Final Project — Initial Ideation

INtial Exploration

Strengths:

Exploration of Emotions via Text allows for us to dissect and observe the change in one’s emotional state over a period of days. We do not need to personally know someone but rather just have access to the information on their devices, to have a perception of their intimate self.

Weakness: 

Not visually powerful enough. The use of circles signify closure and was not ideal in exploring multiple relationships.

Idea 1: (Sculpture)

Topographical Map,
2-Dimensional to 3-Dimensional
Web-Like Structure with both Peaks  And Valleys.

(Areas of Concentration of both Positive and Negative Emotions)

Centre, Neutral line representing the timeline or days.

Digital/Physical Visualisation.

 

 

Inspiration

 

Idea 2 : Mixed Media

Simpler but possibly more visually powerful

Creating a Visual Map:
By using Identified Texts —> Assigning Emotion to it —> Looking at Date/Day Text was sent —> Look at Phone Gallery/Social Media to find Image/Tweet saved/liked on Corresponding Date.

To try and visualise if there is any correlation between the intimate interactions we have online vs the more subtle interactions we make with social media in itself. See if there is any pattern in the type of image that is generated or comes up for any particular emotion.

Do the emotions we feel and show via our texts influence the content we interact with on social media or vice versa?

16 October 

Emotion: Vulnerability

Text: ‘Please keep it to yourself’

Tweet Liked:

Image Saved on Gallery:

Outcome:

Creating a detailed visual database of the relationships we involve in, in the virtual world. Proof of Concept that our Devices provide access to our most intimate and private thoughts/feelings and that these information can be publicly accessed. Archiving information over a period of days, and then connecting the days with similar imagery to see if there is any correlation between emotion and type of social media ‘trace’ within the same day.

Exploratory Generative Study — Final Iteration

System:

Looking through texts and identifying most appropriate text sent by person/user objectively, to best summarise feelings expressed on that day. Reflected in work.

Constants:

Equidistant Points on Circumference
Centre Point
Colour/Shape assigned to contact
Size of Circle
Distance between Circles

Dependant Variables:

Number of Solid Lines
Number of Dashed Lines
Size of Area formed by Lines
Density of Lines
Words Expressed

Conclusions:

No connection between third party without intermediary connection through me

Results/Findings:

There was a flow in emotions expressed by each person/myself through the days. Validated that text messages are indeed intimate and are indicative of what we feel. They’re not just superficial.

Process:

Final Outcome can be overwhelming and ‘messy’.

1.Dilemma between adding too many and too little ‘lines’: I did not want to force any sort of connection/correlation upon the viewer and leave it up to themselves to connect it intuitively. I mainly connected the points representing myself to indeed show that there is some sort of consistency in emotions expressed throughout the period. This was to merely guide the viewer in making their own connections between the other elements.

2.Number of Circles Vs Size of Circle: Not too big as to make it obvious. But not too small to make it completely not readable.

Lack of Lines/Negative Space are as important as the presence of Lines/Area.

possible Improvements/exploration:

Hard to predict the outcome as it was not pre meditated.

Digitalise the Data but in a more objective way:  using an external computer etc that will analyse it in a way that is different from human objectivity. (we still are to some extent influenced by our emotions). Interesting to see how an isolated machine system makes sense of the words and assigns the links between them.

Possible Expansion: are there also links between ‘vague’ or ‘expressionless’ words? Punctuation? Emojis? Etc.

Reflection — Amplifying The Uncanny

Overarching Thoughts (on GAN , ‘ The Uncanny’ in contemporary society)

In this article, the authors explores how Generative Adversarial Networks (GAN) and Machine Learning have intensified the phenomena of the ‘uncanny’ — described as a certain level of discomfort or unease one feels when a machine mimicking organic human behaviour comes seemingly close to, yet disjointed and ‘faulty’ in its portrayal. It’s the simultaneous humane semblance and recognisability in the machine that plays with our emotional perception, yet our awareness and consciousness that it is a visibly artificial machine-construction that evokes this sensation.

It is provocative, provoking, unsettling and ultimately a unique reflection of our own perception of ourselves. The dysfunction in the machine and its faults are not rationalised in the way we would observe, clinically, the faults of a system like a washing machine or a vehicle (also machines). It is the machine-learned human nuances these machines have and their anthropomorphic form that seduce us into making some sort of ‘involuntary’ psychological and mental connection to them. Their form, appearance and behaviour (though crude, a sufficient enough representation of the human) creates an intuitive intimacy and we project our own feelings, experiences and learned world views onto our observation of this machine. This at the same time is inextricably linked to our obsession, fear and intrigue with technology/artificial intelligence.

It is not just a random discomfort but one that deeply is rooted in some way to our subconscious feelings towards technology’s presence and co-existence in the contemporary world. For example, if a primitive human like a Neanderthal who has no known knowledge or experience with technology sees a work like Ken Feingold’s ‘If, Then’ 2001 , it will probably be shocked and intrigued in a very banal and unintelligent manner.

For us humans who have some preconceived perception and familiar intimacy with technology and are constantly adapting to live with it, as augmentations of our body/mind, a representation like that is even more uncomfortable and uncanny. It plays on this innate, (irrational?) fear (one that has been propagated by novels, movies and media) of artificial intelligence eventually becoming intelligent enough to adopt and appropriate what we hold on to as our ‘humanity’.

Essentially this concept is what we believe distinguishes us from machines. Though crude in its superficial portrayal, any machine that is mildly capable of replicating some sort of human learned behaviour like speech immediately destabilises our position of supremacy, reminding us that the lines between the real and ‘unreal’ is becoming increasingly blurred. It also plays on this fear of automation and artificial intelligence replacing the role of humans.

