Computational Arts Blog



008

MATERIAL SEMIOTICS / ACTOR NETWORK THEORY / TALKING TO MACHINES

Considering material semiotics as something that arises from a web of relations, demonstrated in case studies: these are assemblages. ACTORS as being related to ideas of agents [of change], decenters an anthropocentric focus *there is a necessary question here of how this affects accountability*. These webs of relations need constant participation from ACTORS to be upheld - in theory change should come easy - gesturing towards D. Harraway’s ideas of situated knowledge and tentacular thinking - perhaps this is practice?.

Taking a detour (departing from Harraway) these webs can be thought of as a collective fantasy, frictioning the realm of virtuality.

A gesture towards communication: perhaps the difficulty in communications with machines comes from human desire to teach them our modes of language -- sound has potential to be a less gendered, less webbed semiotic system. If I sing a dial up tone, will I connect to the internet?



007

human-like machines, agency, figurations and cyborgs.

Posing questions on ideas of ‘human-like’ machines demonstrates the narrative tendency to anthropomorphise, to create in her own image. This is posed as a question of whose image? What are we duplicating? What is the idea of an ‘average’ human? In design discourse, specifically ergonomic design, this has largely led to miscalculations. For example the design of military aircrafts during the early 20th century being based on average measurements of airforce soldiers leading to (more) unnecessary deaths as a result of ill fitting gear, which in the end fit no one. The resolution was adjustable seating, rather than design being dictated by a mathematical average. Jumping from this point -  I think the more critical design feature is the context of these machines. It is impossible to design a machine without an understanding of its space of operation - this was the core part of the first conversation we had in the workshop when discussing what features of humans we would include or leave out of design. We were more compelled by ideas of non-human [biological] intelligence as a tool for imaging a robot which could navigate for example looking at ideas of photosynthesis energy production, collective intelligence in insect species as well as evolutionary developments of animals with specialist features (for example the pseudo-penis of the female spotted hyena who protects her dominance and the structures of the matriarchal clan by being unable to be inseminated without her retracting). This seems to relate to Harraway’s Cyborg Manifesto in extending boundaries of human and non-human and contestation of the romanticism of nature as separate from our ecology.


004

Encountering intelligence:


Turing’s imitation game, coupled with Descarte’s concern with the soul [consciousness] lends itself not only to question - what is the relationship between intelligence and consciousness, but further why does it matter? The anthropocentric (and largely western) concern with determining intelligence in the frame of our understanding of it discounts a landscape of aliveness. Winnie Soon’s work here is a far more appealing perspective which considers the phenomena of liveness rather than the being.


Considering the relationship between aliveness and mechanics cannot discount its presence in the realm of the uncanny -- the ETA Hoffman ‘Sandman’ short story, which formed the basis of Freud’s discussion of the uncanny, is itself a confrontation of an automata which, at a distance, carries with it all the signs of life - this confrontation is a moment of crises for the protagonist. Largely, this moment relies on an idea of the projection of the desire of the protagonist, acting as a kind of reflection - just as ELIZA, the computer program that emulates a Rogerian psychotherapist which largely feedback your statements. Perhaps the difficulty in daydreaming of a broader spectrum of Aliveness is tied to the action of projecting desire?


003

Mechanical bodies and duplication in Leo Carax’s Holy Motors (2014) / Jonathan Glazer’s Under the Skin (2013).

Cinematic duplication of the image is according to Benjamin, founded in mechanical reproduction. Extending this notion of mechanisation to look at the system of acting, Both Glazer’s and Carax’s films, with its wandering structure makes visible acting as performance to vision machine. There is a technology in the video-game like assembly of identities in H.M. which on one level could allude to action of ‘me-making’ in online spaces but furthe rto the mechanics of acting. The process of acting itself - reliant on reshoots and making deliberate small gestures - performing to the camera creates a sense of deliberateness, gestures carrying a symbolic weight of some kind - picking up a lighter becomes more than that -- the perception, implication of watching changes motion, mechanises it.

