“Open the pod bay doors, HAL.” To a science fiction fan or film buff, that nugget of dialogue evokes big, sweeping conversations about the more ominous aspects of machine sentience. However, when the ensuing exchange is viewed through the lens of interaction design, a different conversation altogether takes place. A design-minded analyst would ignore HAL’s bad attitude and read that interaction as an example of a failed voice interface. Welcome to the universe of Make It So: Interaction Design Lessons from Science Fiction, an ambitious book by veteran designers Nathan Shedroff and Chrisopher Noessel that meticulously analyzes various types of interfaces across the film and television science fiction canon in search of rules of thumb for designers.
Make It So begins with a close reading of the archaic ‘levers and saddles’ of the time travel device in H.G. Wells’s 1895 proto-science fiction novel The Time Machine. Shedroff and Noessel use the crudeness of this literary reference to illustrate how far our expectations of imaginary interactions have come. Furthermore, the duo opines that there has always been an interplay between fictional interfaces and our expectations of consumer electronics and software – one need only look to the enduring cultural currency of Oblong’s oft-referenced g-speak platform from Minority Report (2002) and the proliferation of gestural interfaces over the last decade to illustrate that point. Make It So takes Tom Cruise’s determined gesticulations, Arnold Schwarzenegger’s badass heads-up display in The Terminator (1984) and the impressive volumetric displays of Avatar (2009) really seriously and unpacks each of these instances of production design as a case study, rife with embedded wisdom and/or oversights. Organized as an array of typologies the book systematically scans mechanical, visual, sonic and augmented reality interfaces across all science fiction film and television. I’m not kidding when I say all, this book is delightfully comprehensive and the hundreds of supporting stills were clearly collected and arranged with care and attention. While Shedroff and Noessel dissect seminal sequences from Star Wars, Star Trek: The Next Generation, RoboCop, etc. quite distinctly, they also put less renowned precedents (navigating social networks in Gamer, the ‘weirding module’ in Dune, bioengineered game controllers in eXistenZ, etc.) under the microscope as well and give them equal attention. In addition to the countless case studies, there are also a number of surveys that pragmatically analyze the design language of varying typologies (e.g. OCR A is used in 7% of visual interfaces while it’s sibling OCR B only appears in 4% of the material considered, a 3D model compositing various brain interface devices, colour analysis of visual interfaces… the list goes on).
While working through this book, a quip I heard Jared Ficklin make a few weeks ago, where he described smartphones as “sophisticated tricorders” kept echoing in my mind. Science fiction has had an undeniable influence on all facets of interface design and this is the book that goes through the genre with a fine tooth comb to catalogue this extensive lineage. Whether parsing the emotional repertoire of GERTY in Moon, speculating about the ‘sonic enhancements’ of the combat system in the Millennium Falcon or outlining best practices for voice interface systems, Make It So dutifully scrutinizes design fiction to provide invaluable commentary on the design of interactions. Designers and sci-fi enthusiasts alike rejoice, this text is both idiosyncratic and definitive.
