Initially only knowing that I was interested in the human-machine interaction, affection, and imperfection, I started exploring the concept of "wabi-sabi," the beauty of imperfection, and how imperfection can cause empathy or exhibit humanness in machines. Realizing my focus on the formal imperfection of objects, I shifted my experiments towards behavioral imperfection of objects. Stating "simple personification" and "literal bio-mimicry" as two major methodologies to avoid, I started thinking about what "machine-like" personalities could be like, and how we would understand those behaviors. After a series of prototypes displaying anthropomorphic behaviors of machines, I noticed the the concept of "free time" of electronics stand out from the rest and set it as the umbrella theme for my thesis.
At the end of each experiment description, you will find a web link that is dedicated to the particular experiment.
In my attempt to start crystallizing the characteristics and insights towards creating a project, I made some cards with hand-drawn illustrations, free time per week, whether or not they have power running when not in use, and unique characteristics.
My goal is not about simply anthropomorphizing electronic objects but exposing their free time and the behaviors that take place during that time.
Electronic objects have free time! When they are not in-use and are powered, they have the potential to enjoy hobbies or other activities. Speculating what objects can do in their free time and gaining insight from their "work time" characteristics can be critical in synthesizing a tangible design project.
This set of experiments explore some scenarios of robots having a personal life, a hobby, or a routine that people can't understand. Specifically, I was interested in how people personify objects and what cues could aid the process of personification.
This experiment is about a vacuum cleaner that is bored when tucked away in the closet when it is not in use. I imagine in the future, objects will become smarter and when they are bored, they will entertain themselves with their surrounding objects. In this case, I have set up a piece of paper to be cut with existing parts of the vacuum cleaner. Its slow motion, peep-show setup, and monotonous sound evokes empathy in its viewers.
This is an installation that illustrates the personal life of a surveillance camera. When there are people around, it is doing its job, recording people but when there's no one around it is watching a jellyfish in a tank (perhaps a pet of his own) and playing with its balloons. Active jellyfish equals to active balloons.
This experiment focused more on electronic objects affecting objects around it as a way of showing emotion.
What are the relationships between these two servos? Do they look like one entity or two? By removing familiar forms and functions of this object, I was able to expose the behaviors more clearly. The two servo motors seem like they are in competition because of the face that one gets stuck until the other one is done winding up. This is the point where I set "behaviors" as an investigative priority rather than "forms" or "functions."
As a way to document "Personal Life of an Electronic Object" experimental series, I created a book.
The first section is a memoir of my thesis journey so far, written from the idea of seeing myself as an imperfect piece of electronic. It was printed on 12"x9" pulp paper.
The second section is the part that was printed on tabloid extra newsprint. It contains three short stories written about the "Personal Life of an Electronic Object" machines from the perspective of the machines. Each story is accompanied with corresponding photographs illustrating their form and environment.
The last section contains a quote from Kevin Kelly's "7th Kingdom of Life," which is put to tie in the former two chapters.
I've kept any wrinkles and discoloration, both which I am able to call "imperfections" because it for one, lets every book be unique, and two, fits into the theme, "perfectly."
This project gave me a great chance to reflect on my whole term and both objectively and subjectively analyze what I've earned from it. This may not have been the most productive exercise that would directly push myself to the next level but it was definitely a nice opportunity to meditate and clean up my thoughts.
Please click on the still image from the slideshow above to launch
the original video clips.
This is a collection of experiments I have done to find out what simple behaviors can be given to objects to make it seem like they are "alive." Some objects call for attention, some objects follow the motion of people, and some objects show personalities.
This became a chance to explore what I am able to program as well as to quickly experience what it feels like to have electronic objects notice me.
After having adviser meetings in week8, I started thinking about developing a methodology using what I have so far. One is the question of "why people can't accept imperfection in technology" and the other is "how can we avoid the uncanny valley while causing empathy using objects."
I came to the conclusion of trying out "thinking from the perspective of technology" and try to design pieces of technology that would look at "imperfect" things in this world and empathize with them. We've been trying to empathize with technology but how about turning the table around for a change? Would technology inconvenience the user for the benefit of himself? is man-made nature as natural as nature?
