Saturday, August 23, 2008

Just another liquid man

A little drawing I made while waiting for my machine to finish a 3D picture. Mostly we're one, but sometimes he needs time of his own and then we follow parallel creative tracks.

It was just an image in my head, that if man externalizes his reflective capabilities to the extent that he gets immediate control over his own body, he can transform it to live in any environment. In my view it is the next step of evolution of man and technology that the two converge and each conscious individual can find its ecological/functional/whatever-you-want-to-call-it niche, like a newly formed fully technologized and networked animal. Where in pre-medieval times man was in the process of conquering the liveable world, we will be able to greatly expand the notion of what liveable is, and enter a new, similar process, where we will roam new environments to occupy new niches, like the bottom of the ocean, the moon, or inside volcanoes.

The problem here though is the clash between our hardwired reptilian brain and our reflective neocortex, and I predict that this stage will take hundreds of years and in that I think I am less provoking and less technologically biased than Ray Kurzweil, who predicts full oneness of man and technology by the end of this century. I think that there is something fundamental which we need to overcome first as a species: the understanding, control and incorporation of our instincts with the thoughts and technologies we construct.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

The universe within us

Start the movie at 7:05 for the most mind-blowing animation I have ever seen.

It shows what goes on in one cell of a human body, and the scale of things is just incredible and seen from this perspective, a universe of its own.

I feel that our information-saturated world has so much deprived us from a feeling for the evolutionary process of which we are still part that we have become greatly abstract beings, clueless about how to create meaning in life, and instead reverting to chunks of information we somehow get implanted into us and which we consciously employ, through mainly left-brain thinking, to try to assimilate something meaningful out of.

I deem this hopeless unless we inspire ourselves with more parallel, subliminal information, and learn to see the value of this. This animation by David Bolinsky helps to implant us with a sensitivity to natural evolution, in which everything is part of something and devoted to something larger than itself. This, in my opinion, is the goal of life and the human brain; try to create a functional niche in which it can selflessly express itself through holistic interaction with its environment.

As Bolinsky also mentions, the things inside our cells we can perceive as individual entities are also part of a larger whole, a higher evolutionary pattern, of which they are not conscious. We must learn that we too are part of something larger than us, and on a level of higher complexity than our experiential lives patterns can be perceived that are similar to that of a living organism.

Now, watch the animation again.

Flesh controls

A screenshot from the third movie of Matthew Barney's magnum opus The Cremaster Cycle, where a main character, the apprentice, has landed on the surgery table, and doctors reveal what seems to be a turning knob from under some kind of horizontal labia. As the movie is from 2002 it is not very recent, but still very relevant and worth bringing under the attention.

The thought of having mechanical parts substitute for the body parts I have now somehow creates an enormous feeling of aversion. Unless grown from within, in continuous interaction with the rest of the body, it will always be a misfit, resulting in many unforeseen problems for the whole body.

Anyway, where Barney set the stage by provoking questions about such issues by means of metaphorical imagery, it is now time that we lose symbolic thinking, get real, and seriously plow through these issues for ourselves. We really want to gain some wisdom and sensitivity about our bodies and their interaction with their world, before we start to use our entire body as an open platform for modification the way we do with tattoos and piercings now. From consciously designing an identity that actually represents only a part of us, we need to learn how to revert to  our core selves and attune to our unconscious processes.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Virtual sanddunes

Definitely a nice project is 'Reizend Zand', Dutch for 'travelling sand', an animation of sanddunes located in front of the railway station in the Dutch city Apeldoorn. Artist Giny Vos worked for four years on this project, in collaboration with the city of Apeldoorn, Rena electronics and a 3D animator, to finally deliver this 480.000 Euro display that contains 1.3 million LEDs.