However this is not something that is insignificant. In fact, I personally feel that this concept in relation to GAN in this context then opens up the possibilities for a very contemporary personification or reflection of the human condition. The outcomes of these GANs mirror the change in perceptions and emotions the amalgamation of technology has had on us. They mirror the fears, attachment and feelings we have grown to possess with the increasing presence of these artificial ‘bodies’. After all, this is an extremely valid, relevant and powerful aspect of the contemporary human condition that cannot be ignored. It is this then, that I believe, plays a significant role in plunging us into the ‘Uncanny Valley’ (first introduced by Masahiro Mori in 1970). It is only when the ‘humanoid’s’ anthropomorphic form is transitioned into being fully indiscernible from that of a normal human that we find ourselves out of this disconcerting state of Uncanny.

http://www.umich.edu/~uncanny/

Personal experience of ‘the Uncanny’ 

This music video by one of my favourite artists, Bjork came to mind with regards to ‘The Uncanny’. Though it is a music video and I am aware that it is graphically modelled and not real, the portrayed interaction of these anthropomorphic humanoids (the way sexual intercourse and ‘love’ is expressed via turning of gears in the figures, the leaking of fuel liquid etc) evokes an uneasy yet seductive feeling. The song being about ‘Love’ — a feeling that is very humane and far from machine, being portrayed by humanoids then makes us for a moment re consider if ‘Love’ is exclusive to us and if the ‘Love’ we feel/know of is just one possible perception limited by the human experience.

FURTHER THOUGHTS (On Being Foiled)

The article describes the Generative Process of the work ‘Being Foiled’, as a Positive Feedback Loop. By using the initialised system that is pre-trained to produced Unreal, Deep Fake Portraits, (based on the dynamics of the generator and discriminator) and then subverting the function by ‘fine tuning’ the system, the machine goes through a 3 Part Process (Divergence, Convergence and Collapse) which leaves an abstract ‘trail’ or track of the deep fake construction and configuration process. The outcome is essentially a gradual and increasingly intense breakdown from imperceptibly realistic portraits to discrete geometric shapes, bold colours and full abstraction.

Source: xCoAx 2020: Proceedings of the Eighth Conference on Computation, Communication, Aesthetics & X

As the portraits breakdown in this feedback loop, we see prominent blue lines marking the face shape, eye contours and silhouette of the hair that intensify and retain giving us some sort of ‘clue’ on how these remaining parameters could possibly be the basis for a Deep Fake face construction. In’Being Foiled’, all the portraits lead up to one identical abstracted image. This suggests that the system in its deep learning process of being fed countless faces, (constant reaction to discriminator by the generator and vice versa), might have determined/learned a standard and arbitrary ‘blueprint’ as a basis to construct convincing Deep Fakes that ‘dupe’ the discriminator into recognising it as a real face.

On Generativity

The unpredictability aspect of the Generative Methodology in the GAN system, is most noticeable in what is described as the ‘peak uncanny’ in the iteration of the early stages of the feedback loop process.

Source: xCoAx 2020: Proceedings of the Eighth Conference on Computation, Communication, Aesthetics & X

In this image, the bold red hue pervades through the face and the background, while thin blue lines exaggerating the contours of the eyes, face and hair are present. The eyes are misaligned, the hair highly regularised and simplified as crosshatch lines and the wrinkles around the eyes unrealistically pronounced.

What the authors’ describe as ‘fault lines’ of the system ‘indicative’ of its generativity, these very perceivable and consistent marks in each iteration points to the relative points of the system where it is at it’s ‘weakest’ (in this context, with regards to which features of the face it faces the most struggle in replicating the organic human face). The word ‘weakness’ is used here relative to system’s objective and prescribed function. In fact, this very weak ‘points’ I describe, are probably the most optimal points from which the unpredictability potential of the system radiates from.  In this concentrated areas of ‘fault lines’ where the system breaks down and exposes itself most apparently, there is potential for the designer or artist to then target and expand on propagation in these areas, perhaps by by fine tuning the weights of the generator or by some other relevant manipulation.

However part of generativity and in the GAN system is the lack of control we have over the system. We are able to trigger and adjust the weights of either the generators or the discriminators but the circular loop in which the two entities communication and react to each other, is constant and immutable. The information that is communicated between the two changes depending on how we fine tune the system but the fundamental process remains the same. There is no fixed end state and the systems constantly evolve over the training process.

Concluding Thoughts

How generativity is successfully harnessed in this work and exploration is by fundamentally subverting a relevant and powerful machine constructed system (GANs & Deep Fake). Instead of constructing a generative system from scratch, an existing Generative System with an innate objective function is manipulated in such a way that it’s underlying unpredictabilities cause a feedback loop that deconstructs and reverses the Deep Fake Process into Abstraction.

Essentially a system that is trained to produce Images that we are unable to distinguish from real images, is manipulated into accomplishing the exact opposite. What is then significant from this outcome is the fact that a generative system is capable of manifesting itself in this extreme duality — two very different iterations that diverge from a common process. It is then our role as Artists to trigger or explore the divergent and variant outcomes these ‘closed systems’ can produce, by first analysing and then manipulating the interactions between the objects of the system and, our interaction with the system in its design process.

We also need to be conscious in the way the ‘Artistic’ outcomes of these Generative Process are presented: “while initial mesmerising and transfixing, can quickly become banal, monotonous repetitions for the sake of overwhelming the viewer with the “sublime of algorithmic productivity” (Zylinska 2019).”

Though it is argued in the article that this very algorithmic representation is powerful, we have to consider the affect and over saturation these type of repetitive output can have on our audience — we do not want them to be immune or ‘numb’ in their intuitive reaction to the works. Hence it is important to possibly explore how these iterations can be displayed — perhaps via projection or by intersecting the physical and virtual planes. One question we can ask ourselves as Generative Artist is if it possible to enhance the ‘experience’ of the dialogue with a closed system without taking away its essence?

Exploratory Generative Study

Themes

Shared Emotional Space, Virtuality, Latent Influence/Connections, Indirect Affect, Intimacy.

Concept

Exploring how our screens and phones have become augmentations of our psyche and emotions. Our phones are vessels that hold all the information about our lives — private and public.

We leave both digital and physical traces on our phones.

Physical: Fingerprints, the pressure, speed and direction in which we text on our phones is relative to our mood and state of mind – when we are arguing we tend to text faster. Some days we barely touch our phones or reply conversations when we’re feeling existential or disassociated from our world.

Digital: Text Messages are often intimate and representative of our state of mind. We engage with different people via text, creating a shared space with each one of them. We also leave traces on Social Media via Text or Visuals.

