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DX200 Cybernetics & Information Theory: Foundations/Philosophy/ Aesthetics/Ethics Dr. Edward A. ShankenDXARTS, UW.

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Presentation on theme: "DX200 Cybernetics & Information Theory: Foundations/Philosophy/ Aesthetics/Ethics Dr. Edward A. ShankenDXARTS, UW."— Presentation transcript:


2 DX200 Cybernetics & Information Theory: Foundations/Philosophy/ Aesthetics/Ethics Dr. Edward A. ShankenDXARTS, UW

3 Norbert Wiener, US mathematician/cybernetician Cybernetics, or Control and Communication in the Animal and the Machine, 1948 The Human Use of Human Beings: Cybernetics and Society, 1950 Cybernetics kubernetes (Greek) “steersman” root of English word “governor”

4 Cybernetics is a highly interdisciplinary field It draws on probability theory, information theory, and other ideas from various fields. It developed a scientific method for regulating the transmission and feedback of information as a means of controlling and automating the behavior of mechanical and biological systems. It drew a parallel between animals and machines and suggested that they function in similar ways. => Artificial intelligence, robotics

5 Cybernetics (n.) - the science of organization, control and communication in complex systems, such as animals and machines. Based on the systematic analysis of relationships between constituent components in networks of feedback loops. Used to regulate equilibrium, enable automation, and design artificial systems that emulate natural ones. Cybernetic (adj.) 1) an interpretation of phenomena as characterized by networks of feedback loops (interpret phenomena according to cybernetic principles); 2) a system designed according to the principles of cybernetics (design systems by applying cybernetic interpretations of phenomena, e.g. artificial intelligence). => Many things can be interpreted according to cybernetics, but that does not make them cybernetic.

6 Scientific Background Newtonian physics (c. 1700 - 1900) - univocal, mechanistic world view (clockwork) - universal laws control phenomena - behavior can be predicted perfectly given all data - the way the world is 20 th c physics/quantum - multiple possible worlds/universes - contingent phenomena, uncertainty, chance - statistical probability - the way the world is observed

7 Digital Art & Culture First Law of Thermodynamics “Conservation of Energy” Energy can’t be created or destroyed, but can be converted from one form to another. Ex. Kinetic energy becomes sound, heat, etc. Second Law of Thermodynamics ==>“Entropy” Systems tend towards increasing disorganization as energy spontaneously tends to flow from areas of concentration to areas of diffusion. Ex. Heat dissipates. Question: Why shouldn’t we let the Second Law of Thermodynamics (Entropy) get us down?

8 Digital Art & Culture Entropy Answer: Entropy need not apply to open systems or locally within systems. “The machine, like the living organism... locally and temporarily seems to resist the general tendency for the increase of entropy … by produc[ing] around it a local zone of organization in a world whose general tendency is to run down.” (Wiener, HUHB, p. 34)

9 Macy Conferences, 1942-1954 1942 Macy Foundation Conference on “Cerebral Inhibition” Multi-disciplinary symposia: mathematics, electrical engineering, physics, physiology, anthropology, psychiatry, medicine, etc. Two-day event, max. 25 participants lodged together at a small inn. Participants included: Bateson, Fremont-Smith, Kubie, McCulloch, Mead, and Rosenblueth. Von Foerster, secretary. All later contributed to discussions on cybernetics.

10 Macy Conferences, 1942-1954 Highlights: 1942 Macy Foundation Conference on “Cerebral Inhibition” Participants included: Bateson, Fremont-Smith, Kubie, McCulloch, Mead, and Rosenblueth. All later contributed to discussions on cybernetics. Von Foerster, secretary. 1946 Rosenblueth, Wiener, Bigelow, “Behavior, Purpose and Teleology” Macy Conference devoted to “Feedback Mechanisms and Circular Causal Systems in Biological and Social Systems.” 1948 Wiener publishes Cybernetics, or Control and Communication… 1949 Macy Conference adds “Cybernetics” to title

11 Information Theory Key underlying concept for Macy Conferences. Provided a shared understanding all participants applied to discussion. Claude Shannon (RT), Electrical Engineer/Mathematician; Bell Labs “A Mathematical Theory of Communication,” 1948. Words are symbols that carry information between people/things. Those symbols can be encoded into signals.

12 Information Theory All communication involves three steps 1. coding of message as signal at source 2. transmitting signal through channel 3. Decoding signal into message at destination Source -> encoder -> destination ->decoder Information Theory offers mathematical models for each step.

