lou suSi @ MassArt

2011 MFA Design graduate from DMI

December 30, 2013
by lou suSi
0 comments

on I, Frankenstein


as much as i’ve put my active and timely research on my appropriated theme ‘from Robots to Puppets’ on hold for a bit to focus more on my upcoming talk for MassArt’s Thursday Night Lecture Series in February 2014, a recent Google purchase of the local robotics firm Boston Dynamics brings me back to the cyberSurreal nest so delicately affixed to the roof of our self-driving car

as we enjoy the scenery on our adventures through the uncanny valley into the post-humanity i can’t help but notice some of us are far too busy watching the latest episode of Spongebob Squarepants on the mini-TV mounted for everyone comfortably sitting in the backseat — and evermore of us are also mediasnacking and lifestreaming away on our nearly-irresistible little second screen mobile devices just Liking and Commenting and Sharing away the time while i keep my bionic eye positioned to take in the rapid-approaching horizon in our continually sinkholing Grand Canyon of evolutionary strangeness into this, these advancements into our supposed progress toward the inevitable future

Slate columnist Mark O’Connell nicely ponders a bit about Google’s recent surge of acquisitions and activities in their Google X initiatives in his article I, Frankenstein: The uncanny, human inhumanity of Boston Dynamics’ androids

the article nicely gets any newbie to this circus of the uncanny valley up-to-speed with the concept and the history of our delightful journey with the tools, tricks and technologies that push us forward with an interesting, financially-confounded influence into the glory of our future machine-fueled, self-invented post-humanics that also simultaneously frightens us with a strange unease, uncertainty and downright fright-or-flight-like fear

i personally don’t understand why we don’t better trust these negative gut reactions we get to spooky robotics syndrome

after all, unlike robots, we’ve been blessed with these amazing mystical senses that reach far beyond any reasonable scientific explanation that typically act as a means to help the very survival of our species — for some reason when you throw a little pro-economic success incentives into the mix we simply seem to shit our pants, ignore the hot mess and smell, clamp down and keep at it until we get to these awkward points of no return

sad enough for me — since i’ve been researching in this area for a while now — i no longer get the roboNausea that O’Connell describes in his brilliant article

none of this even surprises me anymore

not even the transparent and obvious reasons why the government-induced funding into research and activity such as designing and developing robotics for war and other destruction-based regulation of people — none of this, unfortunately, shocks me or produces the same emotional-electric response in the gut that O’Connell describes in I, Frankenstein

i’m more than a little desensitized to it all at this point

which is one of the scariest factors in this entire ordeal i’ve been investigating

i think O’Connell actually hits the robotic nail on the wireless, automated head in I, Frankenstein — he picks up on and expresses the very core point that i want to make with from Robots to Puppets when all is said and researched and done, which is this notion of a continuum between the flesh and blood and the digital-robotic mechanism of the future we’re inventing — that as well as the notion that there’s a less-than-subtle flip thats coming along with all of our interesting developments in the name of human progress

one of O’Connell’s passages nicely sums up the give-take paradigm flip that i’ve been feeling lately regarding our technologies:

But there is something about WildCat’s uncanny dressage, about BigDog’s insectile scuttle, that encapsulates a certain kind of anxious ambivalence about technology — about where we might be taking it, where it might be taking us.

i sometimes unfairly return to researching the original promise and intent that our life-long devotion to these technological endeavors began with a long, long time ago

and it almost seems like we’re mysteriously all now on auto-pilot — we’ve forgotten the mission and the real value these things we make were supposed to provide for humanity

the original human promise of technology purely offered up a utopian vision where machines would create more comfortable and convenient lives for people — and the new ease from physically-burdensome and sometimes humanly-impossible feats of strength and reasonable, natural endurance that our technological advancement originally promised to provide us would then, in theory, free up human beings from the more menial and task-oriented aspects of modernday life and free us all up to enjoy spending the new majority of our daily lives pursuing more leisurely, creative and intellectual activities that human beings enjoy more and actually do better than our wired-up, electronic-robotic, technological counterparts

this dream-vision for our relationship with technology and the entire reason for its advancement as conjured up through many of the internationally-held, corporate-sponsored World’s Fair events early on in the twentieth century told an extremely enticing story and always seemed to point toward the time-saving and miraculous advantages real living human beings would enjoy as the fruits of our collective innovative labor toward building that technohumanic utopian future

however

call it a dream deferred or the titty-twister of a sidespin on the original promise made by our technological dreamscapes gone wild — more often than not, the human benefit gets lost along the way and gets marginalized to advance destructive, power-based initiatives

