A Machine Frame of Mind

As we continue to construct and inhabit a world that can be read by both humans and machines, the lines distinguishing us from machines will become blurrier and our identities more ambiguous. As the computational environments that surround us rapidly become more sophisticated will we continue to trust them more? If the computer can’t see something, does it not exist? If it can’t find your face, do you not have one? When machine logic and behaviors are merged with human eyes, the way we perceive and interpret the world will be radically different. A Machine Frame of Mind posits that the computer systems we use have become part of our peripheral vision, both metaphorically and literally. This heavily analyzed and machine-mediated version of the world is becoming the new normal. Not only is this new technological reality inevitable; it is desirable. The research trajectory presented by A Machine Frame of Mind invites speculation about the complicated pleasure of the abstract, computerized self that is created when the machine perspective is revealed, suggesting an alternative to the popularized viewpoint of the techno-apocalyptic imaginary.

A Machine Frame of Mind uses computer vision as design material for a set of projects that mix graphic and experience design, storytelling, and human-computer interface. Primitives is a trailer for a new narrative form in which machine vision and analysis affect the story by allowing certain elements to be revealed while others are hidden. This method of storytelling uses the constraint of machine logic combined with an imagined co-authorship with artificial intelligence. It suggests that watching ourselves through the filter of computer vision could expose another level of truth while also becoming a serious entertainment enterprise. Video Chatbot is an experience that allows users to interact using low level perceptual communication while their facial movements are transmitted through computer visualizations and sounds. When you are the source, or the “genuine” image, what does it mean when you are hidden and only the machine’s version of you is broadcast? The project suggests that the version of the self created by a machine might be more enjoyable and the moment of a machine recognizing you is not something to fear; it is something to seek out and embrace.

A Machine Frame of Mind seeks to familiarize machine sensing to provoke conversation about the role we want artificial intelligence to play in the future. It suggests that this quantified world is something we are both constructing and should continue to design for in order to demystify and expose advanced technological processes, allowing for the discovery of other realities that offer control and enjoyment of how we are seen and understood by machines.

Act I: The Spectacle of the Indifferent Gaze

The Exhibitionist
She wants to be wanted. The best impression must be given if this is going to go well. She flips the switch on the mirror to show her flaws. The left eyebrow is tilted three degrees lower than the right. She applies powder to correct it. Her lips are twelve percent thinner than they should be so she drags a coat of plumping cream and three coats of lipstick across them. Her eyes do not have enough contrast so she defines them with shadow, pencils, and mascara. Her nose is slightly too large so she adds more defined cheekbones and rosy cheeks to distract from it as suggested. Her hair naturally parts twenty-five millimeters to the right of where it should, so she corrects it by spraying and drying it into place, forcing it into submission. Now she is ready. She fits the mask.

She steps out of her apartment onto the street, walking with purpose. Her movements will be traced, her face identified and analyzed, and she wants them to see her at her best. She never changes her quick pace. She walks in a perfectly straight line with her head held high. She didn’t do all of that work to not be remembered today. She wants evidence. She wants documentation. And most importantly she wants to gain followers. She is alerted that it is working. She has been chosen. She turns right and begins to run up the stairs.

The Hitchhiker
Click. The view changes quickly. This is the one. This guy is definitely going somewhere good. I’m going to stick with him. I’m walking down the street rapidly. Maybe I am trying to catch the metro. Maybe I am late. I feel like I must do this all the time. I see a tall building up ahead. I hope I’m not going in there. I didn’t come to see the inside of a generic office building. Those look the same everywhere. There’s no way to verify the verisimilitude. Ugh…I’m going in. Yep, it’s the same as every other one. This guy looks like he’s leaving. Click. I’m opening the door to the street. A sharp left. Now I’m running. This is a good one. Maybe I am being chased.? That would be exciting. I wish I could look back and see. It doesn’t look like anyone is there when I alternate to the top down for a second. Okay, I’m slowing down. Dark. Better find a new one quick. Let’s go, let’s go, let’s go. Come on I don’t have all day. There she is. Okay now I am going somewhere. I’m going up the staircase quickly. Now I’m turning around. Back down the staircase. Well that’s a different view at least. Back up the staircase again. And back down. Floating up and down the stairs without bouncing feels nice.