13 Information Theory Telegraph communications charged by word, unnecessary words excluded; used key words for larger concepts => economical. Information Theory recognized that predictable symbols amounted to a “redundancy” of data in language. “only infrmtn esntil to undrstndg mst b trnsmtd.” Information sources seen to generate messages statistically “Series of Approximations to English”


15 Information Theory Electronic communication devices depend on achieving a favorable “signal to noise ratio.” Noise defined as random. Information is “order wrenched from disorder.” Information is an improbable structure in contrast to the greater probability of randomness. Information = negative entropy. Measure of information proportional to degree of improbability.

16 What is Information? Charles A.Gimon, Heroes of Cyberspace: Claude Shannon

17 Three levels of problems in communication (Warren Weaver, 1949) Level A. How accurately can the symbols of communication be transmitted? (The technical problem.) Level B. How precisely do the transmitted symbols convey the desired meaning? (The semantic problem.) Level C. How effectively does the received meaning affect conduct in the desired way? (The effectiveness problem.)

18 What in a phonetic utterance contains semantic info? How precise is language? Ex. Inspector Clouseau How do we know if someone is truthful (or deceitful) on phone/email? Is there more than the phonetic “sign”and the semantic “signifier”? Does handwriting tell us more than type? Emoticons? Does the telephone provide more information than a letter? Videoconferencing? How is a face to face encounter similar or different? Bandwidth? (another digital metaphor) Information Theory and Semantic Meaning

19 “Speech is a joint game by a talker and listener against the forces of confusion“ - Norbert Wiener, Human Use of Human Beings Must we mean what we say? Can we say without meaning? Purposeful confusion/abstraction? (Art!!!)

20 SUMMARY AND RELEVANCE OF INFO THEORY: Information Theory defines information as a probability function with no dimensions, no materiality, and no necessary connection with meaning. Distinguishes between message and signal. Messages are not sent. Signals are. Only when signal is decoded does it take on material form and potentially convey a message. Material less important than the pattern. Not the only theory of information, but one that works very well for solving certain engineering problems. Shannon noted that it did not apply to communication in general. Information Theory initiates the distinction between information and materiality that became central to cybernetics and posthuman epistemology.

21 “God is just a statistic” - Marilyn Manson ???

22 First Wave of Cybernetics Homeostasis In 1932, impressed by "the wisdom of the body" capable of guaranteeing the control of internal physiological equilibrium, American physiologist Walter Cannon coined the word homeostasis from two Greek words meaning “to remain the same.” Feedback Loops Mechanism by which animals and machines can achieve homeostasis, given a sufficient balance of positive and negative feedback. Here, homeostasis the result of information flows through feedback loops.

23 FEEDBACK Environmental inputs affect system Systemic outputs affect environment Feedback offers data about the environment ’ s effect on the system as an input to the system.

24 Positive Feedback accelerates a system ’ s transformation in the same direction, leading to exponential growth or decline Negative Feedback slows down a system ’ s transformation, leading to equilibrium

25 Each plus involves another plus; there is a snowball effect, e.g. Hendrix However, when minus leads to another minus, events come to a standstill. Ex. bankruptcy and economic depression. A positive feedback loop left to itself can lead only to the destruction of the system, through explosion or through the blocking of all its functions. The wild behavior of positive loops - a veritable death wish - must be controlled by negative loops. This control is essential for a system to maintain itself in the course of time. Positive Feedback

26 Negative Feedback Negative feedback leads to adaptive, or goal-seeking behavior: sustaining the same level, temperature, concentration, speed, direction. Every variation toward a plus triggers a correction toward the minus, and vice versa. There is tight control; the system oscillates around an ideal equilibrium that it never attains

27 Management often prefers to be surrounded by “Yes Men” Prefer underlings who operate like ants. Problems: “Yes Men” give only one kind of feedback… Why is that a problem? Humans make bad ants… Why?

28 First Wave -> Second Order Cybernetics Reflexivity The movement whereby that which has been used to generate a system is made, through a changed perspective, to become part of the system it generates. Observation becomes a systemic process in which observer and observed are informationally discrete yet inextricably linked. Counters conventional empirical methods of objective observation. Latour, “scientific experiments produce the nature whose existence they predicate as their condition of possibility” In what ways does this apply to art? “It’s as pretty as a picture” (simulacra; map/territory)

29 McCulloch-Pitts Neuron Brains do not secrete thoughts as the liver secretes bile but … they compute thought the way electronic computers calculate numbers - Warren McCulloch, Hayles, How We Became Posthuman p. 58 Your robot may become capable of doing innumerable tricks the nervous system is able to do; it is still unlikely that the nervous system uses the same methods as the robot in arriving at what might look like identical results. - Hans-Lukas Teuber, HWBP, p 59 Blackbox? Meaning? Significance to this debate? “BLACK BOX”

