Sunday, December 13th, 2009

“Augmenting Human Intellect” Douglas Engelbart, 1962 + “Put-That-There” Richard Bolt, 1988

[Week 7] In Augmenting Human Intellect, Douglas Engelbart discuss the idea of augmenting Human intellect capacity by relegating as much tasks as possible to computer. He decomposes each task into smaller processes that can in many case be accomplished by computer. The remaining tasks that can hardly be accomplished by a computer (due to different limitations), are then seen as more suited to humans. Engelbart suggest that humans should focus on these “more complex” tasks and then extend then be able to advance further than if they would have to also process all the tasks computer can manage by themselves.

In “Put-That-There”,  Richard Bolt discuss a system where the end user can command a computer with a set of more human-based language instruction. Using human like deduction, and pointing direction, a computer can understand and accomplish instructions like “make the circle larger” or “delete the triangle”. While todays computing left away command line driven instruction to the profit of graphic user interface, there’ still many cases where Bolt ideas may be put in practice to improve the communication quality between a computer and its user. For example, in most software (like operating systems), we need to precisely define each element for each instruction, even if there’s only one. Bolt suggested that if only one element would correspond to the instruction, the computer should assume the user refers to this one. I’m amaze to realize how today’s user commands in software, are still directly based on machine-level type of instruction. With proper implementation of Bolt’s ideas, user wouldn’t have to learn how the machine works internally and would be able to focus more on the tasks itself instead of the computer vocabulary that can translate their gaoled into sets of instructions.

Sunday, December 13th, 2009

“Happenings in the NY Scene” Allan Kaprow, 1961

[Week 5] “Happenings in the NY Scene” by Allan Kaprow discuss the boundaries of an art happening. In  the 70s many artist pushed the performative art limits in a area where theatre was the only approved art-form. Duchamp has long before been able to extend the limits of sculpture to readymades, and the happening idea tries to open up the frontier to include collective, not necessarily scripted or very organized events. Kasprow’s Happening definitions is really open-ended and renders such event intangible out of theyre original context. It’s impossible to reproduce the same happening two times, and therefore set different dynamics in the art market.

Sunday, December 13th, 2009

“Men, Machines and the World About” Norbert Wiener, 1950 + “On the Rights of Molotov Man” Joy Garnett & Susan Meiselas.

[Week 4] In “Men, Machines and the World About”, Norbert Wiener coin several vocabulary terms that are today part of the our common technical language. By describing what is a computer input and output, Wiener lets us better think about machines in terms of processes. By looking at machines this way, there’s also less differentiations between humans and machines.

“On the Rights of Molotov Man” reading raises interesting questions about images rights. For a series of paintings, Joy Garnett replicated carefully a relatively famous Sandinista rebel photos that she found on the internet. She haven’t credited the original photographer (Susan Meiselas) and the copy process wasn’t  part of her discourse, only a strong inspiration. While I’m not against protecting the rights of images creator for their work, I feel too much legislation makes it hard for creator to built on top of their cultures. Even for photographers, who usually own all the rights on their photographs, it’s becoming more and more difficult to present image of others, and even some buildings and brands. While it might be seen as an step forward for the privacy of image for individuals, we should keep in mind that art and amateur based photography account for a very small portion of cameras looking at us. Security cameras are everywhere and our personal photos become aggregated in social network available to hundreds of our contacts. In my opinion, this alone represent a much bigger privacy violation that any tourist, amateur or artist using my image.

While it’s becoming harder and harder, Photographers can still base their photos images on the images of other’s work(person, objects, buildings, etc) without too much hassle. I find it unfortunate that a painter can’t take inspiration on photography. While Joy Garnett work isn’t bringing much to the world in my opinion, it’s easy to find very similar case where the use of photography has been a really important step in the complete artistic process. For instance Shepard Fairey ( based his internationally famous Obama hope poster( on a photograph took by a former AP freelance photographer named Mannie Garcia.

