Open-source Sentience: the Proof is in the Performance


Session Title:

  • Machinic Sense & Sensibility: Cyborgs and Virtual Bodies

Presentation Title:

  • Open-source Sentience: the Proof is in the Performance



  • This paper asks how AI can change the consensus around the notion of sentience, through a specific focus on the intertwining of culture and materiality, as well as human-nonhuman relations. The question of sentience in machines is generally regarded as a rather fetishizing notion that obscures the specific assemblages of AI. We would like to open up this notion of fetish, and provide a theoretical map for an inverted way of understanding how fetishization of AI could be mobilized in cultivating an interspecies community.

    The ideas reflected in this paper are drawn from a research-creation project that took place in Spring of 2019, Machine Ménagerie , in which a collection of small autonomous robots serve as a medium for considering different understandings of human-machine interaction. Machine Ménagerie creates the basis for interrogating the exclusive definition of sentience as a measurable property.

    We argue instead for an approach that would emphasize (1) the relational nature of the notion of sentience, and (2) the rituals of care and friendship in relating to nonhuman others. In this context, sentience is not something that beings own, or that humans bestow upon things, but rather is something that is continuously achieved and in which humans and nonhumans participate.