Reflection on GL

Before Bin started on his presentation, upon hearing the title ‘Automated utopia’, the first imaginary that popped into my mind was humans not having to move at all and everything- like EVERYTHING was controlled by robots. We would literally only feel one emotion, which was happy, because literally we didn’t have to do anything and that’s just perfect.

After hearing Bin’s lecture, this imaginary has morphed drastically but more importantly, why?

The main takeaway I had from the lecture was how emotions can actually be conveyed through AI, through technology. Personally, I think I have limited my imagination of AI to certain areas. In my head, they are only prominent in warfare, in health diagnostics, basically, the “boring-stuff”. However, through his lecture, I came to realise that there is a lot of deeper questions to the existence of AI and the emotional sentiments behind this topic.

The first piece I am going to talk about that struck this chord was Doomsday Book’s The Heavenly Creature.

This film centers around a robot repairman who was sent to a buddhist monastery, who have seemingly achieved enlightenment due to his inherent lack of human flaws. But one thing that got me thinking is that no one ever mentioned that he was a robot in the film even though he looks so distinct from everyone else and also most characters (except the manufacturer and technician) treated him as if he was just like them- human.

So… is he life? Bin posted this question to us: what does it mean to be a life and have existence? does it limit to a physical body? It seems me that humans have been too used to having every emotion we can think of seemingly associated with a facial expression but Bin challenges us to think further- maybe robots and humans have a kind of  symbiotic relationship where AI could potentially help to achieve human true potential, no longer have to struggle over more laborious job and allowing us to be more introspective.

This reminds me of a movie, Baymax.

Baymax is an inflatable robot to serve as a personal healthcare companion to Hiro Hamada and they both share a comradeship that goes beyond, as seen in the ending.

*get ready for spoilers*

At the ending, Baymax and Hiro enter into a teleportation portal to save a girl who had been trapped in there for a long time and, just as they are about to leave the portal before it closes down forever, with the girl in hand, debris hits Baymax and he lost his abilities to fly.  In, perhaps, the saddest moment in Disney history, Baymax tells Hiro that he can use his rocket fist armor piece to get Hiro and the girl to safety, but Baymax cannot fly any longer, so he will stay behind.  Then, the killer moment, Baymax asked Hiro to tell him that he is satisfied with his service so that he can power down. Which. He. Did.

This to me foreshadows the emotional aspects that AI can bring out, which Bin is trying to suggest. Baymax, the robot, gave his all to his owner even though it meant he could ‘die’. Yet, knowing that Baymax is a robot and is not life, still makes this such a sad ending? Also, to add, the nature of technology, it almost seem as if the robots always give and the human always benefits.

The second piece that made me realised there are emotional qualities in data is the piece by Alexandra Daisy Ginsberg, the Substitute.

This piece explores a paradox: our preoccupation with creating new life forms, while neglecting existing ones. A northern white rhino is digitally brought back to life, informed by developments in the human creation of artificial intelligence (AI). Based on research from AI lab DeepMind, the rhino performs as an artificial agent, an autonomous entity that learns from its environment. A life-size projection, 5m wide, shows the artificial rhino roaming in a virtual world, becoming more “real” as it comprehends the limits of the space.

This sensitive use of data got me thinking- how does one truly feel? Why is it even though we know and can see that a rhino is being formed out of pixels, we still feel for the rhino? My theory is that the pixels may not be able to relate to us but yet this technology is able to output a theatrical experience that help us feel.

I like to draw a parallel to the piece ‘‘We Live in an Ocean of Air’ which was first showcased in Dec 2018 at the Saatchi Gallery, London.

The motivation behind this piece is to reconnect humans with nature by showing the invisible, by materialising the symbiotic relationship with the plant kingdom.

In this VR space, we would be able to enter the tree in which we will see vast flow of forces of a living tree, and how the tree survives. But of course, what we see is just a figurative representation of ‘photosynthesis’ and this is not how photosynthesis actually works.

But as mentioned in the book “ways of seeing” even though what we see might not be objective facts, but the testimonial value makes images extremely powerful. It was actually noted in a report by Medium Publication that upon entering the tree, it looked very solid and in fact the writer felt an emotional resistance, which goes to show, the creators have successfully through VR managed to engage participants emotionally to reconsider their position in relation to the plant kingdom. It provides an alternative platform to view the challenges our planet faces in the 21st century and helps us reflect on our dependence and responsibility to the organism we share the earth with, through the help of technology.

In conclusion, just as we created the bucket because our hands cannot carry water, and the wheel because our legs are imperfect, I believe we might one day rely on AI to help us express our feelings, which we technically already am with these artworks are fore-runners to my claim. Currently, technology simulates our visuals, and our hearing but have yet to reach the stage where all our 5 senses are engaged. I believe when this happens, maybe then we might be close to the idea of ‘Automated Utopian’. We might not only be able to communicate ideas we choose to bottle up, or be able to decipher when another is feeling sad, but also AI could help simulate world beyond the limits of human perception.