“An age that has lost its gestures is, for this reason, obsessed by them. For human beings who have lost every sense of naturalness, each single gesture becomes a destiny. And the more gestures lose their ease under the action of invisible powers, the more life becomes indecipherable”. (Agamben 2000)

This is complicated in Glazer’s film which works in part with non-actors; in short - their gestures do not presuppose an audience, they undergo a kind of becoming mechanic as a result of our gaze, mutated into these determined performers in a weird time delineation

We however codify their performance, our perception is the mechanising agent - as a viewer we enforce a ‘becoming image’. 

There disembodying that occurs in the separation of the actor and their image - it loses its sense of corporeality through the process of transmission - it evaporates, disintegrates as Johansson's alien at the end of the film.This is further amplified in Under the Skin through the use of score: atonal, inhabiting only the top and lower frequencies -- empty mid range creates a hollow effect. Comparatively, the main body of communication occurs in 



To be continued...






002

Idea’s around ‘aliveness’, datasets and algorithms


Both Tallerton Gillepse and Matteo Pasquinelli’s emphasis on the human involvement in shaping algorithms propose an idea of collective labour, be that in the realm of engineering or of magic - a kind of swarm. I want to extend this fleshy energy exchange to think also around the emotional life of datasets. The Enron Corpus  - a database of 600,000 emails generated by 158 employees in the years leading up to the collapse of the energy giant in 2001, released and sold for $10,000 to Andrew McCallum who released this dataset for training machine learning, natural language processing research as well as linguistic analysis etc. Among the more expected communication related to work was more personal, erotic, emotional exhanges between employees. Stories of office romances, divorce, longing and sadness often reminiscent of reality TV.

This disembodied corpus can be considered to have an aliveness of its own - see Sam Lavigne and Tega Brain’s ‘Good Life: Enron Simulator’ - further reanimated in its passage into many technologies which mediate our communication systems: in the genesis of Siri, spam fishing, auto complete etc.

Despite being, up until WikiLeaks, the largest publicly available dataset of real emails sent between a large group of people, the limitations of this dataset is obvious, however. What does it mean when emails released from 158 largely white, male, high earning, Huston based employees for an oil company which went under because of fraudulent activity, forms the basis for a body of data used for machine learning. What kind of dataset is this?

As the emotional life of data shapes our tools, these tools change the way we communicate - our interactions becoming increasingly disembodied and acousmatic. This Enron Corpus - the body of data which proxies interactions - is a direct example of our embodied relationship to the algorithm.


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001

Thinking about software as an invisible technology with a relationship to ideas of choreography as a negotiation of space.


Can this prescription of use be likened to an idea of rhythm? Modes of response directly related to the relationship between the body and how it interprets / feels sound. You could consider the bodily cues given by the regularity of a 4 to the floor beat in techno etc. as activating the torso versus the more spasmodic (nomadic?) proposition of breakbeat. The hyper-syncopated rhythm activates a more fractured and en-garde negotiation of space. Is this software? An interlinking idea is developed by Pauline Oliveros in her collection of writings (1963-80) entitled ‘Software for People’ where she repurposes her thinking around ‘Sonic Meditations’ and other deep listening practices as body software.

Software “produces culture” -  also extending the parameters both conceptually and in practical terms of the ‘break’ in music. Moving into the realm of software assisted midi controllers, the endless reconstruction of the Winston Brothers’ ‘Amen’ break has led to the production of a whole genre (drum and bass) through the ability to reconstruct individual rhythm notations of a ‘moment’ in the break by teenagers in their bedrooms. Fundamental in this rearrangement is the loop, copy/paste practices, and time stretching capabilities of software to allow for an acceleration of the beat that surpasses the human heartbeat while maintaining the pitch.

This act of sampling can relate to the conceptual framework of ‘Open Source’, the evolution of an ecosystem shaped by collaboration, exchange and creative mutations discussed in the latter part of the article.


P.S.

Contractual relationship of paid digital software or of the digital space in general. How do we enter into / exit this relationship?