Dinacon: A walking tour of Koh Lon Island

As I often do, when I get to a new place, I get lost. I follow the advice of Rebecca Solnit in A Field Guide to Getting Lost and just wander. Before establishing patterns, your perceptions are the most open and so the day after arriving at Dinacon, I wandered around the island and just looked at things.

Various boats at low tide.

Lots of garbage, unfortunately. I saw this as an opportunity. Perhaps to do some cleanup or more likely to use as scavenged materials for some sculptural-sound installations. This would harken back to my work several years ago as an artist-in-residence at Recology.

Patterns in architectures. Patterns in nature.

An active school.

Small trails everywhere. There are no cars here and so one thing I noticed was the soundscape is different. Sometimes you’ll hear the sounds of a motorcycle or scooter, but even then, only occasionally.

Some sort of nest on a tree.

Intersection markers with plastic bags and red paint.

This island is quite large and much of it is impassible.

Holes in the sand into which crabs scurry.

So many coconuts.

Various signs, hand painted and more.     

   

Abandoned architecture.

 

New paths freshly cut by locals.

And as I was warned, if I venture out at low tide, I might be returning at high tide. Fortunately the water is warm and I was wearing shorts, so could wade back home.

Some thoughts about the work I’m doing here and ways I can engage with the space:

— Nature: there are plenty of plants, some amount of critters such as ants. How can I collaborate with various critters and foliage? Some of the things that are easily scavenged are bamboo, coconuts, dead coral and shells.

— Trash: what could be scavenged or collected to make temporary sculptures. Would this expand my practice here or should I stick with my original plan of electronics that make sounds? Perhaps I could put speakers inside of things that amplify the sound, like discarded gas cans.

— Architecture: there are some beautiful abandoned buildings and structures that no one seems to care about. I could probably do a performance or something in these spaces.

 

And finally, jungle cats!

Human Brain Project @ Impakt Festival

I spent my time at the five-day long Impakt Festival watching screenings, listening to talks, interacting with artworks and making plenty of connections with both new and old friends. I’m still digesting the deluge of aesthetic approaches, subjective responses and formal interpretations of the theme of the festival, “Soft Machines: Where the Optimized Human Meets Artificial Empathy”.

imapktIt’s impossible to summarize everything I’ve seen. While there were a few duds, like any festival, the majority of what I experienced was high-caliber work. Topping my “best of list” was the “Algorithmic Theater” talk by Annie Dorsen, the Omer Fast film, “5000 Feet is the Best”, the Hohokum video game by Richard Hogg and a captivating talk on the Human Brain Project.

vid-game

For the sake of brevity, I’m going to cover just the presentation on the Human Brain Project (HBP). Even though this is a science project, what impressed me was similarities in methodology to many art projects. HBP has simple directive: to map the human brain. However the process is highly experimental and the results are uncertain.

HBP is largely EU-funded and was awarded to a consortium of researchers from a competition with 26 different organizations. The total funding over the course of the 10-year project is about 1 billion Euros, which is a hefty price tag for a research project. The eventual goal, likely well-after the 10 year period will be to actualize a simulated human brain on a computer — an impossibly ambitious project given the state of technology in 2014.

I arrived skeptical, well-aware that technology projects often make empty promises when predicting the future. Marc-Oliver Gewaltig, who is one of the scientists on HBP presented the analogy of 15th-century mapmaking. In 1492, Martin Behaim collected as many known maps of the world as he could, then produced the Erdapfel, a map of the known world at the time. He knew that the work was incomplete. There were plenty of known places but also many uncertain geographical areas as well. The Erdapfel didn’t even include any of the Americas since it was created before the return of Columbus from his first voyage. But, the impressive part was that the Erdapfel was a paradigm shift, which synthesized all geographical knowledge into a single system. This map would then be a stepping stone for future maps.

Carte_behaimAccording to Gewaltig, the mission of the HBP will follow a similar trajectory and aggregate known brain research into a unified, but flawed model. He fully recognizes that the directive of the project, a fully working synthetic human brain is impossible at this point. The computing power isn’t available yet, nor will it likely be there in 10 years.

The human brain is filled with neurons and synapses. The interconnections are everywhere with very little empty space in a brain. Because of this complexity, the HBP project is beginning by trying to simulate a mouse brain, which is within technology’s grasp in the next 10 years.

brain-mapThe rough process is to analyze physical slices of a mouse brain rather than chemical and electrical signals. From this information, they can construct a 3D model of a mouse brain itself using advanced software. For those of you who are familiar with 3D modeling, can you imagine the polygon count?

Gewaltig also made a distinction in their approach from science-fiction style speculation. When thinking about artificial intelligence, we often think of high-level cognitive functions: reasoning, memory and emotional intelligence. But, the brain also handles numerous non-cognitive functions: regulating muscles, breathing, hormones, etc. For this reason, HBP is creating a physical model of a mouse, where it will eventually interact with a simulated world. Without a body, you cannot have a simulated brain, despite what many films about AI suggest.

virtualmouseWhile I still have doubts about the efficacy of the Human Brain Project, I left impressed. The goal is not a successful simulated brain but instead to experiment and push the boundaries of the technology as much as possible. Computing power will catch up some day, and this project will help push future research in the proper direction. The results will be open data available to other scientists. Is that something we can really argue against?

 

 

 

 

 

 

Impakt Festival: Opening Night

The Impakt Festival officially kicked off this Wednesday evening, and the first event was the exhibition opening at Foto Dok, curated by Alexander Benenson.

The works in the show circled around the theme of Soft Machines, which Impakt describes as “Where the Optimized Human Meets Artificial Empathy”.

