Sunday, November 01, 2009

optimise your social isolation more efficiently

OK, back from eComm in Amsterdam; here's something interesting. Besides all the stuff I was meant to be following for work, we had a presentation from a group of the sort of media-arts types who get a lot of coverage on Bruce Sterling's blog; in fact the whole gig was faintly Beyond the Beyond-esque when it wasn't Charlie Stross-esque. Notably, two projects struck me as emblematic of a certain kind of thinking.

The first one was the Isophone, which is a mashup of a flotation tank and a telephone. The idea is that you sink into yummy sensory deprivation while talking to someone else in the same condition; it looks like this.

the isophone, with user

Maybe it's just me, but having to take phone calls under a state of total sensory deprivation is not my idea of fun. I couldn't help imagining some sort of nightmarish prison call centre, a whole pool full of them.

Then there was Mutsugoto. Let the official description speak for itself.
Mutsugoto is meant to be installed in the bedrooms of two distant partners. You lay on your bed and wear a special touch-activated ring visible to a camera mounted above. A computer vision system tracks the movement of the ring and projects virtual pen strokes on your body. At the same time these pen strokes are transmitted to and projected on the body of your remote partner. If you follow your partner's movements and your strokes cross, the lines will react with each other and reflect your synchrony. Special bed linens, silk curtains and other aspects of the physical context have been designed to enhance the mood of this romantic communication environment.
But what are the civilian applications? As they say.

Go on, this is basically a sex toy, isn't it?

Well, I think we can probably guess. Anyway, I found both of them depressing; it also struck me that too many of these projects are all about sucking information out of the virtual space and representing it on a piece of hardware in private space. Basically, a gadget that reads out Twitter feeds, that you're meant to think is your friend. Further, once you get rid of the microphone, pointing device, keyboard, webcam, etc, you're basically watching TV on your own. It's read-only communication into the private realm.

The suit faction in this field, oddly, works the other way round - the M2M (Machine to Machine) community in telecoms, the big IT types, they're all more interested in getting data from the real world and representing it in virtual space. Basically, it's all SCADA applications - monitoring the current status of CO2 pipeline valve number 58634. Flowrate, direction, valve setting and temperature, please, and when did you last have your grease changed?

What seems to be missing from this as an artistic project is sending stuff into the public space. A lot of data gets captured from the public space into the private space; CCTV is one version, promoting your demo on Flickr and taking photos of the cops is another. Nothing much seems to be sent back, though; can't we have truth-screamer robots that run about yelling out under-reported news? Of course, if you or I were to encounter one we'd probably dropkick it into a handy canal. Splosh; "Hey there! CitizenMediaBot is sinking!"

But it would at least be fun, and more fun than gazing at a waldo that turns puce when #drivel is trending again. I suspect there's scope for this with things like Layar, who were also presenting. Then, we're deep into the Strossosphere; "what do we want? Brains!" indeed.


Fellow Traveller said...

The first looks like a low bandwidth version of The Matrix - we don't have the computational power or the neural induction to do full VR yet but here you go with an audio only version - a BBC announcer will read out descriptions of the environment to you.

The second resembles some kind of 70s slightly surreal, drug culture SF flick - The Man who fell to Earth perhaps - where this kind of thing was envisioned as the replacement for sex.

ajay said...

can't we have truth-screamer robots that run about yelling out under-reported news?

This reminds me somewhat of the Doom Module invented by Anode Enzyme: "an agile globe on legs which is programmed to flee in terror from anything that moves ('Serve it right,' says Lord Doberman) and will continue to be Doomed for 20 years until its fuel cells are exhausted. The inventor reveals the next step: imagine ten million Doom Modules, all madly running away not only from anything that moves but from each other..."

Fellow Traveller said...

Phil Dick got there first - in The Zap Gun if I recall correctly - wherein he depicts small insect like robots chasing the people of the future down the street and into their homes, while singing advertising jingles. Yes, he foresaw spam - ambulatory, mobile spam that hunted you like a guided missile or The Terminator with commerce in mind.

Alec said...
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