Thursday, December 04, 2008

Salon Society

As is often the case with ACM events, there were a number of demos of toylike whiz bang technologies that perhaps invite too little cultural elaboration ever to be widely adopted, such as the charming but vacuous E-Tree (a computer animated virtual tree that grows in response to voice input and facial recognition cues) or a software program that simulates cooking a meal or a touch table that makes ghostly animated creatures appear if you perform the universal "let-your-fingers-do-the-walking" gesture atop its glossy surface. Of course, I always feel compelled to ask the somewhat flustered creators how one breaks the system: how to kill the tree, burn the dinner, or scare off the woodland creatures for good.

Today's Salon de ACE supposedly served as an homage to the Parisian Salon des Refus├ęs in which innovative nineteenth-century art was exhibited after it had been rejected from juried consideration, but it was hard to see the same kind of definitive aesthetic statement of protest that the earlier salon conjured up at play at the various work stations today, despite the obvious good intentions and ingenuity involved in the various projects.

Also being featured today was the work of Adrian David Cheok of the Mixed Reality Lab and his students. I've written about Cheok's work here on Virtualpolitik before in regard to some of the interesting work that he was doing about computer-mediated intergenerational and even interspecies contact in Singapore.

This afternoon I found myself watching "LOVOTICS: Adding Love to Human-Robot Relationships" by Cheok's group, which promised to unite discourses of love from philosophy, psychology, neuroscience, and biology with concepts from robotics derived from mathematics, engineering, and computer science. There were few substantive questions asked about the wisdom of this venture other than "Should? Can? How?" (The first question seemed to be disposed of without much further consideration.) To be fair to Cheok's team, the level of weirdness about human-robot affection didn't rise to the level of the SIGGRAPH uncanny valley panel, but neither did the level of reflection reach the thoughtfulness of Wendy Chun and Greg Pak's meditations about robot love. There was more computational limerance in the presentation about a Space Invaders variant called Heart Beat Invaders in "Your Beat Story: Communicative Video Game Using Heart-Beat Sensor" from Tokyo researchers Hiroko Nozawa, Takuji Narumi, Kunihiro Nishimura, and Michitaka Hirose.

There was a clearer rhetorical purpose in the presentation on BlogWall, which tranforms SMS messages into public poetry, although the end product may not be as compellingly lyrical as the compositions produced by projects such as Listening Post.

We also toured the Hiyoshi Campus of Keio University with Marc Tuters who was a researcher with the Networked Publics group and Bruno Latour's Making Things Public exhibition. Of course, I was most struck by Tuter's affection for Southern California's cell phone trees, a passion that I also share.

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