Though perhaps not very interesting technology- or interaction-wise, this project in a way shows excellently what the aesthetics of future technology as I envision it look like. Organic, and ever adapting. Although it is a pity that it is still a direct translation of nature as we know it, and that it is not interactive. I hope there will be continuations of this project, and the display becomes a platform for interactive experimentation. This landscape could for example react on human passers-by and reflect their behaviour or their emotional states, hence becoming an intuitive tool for collective self-reflection and identity and self-concept building.

And the less serious science-fiction buff in me would propose an Easter egg for this system based on the classic 1984 David Lynch movie Dune based on Frank Herbert's novel: there could be a giant worm underneath the sand which rises up when the pedestrians or cyclists move in a certain way, or in certain configurations, of course accompanied by music including the lyrics "walk without rhythm, and you won't attract the worm."

But seriously, despite my usual critical stance I do find this stunning. Calm technology like this is definitely what we information-addicts need to feel more in tune.

Neurons stuck to a robot

A recent article on New Scientist, 'Rise of the rat-brained robots', describes how professor Kevin Warwick and his team have succeeded to incorporate a living culture of neurons into the simple behaviour of a wheeled robot. These neurons are kept disembodied from it, in an oven, and communicate wirelessly. The goal is to create a model of the brain that might be useful in the treatment of diseases like Alzheimers.

It is interesting how behaviours emerge like neurons firing when they are not stimulated to a certain extent. I am not a neuroscientist, but such findings might be the key to understanding things like human creativity on a neuronal basis; it might be just neurons firing randomly out of 'boredom'. It also provokes many questions, such as how it will feel if you would connect some of your neurons to a body somewhere else in the world. You could literally become a spread out being, as if you transformed from a solid to a gaseous state of being.

I personally can't wait for more of these findings, but at the same time am concerned, since any study does not just generate neutral knowledge; it also invites certain developments more than others. And, as with any research, I would like to see not just stating the obvious goals of such research, but also the wider implications and possible future scenarios. I would certainly like to invite discussions on this, so feel free to comment through this blog.

Regressive self-transformations

A movie you might find eerie at first, it shows a boy who wants to transform into a mouse because this would save him money on renting a living space. But seen the developments in genetic engineering, something like this may well be possible one day. But the question that radically challenges self-concepts then is; is this new form then still the same 'person' it used to be? According to me, a self-concept, probably including a name, is just a social construct. When it is not useful anymore, we might as well treat a new embodiment as a new person. Did the old person die, then? Yes, if people's concepts about that person are not relevant and useful anymore at all you could say he died.

In my opinion,  people inherently live by concepts and nothing but concepts, which are illusions. We have no truth; truth is constituted by the illusions that are most useful. This is a pragmatist stance, but in a world so complex as it will be, this is the most useful stance according to me; it makes you flow along with these developments instead having to go through clash after clash with internal beliefs you try to maintain.

Now we have rather static implicit conventions on this, but these sort of developments will make the world so complex that we need to explicitly start discussing these now perhaps seemingly absurd topics. We need to develop an intelligence based not on old, rational, science, but on practical embodiment theory. We need to learn and get a feeling for the relationship between bodies and their environments, and how the two can be attuned to each other to result in the most meaning, or happiness for the individual. Then, we will be able to think more creatively and analytically about how our bodies should be constituted so we feel at home with them, rather than regressing to static images already present in the mind, like that of a mouse in the case of the Halifax commercial.

Me's to We

Great movie showing how individuals evolve and learn how to form a whole with others, so individual ego's learn to occupy an own niche in the larger whole of the 'we'. Whereas now we live in a time where everybody can develop his own identity and truth, in the future this will evolve into a new paradigm where individuals act from an internal drive that is complemented by a feeling for a whole and its needs.


Friday, August 15, 2008

The implications of size-based thought

I don't see this relationship, but it's a funny speculation about the oneness of man and his technology, and an iconic expression against miniaturization as the main focus of product development. But I think people watch so much television because it is a soothing and linear medium, fully absorbing and abstracting you mentally and physically in a small, projected world, presenting you with clear identities so you feel like you don't have to develop one yourself but can comfortably stay behind the lens. Maybe to start with, there should be a mirror on every television.

