Soft­ware Comes Sec­ond: Per­for­ma­tive Tech­nolo­gies, Em­bod­ied Agents and Sit­u­ated Ma­chines


Session Title:

  • Signs of Life: Human-Robot Intersubjectivities

Presentation Title:

  • Soft­ware Comes Sec­ond: Per­for­ma­tive Tech­nolo­gies, Em­bod­ied Agents and Sit­u­ated Ma­chines



  • 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.