- I’ve seen the future, I can’t afford it – Jim Munroe’s “Ghosts With Shit Jobs” The year is 2040 and it has been two decades since the American economy tanked. North America is a sprawling mega-slum and the population of the West is viewed as a massive, cheap labour force for China and India. This is the setup for Ghosts With Shit Jobs, Canadian author Jim Munroe's self-described "lo-fi sci-fi" meditation on labour and everyday life in a dreary future Toronto. Filmed as a pseudo-documentary, a Chinese news show sends reporters to the West to gain insight in to the daily grind and perspective of 'ghosts' (Cantonese slang for indigenous North Americans) and portrays a selection of these low-level workers as they struggle to make ends meet. These protagonists have taken on jobs nobody else wants—robotic toy construction, spider silk foraging, online copyright protection, conversational product-placement—and employment is the lens through which the economy and everyday life are inspected. Doesn't exactly sound like traditional science fiction fare does it? Well, Ghosts With Shit Jobs is immensely successful as speculative fiction because rather than overwhelm the viewer with CGI setpieces and genre clichés it provides a nuanced, character-driven plot that is chock-full of insight on technology and culture. The super-smart script shines and is delivered as kind of a future vérité that is so blasé about the world it constructs that the viewer has no choice but to be drawn into the headspace of each of the main characters. While the film is definitely effective in schematizing contemporary global economic woes, the way it explores the robotics industry, scarcity, the digital commons and branding also warrants close attention. The narrative has a built-in conversation about gestural interfaces and augmented reality without even being remotely interested in either of these topics beyond the fact that they are just 'tools in the world'. Additionally, every line uttered by the covert-marketing 'human spam' sociopath Serina is pure gold – she's a horrid SEO/branding endgame that is probably too grounded in reality to be dismissed as dystopian caricature. Fans of the irreverence of Keiichi Matsuda's Augmented City 3D and the microbudget Modus operandi of Shane Carruth's Primer should definitely seek out Ghosts With Shit Jobs at one of its upcoming festival appearances or its pending digital release as it is undoubtedly a cause for celebration – to quote the exuberance of central character Anton of the 'silkgatherer' Corento brothers, "we will be drinking water tonight!" Ghosts With Shit Jobs | Pre-purchase/support the film on […]
- “Generative Design” – A Computational Design Guidebook "The main change in the design process achieved by using generative design is that traditional craftsmanship recedes into the background, and abstraction and information become the new principal […]
- “Nature of Code” by Daniel Shiffman – Natural systems using Processing Processing enthusiasts rejoice! There is a new book coming by Daniel Shiffman and it’s called Nature of Code. As it’s title implies this book takes phenomena that naturally occur in our physical world and shows you how to simulate them with […]
- Beyond the Pixel Sculpture – V2_’s New Aesthetic, New Anxieties The pundit scrum that massed around the New Aesthetic may not have yielded the overarching conversation about digital aesthetics that we needed to have in 2012, but it was the one we got. Fueled by the forward-thinking 'curation' of James Bridle's tumblr and a related SXSW panel, interest in the New Aesthetic exploded after Bruce Sterling penned a wildly evocative essay on his WIRED blog this past April. In the weeks and months that followed a few dozen creative technologists, curators, theorists and foresighters conducted a distributed Monte Carlo experiment to hash out a rough consensus to a) determine if something novel was indeed going on, and b) consider what some of the implications of this pervasive “eruption of the digital into the physical” might be. Rotterdam's venerable V2_ Institute for Unstable Media recently hosted a booksprint to produce New Aesthetic, New Anxieties, a short book focused on leveraging the excitement/confusion/controversy around the New Aesthetic to inform ruminations on computation, curation and—of course—aesthetics. First things first: it is really important to note that New Aesthetic, New Anxieties was authored in just four and a half days (!!) by an interdisciplinary team of curators, writers and academics. It is hard to know exactly what standards to hold a text produced this quickly to, but I'm happy to report that my impressions of this undertaking is definitely net-positive. In fact, it is really a testament to the expansive knowledge and experience of the team involved (and presumably the guidance of facilitator Adam Hyde) that this short book can cover as much ground as it does and generally succeed with its varying ambitions. Structurally, New Aesthetic, New Anxieties sets out to achieve three major goals: to introduce, contextualize and re-frame the frenzy of commentary inspired by Bridle and Sterling, consider related curatorial implications and explore the New Aesthetic as representation. The first