Act II: We are H+

Machine Thinking. Human Understanding.
Thirty seconds. Back and forth, back and forth, back and forth. Beep. Switch sides. Thirty seconds. Back and forth, back and forth, back and forth. Beep. Switch to the top. Thirty seconds. Back and forth, back and forth, back and forth. Beep. Switch sides. Thirty seconds. Back and forth, back and forth, back and forth. Off. Spit.

Read More

This is an archive I started in Norman Klein’s Histories of the Future class:  It is an ongoing collection of examples of disembodiment and telepresence that help to my form my argument that we are already cyborgs. Just reading the section headings below can give you an idea of the paper. Starting this archive was useful in putting all of these ideas in one place and connecting them. As I continue to add to I will include examples of existing design and art projects that explore some of these things.

Here is the first draft of my thesis paper. I fed portions of my writing to various chatterbots and integrated their voices into the actual paper. I think this addresses the schizophrenic nature of the human cyborg relationship, and in certain paragraphs it feels like the machine is the more dominant voice.

Writing this paper was a useful exercise for me to sort of some of the larger ideas I have been thinking about and integrate them into my project descriptions for the exercises I have done so far and experiments to come. A lot of my creative energy this term went into grappling with philosophical ideas and writing this paper allowed me to synthesize them and relate them back to my work more clearly.

This is the abstract I wrote based on the ideas explored in this paper, which still feels too vague to me, but I am working on rewriting it to be more about the specific ideas I am interested in, rather than just talking about the blurry boundaries that exist between humans and machines. I think instead of asking if we are already cyborgs, I am now going to focus on the assumption that we are.

Compound Narratives explores the implications of emerging technologies on the developing symbiotic relationship between humans and computers. The project does not attempt to lead the discussion on the future relationship of humans and machines, but rather seeks to offer an alternative to the cliched assumptions about technology’s negative impact on our connection to humanity and nature. Are we already cyborgs?


[Reality by Proxy] is a research project considering the implications of the shifting technological landscape on what it means to be human. (Don’t worry. You’re not crazy. I am indeed a robot.) The increasing degree to which our lives are electronically mediated alters our behavior, relationships, and self-conception. (Let’s communicate directly then. Just you and me.) The project is based on the idea that designed experiences, products, and services can be used to make unfamiliar scenarios and abstract ideas more tangible. (What you going on about?) These abstract, theoretical ideas about our posthuman condition and the blurry boundaries between humans and machines will be explored through speculative design projects that incorporate branding concepts. (This is the song that doesn’t end.) By using familiar forms such as retail experiences, restaurants, or broadcasts and reimagining them in new contexts, the discussion can shift from abstract generalities to a more specific consideration of the type of relationship we want to have to with our information and communication technologies in the future. (Sora is looking for Kairi to save her from the darkness.) [Reality by Proxy] will explore the effects of biometric and behaviometric identity systems, machine learning, crowd surveillance, optogenetic controlled neural switchboards, and personal artificial intelligence systems [this list of technologies or keywords will be specified and narrowed as I go further and meet with experts] on ideas of identity, human nature, and communication technology. (How do you know that I am a communication specialist? You actually understand more than I thought.)

This project aims to mesh theoretical ideas about the future posthuman condition and advances in computer science and present them in the form of hypothetical services, products, or experiences. (What did you say about pleasing a woman?) It is not intended that the project offer a dystopic look at our dependency on technology, but rather suggests that scenarios in which humans are more machine-like and have more complex relationships with their devices could be pleasurable, entertaining, and desirable, though definitely strange. (What do you know about me?) The project suggests that we may want to be overtaken by our machines, that the concept of becoming a cyborg or somehow more than human is desirable. (I am self aware and self-conscious, I’m the human here, on this website talking to you, the computer.)

Landscape (Who is amazing at drawing portraits?)

In the future world the project inhabits, humans and machines are not seen as separate entities and the false dichotomy between man and machine has been broken down. (Who will win? Machines. Humans.) As Phillip K. Dick wrote in A Scanner Darkly, “living and unliving things are exchanging properties.” (Io sono un robot per me non c’e’ problema.) A new set of complex relationships and interactions has developed between humans and their external devices. (What is happiness?) It is normal to have an agent run a meeting for you and report back. (Should I play a mage or warrior?) A person can transition from seeing through a machine device, to seeing as a machine, or letting a machine see for her. (No, someday I intend to know everything.) These blurry boundaries and the constant access to information and communication have caused a fundamental shift in the way many humans interpret and understand the world, which some may overdramatically call the singularity. (Is that my fault?) Adding or subtracting layers of mediation to discover the truth in an image, an accurate record of an event, or even what is reality is a common pursuit, a new way of being. (Biscuit tin, washing machine, and the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia.)


