“Recombinant food”

Reading REAMDE by Neal Stephenson, I ran across this notion of “recombinant food” (pp. 219-220):

Having now lived for a few decades in parts of the United States and Canada where cooking was treated quite seriously, and having actually employed professional chefs, he was fascinated by the midwestern/middle American phenomenon of recombinant cuisine. Rice Krispie Treats being a prototypical example in that they were made by repurposing other foods that had already been prepared (to wit, breakfast cereal and marshmallows). And of course any recipe that called for a can of cream of mushroom soup fell into the same category. The unifying principle behind all recombinant cuisine seemed to be indifference, if not outright hostility, to the use of anything that a coastal foodie would define as an ingredient.
The recombinant food thing was a declaration of mental bankruptcy in the complexity of modern material culture.

Why do I blog this? Food made with already processed elements is something I already noticed recently, not just in the US but also in Europe. Last examples that come to mind have been encountered in France: tiramisu or speculoos ice-cream, desserts made of and banana mixed together, snickers-based recipes.

(Picture by the divine dish)

Even though I’m not much of a food expert, I find this intriguing as a way to show how material culture (yes I include food as part of material culture) is in a constant process of hybridization and recombination. It’s particularly interesting that Stephenson use this term coming from chemistry and genetics as it reveals the underlying principles: some basic components (units in Ian Bogost’s perspective on #ooo or “cultural waves” in Basile Zimmermann’s parlance) can be combined… to create something potentially new and original. Which is of course tight to the notion of creolization I already mentioned here.

This kind of phenomenon is spot on what I’m interested in lately as the process that led to this sort of type of food is the key to understand potential futures. I’m currently working on this for an upcoming talk at the Hirshhorn Museum in June.

“you’ll buy software that makes original pieces of “their” works”

Read in Wired 3.05, May 1995 (via):

Kevin Kelly: If I could give you a black box that could do anything, what would you have it do?

Brian Eno: I would love to have a box onto which I could offload choice making. A thing that makes choices about its outputs, and says to itself, This is a good output, reinforce that, or replay it, or feed it back in. I would love to have this machine stand for me. I could program this box to be my particular taste and interest in things.

Kevin Kelly:Why do you want to do that? You have you.
Brian Eno: Yes, I have me. But I want to be able to sell systems for making my music as well as selling pieces of music. In the future, you won’t buy artists’ works; you’ll buy software that makes original pieces of “their” works, or that recreates their way of looking at things. You could buy a Shostakovich box, or you could buy a Brahms box. You might want some Shostakovich slow-movement-like music to be generated. So then you use that box. Or you could buy a Brian Eno box. So then I would need to put in this box a device that represents my taste for choosing pieces.

Why do I blog this? Well, simply because that’s good quote that partly reflects the discussions about New Aesthetics (and the audio side of it as I mentioned the other day, but I guess it’s applicable to other creative fields… think about architecture and Frank Gehry’s work for instance).

Weekending 03222012

Nicolas: the week was packed with different meetings and discussions about a trip this summer to Los Angeles… two months to be spent on a *secret for now* laboratory project in a design school in the area. I also made a quick hop to Lyon in France for the WWW 2012 conference where I gave a speech about how the web is turned into a generative material for designers and artists… which led me to discuss bot poetry, blogjects and New Aesthetic. I also finished the final touch to the first chapter of the game controller book and received some good feedback from the editor. On a more academic side, I set up a tumblr for a 3-days sy Continue reading Weekending 03222012

Robot-produced languages as part of #newaesthetic?

As a follow up to my blogpost the other day about New Aesthetic as not-only-visual-but-also-something-else, I kept wondering about other possibilities. Overall, what I find interesting in NA is that algorithms produce new cultural forms… and that it’s not just about visual representations.

One of the cultural form that can produced by robots/algorithms for that matter is certainly language and communication. Researchers in Artificial Intelligence indeed work on that avenue for quite some time and it would be relevant to consider the “language” produced in this context by (ro)bots… and see whether it fits with the New Aesthetic meme.

A good starting point for this is Language Games for Autonomous Robots by Luc Steels:

s. A language game is a sequence of verbal interactions between two agents situated in a specific environment. Language games both integrate the various activities required for dialogue and ground unknown words or phrases in a specific context, which helps constrain possible meanings. Over the past five years, I have been working with a team to develop and test language games on progressively more sophisticated systems, from relatively simple camera-based systems to humanoid robots. The results of our work show that language games are a useful way to both understand and design human–robot interaction.

This is done through various experiments such as the “Talking Heads experiment” shown on the following picture. It’s hard to find a video of such work but this one might help to get a sense of what’s happening (it’s a guessing game though).