30 Around 1950, Bristol University psychologist William Grey Walter, a pioneer brainwave researcher, built eight electronic "Tortoises", each with a scanning phototube eye and two vacuum tube amplifiers driving relays that switched steering and drive motors. Unprecedently lifelike, they danced around a lighted recharging hutch until batteries ran low, then entered. But simple bacteria show equally engaging tropisms. -Hans Moravec, Robots, Re-Evolving Mind, 2000 “Cybernetics was powerful because it worked” - Hayles, p 62 Grey Walter Tortoise


32 ”We all know that we ought to study the organism and not the computers - if we want to understand the organism. Different levels of organization may be more than quantitative.… [T]he computing robot provides us with analogs that are helpful…. To find out in what ways a nervous system (or a social group) differs from our man-made analogs requires experiment. These experiments would not have been considered if the analog had not been proposed.” - Foerster, Meade, Teuber, Intro. to seventh Macy Conference proceedings, 1950. “By suggesting certain kinds of experiments, the analogs between intelligent machines and the humans constructs the human in terms of the machine.” Hayles, HWBP, p 64

33 M.C. Escher, Drawing Hands, 1948

34 Second Wave of Cybernetics, c 1960 Von Foerster, Observing Systems - extended cybernetic principles to cyberneticians, who became part of the systems they studied. Maturana and Varela, Autopoiesis and Cognition Autopoiesis Organisms are informationally closed systems; self-organizing and self-making. Reproduce their own internal organization. Information does not cross boundary separating an organism (or machine) from its environment. Relation to environment reflects internal self- organization, i.e., “we see only what our systemic organization allows us to see”

35 Autopoiesis Communication of information between humans and machines via feedback loops no longer means the same thing. “We do not see a world ‘out there’ that exists apart from us. Rather we see only what our systemic organization allows us to see. The environment merely triggers changes determined by the system’s own structural properties.” (Hayles) Shift to emphasizing how organisms and machines create meaning and respond to environment in terms of their own internal organization. Emphasis shifts from exchange of information amongst elements of a system to an understanding of systems and systemic behavior as mutually self-constitutive.

36 Digital Art & Culture Ken Rinaldo, Autopoiesis, 2000

37 Third Wave of Cybernetics Self-organization => emergent behavior Artificial Life Simulations of Evolution How can claims for life be made for disembodied entities? What has to be erased? William Latham, Biogenesis 5:00 minutes, 1994 Karl Sims, A-Life creatures

38 Cybernetics and Art: Convergences and Divergences in the 1960s Edward A. Shanken

39 “ A dream of technical control and of instant information conveyed at unthought-of velocities haunted Sixties culture. The wired, electronic outlines of a cybernetic society became apparent to the visual imagination—an immediate future... drastically modernized by the impact of computer science. It was a technologically utopian structure of feeling, positivistic, and ‘scientistic.’” - David Mellor, The Sixties Art Scene in London, 1993

40 "Interchangeable elements, each with an individual identity, may, by the physical participation of the spectator, be brought into a series of relationship, each one adding up to a whole which is more directly related to the manipulator of the parts, than if it were static and at a distance. The act of changing becomes a vital part of the total aesthetic experience of the participant.” - Roy Ascott, 1960 Roy Ascott, Change Painting, 1960. Wood, plexiglas, oil, 66x21" Two different states. Art and Cybernetics: Convergences and Complementarities

41 Roy Ascott, Untitled drawing, 1962 “As feedback between persons increases and communications become more rapid and precise, so the creative process no longer culminates in the artwork, but extends beyond it deep into the life of each individual. Art is then determined not by the creative behaviour of the artist alone, but by the creative behaviour his work induces in the spectator, and in society at large.” - Roy Ascott

42 Roy Ascott - Cybernetics, Interactivity, and Art “When art is a form of behaviour, software predominates over hardware in the creative sphere. Process replaces product in importance, just as system supercedes structure.” (1967) - Art is a cybernetic system comprised of a network of feedback loops; - Art itself is but one member of a family of interconnected feedback loops in the cultural sphere; - And culture is one set of feedback loops in a larger network of social relations.


44 Ihnatowicz, SAM, 1968 Pask, Colloquy of Mobiles, 1968 Wen Ying Tsai, Cybernetic Sculpture, 1969 Exhibited at Cybernetic Serendipity ICA, London, 1968:

45 Gordon Pask’s Colloquy of Mobiles consisted of five motorized, hanging elements, the two of rectangular aluminum representing males and the three of bulbous fiberglass representing females. Each element was programmed with a hierarchical set of drives that emulated human mating. Male drives could be reduced only by a female, who had the ability to reflect a male’s light beam back onto a sensor on his body. Females were similarly compelled to satisfy their drives. In both cases, both had to communicate, cooperate and compete with each other in or to achieve their objectives. Based on simple rule-sets, complex behavior emerged from the interactions of the elements in this self-organizing system. Exhibited Cybernetic Serendipity, ICA London, 1968. E Shanken, Art and Electronic Media, 2009.