Of the many powerful works in the show, my favorite was the 22-minute video, “Hyper Links or it Didn’t Happen,” by Cécile B. Evans. A failed CGI rendering of Philip Seymour Hoffman narrates fragmented stories of connection, exile and death. At one point, we see an “invisible woman” who lives on a beach and whose lover stays with her, after quitting a well-paying job. The video intercuts moments of odd narration by a Hoffman-AI. Spam bots and other digital entities surface and disappear. None of it makes complete sense, yet it somehow works and is absolutely riveting.

pseymore

After the exhibition opening, the crowd moved to Theater Kikker, where Michael Bell-Smith, presented a talk/performance titled “99 Computer Jokes”. He spared the audience by telling us one actual computer joke. Instead, he embarked on a discursive journey, covering topics of humor, glitch, skeuomorphs, repurposing technology and much more. Bell-Smith spoke with a voice of detached authority and made lateral connections to ideas from a multitude of places and spaces.

michael In the first section of his talk, he describes that successful art needs to have a certain amount of information — not too much, not too little, citing the words of arts curator Anthony Huberman:

“In art, what matters is curiosity, which in many ways is the currency of art. Whether we understand an artwork or not, what helps it succeed is the persistence with which it makes us curious. Art sparks and maintains curiosities, thereby enlivening imaginations, jumpstarting critical and independent thinking, creating departures from the familiar, the conventional, the known. An artwork creates a horizon: its viewer perceives it but remains necessarily distant from it. The aesthetic experience is always one of speculation, approximation and departure. It is located in the distance that exists between art and life.”

In the present time where faith in technology has vastly overshadowed that of art, these words are hyper-relevant. The Evans video accomplishes this, resting in this valley between the known and the uncertain. We recognize Hoffman and he is present, but in an semi-understandable, mutated form. We know that the real Philip Seymour Hoffman is dead. His ascension into a virtual space is fragmented and impure. The video suggests that traversing the membrane from the real into the screen space will forever distort the original. It triggers the imagination. It sticks with us in a way that stories do not.

What Bell-Smith alludes to his talk is that the idea of combining the human and the machine won’t work…as expected. He sidesteps any firm conclusions. His performance is like the artwork that Huberman describes: it never reaches resolution and opens up a space for curiosity.

Later he displayed slides of Photoshop distasters, a sort of “Where’s Waldo” of Photoshop errata. Microseconds after viewing the advertisement below, we know something is off. The image triggers an uncanny response. A moment later we can name the problem of the model having only one leg. Primal perception precedes a categorical response. Finally, everyone laughs together at the idiosyncrasy that someone let into the public sphere.

leg

After Bell-Smith’s talk we had a chance for eating-and-drinking. Hats off to the Impakt organization. I know I’m biased since I’m an artist-in-residence at Impakt during the festival itself, but they certainly know how to make everyone feel warm and cozy.
galaNext up was the keynote speaker, Bruce Sterling, who is a science fiction writer and cultural commentator. He boldly took the stage without a laptop, and so the audience had no slides or videos to bolster his arguments. He assumed the role of naysayer, deconstructing the very theme of the festival: Where Optimized Human Meets Artificial Empathy. Defining the terms “cognition” (human) vs “computation” (machine), he took the stance that the merging of the two was a categorical error in thinking. His example: birds can fly and drones can fly, but this doesn’t mean that drones can lay eggs. My mind raced, thinking that someday drone aircraft might reproduce. Would that be inconceivable?

Sterling tackled the notion of the Optimized Human with san analogy to Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment. For those of you that don’t recall your required high school reading, the main character of the book is Raskolnikov, who is both brilliant and desperate for money. He carefully plans and then kills an morally bankrupt pawnbroker for her cash. The philosophical question that Dostoyevsky proposes is the idea of a superhuman:  select individuals who are exempt the prescribed moral and legal code. Could the murder of a terrible person be a justifiable act? And could the person to judge this would be someone who is excessively bright, essentially leaving the rest of the humanity behind?

In the book, the problem is that the social order gets disrupted. Raskolnikov action introduces an deadly unpredictable element into his village. With an uncertainty to the law and who executes it, no one feels safe. At the conclusion of the novel, Raskolnikov ends up in exile, in a sort of moral purgatory.

The very notion of the “optimized human” has similar problems. If select people are somehow “upgraded” through cybernetics, gene therapies and other technological enhancements, what happens to the social order? Sterling spoke about marketing, but I see the greater problem one of leveraged inequality. If there are a minority of improved humans who have combined integrated themselves with some sort of techno-futuristic advantages, our society rapidly escalates the classic problem of the digital divide. The reality is that this has already started happening. The future is here.bruce Bruce Sterling concluded with the point that we need to pay attention to how technology is leveraged. His example of Apple’s Siri system, albeit not a strong case of Artificial Empathy, is owned by a company with specific interests. When asked for the nearest gas station or a recipe for grilled chicken, Siri “happily” responds. If you ask her how to remove the DRM encoding on a song in your iTunes library, Siri will be helpless. While I disagreed with a number of Sterling’s points in his talk, what I do know is that I would hope for a non-predictive future for my Artificial Empathy machines.

The Impakt Festival continues through the weekend with the full schedule here.

 

 

 

Soft Machines and Deception

The Impakt Festival officially begins next Wednesday, but in the weeks prior to the event, Impakt has been hosting numerous talks, dinners and also a weekly “Movie Club,” which has been a social anchor for my time in Utrecht.

10437517_643169085789022_7756476391981345316_nEvery Tuesday, after a pizza dinner and drinks, an expert in the field of new media introduces a relatively recent film about machine intelligence, prompting questions that frame larger issues of human-machine relations in the films. An American audience might be impatient about a 20-minute talk before a movie, but in the Netherlands, the audience has been engaged. Afterwards, many linger in conversations about the very theme of the festival: Soft Machines.

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The films have included I, Robot, Transcendence, Her and the documentary: Game Over: Kasparov and the Machine. They vary in quality, but with the introduction of the concepts ahead of time, even Transcendence, a thoroughly lackluster film engrossed me.

The underlying question that we end up debating is: can machines be intelligent? This seems to be a simple yes or no question, which cleaves any group into either a technophilic pro-Singularity or curmudgeonly Luddite camp. It’s a binary trap, like the Star Trek debates between Spock and Bones. The question is far more compelling and complex.

The Turing test is often cited as the starting point for this question. For those of you who are unfamiliar with this thought experiment, it was developed by British mathematician and computer scientist, Alan Turing in a 1950 paper that asked the simple question: “can machines think”.

