[-empyre-] A open call to our subscribers: Week 1: New Year/New Tools and Technologies

B. Bogart ben at ekran.org
Thu Feb 5 10:30:33 AEDT 2015

Hello Empyrians,

I'll break this comment into three sections, each inspired by a
different aspect of Renate's opening message.


It's easy to think of progress as a ray projecting to an ever better
future. I find it interesting that so many 'innovations' happen in
cycles, even in a world apparently based on incremental improvement. The
most salient for me, at this point, is the new trend of VR. This stands
out because of the hype that surrounded it in the mid 90s when I was and
centrally concerned with "new media" and computer graphics. I
experienced a VR system at SIGGRAPH in 1995, and did not try it again
until a recent Oculus Rift demo. The nearly 20 year gap gave lead me to
some quite high expectations. I was left being totally underwhelmed. I'm
not convinced that this new VR will be any more successful than it was
in the 90s. More details on my experience here:

Even computer architecture has slid back and forth between single and
multi processor systems over the years. I think of tradition as a way of
thinking about the world that emphasizes what has stayed the same.
Novelty is a way of thinking about the world that emphasizes what has
changed. Realism is somewhere in between, where we accept that at some
level of description nothing changes, but at other levels of description
nothing stays the same. More and more, I find myself not seeing through
the lens of novelty, but through the lens of tradition.


Networked and telematic work was very popular when I started my B.F.A.
in 1999. I can't articulate exactly why, but it held little interest to
me. I even worked in a research lab at Ryerson University where we made
almost entirely telematic events and performances as part of the MARCEL
network (http://www.mmmarcel.org/). While I did make art in that
collaborative paid context, my individual work was quite a bit less
about the network. Rather, less about interactivity across networks. In
Aporia (http://www.ekran.org/ben/wp/2007/aporia-2001/), I considered the
network as a sea of signifiers that could never be fully grounded.

I think it's this sense of grounding that made telematic art less
attractive to me. Perhaps it's the ephemeral quality of 'new media'
itself that drove my interest in here and now. Through my graduate
studies, I have let go of interactivity entirely and am focused on
generative processes in the Context Machines series
Generative processes are used in the context of grounding and artworks
are considered site-specific and augmented by sensors in the
environment. The latest incarnations of Context Machines are the
Dreaming Machines whose processes are inspired by biopsychological
conceptions of perception, mental imagery, mind wandering and dreaming.
In essence, these works are trying to ground themselves by learning
about the world (using machine learning methods) and generating
simulations of it. I have been asked about networked versions of these
installations that are served images from flikr or the like, rather than
images from a single place and a particular time. There is something in
the lack of constraint or bounding that makes such proposals quite
unpalatable to me.

Context machines start with a point of view. They see the world through
a single and unified lens. They are context dependent and inherently
subjective. There is no sense of Truth or objectivity, they are in a
constant process of trying to understand the world, without ever being
able to perfectly reproduce it. They are single nodes and have no
culture or communication. They reproduce not what they see in the world,
but what they understand of it, which can be very little.

A new project titled Watching and Dreaming
moves away from this sense of place in space and time where the work is
subjected to a cultural world, rather than a physical one. This is the
world represented in cinema. It's a highly constructed discontinuous
world meant to be interpreted by a human viewer. By the sheer fact that
a film has a fixed length, it is more bounded than a live context, but
it's also a challenging world to learn from. The learning mechanisms of
Watching and Dreaming exist in the context of Artificial Intelligence,
and the choice of film (currently only 2001: A Space Odyssey) is focused
on cultural representations of artificially intelligent systems, in this
case the homicidal HAL9000. My 'intelligent' machine watches a film
about a fictitious intelligent machine, all the while trying to make
sense of what it means while never being able.


On the surface, Watching and Dreaming seems a lot like Grosser's
"Computers Watching Movies"
(http://bengrosser.com/projects/computers-watching-movies/), where
computer vision methods are used to interpret cinematic images. Grosser
frames the work as an attempt to provoke viewers into asking "how
computer vision differs from their own human vision, and what that
difference reveals about our culturally-developed ways of looking." This
seems to imply that computer vision is objective and unified. In truth,
computer vision is really just the application of machine learning to
visual images, and thus has much diversity in how it sees and why. Many
computer vision systems are oriented to recognizing faces or numbers, or
even genders and expressions. They are intentionally developed for these
specific purposes that cannot be excised from the contexts of
surveillance and tracking, they tell us specific information that
appears to be objective and unbiased: A woman in white stands in front
of two men and a green background.

