Don’t Anthropomorpise Me: Electronic Performance Tools, Automatons & The Vanity Apocalypse

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Ever curious how the field of robotics and computational media can yield new potential understandings for theories of embodiment, this panel examines bots & automata as subjects of culture, with the particular emphasis on how we experience and personalise our interactions with them.
Dates: 
Saturday, 17 September, 2011 - 09:00 - 10:30
Chair Person: 
William Hart
Chair Person: 
Nancy Mauro-Flaude
Presenters: 
William Hart
Presenters: 
Brad Miller
Presenters: 
Linda Dement
Presenters: 
Danja Vasiliev
Presenters: 
Audrey Samson
Presenters: 
Julian Stadon
re:buntu - install shot
H[E]A[D]T-PIECE
PARAPHERNALIA
Supported by Arts Tasmania by the Minister for the Arts

Chair: Bill Hart

This panel examines bots & automata as subjects of culture, with the particular emphasis on how we experience and personalise our interactions with them. Sociable robot development raises many questions with regards to cultures of spirituality and expression.  The choice of encoding tool and interface are intrinsic to any communication platform, which always gives rise to new situations that must be tackled. Creative reflection and critical intelligent play has allowed for the numerous synergies between man and machine and influences how we are naturally inclined to interact and use these new technologies, and how these interactions impact on society.  Such diverse views toward technology are shaped by respective social histories, cultures and experiences.   

Robots have become cult objects of contemplation, giving us a sense of connectedness with the world around us.  Conception of the other is formed by reflection of our projected perceptions and these personal experiences in turn create new cultural identity aesthetics or present challenges to representation as we know it.  There is continuing discourse on how our robots should look and what role they should take in society. We wish to offer commentary on these debates and raise issues about our historical and social relationship with machines and hope to extend a unique way of seeing robots: as a cultural phenomenon, as companions, as objects of startling beauty and as an important contemporary art form.

Ever curious how the field of robotics and computational media can yield new potential understandings for theories of embodiment. Over the years there have been many speculations around the paradox of computing, theatre machines and play.

We have this strong desire to invest machines with intelligence. We collectively buy into this mythology, wanting to believe intelligence exists in these sophisticated calculators. Anthropomorphism continually haunts us, and our machines –  have we always been and will we fundamentally remain idolaters?

Paper Abstracts

Idols and Art: The Cognitive fetish

by Bill Hart

The hypothesis of the extended mind developed by philosopher Andy Clark posits that the cognitive processes of the mind extend beyond the brain or physical embodiment to co-opt the objects and actions we habitually use. With the careful reasoning of the philosopher he argues that a notebook can be functionally equivalent to memory, when it is carried around constantly and referred to so frequently that it become indispensable to the owner.  For contemporary thinkers how much more so an extension of the mind than a notebook are the technological fetishes of laptop, tablet or smartphone.

Maverick 20th C psychologist Julian Jaynes posited that the development of what we term conscious experience was a historically recent event, and that before around 1000 BC minds were compartmentalised or bicameral.  Jaynes posits that these bicameral minds used objects such as idols as an aid to communication between these compartmentalised aspects of the mind.  These 'ancients' literally spoke and walked with their gods, but in many ways they were automatons. On some levels anthropomorphism is hardwired into the human psyche. Speculating from the ideas of Jaynes and Clark about the nature of the technological art object - it is hard not to view personal technology as an extension or prosthesis of the mind. In front of my laptop I am a different creature in command of knowledge and a factual personal history, to the one who daydreams as he walks the dog through the bush. If an aspect of technology is the evolution of cognitive artefacts then personal and pervasive computing must constitute a dramatic leap.

Similarly it is tempting, as does art historian Barbara Stafford, to see artworks as cognitive objects. Cognition in the view of Neuroscientist Antionio Damasio involves emotion and physical sensation as much as it does logic or mental reasoning. I would hypothesise than when we engage or are immersed in an artefact we participate in an act of communion or communication with it, it becomes part of our thoughts.  This is a step beyond I think where Clark would go. The combination of these two ideas suggests that autonomous technological art objects could fulfil a powerful dream by combining both aspects of prosthesis and communion.  What would be the conditions that would allow this to happen, is it desirable or inevitable ?

augment_me: Anthropomorphising the other and augment the self

by Brad Miller

The paper will examine identity and our data shadow as subjects of the vanity apocalypse, with particular emphasis on how we make sense of them and reflect upon how we might or might not interact with them. I will interrogate the choice of representations and interfaces used to develop the responsive installation augment_me and examine it various data flows. I wish to critical examine how we are “naturally inclined” to interact and use these technologies. I propose to examine this expanded sense of self and I suspect a vicarious connectedness with the world around. I wish to offer reflection upon our need to be seen as complete and whole. Draped in our insecurities of difference and in desperate need of similarity we anthropomorphise the other and augment the self.

