Posts about ‘simulacra’

Toys that need help


Berg and Dentsu have made Suwappu, toy animals imprisoned in tiny digital pens that follow them wherever they go, tolerant and understanding of the dark inner lives each lead and the destructive impulses that follow bad dreams, dreams made of unbalanced psyches and snippets of the commercial fog surrounding them. At the mercy of promotional messages from car manufacturers and record companies, they struggle to connect their debilitated and half-formed consciousnesses, trying to assert basic values of trust and dependence as best they can with their stunted minds.

Their situation reminds me of the sort of existential struggles Russell Hoban’s toy characters live with, the drummer and the clock in the Mouse and his Child, the wind-up tin frog in love with La Gioconda, with their personalities crushed almost into nothingness by the constraints of their form and experience, tiny glimmers of self trapped in a hallucinatory interdimensional timelessness. I don’t think Badger will ever stop having bad dreams.

Update: Rodcorp adds what I want to call suwappu fanfic – love the Riddley Walker/primal tone, brilliant – very We3

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For the festival season: personal, inflatable stone circles. Perfect for making sure your tent circle benefits from maximal positive energy! Kit includes a compass and star map for correct alignment. No need to fumble around with your mobile if you want to know the time! Deluxe edition includes a radio receiver (and aerial antennae within the megaliths): with the help of your friends, turn the circle to the correct position for your favourite radio station. Or set it to “static” to listen to the sound of creation.

Extension kit includes RFIDs for your group to wear behind their wristbands (or in their hair), acting as individual proximity sensors and activating a personalised set of discreet LED patterns inside the stones when a certain distance from the circle. Useful for finding your way in the dark, or setting the disco tone if you’re all back for the night.

May not be compatible with existing ley lines: please consult your local dowsing group before construction. Use with mobile telephones may attract attention of dark forces from beyond our ken.

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Gotcha, not captcha


The latest xkcd proposes an alternative to the captcha anti-bot test: Matt Webb notices that it’s the Voight-Kampff test applied to the web (I have no idea how Harrison Ford managed to sound the second “f”, but apparently other people know it and have used it). I love it: focussing on what makes a human a human to weed out the bots, beyond our image-processing and language skills, concentrating on accepting interaction with entities that are capable of empathy and value judgements and can recognise the answer we’re most likely to be after.

But it doesn’t work. For one, a yes/no answer just means that a bot has to try twice instead of once, which reduces it to a problem of bandwith. But even if there was a greater choice of answers, any replicant capable of landing a job interview would surely have wifi. My phone has wifi. Even cameras have wifi now, and they would not pass many job interviews (“how do you get on with other people?”, “I click well”). The combination of connectivity and Amazon’s HIT service means that given enough time, any net-enabled replicant could just ask an army of skint humans to come up with the statistically probable answer.

Of course, the crucial element is time. For the HIT strategy to work, replicants would have to be questioned in an environment that would allow them to pause for a while before answering: this implies that they’d be best off applying for jobs in the civil service or the media, where a dilatory approach to qualifying their suitability for a role would be acceptable. Soon, Goldsmiths and Millbank would be staffed with replicants dedicated to working against all that true humans stand for, while the private sector looked on aghast and tried to concoct ways of avoiding working with either for as long as possible. So far, the story checks out: maybe wiser heads than mine are already working on a solution.

One way of avoiding the HIT approach might be to ask for responses that could only be answered through a deep knowledge of the milieu of the author: the purpose of the captcha then progresses from just weeding out bots, to weeding out people who aren’t cool enough to understand the question. In this way blogs can manage their appeal in a far more fine-grained way than at present. Serious tech blogs could bar Mac fanboys through judicious probing of their command-line fluency; political blogs could make sure that comments only come from those that articulate their allegiance in an acceptable fashion. No-one need ever hear from live-action roleplayers ever again.

But more elegant than this crude reification of web cliques would be the inclusion of a “dude this is so a trick question” button, perhaps placed elsewhere in the comments form (“was the question above totally manipulative or a fair chance to express your views?”). Perhaps in addition to the “yes” or “no” options in the two examples above, we might add a po or mu option, giving humans a chance to do what a robot can’t, at present: recognise an absurdity and claim the right to not answer.

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Cargo cult



originally uploaded by satchprototype.

This is a picture of someone in Second Life with a film camera. Where’s the light that’s going to pass through the lens and make the pictures? If it it isn’t there, then why has someone put so much effort into making something that fundamentally doesn’t work?

There are reasons, of course, chiefly that it’s because she’s got a camera that I know she’s a camera operator: the tool on display tells me about her role and identity. Coincidentally, earlier today I heard Cory Ondrejka (CTO for Linden) talking about Second Life, and during this talk he mentioned briefly the idea of “real world as metaphor”, referring to the need for people faced with the possibility of doing anything they want to narrow their choice a little, to start with the familiar.

But, to me, having someone tote a non-functional camera around, or giving Suzanne Vega a guitar to play that doesn’t cause air particles to vibrate, or providing chairs at events for people that don’t need to worry about gravity, all this seems to arise from the same fallacy that led the South Sea Islanders to build radios from straw and coconuts: mistaking the appearance of a thing for its function.

What excites me about Second Life is all the things you can do that are different to the real world. I always feel it’s a bit of a missed opportunity when people spend so much time replicating their first life.

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