In Grosser's work, the algorithms used appear to be tracking the
movement of objects or perhaps whole scenes, tracing lines over a a
blank canvas. There is a tension in provoking the viewer to consider a
monolithic sense of Computer Vision (developed and funded largely for
the purpose of tracking and surveillance) in comparison with human
vision (oriented towards making sense of the world to facilitate survival).

In Watching and Dreaming, the specific methods used include segmentation
(breaking images into pieces), clustering (recognizing that a piece in
the previous image is the same as 'object' as the current image) and
prediction (learning the sequence in which these 'objects' appear).
These methods serve to help the machine generate images that are
grounded in reality, and yet are not a perfect reflection, nor a random
composition. The "task" is to make sense of the world by recognizing and
predicting perceptual 'objects'. These methods are all on-line and
unsupervised, i.e. they don't make use of previously recorded
information nor depend on a 'right answer' provided by an expert to help
them learn.

My point here is that computer vision is no more monolithic than
artificial intelligence. There are many different ways in which we could
define, frame and validate both vision and intelligence. It's temping to
think of these technologies as monolithic "tools" but they are really
aggregations of many different conceptions and approaches linked
together. Each of these approaches imbues its own bias and point of
view. To a segmentation algorithm, every image is a set of objects that
can be separated, and borders are often made in places where a human
would not recognize them. To a clustering algorithm, the world is made
up of discreet elements where belonging to a group is more important
than 'minor' individual difference. The way Computers Watch Movies
"sees" depends on a conception of foreground and background, between
what moves and what does not.

A gender detector makes the base assumption that the gender binary is
real and objective, and thus ignores the "noise" of androgynous,
transgendered, intersex and etc. individuals.

The problem with the biases embedded in our tools is that the use of the
tools enforce those biases
Interestingly, google has changed things and thus typing "women should"
no longer produces additional suggestions.

Is it a question a tools, or a question of contexts and conceptions?
What ways of thinking about the world are useful? How do they betray our
implicit biases and prejudice? How can we critically reflect on them
when they are so readily internalized into our minds and cultures?

Ben Bogart
Hons. B.F.A., M.Sc, Ph.D.

On 15-02-03 05:41 PM, Renate Terese Ferro wrote:
> ----------empyre- soft-skinned space----------------------
>  We are hoping that all of our subscribers, both active participants and
> lurkers, will post a couple of times this month to share
> your current work and what tools and or technologies you are using to that
> end.  Some of you may be developing new apps or platforms where others of
> you are pushing the boundaries of other tools  that are more ubiquitous.
> Just this past week Google¹s CEO Eric Schmidt spoke at the world economic
> forum in Switzerland exclaiming that ³The Internet is Dead.² Schmidt¹s
> call was simply the assertion that the internet is so ubiquitous because
> of the nature of networked things. Interfaces are and will become so
> naturally integrated into our architectural and living environments
> Schmidt stated. The critical question remains how will the rights and
> privacy of individuals become impacted.
> http://www.makeuseof.com/tag/google-internet-disappear-future-cyanogen-tech
> -news-digest/
> Ironically it was only seven years ago in 2008 that WIRED magazine
> published an article entitled ³The Web Is Dead. Long Live the Internet.²
> http://www.wired.com/2010/08/ff_webrip/all/
> A move away from the open search of the web to more enclosed and
> prescriptive apps, music and movie services all driven by the ease and
> impact of i-phone technology has enabled the web to become less important
> asserted WIRED authors Chris Anderson and
> Michael Wolff when they wrote: ³Sure, we¹ll always have Web pages. We
> still have postcards and telegrams, don¹t we? But the centerOf interactive
> media ‹ increasingly, the center of gravity of all media ‹is moving to a
> post-HTML environment,² we promised nearly a decade and half ago.
> "The examples of the time were a bit silly ‹ a ³3-D furry-muckers VR
> space² and ³headlines sent to a pager² ‹ but the point was altogether
> prescient: a glimpse of the machine-to-machine future that would be less
> about browsing and more about getting.²
> The internet has experienced dramatic changes since the beginning of its
> inception as is the way of any of the technologies we have used in the
> past or are currently using. Looking forward to hearing you.  It is a new
> year.  Share you tools and technologies.
>  Renate
> Renate Ferro
> Visiting Assistant Professor of Art,Cornell University
> Department of Art, Tjaden Hall Office:  306
> Ithaca, NY  14853
> Email:   <rferro at cornell.edu <mailto:rtf9 at cornell.edu>>
> URL:  http://www.renateferro.net <http://www.renateferro.net/>
>       http://www.privatesecretspubliclies.net
> <http://www.privatesecretspubliclies.net/>
> Lab:  http://www.tinkerfactory.net <http://www.tinkerfactory.net/>
> Managing Co-moderator of -empyre- soft skinned space
> http://empyre.library.cornell.edu/
> _______________________________________________
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