Don’t anthropomorphise me either

by Linda Dement

Our world is a sea of of particles that, for no apparent reason, choose to form in the constellations and patterns that we are. Our edges are not hard. We are permeable. We are largely empty space. We are a constant flow, a dynamic pattern, exchanging atoms with all that is around us; forming, congealing, shedding, reforming; swept around by forces, ideas, materials and energy. Perhaps our first mistake is to anthropomorphise ourselves, thinking we are separate, cohesive, autonomous beings, in singular command of our thoughts, decisions and actions. In the robot we then see reflections and parallels of our imaginary free standing, contained, independence in its similar ostensible autonomy, decisions and actions. We believe we can control the robot with programming and screwdrivers. We believe it is inert matter. We believe it is a little creature like us. We believe it is nothing like the complex creatures we are. We believe, god like, we created it. We believe it is a manageable clever pet that never shits. We believe it obeys us. We believe it is a lifeless machine. We invest it with personality. We divest it of presence. Yet we are not discreet entities and neither are robots. What if the particles we appear to inhabit are propelled by winds and flow forms of other ideas, other material particles, other energies? Perhaps impetus sweeps into us from the robot or beyond. Perhaps the robot’s constellation, its arrangement, has its own intelligence, will and intention. Given that we aren’t materially separate from each other, nor in any way fixed, perhaps its will and intention animate us at the same time as ours drives them. Perhaps over time and in proximity, the particles that seem to form the robot and the particles that seem to form the human, can come into entrainment, just as pendulums of clocks that begin their swings unaligned will come into synchronisation. The exchange of atoms, the currents of ideas, the forces and phenomena of the sea of particles might manifest through some dissonant hum across human and robot fields of formation.

The 'Rebuntu' project and thoughts around behavior and position of modern Operating Systems

by Danja Vasiliev

Any modern computer Operating System (OS) is designed with self-maintenance and self-support features under the hood. OS monitors the health of hardware it runs on, activity of external periphery, user input; it determines the necessary processing and handles its own state. For example - in case of a severe error or overload an OS can decide to reboot a computer; other time, when user program uses too much memory an OS would terminate the program.My interest here is to explore behavior of OSes under different conditions and circumstances, observe the methods they utilize for self-maintenance, security and control. Is User program preferable to System process from the perspective of Linux kernel? Can one use an OS without ever leaving a trace in system logs? Does User impose ultimate control over a running OS or why the 'shutdown' command sometimes does not work?

Roger 10-4: Exploration of the body as space/surface of transmission and reception

by Audrey Samson

Exploration of the body as space/surface of transmission and reception. How does our interaction with our everyday surroundings change if our body becomes a point of reception. With mobiles, smartphones, iPads and laptops we become the central point of transmission and reception of electromagnetic waves. Our new skins composed of these numerous gadgets are constantly updated and outdated. The results are known, landfills of electronic and chemical waste. Roger 10-4 explores what can happen if we work with the refuse of planned obsolescence, more specifically the receiving components of those outdated objects, and re-incorporate these components into our attire; to make electromagnetic frequency receiving accessories.  What happens if we are listening to the waves we transmit and receive?

Seeking Syncretism in Post-biological Mixed Reality Data Transfer Systems

by Julian Stadon

My contribution to this panel seeks to analyse syncretic, hybridized agency, particularly in mixed reality data transfer systems. Syncretism has traditionally been regarded as an attempt to harmonise and analogise (in other words seeking likeness within unlike things, and unity in difference,usually relative to disparate beliefs and cultural practices. Recent developments in bridging autonomous relationships with machines through mixed reality interfacing has brought about the need for further analysis of these new post-biological, hybridized states of being that traverse traditional paradigms of time and space. Syncretism may facilitate further understanding of multi-layered world views, both material and metaphysical, that are emerging from our engagement with such pervasive computational technologies and post-biological systems. It is a popular belief that we are now, through a media convergent, participatory culture (that is integrated socially through a subnetwork of platforms) creating a ‘collective intelligence’ that exists in a ‘global village’ of knowledge (data) transfer. This perspective evades traditional mythological notions of anthropomorphic interaction as it moves beyond the individual and into a universal model of open access.

