Computational Arts MFA 2016/2017 Blog

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Week 1 - Helen Pritchard 21/10/2016

During this week we introduced ourselves and discussed Lisa Nakamuras text "Indigenous Circuits" the following is my summary of a key theme from the text:

One key theme I was able to identify in the text was the capitalistic view of race/gender in the workplace and the way in which labor is viewed as a commodity or part of production in the workplace. Nakamara discusses the way in which race and gender are commodified and how this relates to the Fairchild semicondconductor plant that operated on Navajo land with a predominantly Navajo workforce. The management of Fairchild superconductor were in some ways pioneers in the area of outsourcing and moving production offshore as a way to maximise profits. The Navajo land is itself a semi-autonomous nation within the United States and thus had special tax arrangments and minimum wage regulations which was part of the reason they decided to move there. This was also then a reason for them to move away once they sourced cheaper labour in Asia and Mexico.

Race and gender were in a way commodified by the management of Fairchild Superconductor, they viewed the Navajo people as being well suited to the task of superconductor assembly due to their long tradition of weaving which used the same skills such as they used in their weaving such as the delicate assembly of the chips as well as the concentration needed to do this over long periods. They predominantly used women for this task who were traditionally the ones who would do the weaving in Navajo culture and were seen by fairchild management as having a docile demeanor which would make for a submissive and obedient workforce. Although Navajo locals were involved in different aspects of the running of the plant, the workforce was predominantly female which caused societal problems in the wider community. While Fairchild saw the transplanting of a traditional skill into something that was useful in the modern 20th-century economy as something that benefited both the Navajo and the Fairchild superconductor country it can be seen that this took the Navajo people further away from their traditional roots.

At the conclusion of the article the author sums up this idea of the commodification of labour with a quote from Baudrillard "theorists must imagine another political-economic based on more than just the human capacity to produce: they must find a realm beyond economic value.”"

Week 2 - Joel Lewis 28/10/2016

During this week we introduced ourselves and discussed themes around science and art, it seems this is the direction we are all going in. We also talked a lot about thinking about "blue sky" type projects, what we could do if we had lots of money.

An important part of this year for me will be making contacts within the science/art field to collaborate with, I want to find people/institutions that are based in England, it is important for me to be able to have some kind of physical collaboration, I don't want to do anything completely virtual over skype, email unless completely necessary. The following is a list of people I have identified within the fields of quantum/light based/unconvential computing

These are some people in my field of practice that I really like/have respect for but for each of them they are not perfect: Robert Henke
Ralf Baecker
James Turrell

See notes for week 3 entry for more info about how I am going to go about finding more contacts in my field

$1 Billion project
If I had a billion dollars I would love to make an installation that used several satellites orbiting the earth, in as low as orbit as technical possible. Each of these would have a massive green laser on them that is pointing back to earth. So as it flies over you can see beams of light from space pointng down. This kind of fulfills Regans star wars program idea lol.

Week 3 - Helen Pritchard 4/11/2016

These are places that seem to already be interested in speculative or just generally crazy ideas to do with computation:

International Center of Unconventional Computing
Oxford University Quantum Computing Departments New Frontiers Dept

Other research institutions/companies doing work with quantum computing in the UK:

Oxford University
Cambridge University Quantum Information
Cambridge University
Photon Institute (Uni Manchester)
York University QuoPal (business side of oxford univerities quantum computing work)

People who would be interesting to talk to:

Andy Adamatzky (Unconvential Computing Department)
Theresa Schubert, wrote this book which has some great bits in it: Experiencing the uncovential, I already know Theresa, have worked for her before on some of her projects
My project will be based around speculative computing, either through light based computation or by working with machine learning. Whichever path I go down I want to work with a scientist or researcher in that field and try to find some common ground on how art can help science. I had an interesting discussion with a friend last night who is doing his PHD in mixed media augmented reality, talked about how he doesn't make art anymore, his output is workshops etc. For me it is very important to make a physical installation at the end of the work but this is also something to think about.

