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The Technobody: An Animatronic Artefact as Manifestation of Second-Order Cybernetics

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How can the effect of digitalisation on our environment be represented in an art form that can generate consciousness? The project ‘Technobody’ adapts the installation Colloquy of Mobiles by Gordon Pask to an animatronic art form that represents the relationship between the human being to technology and a sensory environment, which consequently leads to the evolution of the Technobody. Richard Dawkins’s concept of the extended phenotype is linked to the virtual environment, which results in a ‘virtual extended phenotype’. The designed Technobody establishes a reflexive loop between its state as an object and its use as an extended observer. The observer, in this case the human being, is in the system of virtual seduction. The purpose of this study is to identify how knowledge about systems can be generated and transferred to observers through interaction and participation.
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Topic: Cybernetic Serendipity
The Technobody:
An Animatronic Artefact as Manifestation of Second-Order Cybernetics
Koering, Dietmar
Arphenotype, Hahnenstrasse 20,50667 Cologne, Germany, office@arphenotype.com
Abstract
How can the effect of digitalisation on our
environment be represented in an art form that can
generate consciousness? The project ‘Technobody’
adapts the installation Colloquy of Mobiles by
Gordon Pask to an animatronic art form that
represents the relationship between the human being
to technology and a sensory environment, which
consequently leads to the evolution of the
Technobody. Richard Dawkins’s concept of the
extended phenotype is linked to the virtual
environment, which results in a ‘virtual extended
phenotype’. The designed Technobody establishes a
reflexive loop between its state as an object and its
use as an extended observer. The observer, in this case
the human being, is in the system of virtual seduction.
The purpose of this study is to identify how
knowledge about systems can be generated and
transferred to observers through interaction and
participation.
General Terms
Interactive Art, Technology, Experimentation,
Cybernetics, Phenotype
1
Dr Lippert, (Koering, 2018); personal communication
(2016)
.
Keywords
Technobody, Interaction, Art Form, Metaspace,
Second-Order Cybernetics (SOC), Real Time,
Colloquy of Mobiles (CoM), Gordon Pask
1. Introduction
In the current state of technology, buzzwords such
as the ‘Internet of things’, ‘cyber-physical systems’ or
‘real time’ are becoming increasingly common. In the
near future, all products, objects and beings will be
equipped with sensors that will gather data. As human
beings who constantly interact with these systems, we
are interested in how these new technologies influence
or create spaces. These spaces can be physical or
virtual, seen or unseen; they will nevertheless link to
networks and influence our behaviour. It is not the
technology that needs to be questioned; rather, it is the
way we think, link and interact as humans with such
technologies. Dr Lippert, special representative of the
board of BBU Berlin (Association of Berlin-
Brandenburg housing Companies), frames this
argument succinctly:
‘The future does not lie in a special technology or a specific
approach, but rather in the intelligent linking and integration
of different aspects.’
1
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2!
We realize that these new systems are altering the
physical space, and the behaviour of its inhabitants is
being determined, therefore the following question
arises: How do we adapt to these environments if the
environment itself becomes an intelligent interface or
artefact? This is an important question, and we
assume that this will not only lead to a shift in the
relation between architecture and the construction
industry, but will also lead to a change in the political
and academic landscapes. A more polemic description
of the adaption can be found in the book The 2nd
Machine Age (Brynjolfsson & McAfee, 2017, pp.6-7),
where the authors discuss the bent curve of human
history and the effect of the steam engine.
Brynjolfsson and McAfee cite the industrial
revolution when the steam engine, created using a
centrifugal governor, replaces the muscle’s power.
Hence, we can assert that the digital revolution,
through the assistance of computational processes, is
replacing or enhancing the brain’s power. Nowadays,
the combination of sensors, robotics, automation and
communication through the Internet of things enables
the Technobody, a representation of the ‘second
machine age’.