The test goes like this: suppose you have someone at a computer terminal who is conversing with an entity by typing text conversations back and forth, what we now regularly do with instant messaging. The entity on the other terminal is either a computer or a human, the identity of which is unknown to the computer user. The user can have a conversation and ask questions. If he or she cannot ascertain “human or machine” after about 5 minutes, then the machine passes the Turing test. It responds as if a human would and can effectively “think”.

turing_model

In 1990, the thought experiment became a reality with the Loebner Prize. Every year, various chatbots — algorithms which converse via text with a computer user — compete to try to fool humans in a setup that replicates this exact test. Some algorithms have come close, but to date, no computer has ever successfully won the prize.

eliza2

The story goes that Alan Turing was inspired by a popular party game of the era called the “Imitation Game” where a questioner would ask an interlocutor various questions. This intermediary would then relay these questions to a hidden person who would answer via handwritten notes. The job of the questioner was to try to determine the gender of the unknown person. The hidden person would provide ambiguous answers. A question of “what is your favorite shade of lipstick” could be answered by “It depends on how I feel”. The answer is in this case is a dodge as a 1950s man certainly doesn’t know the names of lipstick shades.

Both the Turing test and the Imitation Game hover around the act of deception. This technique, widely deployed in predator-prey relationships in nature, is engrained in our biological systems. In the Loebner Prize competitions, there have even been instances where the human and computer will try to play with the judges, making statements like: “Sorry I am answering this slowly, I am running low on RAM”.

It may sound odd, but the computer doesn’t really know deception. Humans do. Every day we work with subtle queues of movement around social circles, flirtation with one another, exclusion and inclusion into a group and so on. These often rely on shades of deception: we say what we don’t really mean and have other agendas than our stated goals. Politicians, business executives and others that occupy high rungs of social power know these techniques well. However, we all use them.

The artificial intelligence software that powers chatbots has evolved rapidly over the years. Natural language processing (NLP) is widely used in various software industries. I had an informative lunch the other day in Amsterdam with a colleague of mine, Bruno Jakic at AI Applied, who I met through the Affect Lab. Among other things, he is in the business of sentiment analysis, which helps, for example, determine if a large mass of tweets indicates a positive or negative emotion. Bruno shared his methodology and working systems with me.

State-of-the-art sentiment analysis algorithms are generally effective, operating in the 75-85% range for identification of a “good” or “bad” feeling in a chuck of text such as a Tweet. Human consensus is in the similar range. Apparently, a group of people cannot agree on how “good” or “bad” various Twitter messages are, so machines are coning close to effective as humans on a general scale.

The NLP algorithms deploy brute force methods by crunching though millions of sentences using human-designed “classifiers” — rules to help determine how a sentence looks. For example, an emoticon like a frown-face, almost always indicates a bad feeling.

frown

Computers can figure this out because machine perception is millions of time faster than human perception. It can run through examples, rules and more but acts on logic alone. If NLP software code generally works, where specifically does it fail?

Bruno pointed out was that machines are generally incapable of figuring out if someone is being sarcastic. Humans immediately sense this by intuitive reasoning. We know, for example that getting locked out of your own house is bad. So if you write that this is a contradictory good thing, it is obviously sarcastic. The context is what our “intuition” — or emotional brain understands. It builds upon shared knowledge that we gather over many years.

sarcasm

The Movie Club films also tackle this issue of machine deception. At a critical moment in the film, Sonny, the main robot character in I, Robot, deceives the “bad” AI software that is attacking the humans by pretending to hold a gun to one of the main “good” characters. It  then winks to Will Smith (the protagonist) to let him know that he is tricking the evil AI machine. Sonny and Will Smith then cooperate, Hollywood style with guns blazing. Of course, they prevail in the end.

sony-wink

Sonny possess a sophisticated Theory of Mind: an understanding of its own mental state and well as that of the other robots and Will Smith. It takes initiative and pretends to be on the side of the evil AI computer by taking an an aggressive action. Earlier in the film, Sonny learned what winking signifies. It knows that the AI doesn’t understand this and so the wink will be understood by Will Smith and not be the evil AI.

In Game Over: Kasparov and the Machine, which recasts the narrative of the Deep Blue vs.Kasparov chess matches, the Theory of Mind of the computer resurfaces. We know that Deep Blue won the chess match, which was a series of 6 chess matches in 1997. It is the infamous Game 2, which obsessed Kasparov. The computer played aggressively and more like a human than Kasparov had expected.

At move 45, Kasparov resigned, convinced that Deep Blue had outfoxed him that day. Deep Blue had responded in the best possible way to Kasparov’s feints earlier in the game. Chess experts later discovered that Kasparov could have easily forced a honorable draw instead of resigning the match.

The computer appeared to have made a simple error. Kasparov was baffled and obsessed. How could the algorithm have failed on a simple move, when it was so thoroughly strategic earlier in the game. It didn’t make sense.

Kasparov felt like he was tricked into resigning. What he didn’t consider was that when te algorithm didn’t have enough time — since tournament chess games are run against a clock — to find the best-ranked move, that it would choose randomly from a set of moves…much like a human would do in similar circumstances. The decision we humans make is emotional at this point. Inadvertently, Kasparov the machine deceived Kasparov.

KASPAROVI’m convinced that ability to act deceptively is one necessary factor for machines need to be “intelligent”. Otherwise, they are simply code-crunchers. But there are other aspects, as well, which I’m discovering and exploring during the Impakt Festival.

I will continue this line of thought on machine intelligence in future blog posts, I welcome any thoughts and comments on machine intelligence and deception. You can find me on Twitter: @kildall.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

IEEE Milestone for my dad, Gary Kildall

This plaque in Pacific Grove, California, is the IEEE Milestone honoring my dad’s computer work in the 1970s. He was a true inventor and laid the foundation for the personal computer architecture that we now take for granted.

Gary Kildall’s is the 139th IEEE Milestone. These awards honor the key historical achievements in electrical and electronic engineering that have changed the world, and include the invention of the battery by Volta, Marconi’s work with the telegraph, and the invention of the transistor.

More pictures plus a short write-up of the ceremony can be found here: http://bit.ly/1io2wFH

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The dedication event was emotional and powerful, with several of my father’s close colleagues from decades ago gathered to recount his contributions. I knew most of the stories and his work, but there were several aspects of his methodology that I had never heard before.

For example, I learned that my dad was not only a software programmer, but a systems architect, and would spend days diagramming data structures and logic trees on sheets of paper, using a door blank on sawhorses as his work table.

