This project began with the desire to understand and craft speculative futures involving computer vision. It culminated in my failure to produce aesthetically pleasing and accurately constructed origami letters. An autoethnographic study follows.
I began by taking a break from work. Thinking about what aspects of my life had slipped during a course of industrial action. I was not getting up. Balancing my job in a kitchen over the weekend and studying through the week left me tired. But I still needed to get up. A delicate reminder stuck to my wall would provide the reminder I needed to rise everyday.
A cursory search led to Jo Nakashima - Origami Tutorials. In the past I had folded paper into animals and tessellated grid patterns. Origami at the right level of difficulty is a simple and stimulating activity and importantly, one where I didn’t have to read code. A shortage of ports, inconveniently short wires and my preference for music meant I muted the video.
The first steps were familiar, within the bounds of my logic, then, slowly at first but with familiarly fast growth I was lost. I bashed the space bar and re-wound. I repeated this several times.
I slowed the video down to watch how Jo’s hands move and fold the paper. At 75% speed things were better, I was a confident student. Matching fold for fold, until again I slipped and was lost. Left with double the number rows on my rectangular sheet of paper to Jo’s neat folds. I set the paper aside and started again. I was an overconfident student.
Keeping pace with the bare minimum of the instructions was fine. Yet the tucks and the lines were off. I paused. I thought. I remembered I was deaf. I turned on subtitles.
Through sporadic mis-transcriptions I produced a pass-able ‘g’. I did not want that ‘g’ on my wall.
I started the video again. Subtitles on, 75% speed, I finished and again was unsatisfied.
At last I turned off the music. I turned on Jo and was talked through the process. I was receiving visual and aural inputs. I was aware of pauses in Jo’s speech and heuristically sensed the next steps. Of course I had practiced this letter several times now. The improvement when imbued with all my pre-existing senses was palpable. I produced better product.
WAYS OF COMPUTER SEEING
Prior to the break I was working around computer vision, Amazon Go and the quantification of space as a totalitarian neoliberal future. A synecdoche was immediately apparent once I returned to my letters. I had in the space of a long fifteen minutes developed the ability to parse information from human language in the form of written language and sound.
I must discuss the swirling buzzwords which have already appeared in this text and some which are only now appearing. Such as machine vision, the industrialised application of computer vision, the system of software which allows the identification of features in a visible portion of the light spectrum. Identification along pre-existing, pre-programmed features.
Sight to a computer comes in many different forms, but is always, cryptically, reduced to 01101111 01101110 01100101 01110011 00100000 01100001 01101110 01100100 00100000 01111010 01100101 01110010 01101111 01110011.
Therefore the distinction between a biological eye and a computer eye is enourmous. A computer see's discretely, in a finite and countable manner.
Consider a scene, take a picture of it. As the information moves through the camera from analog to digital it passes through a mosaic filter. This filter measures the brightness of light through an array of red, green and blue filters. At the point of pressing the shutter we move from continuous reality to discrete capture of that reality.
This act of mapping continues through layers of hardware. Things are initially concrete, think of a recipe for four people. Then a recipe for four thousand people, the scaling is not linear. Serving four thousand requires more than a simple kitchen, it requires an apparatus comprised of production and distribution. As data accumulates into larger and larger its discrete nature is lost to human thought and becomes a continuous, slippery surface once more. We have tools to process mere slivers of this data. Each move to discrete obeys the Uncertainty Principle.
Until the resolution of our discrete reality becomes so high it folds back into continuous. Unable to differentiate between base reality and a propagation of something else. Emerging from a confusing, slippery, continuous reality a discrete reality permits evidence based action. Enlightenment thinking backs objective rationally constructed experimental evidence based action. The fallacy being the line at where objectivity and subjectivity merge. Struggling with this line can lead to labyrinths of thought and inertia.
Assertive approaches to uncertainty do not stop action. There exists different degrees of probability at which action is acceptable for different actors. Notable proponents of action include Karl Rove, senior advisor to George W. Bush, who denied saying the following to New York Times Magazine journalist Ron Suskind.