Aim 

To create a Visual Map of our emotions by identifying descriptive words associated with emotion in our text messages. While  taking note of the emotion expressed by the person we are texting. Our mood constantly changes and is influenced by everyone around us. Two people who are detached from each other can influence each other indirectly if they both communicate via an intermediary entity. For example if person A texts me and I am affected by his emotional state of mind, this then will have an influence on how I respond to person C. This is ever more so apparent in the contemporary world today where we are psychologically connected (voluntarily and involuntarily) due to the veracity of the digital/virtual world.

We are always multitasking and replying or engaging with multiple people at the same time unlike in real life where we do not have the ability to have multiple intimate dialogues simultaneously. Essentially my idea is to attempt to visualise a map that connects specific people via their expressed emotions and at the same time visualise how they play a part in influencing my mental state. Our phones have become augmentations of us and we barely pay attention to the way in which we engage with it and how this engagement has affect on our cognitive and emotional state.

Part of the exploration in this study is to take a step back and attempt to deconstruct the relationships we form in the virtual world (specifically text conversations) and sequence a set of representations that express this complex phenomena in a clearer way. By forming a sequence of simple ‘data graphs’ over a specific period of time, we can then track and process how  the people we text play a role in our lives.

Constant Variables

Size of Parameter
Positions of Point
Relative distance between Points
People

Outcomes:

Number of lines
Area within Boundary
Number of connections between me and specific person
Number of connections between people

INITIAL Visual Sketch

For each corresponding emotion or word between any two people, a line will be drawn to connect the respective points. The red line represents a connection between two isolated people while the black line represents a connection between a specific person and myself.

Illuminating Embodiments — Reflection

Overarching Thoughts — bodies & Virtuality

Rafael Lozano Hemmer talks about the concepts of ‘body’ and ‘space’ and how they operate in similar manners and are not necessarily discrete entities. A physical space or monument though ‘permanent’, its meaning and purpose is subject to the course of time and mirrors the change in society. Hence it is as equally mutable as our physical bodies. Similarly, ‘space’ is not a static concept and our bodies— through posture, movement etc cuts through space, creating a flow which in itself then harnesses ‘space’. By moving through a space, like in dancing for instance, one commands control over it and redefines it. Different dancers within the spaces will portray a different interpretation to the viewers, depending on their emotions and movements. We are powerful enough to deconstruct and re-interpret space through our fluid bodies. Hemmer creates an intersection and interaction of our physical bodies and public monuments/places by augmenting and layering it with technology inputs such as projections and other audiovisual elements. His works are also interactive in the way these elements are controlled by our physical bodies and the way we move through space with them.

In RE:Positioning Fear, the participants’ shadows trigger portraits of people. Virtuality here then is the bridging entity between people and architecture. The ability for the artist to have control over the virtual realm depending on his predetermined functions, opens up a multitude of possibilities that are not limited by the materialistic aspects of that particular building. He is able to re contextualise and re interpret a historic building away from any rooted fixed meaning. It is important to note that this temporal realm of virtuality does not belong to exclusively the building or our bodies —  it is a shared space with predetermined trigger responses but ultimately mutable and responsive to the interactivity between us, the building and the artist. Though these are three separate entities, virtuality as an intermediary allows for interactivity and contact.

Since no interaction can be fully premeditated (we all have agency over our own bodies), real life interactive works have a high chance of producing unpredictable and surprising outcomes as opposed to the artist’s original vision. In RE:Positioning Fear,  Hemmer points to this as he mentions how the behaviour of passers by was the complete opposite of what he expected to see — yet this does not in any way invalidate the profoundness of the experience but rather just goes to show how layering virtuality on top of a physical building can allow it to be explored and seen in new and unexpected perspectives. This unpredictable set of outcomes also gives the artist a chance to further develop or tap into concepts they might have been insular to previously.

Further Thoughts — Body as Performance

“In fact, Lozano-Hemmer declares that he is ‘interested in the body as a performance, a process of becoming, of change, and less interested in physiognomy, anatomy, forensics and physical ergonomics’”

Hemmer talks about how he views our physical bodies as performance instruments rather than static. He seems them as non absolute and fluid entities that are inclined go through the constant process of change and renewal. It is indeed true that our physical bodies though biologically and clinically are very materialistic, their inherent biological process imbues them with processes such as ageing and mutation. Hence change is inbuilt into our physicality to begin with. On top of this, we are able to also control the way we express our body via its movements to portray different emotions. Our postures and gestures constantly change depending on the situation we are in or the person we are interacting with. They adapt and respond accordingly with intuition. Body language is also not universal and differs across habits and cultures. Each subculture has its own unique set of ‘body language’, further amplifying the mutability of the human body and its movements. This is also why each of us interact with our spaces or redefine it in our own unique ways.

concluding thoughts

As designers of interactive spaces, we then have to study the behaviours of the occupants in our site specific installation/interactive space and adjust our works to potentialise on these unique nuances — movements of a busy train station in Tokyo as opposed to that of a quiet station in Hampshire will be completely different. Space will be interacted with in different manners and the space itself will have a very different ‘memory’ attached to it as it is carved by humans over time. Redefining it then will also require us to take all these aspects into context — we have to understand the characteristics of the body we are working with before we deconstruct and reinterpret it. Ultimately this is to ensure our interpretations are relevant, insightful and meaningful and not purposeless.

Tokyo Train Station

Bentley Railway Station (Hampshire)

Reflection — Marius Waltz, Closed Systems: Generative art and Software Abstraction

Overarching Thoughts 

Waltz mainly discusses how generative art in itself though highly precise and ‘controlled’ in the way the system which produces it is designed, its aim is to reproduce an outcome that is as close to nature as possible — organic and spontaneous phenomena which carry the inherent characteristic of ‘life’ itself — mutability and hence unpredictability. As artists and designers we want to create experiences that replicate the poetic nuances of what constitutes ‘living’. Yet we are acutely and admittedly aware that we are inextricably limited by our logic and human perception. Though we are able to ‘feel’ various intangibles such as emotion, we mostly attach these ‘feelings’ to objects or people to give them some sort of physical association and meaning. Science explains that chemicals such as dopamine and serotonin are responsible for these ‘feelings’ yet there is a somewhat spiritual and noetic aspect to these emotions that we simply can’t fathom — concepts of the soul etc.

