Collaborative Control Experiments
The Pong Experiment
In 1991, Loren Carpenter (co-founder of Pixar), tried an experiment at Siggraph. People entered a theatre to find small paddles left on their seats, with one green side and one red side. On a screen, they could see lots of red and green squares. The audience members connected the two, and were able to identify their own paddle in the crowd on the screen.
Then a game of Pong appeared and the audience came to realise that they had been split into two halves, with each team controlling one of the players in the game collaboratively, using their paddles – green for up, red for down.
Much like Deep Mind learned to play Atari games with only the pixel data, controls and scores, the crowd was able to figure out the situation with no instructions.
They operated as a cohesive single entity to control their player in the Pong game. In the BBC documentary All Watched Over by Machines of Loving Grace, Loren describes this effect:
They’re all acting as individuals, because each one of them can decide what they’re going to do … There’s an order that emerges that gives them kind of like an amoeba like effect where they surge and they play … I wanted to see if no hierarchy existed at all, what would happen? They formed a kind of a subconscious consensus.
I’m investigating this kind of collaboration, exploring how systems can be controlled by two or more humans at the same time. I’ve been using the Kinect a lot recently, so I’ve continued there, as I’m also interested in using the body to control a system in unusual but intuitive ways.
I’ve created a series of tests of collaborative control using the Kinect to track two people’s skeleton at once and combine the inputs in various ways.
Reflections on these experiments
Shared body & Shared Weird Body
It’s fun to see a body on screen which is clearly responding to your own movements, but is also affected by someone else, with equal weight. I wonder how this shared ownership of the body would affect the participants’ feelings in various scenarios; for example, seeing the body come under some harm, or experience something positive.
We found ourselves working together to turn the shape into something recognisable (a crown, a cat, a circle). However, it did feel very clear which points each person was controlling – perhaps this isn’t the truly equally weighted collaborative control I’m seeking.
The players movements are combined into one ball, which moves freely around the screen. One player tries to grab the red targets, and the other the blue.
Fun to play (until I pulled a muscle) but I did feel like I didn’t want to completely block my opponent from grabbing their targets, because that leads to an impasse. We found ourselves letting each other win. I wonder if this has anything to do with the shared presence in the player. I think a competitive scenario is less relevant to my goals.
The angle of one person’s right arm controls the inner pendulum and the other person controls the outer pendulum.
This is the most unusual method of collaborative control – it isn’t just averaging values, but combining inputs. While it’s clear who is controlling what (as in the connected body), the outer pendulum is affected by the inner pendulum’s movement, so the control feels more connected. The design is simple and the range of movement is limited but it’s an interesting route to explore.
I’m keen to explore what the effects are of creating the subconscious consensus that Carpenter talks about. Is it possible to create a feeling of connection between people as they collaborate and operate as one amoebic entity in this way?