Y2S2 | Interactive 2 | Guest Lecture Reflection | Automated Utopia

INTRODUCTION

“Artificial intelligence is a set of algorithms and intelligence to try to mimic human intelligence. Machine learning is one of them, and deep learning is one of those machine learning techniques.”

 

For those that were born in the mid-1900s, who would’ve thought that technology would have advanced so much in this age of era? And what is more interesting is the fact that all these advancements are done in just 50 years’ time.

The growth is an exponential one, where the improvement in technology started to rocket sky high once scientific discoveries have been found during the late 1900s/early 2000s. This profound progress in this automation field is so mind-boggling – isn’t it both compelling and overwhelming at the same time, knowing that machinery and robotics are able to accomplish so many things, or in some instances, carrying out decisions like real-life humans, just like us?

AUTOMATED UTOPIA

Automated /ˈɔːtəmeɪtɪd/ means to be operated by largely automatic equipment.

A utopia /juːˈtoʊpiə/ is an imagined community or society that possesses highly desirable or nearly perfect qualities for its citizens.

Automated utopia, is a term that is split into two parts: Automated & Utopia. Bringing these two words together, we get automated utopia, which means an imagined community or society that possesses highly desirable or nearly perfect qualities for its citizens that is operated by largely automatic equipment. The word automated is a rather broad word. It can mean both virtual and non-virtual automation. Things like robotics are physical, while things like machine learning, algorithm, and AI are immaterial.

In this reflection essay, I’ll be talking about automated utopia, a presentation conducted by a guest lecturer, Bin Ong Kian Peng, co-founder of supernormal.sg, an independent art space that strives to present experimental and offbeat works and projects, ranging from design to artistic practices, and the in-betweens. Bin gave us many new viewpoints to artificial intelligence and machine learning. However, does automation always lead to utopia? Or does it also lead to the dark side, dystopia? Let’s find out.

 

MACHINE LEARNING

Machine learning algorithms use statistics to find patterns in large amounts of data. The data here encompasses a lot of things, such as numbers, words, images, clicks, and the list goes on. If it can be digitally stored, it can be fed into a machine-learning algorithm. Machine learning is the process that powers many of the services we use today – recommendation systems like those on Netflix, YouTube, and Spotify; search engines like Google and Baidu; social media feeds like Facebook and Instagram; voice assistants like Siri and Alexa.

Bin shared with us a few movies that are automated-related. They include the famous The Matrix Franchise, William Gibson: Necromancer, and Eagle Eye. I assume that most of us have watched The Matrix before, but that movie might be a little too far-fetched, it is more of a science fiction action show. However, Eagle Eye is the total opposite – it is fully possible for the storyline in Eagle Eye to happen right now, in this current generation we are living in.

Having watched the Eagle Eye, the Autonomous Reconnaissance Intelligence Integration Analyst (ARIIA) is the main antagonist of the movie. It is a computer system created to help locate terrorists, but later comes to believe that America is bringing itself to destruction after mistakenly attacking an incorrect target against its protest. It begins working of its own accord to wipe out the cabinet and uses influences on technologies and computer systems in order to do so.

In layman’s term, ARIIA can bluntly be considered as a search engine and recommendation system that works together to produce the final arrangements and judgements. In such instances, these are machine learning within that of big data analytics, with the corporation of AI that generates decisions that are then being placed into actions. Yes, the movie does get a bit too unrealistic, when it comes to the operation part where ARIIA pushes Jerry and Rachel into a series of increasingly dangerous situations, tracking and controlling their every move. However, machine learning like ARIIA is already something that is happening, or rather placed into use in our society. I’ll be talking about this in the next segment.

 

ALGORITHM

In this age of information, algorithms are used to handle the massive amounts of data produced daily. They can be helpful in a multitude of ways. One category of an algorithm is known as “risk assessment algorithm”. Risk assessment algorithms are used around the world to predict hot spots of violent crime and determine the types of supervision that inmates might need, or provide information that might be useful in sentencing.

Correctional Offender Management Profiling for Alternative Sanctions, or COMPAS, is an example of a risk assessment algorithm. It is invented by Equivant, a company owned by Tim Brennan and Dave Wells. It aims to objectively predict recidivism risk by examining factors like a defendant’s criminal record to assess how likely they are to be arrested again in the next two years. Recidivism is defined as the tendency of a convicted criminal to re-offend.