chunk of the book provides a cursory description of Bridle's tumblr and ignites a broader conversation about computation through a survey of numerous responses to Sterling's initial post, discussion list fodder and media theory from the last few years. Marius Watz, Wendy Chun, Mez Breeze, Geert Lovink, Christian Paul, Greg Borenstein, Madeline Ashby – and this is just a 'core sample' of the commentators addressed. While the pace is furious, this is a pretty fabulous contextualization (and problematization) of many of the major voices that have weighed in on or are directly relevant to various facets of the New Aesthetic. The 'curatorial readings' portion of the text stumbles out of the gate with a fairly tedious reading of 'a blogpost as exhibition'. I can't really see the value of attempting to reverse engineer what Bridle was thinking when he decided to include certain material on the New Aesthetic tumblr and found the subsequent related conversations about online remix culture/curation and key precedents much more engaging. This section closes with some bang-on commentary considering how projects like Aram Bartholl's Map and Dead Drops , Julius von Bismarck's Topshot Helmet and Wafaa Bilal's Domestic Tension (all deeply invested in embodiment) are quite estranged from their online representations to underscore how tricky it can be to contemplate digital aesthetics if our point of reference is simply marginally-captioned photos and videos of projects posted to <insert web service here>. The text concludes with an even more fine-toothed examination of 'screen essentialism', and compliments this with investigations into the limits of perceiving/experiencing computation and a nuanced survey of the political opportunities and blind-spots associated with this 'eruption' of interest. New Aesthetic, New Anxieties does not terminate with any specific mandate or conclusion and the book is best approached as an annotated map of a contentious landscape that has yet to come completely into focus. Publication Page (available in EPUB, MOBI and PDF formats) Authors: David M. Berry, Michel van Dartel, Michael Dieter, Michelle Kasprzak, Nat Muller, Rachel O'Reilly & José Luis de Vicente (facilitated by Adam Hyde) | V2_ Institute for Unstable Media See also The Politics of the New Aesthetic: Electric Anthropology and Ecological […]
- “How to Do Things with Videogames” by Ian Bogost [Books, Review, Games] From Roger Ebert's pedantic proclamation that "video games can never be art" to the clichéd fawning over the truckloads of revenue generated by each new release in the Modern Warfare series, gaming consistently inspires overarching conversations about media and culture. At this point, these 'big conversations' should surprise no one, as with each passing year gaming becomes less esoteric and permeates more and more demographic groups (e.g. the popularity of social games on Facebook, senior citizens embracing the Wii as an exercise platform, etc.). So while gaming may be everywhere, it is strange that it is often difficult to locate conversations about it that speak to how we actually integrate play and simulation into our everyday experience. What can games tell us about relaxation, work and routine? What do they have to say about movement and the body? How might we subvert gaming conventions through pranks and humour? Ian Bogost's recent book How To Do Things With Videogames thoughtfully considers questions like these while endeavouring to re-frame the medium through a series of focused, topical texts that draw on familiar and engaging points of reference. Organized as 20 bite-sized chapters, How To Do Things With Videogames carefully considers how gaming has been leveraged to explore sex, art, politics, branding and boredom – all the touchstones of contemporary life. Within each of these articles, Bogost carefully blends accessible pop culture references with illustrative gaming examples as the basis of his ruminations on how the medium functions as a cultural mirror. The "feel and weight" of Go pieces sets the stage for a meditation on haptic feedback, a FPS shootout set in the Manchester Cathedral serves as a gateway into a conversation about awe and reverence. Bogost's knowledge of game history is encyclopedic and it is hard to come away from this book without a renewed appreciation for just how weird and wonderful game design can get – some of the more obscure references to SimHacks, mundane minigames and naive game tourism are priceless. There are many compelling moments within the text, I've picked out two that I found particularly provocative. Red Dead Redemption / Screen capture: Red Dead Wiki In the chapter on "transit" Bogost sketches out a history of the moving image that considers panoramas, how the advent of rail altered the experience of landscape and the broader implications of movement in games: Instead of looking forward to a future in which the risky, laborious process of traversing a space could be lessened, in-videogame transit re-creates a past in which reality had not yet been dissolved into bits, but had to be traversed deliberately. Like the panorama show, the transit simulation is a kind of replacement therapy for an inaccessible experience of movement. Could this thesis be any