After fastidious corrections, and days poring over the designs, he would embark on programming binges to code what he had designed. And the final program would often work flawlessly on the first run.

With a PhD from the University of Washington, lots of hard work, incredible focus on long-term solutions, plus extraordinary talent, Gary created a vision of how to bring the personal computer to the desks of millions of users, and shared his enthusiasm with just about everyone he met.

My dad turned his passion into two key products: CP/M (the operating system), and BIOS (the firmware interface that lets different hardware devices talk to the same operating system). From this combination, people could, for the first time, load the same operating system onto any home computer.

gary_picture

The IEEE and David Laws from the Computer History Museum did a tremendous job of pulling in an amazing contingent of computer industry pioneers from the early days of personal computing to commemorate this occasion.

At the dedication, my sister Kristin and I had a chance to reconnect with many former Digital Research employees, and I think everyone felt a sense of happiness, relief, catharsis, and dare I say, closure for my dad’s work, which has often been overlooked by the popular press since his premature death in 1994, right in the middle of his career.

My mother, Dorothy McEwen, ran Digital Research as its business manager, to complement my dad the inventor. Together they changed computer history. It was here in Pacific Grove, 1974 that Gary Kildall loaded CP/M from a tape drive onto a floppy disk and booted it up for the first time: the birth of the personal computer.

If you find yourself in Pacific Grove, take a visit to 801 Lighthouse Avenue, Digital Research headquarters in the 1970s, and you can see this milestone for yourself.

Urban Data Challenge

Last Saturday was my first-ever hackathon — The Urban Data Challenge, sponsored by GAFFTA, swissnex, the Berkeley Center for New Media and Rebar.

I arrived at 9am and introduced myself to Casey Reas, co-founder of Processing, who was leading the hackathon and a super-nice guy. When I was working as a New Media Exhibit Developer at the Exploratorium (2012-13), Processing was the primary tool we used for building installations. Thanks Casey!scott_talking_to_casey

I arrived alone and expected a bunch of nerdy 20-somethings. Instead, I ran into some old friends, including Karen Marcelo, who has been generously running dorkbot for 15+ years and has an SRL email address. (coolPoints *= coolPoints)

And, I shouldn’t have been surprised, but Eric Socolofsky, whom I worked directly with at the Exploratorium was also present. He is a heavy-hitter in terms of code and data-viz and taught me how to get the Processing libs running in Java, which makes hacking much much easier.

I sat down at a table with Karen and invited Eric over. Also sitting with us were Jesse Day, a graduate student in Learning, Design and Technology at Stanford and Kristin Henry, artist and computer scientist. The 5 of us were soon to become a team — Team JEKKS…get it?

The folks from GAFFTA (Josette Melchor), swissnex and BCNM took turns presenting slides about possibilities for data canvas projects for 30 minutes. This was followed by another 30 of questions from a curious crowd of 60 people, which mean a lot to ingest.

The night before, we were given a dataset in a .csv format. I’d recommend never, ever looking at datasets just  before going to sleep. I dreamt of strings, ints and timestamps.

The data included four Market Street locations, which tracked people, cars, trucks and buses for every minute of time. There was a lot of material there. How did they track this? Answer: Air quality sensors. That’s right, small dips in various emissions and others could give us minute-by-minute extrapolations on what kind of traffic was happening at each place. This is an amazing model — though I still wonder about its accuracy.

data_hackathonThis was a competition and as such, we would be judged on three criteria:
Audience Engagement: Would a general audience be attracted to installation? Would they stop and watch/interact?

Legibility of Data: Can people understand the data and make sense of the specifics?

Actionability: Are people spurred to action, presumably to change their mode of transport to reduce emissions?

At 10:30, we started. I don’t have any pictures of us working. They’re pretty much exactly what you’d imagine — a bunch of dorks huddled around a table with laptops.

After introducing ourselves and talking about our individual strengths, it was apparent we had a strong group of thinkers. We tossed around various ideas for about 30 minutes and then decided to do individual experiments for about an hour.

We decided to focus our data investigation on time rather than location. The 4 locations would somehow be on the same timeline for visitors to see. Kristin dove into Python and began transcoding the data sets into a more usable format. She translated them into graphics.lines

I played around with a hand-drawn aesthetic, tracing over a map of the downtown area by hand and drawing individual points, angling for something a little more low-tech. I also knew that Eric would devise something precise, neat and clean, so left him with the hard-viz duties.

hand-drawn

Karen worked on her own to come up with some circular representations in Processing. As with everyone, in a hackathon, people work with the strong toolsets they already have.

karens_initial

Jesse was the only one of us who didn’t start coding right away. Smart man. He was also the one with the conceptual breakthrough, and began coloring bars on the vehicles themselves to represent emissions.

street_view_before street_view_with_graph

We huddled and decided to focus on representing the emissions as a series of colors. We settled on representing particulates, VOC (body odor), CO, CO2 and EMF (phones, electricity), not sure at the time if they were actually being tracked by the sensors.

More coding. Eric and I tapped into our collective exhibition design/art design experience and talked a compelling interaction model. The two things that people universally enjoy are to see themselves and to control timelines. Everyone liked the idea of “seeing yourself” as particulate emissions.

We all hashed out an idea of a 2-monitor installation and consulted with Casey about whether this was permissible (answer = yes). The first would be a real-time data visualization of the various stations. The other monitor would be a mirror which — get this — would do live video-tracking and map graphic of buses, cars, trucks and people onto corresponding moving bits in the background. Additionally, you could see yourself in the background.

Since it was a hackathon-style proposal, it doesn’t have to actually work. Beauty, eh?

2:30pm. 4 hours to make it happen. The rules were: laptops closed at 6:30 and then we all present as a group.

Jesse did the design work. We argued about colors: “too 70s”, “too saturated”, etc. Eric worked on the arduous task of getting the data into a legible data visualization. I worked on the animation, which involved no data translation.
busAbstract2

I reused animation code that I’ve used in the Player Two rotoscoping project and for the Tweets in Space video installation. The next few hours were fast-n-furious and not especially “fun”. Eric was down to the wire with the data translation into graphics. At 5:30, I was busy making animated bus, car and truck exhaust farts, which made us all laugh. At 6:30 we were done.

We had two visualizations to show the crowd. Eric’s came out perfectly and was precise and legible. I was thankful that I roped him into our team. (note: video sped up by 4x).