Week 4 - Joel Lewis Find golden egg!

Identify someone in my field who is alive and contact them

I want to contact Ralf Baecker

Step 1: To do this I will first update my documentation and writings about my MA project from last year. Make the writing more succint and coherent and that it has a clear trajectory.

Step 2: Create a nice one paragraph explanation of my project and what I want to do
Step 3: Create a one paragraph explanation of why I am contacting Ralf

Week 5 - Helen Pritchard

Reading List
Alan Turing - On computable numbers (1936)

Norbert Weiner - Cybernetics: Or Control and Communication in the Animal and the Machine (1948)

Konrad Zuse - Rechnender Raum (Calculating Space) (1969) (english version)

Maturana and Varela - Autopoiesis: A theory of the living organization (1981)

Susan Stepney et al - When does a physical system compute link
Baecker and Whitlaw (Irrational Computing, proto computing) 2015

There is a lot of stuff that could go between these papers but these are the most important ones, also I can go further and further back with people like lovelace,babbage etc.

Basically you can see that I am moving through this path
- The original definition of a computer was someone who computed numbers by hand hence their own brain is a computer
- Development of software to run on mechanical machines by turing, lovelace, babbage etc
- Concept of cybernetics developed by weiner which identified a common link between the mechanistic world of machines and software and biology, psychology by establishing the idea of self regulation
- Konrad Zuse talked about the universe as a computing machine
- Maturana and Varela's concept of autopoesis illustrates the self replicating and self reproducing nature of biological sytems
- Susan Stepney and others discusses at what point a physical system computes, discusses the representation relation between physics and maths, and how this relates to computing
- Baecker and Whitlaw's article talks about using non traditional materialss and techniques based on laws of physics to do computing. Most of their work talks about doing computing on a slower timescale through different physical processes
- My own work would fit in here and maybe integrate the ideas of using quantum processes for computing. These quantum processes are a kind of fusion between physics and the brain/conciousness for example the observer effect, schrodingers cat, also the idea of deep learning, neural networks etc. Could say that we have come full circle and that our conciousness and the physical universe are linked together as one giant computational machine, although lol can maybe mellow this assertion a little

Other relevant reading: Susan Stepney is trying to quantify or classify what is computation, which is quite interesting.
Need to find a copy of this book, have to go check it out at cambridge university library, from looking at the contents section pages 120-160 look very relevant and interesting to my own work

Roger Penrose. Shadows of the Mind, this talks about consciousness and computing

Discussion of text: Human–Machine Reconfigurations: Plans and Situated Actions, 2nd Edition
An important concept discussed in chapter 13 was that of adding emotive learning and social intelligence to machines. The author identifies three elements embodiment, emotion and sociality as means to add humanenss to computers. Computers are very good at what would be called logical or reasoning based intelligence but at this stage completely lack in what we would call social or emotional intelligence. This is starting to change though, computer programs such as siri are an interface which has a primitive kind of social intelligence to it in that we interact with in a more natural way, asking it things in the way we would talk to a human. The film "her" expanded further on this with the protagonist falling in love with a siri like system that had a highly advanced social and emotional intelligence.
One thing the chapters didn't mention which I thought might be relevent is the concept of the uncanny valley. This is that the closer and more real we try to make robots or digital environments the more they create a kind of unease in us. The article mentioned the robotic project Kismet many times in the article which was an attempt to make a robot learn as a baby would. The project was highly successful and people felt an amazing connection to the robot, but the robot itself had a cartoonish look to it. Compare this with the project by Hiroshi Ishiguro in which he made a realistic robot that looked and sounded as much as it could like himself. People can also interact with it but while very technically and conceptually interesting the resulting robot he created is rather creepy to say the least.
If hiroshis robot could develop its emotional and social intelligence to a level that we see in films such as "2001" and "Her" would this bridge the gap of the uncanny valley? And then would this remove the need for the artist/programmer to create a cartoonish embodiment of a robot to make it more palatable to us humans?

