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SAROTIS; The New Sense

SAROTIS; The New Sense

KEYWORDS: Body, Sensory Inputs, Prosthesis, Human Perception, Environment, Augmentation

Delicately placed somewhere close to you is a slim block of black mirror. Vigorously deriving your attention towards it once in a while is your smartphone, containing images, sounds and large amount of information about your life. As we enter the post-digital era, most of the significant everyday objects are getting replaced by screens. No furniture. No objects. Just hard, intersecting planes[1], seems to be the future life. The replacement of objects by these screens seems to have an effect on not only humans but also on their relationships with the objects. “The world of screens seems to be a more efficient one but the result is a cold, isolated, less human one” [Openshaw, 2015].

Andy Clark and David Chalmers [1998] propose a reliable coupling system as the essential requirement to enable a device to become part of an extended cognition[2]. The screens are definitely one of the most powerful and influential tools concerning humans’ extended cognition, but the quality which they miss is the empowering and positive experience of the user interfering with technology.

The human-technology relationship has exemplified the possibility of using the human body as the next canvas of the digital technologies and raised a huge attention towards wearable or bearable body based interfaces, making the necessity of a tangible and smart body-interfaced technology the latest focus of the prosthesis theories[3]. Soft responsive materials and devices which can manipulate real materials are the other steps towards this matter. Paolo Antonelli [2008] describes the existing state of prosthesis as a “stronger involvement of senses to both enhance and integrate the delivery of high-tech functions.” This means the future of prosthetics is based on a higher level of amplification of the human senses or the optimization of user’s physical abilities by accommodating to the way which humans already function.

 

The human of 21st century is not only introduced to body-related technologies but also the huge amount of digital information which is stored, produced or projected by them. So is it possible to design a prosthesis which would behave like a skin when it approaches an augmented layer of information in space? On what level the user can define an architecture based on this information?

This article focuses on the human body as the main canvas for the future technologies by looking at the existing state of prosthesis and their relationship to the human perception and interrogates the possibility of a less cold flat interface for the future, which would respect the human need for tactility and artisanship. It is predicted that the next generation of prosthetics are not only targeting their effect on the human body figure but will also challenge the human senses and the reality resulted by them.  In the first section of the article, the possibility of constructing a new human sense is speculated through a brief study of the relationship between the human perception and the body senses and the effect of an additional element in the cognition procedure. Then the possibility of using this new sense for receiving the huge amount of digital information is explored. In the third section the influence of an invisible layer of information on one’s reality and perception leads to the study of augmented reality based prosthetics as an extension to the cognition process and the influence of these tools on one’s body and mind. The observations from the experiments conducted by the project discussed in this essay are used in the final section to speculate the future of prosthesis and demonstrate the potential changes in human senses and the relationship between the user and such technology which then will modify the procedure of perceiving a built environment.

1. The Concept of the Body as the Center

1.1 Conceptualizing the Body

“Our perception of the world is mainly based on our senses and through the various processes that take place both in the conscious and the unconscious mind” [Pallasmaa, 2005]. The reality which each individual experiments is massively based on the sensory inputs absorbed from the environment. The inclusive explanation which Philosopher Daniel Dennett [1991] proposes is “The Multiple Drafts” theory. He explains that a series of parallel, incompatible processes on the sensorial data construct multiple drafts of the reality.  As each of the senses is distributing information to the cortices and subcortical structures of the brain which they interact with, they are providing fragments of the reality of the outside world. The reason which one perceives the reality as a single whole is the continuous editorial revision of binding these drafts. The result is a published draft which is the basic notion of constructing one’s reality.

body2

Body as the Centre of the Conscious World Models

A prosthetic attachment can either target an individual draft or the reality resulted from these drafts. An attachment to a receiver of one of the human senses, like a mediated reality goggle, mainly targets a single sense, in this case the sight. But an attachment to the human body can also modify the procedure which the body is absorbing information by filtering or modifying these inputs or even amplifying them. “At any point in time there are multiple “drafts” of narrative fragments at various stages of editing in various places in the brain” [Dennett, 1991]. The binding process of the multiple drafts is the cause of the appearance of the published draft on the stage of the Cartesian Theatre[4]. This stimulus is drawing attention to whatever is occurring and is the content of the human conscious experience. This process generates states which are experienced as first-person perspectives and inward attentions. It also generates state conditions that are being experienced as nonmental and as external states. “The connecting element between both classes of experience seems to be the fact that a stable phenomenal self exists in both of them” [Metzinger, 2010]. As the body seems to be the receiver or better described, the connector, the brain plays the role of the conductor. The simultaneous process which takes place in the body and mind creates both the inward attentions and the external states. In both type of experiences the body is the only perceptual object constantly given. These bodies of ours are the common ground for the multiple drafts, absorbing sensory inputs necessary for constructing the phenomenal self and the human perception which any modification to them will thus result a new perception and reality experienced by the user.