with nuclear energy and experiments with atom-splitting at the microscopic level, for instance, instead of producing the originally-promised global benefit of these new sources of energy that were supposedly going to change the world in a positive way forever, we ended up with one of the most destructive nightmares humanity may have ever witnessed during our short-lived history on this planet

i think the part that simultaneously fascinates and horrifies me about all of this — the original idealistic promise of our inventiveness through our tools and technologies as well as the eventual, actual use for both good and bad that these technologies ultimately result in — is the where it might be taking us part of O’Connell’s amazing snapshot on where we’re at with modernday robotics { these supposedly artificial intelligences }. And to so poignantly allude to Doctor Frankenstein and the kind of monster he made by trying to play god in the scientific laboratory — what more appropriate metaphor could there be for the Devo-esque marching automatonic soldier we see in the footage of Petman?

just look at the elegant movement of Petman on his treadmill and get a sense of the graceful manner in which modernday technologists imitate the very elegant movement of a realistic-looking person — don’t take your eyes away from the video for too, too long for you might get confused and think you’re witnessing the beautiful dance of a ballerina on her walk-cycle commute through a cityScape of imaginary futuristic stageSpace to the factory where she will undoubtably sit on the assembly line to create the new wetware human race for the posthumanity

we sometimes seem to pursue the next best thing for the sake of the thing, for the very sake of advancement itself, as if a sabertooth tiger were still just about to pounce on our little cavebound tribal families and we simply still need to develop new tools and tricks to survive in the world — so we’re suddenly graced by the Steve Jobs Gods with the iPhone 7S+ with High Density viewport and some unnecessary new combination thumbprint and retinal scan encryption capabilities even though the market is already over-saturated with these devices and the genuine human need goes beyond the gadgetry

we are already outnumbered by our devices

its no surprise to me that this Christmas Seasons numbers disappointed the economic needs of the world — there’s a much lower need to tech the halls than the industry might want as a means to perpetuate a globally-failing hedge bet on things over people

we need to start investing more in people now

our inventions are fantastic, yes, i agree — but we’ve put the direct worth of our humanity on hold for long enough and now its time to return to the flesh and the blood and the mysterious

no, no, no — i’m not talking about Jesus Christ for ChrisSakes!

we’ve plenty of major waves of religious zealotry now and enoughs enough, right? a Science-centered take on the world, after all, is just another form of religion — its just another mysterious guiding light that worships knowledge and information over other more esoteric explanations for the chaos and disorder we need to face in life as human beings — and its been a wonderful little trip, but i honestly feel with all my heart and soul that now is the time to look inside and trust that the next step forward for our evolution as humanity has nothing to do with a posthumanity or with The Singularity and other science fictionalizations of where we’re headed

we don’t need to blindly follow
the sad techno-fate put before us

in fact, to blindly follow the techno-economic breadcrumb trail into the posthumanity would simply be wrong — it would be giving up on humanity and on the real power of who we are as people in the universe — our fate should be far greater than to merely merge with the machines we create and re-imagine ourselves through the oversimplified Big Data translation of everything while forgetting what we really know to be true about humanity and the universe we live in — i actually don’t understand when Science began to forget some of the key qualitative and more biological earth scientific learnings and discoveries we’ve made to-date and why we’re no longer focused on this investigative sense of discovery

we’ve following the technological subconscious now for long enough and we know the way its shown us

our devices tend to unleash our inner depths — both the extreme goods and bads — and we’ve followed the very paths technology leads us to and we’ve now seen how grim and disconnected our innermost nature as people can truly be — its frightening to see, but the lowest behaviors we see are not due to the apps and gadgets but instead are interesting enablers to unleash our true psyche as a people in The 21st Century — we are ultimately responsible for our own behavior, good and bad

now, i’m not totally unrealistic about all of this — i don’t expect that society at large is just going to stop international production of smartphones and tablets and robots and technologies of all shapes, sorts and sizes, and, in fact, that’s not at all what i’m trying to get at with my reflections on the I, Frankenstein article anyways

the march of techno-madness must continue and it will

in fact, i insist upon it!

