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Hill Climbing

Presented by: Lasse Scherffig

Hill Climbing is a Google StreetView walking bot that always goes upwards, following the direction of the steepest slope. As a software bot, the work acts autonomously, creating an open-ended visual meditation on human and machine agency, artificial intelligence and optimization, and operational landscapes and images of the measured globe.

The bot implements the "hill climbing" optimization technique (hill climbing with random restarts), widely used in machine learning and artificial intelligence. It constitutes the process of incrementally finding better solutions to a given search problem by following the ascent of a search space. The paper illustrates the fact that all contemporary machine learning techniques can be understood as mathematical optimization methods. It visually connects the idea of AI research as a heroic quest of artificial general intelligence (AGI) with the lone wanderer in romanticism who confronts the sublime beauty of nature. It seeks to demystify artificial intelligence and the agency of machines by illustrating how they are grounded in the unholy reality of error landscapes that navigate mathematically.

By taking these landscapes at face value, the bot appropriates Google's corporate image space of the world, including its distinctive aesthetics, absurdities, and limitations. This spatial representation is connected to publicly available elevation data from a scan of the Earth's surface conducted during a space shuttle mission. During the festival, Hill Climbing will be shown in the form of video and live streaming from a computer in Cologne, focusing on the geographical location of Manizales, Colombia.