Monday, October 29, 2007

will another robot write its hagiography?

i recently attended a lecture given by kathleen hayles on electronic literature. she basically spoke on certain convergences between machines and humans, and postulated a "heterarchy" wherein machines push humans to the next level and vice versa, each one contributing certain idiosyncratic characteristics and irregularities as you go along. she argues that various contemporary computational processes qualify as "cognition." we no longer assume that cognition equals consciousness, in part because consciousness is located not just in the mind but also in the body, and in the "time-sense" that our bodies/minds have together. together, we get a kind of co-evolution in a very physical sense - humans as a species are developing different neural pathways to adapt to the machines.

but this isn't really what i want to talk about, instead it's just a preface for this article about a robot scribe.

i think the most interesting part is the flickr photoset to which boingboing links, because it really brings home the physical presence of this object.

so, obviously, this sets up a whole host of interesting questions. can an act completed in a certain way be regarded as holy regardless of a lack of intention? what status does this text have as an object? is it holy? what difference does the pen make, or to be more specific, what difference does this project have from a laser printer being fed an endless scroll and printing the same thing? (i think that this one has to do with time and the resemblance of the robot's arm to a human arm, moving to form each letter independently). also on time, kathleen hayles argued that robots function on digital time and humans function on analog time. with a task like this, are these two ideas of time conflated? i wonder how fast or slow the robot's capable of going - would the meaning of a project like this change if it created one painstaking letter per hour? i'd also like to know about any possible irregularities in the text - i think this would be even more interesting if the robot was writing with a quill and an inkpot, so that he'd have to deal a little bit more obviously with the vagaries of fluid dynamics. it's additionally interesting that usually i have no trouble referring to a robot as "it," but above i called it "he," ostensibly because of the resemblance of its activity to one carried out by men in the middle ages, but who knows about other subtle codings for gender in mechanicity?

finally, many of my more unformulated inquiries about this also have to do with my own bodily experience - what would it feel like to go into that room in the middle of the night, and just stand there watching that machine write until day?

No comments: