EMPATHY SWARM, CURIOUS TAUTOPHONE AND DR. DOPPLERS MACHINE
Tuesday - Friday
2 p.m. - 7 p.m.
and by appointment
AND DR. DOPPLERS MACHINE
„HAL, despite your enormous intellect, are you ever frustrated by your dependence on people to carry out your actions?
HAL 9000: Not in the slightest bit. I enjoy working with people.“
[extracted from: 2001: Odyssee im Weltraum (1968), HAL: Heuristically programmed ALgorithmic computer]
Digital technologies are increasingly permeating all aspects of our lives. Self-learning programs based on algorithms not only influence our behavior but are also increasingly granted authority to make decisions that have far reaching consequences, not only for our individual lives but for society as a whole. How objective are these programs really, what laws do they follow, and who profits from them? In order to create rules for how to implement new technologies, we need a kind of knowledge that goes beyond how these technologies are used. The works by Katrin Hochschuh and Adam Donovan invite to deeply engage with these technologies in an aesthetic and sensual way.
EMPATHY SWARM is an emergent system of autonomous robots that acts as a human machine interface and creates an ecosystem of man-machine-cohabitation. The swarm is a society of robotic creatures based on the equality of all members and constantly negotiates and balances the needs of all individuals. In its role as a human machine interface the robotic system is simultaneously activating and reacting to the emotions of the human actant. While the swarm expresses itself through its movement, the human responds subconsciously through motion and facial expressions revealing their emotional state. Together these mechanisms create a bio-feedback loop which shows the interdependence of both species.
On another level, EMPATHY SWARM defines its very own definition of what it means to be a utility apparatus, which is based on the idea of machine education, leading away from an optimization concept of human set goals in the form of machine learning. Instead the idea of self-drive and self-determination of the robotic machine is implemented which does not evolve from a position of suppression and machine revolution against human supremacy. On the contrary, EMPATHY SWARM gives space for the vulnerability of the robotic offspring and fosters the careful convergence of both species into an ecosystem and society of empathy and compassion for each other and among themselves. The human and robotic mind are merged into an extended hive mind that is a source of information and inspiration for future societies and can be utilised as a preventative medicine for a dystopian future.
SWARM DRAWINGS is both a robotic installation and the outcome which this produces. As an infinite reservoir of inspiration the swarm drawing robot is capturing the impressions and possibilities of the behaviours of a swarm. Closely related to the EMPATHY SWARM series, SWARM DRAWINGS is reinterpreting in its very own way how an algorithm can try to capture time and movement showing patterns and structures that are underlying the EMPATHY SWARM-society over time.The work asks questions about the robotic ability to be creative and to express its own understanding of the reality of its own species.
A dark psychophysics robot, CURIOUS TAUTOPHONE is spinning a speaker around two axes. Like a swirl of sound and light the visitor is drawn into the piece with all his senses and finds himself enveloped in a transforming spatial sound sculpture. A moment of precious intimacy is created and a door between the subconsciousness of the visitor and the machine is opened, both aurally and visually. The decidedly non-anthropomorphic robot is the source of this transcendent atmosphere and shows that the CURIOUS TAUTOPHONE is as much an apparatus of art as it is a tool for music and an instrument for psychology and physics.
The name Tautophone derives from projective auditory tests developed by psychologists Skinner, Rosenzweig and Shakow that can be understood as a form of Auditory Rorschach Inkblot where a sequence of vowels is repeated in an attempt to trigger latent speech hidden in the listener’s psyche. The Tautophone seems to be curious, motivated to explore its surroundings and to learn. It reflects the human capability to feel attachment to inanimate objects as already demonstrated by psychologists Heider and Simmel in 1944 and speculates about the human desire to give birth to new forms of life as part of a subconscious reasoning surrounding mortality. Tensor fields expresses the mathematical representation of the visual environment creating a new form of continuously changing inkblots of light.
Using the physical phenomena of directional sound as a medium of robotic expression, the unusual, even uncanny nature of hearing these auditory hallucinations opens the observers perceptual engine and intensifies the multitude of subliminal stimuli. Finally CURIOUS TAUTOPHONE deals with the basic structures that are connecting reality and possibility, the role of the robot being to re-calibrate the cognitive tissue that binds man and machine.
Shina metal MULTIPLEXING TAUTOPHONE is a high speed rotating parametric speaker apparatus that projects a focused beam of sound in any direction. Through carefully timed pulses sound can be spread over the entire surface of a room creating the effect of many sound sources without any discernible speaker being present.
Combining these apparatus for a performance is also an artwork on its own. Each time the piece is performed aspects of the room acoustics changes how the piece is perceived which again enhances the impossibility and impermanence of the moment.
