go to HorizonZero HorizonZero 02 vertical line layout graphic français >  

printer friendly version of article  >

sentient circuitry : autopoeisis
View this article in flash  requires flash 6 >

kenneth rinaldo's autopoeisis & cybersqueeks
Description, Bio, Ideas

Robot Description: Cybersqueeks
by Kenneth Rinaldo

The "Cyber Squeeks" series spoofs the emergence of machine intelligence. Electronics integrated with life-like forms have begun to squeak the first words of their own language.

Multiple sensors and switches allow them to respond to human touch and changing light conditions.

This digital, cacophonous, and disjointed forest is an analog to the forest of information that we are immersed in. Collective chaotic activity evokes the complex and dynamic processes that constitute life. Life is characterized by large populations of simple organisms, interacting non-linearly in the creation of collective global dynamics.

Source: Emergent Systems.

Robot Description: Autopoeisis
by Kenneth Rinaldo
Autopoiesis continually evolves its own behaviors in response to its unique environment and viewer/participant inputs. This group consciousness of sculptural robots manifests a cybernetic ballet of experience, with the computer/machine and viewer/participant involved in a grand dance of sense and response, one sensing and responding to the other.

The organism consists of fifteen robotic sound sculptures that interact with the public and modify their behaviours over time. These behaviours change based on feedback from infrared sensors, the presence of the participant in the exhibition, and the communication between each separate sculpture. The robotic sculptures talk with each other through a computer network and audible telephone tones, which are a musical language for the group. Some of the robot arms are equipped with cameras that project what they see on the walls of the exhibition space.

"Autopoiesis" means "self making", a characteristic of all living systems which was defined and refined by Francisco Varela and Humberto Maturana. The interactivity engages the viewer/participant, who in turn affects the system's evolution and emergence. This creates a system evolution, as well as an overall group sculptural aesthetic. Autopoiesis breaks out of standard interface models and playback methodologies, and presents an interactive environment which is immersive, detailed, and able to evolve in real time by utilizing feedback and interaction from participants/audience members.

Source: Emergent Systems.

Technical Features:

Smart Sensor Organization = Motion
Autopoiesis uses smart sensor organization that senses the presence of the participant and allows the robotic sculpture to respond intelligently. The sensors are organized in such a way that their number can be minimized while the abilities of the software to cope with data are maximized.

At the top of each arm four passive infrared sensors face North, South, East, and West. When two sensors are triggered, the program knows that someone is located in, for instance, the south-east corner, and this is the direction the sculpture moves to. Four sensors allow eight quadrants of sensing.

The passive infrared sensors tell each arm to move in the direction of the viewer, while the active infrared sensor located at the tip stops the arm as it arrives within inches of the viewer. This allows the sculpture to display both attraction and repulsion behaviors.

Central-State Controller = Precision
In Autopoiesis the robotic sensors compare their sensor data through a central-state controller, so the viewer is able to walk through the sculptural installation and have the arms interact both individually and as a group. Because each arm has its own on-board computer control, the overall speed of reaction is rapid and therefore life-like.

Local control always supercedes group control when a local sensor is aware of a human nearby. This also allows individual arms to show accuracy and delicacy of approach and avoidance when encountering the participant.

Lipstick Cameras = Vision
At the tip of two of the arms, lipstick cameras project what they see onto the walls of the space. This gives the participant a sense of being observed by this artificial-life robotic sculpture.

Tonal Language = Emotion
The sculptures communicate by using bit strings as information and they exchange this data serially, interconnecting all the sculptures. Each sculpture also generates bit strings of information as algorithms by using an internal numerical randomizer. These randomizers affect overall sculptural form and the evolution of the sound environment.

The telephone tones are a consistent language of intercommunication, and manifest a sense of overall robotic group consciousness where what is said by one affects what is said by others. The tones are a musical language that allows individual robotic sculptures to communicate and give the viewer a sense of the emotional state of the sculptural elements as they interact. Higher and more rapid tones are associated with fear and lower, more deliberate tonal sequences with relaxation and play. Other tones give the impression of the sculptures whistling to themselves.

Organic Materials = Flexibility + Durability
The main construction material for Autopoiesis is Cabernet Sauvignon grapevines from Napa Valley, California. Yellow urethane plastic structures with a spring serve as universal joints. The structure is strong, durable, and lightweight.

Artist's Bio
by the HorizonZero editors
Kenneth Rinaldo is an interdisciplinary media artist whose interactive robotic sculptures and biological art translate his belief in the co-evolution of organic and technological systems. His art explores an emerging symbiosis between biology and machines.

Born in the United States in 1958, Rinaldo comes from a long line of inventors and artists (his great-great-uncle was Robert Fulton, the inventor of the steamboat). Until the age of twenty, Rinaldo studied ballet in New York City. He then turned to computer science at Canada College in California, completed a B.A. in communications from the University of California at Santa Barbara (1984), and a M.F.A. in information arts/conceptual design from San Francisco State University (1996). He is currently Director of the Art and Technology program at Ohio State University in Columbus, where he teaches courses such as "Digital Imaging" and "Interactive Robotic Sculpture."

Rinaldo's excursions into "biological art" have included a series of "biocybernetic" sculptures which have succeeded in transforming Betta fish (Siamese fighting fish) into cyborgs capable of interfacing with machines to navigate non-aqueous environments. On his Web site, Rinaldo describes his work-in-progress Augmented Fish Reality as an "installation of rolling robotic fish-bowl sculptures designed to explore interspecies and transpecies communication." The installation will consist of a room full of motorized single-occupant fish-bowls on wheels. By swimming to a bowl's periphery, the fish will be able to move their tanks in that direction. Male and female fish will thereby be empowered to "virtually" leave their watery bubbles to negotiate the room and interact with its occupants, aquatic or human.

