[-empyre-] ambiguous artistic strategies & critical engineering

B. Bogart ben at ekran.org
Wed Feb 15 04:13:34 EST 2012

Hello Cassinelli Alvaro,

I have two thoughts on the idea of "honest technology".

1. What does honesty/transparency mean in the context of so many layers
of abstraction? Is there any honesty in there, or is a computational
system a simulacrum? No matter how much you expose to the user, there
will always be something hidden.

2. Rooted in my recent research in cognitive science it seems clear to
me that habituation, our ability to see the novel as normal, is at the
core of transparency. We can learn to make anything transparent with
enough time and practice. This is actually how we function in the world,
if we needed to be conscious of every tacit or habituated behaviour we
would never be able to get the big picture. Perhaps the details obscure
what is important, rather than exposing it. That being said, there is no
way of performing self-criticism without the ability to at least switch
between the big picture and the details, transparency and opacity, the
truth told and the truth proved.

B. Bogart

On 12-02-11 04:02 AM, Cassinelli Alvaro wrote:
> Hello everyone. I've been silently reading all these posts from the
> past months, and learning a great lot :)
> Last post from Julian prompted me to reply, because indeed this is one
> of the topics that has been always in my mind as an artist/engineer
> (btw, my name is alvaro cassinelli, www.alvarocassinelli.com). At one
> point I thought about launching a research project called "Honest
> Technology", here it is what it meant by that:
> Honest technology?
> The problem with transparent interfaces is that the technology that
> makes them work tends to be literally transparent or invisible;
> therefore, these interfaces, although easy to use may be unconsciously
> perceived as “trickery” - precisely because the gears of the machinery
> remain hidden from the user. Unless you are a hacker, you will relate
> to these interfaces as Harry Potter with a magic wand: there is no
> knowledge nor model of its inner workings, and you may end up
> suspecting the technology, and losing the sense of control. Showing
> the guts of the machine does not change the problem: electronic
> circuit boards are not like gears - the mechanism is not obvious. So,
> the question is how to design an interface that is perhaps less
> “transparent”, but whose working is more “obvious”? (thus empowering
> people). I am very interested in this problem, and I wonder if the
> solution involve people creating their own technology from scratch (as
> Lea Buckley believes) or other solutions such as developing extremely
> “hierarchical tools” that would enable one to play Robison Crusoe and
> build, say, a computer in less than a week starting from sand (the
> “reductionist” approach to knowledge). Or still, the solution may
> involve atomic, multi-purpose units that could be configured to create
> whatever we imagine (the nano-technology approach?). Finally, perhaps
> there is a way to render “magical thinking” compatible with empowering
> knowledge, by designing a standard set of “magic rules” that could be
> combined intuitively (this could be a super-set of “intuitive
> physics”). An instantiation of this solution could be the “invoked
> affordances” approach (see my "invoked computing" demo).
> Interestingly, such approach to interface design would naturally lead
> to the construction of “Alternate Realities” (in the sense of J.
> McGonigal).
> Another related question: If I knew everything (I mean *everything*,
> from theory to practice) about how to make a computer for instance,
> starting with raw materials (sand, water, etc), how long it would take
> for me to actually build one? What is the actual bottleneck? the speed
> of my motion? the decision making? (the SOCIAL interaction factor!).
> And what if I know that too (I mean, exactly what decisions I have to
> make, who to call for help, etc, so there is no waste of time for
> planning), then could we estimate the time it would take to this
> modern "Robinson" to build his laptop with GPS and wireless connection
> and send an email to the distant civilization that would come to help
> him?
> Cheers,
> Alvaro Cassinelli
> On Sat, Feb 11, 2012 at 7:54 PM, Julian Oliver <julian at julianoliver.com> wrote:
>> ..on Thu, Feb 09, 2012 at 03:18:06PM +0000, Simon Biggs wrote:
>>> Much contemporary computer based art work has a cargo-cult like quality due to
>>> such illiteracy. This can be interesting but usually in spite of itself.
>> Indeed, also one of the fruits of Bricolage. However with a language like
>> Engineering having such influence over the lives and minds of people - how we
>> eat, travel, communicate - I really think you need to speak the language to
>> truly act critically within its scope.
>> This is what we sought to underscore in the manifesto:
>>    http://criticalengineering.org
>> I've talked to several artists that have expressed disempowerment in this age of
>> database automation, google maps, wireless networking, the Cloud etc -
>> technologies that shape how they live and even their practice yet they find no