Aware that we are only limited by our own human condition and perception, and that we simply do not have the power to ‘play god’ and detach ourselves from this schema or worldly experience to deconstruct everything from a completely unbiased, pure and distilled approach, we then turn to the use of software systems and algorithms. In a way these systems operate out of the parameters that confine ‘life’. They lack intuition and perception and their ‘learning’ depends on what information we choose to feed them. However this then renders these highly precise systems with  the ‘non existent human-objectivity’ to assist us in deconstructing our experience as a detached entity. What we have inbuilt in us, that these computerised binary systems lack is the very thing that limits us from fully taking apart (and hence recreating) the condition of ‘to be living’. We cannot put together something we do not even know how to take apart.

This then brings us to the systems we rely on. Though these systems are inanimate and devoid of any sort of ‘lively’ essence, they too produce unpredictabilities. A ‘glitch’ in the matrix or a ‘bug’ that comes up once in awhile, derailing the system from producing its supposedly premeditated outcome, resulting in moments of deviance and dysfunctionality. This capability and propensity for highly objective and parametric systems to produce unpredictabilities while lacking life, forms the key fundamental basis for generativity to exist as a significant philosophy or methodology in answering the questions we have always sought out.

The implications of a set algorithms having some sort of possible innate biases that ‘mimic’ or rather come close to mirroring the similar unpredictabilities seen in nature, while being tangible and adjustable to our touch, is highly significant. Essentially we now have in our hands a modifiable, parametric ‘replica’ that comes as close as possible to ‘life’- something we have zero control over. Whether the way it manifests is indeed controlled by a ‘higher being’ or simply operates on some sort of universal code, or balance, it is beyond us as humans as ‘life’ in itself is not in our power. We are executioners of life in the way we carry it in our physical bodies, yet when we age it is ‘taken’ away from us. We reproduce but we cannot ‘ inject ‘life’ into something. ‘Life’ in itself is not exclusive to our race. Yet given our highly developed cognitive functions and emotional perception, we are inevitably unable to simply dismiss it — existentialism, nihilism, solipsism, absurdism are all simply manifestations of the human acute awareness and frustration of our inability to understand or comprehend fully the greater world we live in.

As designers we have to apply this intuition with suitable technical skills to create a complex and interesting generative system. Waltz explains that ‘reverse engineering’ is an essential approach towards generativity — we try to ‘plan’ the intended outcome (together with its possible ‘set of unpredictabilities’) and decide what type of software, input algorithms or data set we can utilise to produce this result.

Further thoughts

In the  ‘void loop()’ section, Waltz talks about the rise of the net and how advancements in technology, together with our fascination of it, led to early exploratory works of generativity. Though they were relatively ‘crude’ and rather simple (far from the likes of veracity and complexity with associate with technology today), they fundamentally operated as valid generative closed systems. Waltz suggests that because of this closed system characteristic, and the lack of need for interactivity, coupled with the focus on the infrastructure and nature of the system itself, generative art is closer to fine art than it is to media art.

This then contextualises the approach he is suggesting for us as designers to adopt. Rather than creating an experiential piece that capitalises on user-system interaction, we should analyse the materiality of the system, it’s patterns and behaviour and modify it to our desire. It is then a process that requires a sufficient level of ‘stringency’ and discipline. We have to be precise about how we piece the elements of the system together the same way a painter precisely places brush strokes onto a canvas. It is only with this precision that we will be able to create a system that is able to function to produce profound yet meaningful outcomes.

The point of generativity is not to directly intervene/alter in the system’s process but rather to first deconstruct it and understand the potential underlying unpredictabilities it is capable of producing on its own. We then modify or add elements to it to ‘capture’ or record these unpredictabilities. We are hence required to be careful in the way we construct the system — whether digital or analogue, that each of the element is calibrated and not artificially biased to ‘rig’ the outcomes. The beauty of the outcome is not in its visual appearance or how close it is to the artist’s ideal but rather it being a meaningful and conceptual representation/manifestation of the non visible nuances and characteristics that are inherent in the designed system.

However by designing the system with some sort of discretion, we will then able to predetermine one that is able to also produce visually/mentally stimulating outcomes. Here our intuition and understanding of world views come into consideration as we make deliberate choices. Choosing to add Element A instead of B can and will result in a very different set of outcomes but which would be a more effective representation of the system? ‘Effective’ in a sense where it targets and attacks or destabilises our worldview. Does it satiate our craving to want to process intangible phenomena or offer any sort of visible, identifiable respite to deepen/expand our understanding of the relationship we have with these non discrete, poetic entities.

Data Scultpures

In the final section, Waltz fantasises about the idea of generative art completely moving off the screen (he is careful to remind us that it is indeed not limited to just pixels displayed on a screen). He believes that with technology enabling us to “extrude virtual forms” onto three dimensional space itself, this opens up the possibility for generativity’s exploration to expand even further in the contemporary world. Waltz also mentions the experimentation of data sculptures, ‘representing normally intangible information flows as physical manifestations.’

Refik Anadol, Engram : Data Sculpture for Melting Memories

The above work is an example of data sculpture I personally find fascinating.

‘Anadol gathers data on the neural mechanisms of cognitive control from an EEG (electroencephalogram) that measures changes in brain wave activity and provides evidence of how the brain functions over time. These data sets constitute the building blocks for the unique algorithms that the artist needs for the multi-dimensional visual structures on display.’ 

Earlier I mentioned how we as humans are constantly looking for ways to grasp and portray the intangible processes that we experience in our brains and body. ‘Engram” successfully harnesses and measures the empirical aspect of our cognition to then use it as input data to essentially produce an organic visual ‘life-like’ representation of our memories. The outcome is profound and mesmerising — through Generative Methodology we are able to appreciate the sheer wonderment of our brain and its functions via an almost spiritual experience. Though there is no direct interactivity and it is a closed system, there is psychological and emotional dialogue between the work and viewer intuitively. This dialogue then helps us process and internalise the intangible phenomenology surrounding our memories.

