On 3rd October, a team of archaeologists from Egypt’s Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities prised open a sealed sarcophagus to the delight of a gathering crowd. The slumbering mummy had been resting peacefully for some 2,600 years alongside 59 other sarcophagi. All were pulled out of the dark in the Saqqara necropolis, an ancient graveyard south of Cairo.

These mummies are thought to be priests, government officials, and individuals from the upper echelons of Egyptian society. It’s a sight we’re so used to that we don’t even question it. But what does this unearthing millennia later mean for the bodies we so publicly exhume? What can it tell us about ownership, dignity and our afterlife wishes? …

We make our way across the feria. Pushing through the pools of people collecting at the edges of the fairground attractions, I feel excited and impatient for what’s to come. Everything is loud and lovely. A cacophony of sound and smells descend, and this usually designated carpark is transformed into an illuminous mass I suspect you may be able to see from space. Raffle tickets crinkle under foot as the tombola blares out his wares and treasures and urges you to step right up.

I love the feria. I have been coming here since I was a child. It is at once nostalgic and familiar. Nothing really changes here, save the stuffed toy prizes from the latest film release or trend hanging above the games. This feria is the same feria I have moved through for as long as I have called Spain home. As someone who oscillates and evolves almost constantly, this consistency is sacred. …

Consciousness. That unanswerable conundrum that taps incessantly on the inside of our skulls. Scientists, spiritual leaders and philosophers have been grappling over this metaphysical mystery since we, well… developed enough self-awareness to argue over the nature of it. And it isn’t just we Homo Sapiens who have long been preoccupied with life, death and our place in the universe. Archaeologists have found ritualistic Neanderthal burials and the first flower ever laid on a grave in remembrance was put there by those same cousins we like to call stupid.

So, what does constitute a consciousness? It is a sum of synapses? A collection of characteristics? Was it ripped open by language, or did language simply add simplicity and colour to the semiotics? These were questions I tried to tackle a couple weeks back when I was at Interact London, the design, UX and AI conference organised by Nomensa. This year’s theme centred on the Human and the Machine, and we were midway through Eva Decker’s talk on why designers should create AI when my mind started reeling. …

TW: suicide

It is a thing of beauty to be of service. To show up when someone is at their most vulnerable. You approach a stranger lying in the middle of the pavement surrounded by their own vomit. You begin by making jokes. You ask them how the view is from down there. They stare straight back.

“What are you doing on the floor then?” Still a jovial hint lingering on your tongue.

Eyes behind glasses respond calmly with a matter-of-fact calamity: “My mum killed herself.”

You begin to talk more seriously now. They become someone you soothe and tell nonsense stories to. Who you coax out of the dark hole they peer at you from. You ask them to wiggle their toes. To remember they have a body. …

I find myself standing in front of Stephansdom, Vienna’s crowning cathedral. I am eagerly waiting for the clock to strike half one so I can make the slow descent into the catacombs.

Stephansdom doesn’t feel like a normal cathedral. Neither a celebration of god or of life, it feels more like a grim promise. A dutiful reminder. Skulls and slices of Memento Mori are scattered across its surface. A skull lingers above the clock. I read somewhere that this cathedral is under constant construction. They also say the devil once appeared within in. …

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Life and Death, Gustav Klimt

Could artificial intelligence ever be an artist? Could a computer act as a curator?

These are questions that have been bubbling in my mind for months now. But the more I dissect, the more emerge — because, what is art? Who is an artist? When and are we able to classify ourselves as one? And who decides what work is worthy of entering the notoriously old and mostly white canon?

AI’s tendrils are slowly creeping into every aspect of our lives. While most of us are okay with it claiming factory jobs and menial roles, there is something about art that remains untouchable. I have long believed that art isn’t about what you create, it’s about what others receive. Art should elicit an emotional response. It should stir something. Conjure some fire in your belly: be it yearning, anger or sorrow. Art must fundamentally convey a feeling. Otherwise, it’s just empty. Anyone can draw, but not everyone is an artist. …

When I think of my future it has always been clear. I suppose I am an among the few who’s raison d’etre rang out their chest like a promise. A heavy, burning promise. I’ve always known that someday, somehow, I would be a writer.

Now, this dream has taken many guises. For the longest time, I wanted to be a war correspondent. There was something very raw and real and necessary about it. I romanticised the hell of its reality: I saw purpose, I saw truth. I overlooked the broken bodies. I ignored the torn limbs.

In my personal statement before university, I mooned over ‘muted mouths’. I wanted to look deeply into the eyes of all that was awful. I wanted to put my hands on the face of all that ugliness and draw it in close. I thought I — someone who cries easily and hurts deeply — could somehow stare at all that horror and remain intact. My appetite for self-destruction and overstated sense of self-importance mixed to make a dream I wanted to think was honourable, but really was just a teenage need for chaos and rebellion. …

Humans have long craved cautionary tales, but the reality of artificial intelligence isn’t one of them

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Photo: Alex Knight/Unsplash

Every era needs a bogeyman. ​A villain waiting in the shadows to snatch away our children and defile our way of life. Throughout human history, we’ve fought demons, dragons, monsters, and each other. We have been telling stories about these struggles for over 70,000 years.

Today, instead of witches and magic, our ancient fears are focused on artificial intelligence and its supposedly inevitable march toward world domination.

Storytelling Shapes Experience

The stories we tell, and even the language we use, are important. They capture the way we see ourselves, each other, and the wider world. With them as lenses, we interpret our experiences. We create our realities and our culture. They are part of an eternal dialogue threading through the past and present. In this way, storytelling simultaneously explains the world and imposes our ideals of morality; our tales serve as warnings, messages, and explorations of what is acceptable and what is abhorrent. …

From the Holy Grail and the fountains of youth, to anti-wrinkle creams screaming from every device, humans have always lusted after immortality. But how far away are we actually from it? Does technology like artificial intelligence spell a chance for us to live on after death — and if given the chance, would we take it?

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de Champaigne, Philippe Vanité (1660s)

Artificial humans

Pete Trainor, applied artificial intelligence designer, technologist and mental health campaigner, used his slot at Interact London (a UX, design and AI conference I attended last week) to share the story of his friend James. James suffered from epidermolysis bullosa, a genetic condition that causes the skin to blister from minor trauma or friction. …

Las Vegas and I got off to a rocky start. We arrived at the Strip at around 3pm to the sight of a man hanging out of a taxicab at the traffic lights, his head close to the ground and spewing up a liquid tinted with a colour so unnatural I hoped to never see it again. “Ah,” we collectively sighed and giggled from the inside of our van: “welcome to Vegas.”

But let’s begin at the beginning. We were travelling from California through a desert defined by countless cacti and neon rest-stop signs advertising obscure diners. We passed the sporadic markings of trailer-park settlements and houses scattered across the landscape. I couldn’t help but wonder just who lives here? What kind of life exists so far out and away in this barren and boundless place? …


Lauren Ellis

Writer, artist and occasional poet. Lover of philosophy, folklore, history + curiosities. UX writer by day. Writing a book about death by night.

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