1.2 Sensory Inputs

As it was explained, the humans’ conscious experience and perception is profoundly dependent on the inputs absorbed through the human senses. The role of the sensory inputs and the importance of the body as the perceptual object imply the possibility of affecting one’s perception by modifying the senses. The intervention of the senses can for example be achieved through the mediated realities[5]. The word “reality” simply emphasizes the idea of a new type of reality in result of the modification of the human senses. Another example is amplifying these senses through augmentation[6]. The invisible layer which is applied on one’s senses generates a different type of reality known as the augmented reality.

In the experiment conducted by the “Sensory Augmentation Belt” , neuroscientists Nagel et al. [2005] study how a user with a low sight or no sight ability can navigate the North direction through a series of vibrations received on their skin through the belt. As it was later reported the user has a new insight of its position and orientation which helps them in large-scale navigation. Based on Nagel et al.’s experiments, the user not only had the ability to better self-navigate while using this belt but even after taking it off. The user claimed that the sense affected their performance for four weeks after the experiment was over. Nagel et al. believe that “it is possible that a longer time span of training would result in a longer storage of the newly learned sensorimotor contingencies and thus the homing results could stay stable over a longer period of time”.

Figure 1 Sensory Augmentation Belt by Nagel et al., 2005 The Belt used in Nagel et al.’s experiments which was fixed on the user’s waist and informed them about the North by its vibrators

Sensory Augmentation Belt by Nagel et al., 2005
The Belt used in Nagel et al.’s experiments which was fixed on the user’s waist and informed them about the North by its vibrators

In this case, the user is not intervening or amplifying any of the existing senses but constructing a new one. The human accustomed body is not capable of navigating North but Nagel et al.’s case studies had constructed a sense new to the human mind and body. The reality which they experienced was not of the augmented or the mediated one but one resulted from binding more drafts than before. The user at first senses the North through the tactile feedback received from the belt but after taking the belt off the North is perceived without any connectors and directly from the environment.

Figure 2 Sarotis Belt The Belt used in the experiments operated by the design project discussed in this thesis: Sarotis

Sarotis Belt, The Belt used in the experiments operated by the design project discussed in this thesis: Sarotis

1.3 Introducing “Sarotis”

In order to investigate the idea of modifying senses to achieve a new perception, a series of experiments was designed and conducted through a group project. As the body was introduced as the bridge between the human perception and the outside world reality, it was decided to carry out these experiments through a wearable prosthetic[7] attachment: Sarotis[8] consisted of three silicon based wearable pieces attached to the user’s neck and legs which were then actuated through the inflation of its channels. The first experiment conducted by Sarotis consisted of one of the team members wearing the device for a period of 36 hours.

It was predicted based on Nagel et al.’s experiment and Wigley’s [2010] statement which a prosthetic device affects the user before, during and after usage, that Sarotis will result a new type of awareness in the user. In this experiment Sarotis was targeting the human senses as an elastic adaptable receiver which can be modified through a period of training exercises. As Sarotis affects the users senses, its actuators give it the potential to alter the user’s perception, changing the way user perceives the environment based on its own set of goals. For the first set of experiments, the input for Sarotis was a real-time scan of the built environment[9]. It was predicted that as Sarotis will modify the users perception of the environment, the environment perceived by this new perception will thus modify.

 

According to Wigley’s statement the effect of Sarotis on the user was studied in three stages: before, during and after using Sarotis.

Based on the observations resulted from the first stage, the user was paying more attention to the existing environment in order to speculate the effect of the device and better compare the levels of awareness resulted from Sarotis. This event could be categorized as a part of the effect from Sarotis increasing the level of awareness of the space in the user. The prosthetic attachment is not fixed on the user’s body in this stage but as the user knows the effect of the device, she is exploring the current stage of her awareness which by itself can be considered as raising awareness.

The next stage was studying the effect of Sarotis while attached to the user’s body. Through prolonged usage of the device, the user started to bond and couple with the device. At first she was not comfortable enough with the existence of a pressure-based device on her neck, but as she was asked later on, she replied that she actually looks forward into using a larger attachment which would cover her neck and chest area. She stated that the effect received from the leg pieces were more considered to be as an amplified sense which can be related to the lack of sight in the lower parts of the body. The binding procedure resulted from the information absorbed through the sight and the device illuminated some interesting results: If the device was not responding according to the user’s sight, the user immediately questioned the functionality of the device, stating that she preferred a faster and more accurate response from the device[10].