The animation I wrote supplemented the visualization well. It was scrappy and funny we know would make people in the audience laugh.

Neither Karen and Kristin were able to make it for our presentation, so only the boys were represented in the pictures.

We were due up towards the end and so had a chance to watch the others before us. Almost everyone else had slide shows (oops!). There were so many both crazy and conventional ideas floating around. I can’t remember all of them — it’s like reading a book of short stores where you only can recall a handful.

I did notice a few things: a lot of the younger folks had a  design-approach to making the visualizations, starting with well-illustrated concept slides. A few didn’t have any code and just the slides (to their credit, I think the Processing environment wasn’t familiar to everyone). One group made a website with a top level domain (!), one worked in the Unity game engine, there were many web-based implementations, one piece which was a sound-art piece (low points for legibility, but high for artistic merit) and one had a zombie game. Some presentations were a muddled and others were clear.

We gave a solid presentation, led by Jesse, which we called “Particulate Matters” (ba-dum-bum). We started with the “hard” data visualization and ended with the animation, which got a lot of laughs. I felt solid about our work.

awards

The judging took a while. Fortunately, they provided beer!
beerThe results were in and we got 2nd place (woo-hoo!) out of about 14 teams. 1st place deserved it — a clean concept, which included accumulated particle emissions with Processing code showing emission-shapes dropping from the sky and accumulating on piles on the ground. The shapes matched the data. Nice work.

We got lots of chocolate as our prize. Yummy!

chocoIt turns out that Karen is the geekiest of all of us and in the days after the hackathon, improved her Processing sketch to come up with this cool-looking visualization.

Babula Rasa with Second Front

Second Front performed Babula Rasa as part of “The Artist is Elsewhere” — a one-night performance event hosted by ZERO1 and curated by Sean Fletcher and Isabel Reichert. These are some stills from the event.

My idea was to use Google Docs, specifically its spreadsheet as a virtual Tabula Rasa — a blank slate for performance. I had imagined word-play, formulas, formatting changes and text-upon-text revisions and edits. I’ve often found Mail Art to be a source of inspiration, where artists re-purposed communication networks for art discourse. I was hoping for a similar effect with Google Docs, a space normally reserved for business documents or household expense sheets.

However, my Second Front compatriots always surprise me and they quickly begain inserting images into Google Docs. Who knew? Apparently everyone else but me.

Projected live for 2 hours during “The Artist is Elsewhere” event, this quickly became a group collage. In the first 30 minutes what appeared was the “I Say” Shark, various blue women appeared, Patrick Lichty’s birthday cake, and lots and lots of cats.

Images from various Second Front performances popped up: Last Supper and Wrath of Kong. And lots of memes from popular culture, reminding me of How Conceptual Art Influenced the World Wide Web.

We could overhear the other performances live on a UStream channel. At one point, one of the performances seemed to be carrying on for a long time and someone (maybe me) uploaded Chuck Barris from the Gong Show.

At the 1-hour mark, the Shark is still there but now with the Shaggy D.A., the Tweets in Space logo, Dr. McCoy, an evil bunny and more.

Does this embrace, reject or dry-hump the New Aesthetic? That’s for you to decide.

And like all Second Front performances, we had to bomb the virtual venue when we were done…only this time with cats.

Participating Second Front members: Yael Gilks, Bibbe Hansen, Doug Jarvis, Scott Kildall, Patrick Lichty, Liz Solo with stealth guest appearance by Victoria Scott.

Imagine 2049 Time Capsule

As part of the “2049” project for the Regeneration show at the New York Hall of Science, I will be burying a time capsule called “Imagine 2049” on the grounds of the NYSCI.

I will be asking visitors both locally and remotely to submit inventions that might help people in the year 2049 such as medical devices, personal technologies and ways to sustain the planet. The letters and notes will be buried and opened 36 years from now in the year 2049.

It turns out that the old World’s Fair site will be harboring other time capsules as well. In the two World’s Fairs in Queens in 1939 and 1964, The Westinghouse Company buried two time capsules, called the Westinghouse Time Capsules.

Fortunately for me, both are scheduled to be opened 5000 years in the future, well after the Imagine 2049 Time Capsule.

Augmented Reality Workshop with John Craig Freeman

 

Learn how to use Augmented Reality with media artist and activist John Craig Freeman!

Upgrade! San Francisco is proud to present a weekend workshop called “Making Art with Augmented Reality”, hosted by SOMArts in San Francisco.

Register here: http://bit.ly/yj0lKo

Your artwork will be included in the “I Am Crime” show, along with a 17 x 22 print!

When: Weekend of March 31st-April 1st, 2012
Where: SOMArts, 834 Brannan St., San Francisco
Also: There will be an artist talk by Freeman on March 29th, 7pm as part of the ongoing Upgrade! SF conversations and events.

About the Instructor: John Craig Freeman is a public artist with over twenty years of experience using emergent technologies to produce large-scale public works at sites where the forces of globalization are impacting the lives of individuals in local communities. He has produced work and exhibited around the world including in Xi’an, Belfast, Los Angeles, Beijing, Zurich, New York City, Taipei, São Paulo, Warsaw, Kaliningrad, Miami, Bilbao, Havana, Atlanta, Calgary, Buffalo, Boston, Mexico City, London and San Francisco. Freeman received a Master of Fine Arts degree from the University of Colorado, Boulder in 1990. He is currently an Associate Professor of New Media, at Emerson College (Boston) in the Department of Visual and Media Arts and a Visiting Scholar at the Center for Research in Computing and the Arts, at UC San Diego.

Support for this workshop is provided by Southern Exposure’s Alternative Exposure Grant Program.

Pictured above: Border Memorial Frontera de los Muertos by John Craig Freeman

 

Sperm Bank – a popup show

This weekend in San Francisco, I will be presenting a popup show in conjunction with Wire + Nail Gallery called Sperm Bank.

Working with playful interpretations of the masculine seed, I will be selling various goods for the holidays. You can purchase plexiglass multiples for your wall, soap and vinyl cutouts with special versions for your laptop or bicycle.