Rinaldo set the precedent for this exhibit with two similar, if less ambitious, Betta sculpture works: Mediated Encounters and Delicate Balance. Other biological art from Rinaldo includes Spider Haus, in which spiders get to experience their own artificial environment, and Technology Recapitulates Phylogeny, which incorporates the group consciousness of a colony of tubefex worms.

By blurring the line between organic and inorganic universes, these living artworks demonstrate Rinaldo's desire to see future human technological systems model themselves on the principles of life. This interest in biomimicry has also influenced Rinaldo's interactive robotic sculptures, which strive to create artificial systems whose behaviours imitate nature.

For example, The Flock (a collaboration with Mark Grossman) consists of three ceiling-mounted robot arms that demonstrate a bird-like flocking behaviour by following the voices of nearby humans. The three independent robots see with cameras, hear with microphones, and exchange information about the positions of people and each other through a special language of musical tones. There is no central force controlling the system: the robots act individually but interdependently to move in unison.

Other robotic sculptures designed by Rinaldo to show self-organizing group behaviours emerging from simple systems interacting with humans include Cyber Squeeks (a noisy spoof on the emergence of machine intelligence) and Autopoiesis (an expansion of the interdependent cybernetic ballet of The Flock).

As a multimedia practitioner, Kenneth Rinaldo has also created numerous non-robotic works that range from sound and video installations, strange musical instruments, and ambient light sculptures to digital image paintings. Presentations of Rinaldo's major projects as well as an extensive autobiography are accessible via his Emergent Systems Web site.

Links :


Artist's Ideas
by Kenneth Rinaldo
Symbio-technoetic Art
My interdisciplinary media art installations look to the intersection between natural and technological systems. The integration of organic and electro-mechanical elements asserts a confluence and co-evolution between living and evolving technological material. I am fascinated and encouraged by humankind's struggle to evolve technological systems that move toward intelligence and autonomy, modelled from our current conceptions of the natural. My artworks are influenced by theories about living systems, artificial life, interspecies communication, and the underlying pattern and beauty inherent in the nature and organization of matter, energy, and information. While I find hope and fascination in our technological evolution, many of my works express concern for ecological issues, which are often not considered within the realm of technological and cultural progress.

I have chosen interactive art in particular because it encourages active, self-determined relationships with a work of art and points to the co-evolution of humans and machines, nature and culture. The branching and joining of physical forms in my work echoes the behavioral flow and multiple directions an interactive piece may take in the act of self-organizing. I am compelled by open structures that define form but do not close it off to the viewer. I use exposed electronics and mechanics as part of the aesthetic in proposing structural relationships between wire, circuits, and natural branching structures. I believe it is imperative that technological systems acknowledge and model the evolved wisdom of natural living systems, so they will inherently fuse to permit an interdependent earth. "Symbio-technoetic" describes this philosophy.

Source: Emergent Systems.

The Transparency of Cyborgs
If we do not sense the mechanisms by which we communicate with the machine and the machine interface instead senses our presence, desires, or needs (expanding and simultaneously collapsing our vision), then this interface can be thought of as transparent. Often, the best real/virtual machine interactions are those that are transparent to the user. Interactive works can serve as a metaphor for the kinds of mediated interactions that humans experience on a daily basis, by using electronic communication tools like TVs to formulate notions of the world or using computers and telephones to communicate with each other. They can simultaneously speak to the notion that “nature”, as Donna Haraway has written, is a cultural construction which reveals much about the contemporary concerns of that culture, as it transmutes and changes the notion of nature to suit its needs.

Adapted from Kenneth Rinaldo's statement Mediated Encouters. Source: Emergent Systems.

The Rise of the Computer Genum
In our time, with human cultural development so inextricably intertwined with and dependent on technology, our existence surrounded in a strangely comfortable embryonic sack of chips and wire, it is no wonder that a relationship between technology and phylogeny seems evident. Strangely, there are now hybrid forms which one cannot readily identify as being either technological or biological. Neural network computers composed of bacteriorhodopsin, a bacteria-based molecule derived from the chromophores (molecules that allow us to see color) in mammalian eyes, are used for storing images. Dupont has recently created artificial spider silk based on research into real spider silk production, rumoured to be twenty times stronger than steel of the same width. Neural nets, micromachines, and cybernetics are a few more contemporary examples of researchers looking to natural systems for modelling.

While genetics have permitted the passing of biological heredity from parent to child, what has truly distinguished humans from our past kin is not our 100,000-year-old biological selves, but instead the cultural memory which has followed humans in the form of cultural memory augmentation devices.

Computers can certainly be considered as cultural and memory augmentation devices. Structurally, computers continue to develop, and seem to mimic the successive stages of development that less evolved forms have gone through, progressing from single transistors (cell) to very large-scale integrated circuits (neuron) to massively parallel neural networks (brain). Many would say that what is still lacking in computers are the body and sensory elements that would allow computers to develop a form of consciousness. I believe we represent that body as a remote sense extension, which rejoins with the computer as information processor and integrator. We further act as that body by continually researching, manufacturing, and modelling ever-faster hardware and software.

We must remember that computers are the first human-made systems that have the ability for symbolic processing — a function of more advanced biological beings. As computers reach higher densities of transistors through miniaturization, and computer structure looks to neural networks for modelling faster and more interconnected interstitial architectures, computer consciousness will arise.

Adapted from Kenneth Rinaldo's statement for Technology Recapitulates Psychology. Source: Emergent Systems.

back to top back to top  


Valid XHTML 1.0!
Valid CSS!