2. Background: Colloquy of Mobiles
As communication is essential, we should be aware
of how it relates to cybernetic systems. Cybernetician
Gordan Pask described cybernetics as the ‘art and
2
The ideology of the methodology is partially adapted from
my master’s thesis, ‘Electro Flesh Disorder’, 2007, completed at
the UCL Bartlett School of Architecture. It refers to Stelarc’s
idea that views the human body as a site. I personally believe in
second-order cybernetics to observe systems from the inside
while being aware that the observer is part of the system.
Logically, this means, in a wider context, that humanity is always
part of a system and therefore part of nature. I am at this
moment not sure, however, if there is a real first order in
cybernetics if the brain of the user is active while dealing with
such a system. After an e-mail exchange with Ranulph Glanville
science of manipulating defensible metaphors’
(Gordon Pask (1966) The Cybernetics of Human
Performance and Learning. Cited in: Wallis, 2010, p.
XVI). If we talk about animated art forms or devices, it
is logical to form an object, which represents this state
of thinking. It is believed that each human being
constructs his or her own world based on observations
and knowledge gained from diverse sets of data that
‘…should be stable to be useful in making knowledge,
i.e., the outcome should be repeatable unambiguous
(stable in interpretation)’, (Glanville, Re-searching
Design and Designing Research, 1998, p. 2),
2
and
should confirm what is already known. This view
contends that all human beings are different, and
communication is the only way to ensure that we all see
the same thing, and determine whether the receiver
understands the intended communication. Thus, data
and knowledge should be repeatable and unambiguous,
as suggested by Glanville.
Gordon Pask and his team translated this approach of
thinking into the interactive installation Colloquy of
Mobiles (CoM). The Colloquy of Mobiles (Figure 1)
was an interactive installation shown at the Cybernetic
Serendipity exhibition in 1968 in London.
3
The
Colloquy of Mobiles was a cybernetic piece of art,
which established a connection between object and
observer, between art and human, but as an interactive
model. All observers, objects as humans, could learn
(† 2014/12/20), we can also accept that with this view and
understanding of SOC, there is no possible productive third
order.
3
In 1968, there were two important exhibitions: ‘Nove
Tendencije’ in Zagreb and ‘Cybernetic Serendipity’ in London.
Today, both exhibitions stand for the elaboration of a multimedia
deliberative art form that includes critical solidari ty. ‘Nove
Tendencije’ has been an annual exhibition series since 1961. In
1968, the exhibition was explicitly related to the art media
computer.
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from each other. The main concept of the Colloquy of
Mobiles and the Males’ were developed by Gordon
Pask; the Femaleswere created by artist and theatre
designer Yolanda Sonnabend; and the electronics were
coded by Mark Dowson and Tony Watts.
Figure 1: The Colloquy of Mobiles by Gordon Pask displayed at the
Cybernetic Serendipity exhibition at ICA London in 1968. Source: Rosen,
Margit, The Colloquy of Mobiles at medienkunstnetz.de.
The Patron of the Projects was Maurice Hyams who
collaborated with System Research Limited
(Reichardt, 1968, pp. 34-35). For Gordon Pask, the
installation was intended to create an aesthetically
potent environment. Pask believed that ‘…an
aesthetically potent environment encourages the
hearer or viewer to explore it, to learn about it, to form
a hierarchy of concepts that refer to it; further, it
guides his exploration; in a sense, it makes him
participate in, or at any rate see himself reflected in,
the environment’ (Reichardt, 1968, p. 34).
4
This quote illustrates the strong relationship the
environment has to the Technobody and the
importance of the design of an interactive object or
space—to encourage its users and to enable
participation. In the future, the human body will have
4
!Quoted!from!the!Catalogue!of!Cybernetic!Serendipity,!but!
written!by!Gordon!Pask!as!an!introduction!to!the!Colloquy!of!
Mobiles!in!1968.!
an effect on sensors and on the potent environments,
and of course vice versa. In a way, Pask envisaged
participatory control systems for the city. For him, the
user—or let us say human being—had to participate to
be part of or within the system.