Figure 6 Screen Shots from the Application used by the 3D scanner device used in Sarotis An application was designed in order to scan the environment. The scan was analyzed by the application and based by the results information was sent to a microcontroller (Arduino) which was controlling the actuation of the inflatable channels of the wearable attachments. The application is an android-based application designed in Unity, which is a game engine also used for 3D modeling.

Screen Shots from the Application used by the 3D scanner device used in Sarotis
An application was designed in order to scan the environment. The scan was analyzed by the application and based by the results information was sent to a microcontroller (Arduino) which was controlling the actuation of the inflatable channels of the wearable attachments.
The application is an android-based application designed in Unity, which is a game engine also used for 3D modeling.

The third stage was investigating the effect of Sarotis after taking the device off. The user stated that her attention to white plane walls was increased which can be related to the better response received from Sarotis when close to such an element.

The results from the observations of this experiment imply the possibility of raising awareness through the existence of Sarotis and based on Nagel et al.’s statement it can be speculated that a longer period of usage would result a higher level of awareness. This higher level of sensitivity and awareness of the space modifies the perception of the user which accordingly can modify the environment which is perceived.

2. The New Layer

After the first set of experiments conducted by Sarotis, the possibility of raising awareness of a built environment through the usage of an amplifier prosthetic was explored. The potential probabilities of the relationship between other possible representations of architecture with Sarotis were the focus of the next stages of the project.

2.1 The Digital Body

The digital future espoused by some of the biggest names in technology seems to be a minimal negligible future. But our experience of the digital era does not relate to this image. Our ultra-intimate relationship with screens has brought us to a new irrational visual culture providing us with massive visual inputs. The digital tactile sensation consists of invasive detailed 3d printed textures. And in a more general sense the information which we daily deal with is of enormous pixelated binary information which constructs the logic of our networked world. It is not only the quality of the information provided in the digital era which affects one’s reality but also the network of other individuals’ realities which one interacts with. Lev Manovich [2006] suggests the world network of ever changing data, images and texts as the notion of the digital era. The sensory inputs provided by the digital era is of a complicated complex structure and quantity, turning the reality into a massive database of visual, tactile, etc. inputs. The intimate relationship of the 21st century human being has turned the human body into a receiver and possibly an amplifier for this digital information, suggesting a paradigm shift in the body-technology relationship.

 

2.2 Body Screens

You are standing in the middle of a square. High-rise buildings covered with huge screens tackle you with their flashy images and texts. You reach for a screen in your pocket which is a window to another world. This image is not an unfamiliar one which is hard to imagine. The screen culture in the 21st century is one of the very tangible examples for the huge amount of sensory inputs tackling the human senses. The post-digital interfaces, in specific screens, are restructuring the human perception by the way they communicate information. Artist Mark Leckey explains the idea of techno-animism[11] in his work by suggesting that “the act of seeing has always been fallible to an extent, but with digital manipulation there are fresh opportunities for perception to be distorted, disrupted and manipulated” [Openshaw, 2015]. The manipulation of human perception can be a result of the daily interaction of human senses with the digital binary data instead of the usual analogue inputs. Artist Bart Hess explores the idea of coexistence of digital and analogue explaining: “I’m interested in that borderline between states: whether that’s between beauty and grotesque, or the digital and analogue” [Openshaw, 2015]. Humans of the 21st century have not reached the level of complete digitalization but they are as Hess describes on “the borderline between states”.

 

Based on Leckey’s statement about human perception and the fact that every single human individual carries a screen with them, Smartphones can be suggested as a powerful tool for modifying human perception. But as these screens modify human perception how can the human body modify the definition of screens? Lev Manovich suggests that the screens should not only be used as a flat tool for mediating information but to be considered more as a volumetric device [Manovich, 2006]. The idea of a volumetric screen was explored in the first stages of the design project discussed in this thesis which then led to the design of Sarotis.

SoftScreen was a series of explorations in order to speculate new definitions of screens. The first generation of the SoftScreen was an investigation of the possibility of a volumetric screen, targeting other human senses than sight. Second generation of SoftScreen was mainly focusing on its levels of ability for communicating information. The observations from the Soft Screen led to the design of three wearable pixelated prosthetics which then were used in Sarotis.

 

The relationship between the visual and tactile information of the second generation of SoftScreen demonstrated an interesting connection between the digital and physical, suggesting a new type of relationship for the screen-based technologies which can target senses other than sight.

