<aside> 📍 This page shares updates on the Esoteric AI stream within the bigger Slow AI research project by AIxDESIGN.


<aside> 🧞‍♀️ This research is being led by Natalia Stanusch.

Natalia (she/her) is a PhD candidate at ASCA, University of Amsterdam, an academic coordinator for a non-profit DataEthics.eu and a Research Lead for Slow AI project at AIxDesign. Natalia is interested in studying digital media artifacts by way of critical theory.

Stanusch wrote and presented on topics such as memes, algorithmic imaginaries and AI counter-imaginaries, datafication practices, algorithmic auditing, digital alienation, and the ontology of digital images. She is an author of book chapters, articles, and video essays which range in scope from methodological interventions to autoethnographic experimental pieces. In her practice, Stanusch often brings together twentieth-century avant-garde legacies and media studies. Natalia works at a crossroad of critical data and algorithm studies, science and technology studies, digital visual culture, and art history.



01_ Preface

<aside> 🔮 TLDR: Esoteric AI challenges mainstream perceptions of AI as either disenchanted or enchanted, proposing alternative ways of seeing, sensing, and knowing AI that blur the seeming binary of magic and technology. Inspired by feminist philosophy and science and technology studies, Esoteric AI seeks to trouble the normative understandings of AI and reclaim the feminine and the enchanted from the dominant ways they are projected onto AI. Just as a séance is a collective process, so is our reimagining and reenchanting of AI.

In this research we ask: What can we learn from il/legitimate predictive technologies of the past – (feminist) practices like astrology, tarot, Farmer’s Almanac?


In seeding alternative narratives of 🐌 Slow AI (narratives of AI that are alternatives to the seemingly omnipresent Big Tech discourse) ✨Esoteric AI is one of the three entry points – or three uncharted horizons – that we invite you to explore with us.

✨ Esoteric AI is an invitation to explore and get lost; to investigate; to understand, and to critique. ✨ Esoteric AI is an invitation to trouble the mainstream AI imaginary. ✨ Esoteric AI is an invitation to reimagine a new epistemological paradigm of AI.


The perceptions we have of AI are extensions of how people have generally perceived technology since the Industrial Revolution. They run a gamut from utopian faith in the benefits of AI to dystopian fears (paranoia?) that AI will enslave or annihilate humanity (or enslave and then annihilate). Between these two ultra-optimistic and ultra-pessimistic views of AI are more mildly  paranoic expectations that AI in itself would not be able to annihilate humanity, but that human masters of AI such as sinister governments or corporations might harness AI as a tool for creating a totalitarian order. There are also more moderately optimistic prognostications — or optimistic prophecies —for the future of AI, that it will not create a utopia for humanity, but will reduce drudgery and expand human capability, as it already does.

Usually, processes that cannot be measured or fully understood are no longer technologies. At that point they become forms of magic. Turning a pumpkin into a stage coach is magic, not because there is anything particularly world changing about one fewer pumpkins and one more stage coach, but because we don’t understand how it was done. Magic is, by definition, beyond rational explanation or manipulation, and is inherently frightening when it is not on one’s side. (It is wonderful as long as one believes it is on one’s side.)

First, ✨Esoteric AI invites us to chart and outline the paradoxical mainstream imaginary that disenchants and enchants AI today. Where is and where isn’t ‘magic’ in AI today? We see disenchanted AI as an imaginary that imagines AI as a (dis)embodiment of scientific objectivism and statistical rationalism. Enchanted AI, on the other hand, is an imaginary that continuously projects an anthropomorphising and feminizing aura of augur-like superintelligence upon it.