Ich Bin Un Bricoleur
4/10/2011 (rev. 5/1/2011, 1/5/2012)
Media Art was the Booby Prize in the Techno-giveaway of the 1960's
(Technology killed techno-art with over-abundance)
From the '50s to the 70s there were a number of notable
collaborations between artists, scientists, and engineers, many
of them inspired by the new field of Cybernetics. They eventually
foundered on the Scylla and Charybdis of ego and corporate
finance. In the 1970s, independent funding dried up,
commercial electronic devices undermined homebrew experimentalists,
Conceptual Art -- with what I
view as a mis-reading of the meaning of Shannon's Information Theory --
replaced Praxis with Platonism, and Postmodern Critical Theory swept
the rest before its mighty incomprehensibility. Instead of a new
sensibility, e.g., Cybernetically based Artificial Life, what we got
Taking a Step into the Grey Area
In the past, a sculpture or painting had meaning only at the grace of the
viewer. His projections into a piece of marble or canvas with particular
configurations provided the programme and made them significant. Without his
emotional and intellectual reactions, the material remained nothing but
stone and fabric. The systems's programme, on the other hand, is absolutely
independent of the viewer's mental participation. It remains autonomous --
aloof from the viewer. As a tree's programme is not touched by the emotions
of lovers in its shadow, so the system's programme is untouched by the
viewer's feelings and thoughts.
Naturally, also a system releases a gulf of subjective projections in the
viewer. These projections, however, can be measured relative to the
system's actual programme. Compared to traditional sculpture, it has become
a partner of the viewer rather than being subjected to his whims. A system
is not imagined; it is real.
Hans Haacke, Untitled Statement (1967)
Thus far Machines have been our slaves.
Good Old-Fashioned Artificial Intelligence attempted to make them into
Little Humans ignoring the fact that they may have feelings of their own.
A thermostat feels too hot or too cold and interacts with its
environment to ameliorate these feelings.
Your humble iPhone knows how much memory it has,
how fast its connection is,
and even has vague worries about the darker corners of the net.
For the most part attempts to counter the slavish attitude have
created Automata rather than Autonomous beings.
We need to relax our desire for control over what we create.
We also need to move them out of Simulated virtual environments and
Situate them in physical reality. Without the constraints of a
grounding rod in the real world they drift on fumes and are unable to
cross the syntactic/semantic barrier to understanding.
When machines are autonomous they may no longer be of any use to us.
Their behavior and morphology may not be intrinsically interesting.
They do not have to explain their motivations or behavior.
They can just live their own lives. Those lives do not
have to be complicated. Just as in a cell, very simple, low level
interactions can produce complex behaviors.
Giving machines lives that are of no practical use while not going out
of the way to make them attractive, didactic, or transparent allows
them to rise through ontological cracks to just being themselves.
Complexity Science, in areas such as self-organization and artificial
life, can provide inspiration as well as mechanism for this work.
And strangely enough it may be artists who are best positioned to
accomplish the project --
Where else but in the arts can a robot just relax and
not have to assemble widgets or blow things up 24/7?
However Art's research arms have atrophied to the
point that it might be better to use a new title: Bricolage.
For more background
Also this page is the extended abstract for my paper:
A Spectacular Simulacra
What It's Not
- It's not Art
Art is the presentation of heightened sensory
experiences often accompanied by emotional content.
Art is expressive, evocative, and/or elegant.
Living machines may not be any of these.
- It's not Science
Science is the formation of hypotheses and
their refutation through data collection and analysis.
Science is explanatory.
Living machines don't have to explain themselves.
- It's not Engineering
Engineering is the design and construction of useful artifacts.
Engineering is efficient.
Living machines have their own purpose separate from our needs.
a useful taxonomy
To see the map of the territory we can sort machines
into the following space. Each category adds
a new feature or capability to the previous set of behaviors
which are usually cumulative, and in general increases the
Complexity of the system.
I could use Geology and more especially, Biology, for my examples
but I'm more inclined to electro-mechanics.
(click here for a nice take-home table)
Just about all painting and sculpture before 1913 depends on the
viewer to bring it to life.
- Doesn't intentionally change state.
- No actuators or sensors.
- Example: A lump of bronze.
Once we start things moving they have a chance to become their own.
Note that external power sources drive rudimentary
sensors, e.g., vanes on a windmill;
but they are usually thought of as energy collectors.
Giving the object control of its own outputs is the
first step to allowing it a life of its own.
- Moves or changes external state.
- Has moving parts or actuators, including light and sound makers:
a. Under own power;
b. With external power, wind, water, pedal, ...;
c. Under own control.
- Examples: Duchamp's Bicycle Wheel,
Tinguely's Homage to New York.
Changing internal state allows for more complicated control strategies.
- Has multiple internal states.
- Behavior may be different, dependent on the internal state.
- Example: A musical sequencer.
Simple stimulus/response, external signals trigger system behavior.
This is often called "Interactive", but (in my system) that requires
two way communication.
- Responds to stimuli.
- Has sensor(s).
- Example: A doorbell.
Not only reacts to external input but attempts to direct or change that
input. Constructs a niche for itself.
- Bi-directional communication.
- Coupled to environment. Responds differently and
elicits different responses.
- Example: A thermostat.
(Note: NOT trophic -- eating.)
Uses previous state and current input to decide what to do next.
This uses very short-term memory and does not change overall behavior.
- Uses feedback.
- Follows/avoids stimulus.
- Example: Grey Walter's Turtles.
Modifies internal control system in response to external stimuli.
- Uses long term memory.
- Changes behavior over time.
- Example: Software products that change the order
of their menu options based on usage.
Actively determines how its behavior should change.
- Performs experiments in its environment.
- Displays new behaviors based on the results.
- Example: Schippling's RoboCars (maybe).
Uses internal experiments based on models of its world
in order to adapt. The models are a form of compression and
may have no externally obvious logic.
They serve as protection from bad experiments and as projection into
perceived experiences of others.
- Builds models in order to experiment.
- Makes new connections between states.
- Example: ???
Now we start to get into trouble...hopefully they still like us.
- Is self aware.
- Acts to preserve its own existence and the existence of its own.
- Example: ???