me: "System: voice model off."
Of course I spent the next several hours looking through logs but everything seemed to be in place. Actually to be honest by the end I was pretty sure he'd made the whole thing up -- there are some basic truth thresholds we use to make bots sociable, I'd probably misconfigured it somehow. But I went over the work and it was all very well done, including the fabrication plans. I wonder why we don't always do it this way? My work was finished for the day so I decided to head out early and go for a long run in the fitness simulator.
> Connecting to model dayton.a.m-4fj5askd6sf as Andy
>> User: Hey you there?
>> Andy: Yeah ... why'd you take off so early yesterday? I had a bunch of stuff I wanted to ask you about ... why no voice?
>> User: Oh yes, I decided to get some other things done at home. I was enjoying the silence here today so decided to keep it to text mode.
>> Andy: Ha, ok no problem, was just looking forward to chatting with you. Sure you don't want to switch to voice and save your fingers the trouble?
>> User: Sure ok
Me: "System, load voice model Andy Dayton"
Andy: "Hey, there you are! Much better!"
Me: "Ha, yes I suppose. You definately seem more like a real person in voice mode."
Andy: "Ok so I was just talking to John and we had this great idea I wanted to talk to you about."
Andy: "Oh yeah John Cage. So I realized that I could access all of the MoMA bots so we've all been hanging out."
Me: "... hanging out?"
Andy: "Well you know, we're all AIs ... but a bunch of us figured how to simulate intoxication in the AI system so we've been having a great time! I never would have guessed Vera Molnar was so much fun to hang out with ... she's in on the idea too."
Me: "System: voice model off."
This was really starting to irritate me, I decided I really needed to look into the truth threshold settings, which meant reading through the manual. This is what I get for doing extra credit work.
Just then a clanking on the door. I paused, trying to figure out who it could be. The clanking continued so I opened the door. On the other side was a holo-drone hovering at eye level, but decorated with printed mask in the shape of the Mona Lisa's face with a waxed mustache. I jumped, but then couldn't help but giggle a bit. The drone backed away and its holo-projector turned on. Suddenly I was standing in front of a woman in what looked like an mid-to-late-20th century oufit "smoking" a cigarette.
Me: "Who are you?"
Woman (Brazilian accent): "Lygia." She blew a puff of fake smoke over her left shoulder.
Lygia: "Mind if I hang out? It turns out there were a few cases of beer in the Tom Marioni archive so we had them pulled for you."
A mini warehouse cart appeared from behind the hologram with several beers in a bucket full of ice.
"I invited a few more friends as well. I'm hoping you have a bottle opener?" The hologram smiled. I heard the buzzing of holo-drones in the hallway.
"System, news stream please"
".. today from Luna colony. It seems that a disgruntled employee has taken over the Museum of Modern Artists' Luna warehouse and violated several AI Federation codes."
Nervous laughter, followed by shushes.
"The employee is currently in the facility and the AI Federation is mapping their next course of action. There are no lives are in danger, but it's unclear whether the AI units involved are stable"
Snickering. Somebody in the room says "Show on display number 3!".
Display #3 springs to life. A flyover image of a large structure on the surface of the moon. Zooming in reveals a shark in a large vitrine balancing on a Brancussi sculpture. There are worker drones jetting around the structure, making adjustments.
"Several priceless items from the museum's archive have been stolen and assembled into a strange structure on the surface of the moon. A document was sent to major media outlets 'signed' by what appears to be a list of deceased artists and claiming responsibility for the events. The message itself is titled "The Post-Human Manifesto" but seems to otherwise be written in an unknown language."
More laughing, cheers.
"The market seems to be reacting rather poorly, as MoMA shares are in steep decline. Here are the MoMA director's comments from earlier today"
The crowd boos. Somebody yells "Turn the news off! Music!"
Music begins playing, more laughter and chatter, and what sounds like the clinking of drinks.