May 212016

As I posted earlier, I am participating in a panel on data natures at the International Symposium on Electronic Art [ISEA] in Hong Kong. My paper is titled Object Hierophanies and the Mode of Anticipation, and discusses the transition of bid data-driven IoT objects such as the Amazon Echo to a mode of operation where they appear as a hierophany – after Mircea Eliade – of a higher modality of being, and render the loci in which they exist into a mode of anticipation.

I start with a brief section on the logistics of the IoT, focusing on the fact that it involves physical objects monitoring their immediate environments through a variety of sensors, transmitting the acquired data to remote networks, and initiating actions based on embedded algorithms and feedback loops. The context data produced in the process is by definition transmitted to and indexed in a remote database, from the perspective of which the contextual data is the object.

The Amazon Echo continuously listens to all sounds in its surroundings, and reacts to the wake word Alexa. It interacts with its interlocutors through a female sounding interface called the Alexa Voice Service [AVS], which Amazon made available to third-party hardware makers. What is more, the core algorithms of AVS, known as the Alexa Skills Kit [ASK] are opened to developers too, making it easy for anyone to teach Alexa a new ‘skill’. The key dynamic in my talk is the fact that human and non-human agencies, translated by the Amazon Echo as data, are transported to the transcendental realm of the Amazon Web Services [AWS] where it is modulated, stored for future reference, and returned as an answering Echo. In effect, the nature of an IoT enabled object appears as the receptacle of an exterior force that differentiates it from its milieu and gives it meaning and value in unpredictable ways.

Objects such as the Echo acquire their value, and in so doing become real for their interlocutors, only insofar as they participate in one way or another in remote data realities transcending the locale of the object. Insofar as the data gleaned by such devices has predictive potential when viewed in aggregate, the enactment of this potential in a local setting is always already a singular act of manifestation of a transcendental data nature with an overriding level of agency.

In his work on non-modern notions of sacred space philosopher of religion Mircea Eliade conceptualized this act of manifestation of another modality of being into a local setting as a hierophany. Hierophanies are not continuous, but wholly singular acts of presence by a different modality. By manifesting that modality, which Eliade termed as the sacred, an object becomes the receptacle for a transcendental presence, yet simultaneously continues to remain inextricably entangled in its surrounding milieu. I argue that there is a strange similarity between non-modern imaginaries of hierophany as a gateway to the sacred, and IoT enabled objects transducing loci into liminal and opaque data taxonomies looping back as a black-boxed echo. The Echo, through the voice of Alexa, is in effect the hierophanic articulator of a wholly non-human modality of being.

Recently, Sally Applin and Michael Fischer have argued that when aggregated within a particular material setting sociable objects form what is in effect an anticipatory materiality acting as a host to human interlocutors. The material setting becomes anticipatory because of the implied sociability of its component objects, allowing them to not only exchange data about their human interlocutor, but also draw on remote data resources, and then actuate based on the parameters of that aggregate social memory.

In effect, humans and non-humans alike are rendered within a flat ontology of anticipation, waiting for the Echo.

Here is the video of my presentation:

And here are the prezi slides:

May 072013

I mentioned Gabe Newell’s keynote in an earlier post today but now think it deserves a full post of its own. If you have any interest in the future trajectory of digital media in general, and gaming in particular, this keynote is simply required viewing. It’s full of fascinating off-the-cuff insights about where content platforms are heading that you should just watch it in its entirety. Here’s a few paraphrased choice bits:

The PC ecosystem is expanding and will continue to do so – because it’s open. Open hardware + open software development beats everything else, and particularly the console model.

Linux is a get out of jail free card for the industry [he talks about the gaming industry but I think it equally applies to everyone with a finger in digital media content distribution]. Why? Because it ensures content platform independence.

With virtual goods you have to think what scarcity actually means, and in the process re-imagine what is a game, and what is digital service.

Free to play should be, and will be, the standard for digital content [at least it seams Valve is betting on that big time]. The idea is that users enter the world on their own terms and the developer leverages in-world interactions.

Cloud games are a losing proposition because functionality is centered rather than distributed. How do you distribute functionality around a network? You want to push intelligence towards the ends of the network, not in the middle. Putting functionality in the center of the network is latency inefficient. [This is fascinating and seems to go directly against the trajectory of app stores and the like]

The big value is in open auction houses, free to play worlds, and user generated content.  Why? Because ‘customers will always defeat us at generating cool content’.