Ch 4 — Space and Place Reflections

Initial Thoughts

Yi Fu Tuan talks about how we as humans define the space around us and assign meanings, indicators and labels to this abstract intangible dimension in an attempt to navigate and operate within in – we are after all bound by space – physical, psychological, emotional. Tuan proposes that the definition of space has its roots in the orientation and function of our mortal bodies. Our upright position cuts through ‘space’ vertically as opposed to when we are rested where we ‘surrender’ to it. We innately are inclined to treat what is in front of and above us as positive and superior as opposed to what is behind and below us as negative. Our sight allows us to only see what is ahead, and we tend to ignore anything that goes on behind our back. We are fixated on this idea of moving ‘forward’ towards a destination. The word ‘back’ used in set us ‘back’ is negative as is the idea of navigating through space in the opposite direction. Essentially the space around us is constant. It is the schema we make of it that changes it. Fundamentally, ‘forward’ is defined by whichever direction we are facing or by actual objects that frame our field of vision to be focused on our object of interest.

Further Thoughts

One question that came to my mind while reading this was, how do we then define or manage the space around us if our sense of sight is removed? Forward may then be indicated by the ‘loudest’ sound or by the strongest aroma/odour. Ultimately I feel our sense of direction to navigate in space is determined by what we are seeking out at that point in time, both consciously and subconsciously. For example if I was in a room blindfolded, with the pervasive aroma of an espresso and a cup of strong oolong tea, and if I was a coffee connoisseur, I would ‘walk’ or navigate towards the coffee aroma, defining that as my ‘forward’. Hence our sense of direction or orientation does depend on our interests and inclinations. We do not care to approach something that does not pique our interest. We leave it ‘behind’ us, literally.

Concluding thoughts

It is important to note that in this chapter, Tuan mainly explores space and place in relation to the human body and culture or rather the ‘conventional’ human body.  Having interacted with people who have experienced trauma and as someone who has myself, I started to think about ho unnatural external factors then morph our cognitive abilities or perception when it comes to making sense of the space around us (compared to average people). For example, when one is having a panic attack, they become acutely aware of the space around them — ceilings become ‘shorter’ and walls seem more ‘closed’ in. The body’s defence mechanism dramatically alters the perceived space, heightening one’s awareness of it to an uncomfortable and distorted level. Similarly, the headspace or the psychological space one feels when their trauma is triggered, is dissociative, removing them from their rootedness in their current physical ‘space’ and transporting them to an imagined one. This then makes us think how we are able to move through spaces without physically moving. I personally am interested to explore this idea more — one where we explore how perpetual exposure to external stimuli in some people (PTSD victims), changes the way they view space, and how we as designers accommodate or find interesting ways to explore space from their perspective. Can we then try to replicate this negative yet unique experience for someone ‘normal’?

Automated Utopia — Reflections

1. Overarching Thoughts

Initial Thoughts

Ong Kian Peng’s Lecture titled ‘Automated Utopia’ explores the possibility of attaining Utopia with the progression and advancement of AI into self sustaining entities. It is important to acknowledge that ‘Utopia’ the term in itself is an imagined island of perfection (one that is somewhat inherently unattainable), however we are presented with the possibility due to Automatism brought on by AI, a contemporary concept that was not know of before.

Is AI then able to manifest Utopian Concept due to its ‘objectivity’ and lack of ‘human biases and desires. whom Lyman Tower Argent attributes to being the reason why ‘Utopia’s nature is contradictory and cannot be satisfied’.

Will AI’s automation introduce a sense of unprecedented homogeneity not capable before due to human emotions?

Will AI be able to express homogenous ‘emotions’ or ‘perceptions’ that are expressive yet binary enough to be ‘processed’ usefully with tangible outcomes?

On the other hand, pop culture has always portrayed AI’s increasing presence and dominance as Dystopian rather than Utopian – I Robot, Terminator etc. However in reality this depends if our concept of Utopian Citizens only consist of humans or do we now expand to include Robots and Tech as valid co-habitants. Pop Culture more often than not, tends to show a conflicting relationship between Humans and AI. In reality, our relationship with tech is increasingly salient and symbiotic. Maybe the first step to attaining possible Utopia is to accept this coexistence and work towards nuancing this complex relationship rather than perceiving it as contentious or as a threat to our survival (it is this innate survival instinct in itself than hinders Humans from fully embracing AI) — we mostly crave advancements in technology and AI systems because they complement our needs and supplement our human activities. Alexa, Google Home etc. They are subservient to us and are always ready at our disposal.

Hence, the idea of full Automatism is treated as a taboo as it undermines our long established dominance in this world. The possibility that another entity/being as intelligent or perhaps even more intelligent than us, destabilises our hold. Most of us ultimately still want them to ‘think’ within our control and only operate within the parameters we set for them. It is important though, to accept that moving forward, such resistance will not amount to further progress in tech. Part of wanting to attain Utopia is to accept that we have to let go of this and instead allow AI to take its rightful place in our contemporary ‘biosphere’ which has grown to include not just organic habitants but digital cyborgs.

Questions

With these overarching concepts, dilemma I will attempt to address some of the questions put forth by Ong Kian Peng in his slides :

1. So how can AI present a different world than that of the cyberpunk genre and give us a technological utopian society?

2.What value does it add ? And what do we lose as a result of automation?

2. Further Reflection

1.So how can AI present a different world than that of the cyberpunk genre and give us a technological utopian society?

AI in itself opens up the space for an alternate/virtual reality to exist. It diminishes the notion that there is only one physical reality or truth and instead introduces multiple possibilities not bound or restricted by the classical laws that govern the physical world. In our conventional world, truths tend to be more absolute — our lives are finite , we only have one outward appearance , we are bound conventionally by law to have a committed relationship to only one partner for life. In other words we are tethered by our physical bodies and limited by society’s constructed rules. Yes, we do break away from these rules however the moment we do, we become disillusioned and often become existential as we feel ‘guilty’ for transgressing. These rules hence dictate absolute truths which we have grown to accept.

However AI and VR allow us to adopt virtual personas in virtual spaces where we can manifest even the darkest of our fantasies and feel normal. We are increasingly less conscious of the satisfaction we derive from some of this fantasies due to how nuanced and normalised it has become. For example the notion of Sex — it allows us to have more than one sexual partner (via VR Platforms) and not feel guilty for doing so.

“With virtual reality porn becoming more popular by the day, couples may need to redefine the boundaries of what is and isn’t crossing the line when it comes to being faithful”

—  https://www.psycom.net/is-virtual-reality-sex-considered-cheating/

To push it even further we can decode how games like Animal Crossing where we adopt Animal Avatars and interact with one another, almost touch on the unspoken taboo of bestiality. Freud describes bestiality as examples of people fulfilling their desires insufficiently because of a lack of available options. Though this is a very crude and possibly debatable link, on a very subtle level it does act as a form of liberation from the repression of the ‘real’ world.