However, in these algorithms, there are moments of slip-ups. Equivant faced a lot of back-lash when it first came to light that COMPAS held racial biases. There was overprediction of recidivism in black defendants, and underprediction of recidivism in white defendants. Black defendants were twice as likely to be incorrectly labelled as higher risk than white defendants, while white defendants labelled as lower risk were more likely to re-offend than black defendants who had similarly low COMPAS risk scores. Having a racial bias is one of the biggest forms of discrimination an algorithm can make.

“Could a deep-learning system sustain the autonomy of nonhuman ecological processes at designated sites without direct human interventions?”

 

This real-life example rather than a movie’s storyline. This then raises the question of how much we can trust algorithms to make decisions for us. Yes, there have been several studies showing that algorithms can be used to a positive effect, but algorithms can still discriminate. As such, I feel that human interventions are still necessary, and we cannot fully rely on deep learning and algorithms at this stage.

 

ROBOTICS

In one segment of Bin’s lecture, he shared about robotics on different platforms. Doomsday Book: Robotic Buddha touched on the topic of religion; Co(AI)xistence with Mirai Moriyama & Alter touched on human intelligence through; while Choy Kafai: Unbearable Darkness- A paranormal dance experience, touched on art.

“What will be the role of humans in a future AI-driven world?”

 

It was intriguing how in our modern technological advanced societies, robots have slowly become more and more prevalent. Although those examples given by Bin are more on the extreme sides, do we realise that most robots around us are ‘invisible’, and they are parts of our everyday lives like our laptops and transportation systems. One apt example would be the country, Japan.

Have you heard of the word “monozukuri“? Monozukuri is a term that has been used since the end of the 20th century to describe Japan’s manufacturing industry. The concept of monozukuri covers everything from the production techniques, frameworks and philosophies that support the manufacturing industry and the products that are created through these processes and systems, to the individuals (craftspeople and engineers) who create these products. Monozukuri has long been the source of Japan’s international competitiveness. And in recent years, robotics has been the driving force behind Japan’s monozukuri culture.

In the past, the main places industrial robots could be found at work were factories for automobiles and electronic equipment. With the aim of freeing humans from rigorous labour, the use of industrial robots became widespread as they performed simple jobs such as assembling parts and physically dangerous work such as transporting heavy items in harsh and hazardous environments. As global trends show the roles of robots growing ever greater, the “Robot Nation” of Japan is putting to use cutting-edge robotic technologies in a variety of fields besides manufacturing while keeping in mind societal demand.

Robots are now working on the front lines in a diverse array of areas, including aeronautics, medicine/welfare, disaster mitigation, disaster investigation and rescue. Here are some examples:

The Kibo Experiment Module attached to the International Space Station

 

A surgeon operating the master manipulators

 

Slave manipulators, which interact directly with the patient and are located remotely from the surgeon

 

ART THROUGH AUTOMATION

Serious stuff aside, automation and AI can also do useless but fun and interactive things like this:

This is a janken (rock-paper-scissors) robot that has a 100% win rate at the game. An example of a human-machine collaboration system, this robot uses high-speed vision to recognize the position and shape of a human hand once every millisecond. The robot then forms a hand that will beat the shape the human hand is making.

Robotics can also be seen in art, like Co(AI)xistence with Mirai Moriyama & Alter, the work of art that Bin mentioned. Co(AI)xistence explores communication between different forms of intelligences: human and machine. Through signals, body movements and spoken language, she created the interaction between Alter and Mirai Moriyama, a Japanese performer. Using a deep learning system, Alter learns from his experiences and the two try to define new perspectives of co-existence in the world.

This work of art very much reminded me of another work of art that my professor, Dr Dejan, shared in class. Its called: If/Then by Ken Feingold. Such works of art explore the new relationships that are established between our lives and technology. I did a short chapter on this artwork in my other post, you can view it here:

Y2S2 | Interactive 2 | Reading Assignment | New Media: A Critical Introduction

CONCLUSION

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

 

It is clear that more time and progress is needed in order for such AI to understand the given data and be relied on entirely. AI has the potential to provide us with the most accurate and fair answers – to deduce who could be a repeated felony, to calculate the best opportunity cost, so on and so forth.