The future Valve is betting on is one where user generated content means customer-made and operated stores, auction houses, mods, games, quests.  [In Valve’s future you should be able to generate your own unique quests and sell them to other players, create your own currency, manage your own auction houses and run your own stores – all in the world]

The goal is to avoid curation and focus instead on aggregation. ‘Curation is pre-internet’.

Finally, Valve is working on prediction markets – they call them information discovery mechanisms, and apparently this is where Gabe Newell is personally involved. [This is such a cool implementation of the price discovery concept from Austrian economics].

Apr 082011

I recently discovered this white paper by Tim O’Reilly and John Battelle – two of the major gurus of web 2.0 and search respectively. Plenty of interesting information and ideas to chew on, but what really caught my attention is their discussion of the notions of information shadows and deep context learning by database algorithms. It is fairly banal to observe that each of us consists of multiple identity-layers, but how do you teach a database to make the meta-connections between these disparate pieces of data? And what happens when you teach it that? I need to think more about this but it seems an argument could be made that at a certain meta-level the subject-object divide becomes inconsequential; in other words, the difference between a human and an object is a function of their ‘entanglement networks’.

O’Reilly & Batelle – Web 2.0 Five Years on [White Paper]

Mar 102011

This awesome infographic (courtesy of Mahendra Palsule from Techmeme and Skeptic Geek) – illustrates perfectly how a business based on exploiting the long tail in its field will always beat older (and more established) business practices.  A mere 11 years ago Blockbuster had the chance to buy Netflix for peanuts, but instead it completely ignored what Netflix and its ilk portend, probably believing (commonsense) that a brand name and a global distribution chain are an unassailable bastion. A defining mistake. What Netflix did to Blockbuster, Amazon did to Borders and a myriad of smaller booksellers.  The cloud is winning.

Feb 232011

I just discovered Jolicloud – an open source, Ubuntu Linux based operating system made for the cloud. Apparently the original version – 1.0 – was made entirely with netbooks in mind, though the latest version I am downloading now – 1.1 – is hardware neutral and should run on anything. I am planning to run it in dualboot with Windows on my Hp Mini as a start and see how it goes from there. The access screen looks beautiful, with intuitive functionality and zero hints of the Linux beast under the hood running the OS. Start screen>

Update: I am writing this through Jolicloud on my netbook – the install is fast, smooth, and probably as painless as it can get. First screen asks to connect online, which is what one should expect from a cloud OS. The layout feels a bit like a cross between Ubuntu and Android, which makes sense to me. With cloud connectivity it should all be about speed and smooth experience, so I decided to test that by streaming music and doing a couple of other things simultaneously. So, while I am typing this I am listening to Henry Saiz streaming through the SoundCloud player app, while also running Prezi in another window for good measure, and the overall speed and experience make me a believer. I haven’t tested things like connecting to projectors or corporate wifi, but from what I see so far Jolicloud is a win.

Feb 232011

This little graph from IHS Reseach has been making a lot of noise around the interwebs in the last three days. The message is that app store revenue is growing all over the board, in some cases quite dramatically, which is ultimately just another proof that the trend away from the desktop and towards the cloud is real and getting stronger. Android Market revenue grew 861.5% year-over-year – read that figure again. Of course the Android revenue is still puny compared to what Apple is making on its apps, but the other important figure is that the Apple App Store lost 10% of market share over the same period. With the three-way competition between Samsung, HTC and Motorolla for control over the Android hardware market only heating up, these figures can go only one way for Apple.

To make things even gloomier for Apple, Eric Schmidt just announced at MWC2011 that Android has 300 000 activations per day and rising, that YouTube apparently gets 160 million mobile views per year, and that ChromeOS is definitely coming this year.  I will probably have another post with more on that speech.

Feb 212011

The Internet of Things is slowly but surely becoming an unevenly distributed reality. Early precursors – a number of sites dedicated to creating accessible crowdsourced data-clouds for everyday objects. After being created, each data-cloud is accessible through scanning a printable tag which can be downloaded from the site. The information I upload into the cloud together with the image/video can be as trivial as ‘this is my writing desk’, or as arcane as the travails of family heirloom. It doesn’t matter – most of the data will be useless, but the potential of object socialization is immense because of a/ the ability to create semantic depth where until now there was none, b/enfolding the rich dynamics of space and time in objects, c/ merging physical reality with the net.

Object stories: Tales of Things, Itizen, StickyBits

Architecture intermediaries: Pachube, Mbed

While object stories are the easiest path of entry and therefore probably where the majority of participation will occur for now, a project like Mbed has massive potential as it ultimately may do the for the internet of things what blogspot and the likes did for self-expression.