Essentially AI and Tech add a whole dimension of possibilities. Another example would be Alexandra Daisy Ginsberg’s ‘The Substitute’. This work is a video of an AI constructed Rhino (the last white rhino) aft it passed. In our reality it’s death is absolute and we have no way of breathing life back into it. However AI has intelligently constructed a virtual model of the Rhino by deep—learning its characteristics as accurately as possible. The Rhino is resurrected and paradoxically is immortalised as a digital entity. This could be done for species on the brink of extinction so that we do not permanently lose them. Death is inevitable and so is organic degradation and decay. However these same laws don’t apply to the virtual realm and hence AI allows us to to in a way preserve  the perishable.  This possibility then begs humanity to re-consider the idea of death as an end.

AI then offers us the possibility of a tangible after-life that can be seen , heard etc and not one of the Bible or Holy Books which are more or less imagined. We will be able to cope with death better, knowing that death won’t be an end it itself. On a more mortal and emotional level it adds some sort of stability and assurance. We mostly fear death because of the uncertainty we face having to abruptly leave this world with unsaid things or having to be separated from our loved ones. However AI in this context shown in the example, enables us to still ‘exist’ and interact with our loved ones, in the physical world, long after we are gone. It shifts us from one dimensional absolutes to multi-dimensional fluidity.

2.What value does it add ? And what do we lose as a result of automation?

On a very superficial level:

automation will result in many jobs becoming obsolete. Presently many jobs including vehicles which require drivers are becoming driverless. Waiters too are being replaced by Robots who have no ‘limit’ to the amount of productivity they can uphold. Jobs that rely on skills which can be easily translated into an AI System are becoming increasingly dispensable. Furthermore they do not have to paid/fed/replaced and are more likely to be efficient. More importantly we have to keep in mind the many strata of society. People of lower education with such skills will be at highest risk of being replaced. Being unemployed takes away their source of income and purpose. One could argue from a Darwinian POV that society in itself is a survival of the fittest and with technology becoming ever more dominant, it is those that are able to coexist with it that will sustain themselves while those not skilful’ enough will simply be ‘left out’.

On a much deeper societal and psychological level:

We risk losing agency. Automation implies that humans are no longer needed as an intermediary for AI bodies to function basically. However we can determine how much control we want to give up by setting up restrictions to the automated process before it is set into motion. This is assuming that AI does not have the capability to grow its cerebral capacity independently. However, If we were to treat AI Systems as executors of human input, limited by what we feed it, instead of self sustaining entities, we will only be adopting a regressive and insular view. AI in its core, is self sustaining and automatic. We thus have to embrace full automation due to its inevitability.

What we risk losing in this process of trying to reconcile with AI systems is our sense of identity and self. Up till now it is our ‘human’ sensitivity and ‘spirit’ that distinguishes as ‘higher beings’. It is this poetic, mythical, intangible ‘essence’ and its uniqueness to each of our minds that provide us with our personal identity. We hence emphasise on the idea of the ‘journey’ and the ‘experience’ to fulfil this aspect of being human, regardless of the final tangible outcome or task. Despite the task being the ‘end goal that produces a tangible benefit for ourselves and society, it is the means through which we attain it that defines our ‘purpose’.

With full automation, a highly intelligent AI system would be able to short circuit this process and complete the task without any ‘interference’ of emotion. It’s sole nature is its ability to perform with cognitive ability to solve complex issues. However it is devoid of any ‘spirit’ — something that we are yet to be able to replicate, if we wanted to in the first place that is. Hence when we are forced to co exist with these AI systems which are able to attain outcomes way faster than us, it will definitely undermine the validity of our humaneness. We not only risk losing our sense of self due to this suppression but risk losing our sanity trying to navigate our minds out of this sudden existential state.

Will we step back and let AI do all the work? Will we able to simply ‘enjoy’ and stop working? Will capitalist structures built on social classes disintegrate with all forms of work being automated? How then do we allocate wealth and resources? What happens to meritocracy if AI takes over the whole process?

3. Concluding Thoughts

3. What will be the role of humans in a future AI driven world?

Our overarching role would be to integrate AI into our daily lives. Instead of resisting or obsessing over keeping AI ‘in check’, which would result in possibly dystopian consequences. We already use systems such as SIRI and Alexa almost daily. We use GPS and deep-learning systems to speed up and execute processes impossible to humans. However these processes are mostly still mechanical ones. We have to anticipate for when AI are able to automate ecological and advanced processes.

As much as I believe we should embrace this direction towards full automation, we have to be very sensitive and aware of the complexity of it. A highly intelligent being lacking moral perception could be disastrous if not trained properly. Though it is impossible to replicate our emotional capability and translate it into AI Systems, it is possible to feed these systems with scenarios and outcomes to train them to react accordingly. This then requires us to be unbiased and objective in what we prescribe the system while it is deep-learning. Presently many biases already existracial profiling etc where marginalised groups are targeted in systems such as face detection. As systems become more prevalent and powerful, such biases could have very fatal and dystopian outcomes. We do not clearly know how AI will respond to such non-objectivity as their cognitive capabilities expand. Hence it is important that humans working closely with AI, imbue it with as much impartiality and objectivity as possible.

On Simulation — reaction essay to ‘Digital Currents, Art in the Electronic Age’

1.‘Digital Currents, Art in the Electronic Age’

summary

In the book ‘Digital Currents, Art in the Electronic Age’, Margot Lovejoy brings us through the history and evolution of Art in light of the coming of the digital age. My personal insights and opinions will be in reaction to the Sub Chapters: the most advanced form of interactivity is hypermedia : virtual reality and ‘Digital Simulation‘ — the sections in which Lovejoy attempts to decode the relevance and complexity the realm of ‘Alternate Reality’ has in this digital era and also the consequential struggle artists face, having to reconcile the similar yet innately polarising spaces of reality and virtuality.

 

2. On Simulation (Personal Thoughts)

initial thoughts

After reading the section of Digital Simulation, listed below were the initial concepts I pondered about to myself:

When does a representation of Reality became Virtual or Hyper Real ?

