Sunday, August 17, 2008

The ethics of computers

Only six years ago the New York Times announced that a Japanese laboratory had built the world's fastest computer, ..."a machine so powerful that it matches the raw processing power of the 20 fastest American computers combined and far outstrips the previous leader, an I.B.M.-built machine." (That is 35.6 trillion mathematical operations per second)

As is true of the robotics field as well the Japanese machine reveals very different ethics and commitment than their US counterparts.

The Japanese government financed this computer to be used at the Earth Simulator Research and Development Center in Yokohama ..." to analyze climate change, including global warming, as well as weather and earthquake patterns. "

"By contrast", the article says, "the United States has predominantly focused its efforts on building powerful computers for simulating weapons, while its efforts have lagged in scientific areas like climate modeling."

Forward 6 years to June of this year and true to the double exponential acceleration towards the singularity suggested by Ray Kurzweil, CNN announced that engineers from IBM and Los Alamos (sounds a bell?) have designed a computer capable of sustaining 1,000 trillion operations per second.

Can you guess what this computer will be dedicated to?
  • It will be used to help maintain the nation's nuclear weapons stockpile
So while most of the supercomputers around the world work towards solving some of the most urgent problems that we face, the US government through its military establishment keeps its accelerated pace towards our destruction.

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

It's Show Time

Am I ready yet?

Finally the expected moment when breaking a leg is the least of your worries, it is in fact a welcome omen!

I decided to post a slideshow, given that there are many pictures of different moments, from the preparation before the show to pictures showing the actual marionette, since many people believed that it was a pre-made video agains which the performance took place.

As I had discussed with my mentor Deborah Aschheim, this was going to be an experiment to see if the concept worked. The concept being that The Creator represented, among other things, an omnipresence that we took for granted, whose reality was ignored. The pervasive surveillance and control that is now an accepted state in the life of so many people who fail to question some very basic assumptions.

This presence whose control was embodied by the environment itself could become simply entertainment, a surface to which we have become fully accustomed and to which we in fact give our compliance voluntarily.

So perhaps conceptually the experiment worked, since as a "show" it was considered fascinating by most of the audience I had a chance to speak with. But I think that I would like to eventually construct a full scale marionette as originally planned (5 mts. tall). I am more interested in telling a compelling story that can directly connect with the stored archetypes that we carry in our brains and , because of scale and the amazement associated with seeing something so out of the ordinary, our defenses are suspended, letting the images and sounds seep undetected into our psyche.

Later on, perhaps,we will encounter in our dreams or nightmares, or worse in our waking reality, images,facts and ideas that evoke that inexplicable and uncanny feeling of the loss of our mythical innocence. Optimistically I would hope that this would result in recognizing like Pink Floyd says "the writing on the wall".

The Creator was born in Germany as a concept, or rather as a nightmare that my wife Lorena had. As artists we become attached to the object of our creation, even if it represents something as terrible as to what a post-apocalyptic scenario suggests. We treat the creator and the creature with loving care and feel both awe and compassion for them, or perhaps for what they represent. A loss of our own humanity.

It is fitting, and part of the mystery of our lives that we simply accept things as they happen. The performance took place in Linz, of all places. Linz, the birthplace of Hitler bears everywhere you turn and in spite of the efforts to conceal it, an atmosphere of sadness which even the clowns and street performers and musicians who entertain tourists and passerby s fail to diffuse. At our graduation ceremony, Virgil Wong had invited a pair of these street musicians to perform for us. It was interesting to see how the director of the Institute felt so uncomfortable as they sang beautiful but obviously sorry laden songs filled with nostalgia for what is not, sang in a language which nobody spoke but which everyone understood.