This is a conversation on the Internet of Things I recorded with my colleague Chris Moore as part of his podcasted lecture series on cyberculture. As interviews go this is quite organic, without a set script of questions and answers, hence the rambling style and side-stories. Among others, I discuss: the Amazon Echo [Alexa], enchanted objects, Mark Weiser and ubiquitous computing, smart clothes, surveillance, AI, technology-induced shifts in perception, speculative futurism, and paradigm shifts.
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:
I am participating in this year’s International Symposium on Electronic Art [ISEA] in Hong Kong in a panel with colleagues from design, creative arts and digital media – Jo Sterling, Su Ballard, and Jo Law. We are discussing the various natures and aesthetics of data as a vector of prediction and control in four different case studies. Below is the panel paper we are building from.
This is a lecture I thoroughly enjoyed preparing, and had great fun delivering to my first year digital media class of 200 students. The prezi slides are below. My intention was to provoke students into thinking in interesting and weird ways about remediation across media platforms, about object animation through digital means, and about the new aesthetics of the glitch and hyper kawaii. I ended up being more successful than I expected, in that the lecture provoked extreme reactions oscillating from strong rejection of the very premises to enthusiastic exploration of the implications and pathways opened by them. I start with a quick overview of the changing meaning of craft in a time of digital mediation, then move on to the aesthetics of remediation between analog and digital forms, and object animation and its effect on experiences of the material.
I constructed the main argument around the transition from industrial culture in which production is determined by the logic of the assembly line, to a post-industrial culture in which production is determined by the logic of mass customization. Arguably, the latter is characterized by rapid prototyping, experimentation, iterative error discovery, and modifications leading to unexpected outcomes. I illustrate this with a beautiful quote by David Pye, from his The Nature and Art of Workmanship, where he argues that while industrial manufacturing is characterized by the production of certainty, craftsmanship is always the production of risk because the quality of the result is an unknown during the process of making.
My favorite part of the lecture is where I managed to integrate into a single narrative phenomena such as glitch aesthetics and hyper kawaii, exemplified by Julie Watai and xMinks, with a cameo by Microsoft’s ill-fated Tay AI bot.
The image I used as canvas for the prezi is a remediation of the Amen Break 6-second loop into a 3-d printed sound wave, crafted by a student of mine last year.
Some time ago I was invited to give a lecture on mapping to a crowd of mostly first year digital media students working on locative media projects. Below are the prezi slides. Considering the audience, I made a light theory introduction focusing on the notions or representation and the factual, and then moved to discussing various examples of maps as interfaces to movement and agency. My talk was mostly a simplified version of my paper on mapping theory, with a focus on the dynamics of translation and transportation of immutable mobiles – a fundamental concept in actor network theory. In essence, the lecture is built around a dichotomy between two concepts of mapping: 1] mapping as a representation of a static frame of reference – an actual fact, and 2] mapping as a translation of and an interface to agency and movement – a factual act. The tension between actual facts and factual acts is a nerdy reference to Latour’s from matters of fact to matters of concern, and is intended to illustrate the affordances of digital media in opening and mapping black-boxed settings. Apparently, the lecture was a success, with the Sand Andreas Streaming Deer Cam being a crowd favorite.
This is my prezi from two back-to-back seminars I gave yesterday on the tech-enhanced learning philosophy behind the digital media and communications [DIGC] stream which I convene at UOW. The key message I tried to transmit is that you can only achieve the multiplier effect from social media if they are integrated within the subject and across the program – that is vertically and horizontally. I managed to achieve that in the DIGC stream, and we are on our way in fully achieving it in the Bachelor of Communication and Media degree. Interestingly enough, a common response to these ideas has been that – ‘you guys are very far ahead’ – which is definitely not the case. If anything we are trying to keep up with the rapid changes overtaking the education sector. I am afraid however that too many academics are firmly stuck in thinking of digital technology as a set of tools for fixing failures in assessment design and pedagogic philosophy [that is if there is any]. A typical thinking paradigm here is – students are not attending lectures, so what internet tool can I use to make them do it… I am afraid this pedagogic philosophy will be becoming more and more a luxury.
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].
This is a Prezi from a guest lecture on Disruptive Media I gave last week. The argument is organized around four concept provocations – artificial scarcity, big data, iFeudals, and hive-mind. Each provocation in turn is centered around a digital artifact, where my artifact zero is raw footage from the war in Syria, featuring a tank column dash-cam and a blurry recording from a rebel group attacking the same tank column. I then disassemble this artifact into the four conceptual threads structuring the provocations – the deluge of raw data, the absence/irrelevance of gatekeepers, the inability of content farms [legacy media] to deal with raw data, the power of the hivemind [reddit/4chan] to aggregate and process raw data. These being provocations I don’t provide any summary or an encapsulating framework; instead my coda is a quote from Gabe Newell that really resonated with me. It is from his keynote at the D.I.C.E. summit this year in which he charted a future for gaming built around open auction houses, free-to-play, and user generated content [watch it here], but it equally applies to the scenarios I describe: ‘We can’t compete with our own customers. Our customers have defeated us, not by a little, but by a lot [and that’s a good thing].’