Programmed To Love

Two robots, Vincent & Emily, are connected to each other as if deeply in love: where at the heights of romance, every motion, utterance, or external influence is shared in an acutely empathic, highly attuned ’emotional’ response:

The creation of German artists Nikolas Schmid-Pfähler and Carolin Liebl, the robots take in sound and motion data–from each other and from spectators– via sensors, which causes them to react–via gears and motors–with certain expressions. Shown in a gallery and open to the interaction of visitors, the project aims to explore the ideal of the human couple by distilling it into a more basic form. Simple lines represent bodies. Reacting to inputs replaces complicated decision-making.

Like in any relationship, miscommunication is a factor – so an intimate moment can lead to conflict, and eventual resolution. This gives a certain texture to their ‘dance of love’ that makes it hard not to anthropomorphise, or indeed relate to!

Take a look:

Via Co.Exist.

Screens

[box]This post originally appeared on the FTMF.info planning blog.[/box]

Within the pages of Watchmen, Adrian Veidt, the so-called “smartest man in the world”, esteemed business leader and founding member of the Crimebusters is shown at a wall of televisions, each tuned to a different channel. He uses this clatter of imagery, sound and motion to make sense of the current geopolitical and social climate and to act upon it:

Watchmen 10 - 08

Reads a bit like Social Media Monitoring, doesn’t it? But Adrian Veidt, AKA Ozymandias, was multi-screening before it was even a thing. Nowadays, we do it by default, up to 60% of the time, and in the age of 4.6 connected devices per household it just comes naturally.

Multi-screening can be simultaneous (same journey across devices, as in the above case), sequential (different journeys across devices simultaneously), or separate (different journeys across devices simultaneously) – but it’s an emergent behaviour that needs much further inquiry. There are few real thought leaders, except for SecondSync perhaps, or Microsoft, who so succincinctly define the terms I’ve used here.

One other thought leader is Kevin Kelly, co-founder of Wired, whose view is that as screens proliferate further into each aspect of our lives, their role becomes not just to display but also to help filter information – we’re literally ‘screening out’ the stuff we don’t want to see.

Watch his talk on ‘screening’ and five other ‘Verbs for the New Web’ below – it’s great:

And finally, screens can also be mirrors, lenses or even windows. Clever, aren’t they?!

First Contact with Galactaron

Girl meets synth-rock band from Outer Space; animated weirdness ensues. Well, that’s the elevator pitch, anyway. See for yourself:

Galactaron were dreamt up as an art/music project by Owen Dennis, a recent graduate with a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Animation, and are comprised of Singer (centre right), Bass (bottom left), Guitar (centre left), Synth (right), Drums (top left) and their human friend Emily Wong:

Galactaron Album Cover
Album Cover as featured on iTunes

The virtual band have a presence across Twitter, Facebook, Last.fm, SoundCloud and iTunes, with each platform offering new information and imagery to enrich Galactaron’s back story:

Drawn by radio waves, Galactaron focused in on Earth and they traveled a great distance to learn about us. When they finally reached our planet, they landed their massive, red, egg-shaped ship on a frozen lake in the upper Midwest of the America. There they met Emily Wong, a young Chinese-American woman who lives with her father. Emily quickly befriended Galactaron and decided to give them a personalized tour of planet Earth. That’s when they started to discover what earth is, what humans are, and what we have to offer.

A ‘sighting’ of their ship forms one of several on their website.

It’s an admirable project: the band have a truly unique sound, a strong visual identity, a cool backstory, and they’ve even sold a few albums.

Their creator shows real ingenuity, having formed a small yet growing community around snippets of content such as cosmic ring-tones; science-themed status updates; user-contributed artwork; merchandise and not forgetting the music itself.

But despite being an excellent case study in transmedia storytelling, their single ‘First Contact’ has reached a surprisingly low 20,000 plays on YouTube, and far fewer elsewhere. Mission aborted? Or as I suspect, are their thrusters still warming up?

