Wednesday, 25 May 2011

Kill the darling part 9: dismember the augmented

This bit will feature only in shortened form - a footnote on Engelbart, interface technologies and the changing insights into what the image is as an active surface (Licklider). This is from chapter IV where I discuss "material media theory" - mostly so-called German media theory (Kittler, Siegert, Pias, etc) and briefly connect it to debates surrounding new materialism.

Instead of just part of discourses of artificial intelligence, many of such were more accurately understood as Augmented Intelligence, as Douglas Engelbart underlined. The question hence was not posthumanism in the sense of replacement of Man from the picture altogether, but a new ecosystem of sorts where humans and machines were synchornized through various equipments and input/output-procedures. This is how Pias (2002: 92-98) sees this culture of interface development, where pedagogy of the non-human algorithmic world was to be fine-tuned as part of the possibilities and speeds of the human one. This involved a perspective on the hardware-software-and wetware (human) systems, even if the last term is of more recent origin. Engelbart’s team was interested in both gestural integration of computers and perception systems (new forms of computer displays) as well as cognitive handling and use of such systems, for example file systems. See Engelbart and English 1968. Also easily found on the web is the famous 1968 tele-presentation by Douglas Engelbart from the San Francisco Computer Conference, where he introduces key elements for future computing interaction, including the mouse and shared collaborative online work platforms. See for example What is significant, and what is underlined by for example Licklider (1969) is that the fundamentals of computer graphics lie not only in their representation technical values such as colour, detail and such, but in how it is approachable now as an image – the potential for interaction. Licklider (1969: 619) writes: “In my assessment, however, communication is essentially a two-way process, and in my scale of values, interaction predominates over detail, gray scale, color, and even motion. In my judgment, the most important problem in computer graphics is that of establishing excellent interaction—excellent two-way man-computer communication—in a language that recognizes, not only points, lines, triangles, squares, circles, rings, plexes, and three-way associations, but also such ideas as force, flow, field, cause, effect, hierarchy, probability, transformation, and randomness.” The image is, by definition, a call for action and a relation to the perceiving, gesturing body. Any archaeology of contemporary understanding of augmented reality devices for example on smart phones should start with the considerations expressed already by these earlier researchers. Bardini (2000) offers a good elaboration of Engelbart’s work and the early development of a variety of sensory-motor interface systems for computer interaction beyond that of the hand: the knee, the back and the head were considered in various experiments (102, 112-114).

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