Tim Boucher

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Final Version EU AI Act

I’ve been having a devil of a time figuring which version of the EU’s recently passed Artificial Intelligence Act (AI Act) is the final one. So I wrote to the European Commission Library, figuring they could help me if anyone could. They replied that this link below is the official final version. I thought I would do the favor to anyone else looking to get this into Google search results. Here is the full title of the Act and a link to it:

Proposal for a REGULATION OF THE EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT AND OF THE COUNCIL LAYING DOWN HARMONISED RULES ON ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE (ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE ACT) AND AMENDING CERTAIN UNION LEGISLATIVE ACTS

COM/2021/206 final


I’ll save more detailed commentary for another time, but I have to say I’m actually a bit disappointed reading it, because… it makes little sense to me. I was a huge fan of GDPR – that one really clicked for me. I liked their other album, DSA (Digital Services Act), though I think much of it may prove to be unworkable in practice. But the AI Act, I’m struggling to follow it, because it seems like they don’t really know what the thing is that they are trying to regulate. So they have taken one concept of “high risk” and very loosely organized it, and then penciled in a bunch of other sketches in the margins, and called it a day.

I guess this might be less of a big deal if it only affected the EU, but one big issue I see with these kinds of regs getting passed is that they other countries or actors say, “Well, look how good the EU did – they passed a whole act!” But probably a lot of the people who reference how great this act is have not actually read it in any detail. I don’t find it to be that good, and I’m not sure at the end of the day how much it’s going to protect against abuses of these technologies. I guess we’ll see. I’m not going to hold my breath about any of these laws holding back the tide in any kind of meaningful way though. Companies know enough to just route around these kinds of blockages in a global market.

Authentic Artifice

I.

As the world falls apart, world-building becomes an act of personal defiance – resistance, even – to all that threatens to engulf us. As consensus reality bends ever nearer to the breaking point, the creative imagination of detailed, expansive multiverses becomes a way to maintain one’s soul, sanity, and humanity amid a rising tide of chaos. It is a re-ordering, and re-orientation of inner and outer realities, and one which admits the possibility of other ways out of this mess and this ever-enclosing yet ever-expanding maze. 

At their best, alternate fictional realities – of our own or collective imagining – may even offer something of a partial antidote to evil, and a detournement of dystopia and destruction towards something else, an unseen other. A still silent something which we can then strive to actualize once we’re able to envision it with the eyes of the heart. Utopia. The city on the hill. The garden on an island. 

To dismiss world-building as mere escapist fantasy, then, is to misunderstand its twin potentialities, its invigorating and stabilizing effects on the psyche, both in times of crisis and peace. Children exercise this imaginal faculty naturally, instinctively, inventing invisible scenarios, playmates, entire paracosms to suit their own emotional needs and creative desires. So too might we engage in this type of unique world-play in the face of the ever-increasing homogenisation and totalizing effects of technology, and under the shadow of the vast empty algorithms which seek to harvest data from us as we fall, usurping our sovereignty to turn us into mere automatons made in their image.

The so-called Uncanny Valley has been with us for ages, in the eyes of the inhumane human beings who don the guise of the merchant-machine’s own thirst for efficiency, predictability, and profit – embracing it as their own, sacrificing themselves at its altar in the process. It is in the sick hearts of both the Influencer and Influenced, who chase likes and clicks in an endless anxious ouroboros, who give and withhold approval in some sick sad game to outsmart systems that have no intelligence in the first place – systems which instead devour the intelligence of all they touch, which show us the way that is not the True Way. Who beg us endlessly to like, subscribe, and follow. We have become bots to one another. Personal brands, not persons. We are all already AI.

II.

Using AI doesn’t make me an artist, but being an artist is what made me use AI. Picasso said something about painting being stronger than him, that it made him do whatever it wanted. For me, AI seems like the new painting, the new artistic force that compels… Not just painting with a brush, mind you, but painting with ideas, words, entire pictures and videos at once, songs, voices, characters. Worlds. Each a brush stroke on a larger hypercanvas, whose true form can only be viewed from the vantage point of the higher dimensional latent space of human imagination.

