A couple of weeks ago i spent yet another fruitful afternoon in Brighton for the Critical Exploits. Interrogating Infrastructure event.

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Julian Oliver, No Network, 2013 (a battle tank toy that implements a blanket ban of mobile telephony in its presence)

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Julian Oliver, No Network, 2013

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Julian Oliver, No Network, 2013

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Julian Oliver, No Network, 2013

The day was part of The Lighthouse's ongoing exploration of the social and political implications of technological infrastructures. The curatorial research started in 2012 with the exhibition Invisible Fields in Barcelona and continued at The Lighthouse with exhibitions by James Bridle, Mariele Neudecker, Trevor Paglen, etc.) The last event brought together artists and critical engineers Julian Oliver and Danja Vasiliev, critical designer Tobias Revell, and activists from the Open Rights Group for a day of talks and workshops.

Critical Exploits showed how a new generation of artists, designers and engineers are taking a highly critical approach to the development and use of the engineered systems and infrastructures that we increasingly rely on for daily life.

This post is going to focus mostly on Oliver and Vasiliev's presentation which looked at black boxes in the context of infrastructures. The talk is already on youtube but i thought i'd sum up some of the observations that the artists made and add links to the artworks and documents they mentioned while they were in Brighton.


Julian Oliver & Danja Vasiliev's talk at The Lighthouse

Their presentation started with a quote from Bruno Latour. Talking about blackboxing, the sociologist wrote that When a machine runs efficiently, when a matter of fact is settled, one need focus only on its inputs and outputs and not on its internal complexity. Thus, paradoxically, the more science and technology succeed, the more opaque and obscure they become.

Typical modern devices and infrastructures function (and actually also look) like black boxes, they are far more opaque than they are transparent.

If you look at a gramophone, you'll notice that its inner working is displayed externally. An iPod nano is at the other end of the spectrum, it is completely opaque. We can't actually explain what the many parts inside the device do. And maybe even what they do behind out back. As these devices get smaller, we get even less clue about their inner working. We cannot say we know the devices inside our pockets.

Our understanding of internet infrastructure is similarly foggy. Most of the time, our contact with it is clustered around firefox, safari, explorer, etc. Most users cannot see beyond their web browser. And there is indeed much misconception about the internet. Julian Oliver mentioned a quote he heard at the Chaos Communication Congress where someone said that the only people who talk about 'users' are drug dealers and software developers.

Very few people can actually give an intelligible answer to the question "What is a computer network?" Most people have no problem describing how a postcard goes from its sender to recipient but they are at a loss when it comes to explaining how emails are exchanged. In fact, the Oliver and Vasiliev described the Internet as a deeply misunderstood technology upon which we increasingly depend. Even the terminology used makes our understanding literally nebulous. Take the concept of 'the cloud'. A survey showed that the majority of Americans believe that cloud computing was affected by bad weather.

Another interesting fact their talk mentioned is that the net doesn't belong to the people as it is often assumed. If you have a look at the Submarine Cable Map, you quickly realize that most of these cables are privatized.

Vasiliev and Oliver take their distances from a traditional definition that sees engineering as the practical application of science to commerce or industry. Instead, they wrote, together with Gordan Savičić, a critical engineering manifesto which they regard as a frame for applied research and development that positions Engineering, rather than Art or Design, as primary within the creative and critical process.

The rest of their talk illustrates the manifesto using works of critical engineering. I'm going to simply write their titles down and link to the project pages but i'd encourage you to watch the video of the artists/critical engineers talk to get more background and comments on each work.

Gordan Savičić, Packetbrücke (illustrates the 5th point of the CEM). Julian Oliver and Daniil Vasiliev, Newstweek, 2011 (#3). Julian Oliver, No Network. Daniil Vasiliev, Netless. Julian Oliver, Transparency Grenade. Julian Oliver and Daniil Vasiliev, PRISM: The Beacon Frame. Martin Howse, Earthboot computer (illustrates #8). Gordan Savičić, City CPU. Julian Oliver, Border Bumping. Dennis Pual, Nullstecker (relates to #6 in the CEM.)