At this point in time, I do not believe that AI could fully present a technological utopian society. I gave a few examples on how reliance and dependence on technology could also lead to a dystopian society, where suppression and human misery would be present. Hence, we need to make sure that these tools are accurate, to begin with. If not, then they’re not fair to anyone.

However, there are notable and convincing breakthroughs, such as the examples I gave on Japan, which shows that technological advancements would be able to thrive in eventually in the future, but it would take an abundance of time, effort, and most importantly, patience.

 

Y2S2 | Interactive 2 | Reading Assignment | New Media: A Critical Introduction

INTRODUCTION

Initially, I wanted to do this reading assignment on another chapter of the book I did in Interactive Media 1 (A Companion to Digital Art) to see if I could do a continuation of my discussion. However, as I was browsing through the other books in the bibliography, I came across this book “New Media: A Critical Introduction”, which has a rather interesting Chapter 1, as compared to the other books. Other books dive deep into the topics straightaway, while New Media: A Critical Introduction started Chapter 1 as an introduction or rather, set a benchmark and definition on what new media is, before they begin their topics (i.e. virtual reality, network, cyberculture, etc.).

As such, I decided to do on Chapter 1, specifically sub-chapter 1.1 “New Media: Do we know what they are?” This topic stood out to me because the title literally rhetorically questioned me and I did ask myself, do I really know what new media is? Back in interactive media 1’s reading assignment, I started my OSS post defining what I determine new media is. I wrote: “New media art includes digital art, computer graphics, computer animation, virtual art, Internet art, and interactive art.” After reading up and researching this chapter, I realized that my definition isn’t wrong, there could be more to it. So before I move on, what is your definition of new media?

 

MEDIA STUDIES

I’m pretty sure some of you would have in mind “communication media” as part of new media, such as print media, photography, advertising, broadcasting, publishing, so on and so forth. Yes, all these can be considered as new media. Cultural genres and material products like newspapers, films, tapes, and discs, could also be referred to as new media as well. Even my own definition as mentioned above is right, where I referred new media to a social institution that is purely reduced to technologies being involved.

So, why is this term new media applied unproblematically? It is because of these three answers: Firstly, new media are thought of as epochal, like the beginning of a distinctive period in history of media. Secondly, the word “new” in new media is a powerful utopian and positive ideological charge. Lastly, new media is a useful term which avoids technical and formal definition, as in “digital” or “electronic” media. It does not focus on just the contentious quality as in “interactive media” or controversial practices as in “computer-mediated communication”.

 

IDEOLOGY BEHIND NEW MEDIA

In short, new media can be seen as a part of a new technoculture. Hence, new media gained its currency as a frequent term because of its useful inclusiveness. While a person using the term new media could be thinking about the Internet, others may mean something else like the digital TV, a virtual environment, or even a computer – we all use the same term but we refer to different phenomena.

We then realize, we are all actually claiming the status of ‘medium’ (plural for media) for what we have in mind, and we borrow the glamorous connotations of ‘newness’. The term new media is then used by anyone, with a broad cultural resonance rather than a narrow technicist or specialist application. At this point, we might ask whether we could readily identify some kind of fundamental common ground which underpins all new media – something more tangible or more scientific than the motives and contexts we have discussed so far.

 

IDENTIFYING NEW MEDIA & ITS EXAMPLES

Here is a schema that breaks down the global term new media into five manageable constituent parts, and thereafter I’ll be showing some examples which I’ve researched on:

  1. New textual experiences

Subject:

These experiences refer to new kinds of genre and textual form, entertainment, pleasure, and patterns of media consumption. They include computer games, simulations, or even special effects cinema.

Example:

“The Lapse Project”

By INTER-MISSION

Toggling between the physical and the imaginary, and responding to the accelerated digitization of our environment, The Lapse Project imagines a world that is constituted through interfaces where places of artistic and cultural identities become editable, and can just as easily be switched on or off. Through processes of digital manipulation, the multimedia installation “erases” familiar landmarks that now serve as spaces for the arts around Singapore’s Civic District – Singapore’s oldest building, The Arts House, National Gallery Singapore, National Museum of Singapore and the Singapore Art Museum.