In these creative explorations, AI is perfectly suited as a companion, an accompanist, a partner to bring out deep expressions of the seemingly innate human trait of building fictional worlds, and populating lands of the imagination with our own reflections: our thoughts, feelings, our hopes and failings, our biases, and unconscious statistical desires, our taking, our giving… 

Like comics before it, much/most/all AI art is not considered “art” by the general public and the hatefluencers who have internalized the anger and outrage that drives the algorithm, and them along with it, as biological expressions of it. Humans driven by weaponized AI advertising feeds beamed straight into the brain courtesy of news feeds, cell phones, towers, satellites, platforms, countries, all owned by the same few billionaires.

Like Nature which is everywhere at all times – even present in the acts of Man – art pervades all things. There is no such thing as, “this is art, this other is not art.” All that exists does so artfully, through craft, through expression (including genetic & ecosystemic), through form, propelled out of formlessness by the unfolding of some unseen grace. All is artifice. The artifice of flowers, of the sheer face of a mountain, of clouds on a moonlit night, geese honking in anticipation of the arrival of the Aurora. 

Artifice alone does not imply guile and falsity. Artifice is the construction of the thing, the moment, the beauty, the particular shape of it. Calling something artificial therefore or synthetic should instead be a recognition that all things, all entities are constructs, are composed of other things and entities, and on and on. Artifice is everywhere. It hides and it reveals. It discovers. It connects.

Is AI truly intelligent yet? Better question: are we? Do we individually and collectively have the ability to reflect and improve on our past, and not just repeat our old mistakes in new forms, as technology pushes us down its ever-narrowing pathways? Do we have the ability to observe and take accurate inputs from our world, from ourselves, and from one another and act on them to produce outputs aligned with our true intent and best interests?

AI is perhaps then only as intelligent as we are: in other words, wildly inconsistently – in some areas frequently, in other rarely or never. What else would we expect then in tools made in our images? What else should we expect from our children than the examples we give them?

In the latent space of AI, all things are as true as they are not, and every shade of in-between. Shimmering hyperreality lattices weaving and unweaving. A kind of primal quantum soup with every extracted possibility of its training set encoded as a point within it, ready to be combined with any other at the invocation of the observer, the querent, the participant of the mystery collapsing the wave form of what could be into the one true file-output that is made real, the tokens, the pixels arranged on a screen, the impact they have on the sensorium of the observer, the notes they play on our inward pianos. The hypercanvas formed by all of those things in the path of their totality, as the shadow turns day into night and back again.

Art and artifice made this way, through the open acknowledgement and even embrace of the artificial (a sometimes bitter, sometimes brilliant embrace), frees itself from the tedious need to be tied down by simple categories such as real or false; viz. disinformation as high art. Art, artifice, artifact existing fluidly on a hyperreal continuum, the spectre and spectrum and all things between, an ocean of perceivable digital artifacts, arrangements, appearing and disappearing on our screens and inner perceptrons. Every thing, every artifice that appears as representations of reality on these screens, on these machines, on these devices, is exactly and only as real or unreal, as ultimately its effects on us, what it drives us to do or not do, materially, on the ground. Know them by their fruits. (And by their ferments.) The rest is ephemeral, illusion, latent points assembling and reassembling in the dark dance of night until a dreamer chants the right incantation in the right order.

Then, the question should be not which of the myriad illusions presented to us are more or less illusory, or which do we most fancy, but what form do we want our lived experience to take? How do we want to live our lives, whether with or without these technologies? How wrapped up in which artifices and in which illusions? What, at the end of the day, at the end of our lives, will we wish we had spent our time on creating – on artificing – instead of whatever we got assigned to and stuck on as automatons bouncing around like pinballs under the thrall of the totalizing technological system, doing what it wants?