Figure 10 Illustrations to explain the connection between the visuals in the VR headset and the behaviour of the hand-piece. From top: Breath behaviour, Balance behaviour and Growth behaviour

Illustrations to explain the connection between the visuals in the VR headset and the behaviour of the hand-piece. From top: Breath behaviour, Balance behaviour and Growth behaviour

2.3 Body and the Digital Information

Based on the research done by Hilbert and Lopez [2011], world’s technological capacity to store information has approximately doubled every 40 months since the 1980s.[12] This “Big Data”[13] culture has gradually made the human of the 21st century insensitive to the information surrounding them. Paolo Baratta [2014] explains the theme “Fundamentals” for the Venice Architecture Biennale in 2014 as “while information gains new tools and updating becomes simpler, […] indifference and conformity lead to passiveness and even extinguish the desire for art and architecture.”

Figure 11 Poster for the 14th International Architecture Exhibition, entitled Fundamentals, directed by Rem Koolhaas and organized by la Biennale di Venezia

Poster for the 14th International Architecture Exhibition, entitled Fundamentals, directed by Rem Koolhaas and organized by la Biennale di Venezia

The problem with the Big Data culture seems to be that the information provided for the senses by the system tackle only some certain aspects of the human senses. As the flow of digital information carries to grow, the translucency of the mediated realities is becoming more visible and the human sight is bombard with flashy intense images. For example, this idea applies to the screens which were discussed earlier. The mobile phones which we carry around have communicated their information through the human sight for the past few decades, but recently with the rise of touchscreens, the human touch has been included in a very sentimental passive way. In prosthetics the right senses should be targeted for the right reasons in order for the device to act as an element of the extended cognition. It is not the amount of information provided by a device but the appliance of this information on the right human senses which make them reliable.

2.4 The Respectful Tools

It is not only the information provided by the new age technologies and their relevance to the human senses which make them problematic but also their relationship with humans. David Rose [2014] compares today’s gadgets with tools from folklore and science fiction[14] in his introduction to his book “Enchanted Objects”, stating that the new age technology “has little respect for humanity”. He believes that the relationship between the new age technology and humans is not of a mutual respectful one. The way that the new age technology, mainly screens, force their interface to everyday life and how in order to use them one should have their intimate attention to their interface, is signs of a disrespectful relationship. In order for one to use their smartphones, they have to constantly look at the screen filtering out any other visual input from the environment. Whereas through an invisible layer of information which is perceived in a more tacit way, the user can be not completely aware of the conceiving procedure although the information is being communicated.

2.5 Sarotis, a Respectful Tool

Sarotis was designed as an amplifier prosthetic, examining the possibility of a tacit communicator of information based on invisible layers of digital information targeting a sense other than sight. The actuation of the soft material of Sarotis on the user’s body informs them about a low-res layer of information. Sarotis is designed based on Paolo Antonelli’s [2008] statement describing the future trend of prosthesis as “stronger involvement of the senses to both enhance and integrate delivery of high-tech functions.” Sarotis aims to increase the awareness of the user concerning a specific layer of information by fading its presence in terms of attention. By this mean the user and the tool are enabling one another to enter each other’s territory. Sarotis defines a new definition of a screen which communicates pixelated digital information through the inflation of its channels without the need of its user’s complete and constant attention contributed directly to its interface.

Figure 12 Details of Sarotis Controller Belt 6 blood pressure pumps were used in the latest prototype of Sarotis for carrying air to the channels. The small size and the silent quality of these pumps were the main qualities which they were used for.

Details of Sarotis Controller Belt, 6 blood pressure pumps were used in the latest prototype of Sarotis for carrying air to the channels.
The small size and the silent quality of these pumps were the main qualities which they were used for.

3. Phantoms

Sarotis was described as a tacit amplifier for the human tactility, which tries to increase its efficiency through decreasing its presence; a 21st century phantom affecting and modifying user’s perception and reality. In order to explain the effect of Sarotis and speculate its ability to modify one’s perception through an invisible layer of information, this chapter will review the role of the phantoms[15] in constructing one’s reality and investigate these ideas by applying them to Sarotis.

3.1 Brain Phantoms

In 1998 neuroscientist Vilayanur S. Ramachandran operated an experiment called the “Mirror Box” in order to reveal the important role of the phantoms in the brain. The experiment was designed to alleviate the phantom limb pain for people who still experience feelings of their amputated limbs. The result of Ramachandran’s experiment is not the focus of this thesis, but the case study of this syndrome. The phantom limb pain results from a fractured body image which effortlessly exhibits the role of a phantom in the brain.