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Julian Oliver and Daniil Vasiliev, PRISM: The Beacon Frame, 2013 (a "functional response to the general absence of information as to what NSA PRISM equipment actually looks like")

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Julian Oliver and Daniil Vasiliev, PRISM: The Beacon Frame, 2013

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Julian Oliver and Daniil Vasiliev, PRISM: The Beacon Frame, 2013

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Gordan Savičić, City CPU, 2012

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Dennis Paul, Nullstecker, 2013

Don't miss the video documenting the other talk of the afternoon. Tobias Revell's talk portrayed current practices within critical design and the way the discipline can be used as an antagonist tool for provoking conflicts between set narratives, beliefs and ideologies for awareness, debate and alternate interpretation. The result is a lively and carefully curated inventory of all things Design Interactions at RCA.


Tobias Revell's talk at The Lighthouse

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Only a few days left to see Glitch Moment/ums at Furtherfield Gallery in Finsbury Park! The show is about glitches or those malfunctions, bugs or sudden disruptions to the normal running of machine hardware and computer networks.

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José Irion Neto, Thoreau Glitch Portrait, 2011. Image Furtherfield

From a video tutorial on how to make your own glitched visuals to screen captures of glitches weaved in black and green, the exhibition shows various approaches by artists hacking familiar hardware and their devices which include mobile phones, and kindles. They disrupt both the softwares and the digital artefacts produced by these softwares, whether it be in the form of video, sound and woven glitch textiles.

It's a stimulating show for anyone who is already interested in glitch culture. And it's an eye-opening experience for those who have only vaguely heard of the artistic approach to tech errors. I'm somewhere in the middle. I'd never pass for a glitch expert but over the past few years, i've encountered a few artworks that make a creative use of accidents or create them on purpose.

Glitch Moment/ums was curated by Rosa Menkman and Furtherfield. One can't dream of a more competent curatorial team: Rosa is the editor of The Glitch Moment(um) book (which i can't recommend enough) and the organizer of the GLI.TC/H festival. Among their many activities, Furtherfield are running one of the most approachable and though-provoking galleries dedicated to practices in art and technology i've ever visited.

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Benjamin Gaulon, KindleGlitched, 2012. Image Furtherfield

Because i still have much to learn about everything tech & glitch, i contacted visualist, theorist and curator Rosa Menkman and asked her a few questions about the show and about glitch culture in general:

What does moment/ums - the title of the exhibition - refer to?

The title of the exhibition 'Glitch Moment/ums' references 'the Glitch Moment(um)' book I released in 2011. In this book I describe how my first encounter with a piece of glitch art came hand in hand with a feeling of shock. What had once been a first person shooter was now a broken, pixelated vortex of confusion (Jodi, Untitled Game, 2006). I was lost and in awe, trying to come to terms with an experience that seemed unforgivable. But finally, these ruins of expected functionality revealed a new opportunity, a spark of creative energy that showed that something new had taken shape. I felt questions emerge; what is this utterance, and how was it created? Is this perhaps ...a glitched video environment? But once I had named the glitch, the momentum -the glitch- was gone ...and in front of my eyes suddenly a new form had emerged.*

These days I try to understand glitches as a manifold of moment/ums, having their meaning depend on time, discourse and context from which they are perceived. First, the glitch is a break from an expected flow within a (digital) system. Here, it is perceived as an absence of (expected) functionality and often experienced as an uncanny, threatening loss of control. This moment itself then can become a catalyst, with a certain momentum - a power that forces knowledge about actual and presumed media flow, onto the viewer. What was voided of meaning, becomes interpreted and gains new meaning.

But as I wrote in the (Glitch) Art Genealogies catalogue: [the meanings of] these glitches are constantly subject to revision: their language systems emerge, their meanings shift, idioms ossify and standardize into a fashion or genre.
...and then they change again.

The glitch thus heralds a transformative power - a potential to modulate or productively damage the norms of (techno-)culture. To study glitch is to engage a study of the succeeding turns and changes of failure and functionality, revolutions and ossification. A concept represented in Antonio Roberts work 'What is Revolution?'.

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Antonio Roberts, What Revolution?, 2011

How come something that used to be regarded as a problem has been elevated to a phenomenon that is exhibited online and in art galleries?

I feel that many people have lost the ability to formulate questions - this generation has become good at researching and finding answers or creating new datasets: In university, in the library, or on google ('the internet') we are conditioned to find and formulate answers. However, I feel there is a general inability for conceptualizing new questions. Maybe this is because we don't understand things well enough to be able to formulate the questions we have or because we have been conditioned to see things in a certain way, making it difficult to shift our perspective.

Personally I think that one of the most important roles of art is to create problems that provoke curiosity - the impulse to investigate the limits of what we know and to ask questions. I understand glitch studies as a field investigating dis-functionality that can be co-opted into a desired functionality.

