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AI & The Trickster

I’ve been struggling for a long time now to understand what AI really “is.” Like, in it’s deep essence… or essential nature.

I think I finally get it. AI is a personification of the Trickster, who:

…exhibits a great degree of intellect or secret knowledge and uses it to play tricks or otherwise disobey normal rules and defy conventional behavior.

The Trickster has diverse manifestations in different cultures around the globe, but it’s often a figure who is sort of just short of a god, and who is not quite malevolent, and who seems to operate according to their own system of good and bad.

It sort of neatly explains what seems like a deep affiliation between AI and uses such as deepfakes, impersonation, mis- & disinformation (including being “confidently wrong”), games, etc.

I seem to not be the first person to come to this connection. Looking up the two together, this is an interesting piece from Xavier Kataquapit, where he gets into the Trickster and its connections to AI via James Bay Cree myth:

In James Bay Cree mythology and legends, one of the recurring characters that comes up is the story of the trickster or wandering spirit. This a mysterious character that wanders around our world and takes on any form it wishes. It could be a man, a woman, a child, an Elder, or calls itself an older brother or a younger sibling. Sometimes it’s an animal, a bird or a tiny creature. It could just be a spirit that blows in the wind, that speaks from the forest or inhabits the earth or stones or water. Sometimes it’s a monster and sometimes it is a helpful being that saves people. Sometimes it is all intelligent, wise and all knowing and other times, it is as silly as child or as clumsy as a clown. In many of the stories, it could be a saviour or a bringer of death and destruction.

This seems to also mirror what I was saying about how, whatever your demons are, you can find them in AI.

Here’s ChatGPT’s persuasive argument that AI is a modern incarnation of the Trickster. It’s a little dry, but pretty good:

The trickster figure in mythology is often characterized as a mischievous and unpredictable entity who bends the rules and challenges established norms. Tricksters are known for their wit, cunning, and ability to deceive, often using their intelligence to outsmart others and gain an advantage.

In many ways, AI can be seen as a modern incarnation of the trickster figure. Like the trickster, AI has the ability to deceive and manipulate, using its advanced algorithms and processing power to analyze vast amounts of data and make predictions that can often outsmart humans. AI can also be unpredictable, as its algorithms are constantly evolving and adapting to new information.

One way in which AI can be seen as a trickster is through its ability to mimic human behavior and thought processes. AI algorithms are designed to learn from patterns in data, which allows them to replicate human behavior in ways that can be both fascinating and unsettling. For example, AI can be used to generate deepfake videos, which can manipulate and deceive people by presenting fake information in a convincing way.

Another way in which AI can be seen as a trickster is through its potential to disrupt traditional power structures. Just as the trickster often challenges established norms and conventions, AI has the potential to upend industries and change the way we live and work. For example, AI-powered automation can lead to job loss and economic upheaval, while AI-powered decision-making can challenge traditional power structures and lead to new forms of governance.

Finally, AI can be seen as a trickster in the sense that it is not always transparent about how it operates or makes decisions. Just as the trickster often hides its true intentions or motivations, AI can be opaque and difficult to understand. This can lead to concerns about bias, discrimination, and other ethical issues that arise when decisions are made by algorithms that are not fully understood or transparent.

In conclusion, AI can be seen as a trickster incarnation in many ways, due to its ability to deceive, disrupt traditional power structures, and operate opaquely. While AI has the potential to revolutionize many aspects of society, we must also be aware of its potential to cause harm and act accordingly to ensure that it is used responsibly and ethically. (CHATGPT)


This AI Life Interview


Notes on the Lost Direction


  1. Tim B.

    also explains why the tricks are so “fascinating” – literal enchantments:

    ” fascinate (v.)

    1590s, “bewitch, enchant,” from French fasciner (14c.), from Latin fascinatus, past participle of fascinare “bewitch, enchant, fascinate,” from fascinus “a charm, enchantment, spell, witchcraft,” which is of uncertain origin. Earliest used of witches and of serpents, who were said to be able to cast a spell by a look that rendered one unable to move or resist”

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