Sunday, December 13th, 2009

“Computing, Machinery and Intelligence” Alan Turing, 1950 + “Man-Computer Symbiosis” J.C.R. Licklider, 1960

[Week 3] In his 1950 article “Computing, Machinery and Intelligence” Alan Turing define a testing mechanism where we can compare effectively humans to machine. The basic idea it to place in a room a human an a machine, and comparing the output of a given input. For instance, a simple math turing test can compare the results of an math equation resolved by a machine and a human. If we can’t discern the computer from the human, the test is positive. As the tests become more evolved, Turing suggest sets of measures that prevent the user to easily identify the computer based on basic machine characteristics (response time, output channel, etc). In my opinion, the turing test is a very good theoretical concept, but when come times to achieve Turing test these special testing measures can quickly become complicated and transform a simple verification into a very complicated exercise.

In”Man-Computer Symbiosis” written in 1960,  J.C.R. Licklider explain the idea of improving the communication between human and computers, so they can be both more effective. He’s suggesting the use of a the same surface for input and output. Something that finally start to be applied today with the toutch-screen devices. He’s also suggesting other improvements that would help the computer better respond to human input.

Sunday, December 13th, 2009

“History of the Internet” + “History of Networks” + “As We May Think”

[Week 2] The History of the Internet and network readings were a good review of the different technologies involved with the world-wide-web. I was surprise to discover the number of different organization and international efforts that originally sets the original standards. At that time, there was a lot of common efforts toward a common goal, but I feel that today’s internet major player are more inclined to keep their data and technologies private on order to maintain their status. Yesterdays organizations that has put their efforts into the public domain are the building blocks of today’s web. While the web is evolving very quickly I deplore the fact that such ideology aren’t the norm anymore on the web. There is still a lot of open-source efforts going on, but there’s still major part of our online activities that are not organized by public standard. For example, all instant communications (msn, gTalk, facebook) are manage by private networks. All of our contacts on social web are also privately managed by the websites owners and not an open standard. These things have become major part of web activity today and I think web would develop more quickly if more integration was possible using open standard. By looking at all the ongoing debates around html5, we can understand the difficulty of setting common agreements. But on the other hand a lack of standard on the long run will centralize or web activities on some private products only (google, facebook, e-bay, yahoo, etc).

The “As we May Think” text by Vannevar Bush written in 1945. At a time where computer are nothing more than giant pieces of circuitry resolving simple math operations, Bush explained the advantage of an organizational system based on the human mind. By creating organic links across the content, Bush envisioned that data would be accessed more quickly and more naturally. The web is based today on such structure and allow et data to get organized in a complex, but effective organic ways. The algorithms behind today’s search engines are exactly based on the analysis of these organic links between web-pages. In other words, the system imagined by Bush is today the key of online content found-ability.

Monday, October 5th, 2009

Panopticons in the facebook era

[Week 5] In the text Rhetorics of Surveillance from Bentham to Big Brother, the cause of misbehaving is explored. Around 1785, Jeremy Bentham developed a prison plan where all the cells would be visible from a watch-tower. The observer would remain invisible to the prisoner so these can’t hardly know if they’re being watched or not from the panopticon tower. This device help transpose the idea of that having a chance of being watched some times into the concept of being surveilled at all time. Because the prisoner can’t really know when he’s watched, he behaved as he would be surveilled at all time.

While the organizational gain of such devices in a prison is clear (prisoner behave more appropriately), similar gains can probably be be made into other sphere of our life. It’s easy to imagine how quieter we may drive when we know we might observed by a photo-radar on an highway. While having everyone driving slower can still be seen as very good for the common health, such mechanism stills subverts our inconscious, by making us behave more because of the consequence than the initial morals that made us write a law enforcing such society rules.

Today’s technology bring surveillance to a whole another level, and an ever-growing number of systems makes us behave by their rules. Employers are monitoring the schedule and activity of the employee. Most public and private transport floats now embrace GPS positioning to keep an panopticon-like eye on their staff.

We might think that such surveillance haven’t affected yet our personal life, but it’s often easy to behave according to watcher’s interests on new social medias (like facebook). Other’s judgement are now present on our mind when we take simple decision like “who are you friend with” or “who will you invite your housewarming party”. It may not be a bad idea to force more transparency but other’s perspective become more important today as we see know part of our life is cataloged in a open book  .

It’s especially hard to exprimate opposition against such surveillance mechanism, because they’re existence is supposedly anchored in the will of common good. Who would oppose something good for a majority, that can only negatively impact some rebels dissidents?

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