Friday, January 18, 2013

A Spectacular Simulacra


From the '50s to the 70s there were a number of notable collaborations between artists, scientists, and engineers, many of them inspired by the new field of Cybernetics. They eventually foundered on the Scylla and Charybdis of ego and corporate finance. In the 1970s, independent funding dried up, commercial electronic devices undermined homebrew experimentalists, Conceptual Art -- with what I view as a mis-reading of the meaning of Shannon's Information Theory -- replaced Praxis with Platonism, and Postmodern Critical Theory swept the rest before its mighty incomprehensibility.

Instead of a new sensibility, e.g., Cybernetically based Artificial Life, what we got was MTV.

Now, well into a new millennium, we have a chance to correct this. For the most part the machines we have created are Automata rather than Autonomous beings. We need to relax our desire for control over what we create. We also need to move them out of Simulated virtual environments and Situate them in physical reality. Without the constraints of a grounding rod in the real world they drift on fumes and are unable to cross the syntactic/semantic barrier to understanding.

When machines are autonomous they may no longer be of any use to us. Their behavior and morphology may not be aesthetically interesting. They do not have to explain their motivations or behavior. They can just live their own lives.

Complexity Science, in areas such as self-organization and artificial life, provide inspiration as well as mechanism for this work. And strangely enough it may be artists who are best positioned to accomplish the project -- Where else but in the arts can a robot just relax and not have to assemble widgets or blow things up 24/7? However Art's research arms have atrophied to the point that it might be better to use a new title: Bricoleur.

(And yes, thanks to Guy Debord and Jean Baudrillard for suggesting the essay's title.)


A three part essay on this blog:

I also have a timeline of relevant events: Schip's timeline.
And my extended abstract: Ich Bin Un Bricoleur.

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