The Lapse Project takes a multi-dimensional approach to question memory, space and legacy through simulations in structure, time, particle, text, and image. Visitors are invited to embody these lapses through special effects projection, contemplating the presence and absence of sights and sites.

Here’s the link to view the artwork: https://inter-mission.art/The-Lapse-Project-1

 

  1. New ways of representing the world

Subject:

These are media which, in ways that are not always clearly defined, offer new representational possibilities and experiences. They include immersive virtual environments and screen-based interactive multimedia.

Example:

“Desert Rain”

By Blast Theory

Desert Rain is the war game, which is part of a performance in an extensive physical setting, including a Virtual Reality environment, which allowed up to six participants going through a scripted sequence of physical spaces. This theatrical multi-media installation is based on real-life sources that probe the relationship between the real and the virtual in response to the 1990-1991 Gulf War.

Here is a brief video of the artwork:

Desert Rain reconstruct the virtual and physical environment through immersion, aiming to make the intersections and gaps between both worlds more concrete by means of interaction, to allow participants to experience them alongside the usage of hypermedia in specific stages.

Here’s the link to view the artwork: https://www.blasttheory.co.uk/projects/desert-rain/

 

  1. New relationships between subjects (users and consumers) and media technologies

Subject:

These relationships refer to the changes in the use and reception of image and communication media in everyday life and in the meanings that are invested in media.

Example:

“Take A Bullet For This CIty”

By R.  Luke DuBois

Take a Bullet for This City is a piece of artwork that serves New Orleans, or actually any country plagued by gun violence. The mechanics is simple, a computer-driven machine would pull the trigger of a gun that is loaded with blanks in response to a real shooting in the city. The Gun is placed inside a transparent acrylic box, and visitors would be able to see the gun ejecting empty cartridges every time a real shooting occurs. One might say that the shootings are rare and as such, not all visitors would have the chance to hear and see the occurrence of the gun triggering off. It almost sounds like an oxymoron to say that any visitors would be ‘lucky’ if they were to catch the rare moment of the gun being triggered off.

Here is a brief video of the artwork:

This work of art depicts how art is not just a product, for purely entertainment and enjoyment purposes. Art has changed its uses and reception of what they want the audience to experience, to spread a message, to influence the society, or even show underlying communication to the world just like how Take a Bullet for This City brings about an awareness that gun violence is something to be worried and concerned about. This piece is hard data in both senses of the word: it is based on facts; facts that are, by their very nature, intended to hurt us.

Here’s the link to view the artwork: http://www.digiart21.org/art/take-a-bullet-for-the-city

 

  1. New experiences of the relationship between embodiment, identity, and community

Subject:

The experience here shifts in the personal and social experience of time, space, and place (on both local and global scales) which have implications for the ways in which we experience ourselves and our place in the world.

Example:

“Sharing Faces”

By Kyle MacDonald

This artwork allows the audience to experience time, space, and place on a global scale, showing their significance in the world. The artist, Kyle MacDonald, has a way of doing up works of art that uses technology to connect people in unexpected ways. In Sharing Faces, MacDonald placed mirror-like screens in two locations, the first one being Anyang, Korea, and the second one being Yamaguchi, Japan.

When a visitor from Anyang looks into it, they would see someone else’s face from Yamaguchi – posed just like their own, vice versa. While moving, the screen would cycle through images that it has captured throughout the process and find a matching one to match the new pose, creating a sense of shadow, like a morphing person following your every move. Your every movement would be then captured as a material for future visitors to see.

Here’s the link to view the artwork: http://www.digital-projects-index.julien-drochon.net/portfolio/sharing-faces/

 

  1. New conceptions of the biological body’s relationship to technological media

Subject:

This challenges the distinctions between the human and the artificial, nature and technology – the real and the virtual.

Example:

“If/Then”

By Ken Feingold

Ken Feingold takes art into the virtual realm through both software and hardware. In this work If/Then, two electronic silicone heads face each other on top of a box filled with foam. The faces are identical and the only parts moving are the eyes and the mouths. Both portraits are activated to speak to each other as though they are real-life human beings. The conversations between these two figures are neither scripted or random – the software gives each a “personality”, like a vocabulary, associative habits, obsessions, or other peculiarities, which make their conversations quirky, surprising, and hilarious.