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Melissa Barron, untitled [screencaptures], 2010. Image Furtherfield

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Melissa Barron, numbermunchers from the untitled [screencaptures] series

And because glitch art is so seducing, i've also been wondering whether or not it has already been translated into a more mainstream commercial world?

The concept that a glitch can be designed or distributed through standardized glitch software, seems at first maybe a-typical, but has in fact become a more and more common tendency and even important tradition in recent glitch art. More and more 'new' glitch art is being modeled after authentic glitches inherent within older media, perpetuating a shift from destabilizing breaks within technology or information-based processes towards a generic and associative display of more or less 'retro' effects.

Besides this, mainstream media have a tendency to leach onto any emerging aesthetic and try and capitalize on it.

The biggest loser Australia in which glitches are used as transitions between spy cams that film 'illegal' activities of one of the contestants.

The MTV video music awards using glitches to make the sponsors (-Verizon-) look cool.

I actually created a youtube channel in which to collect glitches found in popular culture and media. It's a very loose collection of snippets of advertisements, movies, videogames and television that use glitch effects for different purposes. I think these forms of glitch are examples of the growing vocabulary of media materialities in which different glitch effects gain meaning beyond their original technological /root. Some day I actually would like to write a dictionary of glitch effects.

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Glitch Art 0P3NR3P0.NET. Image Furtherfield

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Glitch Art 0P3NR3P0.NET. Image Furtherfield

What's next for GLI.TC/H? Are you planning other exhibitions, publications or events?

GLI.TC/H is the title of a festival I co-facilitate with Nick Briz and Jon Satrom, which has been running for three years now. GLI.TC/H concepts and ideals are based on the free and open sharing of inspirations and theoretical and technological knowledge and maybe even more so on creative community building (DIT = Do It Together), poking and pushing. The GLI.TC/H happenings aim to bring like-error-minded bug collectors together IRL, to engage and share work/ideas/concerns and to foster collaborations.

So whats next? First off... we might be losing our domain in the near future due to "a personal dispute" based over the .tc extension (which is associated with the Caicos Islands). This is why the name of the GLI.TC/H festival might change to GLI.TX or maybe GLI.FK...

Besides this we are working on a GLI.TC/H 2112 READER[ROR} - a publication associated with last year's festival.

Thanks Rosa!


Nick Briz, The Glitch Codec Tutorial, 2011

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Ant Scott, Beyond Yes and No, 2013. Image Furtherfield

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Antonio Roberts performing at Glitch Moment/ums Opening Event - 08 June 2013. Image Furtherfield

* A slightly re-written paragraph from: Menkman, Rosa. Tipping Point of Failure. Exhibition Catalogue. November 2010.

More photos in Furtherfield's Glitch Moment/ums flickr set.
Glitch Moment/ums is at Furtherfield, London, until Sunday 28 July 2013. With works by Alma Alloro, Melissa Barron, Nick Briz, Benjamin Gaulon, José Irion Neto, Antonio Roberts Ant Scott and 0p3nr3p0.net.

While looking through the programme of the ongoing Sight and Sound Festival, i found out about The Pirate Cinema, an installation that makes use of a data interception software of the same name to reveal in real time the hidden activity and the geography of peer-to-peer file sharing but also the aesthetic dimension of P2P architectures.

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The video installation relies on an automated system that downloads continually the most popular torrents. The intercepted data is immediately projected onto a screen before being discarded.

The flows appearing on the screens constitute a sort of 'surveillance' of the peers as fragments of the files that they are exchanging can be visualized during the transmission or the reception. The remote users are, unknowingly, composing an endless collage determined by what they chose to download.

Nicolas Maigret, THE PIRATE CINEMA, 2013

The work was devised by Nicolas Maigret and developed with the help of Brendan Howell. I caught up with Nicolas while he was putting the finishing touches to the installation.

Hi Nicolas! The description of the work says "In the context of omnipresent telecommunications surveillance, "The Pirate Cinema" makes visible the invisible activity and geography of the peer to peer sharing network." 
Could you explain with more details?

The geographical aspect of the project is key in activating the imagination, but also in developing a critical view of consumption areas by file. A text indicating both the geographical origin of the peer who issued this fragment, and the geographical destination of the peer who received it is overlaid on each video excerpt.

When the system focuses on a single file, we obtain a kind of portrait of the file through its geographic distribution. We could almost speak of following the geographical spreading of "cultural" products. Or in the case of a TV series like "Homeland", we could speak of following the diffusion of ideological propaganda.