Photograph of the Mirror Box Experiment

The person traumatized with this syndrome feels and suffers from the pain resulted from a phantom limb, affecting their reality and daily tasks. But the phantoms in the brain are not always about the invisible but felt realities. For example, a patient diagnosed with a Hemineglect syndrome fails to be aware of items situated in one side of the space. The information necessary for the object to be perceived are available and received but the brain fails to analyse and bind this information properly. So as it was stated earlier our perception of the outside world reality is not only based on our senses but also on “the various processes that take place both in the conscious and the unconscious mind” [Pallasmaa, 2005].

 

 

Figure 14 Drawing made by a neglect patient

Drawing made by a neglect patient

3.2 The Interpretation of the Between

The phantoms play a vital role in constructing one’s reality. The body and human emotions are affected by them and they can disturb the brain in the means of efficiency. But the explanation of on what level one implies to such a phenomena phantom or not is not an easy task. On what level does one consider a thing existing or not existing? The discussions about the phantoms and the invisibles which affect the reality have got more attention as the invisible world of information and data grows day by day. Several artists have explored and still are exploring their individual understandings of this topic. For example, jewellery artist Maiko Takeda explains her collection “Atmospheric Reentry” as: “I think my work is an unconscious reaction to our modern age, where the digital and the real are merging into each other, and causing confusion” [Openshaw, 2015]. Takeda is basing her work on the opposition of presence and absence and implying that the digital is the unreal absent. Takeda is trying to visualize a non-existent on the body through tangible “real” materials.

She explains “I’m interested in anything that surrounds us, but is hard to perceive,” she believes that perception is the key element of defining the existence of a thing. She defines the digital as the information affecting the body which is hard to be perceived. By this mean it can be speculated that human perception is modified through the digital information when one starts to experience the physical environment through virtual digital phantoms. Architect Walter Pichler investigates the effect of phantoms in architecture through his piece “Portable Living Room” in which he pictures an isolated space in result of the new-age digital interfaces.

Left: Atmospheric Reentry by Maiko Takeda, 2013 Right: Portable Living Room by Walter Pichler, 1967

Left: Atmospheric Reentry by Maiko Takeda, 2013
Right: Portable Living Room by Walter Pichler, 1967

 

3.3 Sarotis, a Tool for Constructing Invisible Spaces

Figure 17 A Series of Photographs of Participants while testing Sarotis

Series of Photographs of the Participants while testing Sarotis

After the first experiment conducted by Sarotis, the possibility of constructing spaces through a tacit amplifier prosthetic seemed to be a logical speculation. Sarotis was used to increase the user’s awareness of an existing architecture but it was time to test its abilities of constructing awareness of an invisible space through a digital layer of information. As Heinz Von Foerster [2002] argues, “It is he (the observer) who invents it, and likewise, when we perceive the environment, it is we (the observers) who invent it”.

In this experiment Sarotis was examining the limits of an extended cognition in order to bring invisible information to one’s reality. According to the augmented layer of information stored in Sarotis, the user received a series of actuation on their skin, informing them about an invisible virtual architecture in the environment.

In order to speculate the power of Sarotis in constructing invisible spaces, an experiment was operated on 6 external users. A path was designed in order to examine users’ ability to perceive the space constructed by Sarotis. This experiment was operated on 6 external participants, from which 5 were architects and one non-architect. At first the wearable prosthetic attachments of Sarotis were fixed on the user’s neck and legs. Then after understanding the logic of Sarotis and how it works, the users were asked to be blindfolded and were guided into an empty space. The participants were asked to imagine and construct a space based on the inflation behaviours of Sarotis. Participants were allowed to explore the space for a period of 3 minutes and then were asked to draw the plan of the space which they have constructed based on Sarotis inflation behaviours. The non-architect participant dropped out of the experiment after approximately 2 minutes of the experiment, due to the uncomfortable feeling resulted from being blindfolded and the constant pressure on the neck. Before the experiment was begun, all participants asked for safety insurance, wondering if electricity is running through the prosthetic attachments. They were explained that Sarotis is actuated by air and the attachments will only apply pressure on the skin by the inflation of their soft interface.

Figure 18 Sarotis Invisible Path Illustration showing the invisible path which Sarotis was storing during the second series of experiments

Sarotis Invisible Path
Illustrations showing the invisible path stored in Sarotis during the second series of experiments

As it was suspected that the users walk straight into a space, the design of the reference path started with a straight corridor which then was followed by a turn to the right. Based on the participants’ drawings 3 out of 6 (a, b, f) have had constructed a straight path in the start of their experiment, from which 2 (b, f) speculated a right turn in follow. The other (a) have skipped this turn continuing their path to the end of the maze (a).

2 out of 6 (e, f), drew the walking path which resulted from the maze stored in Sarotis in order to explain the space which they have had experienced. They have had not experimented borders unlike the other 4 but they have had been guided by Sarotis through space. This can also suggest that people characterize a space by the occupied spaces or based on the empty spaces. 1 out of 5 of the architects (d) drew walls with thicknesses which can be a result of architectural studies or a sign of the duration of the pressure resulted from the inflatable channels.

