NOT.SO.REAL

Core Concept

Not.So.Real is a project that investigates the way we perceive both boundaries and connections between the digital and real world; between our digital and real identity. These two realities interact with each other through the sensors we wear and the devices we own. Imagine a world in which the sensors we put on our body no longer augmented our experience with the surroundings. Imagine instead, that they gave a body to a digital identity. Following this dystopian scenario, I designed a set of five sensors, related to the five basic human senses. The sensors are to be worn by one person, so that their digital identity counterpart can hear, see, taste, smell and touch. Humans are no longer central to their own experiences, but props and facilitators towards something else. These sensors, though, have to scream that they are different from any other wearable technology that is emerging these days. I therefore decided to make them pixelated. They are standardized rather than custom, they are recognizable rather than hidden.

Instead of showing the objects themselves, I will exhibit a set of 5 pictures.

to-hear to-see to-smell to-taste to-touch

Related Work

Books:

Madeline Schwartzman, See Yourself Sensing

Movies:

La Jetée

Her

Black Mirror

Ex-machina

Design Process

My design process has been quite restless and has involved several iterations, which led me to change my mind from seeing digital and real as antithetic to more and more intertwined. During the first half, I focused on the concept of identity and the perception of self. During the second part, instead, I focused on how experience happens through our sensorial apparatus. In specific, I pinpointed four stages.

Scenario 1: What if we used the digital world, the way we do experience online in order to learn something new about ourselves? My focus was on the way we perceive differences in behaviors and ethical values. It resulted in the first idea “Digital Picture of Dorian Gray”.

Scenario 2: What if we could chose in between the digital and the real world? My interest was in understanding whether switching in between the two realities was an option to speculate on, especially I was thinking of using the digital world to eternalize real identities.

Scenario 3: What if the way we experience in the digital world has become so compelling that it becomes our preferred way of living? Feelings can now be coded and sent directly to the brain area which processes them, making so that digital experiences can finally trigger us in a physical way. It resulted in the idea “Documentary of the Life of Brian”

Scenario 4: What if digital identities become interested in particular physical experiences? This led me to the final concept definition.

In the end, I made the, must say, rather arbitrary decision of showing pictures instead of the artifact. I never took pictures before, and I thought I could take advantage of the expertise around me here at CMU to just do it. Arbitrary decisions should not be allowed in a proper design process, apologies for that.

Reflection

I should have focused on a more specific topic, as the amount of time available proved not to be enough for the massive topic of identity perception first and experience through senses later. I stumbled a lot during this project, I especially got lost within the huge amount of freedom that I was given in finding a proper context for my concept. What I got proven, again, is that building off existing knowledge and the work of others is less disappointing then when you think you made something new but it turns out not to be.

Step back to real sensations, a documentary

The discussion I would like to trigger is, indeed, about the way we perceive the virtual world, but the focus moved a bit from the concept of digital identity to the realm of sensations. What if living in the virtual world is the only way we now have to do experience? What if only digital experiences could trigger our body? In the same way that now digital experiences can trigger us from an emotional perspective (I can feel happy if I talk to my mum over a Skype call), in the world I envision that gets even further, with an actual physical response to digital stimuli. That happens because the functioning of the brain has eventually been fully understood, so we can digitally trigger our nerves, creating a specific sensation. I don’t know where we leave, but most likely is some sort of a box filled with liquid which keep us alive and asleep, completely immersed in our digital world which offers us all we need (I will try to avoid to explain this aspect in the final deliverable)

So, what would the final deliverable be?

I am thinking about and already getting help in movie making. I have in mind a short video-clip, maybe even a movie trailer, which just shows the story of a fictional Brian and his way of experiencing in 2050. Instead of showing how it would be to live in the digital world, I will focus on how it would be for him to be back on the real world. Brian gets sent back from the digital world scientists to his real body for shooting a documentary and he does perform a series of actions which clearly show his incapability in using his sensorial apparatus. He can not open his eyes, he struggles to stand up and walk, he can not taste an apple he bites, he can not feel pain when he pokes his hand. He can not do that, until when a digital sensation is generated from the researchers, who are constantly monitoring what he is doing, avoiding the fact that he could actually cause harm to himself due to his dull real senses.

I am imagining a whitish and rather quiet scenery, with mainly first perspective shots.

