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Patrick Tierney (M, 33)
Princeton, US
Immortal since Oct 7, 2007
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    I recently read an article by Manuel DeLanda discussing Non-Organic Life and the Mechanical Phylum. Simply put, anything that crosses thresholds can be thought of as an organism. This includes waves moving through water, rocks forming stratas over millennium, yo-yos, simple circuits, and computers.

    Dimensions can be assigned to these organisms for each degree of freedom. A light switch, a battery, and light is an organism with a "point" degree of freedom: it is either on, or off, and therefore exists in a point space. An oven occupies a point in one-dimensional space (it's freedom is confined to a linear temperature). A pendulum occupies a point in two dimensional space, and bicycle, DeLanda notes, has about 10 degrees of freedom. In other words, there are only 10 aspects of a bicycle that separates it from a static object. It therefore exists in 10 dimensional "phase space," depicting this phase space would require collapsing 10 dimensional to a space we can view. I like the terms Non-Organic Life and Mechanical Phylum, since as we clearly dont require organic life to have even the slightest consciousness, non-organic life should not have to start with AI.

    I find this concept most interesting as it applies to bots or web crawlers. When computer programs are competing to solve a problem their "movement" and the very space they inhabit it made at the discretion of the programmer. I've discussed this process and how this space can be thought of as architecture in a previous essay.
    A glass structure is charted in two dimensional phase space. The orientations of the glass shards is the structure's degree of freedom, charted in a line.

    Another interesting dimension (no pun intended) of bots is that they can be thought to exist in multiple "universes." If you create a bot, Q, to roam through a set of data, you can duplicate not only Q but the space it lives in. You Therefore when charting Q's location you must not only specify its position according to these degrees of freedom, but you must specify which Q in which universe you are describing. DeLanda neglected this in his essay but I would consider it a part of phase space.

    So if we can think of bots as part of a phylum, is there an architecture to their space? Does architecture apply only to humans? Is there an architecture to the space bacteria or worms live in?

    Order out of Nothing

    DeLanda's essay also brings up an interesting note about order arising with no guided influence. Rocks are organized into similar stratum though nothing more than the chaos of our universe. Similarly, the planets of our universe formed in the same way. If the planet we stand on and the environment we live in creates order out of nothing, why is it so hard to imagine that it eventually created rudimentary life, or rather, rudimentary life created itself.
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    This weekend DARPA handed out $3.5 million to three teams competing in a driving version of the Robot World Cup. The vehicles had to navigate a staged urban setting, obeying California traffic laws and avoiding stunt drivers, all without any intervention by humans.

    The winner, named "Boss", came from Carnegie Mellon University and perhaps won due to gutsier decision making.



    MIT's vehicle, pictured above, failed to avoid another car reversing away from a traffic jam and plowed into the back of it.

    DARPA hopes to replace a third of the US Military's vehicles with autonomous ones by 2015.
    Tue, Nov 6, 2007  Permanent link

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    Over a decade ago, a team of scientists and programmers created a virtual environment and populated it with creatures, letting natural selection take it's course. The results were quite impressive.



    Wed, Oct 24, 2007  Permanent link

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    Researchers from the Biomedical Engineering Laboratory at Keio University in Japan have developed a brain-computer interface that enables users to control the movements of Second Life avatars without moving a muscle.

    It's a brain wave scanner, and as the video shows it surprisingly good control over your avatar in Second Life for a device that doesn't need to be glued to your head (though it is a little slow).






    Shuhei Endo has been doing some interesting work with geodesic dome structures. One of his larger projects is the ECO House, a huge bean shaped geodesic dome with grass growing around much of the outside. He said it keeps the inside 10 degrees cooler on the inside without air conditioning (I dont know if it's Celsius or Fahrenheit). The ECO House encloses 9 tennis courts in one snaking bean shape without any obstructing walls or columns. He did a kindergarten in a similar fashion though at a much smaller scale. I like how it makes children sized overhangs.






    Kaichiro Morikawa gave a talk on the Otaku subculture in Japan on Monday. It was primarily an anthropological talk, though near the end he started making some great parallels between the internet, architecture, and user generated content. Otakus are the anime and manga obsessed citizens of Japan, and have created districts in Tokyo with distinct architectural and design styles based on the Otaku's needs and personalities. The buildings in Otaku districts are more private than contemporary buildings, yet also offer places to display user generated content such as fanzines and "garage kits."

    How we design buildings and structure cities is primarily based on global trends (the glass and steel of modernisms for example) or "capitalism translated in to space" (giving the biggest buildings and central locations to rich corporations). These two design methodologies often dont reflect the subtle needs of subcultures. The internet knows this all too well, and it is this feature of the internet that has given rise to so many diverse groups. How can architecture catch up?


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    Judith Donath lectured today at Broad Art Center today, and for those who missed it, she's the director of the Sociable Media Group in the MIT media lab. She described a few of her projects, most of which are based around Second Life. My favorite project was rather old one, but one that suggests how we could communicate on the web.

    The project is called Chat Circles, and is similar to simple chat program like AIM or Google except that the user must place their circle avatar in a specific location in a large, scrolling, 2d window. All other people catting on the system are represented by circle avatars, though you only see the messages of the people nearby. While this might lead to some people being able to snoop in on your conversations, the power of this method is that suddenly your chats have a focus. On aim, each of your conversations carry the same attention-weight. (which can be appealing, I suppose) However, with Chat Circles you can definitively announce (as in real life) who you are paying the most attention to. You form more tangible groups, you hang out.