With the idea of a single physical reality being diminished in the contemporary digital age, is Virtual Reality still considered an ‘artifice’ or has it earned its right beside ‘Physical Reality’ as an established ideal?

On the importance of Hardware and how it paradoxically enhances the ‘non -physical, virtual experience’?

What makes an effective design of a virtual space?

Reflection

When we think about Simulation, we are often aware that it is not ‘real’ or that it exists as some sort of imagined virtual entity modelled after elements rooted in our physical world. It is almost impossible to imagine or create a completely virtual space from ‘scratch’ — one that has no recognisability visually or cognitively. It is this ‘human handicap’ that inevitably and inextricably tethers Virtuality to Reality. Virtuality in itself hence often acts as mirror, extension, modification or re-interpretation of Reality. One could even argue that a successful Virtual Space (artwork) has to reflect at least fundamental elements of reality in order to engage with the viewer.

For example, in Peter Weibel’s ‘The Wall’ which Lovejoy discusses, a simulacrum is projected onto a large screen (a digital image of a wall), as the viewer walks past the screen, a camera captures his/her silhouette and warps the projected wall. As the viewer moves, the wall further distorts relative to his/her movement. The viewer then becomes part of what is being viewed in real time. Titled The Wall, The Curtain (Boundary, which), also Lascaux’ the work then becomes a modern metaphor of a ‘digital cave’ with the walls being the projection of the brick wall and the drawings being the ‘silhouette’ distortions. Here we can see how the artist has made a link to a pre existing real notion (Lascaux Caves) within his virtual space. Hence when we interact with the piece, we are intuitively coerced into making the interaction more profound.

Lascaux Caves

Weibel’s “The Wall” also explores the butterfly effect, based on Aristotle’s philosophy that we are all observers in a realistic and objective model of the world we inhabit. Weibel exaggerates and portrays this effect by allowing us to directly manipulate our present space. The virtual curtain acts as a non -discrete, mouldable extension to our immediate physical surrounding.

In essence, virtuality has no physical mass or matter. It is purely ‘visual’ or ‘aural’. It is the morphing of pre-existing cognitive notions we have that manipulates us into recognising it as ‘hyperreal’. The photograph of an image is not real. However it is not virtual as the level of transcendence between the two realms is zero. Compare this to what might be a projection of an image on water. The way the light inconsistently projects or refracts around the ripples of waves of water before it, distorts the image into a more obscure entity or rather the image of the image plays with our senses, resulting a high level of transcendence into virtuality. We can hence see how easy it is to cross over from reality to virtuality.

Nike Ad Projected on Flat Surface

Nike Ad Projected on Water Surface

However, we live in a highly complex contemporary digital age presently. It is one where the idea or rationale behind a sole true reality has diminished. Instead we acknowledge the existence of multi-realities within realities, some existing as dimensions of the other. With the advent of technology and social media for example, our social media persona or profile has its own unique reality separate from our real self. There is also heightened interactivity between these seemingly separate entities, enabling them to coexist and react to each other. As such, no one defined reality has influence over us . This phenomena then leads us to the notion of ‘hyperreality. A ‘new’ reality that is not based on physical rationale but rather, commands, algorithms and obscure intangible ‘digital building blocks’. It is no longer ‘imagined’ since it has no tether to any logical reasoning. Instead it is a spontaneous culmination of ‘miniaturised units, from matrices, memory banks, and command models’.

(Classical Physics) Reality – Virtuality – Hyperreality (Quantum Physics)

If we were to draw parallel to physics, hyper reality would be the quantum realm — contained within our observable physical world, yet completely different in the way it defies the laws that bound conventional matter. For example in quantum theory, a particle’s past state can be predicted from its future state. Consequently, Schrodinger’s Cat, Relativity and other quantum concepts suggest the possibility of time travel which is yet to be achieved in the realm of classical physics. The quantum particles, dark matter etc are similar to the building blocks of matrixes and commands, which operate the ‘hyperreal’. They exist on the same plane as their neighbouring entities  but are subsets in the way they interact and are ‘lawless’.

Lovejoy also mentions that hypermedia is the ‘most advanced form of interactivity’. Artists working with VR, are increasingly creating 3D, immersive landscapes which allow people to explore them via some sort of extension or intermediary gear. Computer monitoring tracks their every movement (depending on the sensors connected to their physical gear) enhancing the veracity of the interaction. It is important to note then, that virtuality is very deeply rooted in tangible hardware; it is not simply a detached, imagined space we can freely delve into. To experience or ‘enter’ the realm of virtuality, our body needs to ‘synthesise’ with specially developed gloves, tracking suit, VR Gear etc. We essentially need to come into physical contact with ‘machine’ for us to transcend into these obscure alternate realities. On a psychological level, the act of momentarily (for the duration of the interaction) ‘modifying’ our body into semi cyborgs, invokes a sense of disassociation from our physical body and reality. It ‘strips’ away any innate bias we have pre-interaction, and throws us in deep as clean slates. However, we still have our cognitive and emotional functions preserved, allowing us to then develop ‘new’ perceptions and opinions from our interaction with this unfamiliar virtual landscape.

Lovejoy discusses Artist Brenda Laurel who calls VR costumes ‘prostheses for the imagination’. In her work ‘Placeholder’, participants enter a dark cave where creatures which exist as petroglyphs, entice them to approach close. On approaching each, the participants “become” the creature, assuming its physical features and experience spatialized distortion of their own voice through the HMD (head-mounted device) speakers.” This then allows us as the participants to fully disassociate from our bodies, adopt a completely different one and experience the creator’s virtual narrative. The process of navigating freely as a digital ‘sentinal’ being  is overwhelming and euphoric. We have to take directions from the artist who ultimately has control over the virtual landscape through the boundaries they have set. Laurel’s ‘Placeholder’ hence is an example of Human – Machine – Human interactive system.

 

Placeholder : https://vimeo.com/27344103

 

With this in mind, we as creators have to acknowledge that we define the constraints and parameters of our intended virtual/alternate environment/space. Lovejoy describes how conceptualisation of VR spaces results in the dilemma of ‘freedom’ and ‘restrain’. She talks about VR artist Perry Hoberman who believes freedom of choices and a non discrete fluidity in the flow of interaction results in a more meaningful virtual experience. 

