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

B. Bogart ben at ekran.org
Sun Feb 8 07:44:44 AEDT 2015

Hello Murat,

Thanks for the "The Spiritual Life of Replicants" reference. I look 
forward to taking a look.

Great points about photography and objectivity. I often use photography 
as a way to think about objectivity in science. Since a CMOS/CCD sensor 
is a light measuring device then cameras are not technically dissimilar 
to the tools of empirical validation used in science.

In both scientific measurements there are multiple processes in play 
that imbue those processes with value and bias. Firstly there is always 
a choice as to what subject to point the measuring device, there is 
always an underlying motivation to measure something, and that choice of 
measurement is biased. The choice of what to measure reflects the 
cultures sense of what is worth capturing, and also implicitly what is 
not worth capturing. Thus the frame itself is also a bias, where it 
measures only within a particular range, and ignores what is outside of 
it. In analogue and digital photography, there are the additional 
information processes happening in the camera itself that effect the 
image: In what part of the circular lens projection is the sensor/film 
located? (Which is of course manipulable in bellows cameras) How is 
exposure constrained (the mapping of light to chemical reactions or 
binary values). Then in digital photography there is often the process 
of compression where differences in value considered under the 
thresholds of human perception are removed to decrease file size. Based 
on this I would agree that photography is non-objective, despite being 
an empirical measurement. I also think these processes of framing, 
scoping and mapping/compression are in play in all measuring devices, 
and thus in all empirical results. (let alone statistical process and 
methods of representation.)

Indeed all these processes do mediate the underlying "truth" of the 
light out in the world. In this sense we could say that the Camera 
Obscura is less mediated than photography (no mapping of values to 
chemical / digital processes). What happens if we remove the choice of 
subject entirely? Is a random position and point of view selected by a 
computer for the Camera Obscura more objective than when its selected by 
a person? I would say that human bias still comes into play in the 
constraints and mapping encoded in a computer program that selects the 
position of the Camera Obscura. By viture of the Camera Obscura as a 
point of view, and a measuring device in science designed to measure 
something specific, makes them both subjective, or at least context 

A scientific study in which the measurements are random is really just 
random sampling, and one does take care of the structure of that 
randomness. Still, the distribution from random sampling tends to be 
"normal", even if the underlying distribution is not (central limit 
theorem). The idea seems to be that the more different points of view we 
take in measuring, then closer to objectivity we get. So we have a sense 
of pluralism of point of view in relation to objectivity. The problem 
being that there is a potential infinity of unknown between the 
samples/points of view/measurements.

Interesting point about areas of an image the photographer did not 
consider in the framing process being accessible by the viewer and thus 
powerful against the intention of the photographer. But then there is 
always the printing and editing processes where every aspect of an image 
is scrutinized and considered before it is left, rather than cropped or 
dodge/burned away.

In science this would be frowned upon as "cherry picking" results to 
match the hypothesis, but there are still processes of filtering that 
happen in science, for example throwing away outliers.

I self-identify as a weak realist (and recovering solipsist), where I do 
believe that there is Reality out there, but also that reality is 
inaccessible and perception and sensation are necessary processes of 
mediation. It's also clear that higher level cognition (context 
awareness, task orientation, etc.) effect perception. We can literally 
see the same neutral face as happy or sad depending on the context in 
which it's seen. So we're back to context-dependence/locality.