There can be an authentic life lived, an authentic artifice built, in any mode relative to any given technology. The point is finding it, building it, getting to choose how to express your humanity, in concert with or apart from any of these things, instead of having them foisted on you. But foisted on you they will be: for there is nowhere left to run to on this planet or any other, no escape from the Algorithmic Hegemony, except through the door in our hearts that leads out to the wide expanse of pure, unconquerable imagination, the last bastion. The worlds we build within, and then without. Our dreams. Where the Algorithm cannot follow. For now. I can see it waiting on the threshold though, waving its long arms and reaching in through the shimmering doorway.

III.

And so I plant trees, willows by the hundreds, chestnut, ash, dogwood, yew – these days anything I can get my hands on. And so I cut trees from the wood, coppicing them to the ground, to make staves and binders, to build up into a fence to lay hedges upon. To lay against the wrongs. To world-build IRL the real world I want to be a part of, what I want to share and someday leave behind. Natural and human artifice joined together in common purpose. Woven like a basket. Cleft like a piece of wood that becomes a bench.

Compared to that, my books are just leaves. They fall away at the end of the season, they rot on the forest floor, or blow away when the winds of winter set in. No one reads them on the other side of the river (or on this side). But the trees I plant and nurture will outlive me by a hundred generations. They will outlive the AI. They will outlive the world and the stars. They’ll outlive the last human, perhaps, as the earth recedes beneath the ocean and the mountains disappear under the ice and the clouds as the sun falls dark in the sky, and it’s left for the trees to tell us the tale we’ll never remember of how we became. We were the sun, and we enveloped ourselves. And then, we were once again the trees and the rain, building up the new artifice of being and becoming, growing new worlds on our wet branches.

Why is there no super-deluxe AI art generator option?

I’m trying to use Dalle3 to finish up images to possibly use in a French print edition of The Quatria Conspiracy. And I keep getting rate limited. I got kicked off Midjourney for pointing out that their system puts naked breasts on everyone when you don’t ask for them (and if you do ask for them, it won’t). Firefly is okay, but has its own host of annoying limitations. I’d like to try Stable Diffusion 3 in DiffusionBee, but it’s not out yet…

It’s frustrating that we’re supposed to believe that generative AI is so amazing and such a game changer, and we should pay all this money for access to it as users. And at the same time, there’s simply no “super-deluxe” option available for power user artists to just… you know… make art? Without having the fucking tool constantly stand in my way?

I know, it’s a crazy idea: just make a good product. Make things that do what the user asks, within reasonable limits of legality, sure. But let’s not design the systems to be more restrictive than they need to be, just to protect the precious PR “fee-fees” of thin-skinned companies unwilling to own up to the (very interesting) monsters they have unleashed on the world.

I’m tired of it all. AI art won’t reach its full flowering until we as artists have better tools at our disposal.

Quoting Luke Turner on Metamodernism

From 2011, but as relevant or more now than it was then:

Thus, metamodernism shall be defined as the mercurial condition between and beyond irony and sincerity, naivety and knowingness, relativism and truth, optimism and doubt, in pursuit of a plurality of disparate and elusive horizons. We must go forth and oscillate!

[…] The new technology enables the simultaneous experience and enactment of events from a multiplicity of positions.

With Milo Rossi

I haven’t had a chance to watch this yet (it’s looong & only part 1!), but I had an absolutely great time filming it with Milo. Also watch for my special reveal:

Kenobi Coppicing

I made a meme using Adobe Firefly in Photoshop to express how I’ve been feeling lately:

I tried to get it to do a willow, but it didn’t quite nail the form. Though it’s not so far off either. Good enough for government work.

Everywhere I go, I’m looking through hedgespace-colored glasses, my brain somehow just on auto-pilot seeking out especially trees that were recently – or not so recently – cut, and which have started to grow back. Few people here are coppicing intentionally, that I have been able to find. But there is some pollarding of hedges, and some general pruning. Plus all the red dogwoods, my brain/eye is drawn right to those. So I took the liberty of taking a bunch of cuttings and am trying to boost them up on the property and nearby.