“With interactivity, it’s better to have nothing to say than to try to say something. It’s better for meaning to come out of the interaction rather than controlling the experience.”  — Hoberman

This idea of non-linearity and spontaneity can even be applied to a very simple Human-Machine-Human mode of interaction to see its affect. For example in Kazuhiko Hachiya’s ‘Inter Dis-Communication Machine’, two participants have their visual perspectives swapped. Hachiya talks about how the  perceived real world is different for each person (hence, the users are essentially experiencing a simulation when their sight is replaced by the other).  In this set-up, there were no restrictions or a prescribed set of options to confine or control the interaction. Hachiya even designed the machine to accommodate for the possibility of sexual intimacy between the participants. This then allowed the participants to process their virtual environment in any way they wanted and have that manifested physically (intentionally and unintentionally), in an organic and natural manner. It results in a more profound and impactful experience.

 

 

If as an Artist we were to instead limit possibilities, users will eventually be conscious of their lack of ability to affect their virtual environment the way they want to. They will be aware of the artist’s intervention to coerce an intended outcome, making the virtual space ‘less real’. We should always aim to make virtuality as convincing as possible as a legitimate entity capable of offering the same sensations reality offers us.

Concluding Thoughts

The above mentioned concepts are highly relevant to my group’s final project with involves simulated clocks and time.  Our installation involves the layering of physical hands of the clock above projection of a clock. The intersection of hyperreality and reality intensifies the interactivity. The video itself is a simulacrum—with an added melting effect to reference Dali’s ‘The Persistence of Memory’ . By choosing a subtle yet powerful distortion, we will be able to simulate a virtual modern interpretation of Dali’s melting Clock. This will also effectively display a contention between the real and virtual which is relevant when we think about what ‘real’ time is as opposed to ‘perceived’ time. Technology has also affected our perception of time and this juxtaposition between a mechanical clock and a virtual one perpetuates a psychological and uncomfortable feeling when viewed by the participants.

The projections are a form of simulation as the speed of the ticking, depending on the users’ action will all occur at ‘unreal’ rates.  We aim to create a convincing enough alternate space such that line between ‘mechanical’ time and the sped up ‘simulated time’ gets diminished the longer the length of interaction.

‘The Persistence of Memory’ , 1931, Dali

3. Links

https://vimeo.com/7900466

http://tauzero.com/Brenda_Laurel/Placeholder/Placeholder.html

http://www.medienkunstnetz.de/works/die-wand-der-vorhang/

 

Dialogue with Time — Reflection

1.Experience

Initially, before experiencing the session, I was honestly sceptical of the potential take away I would gain, based on previous experiences of such exhibitions where the educational content was not translated convincingly to the participants. However, “Dialogue with Time” proved to be the exact opposite of that and it was via their technique of Role Play, that we as participants were able to empathise with The Central cause of ‘Ageing’. While role playing as elderly, manoeuvring through intentionally modified tasks to mimic their struggle with simple daily tasks, I was able to gain insight into this otherwise foreign demographic.

The first sharing segment where we identified with pictures we felt depicted the idea of ‘Happy Ageing’ best, it gave us a chance to consider in that moment, what we ourselves would want our future to look like. Often we are so engrossed and obsessed with living our contemporary lives (which is inherent and natural of course), that in hindsight, we fail to consider the implications and changes we will have to brace ourselves for as we age. I picked a card with a couple in embrace and in old age. To me, ‘Happy ageing’ was simple: being able to grow up and live life to the fullest with the people you love.

In retrospect, it puts into perspective how despite that might seem like an achievable ideal, in reality many senior citizens face the pain of living in loneliness once their spouses pass away. It is hard for us to imagine a life of loneliness when we are so used to being surrounded by people, in our youth. However that sharing session, struck a chord and urged me to empathise with the fear, unpredictability, and unease many of the elderly would have to grapple with.

The sharing by our senior citizen guide gave us further insight into her own growing process and how she coped with both physical and mental changes brought about by ageing. It is rare that we have a chance to sit down with and talk to someone of age unless we live with our grandparents. Hence for me it was a meaningful opportunity to remind myself that ageing was a significant and important that issue that deserves attention.

2.Role-Play

The main benefit would be its effectiveness in contextualising and providing us with a clear parameter to think in. It coerces us to be focused on our thoughts and it is confrontational in its treatment of the issue at heart.

For the central segment with interactive stations. We were directly challenged to complete simple tasks, imposed with the same limitations elderly face. For example, hand tremors where we had to unlock a door while resting our hands in a shaking loop. The confrontational and direct approach of the stations conveyed the sense of seriousness and urgency of the issue. Instead of being interpretative in its presentation and treating us a a general audience, our characters as old people, effectively enabled us to be convinced of the issue with immediacy. Certain people were also pulled out to sit out, to invoke the idea of retirement. It echoed the idea of the inevitable succumbing to loneliness. Personally I was confident that I would be able to clear all the stations with ease, but was surprised when I fumbled myself. There were moments I was uncomfortable, as it did make me feel momentarily displaced from normalcy. Being forced to think about and reflect while under the guise of a role, allowed me to derive a new perspective.

Words that came to my mind whilst in role : Frustration,  Slow,  Burden.

While people were waiting for us, the fact that we were taking time to complete the station due to its difficulty mirrored similar issue elderly in real life deal with daily. Role-Play allowed me to associate with relevant ideas that I otherwise would not identify with usually.

3. Examples (Effectiveness of Role-Play)

Role Playing would mostly be effective when we as designers are trying to understand challenges that our target audience deal with, (the same challenges we aim to resolve via our design output). It allows us to have an active rather than passive approach towards our design process when we first hand are able to experience what they do. For example, for people with disabilities who are wheel chair bound – role playing to understand the difficulty many ‘normal’ infrastructure designs pose for the manoeuvring of wheel chair bound individuals. Apart from physically changing our experience, role playing also more importantly contextualises the way we absorb information around us. It attunes us to receive information based on the perspective of our target audience, as we interact with them and in their shoes. For something less physically apparent such as trauma, role playing may help us understand heightened sensitivity and trigger response this demographic has. All these then help us as designers be mindful and targeted in our design solutions. It also helps us identify what to focus on and what to avoid that may be detrimental to their betterment.