Panel: Signs of Life: Human-Robot Intersubjectivities
The historical association of robotics with computing and Artificial Intelligence has led, in the popular imagination and in the minds of many artist-researchers, to the assumption that a robot must have a computer ‘brain’ and a software ‘mind’ which control ‘dumb’ sensors and effectors. Such assumptions subscribe to a neocartesianism which is contradicted by studies of biological organisms and embodied cognition and mitigates against the successful construction of persuasive autonomous aesthetic agents. Contrary to a computationalist and software-centric methodology, the argument of this paper is that in order to achieve successful design of persuasive experience in such systems, software design must be the end-result of an inward movement of attention from a conception of the cultural and experiential world of the intended audience which defines material aspects and code. This paper proposes that the ‘traditional’ artistic sensibilities of sculpture, installation and performance have much of value to contribute to such projects because they are centrally concerned with the subtle manipulations of materiality, artifact, space and gesture for generating sensorially rich experience. The broad field of robotic art encompasses a spectrum from minimal sensori-motor function analogous to single celled organisms, those modeled on animal behavior, all the way to systems which conduct conversations. The question of intersubjectivity is relevant in the latter, as an aesthetic variable manipulated by the artist for particular effect. The artist engineers a sense of intersubjectivity in order to evoke the uncanny. To what extent it is necessary to endorse a vision of machine sentience in such work? Some subscribe to a covert mystical extropianism, while the more pragmatic endorse a position of adequate verisimilitude for suspension of disbelief. Such critiques can inform a grounded discussion of robotic art along two axes: the condition of a machine which emulates the biological (in various ways) and: the status of robotic devices as aesthetic actors in embodied interactive contexts. This discussion will offer historical examples and draw upon cybernetic, biological and aesthetic theory.
- Simon Penny has worked as an artist, theorist, teacher and organiser in Digital Cultural Practices, Embodied Interaction, Interactive and Robotic Art for 25 years. His works involve custom robotic and sensor systems including novel machine vision systems. His art and writing address critical issues arising around enactive and embodied interaction, informed by traditions of practice in the arts including sculpture, video-art, installation and performance, and by ethology, cognitive science, phenomenology, human-computer interaction, robotics, critical theory, cultural studies, media studies and Science and Technology Studies. He edited Critical Issues in Electronic Media (SUNY press 1995), founded the Arts Computation Engineering interdisciplinary graduate program (ACE) at University of California, Irvine in 2003 and was director of Digital Art and Culture conference 2009 (DAC09). He was previously Professor of Art and Robotics at Carnegie Mellon University and teaches in the Cognitive Science and Interactive Media masters at University Pompeu Fabra in Barcelona, Spain. He was artist in residence at the Segal Institute for Human Centered Design at Northwestern University Fall 2010. He is a jury member for the Telefonica VIDA (Art and Artificial Life) prize. simonpenny.net