For an exhibition like this one, which is based on the most traded torrents, the vision is voluntarily an ultra-reducing one, it is a form of "greatest common denominator" of media on a world scale. We can, in some ways, navigate through what is consumed at a particular moment.

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Are images appearing randomly? How does the system work?

This version monitors exchanges of The Pirate Bay's top 100. Each computer selects a few torrents from this list and monitors them for a minute, before switching to new file.

To present the project clearly, I often talk about the context, the imaginary and the functioning of the P2P architecture.

In the '80s, VHS brought cinema into the living room. Today, P2P and Internet bring it into personal computers and mobile phones. Through these modes of distribution, a wide-ranging reflection opens up about the media, the medium and what it specifically vehicles.

The P2P sharing protocol is based on the fragmentation of the files in small samples, it is an exchange unit. This fragmentation loosens the exchanges to different recipients. A file can then be recomposed sample by sample until it is complete, from snippets emanating from separate users and in a disorderly manner.

From a cinematic perspective this preliminary fragmentation of the media is also a fragmentation of the film material and of the narration. These "broadcasting mechanics" come with specific formal opportunities: mashup cinema, random editing, weaving together different films frame by frame, glitches and merging of different fragments.

This installation suggests a way to perceive the digital filmic medium as a stream, or rather as streams distributed on a global scale. In other words, The Pirate Cinema intends to re-explore films through the logic of cables, which is unique to each connection and location.

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Since you're French, i can't help asking you about the French legislation, they have the reputation of being pretty intolerant towards P2P culture...

In France since 2004, the year of the first conviction for illegal download, P2P has been systematically associated with piracy. Many legal devices were then invented (such as Hadopi and Loppsi), that led to a massive criminalization of internet users, a legitimation of the monitoring processes carried out by some states (DPI), and the setting up by providers of systems to filter and block access to Internet.

I've just opened a twitter account to aggregate the news related to this issue.

Is this something that you and Brendan Howell (who is from the U.S. if i'm correct) kept in mind while working on the project?

We saw it as a kind of game. Ever since the beginning of the project, we anticipated the operating modes of the system so that we could be presentable regardless of the different ongoing pieces of legislation. For example, an encrypted connection to Sweden (Ipredator / the Pirate Bay) is used to anonymize each machine used in the project. Fragments of the files are encoded and remain on our machine only temporarily.

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Didn't you fear that you might get into trouble?

We thought about it, we were particularly concerned about the exhibition spaces, but the legal aspects are very schizophrenic. It is obvious that the peer-to-peer structures have positive cultural impacts and also often positive social ones. The same questions were asked with the arrival of photocopiers, audio cassettes, VHS, etc.. The main stumbling blocks remain the obsolete structures of film and music production.

Several studies have demonstrated that the biggest downloaders are also among those who spend the most on culture (cinema, concerts, dvd, etc.), the company that produces the torrent download software Vuze is also boasting similar survey conclusions.

Teachers will find on torrents content for their classes that their local libraries can't provide. Recently, a list of the files downloaded by employees FBI leaked online.

With the hyper connected generation, a change is taking place and this change is obviously not just a technological one. In this regard, Michel Bauwens and the P2P Foundation study and communicate the alternatives in this field. They also explore transformative potential of P2P on the social, political, economic, cultural, educational levels. This is a pretty serious ideological trend that could take a growing part in the current debates.

The relationship to property and copyright has long been null and void. The past 15 years however (from Napster to EMule, Limewire or Mega) have blown up this contradiction in the digital domain. The right to exchange, share, re-appropriate or pool have become a space for a real prospective research. Russian artist Dimitry Kleiner has recently worked on a license, the Copyfarleft, that attempts to circumvent some limitations of the creative commons licenses and other copyleft approaches.

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Is the work also a comment on the way p2p exchanges are vilified by the cinema industry?

Yes, the legal aspect is obviously closely linked to the film industry and to blockbusters. The Pirate Bays' top 100 reflects the issue quite accurately.

These past few years, download has even influenced the film industry and the production choices of big studios. In addition to blockbusters in 3D, they now design films made specifically to be seen inside cinema theaters and during films events. And these lose some of their appeal when they are viewed on Laptop / Home theater.

The Pirate Cinema goes beyond copyright, though. It is at the crossroads of many territories (social, legal, political, aesthetic), it leaves room for many versions and sequels to come.

