Between 2024 and 2027, the thematic and conceptual focus of Vilenica will be on the “Brave New World.” Over the next four years, the Festival will address a number of pertinent and crucial questions related to the challenges posed to humans and literature alike by artificial intelligence, sociological and technological change, global languages and climate change.

This year’s festival will, under the motto “Icarus 2.0,” be dedicated to artificial intelligence.

Whenever humanity is confronted with a new technology that fundamentally alters the ontological nature of a realm or of an area of work, individuals respond to it in two predictable, and predictably opposite, ways. On the one side are the techno-romantics, who attribute an omnipotent and usually redemptive power to technology: technology will solve all the problems of their area, improving, democratising and simplifying it. On the other side are the technophobes, the prophets of doom who see technology as an evil that will destroy “our way of life,” subjecting their area to totalitarian control and abuse, and robbing it of meaning. This year, the pre-jubilee 29th Vilenica will confront the challenge of artificial intelligence by trying to navigate between the two extremes – of idealisation and fear.

Art and literature are undoubtedly among the activities that make us human and differentiate us from other intelligent animals. That is why the possibility of the development of artificial intelligence – which is made by human hands, programmed by humans, and which might be capable of artistic, literary creation – is so profoundly and fundamentally unsettling. Is this really art? If so, what kind of art is it? What does it mean for the humanity of art if readers cannot see the difference between literature written by a human and literature written by a machine? And what does this mean for humanity itself? Is a machine really still a machine if it can write something completely new? How are we to read such a work? Why read such a work at all if there is no human experience behind it? For whom is it intended? Who is the author of a literary work written by an artificial intelligence? The intelligence itself or its inventor – or perhaps the multinational corporation whose intellectual property it is?

As banal as it may sound, artificial intelligence is causing us the most difficulties in the area of copyright; this problem is banal in the way that survival in late capitalism is banal. Of course, AI texts are not created from scratch. They are not born of any imagination; rather, they are a matter of freely combining existing texts, of imitating or simulating. An artificial intelligence can write a poem in the style of Prešeren if it has Prešeren’s oeuvre at its disposal, but it cannot write like an artificial intelligence. It has no style of its own, no voice or story; it cannot break genre rules, it cannot innovate. At this stage of AI’s development, it is the greatest artist because it steals. And in no way is that banal: companies are using other people’s works to “feed” AI, while AI is already slowly chipping away at publishing – machine-translated, proofread, edited works, with machine-designed covers, are already a fact of life in some major markets. In this way, the humanity of literature is literally being lost – and people are the casualties of this loss. Artificial intelligence can also entail the depreciation and also the eradication of many jobs in what is in an already undernourished sector.

Artificial intelligence also raises some retroactive questions that we may not have considered. How has literature changed since the days we wrote with pen on paper, bent over a desk, with an oil lamp at hand? Since the invention of the typewriter, of the computer – of that ur-machine that allows us to blithely write, erase, copy, replace, correct, seek synonyms, fix up the typos it underlines, right up to submitting a manuscript to a printers? Yes, novels can swell, but the very process of producing the text has changed without us really noticing. Many things that were thought to be impossible have become possibilities. Artificial intelligence is just a logical step forward in this sense – the computer has no control, it is a passive memory of the text we write: artificial intelligence takes control and produces the text itself.

This year’s Vilenica will therefore be an opening of Pandora’s Box. With this year’s guests, we will be thinking about, querying, and anticipating what the creator of AI failed to. We will try to understand the machine that is trying to understand us. And we hope that this is not a race to see who will be first to understand the other. Join us, and perhaps – in the words of Srečko Kosovel’s poem “To the Mechanics,” which greets us in the title – we will welcome the “new man who is coming” after all.