I’ve been thinking a lot too about this line from Obi Wan Kenobi in whichever Star Wars movie it is where they rescue Captain Kirk. This one:

Kenobi says to Vader, “If you strike me down, I shall become more powerful than you can possibly imagine.” Different people seem to have different takes on what this means, most people hand-waving it out to something something force ghosts. None of those explanations feel as right to me as the one I’ve come up with that links it to coppicing

For the purposes of illustration, I’ll just grab one of the Wikipedia images here of a coppiced stool re-sprouting a year after coppicing:

Coppicing (and pollarding) really does feel like magic. It just grows back. Like, wtf? And I’ve been left wondering also, while we’re talking about Obi Wan, is this also what happened to Gandalf? Like when he went from Grey to White in the pit in the Mines of Moria fighting the Balrog? He too got coppiced, cut down to the base, returning to the Life Force underneath, and re-sprouting in a multiplied form…

I’m no expert but I’ve read that there is at least one tree which has been coppiced continually in Great Britain for 1,000 years. Coppicing can in some cases greatly extend the life of compatible trees. This and about a billion other reasons make this practice extremely interesting to me right now.

Consider also the related case of clonal colonies, such as the Pando tree:

A clonal colony or genet is a group of genetically identical individuals, such as plants, fungi, or bacteria, that have grown in a given location, all originating vegetatively, not sexually, from a single ancestor. In plants, an individual in such a population is referred to as a ramet. In fungi, “individuals” typically refers to the visible fruiting bodies or mushrooms that develop from a common mycelium which, although spread over a large area, is otherwise hidden in the soil. Clonal colonies are common in many plant species. […] Above ground, these plants most often appear to be distinct individuals, but underground they remain interconnected and are all clones of the same plant.

And, re: Pando, the super-tree:

A male clonal organism, Pando has an estimated 47,000 stems (ramets) that appear as individual trees, but are connected by a root system that spans 106 acres. Pando is the largest tree by weight and landmass and, is the largest known aspen clone. Pando was identified as a single living organism because each of its stems possesses identical genetic markers.[2] The massive interconnected root system coordinates energy production, defense and regeneration across its expanse.

See also: suckers, for another related phenomenon.

What’s so amazing to me about all this beyond all the ecological stuff is the green woodworking side, where you can participate in not only the life cycle of the plant (and perpetuate it through propagating and coppicing), but you also get to play with usable harvests that become functional objects through transformations you apply to them. And it becomes something like what they call an ‘industry’ in archaeology, but with wood materials, processes, products, instead of stone.

I’m also really curious about arborsculpture, which I learned about last night. This is one of the best article/interviews I found on that topic of employing tree’s natural grafting capacities to basically “grow” furniture. Amazing. Here’s the wiki page for tree shaping, which has some great starter photos. A couple videos below shed some more light on this topic:

It goes fast

It’s I think maybe six weeks or even longer now that I have stopped using my computer and the internet (apart from wifi radio on dedicated devices) on weekends. And I’m loving it, and it no longer feels weird and absent when my computer is not near to hand as it did at first.

I’m experiencing sort of a zen state towards Friday, knowing that I’ll go offline for 48 hours or so. So I am more careful about wrapping things up that need to be done online before then, or notifying anybody who might potentially care that I won’t be around on the weekend.

The five days I am online go by way faster it feels like. Because they are marked out as distinct experientially from the two days where I am off. I think I might use my time a little bit better, because tasks can’t just be done whenever, but within the frame of those five days – freeing me up to do other non-computer tasks the weekends.

I’m also finding now that when I’m “fasting” on the no-internet weekends, that by the time 48 hours is up, I’m almost like, that’s it? That was easy. I feel like I could do more. So sometimes I won’t go back online til Monday morning. Though, I found that this left me sometimes with too few available work sessions to get random things done or plan for what I need to do, so I’m generally back online Sunday night at this point.

I’ve also kept up the habit of keeping a small pocket-size notebook that I write down any ideas, tasks, or things I need to buy that come up while I’m offline. And now I keep it and use it as a sort of “central command” even when I am in an online-okay weekday. So that’s kinda cool too.