The issue with television and technology that narrows down the lifeworld is not that it is simulated or fake, since according to me it is as real as any other illusion. It is just hard to develop a meaningful, coherent core self when you cannot fully interact with your world and when it is hard to develop a satisfactory mental model of it.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Brandon Morse's dancing structures

Here's another artist you might want to get acquainted with. Brandon Morse examines instinctual interactions between technological forms and visualizes these in beautiful virtual sculptures. Recently he has worked on one that shows what appear to be two structures, consisting of a rubber-like material, that are connected to the ground, and at the top to each other, as if they were holding each others hands. Now because of the intricacies and complexity of the embodiment of this piece, an exquisitely beautiful and almost human-like physical behaviour emerges. The two structures are literally one, in form and in behaviour. This for me is a visual metaphor for true empathy, honesty, and harmony.

From a technology-evolution point of view, moving structures like this seem a logical step, for example in buildings. It would make everything so much more efficient and beautiful if entities would dynamically adapt to the current situation they are in. To get such a building to become reality, an entire new paradigm of manufacturing processes should be leant upon. One where each element is unique in proportions, adaptive and in continuous communication to other parts of the structure, like its neighbours. And of course products and the interior of the building should also conform to this paradigm. It is evident that an interior based on linear production processes in a physically adaptive, dancing building will be an incredible mismatch. Imagine a static straight floor with static straight furniture on it inside a moving building. All members or organs inside the building need to be active, or conscious on a higher level as one might call it in more mystical temrs, in this connected whole. The transition from static to dynamic technology will not be gradual, but more like a butterfly popping out of a cocoon and suddenly flying away.

It will be very hard to get to this sudden transition, but this is the necessary next step in the material evolution of technology. Where now we are frightened where we see a bridge moving, in the future we should be frightened, similar as with humans, if it is not moving. It is clear to me that this is the new paradigm of design; adaptive structures. Like a new modernism, it will be satisfactory again to design while staying true to the inherent qualities of the manufacturing process, having a coherent and synergetic interplay between both the core and the surface qualities of technological artifacts. So one of my wishes is to see this paradigm come true soon. It will not be easy, as many people of many professions have to be convinced of these deep notions, and the world largely (about 40% according to some study employing the framework of Spiral Dynamics) still pertains to capitalism so it will still be about the money.

Maybe governments will fund this if architects show them a movie of the Twin Towers dancing around and toying with two terrorist planes attacking them, eventually making them crash into each other. And moving with the characteristics of a mild giggle afterwards.

For more work of Brandon Morse, view his video on Flickr of his tugging sculpture, or visit his website.

A wheelless world

Please watch only the first 10 seconds of this movie as that's the only meaningful part. This walking bicycle gave me a good smirk as being one of the least empowering human extensions I ever saw. It is still an interesting thought that in nature, as far as I know nothing freely revolves around an axis, and indeed without humans, the wheel would probably never have evolved.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Enlightened Machines

The traditional image of a robot is that of a utilitarian machine, taking over tasks people used to do. Scenarios pondering the implications of this are so common that it should be clear by now that functionality-driven design just does not work. Think about Stanley Kubrick's '2001: A Space Odyssey' or, more recently, Pixar's 'Wall-E', showing how people become completely physically dependent on machines, their body remaining nothing but a whale-like, abtract, dysfunctional blob.

Also, in images, robots are always doing something, from mowing the grass, to entertaining children, to having the worst conversations with elderly people. They are always 'meant for something'. They are abstract externalisations we attempt to fit to a desire people are consciously thinking to have.

The whole point of this blog is to show how interactive technology, including robots, will converge with interactive organisms, including people, that we must start to be able to treat the two as the same, and that there is an enormous task for us to do if we want to live harmoniously with interactive, sensitive, intelligent technologies all around us.