Here is a brief video of the artwork:

This lifelike interaction between the two digital heads takes the audience into an interpersonal encounter, which sparks them into questioning themselves the complexity and unpredictability that language and mind create between people and computers. This presents new concepts of the portrait, pointing to issues of artificial intelligence and biological engineering.

Here’s the link to view the artwork: https://artelectronicmedia.com/artwork/if-then/

 

CONCLUSION

Looking into those subjects that I have mentioned above, these allow us to identify what new media is. It is obvious that there is a whole range of production that revolves around technology. These can be considered as new ways of distributing and consuming media, like using computer-mediated commutations and virtual realities through simulated environments, etc.

Therefore, it is still a grey area within what new media really is. However, if the work of art being investigated entails any of those subjects that are listed above, then we can consider it to be, new media.

Y2S2 | Interactive 2 | Inspiring Example of Interactive Art | Breathless

INTRODUCTION

Ever heard of using discomfort as a tool to design an interaction? As bizarre as it sounds, let me introduce to you this thought-provoking interactive art, named:

Breathless

By Thrill Laboratory

ABOUT THRILL LABORATORY

Thrill Laboratory is an organisation of people from different fields of study- scientists, artists, designers, technologists, and engineers. Although they are niche players in their specialised aspect, they all share the same passion for experimentation. Their vision is to be dedicated to the practical pursuit of creating, producing, and examining new forms of thrilling experience.

However, no organisations can thrive without a leader. And hence, the person behind Thrill Laboratory is none other than Thrill Engineer Professor Brendan Walker.

 

WALKER AS AN ARTIST

Walker is a new media artist whose work revolves around interactive installations. His works of art are inspired by many different elements and subjects, from paintings to war.

The term “Thrill Engineer” refers to a person who is able to sensitively construct and control a thrilling experience. As such, Walker concentrates on the individual, focusing on the interrelationships between subjective creativity and objective engineering.

 

WALKER’S THEME & CONTEXT

Walker believes in creating a more inventive and thrilling experience for the audience, to explore links between pleasure, arousal, performance, and emotions.

The context behind his works aims at the sociology, psychology, and physiology of being human, which is what interactive installations are all about. This made me interested and curious about his work as I wanted to see how he made use of participation between humans (the audience) to make art come to life.

To further understand him and his work, let’s look at the interactive art that I have chosen as mentioned above, Breathless.

 

WHAT IS BREATHLESS

Breathless is an interactive experience inspired by Fragonard’s Swing, as known as “The Happy Accidents of the Swing”, an 18th-century oil painting by Jean-Honoré Fragonard in the Wallace Collection in London.

Breathless combines elements of voyeurism, abandonment and breath control to power a ride. It features a motorised swing controlled by breathing data collected from specially developed WiFi gas mask respirators. Audience members progress through the roles of Spectator, Rider, and Controller. They may be forced to watch the pleasure of a lover being manipulated by a stranger’s breathing – heard publicly amplified – or face the awkwardness of controlling a stranger themselves.

 

BREATHLESS WALKTHROUGH

This is the brief walkthrough of the interactive art:

  1. Participants join the queue and start off as the Spectator.
  2. Spectator is fitted with the gas mask, standing at the entrance to watch the whole interactive art.
  3. Rider and Controller already have their gas masks on, and the Rider is invited to sit on the swing in darkness.
  4. Controller sits in a chair beside the Rider under a spotlight.

[Interaction formally starts]

  1. Amplified breathing of the Controller can be heard which synchronises with the movement of the swing for 2 minutes; Intensity of the Controller’s inhale pulls the swing backward and exhale pushes the swing frontwards.
  2. Spotlight changes its direction to the Rider and sounds of breathing are now changed to Rider.
  3. Rider takes over the control of his/her ride and Controller is led away from the chair for another 2 minutes.
  4. Spotlight extinguishes.

[Interaction formally ends]

  1. Next participant is invited to join as a new Spectator; Rider is moved to the chair to become the Controller; Controller leaves.

 

Let’s take a look at the interactive art in this short video to understand it visually:

 

HOW BREATHLESS WAS BEING MADE

I was very amazed at the technologies that were being used in this whole setup. It might look like a simple installation but I was convinced that there must be a lot of behind-the-scenes thought process and preparation. After some research, I found out some of the hardware and software being used, which were really intricate.