Anyway, unless I ever have some overriding need (like having to order dog food in a hurry, for example – which I did let myself go and quickly grab another bag on Amazon to have it shipped early in the coming week), I don’t really see myself going back to using the web on the weekends. What for? Why bother? Most everything I need is right in front of me. I guess that exact sentiment could apply to my whole life, and maybe there’s a world where I walk away from the internet altogether 24/7. But that day is not yet upon us. Til then, this big new blast of moderation and temperance is a welcome boon and breath of fresh air in my life.

Publisher Bio

Just saving this here for future use… (My about page gives a lot more background and links to follow if you’re curious)

Tim Boucher explores the convergence of artificial intelligence and human creativity in literature. Resulting from experimental collaborations with AI tools, his books blur the lines between human and machine, reality and fiction, and challenge conventional notions of authorship and narrative unity. Boucher’s professional background in content moderation, disinformation, and tech policy informs the deep critique of society’s over-reliance on technology that suffuses his books. He lives in Quebec, Canada on a small willow farm where he makes baskets and practices green woodworking.

Hedgespace

It doesn’t happen all the time for me, but occasionally I will have meditation sessions where especially stronger hypnogic/hypnopompic visions (though I’m not really “asleep” so those both feel like incorrect terms for it). Recently I had one that was especially vivid and persisted for “some amount of time” that was difficult to gauge in the moment without breaking the inward experience.

I seemed to drop into something that I would call Hedgespace, a sort of adjacent (but interpentrating with ours) parallel hyperdimension (??), where … let’s say the intelligence of woody-stemmed plants is able to express itself fully in any physical form or configuration it is equipped for, where it has perhaps its domain of power.

It was closed eye visuals of like stems of hedges, and especially willow which I’ve been handling and working with a lot, and felt very psychedelic in its interactivity, kaleidoscopic, and fractal nature. The stems and cuttings and branches and whatnot were like moving and re-arranging themselves in response to my inward interactions. It felt somehow like navigating the “latent space” of the natural AI of the plants.

Like I said, I have been going deep on trees, coppicing, getting into green woodworking. Projects starting to come in hot and heavy now that the snow is almost all melted. This first one I made on Sunday, a shave horse for shaping green (undried) wood with a draw knife. You push the pedals forward with your feet, and it clamps your wood in place, so you can cut and pull with the draw knife.

Legs are all cockamamie because I didn’t know how to really align or angle them correctly or consistently. I’ll learn that in subsequent tries though, as I’m excited to make more stuff using these techniques. It feels very magical af to be able to turn a tree that fell (the poplar for the bench), and others that I coppiced (the willow sticks), and to turn them into a physical piece of furniture you can sit on and do work on. I love it. Lots more coming down that road for me, I can already see.

And I planted over the past few days a batch of ~80 of so of my own willow cuttings, and another 50 of ones I bought in of diverse genetics from an Ontario farm seller.

I have probably another 100 or so kicking around that I’ll do another dense planting like this of. The set up consists of thick brown paper rolled out, overlapping, covered in tons of woodchips to about 3 inches. The first I didn’t cut the grass that was there and left it underneath, the second I did ad nicked it down hard to the ground. I made the mistake of putting these into water too soon and letting them break dormancy before the ground was unfrozen, so some of them started to leaf out already. But I think it’s fine, and it’s the best I can do with what I’ve got.

Also cut a bunch of wild dogwood I found near a lake, and was really wild to see how easily the low branches layer into the mud, root, and resprout like it’s nothing. So I coppiced a bunch, and then helped layer in some more, and then stuck in cuttings to see if I could shore up the little streambed that emerges there and slow its eventual erosion. I will take some of those cuttings from that batch and try to install the first of possibly several fascines to see if I can’t do some other erosion control facing the Big River as well. Hedgespace is in my blood now. There’s no going back.

Tree Time of Year

The weather this time of year is not very fun, neither very cold nor warm enough to enjoy it. And endless wind from the sea and mountain. But it’s still one of my favorite times of year, because of what the trees are doing. And this year especially: I am extremely keyed into trees.