Times: Saturday night, 6:30-9:30 and Sunday afternoon 12pm-4pm.
Where: Wire + Nail Gallery, 3150 18th Street, 104, San Francisco

I will also be displaying a spreadsheet reflecting the cost-of-goods and how much the pop-op shops makes as an experiment in open accounting.

Finally, we will have this animation on display (as a formally-editioned artist work):

Upgrade! San Francisco at the Exploratorium

Last Thursday, Upgrade! San Francisco met at the Exploratorium — an art & science institution founded in 1969. Hosted by the New Media Studio, whose mandate is a hands-on educational experience, we got a tour from staff & Upgraders: Eric Socolofsky, Lotte Meijer and Chris Cerrito. In the after hours, we learned about three of NM Studio’s projects and the behind-the-scenes techniques to make a rich viewer-based experience.

The first installation we saw was Elastrotron — an interactive installation, which acts as neo-funhouse mirror, warping our reality. In front of the screen, visitors quickly loose their inhibitions, performing with their bodies and creating interactions with strangers.

We then played with Where do you belong? in which you can take a picture of yourself, inserting your image in between two other people you select. The buttons to take your picture are at the edges of the frame, creating an effect so that you appear to be holding hands with your two neighbors. The challenges here were less conceptual — as the idea was straightforward — but instead of user-interface. The solution was to make two large buttons that you have to hit with both hands at the same time and also a countdown timer so that that you don’t repeatedly hit the ‘take picture’ button (a common result, especially with younger kids).

This bubble floor, called Social Projections impressed me by its non-interactive nature. At first, it looks like it responds to movement, reminding me of Scott Snibbe’s Boundary Functions — but instead, there is no camera vision. People quickly make up their own rules. Different shapes appear and move through the space. People negotiate social behavior, jumping over lines, stepping in and out and performing collaborative tasks, all without interaction.

We followed up the tour with conversation along the lines of development process, how to generate user feedback and more. Here, it turns out that the new media staff spends a lot of time casually observing how people use the interfaces, refining the process. Prototypes are put on the floor without a huge degree of bureaucracy, creating a truly experimental science space.

Gift Horse Installation at ArtMRKT San Francisco

Yesterday, Victoria Scott, my collaborator on the Gift Horse — a 13-foot high sculpture of the Trojan Horse — managed the installation of the giant sculpture for ArtMRKT San Francisco, from May 19th-May 22nd. Who wasn’t there? That’s right, me — I was busy installing my “2049” exhibition at The Dump — and am so thankful that Victoria was able to run this one out.

Here’s the morning load-up from Yosemite Studios. Tamara Albaitis and Noah Lang (special project manager at our gallery: Electric Works) and Victoria push the chest through the studio and into the freight elevator.
loading_from_studio

Here, Noah Lang is assembling panels while listening to a reading of Homer’s Odyssey for inspiration.
noah_assembles

Jessica (the fourth member of the crew) assembles panels on the hexagonal wheels.
jessica_wheels

Here the horse stands naked before being panelled.
framework

And in its final form, the horse, peers through the entrance to ArtMRKT — come and see it, along with all the other great art at this new San Francisco art fair!
completed_looking

01SJ Day 12: Gift Horse Done!

We are so tired and we are done. The Gift Horse was difficult, as expected — so many details. And now the 01SJ Biennial truly will begin. We’re excited and hope you can make it for the Green Prix parade and presentation at the San Jose Museum of Art on Saturday.

Because of the late-night fatigue, I’ll keep it to a series of pictures with minimal commentary.

Victoria and I were moving at double-speed past midnight.

blurry_ladders

A lot of detail work such as filling in the lines between the panels.

scott_fixing

All 12 viruses:

viruses_onhorse

virus_assortment

Kris and Noah and Clementine Lang from Electric Works stopped by in the evening.

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And here is the corral where the horse will live at South Hall for the next two days.

corral

Viruses all finished, loaded up and ready to go.

viruses_in_belly

full_horse

SJ01 Day 11: Almost Done

Today is the second-to-last day we are in the garage. We’re getting pretty tired with the late nights and full workdays, but everyone has responded enthusiastically to the Gift Horse.

We still have more viruses to go, but a late night beer-and-virus session resulted in near completion. Here, Beth (from growBot Garden) and Jenny (from OpenSolarCircuits) are making a few.

jenny_beth

They were later joined by more of the garage artists wishing for a late-night break.

late_night_workshop

We have finally fit all the panels and you can see the legs all on and the belly exposed, with viruses inside. Yay!

full_body

And a bellyful of the viruses!

full_belly

Day 12 is the last garage day and we’ll be wrapping it up tomorrow. Lots of cleanup and detail work left to do.

01SJ Day 10: Horse Nearly Panelled

More viruses for the Gift Horse. Thanks to the docents of the San Jose Museum of Art and also the ZERO1 volunteers, we finished off 100 viruses today.

docents_making

Meanwhile, we began final fittings of exterior panels for the horse, after picking up the last reprints from the ever-patient folks at Electric Works, art gallery and press in San Franciscio. Due to inevitable minute differences between the virtual and the real, we had to cut some to fit, especially all of the leg panels. Sharpie marks on the back are the standard way to indicate what goes where.
legs_marking

11:30pm and Victoria is at it again with the jigsaw. You can see the nearly-finished Trojan Horse in the background.
v_sawing

Crap! I mismeasured one of the leg panels and cut off more then I should. My heart sank.

scott_badcut

…but I was saved by an off-cut leg panel, which fitted magically where this one was to be placed. It was clearly time to have a beer and go to sleep.

scott_saved

01SJ Day 6: Panels and Special Guests

Hello Gift Horse fans! The days at the Garage are pleasantly blurring together. Artists everywhere are building their projects and we are stage center in the construction zone.

Today was a divide-and-conquer kind of day. While Victoria was fitting the chest panels (don’t they look good), I was busy with the lasercutter and figuring out how to put score lines into the small virus sculptures. After two hours, I had handfuls of the next round of viruses, including Koobface, Dengue Fever, The Andromeda Strain and ILOVEYOU for workshops this weekend.

