Last night I popped in to “We are all a cyborg” an event as part of the Wellcome Collection’s Superhuman exhibition. It covered the history of human enhancement from ancient Egyptian prosthetic toes to visions of a transhuman future of hybrid bioengineered-human-machines. The relationship between society, the individual and the aesthetics of the “normal” was explored too. I was also drawn to the themes of embodiedness of cognition by an artwork in which the artist had built extensions to her fingertips to enable her to experience a greater area of space. By altering the physical confines of the body, how far did she change her way of thinking about the world as well?
These ideas fitted in with the idea of maps and spaces that I had been mulling over following the Shape of Knowledge event, and so I started to think about the crossover between human and machine, the leaking of cyberspace across into “real” space, and how we map – and with what we map – these shifting worlds and worldviews.
On Tuesday I attended a very interesting event about information visualization and I have written a review for the ISKO UK blog.
I was particularly fascinated by the ideas suggested by Martin Dodge of mapping areas that are not “space” and what this means for the definition of a “map”. So, the idea of following the “path” of a device such as a phone through the electromagnetic spectrum brings a geographical metaphor into a non-tangible “world”. Conversely, is the software and code that devices such as robots use to navigate the world a new form of “map”? Previously, I have thought of code as “instructions” and “graphs” but have always thought of the “graph” as a representation of coded instructions, visualized for the benefit of humans, rather than the machines. However, now that machines are responding more directly to visual cues, perhaps the gap between their “maps” and our “maps” is vanishing.
I don’t manage to get to many London IA events, so I was very pleased to be able to attend a UX field trip a little while ago, arranged by the wonderful Alison Austin, UX practitioner, who has a knack for spotting interesting people doing fascinating things. She arranged a visit to Inition Studios, which gave us the opportunity to get our hands on a selection of their gadgets and devices. Inition and their sister company Holition deal with all things 3D. I wasn’t sure what 3D printing had in common with 3D film-making but a lot of the modelling, data management, and underlying software is essentially the same.
One of Inition’s researchers has a background in ergonomics and worked on systems for representing aeroplanes in virtual 3D models with the aim of devising new systems to help air-traffic controllers. Huge amounts of data need to be processed by the controllers, and combining 3D and 2D visualisations can show different aspects – for example a 3D model of the planes in the air, with 2D lists of data such as speeds etc. However, it is – thankfully – very difficult to get air traffic controllers to experiment with new devices – so it not easy to get new systems and methods adopted.
Many of Inition’s devices just seemed to be a lot of fun. They had an infrared camera rig set up to capture movement, so you could control a footballer on screen by kicking a pretend football. There were some haptic feedback devices that felt “heavy” when you tried to pick up a virtual block on screen, 3D cameras so we could watch ourselves on 3D TV, and lovely augmented reality devices. I tried on some virtual earrings and necklaces, and picked up and “painted” a virtual car. There were elaborate 3D cityscapes that could be used by architects and skeletons that could be useful in training doctors.
Animation can be triggered by QR codes, so we saw a plinth in the real world that when viewed on an i-Pad appeared to have buildings and cars and other objects on top of it.
For me, the most enchanting was a 3D display containing two 3D worlds – one with a complex artificial robotic arm that you could manipulate and deconstruct, another with games, mirrors you could move through, and figures you could move and play with. It reminded me of a Dali dreamscape. You moved these virtual objects with a pen controller that you waved towards, but not touching the screen itself. I am glad games were not so beautiful and sophisticated when I was a teenager as I don’t think I would have ever left the house!