DigiWall from the Interactive Institute looks like a traditional climbing-wall but it’s actually a computer game you climb upon. Every climbing-hold is equipped with a sensor that registers hands and feet. In that way DigiWall can keep track on where on the wall the climber or climbers are. This opens up for a large number of games, exercises and competitions of various kinds. DigiWall is also a musical instrument. The climbing-holds acts as keys on a keyboard and music is played according to your climbing. The grips can be lit up from the inside and behind the wall there is a large hi-fi system. Together this gives a climbing-wall with new possibilities. In games, competitions, for practicing co-operation and for music creativity the experience intensifies with help from the music and the sound. The built-in light in the holds show you the way and rules for competition.
Etoy.corporation launched the Mission Eternity Project in 2005, foregrounding on the one hand respect for the human longing to survive in some way after death, and on the other a sense of irony about dated sci-fi fantasies we contrive to satisfy that desire. The Sarcophagus is one materialization of this project. It is a mobile sepulchre that holds and displays portraits of those who wish to have their informational remains cross over into a digital afterlife. The size of a standard cargo container that can travel to any location in the world, the Sarcophagus has an immersive LED screen covering its walls, ceiling and floor. There, interactive digital portraits can be summoned via mobile phone or web browser from virtual capsules that are stored in the shared memory of thousands of networked electronic devices of Mission Eternity Angels (people who contribute a small part of their personal storage capacity to the mission, currently 765 of them; to date, 2 volunteers have been accepted for encapsulation).
The data spectres that populate this tenuous memorial space are composed of details of lives lived, in visual, audio and text fragments. But when they are summoned in lo-res pixellated form in the Sarcophagus, they resemble one merged personality. The massing of details that we find in archives and records that keep the dead with us has a similar compositing effect, yet the Sarcophagus is also very unlike those. It gives us access to a novel social world generated among networked computer users who have a common goal of keeping something alive, which can invoke intense feelings such as care and wonder.
Jed Berks’ Autonomous Light Air Vehicles combine many of the themes of artificial life and multi-agent robotics research in an accessible and elegant public presentation. These include capable powered navigation and obstacle avoidance, organized multi-agent behaviour (such as flocking), discernable (quasi) intelligent individual behaviour, and interaction with other (quasi) intelligent agents, i.e., people. Connecting these agendas with more contemporary interest in mobile and locative technologies, Berk has implemented human-ALAV communication via mobile phone technology. The rigors of such a project must not be elided.
While robots in research-lab contexts often exhibit remarkable capabilities, they are just as often delicate, unreliable and require the constant attention of one or several highly trained staff. A project like ALAVs must exhibit its qualities in the general public, must inform and entertain, and at the same time be robust and resilient to the unpredictabilities of unusual architectures and architectural materials, weather, children and crowds (and sometimes, animals) – influences which are almost always filtered out in the controlled environment of the lab.
The ALAVs achieve all this, while remaining lighter than air, an achievement in itself given the weight of batteries and other components. The ALAVs are beguilingly delicate translucent agents which drift and float in a most un-robotic way. Videos
I’ve been playing with openFrameworks (currently in prerelease) for the past couple of days for a project I currently doing. I have to say that it is extremely powerful and a great introduction to C++ programming. “OpenFrameWorks, is a new open source, cross platform, c++ library, which was designed by Zachary Lieberman (US) and Theo Watson (UK) to make programming in c++ for students accessible and easy. In it, the developers wrap several different libraries like opengl for graphics, quicktime for movie playing and capturing, and free type for font rendering, into a convenient package in order to create a simple, intuitive framework for creating projects using c++. It is designed to work in freely available compilers, and will run under any of the current operating systems” Coming from a processing.org background which has satisfied all my needs till now, I really got interested in openFrameworks because of my increasing use of computer vision. While I never had the confidence to use C++ from scratch, to build computer vision software, openFrameworks offers a lot of the building blocks to let you go straight to the design phase. Check out the video above to find out more about the scope of openFrameworks and join the mailing list.
Joseph Weizenbaum died at the ripe old age of 85 last month (NYTime Obituary). Weizenbaum was best known for ELIZA, a program designed in 1966 to establish natural language conversation with a computer by emulating a Rogerian therapist (Online Version of ELIZA). Weizenbaum was the first to note that the ELIZA conversations weren’t an example of computer “thinking,” but really consisted of some clever programming techniques. His argument that computers were merely tools to assist humans in their everyday lives put him in opposition to many of the leading researchers in the emerging field of artificial intelligence.
A few years after he wrote ELIZA, the idea of the thinking computer gained popular credence. A famous article in Life magazine in 1970 entitled “Meet Shakey, the First Electronic Person” was testament to this. Shakey was a Stanford University robot and one of Weizenbaum’s colleagues at MIT was quoted in the Life article as saying: “In from three to eight years we will have a machine with general intelligence of an average human being.”
Shakey the Robot was the first mobile robot to be able to reason to some degree about its own actions.
Soon, the popular media was trumpeting the impending arrival of thinking machines and it was left largely to Weizenbaum to put the issue in perspective and to note that computers as thinking machines weren’t right around the corner. He drew more fire from the AI community from his book, “Computer Power and Human Reason” that argued in part that man from the view of information processing is looked at as a means and not as an end. He worried that many computer scientists were following paths that were dehumanizing. Weizenbaum argued, essentially, that computers impose a mechanistic point of view on their users on us and that that perspective can all too easily crowd out other, possibly more human, perspectives.
Weizenbaum considered himself a gadfly and even heretic of the artificial intelligence community, which has had soaring flights and deep drops in acceptance and interest since he wrote ELIZA in the mid-1960s. AI currently is in a down draft as the firms that were built around it in the 1980s have largely faded from view. In 2007, Il Mare Film created an 80-minute documentary entitled “Weizenbaum. Rebel At Work.” Trailer The film is a personal portrait of the man and his life, with him telling mainly stories. Originally produced in German, an American version is available with subtitles and voice-over. The site also has a photo gallery of Weizenbaum’s life supported by audio clips from the film.