The Skinner Box

In B. F. Skinner’s famous experiment in operant conditioning, a lab rat is placed inside a container and rewarded with a food pellet on completion of a task, triggered by an external stimulus such as a light, a sound or a shock. The pattern of reward becomes increasingly inconsistent, following a ‘schedule of reinforcement’ controlled by the experimenter.

Skinner Box (Operant Conditioning Chamber)

From Wikipedia:

Skinner’s operant chamber allowed him to explore the rate of response as a dependent variable, as well as develop his theory of schedules of reinforcement. If the event increased the number of responses it is said to strengthen its responding and if it decreased the number of responses it weakens the responding.

In short: a Skinner Box allows one to observe habits being formed, through control of the conditions surrounding a subject and their reward.

The lessons learned span far beyond Psychology: Education; Behavioural Economics; Interpersonal Communication and even Video Gaming have each benefit from an understanding of operant conditioning, so it is no surprise to see advertisers capitalising on our easily pliable behaviours.

One such experimenter, a brand of flavoured rice cake, posed the research question “how far will you go for Fantastic Delites” – their conditions, a large scale Skinner Box and the baying masses of an Australian shopping mall.

The results are equal parts twisted, fascinating and funny:

The evidence suggests human subjects will endure an embarrassingly strict schedule of reinforcement, especially in a public scenario.

At last year’s TEDxObserver Cory Doctorow gave a talk comparing the machinations of Facebook to operant conditioning of a more dangerous kind… and I can’t help but feel he has a point.

We will go pretty far for free rice cakes – but would we go further knowing we were in a Skinner Box?

Fifth World Problems

If you’ve ever had the feeling “same shit, higher dimension”, I’m sure you’d fit right in on Fifth World Problems, a subreddit in the key of  First World Problems, and a place for extradimensional beings to air their cosmic gripes.

I got 99 problems but a 4D hypercube ain't one

Most of the submissions and their respective commentary are childish lunacy, but among the smarter entries lie some fascinating thought experiments. I find myself stretching for a scientifically reasoned solution, if only I weren’t so limited by my inferior human mind!

Equally silly and clever, here are some of my favourites for your delectation and amusement:

  • My membrane girlfriend and I didn’t use protection when we collided and now we’re going to have a universe. I’m not ready to be a deity but my family is pro-existence. What do I do?
  • Minutes have stopped accumulating as hours. It’s now 4:237 PM and my boss still won’t let me punch out 🙁
  • I forgot my admin password and now my memories are read-only.
  • I hired a möbius stripper for a party but she finished her act with her clothes still on and I can’t get a refund.
  • My neutrinos were caught speeding, now my insurance is going up √-17 %
  • I am the very thing I am typing and am terrified that submitting myself will result in a collapse of my consciousness.
  • I was unwittingly assigned to be controlled by a modulation wheel. Now I sound like dubstep.
  • I forced the alive and dead versions of Schrödinger’s cat to mate. The resultant offspring has enslaved my family.
  • I accidntally dstroyd a prtty important lttr.
  • I commissioned an artist to paint me a fractal and I think he is just trying to milk this project out for more payment. Will he ever be done?

Any favourites of your own? Or any solutions, even? Post them over at Fifth World Problems or let’s talk them out in the comments.

30 Day Song Challenge – Week Five

Day 21: a song that you listen to when you’re happy

Groove Armada ft. Will Young – History

You’ve got to love that eighties electro-vibe. GA are one of my favourites, too.

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Day 22: a song that you listen to when you’re sad

Zero 7 – Look Up

This track starts you in one place, and ends up sorting you RIGHT out! Top marks.

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Day 23: a song that you want to play at your wedding

Florence & The Machine – You Got The Love (The xx Remix)

Maybe not first dance material, but it’d sound great playing in the background somewhere.

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Day 24: a song that you want to play at your funeral

Schmoov – Destination

Think it makes sense to have some deep house – no lyrics, just let people think for themselves.

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Day 25: a song that makes you laugh

Gorillaz ft. De La Soul – Feel Good Inc

Despite being one of my most-played artists, when I think of them being imagined into existence I have to smile at their genius.