The Prediction: Afrofuturism 3.0 & Generative AI

Nettrice Gaskins
3 min readNov 5, 2023
Me + Midjourney and Photoshop (Generative AI)

In 2015 the book Afrofuturism 2.0: The Rise of Astro-Blackness was released and it examines the applicability of contemporary expressions of Afrofuturism, from several different points of view and disciplines of study. I wrote chapter two titled “Afrofuturism on Web 3.0”, which navigated technologies from the past, then present and future (now). I considered Web 3.0 or the “semantic Web”, that combined software development with cultural data. — Afrofuturism 3.0 Revisited

Slide from Bloomberg/UC Davis presentations

In 2015 the world was different: I was part of a niche group of artists who were still using Second Life, a virtual 3D world, to install/create their work. But unbeknownst to me, researchers had recently discovered that feeding algorithms called neural networks huge numbers of images enabled the algorithms to generate new images. When I wrote the Afrofuturism essay I was exploring the notion of a Semantic Web:

Taken from my Afrofuturism 3.0 essay.

The association between artificial intelligence and the Semantic Web has a long history. However, AI and more specifically Generative AI, would supersede the promise of the Semantic Web. I predicted that what was coming on the technology side would change the way we imagined ourselves in the future. For example, I’ve written several published essays about the prevalence of the Kongo Cosmogram in past ritual pratices, dance performances, contemporary art, and even in hip-hop as the cypher (circle). In general (in many non-Western cultures), the cosmogram is a cultural map of the universe but in Afrofuturism it is a portal, a vehicle to navigate the past, present, and future.

My version of the Kongo Cosmogram
Breakdancing cypher
Leimert Park VR cypher

Also, I wrote about the use of quilt symbols and patterns as map legends to guide enslaved African Americans to freedom. Recently, we (Lesley STEAM Learning Lab) have introduced traditional African American quilts and mathematics learning to K-8 teachers and students. Many of the patterns in the Gee’s Bend, Alabama quilts demonstrate the transfer of ancestral knowledge across generations. Artifacts such as the cypher and the quilts can be used as data in technologies such as Web 3.0 and generative AI.

Loretta Pettway Bennett
Teaching scale factor math using a Gee’s Bend quilt pattern

Generative AI allows artists to combine, mix or remix cultural elements. For example, I mixed in the “cosmogram” and “Gee’s Bend quilt” in my Midjourney images, through the use of prompts. I added the words/terms into pre-existing prompts and got these results:

Me + Midjourney (cosmograms and quilt patterns)
Original output re: the top image

The Semantic Web does not involve logic or reasoning in any way. However, generative AI or GenAI does in that it is able to make predictions based on training data and human input. Using GenAI we (artists) can use machine (deep) learning to layer and mix polyrhythmic visual patterns and geometric forms (circles) to create new images. We find these patterns and forms in Afrofuturism and traditional African and African American art.

--

--

Nettrice Gaskins

Nettrice is a digital artist, academic, cultural critic and advocate of STEAM education.