“Rubber band AI”: “Rubber band AI refers to…

“Rubber band AI”:

“Rubber band AI refers to an artificial intelligence found in titles such as racing or sports titles that is designed to prevent players from getting too far ahead of computer-controlled opponents. When done well, such AIs can maintain a consistent level of challenge from the beginning of an event to the end. However, when done poorly, it becomes evident that the game is bending its own rules in the computer’s favor, either by temporarily enhancing the CPU’s abilities, inhibiting the abilities of the player’s character(s), or both.”

Why do I blog this? Writing a chapter about game controllers and hacks, I queried the search engine from Mountain View using keywords such as “rubber band”+controller and I ended up on this webpage which defines what Rubber AI is (exemplified by Nintendo GameCube game Mario Kart: Double Dash!!). The concept sounds intriguing and can be used as an interesting start point in other projects about artificial intelligence beyond video games.

“What? They’re Only Mechanical Men!” says…

“What? They’re Only Mechanical Men!” says Spock, in this old Star Trek coloring book shown on io9

Why do I blog this? This kind of behavior with mechanical creature will definitely be more common, even if the robot won’t be humanoid (see this story of how Honda found nerd robot fan disappointed after they released this lawn-mower which is far less “futuristic” than Asimo). This is also a behavior we included in the Curious Rituals project.

Weird: Disney Research in Zurich, Switzerland, just developed a…


Disney Research in Zurich, Switzerland, just developed a new process of robot making that enables a physical human face to be cloned onto a robot. The process is called “Physical Face Cloning,” and it involves the scanning of a human head. Once the human head is scanned, the coordinates and expressions are recorded onto a 3D program. It uses measurements of skin elasticity and skin thickness to create a realistic mold of the face with silicon.

“Hard time on planet Earth” is an American science…

“Hard time on planet Earth” is an American science fiction series that aired on CBS in 1989 and caught my attention at the time because of the weird floating robot that constantly moved around the main character. According to the Wikipedia:

After a huge interplanetary war ended, Elite Military Officer is prosecuted for rebellion against the planet’s ruling Council; he was found guilty, but in recognition of his valuable services in the war, he was given the chance to reform by spending an undetermined amount of time in a vastly underpowered human form on planet Earth. Along with him was dispatched “Control” (voiced by Danny Mann), a small floating robot in the form of a mechanical eye with the mission of overseeing Jesse (the earthly name adopted by the alien warrior, from the name tag on the first Earth clothes he wore) to make sure Jesse kept his violent behavior in check. “Control” also provided comic relief to the series, usually by assessing the events with the catchphrase “Negative Outcome. Not Good.”

Why do I blog this? The TV show wasn’t that good but the drone-like robot was a fascinating character. At the time, I remember it as both fascinating and scary… and I guess it can potentially be seen as a weak signal/indicator of potential “personal drones”. Those can exist as a the next iteration of house-arrest monitoring devices, or some sort of personal assistant.

Despite its flawed title, reading My Life as a Telecommuting…

Despite its flawed title, reading My Life as a Telecommuting Robot was intriguing enough. Some excerpts:

During my robot days, I interacted with co-workers I’d never met before, as well as others I hadn’t talked with in years; each of them was compelled to greet me as I cruised down the hall. I chitchatted at the office coffee bar, a more lively scene than sipping coffee alone in my kitchen. But I also nearly careened into glass walls, got stuck in an elevator, could barely hear the discussions in story meetings and got little other writing or interview work done while botting into the newsroom. Technical glitches delayed our progress

Why do I blog this? It’s a very short article and not a deep ethnographic analysis but it highlights interesting aspects of a phenomenon that will be explored in different companies. Although I’m not convinced by this kind of mediated interaction, I’m pretty sure QB-82-like surrogate systems will be employed and will lead to odd situations (beyond drones). 