3 out of 6 (c, e ,f) marked their starting point in the drawing, implying that the user might use its starting point as a reference point for orienting and navigating themselves in a space.

Figure 19 Participants’ Drawings of Sarotis Invisible Path Participants were asked to draw the plan of the space which they have had experienced in result of wearing Sarotis

Participants’ Drawings of Sarotis Invisible Path
Participants were asked to draw the plan of the space which they have had experienced in result of wearing Sarotis

Sarotis proved its ability to construct spaces for its users and illuminated the different approaches to architecture based on individual perception. This could imply that Sarotis can be a tool for constructing a new design language for architecture based on each individual experience of a built environment which then can relate to the users’ needs and priorities.

4. Body as the canvas

Sarotis modified the human perception, raised awareness and implied the possibility of affecting ones reality through an invisible layer of information. It modified spaces by affecting the user’s perception and constructed spaces by augmenting information into the space. It suggested the possibility of a new design language based on users’ requirements and desires. But what is the effect of Sarotis and such interfaces on the physical body? By the rise of body interfaced technologies and prosthetics, how is the human of 21st century’s body image changing?

As you choose the perfect profile picture for your social media interactions you are presenting yourself with the best version of you. You are duplicating yourself in this virtual media and experiencing feelings through them. In the recent years the line between the body and tools is fading away and “No objects, space, or bodies are sacred in themselves; any component can be interfaced with any other if the proper standard, the proper code, can be constructed for processing signals in a common language” [Harraway, 1991]. The new possibilities of a human-object relationship as the result of body based technologies have raised a huge amount of attention to prosthetics and their role on the human evolution.

Nietzsche [1891] explains in his book Thus Spoke Zarathustra that “Man is a rope, tied between beast and overman, a rope over an abyss. What is great in man is that he is a bridge and not an end.” The humans of the new era have accepted this idea and know the imperfections and deficiencies of their bodies[16]. Human of the 21st century is not the one of the Renaissance era who believed that perfection is reflected throughout the human being. Eventually the possibility of overcoming the accustomed human bodies and identities is not so ambitious.

As it was discussed in the previous chapters the movement towards a mixed-specie human by the use of prosthetic body organs, implanted electrical chips or even virtual reality goggles implies that the human body is the next canvas for upcoming technologies. Stelarc’s Exoskeleton is one of the first examples of investigating body-technology interfaces. He introduces a new body image, one in relation with an outer skeleton. “He puts the unthinkable objects on the body to see what might become of it.” [Brian Massumi, 2002] and pushes the body to the extreme limits of working with a machine. According to Don Ihde’s [2002] statement the body-technology relationship has reached a new phase which “while humans using technologies enter into interactive situations whenever they use even the simplest technology- and thus humans use and are used by that technology, and all such relations are interactive- the possible uses are always ambiguous and multistable.

 

4.1 Skin as the Bridge

In Dimitry Morozov’s piece “Reading My Body” artist examines the body-technology relationship with a sound controller which reads the artist’s tattoo as a source for a musical piece. Morozov’s skin is turned into a medium for extending his identity and the intelligence of his body becomes the focus of this piece. As the artist’s body moves around, the musical piece modifies according to the skin and as it is expected, skin characteristics like wrinkles in the later years, will translate into new data for the piece.

Skin was introduced as Morozov’s medium for applying an intelligent layer on the body. The property which has made the skin interesting for a lot of artists and designers for applying different and new layers of information (like Sarotis) is the physical accessibility of a human sense. It has also known to be the border between the inside and outside the body, but the tactile sense provided by the skin showcases another type of definition for it. Skin is not the border between the outside and the inside but more of a connector of them. Oliver Sacks [2011] believes that the human senses, such as the skin help humans to construct the environment outside the body and mind. It could also be concluded that Sacks defines a boundary for the body, which outside this boundary there exists an environment which is needed to be perceived.

 

4.2 Extending through the Tool

In many cases blind people establish kind of a tactile sense at the end of their cane. Or sometimes a damage to one’s belongings make them hurt[17]. When a driver has an accident they feel the damage which is brought to their car on their bodies. Vidler [1992] believes that “The body always extends across the tool which it utilizes”. According to Vidler’s statement the boundary between the body and the environment is a result of a complex interaction of the body and its surrounding. Donna Haraway [1991] applies this idea to the idea of the skin as the border and suggests that “why should our bodies end at the skin or include at best other beings encapsulated by skin?” Artist Rebecca Horn examines this idea in her piece Finger Gloves. The artist challenges human body functionality and awareness by extending her fingers which leads to a new posture, analysing behaviours and spatial experiences. Brian Massumi [2002] explains: “Body and thing are extensions of each other. They are mutual implications: co-thoughts of two-headed perception. The two-headed perception is the world”.

