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Damien Hirst

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Hey guys, I am blogging in response to our talk in a previous class on museums and art galleries and the items within them being performing objects. I think this is an accurate term for said objects. They may have been designed/created originally for a non-performance purpose: old weaponry, tools or transport devices. Their purpose is to be looked at, studied or to capture a spectator’s imagination. This is also in response to what qualifies as Art.

It is very interesting to see how or why these objects are presented, perhaps in a glass case or in a specific shape for aesthetic purposes, it then, in essence, ‘performs’ whenever they are being looked at.

I recently visited Damien Hirst’s (a modern artist) exhibition in the Tate Modern. There were many thought provoking pieces within the gallery and since the topic of conversation came up in class, what is/isn’t a performing object, I have had further thought and questions with Damien Hirst’s work in mind. One of my favourite pieces in the gallery was a dead shark that had been pickled and preserved in a glass tank for spectators to see. The tank was filled with a liquid, in order to preserve the shark but it created the illusion the shark was swimming, whereas in fact it was suspended in place and put in a very menacing position with its mouth and teeth exposed. What this piece was for me, personally, was an artist’s bid to help this majestic creature gain immortality, which draws on the aims of the early makers of automata; creating a form of immortality by creating the illusion of life which would outlive the makers themselves.

The title of this piece of work is “The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living” I feel this sums up this piece of work perfectly, and is hammered home by the fact it is an animal many of us would associate with power and malice.

 

I understand why many of you guys would disagree; the shark is not a performing object. I feel however the simple fact is that placing the shark thus has sparked the imagination of many viewers and created the vision of a living shark. Therefore the shark has been given an infinite life (even though it is clear to the observer that the shark is dead- its stillness is ‘uncanny’) and has been put in a performance environment. It also will evoke many different reactions from people as a piece of art because naturally, people have preconceptions of this particular animal. The liquid and the glass tank in which the shark is preserved also creates an optical illusion because it plays with your distance perception – think of a straw in a glass of water – which creates some form of interaction as you could see people putting their face up to the glass to get the best look of this beast and other people happy to view it at arms distance due to its amazing presence. In the leaflet we were given it also directed people to move their heads back and forth in front of the glass to give the illusion of movement; suggesting the shark is swimming. This particular shark also has several markings and scars on its body which makes a spectator wonder about how this animal adopted these ailments; as any good piece of art does it provoked the spectators thoughts further than the piece itself. I wondered if the artist caught the shark or whether he found it dead or if there was a story of its discovery. I remember others questioning the ethics behind the piece, hoping the shark hadn’t been hunted down and killed simply for artistic purposes.

I feel this shark has many performative qualities, but it was interesting to see some people walk past with a clear attitude that it wasn’t creative enough to qualify as a piece of art. I really liked this piece and I do love wildlife anyway, and I believe some of the most beautiful spectacles are natural or biological. Check out his website and images of the shark:

 

http://www.damienhirst.com/the-physical-impossibility-of

I still don’t know what a cyborg is…

During the lecture on Friday, I know we talked extensively about what should and what shouldn’t be classified as a cyborg. But to be honest, I wasn’t really that sure by the end so I wanted to look at it a bit more extensively.

There are multiple definitions for what a cyborg is:

‘[it]is a cybernetic organism, a hybrid of machine and organism, a creature of social reality as well as one of fiction’ (Donna Haraway 1991:149)

‘the melding of the organic and the machinic , or the engineering of a union between separate organic systems’ (Gray, Mentor and Figuero-Sarriera in Gray 1995: 2)

‘a self-regulating human-machine system’ (Featherstone and Burrows 1995:2).

As well as Gabriella Giannachi’s theory that “any of us who have an artificial organ, have artificial limbs or pacemakers, have been programmed to resist disease through immunisation, or even wear glasses or hearing aids” are cyborgs. A definition which caused a lot of discussion, and I agreed with the opinion of many in the class, that if even the most simple of aids, such a glasses, then surely what is the point of the term cyborg because every human becomes cyborg and the two terms become synonymous, and essentially one becomes useless.

Another definition I found came from my google chrome add-on dictionary: ‘A fictional or hypothetical person whose physical abilities are extended beyond normal human limitations by mechanical elements built into the body’

All of the definitions above are similar but have subtle differences , so it’s clear that there are some subtleties between peoples definitions. I was curious as to how far these subtleties go and so did the thing we all do and googled “cyborgs” (creative solution, I know).

Once you get past the wikipedia answer, and the star wars pages, there are so many news articles and science-y people talking about cyborgs around today and it helps to begin to shed some light on what the general opinion of a cyborg is.

