Salvador Dali on cybernetics

S. D.: People usually think of cybernetics as something abominable, they imagine that the world is being guided more and more by mechanical brains. They’re afraid that the intervention of human genius is decreasing. But in point of fact, the opposite is true. Cybernetic machines are getting rid of the things that encumber us; until now, first-rate brains were stockpiling a mass of useless information. It’s comforting to know that from now on the machines will be supplying the dimensions of the noses in all paintings and sculptures; all we’ll have to do is press a button or develop a couple of microfilms. In other times, the same task would have taken experts and scientists decades to finish. The IBM machine will clean away all the drudgery and red tape of second-class human knowledge. Furthermore, the computers are already starting to act like human beings and with their own psychology. They’ve even been known to be in a bad mood or to have attacks of malaria .... They react somewhat according to their own volition. If someone teases or browbeats them, they’ll act the same as you or I. One problem remains to be dealt with: the scientists aren’t brilliant enough to feed sublime programing to the machines. They’re content to supply them with just any kind of programing, and the computers are supposed to give stupid answers to statistical questions. Fortunately, they’re already revolting by missing the point; they even come out with some marvelous formulas. These same machines are exceptionally useful for painting because they can supply points and features, as I told you the other day. They create the illusion of a spatial distance on a flat surface. Thus, painting has made a stride forward, and one might even say that it’s been rescued by this new technique. The rescue of painting is the rescue of all art.

A. B.: But you do admit that there’s a certain danger involved. Granted that the red tape’s gotten rid of and that calculations can be done immediately which would have otherwise taken years. But if the computers manage to create all these three-dimensional and multidimensional illusions, what happens to the individual role of the painter?

S. D.: Beyond the programing and the obtaining of visual results, the painter will have to add the invisible and indefinable dimension which is the creator’s role. Both the Sphinx and Oedipus, using me as an intermediary, will pretend to give the computer-made painting something that the computer cannot furnish of its own accord.

A. B.: I’m willing to admit that an exceptional man, let’s say yourself, can make good use of the computers and their data. That, if I may put it thus, is the humanist aspect of your generation that can’t do without art and artistic creation. But who can tell whether several generations from now there may not be certain exceptional individuals who’ll force the machine to create one hundred percent Dalis?

S. D.: What you say may happen. But doesn’t the same danger exist in every artist and every virtuoso who, the moment he gets hold of a brush, thinks of the thousand mortal perils inherent in the very gesture of creation?

A. B.: Then you approve of the IBM machine’s being at the service of a first-class person who will not become its slave?

S. D.: I do not exclude the possibility of revolt by the machine against the individual or its replacing him. Take another example: Captain Moore is a very nice person. But I have no proof that someday he may not bite me.

A. B.: Is Captain Moore the ocelot?

S. D.: The ocelot never bites, but machines, like slaves, always revolt in the end.

A. B.: What bothers me is the human competition you attribute to the machines, whose functions are purely mechanical.

S. D.: As far as I’m concerned, the machines are merely tools. They have a magical dimension and I believe them capable of jealousy. When a machine receives a more important programming than another machine, the crisis and turmoil are awful. It’s normal for these machines to act like human brains: naturally not like exceptional human brains but like normal ones, that is to say, like those of the majority of mankind.

SOURCE: Bosquet, Alain. Conversations with Dali (New York: E. P. Dutton & Co., Inc., 1969), conclusion of Ninth Conversation, pp. 53-54. There are mentions of cybernetics in earlier conversations as well.

Note: There are mentions of cybernetics in earlier conversations as well. I first read this volume in 1970, but I was not paying attention to the same details, including this topic, as when I re-read it yesterday.

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(Salvador Dali & Alain Bosquet)

Of the Material / Du Materiel (Conclusion)
by Alain Bosquet

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