 

Figure 23 The White Body Fan by Rebecca Horn, 1972

The White Body Fan by Rebecca Horn, 1972

As a body is situated in an environment, it  utilizes space. Acording to Vidler’s statement, it can be speculated that the body not only extends through a toll but it can also extend its boundary into space. The piece the White Body Fan by Horn is an examination of extending body boundaries into space. She tries to extend the body throughout two wing-like extensions which carry out her movements to space. The piece is a prosthetic attachment which is not only extending the body to space but also modifying the space through the moves of Horn which are controlled by her thoughts.

It can be seen how the taboo of modifying the body figure has been broken throughout the years by the works of artists and how these attempts have helped the possibility of the existence of a body-technology interface in the recent years. The works of artists such as Stelarc and Horn has led to a new human body image which as Pisters [2012] explains is “something between the two, outside the two”[18].

 

 

 

 

4.3 Sarotis, the Second Skin

Sarotis was introduced as a “part of the extended cognition” [Andy Clark and David Chalmers, 1998] in the previous chapters, the effect of Sarotis on the physical attribute of the human body is undeniable. The new awareness of the space which is raised by Sarotis through tactility makes it very similar to the human skin. The information received from the user is mapped on the body giving them spatial values like the effect of touching obstacles in an environment. Sarotis is triggered by the touch of the invisible layer of information placed in space implying that it could be considered as an extended sense of touch as well as an extended element to human cognition. The materiality of Sarotis is based on a respectful relationship between the user’s body and technology. It does not raise tension in the user by vibrating its hard interface on the skin or seek attention by a bright screen, but the pressure of its soft material on the skin tries to mimic the sense of touch.

Sarotis can be considered similar to Horn’s White Body Fan. In Horn’s piece the body is extending into space, but in Sarotis the space is being mapped on the body. Both of the pieces are extending the human body boundaries in relationship to space, implying the possibility of merging body and architecture.

Sarotis suggests the possibility of modifying humans’ accustomed bodies by challenging the usual human figure and skin, contributing a possible version of the human body in result of human-technology modifications.

Figure 24 Sarotis as a Second Skin

Sarotis as a Second Skin

5. Sarotis

Sarotis, a tacit amplifier prosthetic, is the result of an investigation through the idea of modifying one’s perception of the reality by training or amplifying the human senses. It addresses the possibility of turning the human body to the designer of the space, which this space can be modified according to the user’s requirements. Sarotis visualized the importance of the body in the procedure of absorbing inputs through the senses in order to construct definitions of space which then are translated into one’s understanding of reality. In the process of designing Sarotis the focus on the human body was not only because of its role on human perception but also was based on the idea that the body seems to be the next canvas for the technologies in the future years. The study of the important role of screens in the recent years and their effect on human relationships suggested the idea of redefining the screens in order to achieve a better tool both in communicational aspects as well as ethics. Sarotis was designed as an advanced prosthetic which will target the human body based on a more human-like interface and relationship. The soft movement of silicon on the skin suggests the future materiality and behaviours of prosthetics and its tacit and respectful performance opens up a new possibility for human-technology relationship. Sarotis informs the user of its low-res data but does not interrupt them by making them completely aware of its presence.

Sarotis tested its effects as an amplifier to user’s awareness of the space by training the senses to be more conscious of the procedure of perceiving a built environment. It modified the human perception which then resulted a new understanding of the environment which the user was placed in. It did not just affect the user during its presence but also showed its effect in its absence. Sarotis implied the possibility of turning the built environment into a human sense by which humans can sense the architecture directly and without the need of any connectors. As the result of the second series of experiments, Sarotis suggested a body based architecture; an architecture which is based on an intelligent layer of information applied on the body and a more futuristic speculation on the spatial sensation of human beings.

The transparency of information which actuates Sarotis implies a new definition of the inputs provided by an architecture. Sarotis is the very first step towards a second skin which extends the body into space and applies space on the body. It suggests a future of body-based architecture in which the architecture and the user’s perception modify accordingly.

5.1 Conclusion

By the emergence of human-technology interfaces, discussions about the effects of such devices on the human bodies and their relationships are undeniable. It can be predicted that the effect of a prosthetic attachment which is worn or borne for a long period of time can reach a state which might be considered intolerable. The materiality of the future prosthetics, their behaviours and effects on the human body and performance, as well as their psychological impact suggests that the design procedure of such devices needs to be a multidisciplinary task, including all related fields. It is not only about the production of them but the same applies to their control systems. The control system of a prosthetic attachment should be precise and based on the behaviours of the user. On the other hand the possibility of hacking such devices which are placed on users’ bodies brings up serious health and security discussions.

