We are not alone.
The philosophical observation of
the technological contemporary era (and, also, of our everyday
lives) allows us to describe the emergence of new forms of life.
A technological mutation took place
in the human being.
Technology always modified us. We
have always been cyborgs, and this is not a new concept (1).
Transport technologies mutated our perception of space and time.
The developments on energy, starting from electricity, changed
our conception of time flows and of the usage of time for production.
Telecommunications opened up new possibilities for our own thought,
allowing it to be freely addressed throughout space, and to propagate
independently from the material body.
Information technologies and, specifically,
network technologies go along these directions with even more
emphasis. Network and information technologies, with a mutagen
leap, directly connect the mind of the human being to hyper-contents
and to hyper-contexts, creating perspectives that are totally
The possibilities are astounding in more than one direction. In
this article we will stop and analyze one of them, by researching
on its phenomenology: identity.
The contemporary research on identity,
in its conceptual and perceptive evolution, is a structurally
multi-disciplinar practice, running from philosophy, to anthropology,
to sociology (does it still exist?), communication, law, economy.
And, naturally, technology.
In the technological ecosystem individuals
define themselves, become multiples (the multi-vidual), disappear
(anonimity). They are multi-gendered, multi-personality. Even
more: they melt into a fluid one-ness with the systems, letting
new existences emerge: others, different, synthetic.
Technology enables hyper-medial
contexts in which the dualistic perception between physical and
digital disappears, just as the possibilities to separate organic
from technological. Just as it is unthinkable, in the contemporary
era, to look at even a simple tomato and not consider it as a
technological object (2).
In this deep remixability of existences,
contents, connections and processes, new forms of existence emerge.
The scenario is systemic. Even more: it is eco-systemic.
Globality gave us the first clues.
Multinational companies probably are the first example of a sentient
technological form of life. We have them before our eyes each
day of our lives: they possess objects, rights, decisionality,
strategies, they have fears and beliefs, iconologies and mythologies.
We perceive them as true sentient entities, em-bodied in their
logo (iconology) and in the neo-mythology that characterizes their
Having to deal with "forms
of life" whose name ends with "Ltd", "S.p.A."
o "gmbh"(3) becomes
a standard part of our daily lives, and doesn't produce any perturbation
to our perception of normality. Not any more.
We will describe an artistic process
animated by this point of view: a study on the new forms of life
that appear in the technological contemporary era. And, as a consequence,
on their identities.
Contemporary reality has been observed
by systematically pursuing different strategies, planned to focus
on the human being, on artificial life forms, and on the forms
of life emerging from collectivity or from collaborative practices.
This is the research process at
the base of "Talker", "Talker Performance",
"Dead on SecondLife", and "Angel_f".
The first step has been to choose
a domain that would allow us to operate on all of the forms of
existence that were the object of the research: language has been
identified as the ideal tool to work on all of the required levels.
The second step has been to create
an object that could use language to approach the expressive mechanisms
of the life forms: the "Talker"(4).
is a structural object.
It was built by assembling
algorithms coming from artificial intelligence and statistical
analysis to create a software engine that could recognize,
systematize and generate language. In a very simple and
intuitive way, texts can be inserted into the Talker by
cut&paste on a web interface. The texts are processed
by algorithms that interpret them syntactically and geometrically.
Syntactical analysis allows to recognize, inside language,
the structurally "interesting" components. The
algorithms currently implemented in the installation handle
italian, english, french and spanish syntaxes, and they
behave quite strangely on other languages, providing a
somewhat surreal experience. Syntactical analysis structures
the texts along the graph structures that are processed
by the geometrical analysis, which allows for them to
be spacially interpreted. Language becomes a crystal whose
multidimensional shape changes with language's variance.
Other algorithms are applied to the crystal to recognize
recurring patterns inside its structure: the symbols.
Paths in space and through symbols are created in this
multidimensional domain in order to generate new language.
The result is a synthetic, generative language, expression
of the collective process that contributed to its creation,
often poetic and highly evocative. Aesthetics are purposely
cold and linear, showing the non-humanness of the expressed
form of life.
"Talker" is an
abstract and structural manifestation of the object of the research.
The next steps of the process materialize
it, through three modalities:
• the construct (Dead
on Second Life);
• the digital being (Angel_f).
Performance" (presented at the PEAM, the Pescara
Electronic Artists Meeting, in 2006) embodies the "Talker",
re-interpreting it as a cyborg (5).
|In the performance the human body gets invaded/expanded/connected.
Focus is on interaction. The body of the performer becomes
the media for the expression of the "Talker"
by wearing a latex suit covered with electrodes and sensors,
connected to a web interface that the audience can control.
The dancer's mouth is shut, replaced by the generated voice;
her movements are replaced by the electrical stimulations.
Every sensorial component of the performer is replaced with
a generative one. Latex and electrodes replace touch; hearing
is replaced by the generative soundscape; taste and smell
are cutoff; sight is replaced by the immersive generative
videos around the stage.
Communication during the
performances was bi-directional.
