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Archive for the ‘Technology’ Category

Dreams That Money Can Buy / Digesting Automatons

In Art, Cinema, Dreams, Industry, Surrealism, Technology on December 1, 2009 at 1:13 pm

Dreams That Money Can Buy is a 1947 American experimental feature color film written, produced, and directed by surrealist artist and dada film-theorist Hans Richter.  Collaborators included Max Ernst, Marcel Duchamp, Man Ray, Alexander Calder, Darius Milhaud and Fernand Léger.

Oh Venus was born out of sea foam

Oh Venus was born out of brine

But a goddess today if she is Grade A

Is assembled upon the assembly line

Her chromium nerves and her platinum brain

Were chastely encased in cellophane

She was equipped with a prefabricated heart

Mannequins and robots seem intimately connected, but what exactly is their relation?  Would you say that the former is the ancestor of the latter?  Are they synonymous twins born from the same human desire, or do they satisfy different longings?  A robot may not be anthropomorphic, but a mannequin must seem human.  Mannequins are always artificial, but are robots artificial only when they feign organic nature?

The Canard Digérateur, or Digesting Duck, was an automaton in the form of a duck, created by Jacques de Vaucanson in 1739. The mechanical duck appeared to have the ability to eat kernels of grain, and to metabolize and defecate them. While the duck did not actually have the ability to do this – the food was collected in one inner container, and the pre-stored feces was ‘produced’ from a second, so that no actual digestion took place – Vaucanson hoped that a truly digesting automaton could one day be designed.

Voltaire wrote that “without […] the duck of Vaucanson, you have nothing to remind you of the glory of France.” (“Sans…le canard de Vaucanson vous n’auriez rien qui fit ressouvenir de la gloire de la France.”)

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Accidental Transhumanist Art: CAPTCHA

In Image, Internet, Language, Literature, Technology on November 22, 2009 at 4:27 pm

A CAPTCHA or Completely Automated Public Turing test to tell Computers and Humans Apart.  Captcha is a type of challenge/response test used in com  puting to ensure that the response is not generated by a computer.  You may know it from those deliberately distorted or occluded images you see when signing up for online services.  Because other computers are unable to solve the CAPTCHA, any user entering a correct solution is presumed to be human. Thus, it is sometimes described as a reverse-Turing test because it is administered by a machine and targeted to a human, in contrast to the standard Turing test that is typically administered by a human and targeted to a machine.  There is an irony in humans using computers to create a test that distinguishes humans from computers.

You can create your own here.  

What fascinates me is the use of CAPTCHA and reCAPTCHA as an unintentional art form.    Something characteristic of this current era is the appropriation of memes and internet phenomena in modern art.  More specifically, CAPTCHA art is a historical record of what is like to live a human life in our culture today.  Upon searching for artwork, I came across this tattoo.  What may seem at first as a symbol for our computer-mediated life is also a validation for all that is truly human. It is a declaration that this flesh has passed the test and is not a machine.

In fact, what I learned is that the old scramble method of CAPTCHA has been replaced with the two-word combination method in a global effort to further human knowledge.

About 200 million CAPTCHAs are solved by humans around the world every day. In each case, roughly ten seconds of human time are being spent. Individually, that’s not a lot of time, but in aggregate these little puzzles consume more than 150,000 hours of work each day. What if we could make positive use of this human effort? reCAPTCHA does exactly that by channeling the effort spent solving CAPTCHAs online into “reading” books.

The book pages are being photographically scanned, and then transformed into text using “Optical Character Recognition” (OCR). The transformation into text is useful because scanning a book produces images, which are difficult to store on small devices, expensive to download, and cannot be searched. The problem is that OCR is not perfect.  reCAPTCHA improves the process of digitizing books by sending words that cannot be read by computers to the Web in the form of CAPTCHAs for humans to decipher. More specifically, each word that cannot be read correctly by OCR is placed on an image and used as a CAPTCHA. This is possible because most OCR programs alert you when a word cannot be read correctly.

That’s right.  Each time you solve one of the reCAPTCHA challenges correctly, you are unknowingly participating in the digitizing of old NEW YORK TIMES articles that were printed before the digital age.  And so you may delight in the knowledge that those tedious puzzles are not merely validation tools, but also accidental poetry and a massive unintentional social conservation project.