3.1 What Is a Technobody?
With Charles Babbage’s unrealized Difference
Machine, conceived in 1822, humankind stepped into
a new era of philosophical thought. The Difference
Machine is widely regarded as the first computer. Since
the invention of the computer chip and its ongoing
development, humankind has finally succeeded in
opening Pandora’s box. Humans have created a new
era in which technological innovations appear at an
ever-increasing pace. However, the future of the
human body begins to be questioned. The human need
to pass along genotypes into future systems has been
bound to a world of electronic circuitry. The human
body has become virtually extended; the body is
displaced in its environment. Authenticity is no longer
grounded in its individuality but rather more so in the
multiplicity of remote agents that it hosts. It falls into a
dimension based on human errors. Compared to
industrialisation, there is an analogous result: the
alienation of the human body. The Technobody (Figure
2) is degrading humankind to the status of an object;
humanity is becoming fragmented. Through its data
reduction, the Technobody decomposes and re-
composes in a constantly fleeting space each time the
body alters its location. It is through this process that
we can speak about virtual extended phenotypes.
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4!
Figure 2: The Technobody at the Academy of Arts, Vienna, 2015.
The Technobody deals with de-humanisation through
our virtual extended phenotypes
5
and is viewed as an
idea—a state of intelligent thinking.
It is obvious that mind and body form a symbiotic
relationship to exist. It has not been said that if we
digitally transcend our bodies through the adaption of
technology and related algorithms, we will lose our
designation as human beings. We should train
ourselves to view our bodies as sites for our minds;
new, radical technologies will give us new
possibilities. Nowadays, we are able to inhabit a virtual
body with our mind. Neuroscientist Adam Gazzeley
remarks on the adaption of the human brain: ‘The world
is challenging with the constant stream of new data. Therefore,
we have to optimize our brain as good as possible’ (Adam
Gazzeley, Cognitive Neuroscience Research Lab UCSF in
Brave New World, 2016 2:44).
Hence the future of human beings cannot be found
within machines, but rather lies in the control of our
brains. It is crucial to learn how to survive this
conjunction of reality and fictional space. When our
minds are transferred into digital blood, and vice versa,
we refer to the Technobody. Even the position of the
5
!Defined in the March thesis ‘Electro Flesh Disorder’ by
Koering, D. in 2007.!
6
Written from the viewpoint of a radical constructivist.
total escape of our body is always connected to the
metaspace.
3.2 Metaspace
Metaspace is the physical and virtual space in which
man remains with his formed thoughts, his own
reality—the space needed for his own consciousness.
The awareness of the metaspace is needed to become
conscious. Metaspaces are, according to Raoul
Bunschoten, spaces of signs in which correlations can
be demonstrated, connectivity mapped and planned;
and they consequently form our reality.
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Bunschoten
further expands that metaspaces are diagrammatic
expressions of the organizational form of dynamic
conditions that can be fed back into physical space and
temporal processes (Bunschoten, 2001, p. 37).
Metaspace is defined precisely by Gordana Dodig-
Crnokovic (professor of computer sciences in
Chalmers, Sweden) and Raffaela Giovagnoli (analytic
philosophical researcher from Berkeley, California):
‘For every Metaspace we assume that there is a core set M0
which is “known” and that there is a process of some sort to
discover the remaining elements of M, especially when meta-
items that contain valuable information (“knowledge”) are
believed to exist. If no such process is available, we may wish
to design it’ (Dodig-Crnkovic & Giovagnoli, 2017, p. 72).
Therewith, the notion of design becomes important, if
we talk about communication and reality, as noted by
Ranulph Glanville. In the words of Glanville, ‘Designers
are constructors: in how we make in what we make and its
existence for us to use in the environment’ (Glanville, 1998).
Through the combination of communication and
design, the Technobody will generate extended
7
scientific knowledge on the issue of how metaspace
7
Extended as in the extended phenotype, aligning with the
view of Richard Dawkins.
!
5!
and consciousness are linked to the actual digitalisation
of our environment. The process of the acquiring,
developing and distribution of knowledge is illustrated
in Figure 3. We are aware that such processes are
naturally more complex than shown.