46 Jimi Hendrix, guitar feedback…

47 Les Levine, Iris, 1968 Contact: A Cybernetic Sculpture, 1969 Iris “turns the viewer into information... Contact is a system that synthesizes man with his technology... the people are the software.”

48 Frank Gillette and Ira Schneider, Wipe Cycle, 1969 "The most important function of Wipe Cycle," Schneider explained, "was to integrate the audience into the information. It was a live feedback system which enabled the viewer standing within its environment to see himself not only now in time and space, but also eight seconds ago and sixteen seconds ago. In addition he saw standard broadcast images alternating with his own delayed/live image. And also two collage-type programmed tapes, ranging from a shot of the earth, to outer space, to cows grazing, and a 'skin flick' bathtub scene.” From an interview with Frank Gillette and Ira Schneider by Jud Yalkut in "Film," East Village Other, August 6, 1969.

49 Frank Gillette and Ira Schneider, Wipe Cycle, 1969 "It was an attempt," Gillette added, "to demonstrate that you're as much a piece of information as tomorrow morning's headlines - as a viewer you take a satellite relationship to the information. And the satellite which is you is incorporated into the thing which is being sent back to the satellite. In other words, rearranging one's experience of information reception."* Thus in Wipe Cycle several levels of time and space were synthesized into one audio-visual experience on many simultaneous frequencies of perception. What is, what has been, and what could be, were merged into one engrossing teledynamic continuum and the process of communication was brought into focus. From an interview with Frank Gillette and Ira Schneider by Jud Yalkut in "Film," East Village Other, August 6, 1969.

50 Gillette, Frank; Schneider, Ira «Wipe Cycle», 1969

51 Dan Graham, Present Continuous Past(s), 1974 The mirrors reflect present time. The video camera tapes what is immediately in front of it and the entire reflection on the opposite mirrored wall. The image seen by the camera (reflecting everything in the room) appears eight seconds later in the video monitor (via a tape delay placed between the video recorder, which is recording, and a second video recorder, which is playing the recording back). An infinite regress of time continuums within time continuums (always separated by eight-second intervals) within time continuums is created.

52 Dan Graham Present Continuous Past(s), 1974

53 Paik, TV Buddha, 1974 Cybernated art is very important, but art for cybernated life is more important, and the latter need not be cybernated.... Cybernetics, the science of pure relations, or relationship itself, has its origin in karma.. The Buddhists also say Karma is samsara Relationship is metempsychosis - Nam June Paik, 1966

54 Nam June Paik «Participation TV» 1963 – 1966 (click) reconstruction, 1995. Biennale de Lyon

55 Paik, Nam June; Moorman, Charlotte «TV-Bra for Living Sculpture», 1969 Nam June Paik, TV Buddha, 1974

56 Steina and Woody Vasulka Calligrams, 1970 An uncontrollable, roiling effluent byproduct of technology - one of those natural mysteries, appreciated by untamable. We look at videofeedback as electronic art material… It’s the clay, it’s the air, it’s the energy, it’s the stone... it’s the raw material that you… build an image with... - Woody Vasulka Interface, 1970

57 Steina Vasulka, Allvision, 1976

58 Twentieth century experimental art tended to: 1)focus on temporality 2)put art in motion 3)Emphasize the concrete actuality of materials rather then representation 4)emphasize artistic process rather than product 5)engage the body as an artistic medium 6)invoke interaction with the viewer as an integral part of the work 7)accentuate the environment or context rather than conventional content. These tendencies constitute the aesthetic framework in which cybernetics and its focus on systems and feedback loops converged with art.

59 Comparison of Tendencies/Emphases: Traditional ArtCybernetic Art Product Process StyleBehavior Matter Pattern FormRelationship ReceptionInteraction Certainty Contingency ThingsSystems The recognition that art was located in an interactive system rather than residing in a material object… provid[ed] a discipline as central to an art of interactivity as anatomy and perspective had been to the renaissance vision. - Roy Ascott

60 Terry Atkinson and Michael Baldwin, key to 22 Predicates: The French Army, 1967 From Roy Ascott, “The Cybernetic Vision in Art,” 1966-7.

61 Harold Hurrell, The Cybernetic Art Work That Nobody Broke, 1969

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