Here, we see a glimpse of what the Trojan Horse will look like when fully-paneled. Now that the dust has literally settled, we are beginning to clad the horse.

horse_panels

We had a special guest stop by, Rudy Rucker, science fiction writer and thinker. He appropriately worked on a Snow Crash virus along with his friend, Chris.

rudy_assembling

Here is his interpretation of Snow Crash. Take that, Neal Stephenson!
rudy_snowcrash

Other visitors helped build paper sculptures as well. Pictured here are Diane and Sally, whom we caught in conversation fulfilling one of our goals to gather strangers together in real space.

virus_workshops

Finally, Ken Gregory gave us a demonstration of his impressive whip-cracking skills. He will make an excellent slavemaster for the Green Prix parade, exhorting the Greek Warriors to push the horse down the streets.

ken_whipping

01SJ Day 5: Public Viruses

Today we shifted to the virus-making portion of Gift Horse, where anyone can assemble a virus sculpture to be placed inside the belly of the Trojan Horse. The gesture is to gather people in real space, give them a way to hand-construct their “artwork” and to hide hundeds of the mini-sculptures inside the horse.

The first virus to go inside, the Rat of the Chinese zodiac, was The Andromeda Strain, an imaginary virus from the film. This father-daughter team cut, folded and glued the paper sculpture together and she did the honors of secreting it inside the armature.

father_daughter
daughter_places
It takes a long time to cut each virus from the printed sheet. This is where the lasercutter from the Tech Shop came in handy. In the afternoon, we traced the outlines of the Snow Crash virus and tried cutting it out. After about an hour of fiddling around with settings and alignment, I was able to get a batch done.
lasercutter

many_snowcrashes

Hurray for mechanized production!

This halved the assembly time from 30 minutes to 15 minutes, bypassing the tedious cutting step. Perhaps this is a compromise in the process of hand-construction techniques, but I’ll gladly make the trade-off for practicality.

The next person to sit with us was Jeff who worked on one of the freshly-cut Snow Crash viruses.

jeff_builds

Once finished, it joined The Andromeda Strain. Come on down to South Hall (435, S. Market, San Jose) and check us out — we will be holding workshops on building viruses all weekend.

andromeda_snowcrash

01SJ Day 3: Armature Assembly

The first part of the day was what I’ve often experienced while making projects onsite: several runs to box hardware stores looking around for the right fittings and being horribly inefficient. By mid-afternoon we hit our stride and fortunately, all the measurements we made in the Sketchup model of the Gift Horse translated perfectly to real life. Astounding.

By late afternoon we were finally assembling the wagon for the giant Trojan Horse, which will be pushed during the Green Prix parade on Saturday, September 18th by many costumed Greek Warriors. Later in the day, the horse will be “gifted” to the San Jose Art Museum, where it will join the Retro-Tech exhibition.

sandv_wagon_working

sworking_onwagon

Here is the wagon, finished and stable. It wheeled around quite easily.

finished_wagon

By now it,was 7pm and we were exhausted but we wanted to start assembling. We got help from last night’s dinner crew and constructed the main body of the Gift Horse.

headlesshorse

crew_looking_athorse

horse_nonose

A headlesss horse wouldn’t do. We soldiered on and affixed with the head piece followed by the nose.

putting_on_nose

nose_done

Finally, a finished horse armature! Stay tuned, we’ll be putting on the panels in the next several days.

assembled

01SJ Day 2: The Cart Before The Horse

Before we can assemble the horse, we have to build that cart that it will be wheeled around on.

_MG_3640

The cart is rated to hold 2000 lbs, which hopefully will be over-engineered since I’m not sure of the exact weight of the horse. With 8 casters on the bottom and trying to figure out a good wagon assembly, it took us a while to get a basic form assembled (a shout out here to our friends Brett Bowman and Zarin Gollogly who helped make this possible). By the end of the day, we were close but still not finished.

Sidetracked by socializing, we got a chance to catch up with some old friends, including James Morgan (pictured below), some of the aforementioned folks from yesterday and also some new ones such as Chico MacMurtrie, ex-San Francisco resident who now lives in Brooklyn.

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01SJ Day 1: Out of the Studio, Into the World

A long, long day but we managed to get all of the Gift Horse parts into a 17′ truck and into the South Hall site for the beginning of Out of the Garage, Into the World. I was amazed at how tightly-packed the truck was.

gift_horse_intrick

gifthorse_parts
South Hall is massive and with 80,000 square feet of space, you can imagine the difficulties of planning the space out — here is Jamie Austin (assistant curator for ZERO1) marking out our space with the Architect, Angel Borrero Cubero. Chalk lines demarcate the staging area for our giant Trojan Horse.
southhall

jamieangel
gifthorse

Other people we got a chance to talk to include Ken Gregory, who was a generous donor of the Gift Horse Kickstarter campaign and DC Spensley, a pal of mine I know through Second Life. We also met two folks from Minnepolis Art on Wheels (MAW), who were telling me that their sketchy motel room came equipped with a baseball bat. Whoa! Everyone was setting up today. Lots of energy and friendliness abounded and I’ll have more on the various projects in the coming days. On the first setup day, the most visually striking thing I saw were all the wrecked cars from the Empire Drive-In project.
drivein

And behind us is the TechShop building their shared ShopBot — the very machine that we used to make Gift Horse.

techshop_setup

Wikipedia Art Remix (performance)

August 19th @ Benrimon Contemporary, part of Younger Than Moses: Idle Worship
514 West 24th Street on the 2nd floor
An evening of performances & screenings by Ryan V. Brennan, the Wikipedia Art Project, Genevieve White, Adam & Ron. Beginning 6:00 PM (come a little early for a Wikipedia Art Remix treat!)

kildall_wiki_logo_hi-resFor Sean Fletcher and Isabel Reichert’s Wikipedia Art Remix, two actors perform a scene appropriated from Edward Albee’s play “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf”. The dialogue between the iconic characters George and Martha incorporates highlights from the “Articles for Deletion” page of Wikipedia Art, an intervention by Scott Kildall and Nathaniel Stern on Wikipedia, so the couple’s argument becomes one about whether or not art can exist on Wikipedia.

Sean Fletcher and Isabel Reichert have collaborated together on conceptually based performance works, interventions, writings, installations, videos, photography, and prints since meeting each other in 1994. Their work is about power and vulnerability; how it relates to relationship dynamics, society, and politics. Fletcher and Reichert use collaboration as a tool to integrate the negotiation for power into works of art.

