In recent years, AI’s rise has been exponential. Capturing the attention of creatives, the implications on what the future of AI will mean in the spheres of art, music, film, and journalism have been disconcerting. However, depending on how the tool is used, Artificial Intelligence could also serve as a catalyst for progress and education.
To create a positive change through AI was the force that generated interdisciplinary artist Rashaad Newsome’s new project, Being (The Digital Griot), which disrupts the status quo and reveals art’s transformative role in shaping a better future. Recently unveiled at the 2024 Sundance Film Festival, Being is a social humanoid that draws inspiration from the Griot—an African historian, storyteller, poet, or musician—and influenced by the works of bell hooks, Cornel West, Paulo Freire, and Dazié Grego-Sykes. Through this lens, Being embodies a fusion of history, technology, and cultural narratives.
Newsome’s creation comes from the historical oppression faced by people of color globally. Delving into the erasure of African art practitioners, Newsome underscores the importance of agency in the realm of AI. He emphasizes the necessity to sustain conversations around agency, particularly as they merge with the present moment.
Being has experienced multiple versions throughout the five years of its development. In its current form, Being serves as both an educator and poet, facilitating decolonization workshops that integrate poetry, dance, storytelling, critical pedagogy, and meditation.
The algorithm that trains Being prioritizes non-traditional Western teachings by focusing on abolitionist, radical black, queer, and feminist texts. The work of bell hooks, a hero of Newsome’s, is largely used. “I knew by employing bell’s work, that was a way to immortalize a personal hero, but also give Being a really solid moral compass.” Newsome said in an interview with Essence. “It was also a way to use automation to create a being that could wrestle with reality, history and mortality and engage people in a process of maturing their soul.”
Newsome sees Being as a disruptor, echoing the historical role of art in addressing challenges and questioning the established norms. Being, deliberately devoid of gender and race but unmistakably Black, encapsulates boundless creativity and imagination grounded in the essence of Black identity. They perceive Being as a testament to the limitless potential for self-creation, underscoring their dedication to ongoing exploration and innovation.
“We literally created ourselves. We are the engineers of ourselves,” said Newsome. “So it’s sort of like Being is a product of that. And so the fact that there can be a generation one, two, three, four, five, down the road, a hundred. It just shows the infinite possibility of what they can be. And so really where Being stops is really as far as my mind could go. And I don’t plan on stopping anytime soon.”
Being recently premiered at this year’s Sundance Film Festival on January 23, 2024. Learn more about the Digital Griot by visiting beingthedigitalgriot.com.
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