more clearly articulated than in Red Dead Redemption, where the 21st century leisure class faux-nostalgically gallop across a simulated American Southwest on horseback? How To Do Things With Videogames also unpacks how game design can complement and challenge corporate identity. The following passage is culled from a consideration of how games put brand identity under the microscope and (for me) it really evoked memories of the recent high speed turfing of Molleindustria's Phone Story from the App Store. Of course, unauthorized brand abuse in large commercial games might not be possible or desirable. But brands' cultural values offer a bridge between visual appearance and game mechanics. In some cases, our understanding of particular rules of interaction has become bonded to products or services. Phone Story sketched out a damning narrative of the consumer electronics industry's reliance on conflict minerals and dubious labour practices and tells this story as playable narrative. The fact that a game that explicitly took aim at Apple's supply chain ethics was so quickly 'disappeared' underscores the degree to which gamespace is contested (branding) ground. Bogost's analysis of this milieu weaves together several examples of promotional games, an analysis of Monopoly tokens, commentary on Obama's 2008 in-game ad purchases and also considers examples of "anti-advergame" critical resistance. How To Do Things With Videogames is a lightning fast read and the book's success is largely due to both brevity and charm. As a topical 'scan' of an entire medium, the undertaking is noteworthy for clearly articulating down to earth approaches for reconsidering the politics and experience of play. Bogost's conclusion describes an ongoing process whereby games are becoming "more ordinary and familiar" and the cultural currency of 'the gamer' as a distinct subculture is fading – the tone and execution of this work certainly support this forecast. While a delight to muse over, this text should be read as a serious reconsideration of 'first principles' for anyone who plays, designs or avoids gaming on a regular basis. Purchase on amazon.com / […]
- “A Philosophy of Computer Art” by Dominic Lopes [Books, Review] A Philosophy of Computer Art is a text that may interest some readers of creativeapplications.net as it covers the intersection of computing and art, discussing some of the classics of interactive art, and doing a lot of thinking about what art that uses computers actually is. In it Dominic Lopes does several things very well: it divides what he calls “digital art” from “computer art”, and it correlates that second term, which I’ll put in capitals to mark that it’s his term, Computer Art, with interactivity. He also articulates precise arguments for computer art as a new and valid form of art and defends his new term against some of its more tiresome attacks. As a quick example, Paul Virillios concerns about the debilitating effect of “virtual reality” on thought which is more than a little reminiscent of Socratic concerns about the debilitating effect of writing on thought and points to an interesting conclusion: what we call thought is a technologically enhanced phenomena. Note Friedrich Kittler: most human capacities are enhanced in some way or another with no great damage to the notion of “humanity” or “human”. It’s little more than a failure of imagination to thunder about how those augmentations debilitate the natural state of humans. Lopes also makes several extremely astute observations about the nature of interactivity and repeatability, comparing Rodins Thinker, Schuberts “The Erlking”, packs of refrigerator magnet letters, and true interactivity in artwork and concluding that interactive work has distinct characteristics. What he comes to, or what I read him as coming to, is this: a structured and rule based experience is interactive. “A good theory of interaction in art speaks of prescribed user actions. The surface of a painting is altered if it’s knifed, but paintings don’t prescribe that they be vandalized.” Reduced even further: grammar plus entities plus aesthetics equals interactivity. He also makes, to pick just a few, excellent arguments for the interpretive necessity of a view in automated displays, astute observations about the potential value of a computer art criticism, and for the nature of technology as a medium. But Lopes is also a philosopher and philosophers seek to, among other things, define categories. Painting, sculpture, dance; these categorized mediums have all served us well over the years and so the thinking goes, why not extend them and add another: Computer Art. I’m not so sure that the idea of Computer Art as, with an admittedly blunt reduction, “stuff on a computer that allows you to participate in it presenting itself” is particularly useful. My feeling is that this isn’t what interactive art or art made in collaboration with computers is presently nor is it a meaningful extent of what it should be. The device is not the method, nor is the extent of what makes this type of artwork rich and meaningful and computers aren’t really the medium: algorithm and computation are the medium. In Form+Code, Casey Reas and Chandler McWilliams are right to point to Sol