As shown by Steels in this paper:

During a three-month period, the agents played close to half a million language games and created a stable core vocabulary of 300 words (they generated thousands of words overall). Our experiment showed not only that the language game approach is useful for implementing grounded dialogues between one human and a robot, but also that the game might be useful as an explanatory model for how language originates

And this is exactly where you can find what can be part of New Aesthetic: the “language” that emerged from these robot interactions. One of my project as a graduate students in Cognitive Sciences was about that and I remember being fascinated by the work of researchers such as Frederic Kaplan or Bart de Boer. More specifically, the latter investigated emergent phonology, i.e. how iterations of imitation games in a population of agents can led to the emergence of sound systems emerge that look remarkably like human vowel systems. It’s not necessarily the fact that is used to model language evolution that interest me here. Instead, what is strikingly stunning is to see the results of such emergence and what it can produce.

Here’s the process:

The agents that are used in the computer simulation use vowels to “communicate” with each other. For this purpose, each agent has its own list of vowels. The lists of vowels for each agent are initially empty, and will be filled as the agents engages in interactions with other agents.
The experiments presented in this work are concerned with the emergence of a coherent and useful phonology in a population of initially empty agents. In order to investigate how this can happen, the agents engage in exchanges of sounds, so-called imitation games, the goal of which is to learn each other’s speech sounds. If necessary, speech sounds are invented, in order to get the communication started, and also in order to introduce more possible sounds in the population.

The result part of the paper is quite dense and describes the phonemes and vowels produced by the robots.

Why do I blog this? Of course, in this case, the goal is to model natural languages but it would be curious to play with the constraints to see how various sorts of language systems can emerge depending on the model parameters. And this is exactly where the result can be part of a cultural form that can belong to New Aesthetic.

On a different note, the problem, from the collection angle (that is quite important in the NA theme), is that it’s hard to find audio or video pieces that can help us to listen to these languages games. I’ll try to dig into that.

Representing the city as it’s lived: livelihoods

It’s been few days that I’m following the the livehoods.org/ and it’s quite interesting.

The project is defined as follows:

Livehoods offer a new way to conceptualize the dynamics, structure, and character of a city by analyzing the social media its residents generate. By looking at people’s checkin patterns at places across the city, we create a mapping of the different dynamic areas that comprise it. Each Livehood tells a different story of the people and places that shape it.
The hypothesis underlying our work is that the character of an urban area is defined not just by the the types of places found there, but also by the people who make the area part of their daily routine. To explore this hypothesis, given data from over 18 million foursquarecheck-ins, we introduce a model that groups nearby venues into areas based on patterns in the set of people who check-in to them. By examining patterns in these check-ins, we can learn about the different areas that comprise the city, allowing us to study the social dynamics, structure, and character of cities on a large scale.

Why do I blog this? Working on a similar topic, I quite enjoy this kind of research work. The idea that social media data can be employed to understand areas as lived by people is fascinating and highly intriguing to test. It’s somehow what one can call a “social map” and we now have more and more data to see how it would look like.

“The Unknown Glitch”

Read in SPACEWAR: Fanatic Life and Symbolic Death Among the Computer Bums by Steward brand (1972):

Alan Kay: “They had a thing on the PDP-l called ‘The Unknown Glitch’ ["Glitch" - a kink, a less-than-fatal but irritating fuck-up]. They used to program the thing either in direct machine code, direct octal, or in DDT, In the early days it was a paper-tape machine. It was painful to assemble stuff, so they never listed out the programs. The programs and stuff just lived in there, just raw seething octal code. And one of the guys wrote a program called ‘The Unknown Glitch,’ which at random intervals would wake up, print out I AM THE UNKNOWN GLITCH. CATCH ME IF YOU CAN, and then it would relocate itself somewhere else in core memory, set a clock interrupt, and go back to sleep. There was no way to find it.

Why do I blog this? Working on the chapter of a book about game controllers, I am collecting material about Spacewar! and it’s interesting to see how this work parallels other current interests (such as New Aesthetics). I wish I could have seen this sort of glitch.

Moon Graffiti

Of course, because we’re doing audio design and audio projects around here, I’m excited about most any audio thing that’s a new thing. I mean..I bought a whole iPod Shuffle just so I could try out (and try to make) Music for Shuffle sorts of things. That seems to be a wonderful design brief. (I’m not at all sure what “music for shuffle” means, but that’s the fun bits..to figure that out.)

Anyway — I just found out this wonderful new contemporary radio drama that is just way more thoughtful and way better than fucking stoopid Prairie Home Companion. GOD i hate that radio show. I can’t turn the radio off quickly enough when that stoopid theme song starts playing.