Walker used Wi-Fi respirators, which were based on NATO Gas Mask filters. They use microprocessors to monitor the breathing flow rates of multiple subjects and broadcast them to a central computer. The swing is powered by a motor and pulley system.

The motor is controlled using an encoder and power management unit linked to the central computer. Motor position is linked to the volume of air moving through a chosen respirator. If breathing frequency is in harmony with the swing, then swing height increases.

Like I mentioned earlier, Walker’s works of art are inspired by many different elements and subjects. He drew stories from army gas mask drills conducted during the Second World War, which explains the gas masks used in Breathless, and then incorporates it into Fragonard’s Swing painting which we observe as the lady on a swing ride.

 

TECHNIQUES USED IN WALKER’S WORK

Although each experience in Thrill Laboratory’s work is different- different contributors, audience, venue, they all carry the same aim of creating and examining new forms of thrilling experience.

There are three types of thrill techniques as seen apparently in Breathless. Firstly, it is the thrill of the Spectator waiting for his/her turn- looking at the Rider to understand how helpless the Rider is. This build-up of excitement will undoubtedly give the Spectator an adrenaline rush.

Secondly, it is the thrill of the Rider taking the ride- he/she has no control over the intensity of the ride as it relies solely on the Controller’s breathing. However, the Rider would be able to control his/her ride after the breathing rights is passed on to him/her after 2 minutes. This sudden switch of roles will surely cause disorder to the Rider’s mind, from being helpless to being able to take control of him/herself.

Lastly, it would be the thrill of the Controller controlling the Rider’s ride- he/she has total command of the whole interactive art. Previously being the Rider, he/she knows how the current Rider is feeling at that moment in time. As such when The Controller is given the rights and opportunity to do it on the Rider, he/she is free to control the intensity of the ride, indirectly controlling the thrill of the Rider.

A very simple procedure yet so provocative and alluring, right? Here are a few real-time visuals of the whole interactive art:

Spectator

Rider

Controller

 

CONSEQUENCES OF BREATHLESS

Ultimately, the main approach used by Walker in Breathless, is something special called “Uncomfortable Interaction”. In short, uncomfortable interaction means using discomfort to design art, and at the same time giving a good user experience. One might think that to have a good experience, the art installation must be pleasant and serene. However, Breathless is a piece of evidence that discomfort through interaction can be satisfying and enjoyable as well, or even better.

There are mainly 3 consequences of using uncomfortable interaction in an interactive art. They are:

  1. Entertainment
  2. Enlightenment
  3. Sociality

Entertainment is on-going throughout the whole interaction- from the Spectator, to the Rider, to the Controller. It can be viewed as a taking roller coaster ride. While waiting for our turn to board the roller coaster, we can see the whole ride above our eyes while queueing. Finally it would be our turn to take the ride, and we go through whatever we just saw, experiencing the roller coaster drops while screaming our lungs out. Finally, once the ride is over, we feel relieved, but fulfilled at the same time! This whole process brings about entertainment.

Enlightenment is the different thrills that the Spectator, Rider, and Controller experience throughout the whole process. Those thrills indirectly establish an appropriate tone for engaging with dark themes, demanding a deep personal commitment between the three of them. Only after the Rider has finished his/her turn, he/she would be able to understand the discomfort from it, understanding the rationale of the ride. Those participants queueing up will never comprehend until experiencing it first hand during their turn. The controller, on the other hand, has already gone through the role of being a Spectator and Rider. He/she will start to question him/herself: Is this meant to be a pleasurable or painful experience?

Lastly, sociality is where the three of them promote empathy and respect between each other as all of them went through the same level of discomfort during the whole process. Such social experience and initiation by sharing discomfort creates a powerful social experience and synergy amongst themselves.

 

CONCLUSION

To end off, I must say that not all interactive art must be complicated and fancy. What is more important is the techniques and ideation behind the whole setup. Breathless proved to me that a simple interactive art is able to bring about so much perspective in the human endeavor.

Also, a simple interactive art might not be simple to do; it isn’t correlated. As seen in Breathless, the amount of preparation needed and the whole concept behind is pretty demanding and heavy. However, the end product is so impressive. Hence, this is why I chose Breathless for my example of an inspiring and thought-provoking interactive art.