>> entry point to dissassembling and thus critically engaging them. It's not enough
>> to talk about how we are influenced by all this engineering - technology that
>> becomes social, political and cultural infrastructure - this leaves us in little
>> better position. It must be engaged it directly to understand the mechanics of
>> influence. This is the difference between a topic (technology) and as a material
>> (engineering).
>> Most that receive this email will have little or no idea how it arrived to their
>> inbox, unable to accurately describe it to another, not even close. At the same
>> time most would be able to describe how a postcard arrived at their friends
>> mailbox. Just 15 years..
>> Ignorance as to how these engineered infrastructures actually function, what
>> they do and what is done with them behind their own presentation, is actively
>> being abused both inside and out of democracies.
>> Cheers,
>> Julian
>>> On 9 Feb 2012, at 13:44, César Baio wrote:
>>>> Hallo all,
>>>> It is interesting because this remains a field of questions for me.
>>>> But I can talk a bit about my experience with this.
>>>> When it comes to technology, you look different when you know the device from it inside. It makes me think too much on the importance of clearing the black box claimed by Flusser. So think of a culture in which people produce technology as nowadays they produce text and images. It leads to reformulation of the concept of technology. I think this is an immense power of the empirical point of view because for those who can operate with the technology has in your hand a very powerful language. We say "programming language" but why not to say something like "technological language"?. Who understands the language written by programmers is the computer, but he does so only to turn it into other languages.
>>>> In the theoretical aspect, for example, at various times I am led to take my technical background and compare it with aesthetic aspects. An example of this happened in a part of my dissertation I put some questions to some arguments used by Manovich when he relates film and digital. My background in video gave me important clues for me to understand that digital is much more closely related to the video than to the film. Not by chance this relationship feels very strongly also in the aesthetic field. It comprehension changed a lot the way deals the other problems of my thesis.
>>>> I find these very thought-provoking issues. I'm very curious as to how each of the people who cross these areas deals with these issues. To me it would be fascinating to hear other people on the forum.
>>>>> From: gabriel.menotti at gmail.com
>>>>> Date: Wed, 8 Feb 2012 09:59:37 +0000
>>>>> To: empyre at lists.cofa.unsw.edu.au
>>>>> Subject: [-empyre-] ambiguous artistic strategies & critical engineering
>>>>> Hey!
>>>>>> my first area of study was the electronics, and I
>>>>>> think that today this has much influence on what I have written and on my
>>>>>> experimental projects. [César Baio]
>>>>> Being fascinated by the way some programmers write about software, I’d
>>>>> be very curious to see what kind of insights this technical background
>>>>> provides to your research. Are these overt influences or more subtle
>>>>> ones? Could you please give some examples – either theoretical or
>>>>> empirical?
>>>>> Also, do you see some coherence in the way you move from one field to another?
>>>>>> I'm interested in if
>>>>>> and how artistic practice can reformulate the concept of technology making
>>>>>> their production and use more accessible, how are different (and ambiguous)
>>>>>> the strategies that the artist uses [CB]
>>>>> Julian Oliver’s appeal for a “critical engineering” comes to mind here
>>>>> (there was a debate about it on empyre on July ’11, moderated by Simon
>>>>> and Magnus). Do you think there is anything particular in artistic
>>>>> practice that allow it to employ ambiguous strategies, or would these
>>>>> strategies be within the reach of anyone – such as academic
>>>>> researchers or technicians? Otherwise, shouldn’t they?
>>>>> Best!
>>>>> Menotti
>>>>> _______________________________________________
>>>>> empyre forum
>>>>> empyre at lists.cofa.unsw.edu.au
>>>>> http://www.subtle.net/empyre
>>>> _______________________________________________
>>>> empyre forum
>>>> empyre at lists.cofa.unsw.edu.au
>>>> http://www.subtle.net/empyre
>>> Simon Biggs
>>> simon at littlepig.org.uk http://www.littlepig.org.uk/ @SimonBiggsUK skype: simonbiggsuk
>>> s.biggs at ed.ac.uk Edinburgh College of Art, University of Edinburgh
>>> http://www.eca.ac.uk/circle/ http://www.elmcip.net/ http://www.movingtargets.co.uk/
>>> _______________________________________________
>>> empyre forum
>>> empyre at lists.cofa.unsw.edu.au
>>> http://www.subtle.net/empyre
>> --
>> Julian Oliver
>> http://julianoliver.com
>> http://criticalengineering.org
>> _______________________________________________
>> empyre forum
>> empyre at lists.cofa.unsw.edu.au
>> http://www.subtle.net/empyre
> _______________________________________________
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