The audience interacted
using the interface to collectively build the life of
the cyborg-dancer, whose movements, sounds and vital functions
(as recorded by the sensors) were given back as an environmental
feedback that the users perceived under the form of an
immersive sound and visual experience. The "digital
being" is embodied at several levels: in the environment,
in the interface, in the body-corpse, in the users' minds.
The mind ecosystem wakes alive, materializing the Talker-Cyborg
with a spatial synesthesia.
is the embodiment of the collective being and it is present
in space: the direction goes from the virtual to the body.
Having achieved presence, the research
systematically proceeded through the study of identity, following
two directions: on one side the inversion of the strategy designed
for "Talker" and "Talker Performance"
and, on the other side, the creation of a totally virtual identity.
on Second Life" inverts the process created
for "Talker Performance". The direction changes:
body shifts towards virtual.
|"Dead on Second Life:
||"Dead on Second Life:
||"Dead on Second Life:
The technological engine behind
the "Talker" is used to bring famous, iconic,
characters from the past back to life in Second Life's virtual
The texts by Franz Kafka,
Carl Marx and Coco Chanel have
been gathered and loaded (using their native languages) in the
"Talker"'s linguistic engine; avatars have
been designed to look as closely as possible to the selected characters;
a software has been designed to allow the avatars to independently
move through the virtual world and to interact with other avatars.
Second Kafka, Second Marx and Second
Coco (6), with their thin aureole
above their head to point out their existence as artificial zombies,
freely stroll around Second Life, talking to other curious –
and often, upset/scared – avatars with a remix of their
leaves the abstract dimension to acquire an autonomous life and
its own identity, using the memory and the iconic/evocative power
represented by these cult characters to a higher level: a revisited
version – and a totally realistic one – of the constructs
found in William Gibson's books.
(Autonomous Non Generative
E-volitive Life Form)
implements the complete digital being.
In "Dead on Second
Life", history and identity are inferred through
the ones of the iconic characters. In Angel_f
the Talker assumes a completely independent life
The personification process
takes place through the application of a strong narrative
The Talker is used to create the identity of
an artificial kid, Angel_f, initially evolving in his
mother's - the Biodoll (7)
|Angel_F and its daddy
Derrick de Kerckhove in Firenze, at the "Festival
Life's phases are completely mimicked
• the conceivement;
Angel_F is the product of the digitally sexual relationship between
the Biodoll and her lover Derrick de Kerckhove;
• the gestation; the life form evolves
in its mother's website, feeding on her interactions, eating the
texts that she offers it, and following visitors around the internet
as a spyware;
• the birth; its first real-world manifestation
was the Bloki FreePrexxx (8), an experiment in generative publishing;
• the first explorations of the world through
the context of its family relationships; Angel_f follows its mother
around in her digital storms around blogs, posting her messages;
• the progressive separation from the family environment;
Angel_f starts to act on its own and to define its own context
• going to school; the Talker is used to
create a blog structure through which 5 professors could load
texts and articles, contributing to the education of the child:
The Talker_Mind (9).
The identity grew stronger through
the a large use of aesthetics and iconicity: the icon of Angel_F,
the face of an indian child stolen on Flickr, is used to create
a logo applied to 2 production lines (the USB pen-drives and the
Bangel (10), a line of open
source chocolates built around the design of the "Baci di
Perugina" (11), replacing
the romantic sentences with the sentences generated by the Talker).
The narrative structure grows in
complexity: Angel_f starts interacting in the real world, appearing
as a relator in congresses and conventions, and even ending up
in a case of international censorship. A blog is created to keep
the narrative line up to date (12)
telling the stories of the young AI, in first person.
The performance is in continuous
evolution, bringing young Angel_F to participate to the Internet
Governance Forum in Rio de Janeiro, as the only representative
of the Digital Beings at the planetary discussion of the rights
of Internet Users ( the IGF is an open forum promoted by the United
Nations to discuss such issues), and to participate to public
events on sexuality, family and digital arts.
Lately, Angel_F has been seen at
the Computer Art Congress (13),
to tell its story to a delighted audience.
Seen the dynamic essence (life! :) ) of this research, we don't
like to draw conclusions.
It is our wish to denote the ways
in which a research framework on the processes using which identities
can be defined in the contemporary world represents an incredibly
powerful and expressive tool in the domains of anthropology, culture,
technology, politics, law and economy. Issues go beyond technology,
showing definitions that are truly networked: culture, perception,
meaning, value, attention, communication all assume the forms
of ecosystmatically and dinamically defined networks.
Communication rules these processes,
and it is enacted on several levels: fetishist, iconic, sexual,
and/or based on archetypes and stereotypes that are given new
life through digital re-enactment processes that aim at their
The use of a narrative approach
is, possibly, the single factor that was able to efficiently communicate
the concepts assessed by the research: these, formally, completely
and realistically defined, are still far from the perception of
the general public.
By "telling stories",
the message becomes accessible and desirable. And this is a great
lesson to be learned by new media arts.
This integrated approach to research
and narrative, in this anti-dualistic and post-human perspective,
is forming under the name of Virtual Neo-Realism, Neo
Realismo Virtuale (NeRVi). And this will, possibly, be
the story of an interesting subject to be told in a future article.