i just believe with all of who i am that some of us must start to explore the extremes of another way — a more balanced and human way — and we must now, more than ever, advocate for everything that it means to actually be human

i’m not even aspiring to become some sort of neo-luddite that lives a life disconnected from all the conveniences and distractions of our modernday technologies

but i do believe we’re not on-track with the original promise of our technological advancements and i personally want to not only get back on track on the side of our progress through technology, but i also want to explore other ways that people can progress with or without the involvement of technology

we’ve got a lot to learn and we’ve got so much more to do — and i believe a lot of what we need to work on as a global, interdependent human organism is far more steeped in self-awareness and consciousness than in technology and systems that profoundly exploit our subconscious weaknesses as mortal animals of society

instead of focusing on artificial intelligence,
i suggest we focus on intelligence

and perhaps, better yet, instead of intelligence, wisdom

the focus will need to start as a personal, individual initiative for those that want to this other way

we will all most likely discover very individual details and wisdoms inside of each of us, but these individual wisdoms will be so important as to transcend to a more universal place

and instead of optimizing our external inventions of wire and steel and plastic and microchips, new means to focus on and explore our inner selves might just move us nicely away from the target of our eventual post-humanity to something we seemed to miss the mark on entirely

we might even discover a new potential sense of our humanity

March 14, 2013
by lou suSi
0 comments

don’t forget

medium-is-the-massage

the wheel
is an extension of the foot
the book
is an extension of the eye
clothing, an extension of the skin,
electric circuitry,
an extension of
the
central
nervous
system

The Medium is The Massage, Marshall McLuhan

i think we can all interpret these effects, as McLuhan calls them, in various extremes, dimensions, and ways

one way i interpret some of our extensions as influenced by books like The Body has a Mind of Its Own and The Moving Body: Teaching Creative Theatre is that in some way, the tools we use become a part of us, and likewise the other way, too — we become part of the tools we use

i specifically think of the performance art and new media works of the Australian artist Stelarc — in his piece called Muscle Memory { seen in the image included in this post, below }, the artist installs himself into a robotic, spider-like structure that augments and extends his physical abilities as a human being through this strange, science fiction-like machine contraption

003_mm_stelarc

a question i think about a LOT recently is — well, what’s so controversial and different about this performance and the gadgetry involved and, let’s say, the average commuter driving to work at 6:34 AM?

in the case of Stelarc’s Muscle Memory, the artist demonstrates the sheer power and new capabilities afforded the machine operator to an audience in a gallerySpace — its a performance and a demonstration, and its very future-forward and cyberSurreal and interesting in a way that might inform the audience in both a positive and negative way — we might be able to very obviously see how Stelarc, now living and breathing within the confines of this ginormous metal robot, might start to behave, well, like a ginormous metal robot — he, in many ways, becomes the machine, and he learns and adapts and adjusts to both the new things he can do with it while simultaneously sacrificing his own human experience along the way — or, maybe i’m thinking far too much like a transitional, if that’s even a term — i’m not sure that he evolves in any literal way by using the robotic equipment as part of his Muscle Memory performance piece, but his discussions on the topic of this Singularity between man and machine, the combination of the biological and the technological extensions of the previously nearly-pure physical human form, put us in the typical uncanny valley of confrontational wonderment — what does this all mean for us as human beings — will we all need to put on a robotic suit in the near future to perform our on-the-job tasks and assignments? or are our human capabilities ‘man’ enough to get the job done? perhaps it depends upon the line of work you’re in, not sure though, but i’m sure we’ll find out in 10 to 15 years

now let’s take the case of driving to work in the morning — i embed myself into my maroon Honda Accord every morning and drive from Boxford to Waltham every day and i would like to argue that while i am in the car i actually become the car — i adopt the personality, the feelings and the mentality of driving to work, at least for 40 minutes to an hour, twice a day — and, depending on traffic and the flow of traffic and other automobiles on the highway as i drive down Route 95 South, and depending on my mood as a human being now living and breathing as a wetware organ beating inside the machine like a nearly obsolete heart of meat, i act quite differently than i normally do when we talk face-to-face in the office or when i’m at home playing with my son or my grandchildren on the floor — i really think i can become the car in a very literal way, at least if you let yourself follow the subconscious flow of desire that stands in front of you like the temptress you know she is

let’s say you’re in a hurry and you know that if you stay in your conscious state as a person sitting at the wheel that you’ll get to work in about an hour and 15 minutes — not bad, not bad

but why not trust you’re own muscle memory as a driver, as a commuter that’s gotta get shit done, as a worker bee that’s gotta shake the tree and make the magic happen today, ya know? that care now becomes far more than a mere vehicle for rapid movement across a peripherally streaked landscape of trees and jersey barriers and guardrails flying by at 80 miles an hour

that’s right, think about it

from a human-centered perspective, you’re not really moving at all — in fact, you may move here and there, adjust the ball of your foot to move from brake to gas, click the direction into the left position to send a signal to the 20 people behind you as you course like blood through the body that is the highway, but for the most part you’re parked solid and still on your ass, sunk into a quite comfortable chair that let’s you command your magic journey some 30 to 50 miles away from where you live