    On a related note, she talked of a study that says people are more likely to lie if they are communicating to an avatar with a face than if they are communicating purely by text. Go figure. It has something to do with the fact that when you see a human face, you enter into a social mode, where you try more to impress people rather than stick to facts.
    Tue, Oct 9, 2007  Permanent link

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    Yoshiharu Tsukamoto, co-principal of the Atelier Bow-Wow firm out of Tokyo, just gave a talk at Perlof Hall here at UCLA, and showed off a few of his buildings and projects. One of the most striking ones, and one that really to me thinking about a great style of building was his Tower House.


    The house is incredibly narrow, only several meters across, and fits a fully functional house, as well as a patio on top. I'm imagining placing houses like this anywhere in Los Angeles you have 12 feet by 30 foot lot.


    One of the best parts is that the couch, library, and living room are all on different levels. This generates "3 dimensional conversations."
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    Recently I've come to appreciate Neuromancer in a whole new way. For the longest time I thought of the book as too abstract and a little slow, as opposed to Neil Stephenson's Snow Crash, which gave so much detail about the Metaverse you could sit down and begin programming it. I always thought the difference was that Gibson couldn't imagine what this virtual reality would be like, so he left it vague.

    As virtual reality is becoming more central to people lives and businesses, I'm beginning to understand one reason why he might have structured the novel in the way he did. For those who aren't familiar with the book, it follows a man who's been neurologically damaged so he cant enter cyberspace. He turns into functioning alcoholic, and much of the book deals with his detachment from the world, living his life in a half waking state.

    Something fundamental about the world we live in today is that as long as you are alive, you exist in three dimensional space, are affected by gravity, and all other forces in our universe. With the rise of virtual reality we will form an attachment to an entirely different space. The character in Neuromance defined himself by cyberspace, he thought in the dimensions of cyberspace. When this was taken away from him he was alive, but didn't exist in his reality. The thought of being in this state make me recognize how ahead of his time Gibson was.


    Sun, Oct 7, 2007  Permanent link
    Categories: Virtual Reality, computers
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    Let's take a definition of architecture as any constructed environment designed for beings to live, work, or exist. While this would include some odd environments such as cattle pens (constructed from little more than wooden posts and barbed wire), I think as a whole it encompasses most of architecture. It leaves out forests and other natural habitats where beings exist and live, and includes virtually every structure traditionally defined as architecture. It also leaves out sewers, trenches, and other pieces of construction which one shouldn't call architecture (unless you adopt a rat's point of view). Thus, architecture is a build or constructed space that beings inhabit.

    Using this definition, I have chosen for my space digital space, or cyberspace, to use a term coined by William Gibson over two decades ago. His descriptions of cyberspace described shafts of light, large spaces, and a psychedelic environment you could touch, manipulate, and become engulfed in.

    While I have included this three dimensional, tectonic space in my collage, I have also shown a space which beings of a much lower order than us inhabit. This space is unlike the three dimension worlds such as Second Life or video games. This space is a space made of bandwidth and computing power, operated by machines for machines, which allow some programs to duplicate themselves, modify themselves, move from machine to machine, gain power and loose it. All of these programs live in an environment based on algorithms and, ultimately, how well a particular performs its given task. Google for instance has machines to roam the Internet searching for information. Cryptography companies use programs to sift through and interpret data[1]. Each program is given access to some data and freedom to move from computer to computer, gathering data. Some make sense of the data and are allowed to reproduce. Those that output gibberish are deleted.

    The environment these programs inhabit is not like the three dimensional space we live in, in fact, it is unclear as to how many dimensions these programs live in. For instance, while we define ourselves by three spatial coordinates, these machines might define their location by a data bandwidth dimension, charting how much data it can receive, or by the number of times it can replicate itself, or to what extent it can communicate with other programs occupying the same state. A programmer determined all the qualities of each location in this environment. Since physical location matters little to these programs, they might describe each location by a thousand different dimensional qualities, and base how they move by factors we cannot imagine, as entities in our space do not have limitations on reproduction or viewing bandwidth. So, is this environment space, and if so, is it architecture?

    It seems to satisfy half of our initial condition. It has been constructed. As much planning and design goes into designing the computing environment for these autonomous machines as would go into a constructed building. The environment has constraints and boundaries, and therefore walls and enclosements. Enclosement defines interior space. It also seems to satisfy the second half of our definition, that beings live, work, and exist in this environment, provided that these digital machines are in fact beings. Thus the problem with labeling this digital space as architecture lies not in measuring breaths, widths, spans, or volumes; the problem lies in defining life.

    I would argue that these machines would constitute some kind of rudimentary life, and therefore can be categorized as beings. The book Vehicles, Experiments in Synthetic Psychology by Valentino Braitenberg maps out a way to construct simple machines with incredibly lifelike characteristics. His book is backed up by neurological research showing how simple the brains of many insects and lower order animals are, and how easy parts of these brains can be replicated in the computer. Thus, we can construct an insect like program and place it in our virtual space, design the parameters that limit where it can move, where it can eat, what it can see and where it can meet other insects. If an insect is a being, and if this software is much like an insect, this software is a being. Therefore, it would seem that this environment satisfies the conditions of being architecture.
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