The new *good thing? It’s called “The Truth”, and it’s not — it’s fiction. Slightly swerved, curved moments. Their lovely tagline is “Movies for your Ear” which is brilliant. Cause it’s theatrical, brief little moments. Very contemporary moments. I just listened to my first bit of Design Fiction Radio Drama in that sense. It’s called “Moon Graffiti” and it’s the other lunar landing story — the one where the astronauts — Buzz and Neil — are stranded. And that generally known William Safire letter In Event of Moon Disaster has to be read by President Nixon.

It’s a project by Jonathan Mitchell and his posse of actors, producers, engineers, etc.

I want to be a part of it. I want to help produce these things and make them and craft them and work on them. Can anyone help me do that?

In this sense it falls in line with my other, other favorite bit of Apollo Era Design Fiction, Tom Sachs’ “Space Program”.

It’s Design Fiction..and it’s radio drama. Brilliant.

Weekending 15042012

For me in Los Angeles, I spent the week debugging the Ear Freshener project and designing a new circuit board. More about that in a subsequent post. There was general following-alongs on the #NewAesthetic developments — mostly to say that it’d be nice to not over-theorize a thing that is basically a result of living the Algorithmic Life. But, it’s good therapy to say it so, to have some awareness and set of observational tools to document and capture these things, like this weird rabbit I saw in the Sacramento Airport on my way back from the Gaming the Game conference.

And that was the other thing I did last week. Thursday and Friday I was at UC Davis at this conference. It was quite good fun. Unfortunately, I missed Tim Lenoir’s keynote, but I did get to catch Mackenzie Wark talking about the cultural and political implications of the strategic elements of Debord’s Game of War (and Alex Galloway’s controversial digital edition of Game of War). Also, Tad Hirsch was there and mentioned his Trip Wire project, which I first saw at the Zero One conference in 2006. It’s one of my favorite, favorite “art technology” projects. I still think it’s a weak signal for a future of meaningful Objects that Blog (which was consistent with 2006 sensibilities — now, maybe it’s Objects that Tweet or something, such as Superball by Stamen.) It’s also, I was reminded, an audio project in that the coconuts phoned a hotline for noise complaints and then spoke. Embarrassingly, I had never heard the actual audio that was delivered in these phone messages — Tad played them and I now see that they are plainly on the project’s web site.

On the European front, I (Nicolas) spent the last week actually not in Geneva but in South of France for a mix of vacation and heavy writing. It’s good to have finally some time to focus 100% on the game controller book project. More specifically, I spent most the week researching and writing about the early instances of video game controllers that paved the way for the arrival of joypads. Our point is of course not to tell the whole history of video game but since we want to show how looking at the joypad is a good way to understand this culture, it’s important to spend some time on it. And naturally, it lead me to write about switches, knobs, dials, old-school joysticks from the beginning of the 20th Century and oscilloscope. The point is to show the different lineages, how they disappear or recombine over time. This chapter’s almost done. The difficult thing is to be accurate and try not to focus only on facts and observations since we think it’s important to discuss the implications.

Back to Geneva, I spent last Friday teaching in a design school in Annecy (France). A mix of lectures and workshop activities, the idea was to show various foresight-related approaches.

Here in Barcelona, we are approaching the release of version 1.0 of Quadrigram. I completed the list of approx. 350 modules that made the final cut and have started to plan the road map for the release cycle of the application. Arrange all the elements of a programming language is daunting task at times, but I hope people will enjoy the coherence of this first set of modules. They are categorized into five distinct Libraries. Each Library groups modules according to their purpose in developing a solution (e.g. load, manipulate, analyze, convert, filter and visualize your data). We setup a javadoc-style Language Reference web site that documents the structures of all the modules.

Quadrigram Language Reference

Bot activity on Wikipedia entries about Global Warming

Looking for material for an upcoming speech, I ran across this research project (by digital methods initiative) that inquires into the composition of issues on Wikipedia by contributors, and consequences for the (possibility) of carrying out public debate and controversy on articles surrounding Global Warming.

The bit that intrigued me is exemplified by the following diagrams… that look into the role of bot in article interventions and the link with controversies:

No crazy take-over from bots but I would find it intriguing to observe the evolution of this.

Why do I blog this? This is a fascinating topic to observe. I see it as an indicator of something that can have more and more implications, especially on the production of cultural content. One can read more about this in Stuart Geiger’s article “The lives of bots:

Simple statistics indicate the growing influence of bots on the editorial process: in terms of the raw number of edits to Wikipedia, bots are 22 of the top 30 most prolific editors and collectively make about 16% of all edits to the English-language version each month.

While bots were originally built to perform repetitive tasks that editors were already doing,
they are growing increasingly sophisticated and have moved into administrative spaces.
Bots now police not only the encyclopedic nature of content contributed to articles, but also
the sociality of users who participate in the community