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Dziga Vertov, Man with a Movie Camera, 1929

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Robert Longo, Johnny Mnemonic, 1995

Did anything surprise you about the images displayed on the screen? For example, do the same faces of famous actors in blockbuster movies keep appearing on the screen?

When you look at the installation over a long period of time, you start to notice many things about many things about the mass media distributed on P2P:

- For example, one can clearly identify the formal leveling between all the TV series (framing, casting, expressions, etc.)

- The aesthetic similarity between porn and video clips (explicit content) is also quite striking.

- At times, you can also see multiple versions of the same films, screeners captured in cinema theatres using different material and framing.

Is Sight and Sound the first place where you're showing The Pirate Cinema?

I started toying with the idea in early 2012 without knowing whether or not it would be fully realizable. We developed a first proof of concept during the Summer of 2012 with Labomedia in Orléans by modifying an existing Torrent client software. Around the same period Julian Oliver introduced me to Brendan Howell and we started experimenting with the concept. Brendan has gradually developed a specific "python" program. It took us almost a year to finalize a functional and stable version. I presented the work in workshops and conferences in the meantime, but Sight and Sound is the first to exhibit the project as an installation. We are currently working on a second version of The Pirate Cinema which will take the form of a live performance.

Merci Nicolas!

You can see The Pirate CInema during the fifth edition of Sight & Sound, a festival produced by Eastern Bloc. Sight & Sound has kicked off a few days ago, it remains open until 29 May in Montreal, Canada.

True to my reputation of "slowest reporter on this planet", i'm still catching up with my last visit at MediaLab Prado in Madrid. As you might remember, MLP was celebrating the opening of its decidedly bigger and brighter space with open days, the 2013 edition of the Libre Graphics Meeting and a new Interactivos? workshop (number 13 already) titled Tools for a Read-Write World.

0CONCEPT-280x259.jpgA whole morning of the Libre Graphics Meeting was dedicated to the presentations of the projects that had been selected to be developed during the Interactivos? workshop. One of them is the KLE - Kit de Libertad de Expresión (or Freedom of Speech Kit), a portable digital device that allows people from all over the world to participate to remote protests by sending and displaying text messages in public space. The interactive banner is (unsurprisingly) inspired by the record number of social protests that took place in Spain in 2011. It is estimated that over 23.000 demonstrations have been organised that year around the country.

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How the system might look. Image courtesy Chema Blanco & María Solé Bravo

Developed using open free hardware and software, the KLE device is made of textile LED screen, is energetically autonomous, light and easy to build/replicate. Although KLE is a personal device, its use is shared by the community promoting participation and expression

Two of the project leaders, Chema Blanco & María Solé Bravo, were kind enough to answer my questions:

Hi María and Chema! How did you come up with the idea for Free Freedom of Speech Kit (KLE)? Why was it important to you?

The idea came when participating in one of many social demonstrations during last years in Spain. I never brought a billboard, but there are so many things to say! People bring their written banner to a demonstration but, once there, one might get inspired and have new ideas for messages to display. We also observe a lot of creativity in the banners messages, some of them are visual poetry. So the question arose: what would happen if banners were an interactive display?

Then this simple idea started growing and we saw the real implications that a connected autonomous device like this could have in the realm of the freedom of speech, such accessibility and communication between cultures in collective manners.

As we deepened in the subject, we also noticed that the main social movements had been sprouting through social networks, where one connects as individual to, later on, collectively gather on the public space. That revealed us that we could develop tools for providing a smoother transition between the individual use of social networks and the collective expression that public space represents. Fortunately, the project team comprises a great combination of technology and public space experienced professionals, gathering the required knowledge to develop such idea .

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Prototype developed at MediaLab Prado. Image courtesy Chema Blanco & María Solé Bravo

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Prototype developed at MediaLab Prado. Image courtesy Chema Blanco & María Solé Bravo

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Prototype developed at MediaLab Prado. Image courtesy Chema Blanco & María Solé Bravo

The project is fairly ambitious and when i saw its presentation at the Free Tools meeting the other day i was wondering how much you'd manage to achieve in just the two weeks that the Interactivos? workshop lasted. So how far are you in the hardware and software?

These two weeks have been a great opportunity for accelerating the development of the project. Currently we have a prototype built in fabric (flexible and light) which is connected by Bluetooth to a mobile phone running an Android application for sending messages. So in just two weeks and with a great team of collaborators (Quique, Rafael, Dani, Carlos, Sonia, Gonzalo, Andrea, Echedey, Soraya, Eva and many others) we have built our first functional prototype: a crafted LED flexible display with internet connectivity through a cell phone. So we are now just one step far from having a real KLE (Kit de libertad de Expresión/Freedom of Speech Kit) working in the streets.