if you let go a bit and begin to think and behave like the car, you start to decipher new rules of the road that can be leveraged to your advantage — little openings in the flow of traffic beckon you to quickly shift lanes and push ahead of the losers driving slowly in the passing lane to the left — sure, they’re supposed to pass you, but for whatever reason the first and second lanes are wide open and you can make better progress by ignoring the implicit rules of the road — let’s get moving, right? and so on, and so forth

your a little less human when you drive, and more like the pilot of a zombie robot that’s bolting to the office, zipping in and out of the lanes that help you make it all happen

the wheel is an extension of the foot is what McLuhan said in the original quote from The Media is the Massage, but i beg to differ

with our newly adapted and evolved modern lives and our commonplace daily use of machines and devices like cars and trains and other vehicles, the person becomes and extension of the automobile — we become the force that operates a vehicle such as a car, a forklift or an airplane — we become a reverse-extension of it, or them, and we do all the adjusting and discover the new terrains now opened up by our technological progress

i’m not sure where that leaves us as human beings

but i think we should all exercise, at times, a little more conscious awareness and control over our newly-extended selves

cyberSurrealism is about looking at the self by psychoanalyzing the human element through our cybernetic machine influence back on the wetware components of our society — how do our machines change our behavior? how do they then influence: our culture; our interactions with each other as people; and our capabilities on a more holistic scale? as certain capabilities improve, is it inevitable for us to lose other very valuable skills and qualities as human beings? and, in all of this, these thoughts and experiments and explorations through progress and innovation, do we still have any control whatsoever over the evolution and invention of the tools we create and use? or do these things almost subconsciously invent themselves now? how do we keep focusing on the valuable potentials of these human ingenuities and foster more humanly helpful technologies and progress? and most importantly, what the fuck does 4G mean? 

January 23, 2013
by lou suSi
0 comments

shadows on the wall

i think a lot about spectrums — i focused on the spectrum of creative expression for parts and portions of my design thesis work, not all of the research making it into the final book ( of course ) — i also, at times, return to thinking about the spectrum that moves from data to wisdom — my estimation lists that spectrum, and i’m not exactly sure how to categorize it ( is it a spectrum of learning acquisition? maybe the spectrum to eventual spiritual wisdom? i’m not sure ), but it seems to move from raw data to information to story to knowledge ( which i consider to be the accumulation of information ) to wisdom ( which i think of as the destruction of knowledge to reach through and beyond to something more meaningful than mere knowledge ) — and now, most recently, i’ve been thinking about and actively researching another spectrum, this spectrum of human experience, is that what i should call it? maybe its the spectrum of intelligence, specifically maybe artificial intelligence, right?

today i thought, ‘there’s definitely a reason why its called ‘artificial intelligence’ and not just ‘intelligence,’ right?’

this new spectrum, and it might be a little forced or fabricated at this point — forgive me, i’m still trying to figure it out — this spectrum moves from robots to puppets, or maybe even the other way ’round, not sure

it might have to do, also, with the concept of animation and emotional attachmentanthropomorphism or personification, maybe — but i think, once again, i am purposefully mixing materialism with emotional dynamics, moving from the inanimate as a puppetpuppets need a human operator to move and voice a personality / persona / character in live, real-time performance scenarios — to the animate as a robotrobots are programmed to simulate certain sequences of movement via algorithm, code, conditionals and variables, robots are pre-coded, pre-destined to do everything they do, including any simulation of emotion or surprise, any sense of real humanness — there are also more utilitarian and entertainment-based devicery such as our smartphones, tablets, laptops and numerous omnipresent, ubiquitous electronic accoutrements and extensions of our solely human capabilities, and these inventions seem to live somewhere between the world of puppets and robots, we also seem to believe these non-living things actually have human traits and feelings ( for instance, when a laptop displays a spinner icon to indicate the system is slow, its actually not working efficiently enough, not behaving or performing up to modernday speedy standards of ultra convenience, we say that the laptop is ‘thinking’ — we all, however, know this is complete and utter nonsense — the laptop is in NO WAY ‘thinking’ in any human sense of the notion of ‘thinking’its processing, and its processing slowly at that ) — and then there are people, and we also seem to live in some betweenSpace or periphery amongst these machines and toys we constantly introduce into the technohumanic post-natural ecosystem, this wonderful posthuman uncanny valley we constantly cultivate like a gardenful of overgrown wires and wireless technologies