Reflection for Reading Assignment

Selected reading: Turkle, Sherry. “Video Games and Computer Holding Power.” In The Second Self: Computers and the Human Spirit. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 1984-2005.

This reading makes it very clear that at the core of every video game is essentially a program, a set of code.

I was impressed by how the author uses various characters, such as the violent 13 year old girl who lost her game at the cafe and was insanely rude to the owner, Jarish, the boy with a unique name that meant nothing and has divorced parents, Marty, who seems awkwardly competitive online considering he is a 29 year old economist, Jimmy who is a total superstar online but only to mask his birth defect that has left him with an awkward gait and slightly slurred speech and many more, to protray how the computer has have such a holding power on everyone from all walks of life. Not just that but also, how the computers holds onto each one is presented differently showing the diverseness of the computer.

Through Jarish, the author presents how video games have this power of complying with one’s imagination. ‘New programming techniques offer the hope of creating characters who have more specific and interesting personalities.’ Author goes on to mention that Jarish was someone who would buy books which taught him to hack into games to modify and also disliked games in-built to cartridges because he had no access to the underlying program. This reminds me of an argument made by Lev Manovich:

Thus, hacking and adding to the game became its essential part, with new levels widely available on the Internet for anybody to download. Here was a new cultural economy which transcended the usual relationship between producers and consumers or between “strategies” and “tactics” (de Certeau): the producers define the basic structure of an object, and release few examples and the tools to allow the consumers to build their own versions, shared with other consumers.

Manovich, 1998, Our Emphasis

This is the basic fundamental which led to the creation of some of the most popular contemporary video games. An example would be: Counter-Strike. Counter Strike is actually a highly successful modification(aka ‘Mod’) from a PC first person shooter(FPS) game Half-life.

So what was being modified?
Counter Strike was not the first mod that the creator worked on, in fact it was his third version. This one modifies the multiplayer aspects of Half-Life to bring to it a more team-oriented gameplay. It is team-based featuring one team playing the role of the terrorist and the other team playing the role of the counter-terrorist. Each side has access to different guns and equipment, as well as different abilities. Its maps also have different goals such as: hostage rescue, assassination, bomb defusion, terrorist escape, etc. This new implementation of sophistication started off as a hobby project and yet now, the creator said ‘Counter-Strike probably helped the industry see FPS games as a potential for esports’

The creator also mentions that his biggest takeaway was that developers shouldn’t be scared to change things in the game, even if users aren’t on board straight away. This draws parallel to the reading, which writes the possibilities seem limitless if such marvelous things(in reference to Jarish accidental snow effect by just erasing one line of code) can happen by chance.

To read more on the creation of Counter Strike:

The original Counter-Strike mod was launched in 1999

For me personally, I found this concept of ‘the-essential-core-of-a-game-is-code’ appealing because it presents sort of a paradox. Knowing that video games are a database of codes and scripts, it’s interesting how something so systematic, so rigid is available to help facilitate and map out our infinite imagination and creativity. With that, does not not mean the player and the game share a sort of cybernetic relationship?

Seth Giddings and Helen W Kennedy presents:

Considering the need for interdependence of the player and the game, games can only come alive through a feedback loop between the player, the hardware, the software, and the screen.

Giddings and Kennedy, 2011, Digital Games as New Media

More than ‘interactive’, this brings the relationship to ‘cybernetic’ too. This loop and its need for continuity is in relation why the author describes Marty to feel ‘swept away and in control, to have complete power and yet lose himself in something outside when playing’ because it blurs out line that separates the players consciousness and game worlds.

Looking at it from the overview, video games is such a great representation of how and why computers have such a great holding power on us. The underlying algorithm, that is the fundamental of every game, is this deep structure that controls players reception and does it so cleanly. It introduces a switch from passiveness to a state of activeness within the player. By having the different elements of the computer to form a game, by having computer manifest itself this way, the player invests so much emotions from the demand of this powerful material, which suggests the intense power computers hold on us.


Reading Presentation

This post is on behalf of Amanda as well.

We were both doing on the reading: Lev Manovich, Chapter 5 “The Database” from The Language of New Media, pgs. 212-244, (MIT Press, 2001)

Our slides can be found here:

Our scripts are both placed here:

Reflections on Narrative Equivocations between Movies and Game

I went into the reading with the presumption that the only aspect that sets Movies and Games apart was the role the viewer plays, the former being one that simply watches submissively and the latter one that plays assertively. After reading this essay by Marsha Kinder, I have came to realised that while that is seemingly true, it is not the only limit in the terms how the viewer can participate in both cases and the stance the player chooses the narrative changes accordingly. All of which can be subtly manipulated by the author.

