Richard Aubrey Slaughter
Richard Aubrey Slaughter is currently a doctoral candidate in the Informatics department at the Donald Bren School of Information and Computer Science at the University of California, Irvine. His MA in Social Science was conducted at the University of Chicago, and his BA in Anthropology at the University of Texas, Austin. He is a recipient of the 2016 DTEI Pedagogical Fellowship, and has received funding from the National Science Foundation for the studies of sameness in scientific sampling. Publication of his latest work is forthcoming in the 2021 Routledge Handbook of Digital Media and Communication. Principally concerned with the intersection between the seen and the unseen in human/infrastructural relations, he specializes in examining non-standard uses of informational technology, such as automated blackmail, ad hoc hacktivism, and magical infrastructures.
The latest advances in cognitive computation are a move inexorably towards a shamanism of the machine, a magical phenomenology based on fanciful but effective latent structures that we lack either the capacity or the sensorium to interrogate.
Bridging concerns from human-computer interaction (HCI) and media studies, this essay theorizes deepfake images in terms of their phenomenological implications: the extent to which they enfold the human viewer in a world of the otherwise unseen. Drawing on comparative phenomenology of Vilém Flusser and Louis Bec, we focus on variational autoencoders (VAEs). We contend that the processes underlying deepfake image construction, as much as deepfake images themselves, evidence a parallel, prosthetic, and computational phenomenology: a study of “that which appears” to a computer, and which appears secondarily to a user-human as image. We use the example of VAEs to argue for the emergence of a second-order, received phenomenology of the augmented human as we reside in an increasingly computational world.