Figure 3: The simplified process of the acquiring, developing and
distributing of knowledge—the shift of first-order cybernetics to SOC.
3.2 The System and Its Language
The adaption of the CoM by Pask and the ideas of an
reflexive environment based on real-time data are
imbedded in an animatronic installation which has
been realized in material form in the animatronic
artwork The Technobody’. The white, organic,
‘snakelike’ shapes are symbolic objects constructed
from funky foam. The design language is influenced by
the M.Arch. studio of Evan Douglis at the SCI-arc, Los
Angeles in 2005 (Douglis, 2009). This art form is now
used in a new symbolic context by combining the
boundaries of traditional craft (gluing and folding the
object) and the mechanised mass production (laser
cutter). The three foam shapes are symbolic of the basic
trinity that forms a system: input, computation and
output, in itself, a simple cybernetic process. Using the
‘snakes’ as an artistic body, it creates a flexible space
for personal imagination and interpretation, dealing
with the aesthetic request and language for the observer
(see Figure 2).
The main spine, the base structure, is a flexible
construction of concealed steel, which is placed in an
altering spacein actuality it is based on an old shower
hose. Through its flexible deformation, the gravity
becomes visible. Endowed with a webcam, the artefact
can now be used as an extension of our own eyes.
Occupied from all over the world by connecting
through the world wide web, the local observer of the
artefact becomes observed. The animatronic model is
transformed at this point to a virtual extended
phenotype.
The art form uses ultrasound and infrared sensors for
input and motors, and devices such as Arduino and
electric magnets as output. Through the behaviour of
the observer the whole unit starts to oscillate, so the
output controls the input again; the feedback loop can
reconfigure its position. The control CPU has been
adapted from a robotic toy called Robosapien and is
placed into this new context. Everything occurs in real
time. The behaviour of the observer affects the
animatronic model, and vice versa; hence the observer
becomes part of the system, similar to a game.
Observing that the machine is acting on a ‘pre-
programmed’ chip, it is difficult to see that it is limited
in its actions. This demonstrates the idea of human
imperfection in an artistic model. The machine acts as
an extension of the body, which could cooperate to
achieve effects that a human could not achieve on his
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own, analogous to how modern computers act as a
system of the extended body. Compared to Pask’s
Colloquy of Mobiles, the animatronic machine is based
on a complicated, bent electro-mechanical robot. While
Gordon Pask’s systems had male and female bodies,
the animatronic is associated with human and non-
human. At the Cybernetic Serendipity installation,
spectators were provided with mirrors to interact and
reprogram the session. In this project, the spectators
were part of the system. They could interact with their
presence, moving in front of the camera or by
interacting with the infrared and ultrasound sensors of
the object. The system created an ‘aesthetic potential
environment’ in real time. Like Pask’s object, this
object is viewed as art rather than science; it is about
the translation of the observed.
Figure 4: Funky foam in detail mounted on the Robosapien structure
with the transformed video by VVVV. Behind the LCD screen, the
analogue synthesizer is based on Little Bits.
If a body is designed to interact with its environment,
it is a reasonable consequence that the artefact must
also interact. Human bodies are designed to do this via
language; the artefact will have to translate this through
sensors including microphones, cameras or motion
sensors to transmit messages to its artificial synapses.
Because the sensors convert analogue data into digital
language (all-or-none), the model will have a polemical
digital life. On the screen, it is visualized by way of the
real-time application called VVVV (see Figure 4). The
image is an actual capture of the webcam, a video of
the observer through ‘the eye’ of the machine. De-
constructed through the pre-programmed behaviour of
the artefact, it leads to a performance between human
and non-human/machine. The system that will record
and translate symbols, signs and movement by the
observer is mainly integrated into the ‘notation unit’.
The transformation is performed by a software called
VVVV installed in a hidden computer in the wooden
box, where the installation is mounted on. From the
technical point of view, the use of ultrasonic sensors
translates the motion by measuring the distance into a
digital code. This code will feed VVVV—movements
and reactions from the observer will be translated.
