“I thought that each of my words (that each of my movements) would persist in his implacable memory; I was benumbed by the fear of multiplying useless gestures.”
—— Funes the Memorious, Jorge Luis Borges (1942)
In Jorge Borges’s 1942 novel Funes the Memorious, the protagonist Ireneo Funes has infallible memory. Funes can list and number 70,000 memories every day, but he cannot distinguish the front and profile of a dog. His world is a “garbage heap” of details, which results in the withdrawal from pointless behaviors of people around him.
Looking back at this novel today, Funes is comparable to a 20th century computer that lacks computational intelligence. Just like what former US vice president Al Gore contends in his 1998 “Digital Earth” project, both Funes and a 20th century computer store a colossal amount of information that goes to waste. We need a practical and visible atlas of the virtual world, since “the vast majority of those images have never fired a single neuron in a single human brain.” Today, new technologies have begun to act as proxies for some human senses. Artificial intelligence knows humans better than humans themselves. When the former database becomes the present proxy, for both the new and the old Funes, the difference between not daring to act rashly and acting in accordance with instructions is insignificant.
This exhibition is a revisit to technical images, an exploration of images and neurons. If we question the current state of technological proxies, perhaps it reveals how the images that “fire our neurons” today are not more than those in 1998. As such, if we return to the technological optimism of the millennium, we will discover that projects like the “Digital Earth” cannot fulfill the promise by simply liberating the database. The models that are designed to foresee crises and formulate the grand vision of humanity are products of the integration of satellite telemetry and virtual modeling technology. The image of an omniscient perspective is just the surface of the future. When we look at the earth on a screen, the boundary between the virtual and the real is surreptitiously reorganizing information as well as our cognition.
A process of migrating towards the virtual world, this exhibition serves as an exploration of the technological evolution of humankind. It is an experiment of allopatric speciation.