Kinder claims that “any simple distinction between active game players and passive movie spectators would be naive”. It seems if any game players were too fixated on following the rules and attaining the goals, which seems to be typical impression of a gamer, the player would be missing out on the narrative set out by the author. Whereas if any film watcher was to just simply observe the visual at hand, without having to formed their own associations, the viewer would have totally missed out on the narrative the author has set out to convey. What I interpret from this is that there ought to be a balance between the stances of the participants to be able to respond accordingly to this ‘algorithm’ that the authors have put in place that guides controls the users’ reception/ though process. Participants need to be both an active game player and passive movie spectator at the same time.

However, personally, with this theory set in place, I can’t help but think that gamers tend to loose out for the appreciation of narratives in games. I understand that Kinder has quoted Manovich that its the “well-defined task” put in place that “makes the player experience the game as a narrative”. Yet, to me, even though there is a set of rules and goals being put in place, they are limited to how much they can control a a participant. Kinder claims that there is a desire to transfer feelings of control over to the real world. With that said, I truly believe the drive induced behind wanting to win a game and hence ignoring anything in context to be utilised to form the narrative is highly likely, especially because there is a stake at hand which is implicated in the real world, whether physical or emotional.

Comparing this to movie watchers, it is innately predisposed for humans to make meaning of visual materials so, it is difficult for humans to be simply observing a film without interactive spectatorship- even without an explicit ‘rule’.

I am not saying that games are not visual materials, but what I am saying is that the algorithm, the set of rules has induced a drive to win that is much stronger the drive to bringing in their own associations to form a tale. 

Perhaps this is why Kinder mentions that film adaptions of games are not doing as well as game adaptions to film because in the case of the former, films remove the push to gain whereas in the latter, with the enhance from films, the propel for victory is only made stronger.

Reflections on Hamlet on the Holodeck

One revelation that sparked in my head when I was reading this piece was the fact that the four essential properties of creating a digital environment (namely, procedural, participatory, spatial and encyclopaedic) was not all establish at one go, instead this concept is only pieced together over time.

We start off by observing that digital environments are procedural through the example of Eliza. How rules that were created within Eliza’s responses that allows for behaviour and the embodiment of a therapist character. Though in my opinion, relatively rigid, this guides participants towards creating a narrative within the system.

Next, we see how Zork has evolved to include a participant into the system through its gameplay. It now focuses not only the rules but shifts towards what the participants was experiencing. Being able to more vividly engage the participants through challenges, Zork was able to evoke a sense of consequence- which is why I feel like there was a sense of participation as compared to Eliza.

To add on, Zork also gave a perception of space through its response content. By implying that the surroundings of the game could potentially affect the result of the game, this heightens the sensorial experience for the participants and have now suggest that there is an environment to navigate around. Analysing Victory Garden, the environment in and of itself already dramatises the message behind the piece. In both pieces, the environment plays a vital part to enhancing the narrative.

Lastly, looking at the many works that embodies the property of “encyclopaedic” , it seems to me that humans have evolved to really enjoy snooping around. For sure, there are still limitations in terms of what can be found and read but yet the idea of being able to take it in within your own time and sequence seems to grant this sense of assumed freedom which in present time seems to be a necessary trait for something to be immersive/ “living-in-the-moment”.

All in all, to me, I actually enjoy the fact that the idea of interactive narrative is constantly developing. There is still so much more ways and beauty to be discovered. For sure though not every way is going to be receptive but the fact that humans grow with these developments feels like theres a sense of challenge. Challenging humans to think and be comfortable with the way certain stories are being told but also to challenge storytellers to go beyond the unimaginable. The challenge seems awkwardly assuring and I take heart in it.

Reflection on Society of the Spectacle

I was shocked to see that this book was published in 1967. It almost seems to be a little too accurate of a prediction, on how we live our lives now. Capitalism has definitely engineered humans’ behaviour, from post-world war. It has redefined what ‘basic survival’ meant. It seems like Debord was trying to suggest that we constantly need (not want) more into to ‘survive’ in this augmented reality even though we have met the true essentials. But what struck a chord with me was the idea that we don’t just ‘need’ from a place of genuinely having something improve our lives but instead we ‘need’ because it would make us look more attractive to others. We are obsessed and bombarded with images and appearances and it completely overweights the truth and experiences. While the idea of the Spectacle has infiltrated the collective imagery, it has most frequently done so through the popularisation of its most glaring surface, heading us towards aesthetic capitalism. A personal example for me to illustrate this point would be when I first got a Macbook, 16 years old me definitely did not know what brilliant retina display meant but she knew that owning a Macbook meant- cool and hip. Another example would be when I post IGstories of myself at the gym. By posting a photo of myself there, often its not about what I have done there, what I have gone through but instead, its the portrayal, of how I want others to see me- fit and healthy. Yet, knowing this and realising it now, it is slightly uncomfortable to know that we have been sustaining such a mindset, it is almost impossible to reverse it anymore.