- What if we could grow electronics off trees?
- They would all be different shapes, sizes, colors, textures, balanced, off- balance, too big, too small, and even just right... Could we appreciate their "defects?"
I realized that with the considerations illustrated above, I was exploring and dealing with purely physical factors.
Here's a clock that's missing the "minute" hand.
The "hour" hand lets you know the approximate hour and minute and the "second" hand lets you know that it's still "alive" and going.
My original goal was to cause emotional stirs but taking parts out of objects. In this case, the minute hand is a physical piece which also has a functional reason of existence. It did seem like people stopped and stood there just to stare at the clock for a while but in the end, the comment I got was that this was a "minimalist" approach of designing, which is slightly different from "being able to accept imperfection in technology."
From the basis that I wanted to explore with objects that had subtracted functions to create interesting interactions / emotional responses from people, I grabbed a couple of alarm clocks at target and just cracked them open to start my investigation.
In the end, I found it interesting how these objects recreated a sense the presence of a person through very small changes. This definitely directly affected my final objects.
As a kick-off project into my thesis direction on imperfect technology, I conducted a survey outside of the studio. I got a total of 29 people to answer my survey in 3 days.
The survey asked:
1. What are 3 objects/spaces/etc you have an emotional attachment to despite/because the fact that it is imperfect / broken / burnt / not in mint condition? (no people or pets please.) Also, give a quick explanation as to why you chose them.
2. If none of your answers was a piece of electronic, please name one and give a short reason / story behind its importance.
I got a total of 100 objects and 51 species of objects in response. I then went into analyzing the survey.
I was able to identify 7 definitions of imperfection though the survey;
3. broken in: the object has adapted to me
5. the object is in an incomplete state / set: pieces of the set is missing
6. ephemeral: it's something that we can enjoy glimpses of
(see photo #5)
There were also keywords that were reappearing in different answers. The top 5 were:
kid(and its synonyms),
always(and its synonyms),
*not in order of amount of usage
I've divided the answers into number of responses/species according to technology vs everything else. My biggest finding is that the number of responses that named a piece of technology was nearly twice the number of everything else but the number of species was the opposite. 30% of the interviewees didn't name a piece of technology as their answers in the first question.
At the end I had to wonder if imperfection was taken as is in these beloved objects.
I was surprised to see that the responses contained slightly more answers that contained objects people loved BECAUSE of the imperfection and not despite of it.
The different definitions of imperfection, the face that there are less species of technology people name as objects they are attached to, and the idea of "because / despite of imperfection" seem like three starting points for my next exploration.
As one starting point for my thesis, I started looking into the idea of the "orderly chaos." I once read a detective novel where the murderer was completely unpredictable and fit no prior profile whatsoever. The detective, of course, saves the day at the end but he mentioned that the murderer makes complete sense in his own head, just not in ours. The murderer's seeming chaotic actions, as the protagonist puts it, is just an orderly chaos that we can't seem to understand. Ever since then, I've been in love with the phrase, "orderly chaos" and recently remembered it and decided to adapt it.
After reading about the "tea leaf paradox," which was a linked example under the wikipedia entry for "spontaneous order," I've gotten obsessed with the idea of spinning objects. I like how all the "chaotic shapes" end up with an "orderly pattern" due to a scientific reasoning of "the center of gravity."
The photographs have been shot at different shutter speeds and as Norman Klein puts it, this project "slows down our vision to reveal something we could miss so easily." I like that.
---------------------- caption for photo #4
During the thesis pecha kucha, Tim Durfee advised us to try and make a final project with whatever experiments we did in the past 5 weeks. I've been wanting to make a poster or something out of the orderly chaos experimental photographs and finally got to making them into a fan-out printed piece. The spinning motion in the photograph is mimicked in the form that it's in and this has actually been a great way to show the details I liked in the photographs. Because I took this extra step, I do feel like the work I put into this project didn't go into the trash and was left as an artifact towards my final thesis project.