DR. DOPPLERS MACHINE explores spatialization using the Doppler Effect. The installation is a “persistence of hearing robot”, think of “persistence of vision” (POV) and apply this to sound. It is a 2 meter wide spinning stereo speaker system in which sound fed in is distorted via the Doppler effect of speeds up to 500 rpm. At this speed DR. DOPPLERS MACHINE is able to create 16 virtual speakers per second allowing the work to be hyper spatial. By adjusting timed audio pulses, the audio seems to be moving in any direction of the circular rotation. Light pulses stretching along each arm create a separation between vision and hearing further enhancing the sonic effect. The mind does not fully understand why a sound can be in opposition to the light and while the conscious mind can see and hear it the unconscious mind fixates inducing a subtle mesmerizing experience.
Essay by Matteo Marangoni:
Can breeding robots solve an empathy deficit?
A jar of sourdough starter has exploded in my backpack. It was half empty just a few hours ago. Unbeknownst to me when I packed it, the creatures in the jar were alive and eager to expand beyond the capacity of the glass container. A sticky mix of flower and water is all over my copy of Valentino Braitenberg’s “Vehicles, Experiments in Synthetic Psychology”, a fun little book published in 1984 that describes a series of insect like machines expressing the emotions of fear, aggression and love.
In a farming area outside Hamm I received the incriminated jar from Katrin. Her and Adam are breeding a new species of robotic beings that are crawling around the floor of what used to be a living room. When she is not developing code for the robots, Katrin bakes an excellent loaf of bread in the adjacent kitchen. I want to learn how to bake like that too. Now the stuff is all over the pages of my reference literature.
Outside over the fields of wheat and corn a nuclear power plant impinges on the horizon. The plant used to house an experimental thorium reactor ominously named THTR-300. Nuclear chain reactions once contained in its core were brought to a halt following a leak of ionized particles into the environment that occurred at the same time as the disaster in Chernobyl in 1986. I think about other containers overwhelmed by exponential growth. I think of Al Barlett at University of Colorado at Boulder giving his famous lecture Arithmetic, Population and Energy over 1700 times. “Imagine bacteria growing slowly in a bottle. They double in number every minute. At 11:00 am there is one bacterium in the bottle. At 12:00 the bottle isfull. At what time was the bottle half full? Would you believe it, at 11:59, because they double in number every minute. If you were a bacterium in the bottle, at what time would you first realize that you are running out of space? Think about it, this kind of steady growth is the centerpiece of the entire global economy.”
The two story family house where I visit Katrin and Adam was built by Katrin’s great grandfather. He used to run a taylor shop on the ground floor and raise goats in the garden. Now the home is the site of a different sort of cottage industry. Upstairs robots are being assembled. If everything goes according to plan, soon the swarm is going to rise by an order of magnitude, from a first set of 10 prototypes to 100 units. Adam jokes that to meet the deadline he must first transform himself into a production line robot. These creatures cannot reproduce themselves autonomously just yet.
Katrin and Adam met in Switzerland during an exhibition in which Adam was busy with a pair of robotic arms capable of moving particles using acoustic levitation. For the last two decades Adam has been working with sound and robotics, fascinated by things like acoustic lenses and how sound messes with our perceptions. Back in 2001 he had a residency at the Defense Science and Technology Organisation in Adelaide where he first was able to explore the possibilities afforded by hyper directional sound. Katrin matured her interest in robotics during her architecture studies, first in Wuppertal and then at ETH Zurich. Her research approached digital parametric design by devising a swarm of builder drones able to cooperate to construct temporary pavilions. As is the case with most in the architectural profession, her ideas remained designs waiting for realization. The encounter between Katrin and Adam presented the opportunity to join the expertise of both to give life to an actual swarm of artificial entities. Katrin became the coder and Adam the hardware guy.
These little hexagonal cars that are dancing around at my feet run a physical implementation of the well known algorithm known as Boids, created by Craig Reynolds in 1986, which simulates the flocking behavior of birds. I remember playing with that code myself in programming class, but then it was just triangles on a computer screen. Now it’s hexagons running free on the floor.
Dumuchel and Damiano in their recent Living with Robots explain how the field of artificial ethology is concerned with creating biomimetic robots that serve as scientific instruments to prove theories about animal behavior. There are advantages in utilizing robotics over computer simulations. Robotics allow to include in a model the interplay of physical forces that are too complex to simulate accurately in virtual environments. Moreover, robots have a presence that compel human responses and enable interactions within the same space that our own bodies occupy.