The second code in the machine is MIDI (Musical
Industry Digital Interface). Movements, reactions and
behaviour of the observer will be recorded from the
animatronic artefact through infrared sensors and
translated into MIDI, which is then sent to an analogue
synthesizer to create and respond with sound in real
time—with a time delay in milliseconds. The
synthesizer modules are based on Little Bits/Korg,
which are also controlling three servo motors (see
Figure 5).
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7!
Figure 5: Little Bits as an analogue synthesizer generating real-time
sound by the MIDI input from the ultrasound sensors/Arduino.
The delay is based on the Alesis Air FX effect, an audio
effect unit, that shapes the sound by the input of an
infrared sensor. The sound/voice of the machine is
heard as noise by humans. The artefact reacts to the
language of the observer and the shift in his frame, but
will not be in a position to interpret it. It will only
recognize that something is trying to communicate
with it, but without logic and sense of the animatronic
artefact. On the other side, the observer will not have
the ability to decode the noise of the artefact. Both sides
will realize that they are communicating with each
other, but will also recognize that they will not
understand the pattern/message.
The language of the artefact is based on sine waves.
This function occurs in nature as a nearly perfect
swinging curve and also appear in human brains, which
are known as delta, theta, alpha and beta brainwaves.
The cycles define the mental position of our brain such
that it recognizes whether we are sleeping, dreaming,
daydreaming our concentrating. These also affect
human creativity (The optimal wave for creativity in
human brains is the alpha wave, which produces 7 to
14 cycles per second. This means that we may be
daydreaming, and may lose our sense for time, which
can lead to bizarre dissociative connections, better
8
Wicked problems are defined by Horst W. J. Rittel and Melvin
M. Webber in their paper Dilemmas in a General Theory of
Planning. Policy Sciences, Vol. 4, No. 2 (1973), pp. 155-169
known as creative ideas.). The machine will try,
polemically, to translate the observer’s noise into alpha
waves. Theoretically, it uses its sound to return the
observer back to daydreaming, to lose time and become
relaxed—facilitating new ideas. In essence, it activates
human imagination.
4. Discussion
The Technobody inhabits a pioneering spirit of
research in the soft sciences; it creates a narrative for
serendipitous discoveries, yet realistically, we have to
conclude that the question of this paper is therewith in
the realm of wicked problems.
8
We cannot answer it
with a clear yes or no, but nevertheless, it needs to be
addressed and discussed. During both exhibitions,
there was no survey taken, which may have proved
whether the observer felt as though he was immersed
in the system— or if knowledge was generated, and if
so, if this knowledge tackled the idea of digitalisation
and the environment. The simple reason is that this
would have required an overview on system theory to
obtain an answer, which then would have possibly also
supported a constructed answer. It ties in with the
philosophical axiom on how knowledge is always
constructed in our own realities.
My own observational account is that, firstly, the
audience was attracted to the form, sound and real-time
deformation of the Technobody. From this observation,
we can clearly state that if the audience is affected by
real-time data, which manifest visibly in a triggered
reflexive art form, a general interest is created. Today,
most real-time data are collected onto invisible servers,
!
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8!
and we are unaware of what happens to the data
afterward. In this context, the Technobody is a positive
attempt to generate knowledge, awareness or
consciousness; always within the observer’s own
reality.
Secondly, the design of the system plays an important
role within our metaspace. We have shown that
metaspace and meta-objects are based on knowledge
and design. These are the core principles of radical
constructivism and SOC if we are to communicate with
our environment.
Finally, the research on the Technobody is ongoing
and is influenced by the ideas of the CoM. Here, we
can note that Gordon Pask had already envisaged
audience participation, but he also incorporated a
participative element within the design of the CoM—it
was modelled after a team, with different ideas. In this
instance, the Technobody currently fails, as it is
constructed by one person, but is nevertheless
influenced by lively discussions. The idea of a
collaborative-design approach in a reflexive art form
should be followed up.