is this really a luscious garden though, marvelously extending human capabilities around thinking, memory, calculation and analysis? or did we create something a little lower in the uncanny valley than we could have ever imagined? is there a little cave at the base of the valley, a warm, glowing chasm, perhaps? a passage that goes deeper and deeper, beyond the uncanny valley — ( deeper is a funny notion, sounding both more intellectually rich but also somehow closer to the core of the Earth itself, maybe closer still to Hell )

people are natural meaning-making machines — i believe we’re not machines at all, but we do have this natural ability to try and make sense of it all, we fill in the gaps, we humanize almost every problem we can’t seem to fathom a possible alternate explanation for — we extend our internal emotionality, through live action puppetry or through programmatic simulation of real, human character and philosophic reason — we magically ( and mutuallypossess these things of interaction we invent and use on a daily basis, and they possess us back — so what’s the real heirarchy / taxonomy / array of items to consider in this spectrum of intelligence?

January 8, 2013
by lou suSi
0 comments

from puppets to robots, revisited

time flies — our good friend and colleague Laura Bernhardt at DMI { and, yes, SIM, too } proposed an interesting analog to digital research paper in that very first year of study at Dynamic Media Institute — she called it, ‘from Puppets to Robots,’ but i don’t think she really gave herself the chance to dig in and do the research to explore this fascinating topic { Laura’s native language is German and i think she found the language component of researching in books written in English here in the states to be rather intimidating, and i don’t blame her }

interestingly enough — as inspired by the very phraseology of my first post here on the MassArt Blogs from yesterday, the phrase uncanny valley sticks in the skull a bit today — since my thesis, confounded: future fetish design performance for human advocacy, focused on humor, laughter and the area in-between, i feel there’s value in continuing my research, my thinking, my experimentation and design in this area of cyberSurrealism

in some ways my research still remains partially undone — it brings up more questions for me than answers and conclusions { which i hope is a good sign, perhaps the mark of value and timelessness in a certain kind of thesis } — a big part of my thesis involved defining and discovering my identity as an artist and designer and at times i inspired extremely helpful feedback from the audience out at our DMI Reviews — on one such occasion, a visiting faculty member followed up my presentation with an observation, a comparison really, saying that in a way i was providing an interesting commentary on our technological culture, he likened me to an Andy Rooney of new media design in a very complimentary way, although i hope i wasn’t coming off as whiny — so, if i am in some ways a design commentator, looking at and critiquing our society and the changes we encounter on an ever quickening basis due to our ‘progress,’ i don’t know, it made a lot of sense, this designation, but it also didn’t seem to fully suit me

but, seriously, folksBlack Humor leaks along with us as we go, as i ask you to look at the world as we see it today in 2013 { or fill in the year } through the critical eyes of a satirical, designer and performance artist — humor allows me to gently poke and prod the elephant on the table without then succumbing to the wrath of the beast itself and its crowded room of evangelists, fans and followers — and, let’s face it, as much as my relationship to technology as expressed through my research involves a ‘love / hate’ dynamic, its not a pure hatred, nor a pure love of the mediums in which we swim that i encourage and emote — i’m just asking for some sense of mirth in our self-reflections, in our much-needed after-analysis of the situations we’re auto-creating along the journey — and i’m also asking for some sense of realism as we inspect the vast systems we’ve created and live with on a daily basis — they’re not ‘all good’ in the hood, if you know what i mean? although the majority of people seem to almost unconditionally love their iPhones and automobiles, their laptops and office chairs

so, my latest spin — the next suit i get to try on as my persona du jour for size, at least for a little while, feels like it should be something more along the lines of:

lou suSi
your tourguide through the uncanny valley

this, to me, just makes a lot of sense at this point, right? i mean, think of those double decker bus tours of London and whatnot, and those dudes need to inform but also entertain — they point and give you a little story about this place or that person, and along the way we all seem to learn something and we realize what we might want to go back to during our visit there before we need to come home and put back on the happy mask of global neoserf capitalist consumer bliss and numbness

and so, maybe this stolen topic { thank you Laura :] }, this ‘from puppets to robots,’ seems like an interesting new spectrum to explore — taking a magnifying glass to these toy-like objects we control to play and tell stories and then examine the magic and personality we put into them via voice and dance and narration — and then looking just as closely at artificial intelligence, robotics { both sociable and not }, our devices originally made to serve us and make our quality of life soar while freeing up our valuable time for other, more leisurely pursuits — and then putting people, real genuine wetware flesh and blood, into the spectrum to see in what ways we play and serve depending on the systems, the strings, the self-invented forces we’ve constructed to make us dance, i think, yes, this is an interesting area for further research and thought and contemplation

from puppets to robots, revisited

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