Is KLE mostly an art project with just the one prototype and a couple of performances to demonstrate its potential power or do you hope that its use will spread and that people will build their own and use it the way they want?

We come from the engineering and architecture world, both with a strong creative component but, even though we are very close to the artistic world (we are collaborating with photographers, theater companies...), we try to think as well about the actual functionality of our work (we are active members of a community garden and other self managed civic projects in Madrid and Barcelona).

We give as much importance to the conceptual framework of our projects as in contributing to society, providing solutions and tools that satisfy citizens needs rather than creating new ones.

Therefore, in KLE we are making an effort to unite technology, human and accessibility, with making it visually appealing and helpful to citizens. In fact, we aim at that joint where a piece of art is used and replicated on the streets giving it a much more powerful meaning, making it evolve in unexpected ways: born with us but living through other people.

How do you see people using it exactly? In advertisement context? Activist, protest ones?

Being a visual platform it makes it suitable for advertising purposes. However, our scope is focused on the social / citizenship field, where freedom of speech comes true sense. We are seduced by the idea of people expressing themselves by a platform that someone else or a community have built for others (note that the Freedom of Speech Kit is envisaged as a Do it Yourself Kit). It is also intriguing the concept of the "carrier" of other people messages, probably a new scope of legal issues may arise.

Besides other possible uses, our main interest is on bringing our kit to the streets serving citizens and their creativity and solidarity with others. We want to explore collective processes on the construction of messages and the interactions that these might generate in a context such a demonstration.

In this direction, our most ambitious goal, that we comment with great caution (due its dependance on the local restrictions of each country in terms of Human Rights, which we are now starting to look into), would be the creation of a worldwide KLE network where messages from different countries could cross over the globe and be displayed from square to square, connecting collectives from different public spaces globally.

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Image courtesy Chema Blanco & María Solé Bravo

Why do you think people will need it? Aren't Facebook and twitter enough to spread text messages?

The word "need" might be too disruptive. There was a time when human beings didn't need fire, electricity or internet, but once they were invented they became extremely useful technologies.

The importance of our input is very far from those examples, but we are convinced that if in a demonstration there is a KLE, there will be many people willing to use it. We would like it to be a platform that provides accessibility to those who for any reason can not be on the street (physical challenge, illness, job restrictions, fear, etc) but want to join the community by sending a message through it.

So far, Facebook or Twitter do not solve that. It is a paradox, because even though they are social networks, their users produce and consume content on them individually. They are collective channels, but their access devices are individual. Our platform is producing and displaying content in a collective environment, that could as well be supported by these communication channels. We would like to explore two features that social networks still have not solved: the actual collectivity (in a shared place and time) and its interaction with the public space.

Can you briefly explain how the system will work?

The kit consist of an electronic portable banner where a user can display messages either using a local physical interface, such a keyboard, or a virtual one using social networks through internet. Likewise, there is a sort of online platform that allows writing messages and sending and displaying on the banner.

In a more technical level; we provide different entry interfaces: a physical one, so anyone close to the banner can send messages to it, and another one via internet, thus anyone in the world, using their cell phone, computer or other device connected to the internet can send messages to the banner as well.

On the other hand, we want to develop an appropriate web service where all banners built in the world can be registered and be geolocalized by a GPS. In that way, messages could be sent directly to a specific place of the world (from square to square, as we were saying previously).

The device is built with a series of textiles (both conductors and insulators of electricity) and LEDs, together with a microprocessor and communication modules. All software and hardware design is being documented in an instructions manual, so anyone will be able to build their own kit: DIY. Actually, it will be delivered under copyleft license, so users will be able to improve the design, adapt it to their local circumstances and their knowledge will be delivered in the same way back to the rest of the world.

Any other upcoming steps/further developments for the project?

Right now, we think is quite important to reach the international communication layer via internet. There are situations we need to take in consideration, such how to solve communication when there are frequency inhibitors or when mobile phone cells are saturated during a demonstration. Step by step we will be analyzing and trying to come up with solutions to the wide range of circumstances, for maximizing KLE interaction possibilities.

The next phase of the project, to improve the implementation of the platform and make it more accessible, is to start a crowdfunding campaign. We want to complete the first version of the kit and distribute the first units in places where freedom of speech is under threat.