Reflections on “Jurong My Love” and NHB Trial Booklet

“Jurong My Love” was written in a very palatable manner. Using examples like “kind that causes your glasses to fog up the moment you disembark” or “When I awoke, I was in the clutches of the Far West.”, makes his experiences relatable even though I might have never step foot into Jurong (except for the fact that I have to go to school in Jurong). Through his use of the Bus99 ride, I can sense the extent of his attachment to Jurong not only because he put it such that it took him from one place to another around Jurong but also because as the bus journey went on, it also illustrated how his thoughts, his behaviour transformed as he grew older. One instance was when he mentioned that in the past when he was younger, he would pretend that he wanted a slice of watermelon from the perplexed fruit stall Auntie so he could break my $2 note and get a 10cents change in return so that he could call my mother while now that he is older, he takes the same bus to deliver dinner as part of a meals-on-wheels programme catering to the low-income and/or people with disabilities. It leaves me with this impression that he use to benefit from comfort of the people in Jurong when he was younger and now that he is older, he is in Jurong to give back to society.

Drawing parallel, even though NHB Trial Booklet is mainly fact-based, I came to realised that there are a significant amount of developments in Jurong that stem from wanting to benefit the community. Whether it be preserving the forest reserves, Goh’s folly/glory or housing construction, everything stems from the fact that is an actual living community in Jurong and what is done in Jurong alway aimed to implicate them directly and positively.

Inspiring example of IA: Project “Voz Alta”

Project “Voz Alta” also known as “Loud voices” is done by Rafael Lozano-Hemmer. This piece was a memorial commissioned for the 40th anniversary of a student massacre in Tlatelolco, Mexico, which took place on October 2nd 1968. The massacre started as a government led attack to silence student protest against violence exerted by the riot police then. However, under an authoritarian regime, no formal investigation into the killings was ever initiated. This meant that the number reported and the name-list in the official documents were not accurately depicted. (More background of this massacre can be found: Mexico’s 1968 Massacre: What Really Happened?)

Credits: Hector Garcia and Acervo Comite

In this piece, audiences participated by speaking freely into a megaphone right at where the massacre took place. This is then translated as beaming a 10,000-watt searchlight in sequences of flashes onto the top of the building of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Locals could also tune into 96.1FM Radio UNAM to listen to what the lights were saying.voz_alta_01

voz_alta_24Credits: Rafael Lozano-Hemmer, “Voz Alta, Relational Architecture 15”, 2008.

The voice-as-light projections superimpose public voice onto emblems of national heritage. With the use of sound, it allows the public to negotiate boundaries between historical record and the public collective memory of what actually happened, focusing on it as a mechanism for power. Through the use of these mediums, what “Voz Alta” achieved for its participants was an activation of memory associated with the massacre, and its potential to supplement the incomplete history. Ignoring the fact that some members of public has used this piece for commercial use such as a proposal, this piece is very significant in my opinion because it indicates a development in the politics of the government, what was once condemned is now slowly being overcome and this piece provides an agency for the public to facilitate and participate in this progression.

This is a supplementary video which also speaks of his inspiration for this piece.

Reflections on Marsha Kinder’s Designing a Database Cinema

Upon reflection, the aspects behind designing a database cinema is very different from my initial impression of what it meant. Initially, my impression of a database cinema was basically- information overload. With that, the one main key takeaway I had from the reading was the point on how database narratives actually focused on the processes of selection and combination of the information that lie at the heart of the piece. To me, what really struck me was indeed that in this era, information is readily available at hand and maybe now, it’s not so much how much you know but instead what you can do with the information. Especially placing it into the context of new media, and creating a narrative, the information selected plays an important role in letting the user realised on their own that they are the reader. What I realised in the works that were part of the Labyrinth project were that they required for the users to first be attuned to the technical specification of the apparatus before the user can start composing their own interpretation. Thus, the structure in the works is crucial to the “language” of these works. This sort of engagement might not be the most straightforward as compared to the traditional printed book but thats the beauty of it. In the reading, it describes as its structure as a sort of ‘search engine’, where users have to make their own random choices to piece together information to form their own hypothesis or in this case, their own story. In my daily life, the information that I retain is often the ones I search for myself instead of the ones fed to me. So, if we could feed our stories in these way and leave impressions to truly drive our message across as artists then I say honestly, What a better way to present information!