As props for the exhibition, I would need a screen and headphones.

The digital picture of Dorian Gray

In this last project I would like to focus on the relationship people have with the so-called digital world. How much are we aware of the “virtual-self” that we create day by day and how is our real life moral code projected onto the virtual world? The title obviously refers to the novel by Oscar Wilde, in which the portrait of Dorian represents the digital identity. How do we navigate the web? How do we treat people on online chats? Do we commit piracy online? These are the type of questions at the beginning of the work. What if there could be an object, either it be an individual device or a huge museum installation, which could make us more aware of our digital-self in a humorous yet reflective way. For now, I imagine a sort of picture cabinet, like the ones at the train station which make passport pictures. You enter, sit down, the machine recognizes you and goes through your browser history, social networks history and texts history too, maybe. The machine then prints out your portrait picture, which will be completely true to reality if your digital-self has the same integrity you have in real life. On the contrary, it will be distorted, aged (or any other visual effect), in case you have written nasty words on the blog of a politician, in case you have watched sexual content images, in case you have illegally downloaded the Beatles discography. My assumption is that looking at the distorted picture of yourself you might reflect on your attitude in a more profound way than just being told “Illegal downloading is as bad as robbing an ATM”.

portrait_of_dorian_gray_by_mercuralis

In the end, it is not about the artifact itself: indeed, I would like to learn more about people, and the artifact is a stronger means than just sending out a questionnaire.

If anyone wants to jump on the boat, I would like to work in pair!

A debated feeling

I definitively wish I was in Arizona in 2012, it must have been a lot of fun. As I already said many times on this blog, I consider the multidisciplinary approach to be much valuable and a warranty of democratic thinking towards the future. What I see in this work as a further added value is the thorough documentation and accessibility of the works produced.

However, if I then try to relate many of the work we saw so far with my interest for politics, I can not help believing that we run into too many descriptive and too few normative works. Why are not politicians involved in such workshop? Why are not the outcomes of such workshops material for legislators to bring to parliament? Sometimes we designer love too much our ideas and the fact that they are our “creatures” that we forget that we should involve also manufacturers, economists, legislators. The “creative” idea and concept phase should obviously be the starting point in designing for the future, but it is not an end in itself, especially if we want it to have a serious impact. Designing the future should result more into policy making, maybe? How about this slogan: More normative, less descriptive projects!

Making AI more human

Despite I had already watched Her a couple of times, the article published in Wired made me notice unnoticed aspects. On the social side, I think most of the audience would agree that technology does not play the central role in the movie; instead, human relationships and human-computer relationships do. Having said that, my piece of text will try to analyze three main lessons that an interaction designer (as I ambitiously like to call myself) can bring away from the movie and the article. I will use the “we” form.

.1 Minimize the interface

We design beautiful and elaborate interfaces, but that does not directly imply designing beautiful and aesthetically pleasing interactions. Sometimes interfaces are stuck on products and teach you unnatural and unintuitive actions, such as it happened when we first started to use the touch screen. Sweeping on a flat surface in order to move to another page does not belong to our physical-cognitive realm. In that sense, “Her” explained to us that an interaction with a machine can happen with what turns out to be a non-interface: the use of screens and tangible interfaces is minimized, and the use of human most accessible skills (earing, speaking, watching) are exploited to the maximum to obtain a smooth human-computer interaction which seems more natural than ever. Such a non-interface interaction can still be meaningful!

.2 Elegance

We are becoming more and more multitasking in our everyday life, but still that is regarded as rude in many situations. We should design for interfaces which allow more discrete and elegant interaction within public contexts. People do not look at each other when they are on the metro, the look at screens!

.3 System failure

“Her” also shows us how human it is for the OS to fail. We design machines which ideally perform efficiently and effectively, but when we want to make them more “human”, we might take into account that humans do not perform neither efficiently nor effectively. When towards the end of the movie Samantha does not immediately reply on Theodore’s call, she shows her human side, saying “Sorry I was busy with doing something else”. How human would your laptop be if after a full day of work would not turn on, showing on the screen “Dude, its late, I am tired, lets go to bed”? Would you as user accept that?