As prosthetics have started to take a huge part of users’ everyday lives, there are on-going discussions not only about the control policies of such device but also the privacy issues which rise accordingly. These tools are used to store, gather and display information which includes private and personal data. The question of on what level should this information be exposed to the titleholders in order to receive feedback of their device, is the topic of numerous debates of the recent years.

Another topic concerning large-scale products which deal with everyday life tasks is the issue of accessibility. By turning a prosthetic attachment into a life depending tool, certain companies and corporations can benefit massively that brings out the risk of low quality products which in the case of body matter devices should be taken seriously. This issue has been explored by the opensource initiatives which embrace the possibility of producing such devices in low-tech conditions with low-cost opportunities.

As it was discussed throughout this article, human-technology relationship is reaching a crucial point in its history concerning both the physical aspect and ethics. Advanced prosthetics and events such as the emergence of the augmented realities suggest the possibility of designing tools which can be used for modifying the reality experienced by each individual. Sarotis showcased the diverse approaches of each individual while experiencing a space, suggesting that the tools of future will mainly focus on the users’ personal perception.

The idea of tools which will merge with the human body and address user’s personal requirements and desires, can suggest the emergence of a new design language based on user’s individual mindset and perception. Sarotis will carry on to examine the possible scenarios of human-technology interfaces when in relationship with built environments and will explore the possibility of a smart architecture which the user and the architecture evolve accordingly, addressing Derrida’s question of “Who is listening to whom right here?” [Royle, 2003]

 

 

 

[1] Referring to Corbusier’s Utopia

[2] Andy Clark and David Chalmers believe that cognition is a process that does not limit itself in the physical and can be extended by the addition of specific elements to the body and mind [Clark and Chalmers, 1998].

[3] Prosthesis is defined as a supplement or attachment to the human body [Wigley, 1991].

[4] Cartesian Theatre is the view that there is a boundary somewhere in the brain where what happens there is what you are aware of [Dennett, 1991].

[5] MR refers to the artificial modification of human perception by way of devices used to deliberately enhance and more generally, or otherwise, alter our senses [Mann, 2010].

[6] AR refers to the overlaying of dynamically changing information in the form of multimedia, enhancing primarily, user’s visual field [Manovich, 2006].

[7] Wearable prostheses refer to computers worn under or in the clothing, or also be themselves clothes [Mann, 2013].

[8] Sarotis, a Greek word meaning scanner or a tool for absorbing all information.

[9] The real-time scan of the environment was constructed by Project Tango, a technology platform for indoor navigation, motion tracking,  3D mapping, object recognition and augmented reality: https://get.google.com/tango/

[10] Project Tango is an in-testing project at the moment which the final version called Tango will be released in January 2016.

[11] Mark lackey explains “the idea of techno-animism as the idea that the capacity of matter to self-organize has generated living things and man, and therefore – in the final analysis – technology, commerce and forms of competition that are “artificial” yet totally attuned to those of the biological world”: http://moussemagazine.it/articolo.mm?id=941

[12] “Telecommunication has been dominated by digital technologies since 1990 (99.9% in digital format in 2007), and the majority of our technological memory has been in digital format since the early 2000s (94% digital in 2007)” [Hilbert and Lopez, 2011].

[13] Definition of “Big Data” varies depending on the capabilities of the users and their tools to store information. This thesis refers to Big Data in relation to the huge amount of sensory inputs provided by the digital tools in order to be perceived.

[14] Rose describes his grandfather’s sharp chisel and Frodo’s sword in The Hobbit as not only useful tools but tools with humanistic values [Rose, 2014].

[15] Referring to the title of the book “Phantoms in the Brain” by Vilayanur S. Ramachandran.

[16] Referring to the phrase “The human body is obsolete” by artist Stelarc.

[17] “My body is everywhere: the bomb which destroys my house also damages my body, in so far as the house was already an indication of my body” [Sartre, 1943].

[18]  Pisters argues that one can never understand the state of being something else. He believes that as one becomes the other thing there is no more state from the previous being left which one can compare to [Pisters, 2012].

 

Related Links

Soft Screen

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3290767/

https://unity3d.com/

http://n-e-r-v-o-u-s.com/

http://barthess.nl/

http://www.maikotakeda.com/

http://www.lucymcrae.net/

http://behnazfarahi.com/

http://www.anoukwipprecht.nl/

 

 

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