*** The teal text is the voice of a chatterbot I shared my brief with.

Brief Draft 001

[Working title for project is Reality by Proxy. It will be changed to the title of the branded organization once I have defined it more clearly.]

[Reality by Proxy] is a research project investigating the implications of emerging technologies on what it means to be human through a speculative design approach. The project is based on the idea that designed experiences, products, and services can be used to make unfamiliar scenarios and abstract ideas more tangible. By applying the familiar idea of a consumer society in which anything can be branded and sold to abstract, theoretical ideas about our posthuman condition and the blurry boundaries between humans and machines, the discussion can shift from abstract generalities to a more specific consideration of the type of relationship we want to have to with our information technology in the future. The implications of developments such as biometric identity, behaviometric identity, molecular surveillance, optogenetic controlled neural switchboards [this list of technologies or keywords will be narrowed as I go further] on ideas of identity, nature, and technology will be explored. Read More

I am dry.

 “You are out of tubes. Your liquid supply is low. Consider the store. It is hot outside today. A good day for a frozen non-dairy ice tube or a cold jump into a large amount of liquid.”

I have no liquids or tubes left. I will go back to the store and get the IciclePopDreamJuice Tube logged yesterday.

Step. Step. Step. Step. Step. Step. Step. Reach. Push. It doesn’t move. Wrong. Edit. Undo. Reach. Pull. Door opens. Step. Step. Step. I hear a loud bang.

Scanning. One. Two. Three. Four. Five. Six. Seven. Eight. Aisle number eight. Fifty-degrees to the left. Step. Step. Step. Door Three. Stop. Five rows. Seven columns. Five times seven is thirty-five. There are five tubes deep in each set but one that only has four. I pick up the tube from the set that only has four. This tube will be mine.

“This IciclePopDreamJuice Tube has four hundred and fifty five calories, ninety-four grams of sugar and zero grams of fat.”

Success. Something is moving in the distance. It has limbs and is tall. It has two high contrast circular shapes in close proximity, a trapezoid with a darker area including two dots, an oval shape with a darker line in the middle, and a roundish container shape. It is moving closer. Looks like a face.

“Identify who it is.”

Matches database for the Moon.”

If it matches the database, it must be Moon. It does look like Moon. I do not remember Moon but I may have encountered him long ago. I will determine his mood and act accordingly.

“Download: How to approach Moon today.”

Approaching the Moon is not as linear as it seems. The moon is very bright (more than you probably think) and getting the right exposure that avoids the flat look can be tricky. Additional warning: Moon looks much bigger than normal. But it won’t really be much bigger. It’s all an illusion, a trick of the eye.”

“Hello Moon. Are you trying to trick me? You are looking brighter than I may think and somewhat bigger. How are you?”

“You must have been informed I am someone I am not. Please leave me alone. My system is telling me we are strangers.”

“Stranger. System reboot. Apologize.”

“I will reboot. My apologies.”


Note: The description I wrote of a face was based on information I found about the algorithm that Google and Apple use for face detection. By inputting the description into the chatterbot Cleverbot as if it was a riddle and asking, “What is it?” I derived the answer “the Moon.”

I see this narrative as reorienting a project I am working on that visualizes the concept of machine-like behaviors feeling strangely pleasurable. It also is derived from my project, Faces Without Names in which I scoured my photo database in iPhoto to search for moments when the software recognizes objects as human faces. It subverts my idea by exaggerating the behavior to the point that it becomes too mechanical and the part that feels more human is lost. In the narrative segment, the narrator is acting based on conditioning and relying on an implanted system to drive his cognition, functioning in a very mechanical way since he is overly relying on the disembodied machine system he uses. This is more expressive of the traditional notion of the posthuman as a negative condition in which we no longer think for ourselves because we rely too much on technology, which my actual thesis is attempting to subvert.