Category Archives: Artificial Life

Floris Kaayk’s Visions of Emergence 1: “The Order Electrus”

O nature, nature, life will not perish! . . . [I]t will start out naked and tiny; it will take root in the wilderness, and to it all we did and built will mean nothing—our towns and factories, our art, our ideas will all mean nothing, and yet life will not perish! Only we have perished. Our houses and machines will be in ruins, our systems will collapse, and the names of our great will fall away like autumn leaves.

—Karel Čapek, R.U.R.

Back in January, I wrote a post about Floris Kaayk’s “Metalosis Maligna,” a short film that I had seen years ago but thought lost to the internet void. There are two more of his videos that I want to share. Embedded above is “The Order Electrus” (2005), which I saw at the same time as “Metalosis Maligna,” in those heady days as I was groping around for my doctoral thesis project. Check out the video after the jump. Continue reading Floris Kaayk’s Visions of Emergence 1: “The Order Electrus”


Roomba Art

As the review for my dissertation was being put together over at Dissertation Reviews, I was asked to find an image to head up the post. A little Googling later brought me to an amazing Flickr pool called The Roomba Art Pool. It seems that quite a few individuals (including a group of students (?) at Braunschweig University of Technology in Northern Germany) have been fitting Roombas with LED lights, letting them loose in darkened rooms, and doing long-exposure photos of the action. The results are hypnotic, cycloid images of the robots’ meanderings as they perform their functions. These images recall the same long-exposure photos of W. Grey Walter’s robotic tortoises from the 1950s.

W. Grey Walter and his robotic tortoises.
W. Grey Walter and his robotic tortoises at home.
For more information and a slew of fantastic images, visit Reuben Hoggett’s Cybernetic Zoo

Something enchanting emerges from the simple feedback circuits that drive these simple machines, which in turn invites us to question the role of intentionality (human and otherwise) in artistic practice.

Dissertation Reviews on Creatures of Artifice

Last week, Dissertation Reviews posted a review of my own doctoral thesis, Creatures of Artifice: Rodney Brooks and the Bioethics of Animated Machines. DR is a relatively new website (founded in 2010) that offers “friendly and uncritical reviews” of recently defended dissertations. What began as a fairly specialized forum for reviewing dissertations in Chinese history and Asian studies has quickly expanded to include research in science studies, bioethics, medical anthropology, and media studies, with the intention to keep growing. Continue reading Dissertation Reviews on Creatures of Artifice

Floris Kaayk’s “Metalosis Maligna”: Biopower Beyond Sovereignty

I stumbled upon the work of filmmaker Floris Kaayk way back in 2006, but quickly forgot about it until earlier this year, when I wanted to present a couple of his shorts here. I don’t think I had ever paid attention Kayyk’s name, so it isn’t surprising that my rather poor Google search a couple of months ago, in which I tried to describe what I remembered from his work, didn’t turn up what I was looking for.

Today—eureka! I discovered the video I was searching for, as well as Kaayk’s site. The Dutch animator has been busy in the past few years, even garnering some major media attention for his “Human Birdwings” project}, an experiment in “online storytelling,” as he calls it, that involves a fictional character who designs a bird suit and flies around a city park. While Kaayk’s site expresses appreciation for the “positive reactions” from around the world, the coverage from major news providers unfortunately fixates on the project as an online “hoax” or “fake.” Generosity and imagination, it would seem, are in short supply when it comes to new media.

What initially caught my attention way back when was his project entitled “Metalosis Maligna,” which takes the form of a documentary about a new disease that causes medical implants to spread throughout the bodies of afflicted patients. Complete with interviews with a leading clinical expert, as well as the requisite science-documentary-style infographics, Kaayk’s short presents the gruesome development of the disease, as all sorts of medical braces, screws, and joint replacements gradually take the place of a man’s organic tissue. Just to warn you, the video is fairly disturbing, both in its visuals and its sound design, not to mention the verisimilitude with which Kaayk apes the science-doc format. It is definitely not for the faint of heart, so I’ve embedded it after the jump. Continue reading Floris Kaayk’s “Metalosis Maligna”: Biopower Beyond Sovereignty

Failed Sorcery at Menlo Park

Sam Van Olffen, Eve Future.  Many of Van Olffen’s images have become synonymous with steampunk and dieselpunk.  See more of his work at Blogspot.

The description that the fictionalized Thomas Edison gives, in Villers’ L’Eve Future, of the inner workings of the android Hadaly is entirely fabricated. It is a brilliantly imaginative bricolage of extrapolations based on Edison’s productions up to the early-to-mid 1880s (the novel was initially published in 1886).  The centerpiece of Hadaly’s design is a twin set of golden phonograph records that house the sum of her physiological and conversational behaviour.  In the novel, Edison is of course rather vague on the finer points of how this set up works in practice, at times suggesting that Hadaly would be able to respond appropriately to particular gestures and queries put to her, while at others he appears more modest in his claims, implying that her activities would run on a set schedule to which one would more or less become accustomed. Continue reading Failed Sorcery at Menlo Park

Joey, the “Mechanical Animal” Boy

“I laid myself as an egg, hatched myself, and gave birth to me.”

The hen electric, pregnant with the electric fetus. (The Empty Fortress 323)
I just finished reading the mammoth chapter on Joey in Bruno Bettelheim’s The Empty Fortress: Infantile Autism and the Birth of the Self as part of my research for my paper presentation at SLSA 2012. It is a greatly expanded account of the case study Bettelheim presented as a Scientific American article almost a decade earlier in 1959, and offers much more detail about Joey’s treatment at the Orthogenic School as well as the psychic “rebirth” that marks the beginning of his journey out of his delusion.

The tale of Joey initially interested me because of his elaborate fantasy, according to which he believed himself a machine requiring elaborate apparatuses to remain alive.  The Scientific American article concentrates on Joey’s machine world, Bettelheim going so far as to suggest that this extraordinary case study “has a general relevance to the understanding of emotion in a machine age” (“Joey” 117).  It is this dimension of the story that establishes the broad topic of my SLSA paper, where I will primarily explore connections between children and machines.  But Joey’s story, as recounted in The Empty Fortress, closes the “cybernetic triangle” of animals, humans, and machines, with numerous references to nonhuman animals and a crucial role played by hens. Continue reading Joey, the “Mechanical Animal” Boy

Children: The Ancient Dream of Artificial Life

Why are humans so obsessed with recreating themselves? . . . Children have always been excluded from the customary standards of human behavior, if you define humans as beings who possess a conventional identity and act out of free will. Then what are children who endure in the chaos preceding maturity? They differ profoundly from ‘humans,’ but they obviously have human form. The dolls that little girls mother are not surrogates for real babies. Little girls aren’t so much imitating child rearing as they are experiencing something deeply akin to child rearing. . . . Raising children is the simplest way to achieve the ancient dream of artificial life. At least, that’s my hypothesis.

Forensic Analyst Haraway
Mamoru Oshii, Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence, Production I.G., 2004.