Animate That

Pictured above – Anatomical Neon by Jessica Lloyd-Jones

I’ve recently kicked off the first phase of a new project for ‘The Edge’ at the State Library of Queensland as part of the Animate That! project grants.

It’s called ‘The Cloud’ and its an experiment using Brain-Computer Interfaces to augment a physical space. I’ve become more interested in places over the last few years, particularly from a technological point of view. I’m particularly interested in how places and spaces will develop in the coming years as ubiquitous computing catches up to device based / cloud computing.

The concept for ‘The Cloud’ came together while I was researching the origin and evolution of ideas. One of the first and most obvious metaphoric influences is a term that’s been getting bashed in creative circles since the 50s – Brainstorming.

Influence #1 – A Brainstorm

The term ‘brainstorm’ was first brought into popular vernacular in 1953 by Alex F. Osborn (the O of the BBDO agency) only three short years after J.P Guilford’s presidential address to the American Psychological Association (1950) set tone for serious investigation into creativity. Osborn was an advertising executive, developing methods for creative thinking that hinged on two core principles; “defer(ing) judgement” and “reach(ing) for quantity”.

The result of a brainstorm is usually a collection loosely related ideas, fragments – all collected in one place for everyone to build on, add to, refine and develop into something new.

Influence #2 – Memory

“It is not possible to demonstrate the isolated localization of a memory trace anywhere within the central nervous system….” (Karl Lashly, 1950).

In our everyday life today, we deal with memory in two very distinctive ways. Our own, mental memories, and computer memory.

Our senses inform us of the detail in the world around us. Coupled with a complex biological system, these ‘raw inputs’ are contextualised by our mood, mental health and sometimes the quality of food we ate last night. These contextual markers leave impressions on our memories, filing them in our brain more like a story than a single file.

A complex series of connections, fragmented and spanning many regions of our brain. This ‘rub-off ’ is not isolated only to memories ‘going in’ and we often vividly remember a moment in our life while smelling an old cologne, or while walking down a street we used to live on.

Although neurobiology has made great advances in understanding the interaction of neurons within the brain, our fragile, vulnerable and living system of memory is still only loosely understood.

In contrast, computer based memories and stored files have traditionally been a system of indexing and journaling. Data is stored in a specific location, and a basic understanding of information architecture (folder systems, etc) is all that is required to able to retrieve them (as a user, using a device).

Over the last two decades, our lives have become increasingly connected with devices and mobile computing. As our businesses and our personal archives become evermore digital, our familiarity with computer memory has become symbiotically intwined with the ‘way‘ we now think.

Cloud Computing and its related services (hosting, file storage, etc) – in particular, Apple’s iCloud – has propelled this distinction between the computer memory and the biological system, allowing access to files across multiple platforms without distinctively ‘putting’ a file somewhere to collect later.

Everything revolves around the context in which it is used. 

Access has become the first active ‘sense’ that computers use to store our digital memories. ‘The Cloud’ has another implication for our digital evolution – most of us don’t even know where it is. Unlike our brain – easily located between our neck and pillow – the cloud may store our information in a variety of physical and virtual locations.

As technology progresses towards ubiquitous computing technology, these ‘memory places’, the devices they service, and consequently us; the users, are becoming more closely intertwined.

The Hook?

I am interested in using a real-time interaction between a human memory system (a brain – or mind, depending on your point of view) and a computer system, to see what comes from it.

The Cloud will – quite literally – become ‘a cloud‘ of digital memories, experiences, thoughts, emotions and interactions at The Edge.

The sculpture will converge as it approaches the entrance and foyer area, at its heart will be a Brain-computer Interaction (BCI) device. One of either the Emotiv EPOC or Neurosky Mind Wave

The brain activity recorded via will be programmed into the audio-visual and lighting elements of the sculpture using Arduino interactive-ware.

Over the coming months, I’ll be conducting some experiments in at The Edge on Thursday afternoons.
Feel free to pop in and plug your head into a computer – literally!