TEDx Phillip Beesley

A friend of mine went to the recent TEDx presentation on campus and afterwards showed me some of the speakers he found of interest. One of them is UW architecture professor, Phillip Beesley. Innovative and creative, Beesley exhibits much of his work, which include technological life installations. These are man-made environments that mimic conscious or “alive” behaviour and interact with surroundings. As stated on the TEDxUW website (http://www.tedxuw.com/speakers/philip-beesley/), “Art and technology, when designed in such a manner, allow the creator to transcend the limitations of traditional schools of thought that focus on subject/object, organic/inorganic, static/dynamic and other types of binary worldviews.”

An example and overview of Beesley’s work can be found here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v86B9Nz_LVU

This work is called Hylozic Ground. This surreal man-made environment looks like it could be found in the movie Avatar. It has the primitive intelligence of an insect or coral reef. However, it is purely machine, and only inspired by the organic. I think it shows the potential for great shift in human-machine interaction. I think that it is a physical example of where post-humanity could develop. At this point, these structures have a very simplistic “mind”, but there are plans for advancement: for example, a structure that can read your every need and mood and modify itself to fulfill these needs.  Ideas of living architecture bring a new perspective on biopolitics, as well. Rather than modifying the living with machines, we are modifying machines to replicate the living.

Stelarc; Science or Art?

In our discussion about Stelarc’s post-humanism and tremendously unique acts the question of whether Stelarc’s feats were that of science or art.  The dictionary defines art as “the expression or application of human creative skill and imagination” and/or “works produced by such skill and imagination”, and science as “the intellectual and practical activity encompassing the systematic study of the structure and behavior of the physical and natural”.  From these definitions we can see that Stelarc’s display are truly art and science.  It is an expression of self with much creative skill and imagination, as well as being an intellectual and practical activity which deals with the structure and behavior of the physical and natural.  An example of this would be the video of Stelarc putting an ear in his arm and us being able to hear what other people are saying through his teeth.  This indeed may be a foreign concept to us, but is that not what all science and art wants to do: discover the unthinkable and make a statement which will change our way of thinking/living? If post-humanism is man moving further into the technological realm and becoming a cyborg, Stelarc displays this brilliantly. If therefore art and science can act as some of the foundations of post-humanism as shown with Stelarc, what implications do you think this will have for art and science as separate entities? If we keep transending our humanity in pursuit of such things, what would be the positive impacts and negative repercussions of such an act? These are all very crucial and interesting points to look more into.

Cyborgs in New Media

In class, we discussed the possibilities that soon the human world will be able to create robots, or more specifically, cyborgs. Humans who are melded together with machine. Typically, when one thinks of a robot or a cyborg, one tends to view these things as evil. Why? Because in every film we have ever seen that has robots or cyborgs in it, the robots are usually the ones who are trying to take over the world. The Matrix, Terminator, iRobot, Blade Runner, and even Wall-e are (to name just a few)  typical examples of robots in new media who are shown as evil. Over and over again, we are given cautionary tales from these moves about artificial intelligence, and the threat it could pose on our world if we are not careful. While the movies listed above are good examples of robots in film, one particular show that I would like to mention is Battlestar Galactica. For those of you not familiar, Battlestar Galactica is a T.V series about a small fleet of survivors from devastated planets searching for a new home away from the Cyclons (a mixture of machine and human, otherwise known as Cyborgs). These “cylons” were originally created by the human race, but they developed their own intelligence and evolved beyond the control of the humans, eventually destroying their creators home world and seeking to eliminate the human race entirely. This is an excellent example of a cautionary tale about A.I.

However, despite all of this negative outlook on robots and cyborgs from new media, we can’t deny that fusing organic material with electronics could have to potential to improve the lives of everyone. Yet we are reluctant to improve our technology further because we are afraid of what could happen if we are not careful. In short, I believe that they negative outlook films and television shows have given towards A.I has affected the way we see technology advancements in a negative manner.

If you are interested in learning more about Battlestar Galactica, here are a few links;

General Information: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0407362/

Opening Titles: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Zu0FMaEneO0


Does Stelarc move beyond the body?

Stelarc has an interesting perspective of humanity, or rather, post humanity. When we looked at his installation in class, where he hangs by his skin from wires, he says that he is trying to overcome the boundaries of the body. The boundary he is focused on is his own skin. But rather than eliminating it, I feel he is only drawing attention to it. In this installation, he is supporting his body by what? His skin. His disregard for the mutilation only draws focus on the skin’s purpose.  As we see blood dripping down his thigh, we realize that the hold on the skin is the only thing keeping him from falling to the ground, holding his internals in, and identifying him as an individual rather than a blob of a living system.

I think that trying to overcome the body disregards it for the spectacular system it really is. And with our bodies come behaviors that are human. From chemical reactions in our systems we experience joy and grief, and lust and adrenalin. I understand that a physical body has its limitations, but trying to dispose of the body will come with a lost of identity. Being embodied is a root of self, and if the post human is to be just a bodiless consciousness, like I think Stelarc or Moravec believe, that it won’t be post “human” but another species all together.

Experiencing the world in new ways

To be honest, many of the concepts we have covered in terms of posthumanism and what it will mean in the future to be posthuman are quite scary. Some of the concepts are easily accepted because they make a lot of sense. For example, Hayles idea that we have always been posthuman, suggesting the posthumanism is being part of the environment, is easily accepted.

What scares me are the notions of technology changing how we view our already complex identities and, even more so, how technology is changing how we see the human body. I have always seen the human body as unique and special. Seeing people add third ears and hang bodies from strings, in the manner Stelarc does, makes me feel uneasy. It takes something I have always seen as exceptional reduced to the same level as every other common thing. This leads me to think that we should not pursue research headed in that direction.

But then I think back to a viral Youtube video that I watched a few weeks ago and my sentiments change. People who build new technologies are often just looking for ways to improve our quality of life. It is hard to argue against that. In the case of this video, technology allowed a young woman to experience the world in a completely different way. This 29-year-old woman heard her voice for the first time after receiving a hearing technology implant.


In watching this, it is easy to forget that there is technology that lies behind this woman’s happiness. Many people hear the idea of merging the man and the machine and automatically express distaste.  It is easily forgotten that machines have become a valuable part of our environment, so it is inevitable that these two elements will crossover in some way. Adding a third ear to your arm may still be on the extreme side, but simple things like wheelchairs and prosthetics that have emerged in medical technology are shaping how we can experience our bodies differently—but in a positive way.

So maybe one day, it will not be weird to be listening through your third ear. People 100 years ago never would have anticipated how far we have come technologically today, so it is only fair for us to move on with open mind and look forward to what is coming next.