An absurdist installation, Linear Alpha by artist Robert Walker, combines AI, neural networks, a lost proto-Greek alphabet, and market trading for a dark satire on the idea of accelerationism. Accelerationism is the idea that both capitalism and technological progress, like AI and automation, should be accelerated—that trying to control or regulate them is pointless. By speeding them up, sure, it will create chaos and instability and more inequality. But that's the point, to change the system by overloading it, so something new can arise in its place. It's an idea that's gained momentum in these populist, post-truth, post-normal times.
The installation, which Walker recently exhibited at the the Royal College of Art Graduate Exhibition, looks like an object from some dystopian future. Walker calls it a "demented trading bot" and it's a Matrix-esque fusion of four screens, black cables, copper wiring, fiber optics, complete with a rotting bull's skull—a nod to the lost writing system. It all sits inside a utilitarian black server rack atop a podium based on the former oxagonal Chicago futures trading pits. "The composition is chaotic but interrelated, non-linear but cyclical," notes Walker.
The piece tweets absurdist trading advice after surveying the markets, translating that info into shapes, and comparing those with the undeciphered archaic alphabet, Linear A. It uses this to then feedback on what to buy and sell, creating nonsensical trading advice.
"The piece takes a dark satirical look at an accelerationist worldview in which marketisation is inevitable and desirable, the predations of computational capital are as inescapable as entropy and thermodynamics and these processes sit outside time," explains Walker to Creators. "It visualizes live order book data (bottom panel), then uses machine vision to sample these images into little bland and white square chunks. The neural network then compares these to the characters from the lost proto-Greek alphabet, then a trading logic posts orders back into the market and tweets trading advice (@LinearAlpha). Which letters correlate to which kinds of trading advice (buy/sell/hold, etc.) are spurious/invented by me. Some have obvious formal qualities (arrows, cups, etc) some have apparent allegorical qualities (e.g. a scythe), some are less obvious or…. more imaginative."
Walker explains that the piece uses ideas that are currently used in the financial markets, like Technical Analysis ("Chartings and statistical analysis of historic price data.") which attempts to forecast the future of price movements by looking at past ones. This pattern matching is used in Walker's installation, but the pattern matching renders nonsense. "The way the piece implements TA and AI is farcical as it reduces the logic of pattern matching down to absurdity."
Walker cites some influences on the piece as John Tresh, an academic and historian of science and technology; poet Ezra Pound; the MONIAC, a machine built in 1949 to model the UK's economy; and William Gibson's Count Zero.
The reason Walker chose to use a lost language is because it works as a metaphor for where these systems might take us. Especially if we follow them blindly without considering their impact outside of the financial systems they attempt to understand.
"Linear A is a useful symbol for thinking about the frontiers of lost knowledge, and it's from the same place as the minotaur myth, which is a nice analogy," notes the artist. "When our individual and collective knowledge systems start to be hollowed out by market-driven knowledge production mechanisms we don't understand, and eventually can't do without, the labyrinth is upon us. The idea and the software can and do exist apart from the object, the installation is a sculptural cosmogram of the software agent. I could see a lot of work around me that was very material, very subjective, very personal. I felt none of it was engaging with the issues of the day as I saw them."
You can see more of Robert Walker's work at his website here.