Transformations of the Human (ToftH) Graduates From the Berggruen Institute and Launches Tofth School

Kim Newman

The former Transformations of the Human (ToftH) program at the Berggruen Institute has graduated! The program has become its own independent nonprofit organization aimed at bringing philosophy, art, and technology together in a single framework. Comprised of research and project work with technology firms, a school and a publication arm, ToftH launched its official website and welcomed its first cohort of students on December 1, 2021.

“At present, a concern for philosophical stakes is absent from technology research and development.

The effect is that tech companies disrupt the concepts we live by without noticing the creative potential: the consequence is a missed opportunity to build products and processes that positively shape the new.

ToftH’s mission is to change that.”

The inaugural cohort will participate in a seven-month one-of-a-kind experimental curriculum and will receive $40,000 each to contemplate the intersection of philosophy, art, and technology. External faculty and guest lecturers include Benjamin Bratton, Eoin Brodie, Hans-Peter Brondmo, Brian Cantwell-Smith, Ian Cheng, Antonio Damasio, Kate Darling, Stephanie Dinkins, Drew Endy, Danny Ferrante, Reid Hoffman, Elaine Hsiao, Yuk Hui, Pierre Huyghe, Yann LeCun, Christian Madsbjerg, Margaret McFall-Ngai, Hartmut Neven, Michael Specter, BenVickers, Liping Zhao, Andrew Zuckerman.

ToftH is headquartered in Southwest Berkeley, CA and is powered by a small but mighty team of research and administrative staff and thankful to its growing list of advisors. In a press release in October, CEO Tobias Rees thanked the Institute for incubating the program since its inception in 2018. With the support of the Berggruen Institute and board member Reid Hoffman, the program is proud to stand on its own organizationally, practically, and financially.

composed by Arswain
machine learning consultation by Anna Tskhovrebov
commissioned by the Berggruen Institute
premiered at the Bradbury Building
downtown Los Angeles
april 22, 2022

Human perception of what sounds “beautiful” is necessarily biased and exclusive. If we are to truly expand our hearing apparatus, and thus our notion of beauty, we must not only shed preconceived sonic associations but also invite creative participation from beings non-human and non-living. We must also begin to cede creative control away from ourselves and toward such beings by encouraging them to exercise their own standards of beauty and collaborate with each other.

Movement I: Alarm Call
‘Alarm Call’ is a long-form composition and sound collage that juxtaposes, combines, and manipulates alarm calls from various human, non-human, and non-living beings. Evolutionary biologists understand the alarm call to be an altruistic behavior between species, who, by warning others of danger, place themselves by instinct in a broader system of belonging. The piece poses the question: how might we hear better to broaden and enhance our sense of belonging in the universe? Might we behave more altruistically if we better heed the calls of – and call out to – non-human beings?

Using granular synthesis, biofeedback, and algorithmic modulation, I fold the human alarm call – the siren – into non-human alarm calls, generating novel “inter-being” sonic collaborations with increasing sophistication and complexity. 

Movement II: A.I.-Truism
A synthesizer piece co-written with an AI in the style of Vangelis’s Blade Runner score, to pay homage to the space of the Bradbury Building.

Movement III: Alarmism
A machine learning model “learns” A.I.Truism and recreates Alarm Call, generating an original fusion of the two.

Movement IV: A.I. Call
A machine learning model “learns” Alarm Call and recreates A.I.Truism, generating an original fusion of the two.