Visions of the Future

“Whether utopian or dystopian, these visions of the future shape our collective understanding of the relationship between science and progress and between people and technology”

P.Dourish and G.Bell

With these three readings I got to discover the importance of  communication means in doing speculation on futures. We saw a lot of exhibition pieces and performances so far, and it was refreshing to see what social studies have to say about the powerful media which movies/video clips are. I am now more convinced about the impact that such a medium could have. In fact, as opposed to niche exhibition and cultural performances, movies can go much more viral and reach a greater population. What I also appreciated is the fact that technology is the mainly addressed topic in these movies, but it sounds less important than the context. A well successful sci-fi movie on new technological scenarios will, if I got it correctly, require the director to be both a scientist and a sociologist. As Kirby points out when talking about the movie Treshold, the director has to go through three stages: first showing the necessity for a technology, then proving the normalcy of the technology and eventually show that the technical advance is indeed possible, what he calls viability. The result is a diegetic prototype which is a narration. A movie about the life of a 20-years old guy living with an artificial arm would be much more informative to the general population than reading the same story on a book or reading a scientific paper about the technology involved. Diegetic prototypes in movies make technical progress and technology understanding accessible to most, and this is quite powerful.

Here comes my concern. Both in movies about moon landing or the Microsoft “Future Vision on Productivity”, the grey-scary aspect is the equation possibility=preferability which is, in many cases, made by big power behind the scene. Technological determinism represent the only reading guide which is given to the audience: the movie does not only want to show that landing on the Moon is possible within few years, but it also makes the statement that it is what YOU want. Opposite to the movies cited in the papers, the series Black Mirror, for instance,  exploits the same diegetic prototypes to ask the audience whether the possible technologies presented would eventually be preferable.

How can the audience be critical?

To wrap it up, on the plus side movies and video-clips are a great mean to reach many people lives and are able to give an overall clear picture of the implementation of a given technology in its social context. On the negative side, we might end up believing that it is great to pay taxes and get to the Moon before the Russians do it.

Assignment 2

FIRST EDIT (2/12/2015)

I am interested in politics and what its relationship with design is and what it could be in a future speculation. In particular, inspired by the guest lecturer of last week I would like to stretch the concept of democracy and see what is feasible or even preferable for modern society. I assume that politics has in history always been the place where decisions were made, and, until recent years, the only one. Since when society became capitalist and then technocrat, the forum of decision making processes started to move from its original place. Citizens can influence politics, but can still politics influence technical development and big economic powers, who in some cases have bigger revenues than a whole country. How can then citizens influence the decisions which are made outside of the politics walls? For instance, I can vote for the Italian prime minister but I am not entitled to decide who is going to lead Apple for the next 5 years. As a matter of fact, both these two people do have a lot of influence on my future. What if I could democratically vote for the future I want? What if Apple would put a survey online saying “look, we have 10 mld dollars to invest, shall we start a project in biomedical technologies or shall we invest them in aeronautics”, collect feedback from tons of users which actually count as votes and imply the fact that majority wins? A sort of intellectual crowd funding process. First step would be to raise awareness around the topic. Do people care about designing the future? Do people know that politics is not the only place where decisions are made? Second step would be designing an (online, most likely) platform where people could debate and eventually decide on future. How will the platform look like and which actions it will actually enable is yet to be decided.. And now the readings, in which I still have to completely find my way, hoping that the lecture of tomorrow will help! The first two chapters of DnR’s book “The Speculative Everything” made me want to buy it and read it all, especially because it would help me in a better understanding of Mr.Tonkinwise whole critical piece. In “How We Intend to Future” I found the final chapter completing of what have been discussed in previous classes, and I especially agree with the perspective point from which the “receipe” is being explained.

SECOND EDIT (2/22/2015)

In the second attempt to better define my project scope, I briefly investigated what internet had done and can do for politics. It is an exploration of a territory I might enter, but not sure yet. Colin Delany describes the importance of internet and social media in election campaigns in his book “How to Use the Internet to Win in 2014”. Not only it became easier to spread one’s ideas, but internet also facilitated fund-raising campaigns (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/colin-delany/the-internet-in-politics-_b_4420094.html). And many more research data are available here http://journalistsresource.org/studies/politics/citizen-action/research-internet-effects-politics-key-studies#. The Italian comedian/politician Beppe Grillo (I know, it sounds weird, but that’s a fact!) uses his blog widely to communicate to his folks but also to question his followers on political matters, such as voting to expel someone from parliament, voting for a law proposal and such. Internet is used as a mean to empower citizens. (http://www.beppegrillo.it/en//grillonews2010.html) His collegue Gianroberto Casaleggio is famous for his fun visions on the future, such as this one http://www.casaleggio.it/thefutureofpolitics/, where he shows how technology and development will be used from politicians in the future as the only mean to warrant equality in society.