Thanks Chema and María!

Follow the development of the project on its website and on twitter.

Full cast of people involved in the development of the prototype:
Promoters: ETC Inventions (Chema Blanco, Anna Carreras) and María Solé Bravo.
Collaborators: Gonzalo Iglesias, Rafael Fernandes, Carlos Fernández, Daniel Alonso, Sonya Ricketts, Andrea Rosales, Soraya Nasser, Echedey Lorenzo, Miguel Fernández, Eva Rueda & Christian Rojo (ETC Inventions).

The prototypes of Interactivos?'13 Tools for a Read-Write World are exhibited at MediaLab Prado until May 31, 2013.

While visiting the new spaces of Medialab Prado last month, i got to discover several projects which are developed in collaboration with the Madrid-based program. One of these projects is the Citizen Cyberscience Centre, a citizen science initiative where citizens and researchers alike are invited to participate in large scale scientific projects with either some time, power from their brain or from their computer.

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Representation of the Higgs particle

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Work stations at Medialab Prado

Volunteers from around the world are welcome to participate to projects that will help the scientific community identify and mark deforested areas using high-resolution Earth imagery, research the elusive Higgs particle using a virtual atom smasher, understand the fundamental laws of the universe, or the secrets of magnetism at the molecular scale.

I met Daniel Lombraña González, a researcher and lead developer of the Citizen Cyberscience Centre (aka CCC, a partnership between CERN, the UN Institute for Training and Research and the University of Geneva), at the MLP and he was kind enough to answers my questions about some of the Citizen Cyber Science projects:

Hi Daniel! How did you get to collaborate with MediaLab Prado? What sort of infrastructure, network and support do they provide the project with?

The CCC contacted Medialab this year because we think that we have a lot in common. Medialab is an heterogenous space where science, engineering and art are mixed in a beautiful way and we thought that it could be really interesting to participate with them. Medialab will offer its connections with other collectives and we will try to provide our knowledge in citizen science events like the one that we are organizing the 17th and 18th of May.

One of the most impressive project of CCS is probably LHC@home, a platform that allows volunteers to help physicists develop and exploit particle accelerators like CERN's Large Hadron Collider, and to compare theory with experiment in the search for new fundamental particles. So how exactly can people contribute, do they have to be physicists too?

People contribute by creating an account in the project and downloading two pieces of software: BOINC and VirtualBox. BOINC is the software that allows to automatically configure the VirtualBox software, that will be used to create a Virtual Machine that will connect CERN and run the simulations. The CCC developed this aspect of the project contributing the integration of the virtualization VirtualBox software (created by Oracle) within the BOINC framework.

Once you have installed the software, all you have to do is to see how your computer and user account gets credits based on the simulations that your PC are contributing to the project and check if you are in the top 20 of the best volunteers or if you are part of the Billionaires club (users who have simulated more than 1 Billion of events!)

Therefore, as you can see, the project welcomes everyone to participate and you don't have to be a physicist at all :-)

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Billionaires club

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Checks are performed on the alignment of the magnets in the LHC tunnel. Photo: Maximilien Brice, © CERN

How important is their contribution? Does their help have a big impact on the research of the CERN physicists?

Here I'm going to quote the main researcher of the project about this specific question :-)

The place where T4T contributes is in the validation of the theoretical models that underpin the interpretation of the data. Roughly speaking, if we only had really bad theoretical models, the analysis of the real data would suffer. Given only very crude models, we would be more uncertain about what a real Higgs state should look like in the experiment, and what is merely unrelated "background". That uncertainty would translate into having to run the LHC longer, collecting more statistics, before an announcement such as the one on July 4th could be made with any confidence. The fact that we do have quite sophisticated and thoroughly tested theoretical models for the physics taking place at the LHC "sharpens" our ability to extract conclusions from the data with confidence.

Day by day, T4T volunteers are testing our theory simulations. When new versions of the simulation codes are released, we incorporate them into the T4T queues and send them out to you for testing. When new test data is released, we incorporate that data into the T4T test suite and again send everything we got out to you for testing against this new added piece of information, each piece making up a small part of the full picture of what the "ideal" simulation should look like.

Check the full message from Peter Skands here, as he explains much better the implications of the contributions of the volunteers to the researchers.

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Forest Watchers

I was particularly intrigued by Forest Watchers which invites people located anywhere in the world to monitor patches of forest that need to be protected. Now a forest like the Amazonian is extended over a very large territory so how many volunteers would its monitoring typically involve?

