Friday, April 4, 2008

Technology as a Window to the Human Soul

This past Wednesday I finally attended a dorkbot meeting... Motivated by my growing interest in human-computer interaction and robotics, I wanted to see what others are up to, and I was incredibly impressed.

There were two presentations that stood out, one of which was Eric Siu's work. To sum up his work in one sentence: using digital cameras and small LCD screens, Eric creates two sets of stereoscopic eyes attached two your hands, giving you a whole new ability to move your "eyes". The experience is extremely disorienting at first, it's possible to eventually learn how to "live" with these eyes (though the longest he's used them is 30 minutes). This reminds me of a Wired article which describes visual technologies that stimulate other body parties (i.e. your tongue) to allow blind people to eventually learn to see.

The brain is amazingly versatile, and such technologies are not only potentially useful and interesting art projects, they also help a great deal in allowing us to understand how we work.

Now, let's jump into the realm of video games. The second presentation that really spoke to me was Adam Parrish's Frotzophone. In his own words, The Frotzophone is an interface for making music with interactive fiction. The topography simulated in the game is used to generate sound, as is the player's path through the game.

Initially, I was skeptical of this idea, mainly because aside from listening to the Beatles at work or some younger bands at home, I don't read music, nor can I keep a steady rhythm in any form. What was surprising and amazing is that his presentation, which consisted of him playing a text adventure with the music playing and moprhing, was very engrossing. The music helped a great deal, even if it was related to a more abstract object / graph structure of the game rather than the storyline.

And this is what I've been thinking about for the last few days. I'm still trying to figure out how the "perfect game" would work for me. I can't help but think of Bioshock again -- it's artistic and more importantly, its original story line (related closely to Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged) really helps one ask some key questions about human societies. Specifically, the player is confronted with some ethical (and controversial!) issues, but on the broader scale, the game shows how greed, ambition, and a free market can actually lead to a dystopia.

I'm not sure where this post is leading, aside from another rant about video games. No, must avoid that! I'd say, though, that I think the beauty of the examples above are that they all help us learn about ourselves, or about the bigger issues confronting "our" societies. Amazing.

Note: click on photos for credits.

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