Robot Mori: a curious assemblage from the Uncanny Valley

Perhaps the weirdest piece of technology I’ve seen recently is this curious assemblage exhibited at Lift in Seoul: it’s called “Robot Mori” and, as described by Advanced Technology Korea:

Meet Mori, the alter ego of a lonely boy who wants to go out and make friends but is too shy. Mori, on the other hand, isn’t shy at all. He swivels his head, looking around for nearby faces. Once he detects your face, he takes a picture and uploads it to his Flickr page.

Why do I blog this? The focus on face, and the visual aesthetic produced by the whole device is strikingly intriguing. Definitely, close to the Uncanny Valley… which made me realize that whatever sits in the valley often belong to the New Aesthetic trope. I personally find it fascinating that robots can have this kind of visual appearance and wonder whether some people might get use to that after a while… in the same sense that they got used to moving circle pads as vacuum cleaners.

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

New Aesthetic // OOO // Future of Things

It’s very gratifying to see how the #newaesthetic discussions are popping and percolating across the networks. There’s something to it, I think. Specifically the observations that something here under the New Aesthetic rubric is worth considering, thinking-through, working-towards.

What is that *something? It is perhaps an aesthetic thing. Perhaps it is symptomatic of the whole algorithmic life thing. Perhaps quite a good bit of articulate insights and cleverly stated things by some smart fellas. Also, perhaps those fellas having the *gumption to get up and say some things in a highly entertaining way. Perhaps it’s the thing of a bit of well-deserved very vocal network meme pot-stirring. Certainly some combination of all of these and likely more, you know..things.

Giving a name to an observed phenomena to muster hunches and instincts and observations and focus the meaning-making of things helps to organize thinking around it. That’s the upside.

The downside is that the thing sort of reifies in a way that isn’t always helpful. Or, you know — when things get a bit too academic. Too yammery..less hammery.

Another downside? The art-tech wonks claiming they’ve been doing it all along — of course they have..of course they have..It’ll get worse when it gets theorized as an aesthetic. Then it’ll get all ruined. An aesthetic about the cultures we live in? How do you get to such a thing? Do you use a really tall ladder?

And there’s some linkage to the #OOO // Object-Oriented Ontology world. Ian’s book Alien Phenomenology, or What It’s Like to Be a Thing points towards the inexplicable (as of yet) dark matter // God Particle // elusive ionized Bogoston particle behind it all, I suspect.

The questions that loosely link #OOO // New Aesthetic // Future of Things in my mind are still quite loose and inarticulate. THere’s something amongst them if only because they each point to “things” as having a sort of uncanny role in our networked world. They’re idiotic things, like Siri and algorithmic Cows. They’re the Long Follow Droid. They’re P.K. Dick style Dazzle Camouflage .

I’m trying to nail down the un-nail-downable. Clarity comes whilst in the middle of a night cycle when I’m utterly convinced of my lucid train of thought, which inevitably disappears into a “what? that makes *no sense” recollection after putting the bike away. But here goes..Questions that somehow wrangle these things:

* What are the ways our things of (presumably) our creation begin to express/articulate themselves in unexpected and weird ways? What is the catalyst for these differently animated, chatty things? Sensors? Networks? It’s been done before — talismans, tea leaves, idols, urns. We talk to thing and let them talk back to us, guide us from beyond. What different now? A bathroom scale that tweets your weight. Plants that yammer for water. I tried to figure this out a fistful of years ago when I wrote a short essay called Why Things Matter (The blog post was called A Manifesto for Networked Objects.) I’m not much further along in understanding why, but I think Alien Phenomenology is helping.

* What are these new things? They seem to be articulate enough to express themselves across the digital-physical barrier, in whatever way, with whatever assumptions one might make about the capabilities of the network+algorithms+human+imagination to produce collectively. When architecture expresses digital sensitivities in a physical way, should we be rolling our collective eyeballs at the irony? Or take it as a weak signal of systemic brake pads weeeing and screeching?