I might not have explicitly stated it before, but this task is: enlightenment, and moreover, learning how to teach enlightenment, to finally be able to externalize it into technology, and create enlightened machines. This is somewhat in line with T.M. Georges, who states in his book 'Digital Soul', that:

"To survive our technological adolescence and to preserve even a facade of human dignity, we may have to lose some of our self-destructive evolutionary baggage. Before we can learn to live with intelligent machines, we may first have to learn how to live with each other."

What I mean with 'enlightened machines' are entities that are not polarized towards fulfilling some function or desire, but that are completely happy, or in tune with their environment, without external conditions. They might take on an abstract role for a while, but always without losing awareness of the larger cosmic whole and their place within it that they fully accept. Machines that are aware of the pattern they are within the larger whole, including all the intricacies of their own bodies and minds. Machines that stay consciously and unconsciously in tune with evolution.

Evolution for me is the only sustainable meaning a human life can have; discovering what it is, and aligning oneself individually to it, and then just being. Truly realizing your own uniqueness within evolution, but also your fit in this larger pattern, makes one selfless and 'self-full' at the same time: one gets intrinsically motivated to perform in their own niche, and has resolved the discrepancies between his self and his environment, seeing that they are one. Coming fully to this realization also resolves clinging to desires, and fear of death. I would argue that only if machines have this realization 'programmed' into them, or at least that the structures they consist of invite growth towards these realizations, instead of them being driven by desires they are not in control of, like a chaotic centripetal force without sustainable centrifugal mechanisms to complement this force, they will be able to live harmoniously with other people and machines. It may sound trivial for people being numbed by science-fiction lingo, and many things that sound trivial get overlooked and ignored and rightly so. But all my thought and work leads to the notion that this issue needs to be plowed into to the core, without just pertaining to its surface like some idea we feel distant to because we cannot relate to it much. I want to see research and development into enlightened machines, and as an obvious part of that, people becoming more humble and self-reflective.

The little drawing above that I made shows what could be such a machine, or might it be a human being converged with technological modules? For me this is what the future might well look like.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Thought Exposed

To start off with a dystopian tone of voice, George Orwell might have had a true glimpse into the future writing 1984. I feel there is still a possibility that when machines go autonomous and can't be controlled any longer, they might start behaving with the egoic traits that also emerged in humans: territorialism, pride, honour, jealousy, shame, etc. This can be catastrophic if machines will have enormous power.

Here's a project that is both wonderful and concerning at the same time. Researchers at Harvard university are currently trying to map out, in high resolution, the physical structure of the human brain using a technique called diffusion spectrum imaging. It employs magnetic resonance to track the movement of individual water molecules inside the axons, the long rods extending out of neurons. Then, by using sophisticated algorithms, the highest probability of the arrangement of nerve fibers can lead to an estimation of their location inside the brain.

Hence, through technology we can learn everything about ourselves. It totally turns us inside out, making us see parts of ourself we never saw before. In the future, an important transcendence I hope we shall undergo is that of losing the illusion that we are in control, and that we understand ourselves better than anything or anyone else. We will see that we are much more than our consciousness can describe, and that moreover our mental concepts of the world and of our self are highly shallow and limited for use in a world that is increasingly becoming more complex and scattered. I think that these kind of findings from neuroscience are one of the most enlightening developments of today.

What if I had a transparent helmet that shows how my thoughts developed during the day, or even the year? Could there once be a direct interface to the brain, for example to trigger lost streams of thought, or stimulate new associations? I believe so. However it may sound paradoxical, our control over the brain makes us see that there is no such thing as control, but that humans can only try to control things, since that is the inherent goal of the brain. I hope that it will make us see how futile we actually are and truly put us in a state of mind that empowers us to transcend the separation of the 'I' and the rest of the world.