THIRD EDIT, meeting with Aisling (2/28/2015)

Inspirational works: disruptive politics, especially addressed in the works of the Yes Man (http://theyesmenfixtheworld.com/) + Pirates Party International, where hackers try to get into politics.

IMG_3375

Please promise me a democratic future

Multi-disciplinary work sessions are the most desirable ethical solution I have come across so far, when it comes to design and possibly steer the future.

Bringing forward again a thought which I posted few days ago, the more I dive into the futurology and design fiction discipline, the more I am concerned with the role of who is entitled to change the world. I personally find all the Microsoft and such video-clips scary and creepy. If only few companies, institutions or even people have access to the tools and skill-sets to design the future, that future might not be ideal for the majority.

Having people from different walks of life sitting around the same table to design future together is definitively an approach I do appreciate. Different backgrounds also means different interests, and I here assume that each category has its own interests which it has to preserve, no matter what. Politicians would envision a future where political power is leading, doctors would want a world where their expertise is central, religious authorities would want to drive society, big companies would envision themselves as leaders of progress and so on.

I can see the work presented in the paper even pushed forward. When all these people sit together, they have to tradeoff some of the privileges they would have instead preserved. It is, after all, democracy applied to futurology: having representative of each social, cultural, economical and technical entities leads to the distribution of powers.

The project also ended with a presentation accessible for the generic public and open for debate, again a necessary step in democratic decision making processes. To wrap up, here is the promising sentence that leads me to say I like this kind of work:

“… explore new pathways for creating democratic futures by building a public discourse around the aspirations of ordinary people”

The sad but fortunate story of Thomas McMillain

He rolls up his cigarette. It is seven in the evening, and he always does it before leaving office. Some tobacco falls on the official paper he just received from the WHO. It reads:

“Dear Director McMillain,

The WHO happily announces that 2039 has been the year when 100% of surgical operations have been successful in the US. We hereby thank the institution you represent for the exemplar contribution to this important achievement”

It is the first day of the year 2040, and he is the only human member of the UCLA Medical Center staff. He has actually been the only doctor in the whole hospital already for ten years, since when the Congress voted for expelling human doctors from all the healthcare institutions in California. But do not worry, even if it seems, he is not alone. He actually has 934 patients to take care of. And he has robots. Many. Two squads composed of 300 units each. They work in switches and rest for two hours a day, so that they can charge the battery.

Robots are precise and can perform any operation without all the pressure and emotions a human being has to go through. Robots are effective and efficient, which is all US health-care system needed in order to cut on hospitalization expenses. They are friendly, and they definitively do not look as ugly as they did in the 20’s. McMillain has always been a great supporter of the organic generative technologies, and was able to implement the first custom face skins. He did it for the good of his patients. He really did it, but now he is not sure anymore.

The programme is called “CustomTheDoc” and consists of applying the newest molecular technologies in order to modify the facial aspects of nurses and doctors. According to each patient, a mashup face would be generated mixing the traits of the most dare friends with the info collected on the social medias, and that is reproduced on the robot skin. People in the 20’s hated going to the hospital just because they could not stand the cold mechanical robots moving around the isles. He really did join the programme for the good of his patients.

Some of them do not talk to robot doctors, they do not want to engage in an empathic journey with a machine loaded with data. Some others really feel attached to their nurses, they talk with them and feel understood. When at seven in the evening he rolls up his cigarette, he is always thinking whether he took good choices. He does not know how much of what he created is honest to people around him. As his wife always asks him, how much of our humanity are we willing to sacrifice for the sake of wellbeing?

In his drawer, he puts these two posters next to each other.

20202040

 

Initial piece of news: http://rt.com/uk/227959-first-ever-robot-surgery/

Pictures are taken from Google and poorly edited in what you see by myself.

Google Doc link: https://docs.google.com/document/d/1b4kEG6BCriSnQi00fA4oGIjzbx5kunb6ck4SU3QLsm4/edit