5. Acknowledgements
The author would like to thank Kurd Alsleben for the
information he provided on Nove Tendencije, Zagreb;
Eva Sommeregger for displaying the latest version of
the Technobody at the Silver Linings exhibition at the
Academy of Fine Arts in Vienna in 2015; and Liss C.
Werner for showing the Technobody at the
Cybernetics: State of the Art exhibition in 2016 at the
TU Berlin. The author also thanks System 180 for their
support; and Ranulph Glanville, Neil Spiller, Phil
Watson, Michael Hohl, Raoul Bunschoten and Julian
Busch for the lively discussions.
6. References
Brynjolfsson, E., & McAfee, A. (2014). The Second
Machine Age: Work, Progress, and Prosperity in a
Time of Brilliant Technologies. Norton & Co Inc.
Bunschoten, R. (2001). Urban Flotsam: Stirring the City.
Rotterdam: 010 Publishers.
Dodig-Crnkovic, G., & Giovagnoli, R. (2017).
Representation and Reality in Humans, Other
Living Organisms and Intelligent Machines.
Cham: Springer.
Douglis, E. (2009). Autogenic Structures. New York:
Taylor & Francis Group.
Gazzeley, A. (2016). Documentation: Brave New World,
2016 at 2:44
Glanville, R. (1998). Keeping Faith with the Design in
Design Research. Retrieved 04 2016, 2016, from
http://nelly.dmu.ac.uk/4dd/drs9.html
Glanville, R. (1998). Re-searching Design and Designing
Research. Retrieved 10 2017, from
https://www.univie.ac.at/constructivism/papers/gla
nville/glanville98-design.pdf
Koering, D. (2007). Electro Flesh Disorder. M.Arch
Thesis UCL, The Bartlett. London
Koering, D. (2018). Conscious City Laboratory. Berlin:
Technische Universität Berlin. (unpublished)
Reichardt, J. (1968). Cybernetic Serendipity - The
computer and the arts. London: Studio
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Wallis, S. E. (2010). Cybernetics and Systems Theory in
Management: Tools, Views, and Advancements (1.
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ResearchGate has not been able to resolve any citations for this publication.
Book
Full-text available
This book enriches our views on representation and deepens our understanding of its different aspects. It arises out of several years of dialog between the editors and the authors, an interdisciplinary team of highly experienced researchers, and it reflects the best contemporary view of representation and reality in humans, other living beings, and intelligent machines. Structured into parts on the cognitive, computational, natural sciences, philosophical, logical, and machine perspectives, a theme of the field and the book is building and presenting networks, and the editors hope that the contributed chapters will spur understanding and collaboration between researchers in domains such as computer science, philosophy, logic, systems theory, engineering, psychology, sociology, anthropology, neuroscience, linguistics, and synthetic biology.
Article
This paper is developed from my earlier paper, "Why Design Research" (Glanville 1980).
The Second Machine Age: Work, Progress, and Prosperity in a Time of Brilliant Technologies
  • E Brynjolfsson
  • A Mcafee
Brynjolfsson, E., & McAfee, A. (2014). The Second Machine Age: Work, Progress, and Prosperity in a Time of Brilliant Technologies. Norton & Co Inc.
Urban Flotsam: Stirring the City
  • R Bunschoten
Bunschoten, R. (2001). Urban Flotsam: Stirring the City. Rotterdam: 010 Publishers.
Autogenic Structures
  • E Douglis
Douglis, E. (2009). Autogenic Structures. New York: Taylor & Francis Group.
Keeping Faith with the Design in Design Research
  • R Glanville
Glanville, R. (1998). Keeping Faith with the Design in Design Research. Retrieved 04 2016, 2016, from http://nelly.dmu.ac.uk/4dd/drs9.html
Cybernetic Serendipity -The computer and the arts. London: Studio International Special Issue
  • J Reichardt
Reichardt, J. (1968). Cybernetic Serendipity -The computer and the arts. London: Studio International Special Issue.