Bios of the Participants

Bill Hart

Dr.Bill Hart is a lecturer in Electronic Media at the University of Tasmania, he has been working with computing technology for 30 years, firstly as a physical scientist, and for the past fifteen years as an artist, in 2008 he completed a PhD examining expressive programming, language and realtime imaging.

Brad Miller

Mr. Brad Miller is a Lecturer at the University of New South Wales, College Of Fine Arts, School of Design Studies and an Artist and Design Academic at University of New South Wales, College of Fine Arts; he lives and works in Sydney. He has typically manipulated found images and sound to create single channel video and interactive works exploring memory and associations. In early 2011, he was attached researcher to Chunky Move with Gideon Orbanzek, exploring the human body as data interface. During September Miller will be working in Shanghai with the multi-disciplinary Design Studio/LAB Rare Earth using augment_me as an experimental research platform. In October he will be in-residence at Cité Internationale des Arts, Paris. Miller as been invited to exhibit as part of a group show at Gallery 3,14 Bergen Norway in January 2012.

Linda Dement

Linda Dement is a Sydney based artist who has worked in arts computing since the late ‘80s, with a background in photography, film, and video. She works with issues of disturbance, commingling psycho sexual violent corporeality with the digital and electronic. Her interactive and still image work has been widely exhibited internationally and locally, including at the Institute of Contemporary Art in London, Ars Electronica in Austria, the International Symposia of Electronic Art in Sydney and Montreal and the Impakt Media Arts Festival in Europe. She is twice winner of the Australian National Digital Art Award (the Harries), has been awarded a New Media Arts Fellowship by the Australia Council for the Arts. She is a member of the collaborative groups In Serial and Bump Projects.

“Dement’s gift is to turn polymorphous perversity to aesthetic ends, let it run free and enjoy itself. The sacred and the savage, sexuality and abuse, are her private square of opposition.” – George Alexander

Danja Vasiliev

Danja Vasiliev is a Russian born computer artist, engineer and researcher. Danja recently won the highly coveted Golden Nica in Interactive Art for his work "Newstweek" made in collaboration with Julian Oliver (NZ). His interests lay in subjects of networked environments, computer operating systems, machine-2-human interfaces, data forensics, reality hacking, digital life and everyday technology and else. Using networked computers as a raw model/base Danja challenges contemporary affection for digital life and global tendency for cyborgination. His works are often described as technological interventions, be those hardware, software or conceptual pieces. Important recent works include crowd-driven computer network intended to replace the Internet (“Netless”, 2010), Linux distribution that joins the concepts of Turing machines and questiones technological Singularity (“RE:buntu”, 2009), a mechanical web-server that is accessible over the Internet (“m/e/m/e 2.0”, 2008). In 2010 together with Julian Oliver defined a concept of “Critical Engineering”. Currently Danja is working on a set of interventionist's devices for conducting experiments on the border between computer networks and physical space. The research is concerned about the inadequate and often false knowledge regarding online privacy and communication that is deeply rooted into contemporary, networked society.

Audrey Samson

Audrey Samson is a Rotterdam/Montréal based media designer, artist and researcher. Manager of the Digital Art Lab at the Centrum voor Kunst en Cultuur (Zoetermeer, NL). Teacher at the Gerrit Rietveld Academie (Amsterdam, NL). BFA Major in Design Art from Concordia University, 2002 (Montreal, Canada), M.A. Media Design from the Piet Zwart Institute, 2007 (Rotterdam, NL). Research/Practice focuses: use of online medium for mourning purposes, concept of finality in reproducible media, women's relationship to technology, the affordances of the internet medium in telematic performance, working from the products of planned obsolescence, and re-assembling objects with new functionalities in a DIY fashion. Audrey works together with Sabrina Basten on the Roger 10-4 Project. 

Julian Stadon

Julian Stadon is a PhD candidate at Curtin University of Technology, Australia. Julian’s research has included residencies with the Interface Cultures, Linz; Salford University, Manchester; Human Interface Technologies Lab, New Zealand (HITLabNZ), The Australian Centre for Virtual Art (ACVA), Melbourne, The Fogscreen Research Centre, Finland and The Banff New Media Institute, Banff. At Curtin University, Julian is a member of the Centre for Research in Arts Science and Humanity (CRASH), The Media Arts Postgraduate. Julian lectures in the School of Art and Design and the School of Media, Culture and Creative Arts at Curtin University and computer technologies and marketing at the SAE/Quantum Institute, Perth. Research assistant for the National Organisation of New Media Arts Database (NOMAD), and the director of Dorkbot Perth. His thesis title is Post Biological Digital Identity in Artificial Mixed Reality Real Time Data Transfer Systems.