Are the myths of Pandora and Prometheus a parable for AI?

From The Economist:

In Greek mythology Prometheus, a Titan, stole fire from Mount Olympus to give to humans, whom he created. That did not go down well with Zeus, king of the gods. He sentenced Prometheus to the daily torture of having his regenerating liver eaten by an eagle. For mankind, Zeus devised a different punishment. He created Pandora and gave her a jar, which he warned her not to open. When her curiosity got the better of her and Pandora lifted the top, all manner of evil was released into the world. Only hope remained trapped under the lid.

A new production from the San Francisco Ballet reimagines the myth for modern California. “Mere Mortals”, which premièred on January 26th for a limited run, is stylistically and sonically unique. Pandora’s story is an allegory for technological progress, explains Tamara Rojo, the ballet’s artistic director. She commissioned the piece with artificial intelligence (ai) in mind. “It is the perfect story to tell when we’re talking about the moral questions that we should be asking ourselves while developing these new technologies,” says Ms Rojo. Is ai a destructive force that humans have unleashed, an empowering tool offering them godlike power or both?

When she arrived in San Francisco from the English National Ballet in 2022, Ms Rojo’s goal was to tell stories relevant to the Bay Area and to California. It does not get more relevant than ai. Just west of the opera house is Hayes Valley, a small neighbourhood nicknamed “Cerebral Valley” after all of the ai techies who have moved there.

The result is an ancient story steeped in futurism. Ballet traditionalists may at first be taken aback. Signs outside the theatre warn guests that dry ice and strobe lights will be used during the performance. The dancers wear black, skin-tight, leathery costumes. The curtain opens on a stage filled with fog, red light and shadows. An electronic hum emanates from the orchestra pit. Throughout the production, the musicians play alongside an electronic score composed by Sam Shepherd, a British producer and dj also known as Floating Points.

The production does more than just hint at the progress and peril that ai offers mankind. ai has been used to help put on the show. Several large screens set behind the dancers display abstract images—crackling blue sparkles, a red sun, earthly landscapes depicted in celestial pastels—that set the tone for the performance. Hamill Industries, a creative studio based in Barcelona, made some of them using Stable Diffusion, an ai model that generates images from text descriptions and other prompts. The result is visually overwhelming—but that is the point. There is a tension between the dozens of bodies on stage and the images playing behind them, as if the humans are competing with the ai-generated art for the audience’s attention.

Link to the rest at The Economist