Lewitt as an earlier exponent of explicitly algorithmic art and tie that into the current computational and algorithmic art-makers. A computer originally was one who did computation, that is, a person sitting with a slide rule, pen, and paper and was only later applied to machines. The idea of computation is that it offloads a pre-existing human capacity, accentuates pre-existing things in the world. The person who calls their friend on their cellphone describes their action as “calling my friend” not “using my cellphone”. The person using Ken Goldbergs TeleGarden (a work mentioned frequently in APAC) is marveling at how they can collaboratively participate in creating a garden, not at how they can control a machine via a network. The point is not the device -- the point is interactive computation, extension of human aptitude and capacity, and the type of relationship with the world that it enables. His insistence on the primacy of mediums and forms is doubly odd because in his finale Lopes emphasizes that “computer art takes advantage of computational processing to achieve user interaction”. Close, but not quite there. I’m nitpicking, and admittedly so, because he’s looking at works that are unmistakably “Computer Art” by his definition of it. Computer Art is meant to be a measure of degrees, a spectrum. One looks at Scott Snibbes work and sees a computer system and an interactivity. Golden Calf, a work he references multiple times, is very firmly at the Computer Art circle in the Venn diagram of machine-human art-making experience. These are the easy examples, those that lend themselves most easily to the account of interaction in artworks that he describes. But I’m nitpicking for a reason: it’s painfully limiting. It says that computer art is things that are run on a computer with which I interact and observe a display where I consequently understand how my actions are interpreted. This seems naïve to the ways that computation actually functions in our lives and an oversimplification of how people think that computation can function in their lives. This also seems to be reductive of what forms art can take and how the conversation that is art-making can evolve. For instance: Wafaa Bilals Domestic Tension, a piece far more indebted to performance art than sculptural installation. There’s quite a bit more at play there than myself seeing the manipulation of pixels and there’s more to my understanding of how this piece functions and signifies than understanding that I’m speaking with and through a computer. Another example: Men in Grey. Is this interactive art? Not in many senses, I never interacted with it nor would I say that interacting with it is necessary to understand it and experience it. It has far more in common with Situationist/Lettrist works than with installation art, and yet it is computer based, one does interact with it by well-known protocols and through well-established rules, it has a display. It uses computation and networks and yet it’s not about manipulating a computer or a network to create display elements nor is that the forefront of it. Nor are EyeWriter, Natural Fuse, and a slew of other works and projects that I find most meaningful and engaging. In philosophy of aesthetics at times philosophically strong categories sometimes are preferred over meaningful categories because of the defensibility of strong categories. Painting as a category of artwork is not deeply meaningful in many ways (consider the question “do you like paintings?”) yet determining how much something is and is not a painting is quite easy and categorically meaningful. “Minimal” as a style (ones furniture or aesthetic) or strategy (“minimalism” with attendant connotation) is a much more meaningful designation because it has historical precedents, significations, and because it extends beyond a particular category to cover a manner of production and reception. That is, it describes communicative strategies, which Lopes indicates is one of the goals of the interactivity in Computer Art. However “minimal” is a terrifically difficult thing to pin down into categories and yet it is descriptive, historical, and fundamentally meaningful as a description of an aesthetic practice. To play a small linguistic game, describing speech as “he spoke with words” is a bit odd; to describe it as “he spoke with silence” makes more sense because one does not normally make speech with silence. Likewise Computer Art seems primarily to describe a situation of abnormality, “this is art that involves you interacting with a computer”, that I believe few people actually find particularly abnormal and that will be less meaningful, if not near meaningless, in the near future. Lopes text is an excellent opening of what I hope will be an interesting discussion that attempts to unravel the relationship between new forms of narrative, expression, and communication and the previous ones. He weaves together an excellent web of references from Umberto Eco to Clement Greenberg to Lev Manovich and references a wisely chosen group of artworks to bolster his argument. The example of A Philosophy of Computer Art is in it’s handling of complex arguments against the sort of odd disqualifications that occasionally are leveled against Computer Art. It’s insistence on categorical logic and mediums as definitive categories is a small aberation in what is otherwise an excellent text and opening of a new type of discourse about what creative computing might possibly mean. apoca.mentalpaint.net Purchase on amazon.com / amazon.co.uk Rafael Lozano-Hemmer "Blow Up", 2007 Daniel Rozin "Wooden Mirror", 1999 Scott Snibbe "Boundary Functions", 1998 Camille Utterback & Romy Achituv "Text Rain", 1999 -- Joshua Noble is a writer, designer, and programmer based in Portland, Oregon and New York City. He's the author of, most recently, Programming Interactivity and the forthcoming book Research for […]