One of the first articles I found was from wired.co.uk called “Practical Transhumanism: five living cyborgs”, (http://www.wired.co.uk/news/archive/2012-09/04/cyborgs) and it looks at people who live today as what the author would define as a cyborg. All the people in the article are people who have had a piece of robotics attached to their body as a replacement aid to something they have lost. Another thing that all these replacement aids have in common is that they are all working, and useful. For example he talks of Jesse Sullivan who has had a robotic arm built in to his shoulder that works through a connection to his nervous system which allows him to use this arm purely by thinking about doing so. Another example he uses is Kevin Warwick, a leading cybernetics professor who inserted a chip into his arm which allowed him to control electrical items in his surrounding area, such as turning lights on and off and open doors without touching them.

This article particularly interested me, because all of the machine components that are combined with human are robotic or electronic, which sort of goes against the idea that even wearing glasses makes you a cyborg. What’s more, all of the examples he uses have a use; helping people to move normally, and continue with every day things, except for Kevin Warwick’s chip, which is just something cool he’s added on to himself, but does still have uses.

Another site I looked at was from TED.com, a website which posts videos about new and exciting ideas in science and how science works and develops. This particular video caught my attention in particular because of something I mentioned in the lecture. I asked what the presentation group thought about the idea that we could all be cyborgs because of our dependence on the internet and sites like facebook. It was quite clear that by adding a piece of machinery onto a human made a cyborg, but what about adding human onto machinery (in this case the internet)? Does cyborg-creation work both ways? Amber Case seems to think so in this video: http://www.ted.com/talks/amber_case_we_are_all_cyborgs_now.html

She says that previously, humans have used tools as an extension of the physical self, initially with things like hammers, but nowadays with things like robotic arms etc, but now we use tools as an extension of our mental self, through the use of mobile phones and the internet. She raises an interesting point that if we were to lose all of these extensions of ourself, for example, all the masses of information we store on the internet and on our phones, then we would feel like we were missing a part of ourselves… like we were missing a limb… do you see where I’m going with this? She touches on so many points that all point back to the idea that we put so much of ourselves on the internet and we get so obsessed with what is on the internet, that it can create a “second-self”, a version of ourselves, on the internet, a version, that is essentially part human part robot.

I class when I raised this point the main response that I got was that because it wasn’t a physical being, it doesn’t count as a cyborg. I disagree, none of the definitions I found imply that there has to be a physical being for there to be a cyborg. Giannachi also makes a point in her book that would support this idea: “One cyborg does not necessarily correspond to either one body or one agency. Moreover, cyborgs are flexible, incomplete and fragmentary creatures”

However, one point of definition for a cyborg that could argue against what I’ve said, is that for this combination of human and machine has to be somewhat permanent; Orlan’s implants and surgery are permanent, never fully reversible; Jesse Sullivan’s arm is permanent in terms of the fact that if he wants to use his arm, he has to have this robotic attachment.

This suggests that by “riding a bike” or “wearing a bluetooth headset” we’re not becoming cyborgs, we’re just making life easier for a short amount of time with a temporary machine aid.

But even given this argument, I think it could be quite easily counter-argued that a huge proportion of our society are attached permanently to phones and the internet. So many people in 1st world societies depend utterly upon the use of virtual technology (emails, texts, skype) in order to continue with the life we have become accustomed to.

So after all that? What do I define as a cyborg? Well I think the definitions I’ve given, are comprehensive. However, I would add the idea that a cyborg does not have to be a physical entity but that there does need to be some sort of permanent attachment between human and machine.

Should we ban killer robots?

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http://www.hrw.org/node/111291/section/2   : Report from the Human rights watch.

I have been researching a little into the topic of banning killer Robots. Recently a hot topic of conversation has been the report from Human Rights Watch suggesting that we should stop while we are ahead. They believe that if we get carried away with the fantasy surrounding robots and automata we could create war fighting drones who will gain intelligence to become fully autonomous killer robots. So we should therefore stop creating them.

In terms of humanity it has done it’s fair share of killing, but the concern is that robots are already so developed and better than us humans are. According to the Human Rights Watch, a machine could independently choose targets, and with that kind of power it would be a horror to humanity, even more so if it does not behave in the way it’s programmers intended.