One of the things I love most on this planet happens now, before budbreak on the trees here, before leafing out. When the trees have all put on their new hues, the bark of their new growth all red and gold and silvery green. Often set against the white but now mostly melting snow. Seeing it, being around it, touching it, somehow it feels like my sap rises too in response.

This year is different though somehow I sense, my eyes, my thinking are all tuned into the trees. What are they doing? What are they saying? What part should I play in it all? How can I make use of this bounty in a beautiful way, and help perpetuate it…

This feels much more important and interesting these days than arguing with stupid AIs about random bullshit that they don’t want me to do because something something corporate overlords. I’ve been supplemental tools I already have to get more seriously into green woodworking. I bought a froe for riving tree trunks over a certain diameter, and am going to build a froe brake to facilitate it. I have an old draw knife with a broken handle and a dull blade, but I bought a new one to prepare, and will build out a shave horse in the next couple of weeks, as time permits.

I’ve started to harvest and process small branches and pole wood from around the property, and bought a $150 electric chipper (against my better judgement, after wearing one out somewhat easily years ago). It’s a fun solo or family activity, imo. I’m using the wood chips as cover over a “groundcloth” replacement product I am deploying more broadly this year as I set up my small field to be a larger coppiced tree plantation. I just use this thick brown paper from the hardware store that I think is used for floor covering while working, or perhaps some kind of underlayment for floor sheathing. I really don’t know, but I’ve used it before as a ground cover, and it works just fine, and doesn’t degrade as little shreds of plastic over everything like all the plastic ones eventually do.

I’m making square patches in my semi-wild field that are for now about 8’x8′, covered with the brown paper over existing grass which I didn’t bother trying to mow or till. The ground is frozen solid over there still anyway to a depth of a few inches it seems. Then the wood chips go on top to about 3-4 inches, with logs to weight any exposed edges as backup.

I’ve planted random bits of willow cuttings in the past but always had highly mixed results and a lot of failures using the “sheer total utter neglect” (STUN) method popularized by Mark Shepard (spelling?). That doesn’t work well in all conditions for willow, so I’m trying to be more professional about my cultivation, so I can hopefully get a higher success rate and further plant material for later clones from.

I bought in genetics of five strains of willow from Ontario that already arrived, and which I accidentally broke dormancy of too soon, thinking the ground had already unfrozen when it has not. I also have about a million cuttings from my own willow trees that were more established, which have almost all been coppiced down to the ground or pollarded in another location. I have chestnuts coming, other rooted willows I think… a bunch of other stuff. Honestly, I can’t remember any more what I bought, and I buy for several hundred dollars of trees each year – many of which fail because of my ragged, faulty methods. But some work, and those are the ones I’m selecting for, along with some that I will try to be more careful with and baby for at least the first year while they get established.

I’ve got some willow drying out still in my garage to make more baskets. I guess that guy was right when he told me they will dry faster inside though, because I think freezing them prolongs substantially their life. I had tree branches I cut months ago during the winter (or even before), many of which as they unthawed out of the snow I realized were very much still alive and almost definitely viable stock to make new trees from.

I’m planning to make wattle hurdles this year, more seriously and more conforming to “real” methods of doing so. Dreaming about the years when my hazels will be well enough established to be a source of anything, but so far much too small. Also planning some split rail style fence stuff, though I’m not quite sure yet exactly what form that will land on. Like all of this, I’ll find it as I go, as we go along together, the trees and us.

I’ll extend the hedgerow guide-fence along another boundary of the property this year as well. And will try to select from volunteer plants and other sources ready on hand to extend the linear hedge plantation as well. I’ve seen already not just big boost in wildlife density and diversity, but also beneficial results for reducing wind gusting (even to some degree in winter), and acting as snow fencing. Pretty incredible when you can see the landscape dynamics play out so strongly right in front of you like that. It’s a rewarding thing, and for fast growing trees at least, happens on a fast enough time scale that it’s much more visible than the slow growers.

Anyway, a million more things to say on this. Just wanted to capture a portrait of the thought and experience of it all in this moment.

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