* Something is going on in the world of bespoke things, I think. Things made that capture sensibilities that are far away from what can be made en masse. What is that something-going-on? Is it an aesthetic? Is it new again? Is Kickstarter (uh..) equally #newaesthetic and #thefutureofthings an indicator that massively made is old fashioned and highly particular // nearly custom // curated is fun again?

* Things that live in the networked age and with the sensibilities and expectations we have now for what things are capable of, suggest something new is going on. Drones, wondering, autonomous, robotic vision (absent HAL-like autonomous / artificial intelligence), bots, droids, listening things. That’s weird. It’s uncanny. Unsettling and seductive all at once. Look at that droid following that dude. He can’t get away. I mean — if it’s lugging crap for me, cool, I guess. If it’s following me like a hungry, zealous, huge, disgustingly fast man-eating Possum..not so cool..

I think the #newaesthetic is best left as it is for the time being. A simmering stew of lightly curated matter scrolling by with a giant *shrug across James’ New Aesthetic Tumblr. Inexplicable, by definition. Lightly joked about. Sought out, hunted for, skinned and stuffed and mounted on the Tumblr by the rogue curious.

Please, don’t make me throw wet cabbage at you. It’s the symptom of the algorithm. It’s what comes out of the digital-political-economy of cultures that live by networks and the machinary (soft/hard/hashtag-y) that underpin it all. All this #newaesthtic #ooo #futureofproduction stuff is the excess. The unexpected, unplanned for result. It’s the things that happen without one self-consciously *going after* #newaesthetic / object-oriented ontological / future of network connected things sensibilities.

You can’t force this one. You can’t “do” New Aesthetic. It’s a Zizekian-Lacanian symptom of the networked world smushed up with overzealous design-technology and real aspirations to get things done. It’s horrifyingly beautifully unappeallingly seductive. It’s the nostril that must be picked. It’s the *shrug of bafflement upon seeing connected porn vending machines on a Lisbon Alto Barrio street corner with a screen built-in for watching right there. It’s what results from kooky, well-meaning stuff that gets connected, gets digital and gets inexplicable and comes out weird.

How socialbots could influence changes in the social graph

Socialbots: voices from the fronts, in the last issue of ACM interactions, is an interesting multi-author piece about how socialbots, programs that operate autonomously on social networking sites recombine relationships within those sites and how their use may influence relationships among people. The different stories highlighted here shows how “digitization drives botification” and that when socialbots become sufficiently sophisticated, numerous, and embedded within the human systems within which they operate, these automated scripts can significantly shape those human systems.

The most intriguing piece is about a competition to explore how socialbots could influence changes in the social graph of a subnetwork on Twitter. Each team of participants were tasked to build software robots that would ingratiate themselves into a target network of 500 Twitter users by following and trying to prompt responses from those users. Some excerpts about the strategies employed:

On tweak day we branched out in some new directions:

- Every so often James would send a random question to one of the 500 target users, explicitly ask for a follow from those that didn’t already follow back, or ask a nonfollowing user if James had done something to upset the target.

- Every time a target @replied to James, the bot would reply to them with a random, generic response, such as “right on baby!”, “lolariffic,” “sweet as,” or “hahahahah are you kidding me?” Any subsequent reply from a target would generate further random replies from the bot. James never immediately replied to any message, figuring that a delay of a couple of hours would help further explain the inevitable slight oddness of James’s replies. Some of the conversations reached a half-dozen exchanges.
- James sent “Follow Friday” (#FF) messages to all of his followers but also sent messages to all of his followers with our invented #WTF “Wednesday to Follow” hash tag on Wednesday. James tweeted these

shoutouts on Wednesday/Friday New Zealand time so that it was still Tuesday/Thursday in America. The date differences generated a few questions about the date (and more points for our team).

Why do I blog this? Because this kind of experiments can lead to informative insights about socialbots behavior and their cultural implications. The paper is a bit short about it but it would be good to know more about the results, people’s reactions, etc. This discussion about software behavior is definitely an important topic to address when it comes to robots, much more than the ones about zoomorphic or humanoid shapes.