People I want to reach out to
Adam Adamatzky (UWE) unconvential computing lab
Oxford University Quantum Computing Departments New Frontiers Dept

These are the two places I want to start with because the seem like possibly the most Interesting bits
Susan Stepney: With traditional computing we are trying to torture silicon (or other substrates to work in a specific way) then we are trying to have our function be broken down into boolean logic, also another difficult step, using physical systems may be a better idea. (LAST 2 MINUTES)

Week 6 - Joel Lewis

Many-body correlations Basically at the moment there is a gap between quantum physics which can explain the very small and relativity and classical physics which describe things at a larger scale. The many-body proposition is that the larger effects of physics such as the force of magnetism emerges from the quantum behaviour of particles. We cannot observe quantum behaviour such as entanglement at real world scales but many observable effects such as magnetism are caused by the overall entanglement of particles. One real example of this is that birds use the quantum entanglement of electrons in their eyes so that they can navigate over huge distances during migrations.

Week 7 - Joel Lewis

During the break I have tried contacting several people/institutions to discuss my work. I was successful in contacting two people whose work is related to mine. Vlatko Vedral from the Oxford University Quantum Lab and Susan Stepney from York University

Vlatko Vedral is a physicist at Oxford university who studies quantum physics and quantum computing and runs the new frontiers lab within Oxford University. This lab is specifically focussed on the edges of quantum physics the overlap with other fields. Vlatko has published some pop science books on quantum computing and is specifcally interested in ideas around the nature of the universe as information.

With Helens help I drafted an email to Vlatko and sent it to him on the 30th of November. He responded very quickly and is interested in a collaboration. After a week or so of email exchanges we organised for me to go to Oxford university some time in february to visit the lab. Vlatko has been away since then so I am waiting for him to return to organise the visit.

I also contacted Professor Susan Stepney a researcher from York University. Susans work is broad but the area that I am interested in is her work on Heterotic Computing which is about computing systems that use two or more computational type systems. She has written extensively about using the combination of classical computing, quantum computing and biological computing. This is a direction I think I will be going for my final project, creating a framework and think about the use of several different types of non traditional computational systems.

Susan agreed to meet me for an informal interview, I will be going to Cambridge on the 23rd of Janrauary to conduct this interview. I will be asking her questions about her work in Heterotic computational systems and discuss with her some of my ideas on the implications and future of Heterotic computing systems

Week 8 - Helen Pritchard

Response to Wendy Chuns text:
In the text the way Wendy Chun describes habit, especially her description of the way in which people learn habit from one another reminds me of a cellular automata type system. Simple interactions are propagated through the system by learned behaviours and creates a kind of autopoietic system with more complex emergent behaviours forming from these simpler interactions. She describes habit as the "productive unconcious" which when seen at a macro level shows all kinds of complex effects and interactions which arise from the new ways in which we can interact on the internet. Wendy further describes the way in which crystals have a habit that dictates their growth and formation. I see crystals as an amazingly succint representation of emergent behaviour. Crystals are formed from the phsyical laws of nature but can create beautiful and intricate structures that humans have often imbued mysticism or given special powers to. Contrary to what Wendy says later on in the text this kind of behaviour does show that Crystals and other inorganic objects do display a kind of habit. As impurities or different environmental factors are introduced such as temperature changes, pressure changes during the formation of the crystals they create their own kind of unique behaviour which then produces differing kinds of physical structures. This is analgous to people and communities which exist online. We all have the same tools and techniques available to communicate but outside influences and factors shape our own interactions, giving us our own habits.

Week 9 - Joel Lewis

Paper Model!
Although I haven't given much thought to what the final piece will look like I constructucted this paper model for Joels homework task. Basically I thought of a possible installation idea for the end of year exhibition which was to have three tables each showing crystals that have been constructed in a different way. One table contains a screen that is showing the digital generation of crystals, another showing a 3d printed crystal and a final one a tank containing a crystal that has been grown. The concept behind this is to show the algorithmic process of the way in which crystals grow and how this can exist in different forms.