Scott Kildall is an independent artist, who intervenes with objects and actions into various concepts of space. Nathaniel Stern is an artist, teacher, writer and provocateur, who works with interactive, participatory, networked and traditional forms.

Foot-in-Mouth and More

This is a family of eight paper virus sculptures for the Gift Horse project, which has 12 more days to go as a Kickstarter project. You can donate here.

Top row (left to right): Andromeda Strain, Tobacco Mosaic Virus, T-Virus (from Resident Evil), Rabies, Smallpox
Bottom row: Foot-in-mouth disease, Snow Crash, Dengue Fever

Virus All_screen

The synopsis: Victoria Scott and myself are building a 13-foot high Trojan Horse for the 01SJ Biennial to celebrate the viral nature of art and ideas. For 10 days before the event, we will be leading public workshops where we will teach anyone to build a virus using basic papercraft techniques of cutting, folding, and gluing.

The hundreds of viruses will go into the belly of the horse and will be released into the San Jose Museum of Art on September 18th in a boisterous public ceremony.

Gift Horse-in-progress

After the first month, we are 31% funded on the 13-foot-high Gift Horse for the 01SJ Biennial. A good initial run, but its starting to feel a little tight, so please consider a Kickstarter donation to the Gift Horse project.

gift_horse_3d

We have been busy working on the internal structure and final models in Sketchup. The skeleton proved to be an advanced wood project since the exterior printed digital panels (see model above) will be exactly fitted to make it look like giant-sized 3D model of a horse.

Working with our friend, Rob Bell, we have come up with this preliminary Sketchup design, which will be computer-cut with his ShopBot. This awesome piece of machinery, along with his expert skills, takes the 3D files and makes exactly the shape we need from a sheets of 4×8 wood.

TroHo_partial_sketchup

We’re trying to build this as sustainably as possible with recycled wood and a bioboard cladding. This makes it more expensive, so again, please consider a donation to help us complete this project.

Finally, it will be stuffed full of viruses. Paper viruses, that is.

gift_horse_virus

Kickstart the Gift Horse!

We just launched the Kickstarter campaign for Gift Horse – a project for the 01SJ Biennial co-commissioned by the San Jose Museum of Art and ZERO1. We are seeking extra funding specifically to construct the sculpture from sustainable materials and also to teach several “build your own virus” workshops. Gift Horse is celebration of the viral nature of art and ideas.

03_trojan_horse

The 13-foot high Trojan Horse will be filled with paper viruses, built by the public. On September 18th, it will be part of the Green Prix – a parade of “green” vehicles. Several costumed Greek warriors will push it through the streets of San Jose and into the museum. At 4pm on Sept. 18th, we will “gift” it to the museum. Check out the video and please consider a donation.

virus

Gift Horse derived from No Matter (below), which was commissioned by New Radio and Performing Arts, Inc. (turbulence.org) and with both projects, we are partnering with Electric Works for the specialized printing techniques.

nm_trojan_horse_640x480

Performa Book launch with Wrath of Kong

If you are in New York this weekend, come on out to P.S. 1 this Saturday for the Performa 07 book launch. We’ll be there in spirit or maybe even in Second Life.

Wrath-group-photo

For Performa07, Second Front performed Wrath of Kong, which mixed the Kong Kong legend with the pop-culture iconography of Donkey Kong.

Featured in the catalogue essay on virtual worlds is an analysis of the early performance art works in Second Life, including work by the Mattes, my own Paradise Ahead series, Patrick Lichty, Gazira Babeli and of course Second Front.

15 hours of magic

CPoV Wikipedia Conference

Here is a blog posting on my talk (co-written by Nathaniel Stern) at the CPOV Conference in Amsterdam, which is a decent run-down and I chuckled when the blogger called me a “short man” (I am 5′ 8″). I can only hope she didn’t comment on everyone else’s physical appearances!

My talk was a more detailed look into the theoretical issues behind the Wikipedia Art project, initiated just over a year ago.

The most compelling presentation from Day 1 was that of Jeanette Hofmann, who discussed the interplay of experience and expectation, outlining a general trend on web-based ventures such as Wikipedia. With a move that discards past experience, people create a new systems which challenge the paradigm through experimental new means. However, these often lead to bloated administrative layers, regulatory systems and general ossification. The creators often feel a sense of disappointment as a result.

Wikipedia CPOV Conference

CPOV in Amsterdam + Interview

Round 2 of the CPOV Conference, this time in Amsterdam (March 26-27). I’m flying out on Friday, where I will be presenting a paper and presentation on Wikipedia Art in collaboration with Nathaniel Stern. On the CPOV blog is an interview by Juliana Brunello, featuring Patrick Lichty, Nathaniel and myself.

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This conference is a follow-up to the amazing WikiWars Conference in Banglaore. I’m looking forward to meeting the next group of critical thinkers with high hopes based on the January gathering. Thank you to the Institute of Networked Cultures for putting this together!

The Great Avatar Challenge

Live from New York this Saturday: The Great Avatar Challenge. This mixed-realities performance is a collaboration with Stephanie Rothenberg for Eyebeam’s Mixer: Olympiad in New York. Get your tickets now, as it will be certain to sell out.

dr_and_ge_002

Our performance is one of many spectacular events going on in this two-night series. We will be conducting races where real-life contestants will compete against my Second Life avatar, Great Escape. The course winds through Eyebeam’s main space and is a hurdle-sprint, in a gesture of pure physicality against a simulated one.

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Projected against the real-life wall at Eyebeam, our Second Life track will be an extension of the real-life space.

Wafaa Bilal lecture at SFAI

My good friend and colleague, Wafaa Bilal, will be speaking this Wednesday at the San Francisco Art Institute. I’d highly recommend the talk.

wafaa

You might remember him from the “Shoot an Iraqi” project where he lived in a gallery for a month and had a paint ball gun setup to point at him. You could shoot him with the gun for $1 (I couldn’t resist spending a couple bucks).

He also created “Virtual Jihadi” were he re-engineered a US training video game so that you could be a suicide bomber instead (the piece got shut down by Rensselaer). Its unbelievable that a shut-down like this could happen well-after the censorship debates of the 60s and 70s.

He has an amazing history as a refugee from Desert Storm and US transplant. His brother and father (both civilians) were both killed in Iraq by American drone attacks in 2004.