On 15-02-07 11:05 AM, Murat Nemet-Nejat wrote:
> ----------empyre- soft-skinned space----------------------
> "That being said, the underlying
> algorithms (like the segmentation) is still based on the assumption that
> things can be broken up into segments, and that discontinuity in colour
> implies a difference in object. This is very different than human
> perception where we project structural boundaries based on movement and
> interactions with objects. Objects to the system are just blobs of
> pixels, whereas objects to a human are concepts that are associated with
> blobs of colour."
> Hi Ben, in reference to Blade Runner, my last published book is the poem
> /The Spiritual Life of Replicants/ (Talisman House, 2012). You may find
> it interesting since visuality (the language of film, the way it
> constructs and communicates information) is at the heart of it, and
> Blade Runner and passages from Henri Bresson's The Art of the
> Cinematographer are woven into it.
> To approach tangentially the distinction you make between "human" and
> "algorithmic" perceptions in the above passage, what in your view is the
> distinction between camera obscura and digital photography? In its
> inception in the 19th century, the former also was lauded (and
> contrasted with painting) for its "objectivity." In around 1996/7 I
> wrote an essay /The Peripheral Space of Photography/ (Green Integer
> Press, 2004). In it, I argue: a) the objectivity of the photographic
> image is an illusion; b) the dialogue in the photography occurs not
> between the viewer and the photographer, but between the viewer and the
> subject (what is before the lens. The photographer (his/her framing and
> intentions) are irrelevent, basically an obstacle to the way the
> photographic image is experienced. c) This occurs for two reasons:
> first, light, which creates the photographic image in the sinuousness of
> the camera obscura process, is basically uncontrollable despite the best
> efforts of the photographer. Accidents ("Failures") occur which create
> the "peripheral space," outside the focus (attention) of the
> photographer. These spaces are areas of power that the viewers can react
> to. Second, the lens which basically a robot always sees more than the
> photographer.
> In the last part of the essay I argue that digital photography giving
> multiple times more power to the photographer to manipulate the image
> (photoshopping) undermines the construct I described. It "objectivity"
> is of a different sort, much more solipsistic (power driven,
> surveillance, control) than the camera obscura image.
> Ciao,
> Murat
> On Fri, Feb 6, 2015 at 9:20 PM, B. Bogart <ben at ekran.org
> <mailto:ben at ekran.org>> wrote:
>     ----------empyre- soft-skinned space----------------------
>     Hello Renata, I hope my response to Murat makes my position more clear.
>     I do think my work is an effort to facilitate critical reflection on
>     technologies, specifically technologies like AI that exist to displace
>     human cognitive skills. In the first installation of a prototype of the
>     Dreaming Machine
>     (http://www.ekran.org/ben/wp/2012/an-artist-in-processa-computational-sketch-of-dreaming-machine-3/),
>     it was important to me to be present in order to engage in discussion.
>     I suppose the statement you quote below was a bit of preaching to the
>     converted. I tend to be the humanities critical theory person in a
>     technology / trans-humanism context. (e.g.
>     https://plus.google.com/117828903900236363024/posts/Ee7TDeo4JQn)
>     I wonder if anyone else is thinking about computer vision in relation to
>     gender biases. I have in mind some new work on how computer algorithms
>     participate in the construction of gender, specifically the notion of
>     classification and breaking continuous spaces of variation in the
>     machine learning sense.
>     Thanks Renata and Murat for the engagement and interest.
>     Ben
>     On 15-02-06 02:42 PM, Renate Terese Ferro wrote:
>      > ----------empyre- soft-skinned space----------------------
>      > Thank you Ben for sharing your work on empyre.  I read your blog
>     response
>      > on vr and looked closely at the work you have done on generative
>      > processes. And I want to just clarify your position.  I believe
>     that your
>      > are saying that tools are naturally embedded with conceptual
>     possibilities
>      > including context, perspective, etc.    But then you ask the
>     question:
>      >
>      >    <snip>……...How can we critically reflect on them
>      > when they are so readily internalized into our minds and cultures?
>      >
>      > Do your not perceive your projects to to enable viewers or
>     participants to
>      > critically reflect…..Enable critical possibilities?   Can you
>     reflect on
>      > this and especially the notion of gender that  Murat raises in
>     his post.
>      > I am hoping you will clarify a bit for all of us.
>      > Looking forward to hearing from you.  Renate
>      >
>      >
>      >
>      > On 2/4/15, 6:30 PM, "B. Bogart" <ben at ekran.org
>     <mailto:ben at ekran.org>> wrote:
>      >
>      >> ----------empyre- soft-skinned space----------------------
>      >> Hello Empyrians,
>      >>
>      >> I'll break this comment into three sections, each inspired by a
>      >> different aspect of Renate's opening message.
>      >>
>      >> *Cycles*
>      >>
>      >> 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:
>      >> https://plus.google.com/104335933112525967488/posts/DxeZLjBFu9N
>      >>
>      >> 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.
>      >>
>      >> *Networks*
>      >>
>      >> 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
>      >>
>     (http://www.ekran.org/ben/wp/wp-content/uploads/2013/09/Context-Machines_A
>      >> -Series-of-Situated-and-Self-Organizing-Artworks.pdf).
>      >> 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
>      >>
>     (http://www.ekran.org/ben/wp/2014/watching-and-dreaming-2001-a-space-odyss
>      >> ey-2014/)
>      >> 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.
>      >>
>      >> *Tools*
>      >>
>      >> 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
>      >> (http://www.unwomen.org/en/news/stories/2013/10/women-should-ads).
>      >> 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.
>      >> www.ekran.org <http://www.ekran.org>
>      >>
>      >> 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-te
>      >>> ch
>      >>> -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:rferro at cornell.edu>
>     <mailto:rtf9 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/
>      >>>
>      >>>
>      >>>
>      >>>
>      >>>
>      >>>
>      >>>
>      >>>
>      >>> _______________________________________________
>      >>> empyre forum
>      >>> empyre at lists.artdesign.unsw.edu.au
>     <mailto:empyre at lists.artdesign.unsw.edu.au>
>      >>> http://empyre.library.cornell.edu
>      >>>
>      >> _______________________________________________
>      >> empyre forum
>      >> empyre at lists.artdesign.unsw.edu.au
>     <mailto:empyre at lists.artdesign.unsw.edu.au>
>      >> http://empyre.library.cornell.edu
>      >
>      > _______________________________________________
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>      > http://empyre.library.cornell.edu
>      >
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