Tag: Sentient Spaces

Biomimicry

The Roots of Plant Intelligence

Plants behave in some oddly intelligent ways: fighting predators, maximizing food opportunities … But can we think of them as actually having a form of intelligence of their own? Italian botanist Stefano Mancuso presents intriguing evidence in his talk at TED. Obviously, next nature observers will appreciate his comparisons between the networked nature of plant roots and the internet.

Anthropomorphobia

Next Nature Movie #6: The Matrix

In the last few decades there have been numerous films that take the struggle between mankind and its increasingly intelligent and autonomous technology as a leitmotif. Ranging from Stanley Kubriks magnificent artwork Space Oddysee 2001 (1968), which is better defined as a posthuman than a nextnature film, to Disney’s cartoonish Tron (1982), to the Terminator series (1984, 1991, 2003).

The notion of technology becoming competitive with the people who created it, is clearly a thankful movie subject. Pity though, the issue is always projected in the future – at distance from our everyday lives – as this limits the opportunity to reflect upon the co-evolutionary state people and technology have been caught up for a long time already.

Apparently this is a movie law difficult to get around, and one that directors Andy and Larry Wachowski willingly accept. Yet they do something brilliant. They have a philosophical idea that they want to get out, but they are aware their idea is difficult to sell. If they had made it too explicit their movie would have been an art house film, or a giant flop. So they took their idea and wrapped it up in a sci-fi story, in an action packed blockbuster.

The subtle premises of The Matrix (1999), is that the people subjected by the machines aren’t aware of the artificial intelligence that is ruling their lives. Like the prisoners in Plato’s Cave they’re blind to the simulation drawn before their eyes – a situation only stirred up with the arrival of the manga style dressed Christ–like savior Thomas Anderson, aka Neo, aka The One, played by a perfectly casted Keanu Reeves. Postmodernity in the overdrive? That’s not giving enough credit.

Through their syncretic cocktail of ingredients from western and non-western philosophy (*), art and religion, the Wachowski brothers manage to achieve exactly what they want. Like a Trojan horse, they’ve planted something into your mind, the seed of doubt, even if you have no idea it’s there, yet it’s there. That voice in the back of your mind that something is wrong. That feeling you got left with after seeing the movie that it wasn’t just about computers and artificial intelligence but about something else, something more important, something you’re familiar with but just can’t put your finger on.

The Matrix is a philosophical film that has cut through an entire generation, which now thinks differently about the technology in their surroundings than any generation before them. They’re aware that there may never be a day that technology awakes, becomes conscious and – politely or impolitely – introduces itself to us. They’re aware that this doesn’t withstand that technology is a strong all-pervasive force in our lives: A force that is not only driven by us, but in turn, also drives us. What is the Matrix, you ask? Something closer to reality than you think.

(*) Prior to the start of the filming the Wachowski brothers required the principal actors of the film to read three books: ‘Simulacra and Simulations’, by Jean Baudrillard, ‘Out of Control’ by Kevin Kelly, and ‘Introducing Evolutionary Psychology’ by Dylan Evans.

Passed: Alphaville (1965), Space Oddysee 2001 (1968), Tron (1982), Tetsuo the Iron Man (1989), Terminator 2 (1991), Ghost in the Shell (1995), Technocalyps (2006).

Sentient Spaces

Next Nature Movie #9 – The Terminal

Viktor Navorski is an Eastern European traveler – portrayed by Tom Hanks, who in the movie ‘Cast Away’ already played a man stranded on an uninhabited island – that finds himself in the unique circumstance that a war broke out in country while he was traveling to New York. This makes him a man without a country, or one that the U.S. cannot recognize, thus he is denied entrance to the U.S. However, as he can’t be deported either, the Security Manager tells him he has to remain in the airport until his status can be fixed.

Forced by the circumstances, Victor soon unfolds himself as a situational designer that cleverly repurposes the airport terminal as his living environment. In contrast, the rationalistic security manager desperately tries to cope with the parasitic element that has entered within the system. Guess who wins? Spoiler alert: It’s a Spielberg movie.

Like in Jurassic Park, director Steven Spielberg shows us that, while people are experts at domesticating their environment with rationalistic systems, the systems we create can easily outgrow us up to the level that we start to perceive them as a next nature that has to be re-domesticated (again). The huge airport terminal set was built for this movie alone. Unsure if they have ever re-used it for a Big Brother-type of reality TV series – oh boy, did we just invent a TV format there?

Passed: Modern Times (1936), Brazil (1985)

On-the-Road

Homemade Spacecraft

Cinematographer Luke Geissbühler made a homemade spacecraft with his 5-year-old son Max, and some of Luke’s friends. The spacecraft was made from a Thai food takeout container, an HD video camera and an iPhone for GPS tracking. They launched it into the upper stratosphere using a weather balloon. This most incredible ‘homevideo’ of the project soon went viral with millions of views.

The Brooklyn Space Program is a organization formed by a group of friends in New York City interested in scientific experiments, engineering, design and education. Visit them at brooklynspaceprogram.org to get the entire uncut voyage, buy a T-shirt and support the team.

Fake-nature

Adaptive Bloom

This interactive installation came out of the Postgraduate Certificate Course in Advanced Architectural Research of the Bartlett School of Architecture in London. Graduate Justin Goodyer created this responsive wall that originally was designed to be a décor as well as a performing artist in a dance performance. The wall would react to the dancers by letting its flowers bloom whenever they sense someone is near. Thus creating an interaction between performers and their surroundings.

In the video you can see the wall reacting on the public at the ‘Constructing Realities’ exposition that shows the best project of the postgraduate course.

Back to the Tribe

Squamata headset dances with the Music

Inspired by body language of animals (in particular squamates and porcupines), designer Jop Japenga created a headphone with an adaptive skin that responds to the music played on them – resembling a bird performing a mating dance.

The concept of his headphone was to make an public depiction of one’s frame of mind rather than a set of headphones that just reacted to the hits of every song. Inner atmosphere is communicated through a skin of reflective scales. Japenga used memory metal, an Arduino controller and custom electronic to create a working prototype with kinetic scales on the band that wave with either energetic or subtle force in accordance with the genre of music.

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Design-for-debate

The Buttons

Nowadays buttons are completely mundane and natural objects in our environment. You find them on phones, alarm clocks, keyboards, elevators, dishwashers and of course on the computer screen. You press buttons countless times throughout your day, but hardly think of them consciously.

The little symbols of control are so omnipresent, it is difficult to imagine that buttons did not always exist. Certainly people in the stone age did not press them – taken that nipples do not count as buttons – but we don’t know exactly when we started pushing buttons and who invented them.

Apparently buttons were unknown until the early 20th Century, with the possible exception of valves on wind instruments. When small controls were needed, for example on camera shutters, they were usually styled after latches or triggers.

Recent RCA graduate Nitipak Samsen, took it upon himself to re-investigate and re-design the concept of the button altogether, moving from the button as a symbol of control, an extension of the human desire to harness the planet, to inter-control.

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Anthropomorphobia

HappyLife

As our everyday living spaces are packed with electronics and become increasingly sentient, we might one day wake up in a house that knows more about your family’s state than you do.

Designers James Auger and Jimmy Loizeau (remember their lustrous audio tooth?) are investigating if such technology would be helpful or too invasive. Their HappyLife project consists of a visual display linked to the thermal image camera, which employs facial recognition to differentiate between members of the family.

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