As discussed in lectures living soldiers can be directed to do terrible things, but the difference between them and robots is that they have consciences.  You could go as far to say that civilian lives might be lost in greater numbers to machines that feel no remorse or compassion.  A machine that can decide when to shoot of course creates fear to the human race, if a human pulls the trigger there are serious consequences. In fact a person who identifies and empathizes with another human being would be more reluctant to harm an individual something which a robot cannot do. A robot however cannot be held truly accountable for committing such a crime. Trying to hold the programmer of commander responsible for the actions of a robot presents us with both ethical and legal problems

But we do need to remember as the report discusses is that these fully autonomous weapons do not yet exist. But on the other hand technology is heading that way, developing fast and some small elements are already in use.  Today’s robotic weapons are still controlled by human beings, requiring some form of human intervention before the weapons take any potentially fatal action. The Human Rights Watch suggests that if this trend continues to develop humans could start to fade out of the decision therefore limiting the amount of control that we have. However we could think from the Military’s perspective the more autonomous weapons we use the less harm done to their soldiers.  

Mass effect and the fear of machines

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All the talk of cyborgs, the post-human and the fear of machines got me thinking about a video game called mass effect. In this game the main antagonists are a race of ancinet sentient machines known as the reapers who are coming to destroy all space fairing life in the galaxy in order for a new cycle to begin. these machines are so powerful that they use a power called indoctrination where they can take over the mind of organcis beings and slowly convert them to synthetic life. This is seen in the main antagonist in the first game Saren who becomes more and more synthetic and uncanny as the story progresses see the picture below. this main story was perhaps influeced by Rossums Universal Robots as it seems to follow a similar plotline.

Alongside this main plotline one of the subplots deals with a war between a robot race known as the geth and thier creators the Quarians. In this sub-story the Quarians created the geth to be superior to themselves, something inventors in real life seem to be striving towards, however in the game game world the Quarians accidentaly give the geth sapience and they become artificialy inteligent upon realising this the Quarians demand for all geth to be terminated, the geth now aware of themselves as individuals fight back and a war ensues. This is a perfect example of creation turning on creator as feared by people in the world of robotics.

another Mass effect example of robots is in the character E.D.I. E.D.I. begins the game a the virtual intelligence of the ship but eventually develops into an artificial intelligence and eventully a living robot companion she even begins a relationship with the pilot of the ship and asks a number of questions about love as she cannot compute the irrationality of it but eventually she does somehow fall in love with him. this is very rarely seen in science fiction stories of a robot falling in love so i found it a particularly interesting case.

The last point in mass effect which i found particularly related well to our course was the ending (spoiler alert if you havnt played the games and or are going to) and the end of the story you discover there are only 3 ways to stop the Reapers, 1. you can destroy all synthetic life in the galaxy destroying the reapers but also destroying the geth who are now your allies and E.D.I. who is part of your crew. 2. you can enslave the reapers but in the process you must die and become part of a computer programme. Or 3. and the one I found most interesting synthesis you can convert the entire galaxy into part organic and part synthetic in essence turning everybody into cyborgs. This is described  as the perfect resolution and the final stage of evolution. I found this particularly interesting as it is the first time i have heard of the post human as the next and final stage of evolution. The question of ethics in converting everybody to a cyborg is not brought up which I find particularly strange this choice also turns all robots into part organic making them alive and aware. I find this plot twist fascinating and the idea of synthesis as the next stage of evolution an extremely strange, quite possibly true and definitely terrifying idea. Here’s the video below for better understanding go from about 6.30 in for more of an explanation also check out the robotic green eyes, uncanny!

But yeah i thought this was an interested and very geeky example of the idea of the possible future of robots and possible future of humanity.

Fry2D2

Stephen Fry is a gadget man, and his new series of documentaries on channel 4 sets out to explore the ever expanding world of technology. The most recent episode in the series sees Fry’s gadget team build a robot which represents his physical being. Through mimesis, the robot is constructed to look extremely similar to Stephen Fry – moulding the robots mask to make sure its contortions are the same as the actual model, even going so far as to use human hair for its wig. 

Fry’s intentions for this robot is to get it as human-like and as representative of himself as possible; his ultimate goal is to create a doppelganger (an aid to help him skive work). The team succeeds in creating a humanoid robot, however, it’s movements  reactions and overall appearance is still distinctly robotic and an obvious aesthetic difference between the human and the creation can be noticed. 

A final thought though is that the robot is fitted with a microphone and camera with wifi installed so that whilst Fry is elsewhere he can see through the robot and talk live through it to others. Whilst the physical being is robotic and not that of human, the robot still seemingly possesses Stephen’s soul as it is interacting with others, talking and projecting Fry’s personality. With this addition, the humanoid robot has indirectly become very advanced – merging the soul and robot into one. Whilst Fry is still controlling the robot and the object does is not completely autonomous, Fry’s direct transfer of agency allows his personality to live through the robot, eliminating the need for his physical body.

