Limits of Coexistence

accessibility (cc) cz en
tags artificial intelligence technology digital platforms nature
directing Nikola Brabcová, Karin Šrubařová
cast Juliana Höschlová, Dita Malečková, Zdenka Sokolíčková, Lenka Hámošová
sound Tomáš Knoflíček
editing Nikola Brabcová, Karin Šrubařová
category Programs
published 21. 3. 2023
duration 0:18:10
language Česky / English
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Digital technologies / Limits of coexistence


We often have a tendency to imagine the rise of artificial intelligence, synthetic media or virtual metaverse in a somewhat theological spirit, i.e., as the transcendence of the animal material world by angelic avatars. Such a narrative blends the legacy of the naive libertarian post-hippie idealism of the 1990s with the cynicism of contemporary Californian tech elites, yearning to break free from their oppressive "addiction" to ecological bonds and to immortality.

In contrast to this linear theology, the video Digital Technologies/Limits Coexistence by Nikola Brabcová and Karin Šrubařová develops a more fractal and pluralistic vision, exploring through a mosaic of different approaches the possibilities of abstract cloud entities coexisting with a more-than-human community of earthlings.

The metaphor of fractality, which Dita Malečková introduces in Limits of Coexistence when describing the functioning of contemporary generative neural networks (text models of the GPT series or visual models such as DALLE-2 and Midjourney), allows us to elegantly bridge the traditionally disparate worlds of "nature" and “technology”. What is meant by fractality is the recursive similarity of complex systems across scales, observable in both natural systems (coastal shapes, tree branching, habitat distribution) and digital systems (branching network architecture, recursive operation of machine learning algorithms). In the biosphere, as in the emerging mechanosphere, through self-organization (autopoiesis) and repetition of patterns across scales, primitive forms (carbon molecules, binary information) are composed of baroquely complex megaforms whose overall functioning is completely impenetrable to the individual.

It is no coincidence then that in animistic or totemistic [1] cosmovisions dreams are especially a privileged medium enabling contact with the more-than-human world. While the conscious mind fixes the world in the form of sharply separated objects, the unconscious mind operates in a much more fluid way, so that objects (and parts of objects) live a kind of subject life of their own. Dita Malečková points to a similar dreaminess in the case of synthetic AI images, which remain eternally “procedural” and refuse to condense into the final coherent form of the Object. Their partial elements fractally teem with their own life, tiny monstrosities. The analogy with real dreams is often amusingly literal. For example, one of the recommended techniques of so-called lucid dreaming [2] is to focus attention on detail - if we have six fingers instead of five, [3] we’re probably dreaming. The AI simulacrum generated by Midjourney reveals literally the same glitch. [4]

But as much as the idea of AI as a “subjectless process” of similar dreaming is charming, it’s also a bit mystifying. Lenka Hámošová points out that all sorts of “human, too human” stereotypes are already reflected in neural network datasets, whether in the selection of data or its classification and description. None of this is self-organizing today, but depends on the backbreaking and poorly paid work [5] of tens of thousands of workers in the Global South. [6] Recently, for example, we have seen the case of OpenAI, which, in an effort to filter toxic content from ChatGPT and DALLE-2 output, left the traumatic task of cataloguing hate texts and brutal images to precarious workers in Kenya, leading some to develop psychological disorders. The situation is all the more dire when we consider that while the Global South is hit with the "dirty" work of sorting datasets, the cultural legacy and aesthetics of the South are rarely included in these datasets.

We can thus speak of the ‘colonialism’ of the algorithm, whether in this literal sense or also in a broader and figurative sense - where the lived experience of the world is caught up in an increasingly expansive network of digital algorithms. Anthropologist Zdena Sokolíčková thematizes the ambivalence where algorithms on the one hand emancipate us to many things (global movement, scientific research), but at the cost of a shackling dependence. Is there anything external to the algorithm today? Of all the sciences, anthropology has been the one that has most often explored the "outside" as such, mediating contact with a radically "offline" world not yet assimilated into global technical civilization. Aboriginal people today also already use smartphones. At first glance, then, it might seem that this "totalitarian" movement of digital networks simply reached a new level of completion during the covid crisis, but the reality was much more interesting and less linear. Lockdown forced us to use Zoom and virtual spaces to an unprecedented extent, but at the same time many who had the opportunity also left the cities for the countryside and spent unprecedented amounts of time in nature and with relatives. The lived situatedness of place increasingly complemented the abstraction of the cloud, rather than one replacing the other. Particularly in the spring of 2020, when civilization first paused, the rediscovered fascination with the more-than-human world was literally palpable in the air, whether it was viral stories about flocks of animals returning to cities, for example, or (according to available evidence)[7] a surge of interest in urban agriculture and permaculture.

The conclusion of The Limits of Coexistence then recalls last year’s book Ways of Being: Beyond Human Intelligence [8] by James Bridle – an artist, technologist and computer science graduate who moved to the Greek countryside before covid, where he became fully immersed in ecological thinking. According to Ways of Being the key significance of the accelerating development of artificial intelligence and other digital systems lies in the fact that they allow us to newly recognize the plurality of other forms of non-human intelligence that we have been “secretly” surrounded by all along. We needed to invent thinking machines to notice that everything around us is thinking. It's no coincidence that the popular concept of the “wood wide web” [9] for example, only entered the scientific mainstream in the 1990s - before the Internet, we simply lacked a model of complex "collective intelligence" based on the network principle. So the evolution of consciousness is not linear, but fractal. Rather than "elevating" us to a metaverse beyond the earth, digital technology in this sense allows us to awaken to the pluriverse [10] of intelligences in which we have always already been immersed.

David Šír

[1] Barbara Glowczewski, Totemic Becomings: Cosmopolitics of the Dreaming / Devires totêmicos – cosmopolítica do sonho . Helsinki, São Paulo: n-1 publications, 2015. 

[2] If we want to recognize in real time the unreality of a dream image from waking reality.



[5] Anthropologist Mary Gray introduced the expression ghost work. Viz: 



[8] Bridle, James. Ways of Being: Beyond Human Intelligence . London: Penguin Books, 2022.

[9] Communication and nutrient exchange between trees through mycorrhizal networks.


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