- “The Glitch Moment(um)” by Rosa Menkman / Review by Greg J. Smith One need only look as far as the upstart GLI.TC/H festival and its vibrant constellation of related practitioners to see that the glitch aesthetic is alive and well. Rosa Menkman has been active as an artist, theorist, organizer and agitator within this milieu and at the tail end of last year she published The Glitch Moment(um), which threads together a number of writing and research projects into a rather authoritative overview of engineered disruption as critical media practice. Released under the auspices of the Institute for Network Cultures Network Notebook series, The Glitch Moment(um) provides a really thorough examination of glitch aesthetics in relation to classical communications theory, questions of categorization, the propagation of glitch art as a 'genre' and presents some related research into the community of artists active within this realm. Menkman also tosses in a manifesto for good measure. Despite the numerous moving parts that comprise this text, it really works as a cohesive enterprise – not only in providing an overview of the history of glitch art but as an expert framing of the media theory that underpins the field. So, how do we make sense of practices such as codec corrupting, datamoshing and circuit bending? Menkman describes glitch as a wholesale rejection of utopian dreams of the seamless media experience, a dispelling of the transparency of various mediums: "To study media-specific artifacts is to take interest in the failure of media to disappear... in noise artifacts." In contemplating failure, she breaks down these noise 'artifacts' into three categories: compression, feedback and glitch, and identifies the latter as an indeterminate force, one that is "unaccepted... unwanted... unordered". After ruminating on this undefined space Menkman eases into a consideration of the phenomenology of glitch that is buoyed by careful case studies of key works by Ant Scott, Gijs Gieskes, Jodi and Paul B. Davis. The remarkable thing about The Glitch Moment(um) is the depth of research informing the work; Menkman moves beyond stock discussions of Paul Virilio (catastrophe) and Kim Cascone (the aesthetics of failure) and invokes less overtly relevant media theorists like Alan Liu and Jay David Bolter to great effect. The concluding examinations of 'the commodified glitch' and the glitch scene's crystallization into a genre are really quite savvy and self-aware. Menkman cites McLuhan's adage that "obsolescence never meant the end of anything, it's just the beginning", which perfectly encapsulates the challenge (and promise) of this particular moment for error-driven practices. Given that The Glitch Moment(um) is basically a handbook for embracing noise and obsolescence with open arms, the text is a vital read for anyone interested in critically engaging media. Read/download The Glitch Moment(um) References: GLI.TC/H festival / Rosa Menkman / Network Notebook Jodi, <$BLOGTITLES$>, 2007 Ant Scott, SUQQE, 2002 Glitch Actors Organized – Network map of glitch artist twitter scene (produced with Esther […]
- “Nature of Code” by Daniel Shiffman – Member Giveaway We have 3 copies of "Nature of Code" by Daniel Shiffman - Natural systems using Processing to give away to CAN members. This wonderful book by Daniel Shiffman takes phenomena that naturally occur in our physical world and shows you how to simulate them with code. Nature of Code picks up where Daniel’s last book Learning Processing leaves off, demonstrating more advanced programming techniques with Processing that focus on algorithms and simulation. All you have to do is leave a comment below and we'll pick THREE lucky winners by random next Wednesday (27th February). Rules and information 1. Postage and Packing included. 2. Competition is open to CAN members only but you must be over 18 years of age. There will be a total of THREE winner for this competition. 3. Winners will be selected by random. 4. Winners will be contacted via email and will be asked to provide their full name and postal address. If they wish to pass on the book to another person, we will need their name and postal address. If the winner does not respond by the following Wednesday (6th March) we will pick another winner. 5. Only one entry (comments) per person otherwise you will be disqualified / your comments deleted. Good Luck! UPDATE: 27th Feb – Random picked comment no 11-Colin Roache, 62-ivaylopg and 52-Raphaël de Courville. Contest now […]
Posted on: 06/11/2012
Posted in: Review
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