Uncanny eh? Give it a watch

http://www.channel4.com/programmes/stephen-fry-gadget-man/4od

MIND OVER MATTER

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(so, i tried to post this in week 3 when we were talking descartes and his views of the soul…instead i managed to post it to my blog instead (i also discovered i have a blog?) so i shall post it again now on here, but i apologise as it now seems substantially less relevant):

Personally I find this idea of division within ourselves interesting. For me we are simply entire beings. We are made of composite organs, bones, blood etc but this is all contributing to a whole. The mind body divide suggests the notion of duality. Two selves occupying one body.

I find it interesting the way in which these notions differ. Descartes suggested that the mind could exist without the body if God willed it. For him the mind here seems intrinsically linked to the idea of a soul. It divides the body (which is mortal, prone to disease, injury and death) from the soul (which is eternal, will transcend death). 

This idea I feel stems for a  basic fear of death. That something must transcend death. The death of the body cannot be an absolute death, something must live on. 

But this thinking existed prior to Descartes. In the Republic, Plato puts across his idea for the human composition as follows…

We have a chariot representing the human body. we have a charioteer representing intellectual reason that is trying to guide the way to “truth”. And this chariot is being pulled by two winged horses. Horse 1) represents rational and moral impulses. Horse 2) represents the souls irrationals passions.

Which is all well and good plato but you stole this idea in turn from the hindu’s who hardly care for bodily existence at all. Hindu’s are trapped within a cycle called the Samsara. They believe that we all have an Atman (soul) which exists within us. And as we go through life our actions collect us either good or bad Karma. When we die reincarnate in another body with the same Atman and our fortune in this life is determined by the Karma we have accumulated. Only by living enough pure lives will the Atman be refined enough to reach Moksha (the end of the cycle) and return to Brahman. 

Enough looking back. what does this mean for robots? i don’t know. Its interesting that in all these other lines of thought they take account for the fact that the body is limited and will die. Where as robots do not strictly speaking ever face death. Further more what is a mind that has been programmed to think. Certainly we would never assume a robots mind and body to be separately wired.  And then idea of the soul becomes slightly frayed. Can a robot have a soul? Probably not unless you count a memory stick…

I guess I’m mostly thinking of how religion would deal with robots if they became advanced enough to freely function. Or even how robots would deal with religion.

Or maybe I’m thinking too much and these problems will never leave the realm of science fiction. 

So there you go. The soul body divide through the ages.

Xxx

Teddies

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In lectures, we quite often seem to circle around to the topic of childhood and how children project emotions or personalities onto their cuddly toys. Bruce Hood, of the University of Bristol, said “We anthropomorphise objects, look at them almost as if they have feelings. The children know these objects are not alive but they believe in them as if they are.” and Elena O Smirnova, In her article ‘Character Toys As Psychological Tools’ states: “Children need character toys – toys that play the role of companion or partner – in the early stages of development of play. Young children (under seven years) are not yet able to establish distance from their playthings and hence identify with dolls and absorb their characteristics. For young children, dolls and soft toys become an `alternative self’, and in order to be a `good’ psychological tool, they should be open to a child’s inner world. `Interactive’ toys are quite different from this in that they have an independent life of their own. An observational study of 50 children aged 5 to 5½ showed that although they were intensely interested in an interactive toy, their play was at the level of simple functional play, and that the toy evoked no imaginary involvement and no play storylines, even though the children were clearly capable of these higher levels of play.”

Watching ‘Family Guy’, and the relationship between Stewie and his teddy bear, Rupert, shows an (albeit fictional) extreme case of this. Rupert is inanimate, but he becomes almost another character in the TV show, used as a device to allow Stewie to explain plots and emotions, but the bear is shown as Stewie’s confidante and best friend, also doubling up as a gun.

In Stewie’s sexual fantasies, Rupert has a human body (but still a bear’s head) – fetishizing the bear, something not normally thought about when considering children and their relationships with toys. In another episode, where Rupert is humped by Brian, the family’s dog, for several hours, Stewie is shown cradling the bear in the shower, washing him and “We can talk about it when you want to talk about it.. I don’t blame you” as though he had been raped.

We also talked about how our toys have an invulnerable quality to them, shown in this by the repeated repair of Rupert by Lois, when he loses limbs and Stewie comes to her for help. If our toys are ‘invincible’, through their ease of repair, is this what makes us so attached to them: that they cannot ‘die’?

In this scene, Stewie shoots Rupert (before planning to also shoot himself) in order to spare them a gruesome death.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o4_-aqICVYY