The aide said that guys like me were 'in what we call the reality-based community,' which he defined as people who 'believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality.' [...] 'That's not the way the world really works anymore,' he continued. 'We're an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you're studying that reality—judiciously, as you will—we'll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that's how things will sort out. We're history's actors...and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do'.
The biting point in this quote is ‘judicious study’. We now know some of the secrets of the American empire and the secrets of its data analysis. The point at which study becomes action requires a discrete approach, it can create continuous reality. There are many maps and guides available. Being all over the map can be as detrimental to action as no map.
The primacy of competitive strategy and tactics in the economic and political spheres will continue to imbue computation and machination with base myths. As we extend the senses of the computer and give the computer jobs through the machine we are empowering discrete realities over unknowing.
A continuous reality is a smooth surface void of scale. In creating discrete reality we are able to act with proportion and scale. Yet the tendency to outsource all decision to discrete reality means we average out and blunt minute bumps on the slippery surface.
We only have to look at the manipulation and influencing techniques in use to see the danger of overwhelmingly discrete realities. Attempts to recreate the human brain soon run out of processing power, notwithstanding attempts to take huge leaps and surpass the existing stock of human knowledge.
In AlphaGo there is a bark of a computer unwelt. The computer is able to make moves at a level experts do not recognise as human.
“But Lee has left the room. He left the room after that move.”
“I don’t really know if its a good or bad move at this point.”
To compute is to calculate, at orders of magnitude and speeds greater than we could hope to on our own. A discrete reality a human is a far different environment to that of the computer. In the deep dives performed by artificial intelligence systems we must ask what small cracks we can find on the smooth surface of black boxes. An artificial intelligence then, see’s everything first in two dimensions, then in as many iterations as it wishes til it hits a point. At this point a decision can be made.
THEORY, FRAMEWORKS AND CONCLUSIONS
In this project I have produced research artefacts at the most granular level possible, that of my own development. Autoethnography does not fit into the dominant utilitarian epistemology. Exercises such as this are a means of bringing continuous colour to a discrete reality.
When we move into what Deleuze calls ‘dividual’ existence our sense of self is lost to outside forces, which may or may not have our best interests at heart. Cultural malaise towards economic living is depressing.
Our culture of highly profiled and targeted consumables requires a reflective antidote. Where in safe and comfortable circumstances we are able to unpick social conditioning to glimpse our own base truths. These experiences are perhaps not suited to government policy, or within the corpus of academic knowledge, or in a business capacity.
What qualitative research as this does is the rapidly disappearing, self-defined individual. The dangers of personal truth finding are apparent in movements such as the ‘lunatic fringe’, blithely seeking patterns to justify pre-existing beliefs. To quote Deleuze further there are new weapons everywhere, there is no point to be afraid.
What we experience when we re-grow out senses is a walkthrough of evolution. Our ability to expand sensory input and create new, thinking computational devices requires us to think humbly about the tools we create. At the level of the individual these personal exercises are removed from market forces and exist as a form of play. Playing without senses allow us to feel stupid or inept (as some advertisements do) without malice coming into the picture. Empathy for all.
Critics of autoethnographic work argue that ‘I’ and I do not matter in times of hardship and struggle. To which one has to wonder when there were not times of hardship and struggle, and to what end the eradication of individual voices contributes to the struggle against struggle.
Working in the opposite direction to ‘turns’ puts one in a contrarian position. The presence of a minority report is essential even if ignored at the time, as it bolsters the argument against history and winner. Contrarian work adds weight to the rhizomatic worldview where we do not lose knowledge merely on the grounds for being non-conformist.
Returning to ethnographic research as a whole is a reasonable reaction to an over-quantified corpus of knowledge. We are living in the primary stages of a culture powered by this knowledge and already there are ill-signs. The language of problematic populations has returned. In a complex system like society this nudging and poking of conduct towards action must be shown for what it is, a self-fulfilling prophecy able to be wielded at any and all populations.
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to Art Involving Biotechnology
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Woodcock, R. Instrumental Vision