New Yorker cartoonist Kurzweil’s graphic memoir Artificial (Catapult, Oct.) documents how her father, futurist Ray Kurzweil, programmed an AI chatbot to “resurrect” her grandfather.
Given that your father has written and spoken extensively on technology, how did you navigate your own contributions to the dialogue around AI?
A big motivation for this book was grounding the more theoretical stuff that my father talks about in a specific project and a human experience. A guiding question is: “What would it be like to talk to a family member you’ve never met?” Comics and the arts bring the emotional, sensory experience to the forefront for readers.
Did drawing journal entries and legal documents allow for a connection with the people who originally created them?
The process of repetitively redrawing things over and over—that’s why the project took seven years. The quality of attention that’s required when you’re drawing is extremely focused. It’s an antidote to the world today, which doesn’t give us time to observe with nuance. A thesis of the book is that time and attention are basically love. So, if I’m spending all this time with artifacts of my grandfather’s life, that’s a way to have a kind of loving relationship with him, even though he’s not around.
How did you think about your Jewish family history and the Holocaust as they relate to your father’s desire to create this chatbot?
I always understood my father’s desire to resurrect his father’s identity as being connected to two different kinds of trauma. One is the loss of his father at a young age in a common but tragic scenario, with heart disease. The other trauma is this loss of a whole culture. Jewish life in Vienna was incredibly vibrant. Literally overnight it was lost. The suddenness of that loss was profound, and it took me a while to appreciate that. My great-aunt Dorit, who died this past year at 98, said they were following all the arbitrary protocols of the Nazis to save all this documentation. Saving documentation is an inheritance in my family that is a response to that traumatic circumstance.
What did you discover about your father and yourself?
We were more similar than I understood before. The intensity of our drive, I started to see, was something we shared. Writing the book did give me some permission to be as ambitious as I want to be. That’s hard for women to admit—that they want to do great things and things that are hard and complicated and really big and maybe don’t have answers. Writing this book did help me feel like I was giving myself permission to enter that space, but doing it in my own way.