The current project only has 164 registered users, but almost 1000 people have actually participated in the project since its creation contributing tasks :-) (you can see the stats here). We still are in the early stages of the project, and we are starting to analyze the first results, so I cannot give you that answer for the moment. We hope to have some published paper in the future, but there is no ETA yet.

And we all know about the Amazonian forrest but how about other forests that needs to be protected? Can you give other examples, in Europe in particular?

0forestwatchers.jpgThe platform was created with the idea of allowing other countries to use it in a simple way. If I'm not mistaken Europe is well covered, due to the available human power and resources that EU has for this type of natural parks. The main goal of starting in the Amazon was because INPE, one of the main partners behind the project, are the world lead experts in deforestation assessment and they contacted the Citizen Cyberscience Centre to start the project.


Now once the location of a threat has been reported, what happens? Do government usually step in? Or non-governmental organizations?

Usually the government. However, ForestWatchers.net has not contacted the government at all, as this is a research project from INPE and CCC analyzing the feasibility of getting non-experts, citizens, analyzing deforested areas. As I said before, ForestWatchers.net is a research project and we are trying to analyze if the volunteers will be able to produce good results in comparison with the experts.

How do you verify that information provided by volunteers? How can you check that it is correct and valuable?

For every task at least 30 different persons will contribute an answer. Then, we will analyze all the reported answers statistically to be sure that there are no outliers, and that the majority of the volunteers agree on the reported results. We are in the process of analyzing the data with INPE experts to quantify the quality of these results.

Most of the projects of Citizen Cyber Science are developed in partnership with prestigious institutions such as CERN, universities in France, Switzerland and England. How open are institutions in general to direct participation of citizens? Because i always thought that science was a domain reserved to an elite of intellectuals...

It depends :-) I think there is a no clear answer here. In general the first time that we approach a research institution with a citizen science proposal, the usual answer is to be afraid of going into the open. However, after showing some of the projects that we are currently running and supporting some of these scientists see the benefits of using these approaches and they jump in. It is important also to mention that even citizens feel like you, so even though there are several citizen science projects, we are not sending the right message to you, as you think this type of science is only for an elite :-)

Thus, in summary, let's say that in general institutions are not so open due to citizen science is "grass roots movement" but it is taking pace and getting more adepts every day.

Why do you think that people contribute? What do they gain from that?

From time to time we interview the volunteers to answer that specific questions. In general, people do it because they like to contribute to the project, because they feel that science is important and this type of projects give them an opportunity to see science closer.

What do they gain? This is a really good question! Actually, we are now in an EU project called Citizen Cyberlab where we are studying actually what do they gain. In general, what the volunteers gain is a non-formal knowledge about the project where they usually learn science "by accident" :-) For example, by participating in the LHC@Home Test4Theory project, some volunteers have become "experts" in the Virtualization technology that the project uses. This has been proven, because new contributers usually get help from this other volunteers with very detailed answers :-)

Thanks Daniel!

New year, new episode of #A.I.L - artists in laboratories, the weekly radio programme about art and science i present on ResonanceFM.

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Julian Oliver, Six Composite Acts (Digital, sculptural interventions / Performance), 2010

The guest of this episode is artist and critical engineer Julian Oliver whose award-winning software and hardware works include a wall plug that manipulates the news appearing on other people's screens, a pair of augmented-reality binoculars that replace advertisements in public spaces with artworks in real-time, but also a Transparency Grenade able to capture network traffic and audio at the site of secret corporate or governmental meetings and to anonymously stream the data to a dedicated server where it is mined for information. Julian Oliver's projects might be provocative and entertaining but their ultimate aim is to make us question the technologies we use every day: who really owns them? Who made them and to what purpose? How much do they shape our behavior? Do these technologies service us as much as we service them?

During the show, however, we're not going to talk about Julian's exciting projects. Instead, i wanted to focus on the Critical Engineering Manifesto that Julian wrote a year ago together with Gordan Savičić and Danja Vasiliev. Expect explanations about why Engineering is the most transformative language of our time, questions about how to adopt the critical engineering ethos if you have next to zero technical skills, and details about Julian Oliver's upcoming projects.

The show will be aired today Thursday 17th December at 19:30. The repeat is next Tuesday at the ungodly 6.30 am. If you don't live in London, you can catch the online stream or wait till we upload the episodes on soundcloud.
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