The broader question that Craig Reynolds was responding to with Boids is how swarms of autonomous agents organize themselves without a central authority. Boids was able to model the flocking behavior of birds using 3 principles: separation, alignment and cohesion. The direction taken by each agent at every program cycle is the vector sum of these 3 parameters. Separation indicates the distance that each agent will seek to maintain from its neighbors. Alignment steers agents towards the average direction of nearby flock mates. Cohesion steers agents towards the center of the flock, seeking to maintain agents within the group. If we imagine these 3 parameters along the lines of Valentino Braitenberg’s interpretation of robotic motion, we could call them: personal space, conformism and loyalty.
One of the allures of studying swarm intelligence is the promise of developing better systems of governance. Systems in which each individual member of a group is reflected in decision making processes. Documentary maker Adam Curtis in All Watched Over by Machines of Loving Grace refers to an experiment which was carried out during the SIGGRAPH 91 convention in Las Vegas. Thanks to state of the art computer vision, 5000 participants equipped with color coded paddles collectively played the video game Pong. The game was projected on the large screen of the venue. The system tracked in real time the paddles held by the audience, steering the game paddles according to input provided by the crowd. The experiment demonstrated a new way for collective decision making that promised all but a societal revolution. Fast forward almost three decades and much of the earlier enthusiasm for digital information technology is gone. Stock market instability, cyber bullying, data mining, online censorship and fake news.
We have reached the difficult question: where
is the empathy in this swarm?
Empathy has been a buzzword since scientists scanning the brains of monkeys stumbled into the idea of mirror neurons. When we look at someone that is exhibiting pain, we experience pain ourselves. Neuroscience explained what theatre audiences felt for centuries in front of the sorrows of Antigone or Ophelia. Capitalising on this discovery, Jeremy Rifkin in The Empathic Civilisation proposed to harness these newfound brain mechanics to tackle global challenges such as climate change. If we could just feel the pain of fellow humans on the other side of the planet, we might take the steps necessary to reform our consumption patterns.
An obstacle lies in the way of pursuing Rifkin’s proposition. Within the online environments that connect us to the world at large, humans have shown to express a severe empathy deficit. In 2009 the Dutch artist Tinkerbell published Dearest Tinkerbell, a printed archive of hate mail and death threats she received after claiming to have tailored a handbag out of the fur of her own cat. “I seriously hope you become the obsession of a sociopath and that he makes a purse out of you” echoed with variations over the hive mind.
Is it true what they say, that people with social impairments created the internet in their own image?
The recluse inventor assembling robotic companions as compensation for a lack of human connection is somewhat of a cartoonish stereotype. It makes sense that those who are not at ease with the complexities of volatile human emotion would find comfort in alternate realities where the behavior of companions can be modeled parametrically to fit within a predefined comfort zone. Think of the androids in the sci-fi series Westworld, where the hosts of the amusement park can be reprogrammed to be more submissive or aggressive at a flick of an app.
Where fantasy starts to meet reality, the field of social robotics proposes to develop new forms of artificial intelligence able to recognize and respond to human emotion. One of the inspirations for Empathy Swarm is the work of roboticist Angelica Lim. During her PhD at Kyoto University she developed SIRE, a multimodal system allowing AI agents to recognize and exhibit emotional responses. Differently from other researchers in her field, Angelica Lim chose not to go for the more obvious path of reading and imitating human facial expressions. SIRE stands for Speed, Intensity, Regularity and Extent. Analysing the variations of these 4 parameters, SIRE attempts to infer an emotion from bodily movements and vocal dynamics. The system then creates a reference database from which it can generate its own emotional responses. An AI that learns how to become emotional from example.
And here lies the crux of the matter. The challenge of teaching robots to develop emotional connections, however unlikely the prospect of creating truly emotional machines may seem, could give us some insight into how to teach each other to be more caring.
Searching for emotion where it’s the least expected is at the core of Empathy Swarm. An experiment carried out in 1944 by psychologists Fritz Heider and Marianne Simmel is given by Katrin and Adam as reference. Heider and Simmel presented a short animated film to a group of test subjects and then asked them to describe what they had seen. The film shows a few basic geometrical figures in motion. Most spectators easily decode the choreography as a short story in which the figures represent people enacting emotions such as love, anger and sadness. No need to go to all the trouble of drawing cartoons of a mouse when we can connect emotionally to the adventures of a triangle and a circle just fine.
Current research into social robotics finds a direct application in fields such as healthcare, where robots sit in for human caretakers. This relationship appears to be reversed as I observe Katrin and Adam intent on the development of Empathy Swarm. At work in the studio, they are the human caretakers while the robots are their dependents. As I approach the creatures, I get too close an inadvertently interfere with their tracking system. The creatures loose their bearings and run out of their playpen. We patiently chase after them and bring them back to safety. If we must raise robots that have empathy, Katrin and Adam are doing it the traditional way, like a loving couple raising children.
My first globe of sourdough looks like it’s ready to put in the oven. Humans and yeasts have been collaborating for a while. There is promise in collaborations between radically different entities.