A PHILOSOPHICAL HISTORY OF ROBOTICS AND ART

by David Karave



Robotics is the next evolution in art.

Under the premise that we have created art as the ever-changing image of ourselves, the chart below flows down as it passes through time and art history.

  1. Early painting (1 dimensional rendition)
  2. Modern painting (2 dimensional rendition)
  3. Sculpture (3 dimensional rendition)
  4. Photograph (2 dimensional representation)
  5. Moving image (2 dimensional rendition/representation in time)
  6. Robotic Art (3 dimensional rendition in time)
  7. Cinematic Theatre/Holograms/genetic art (3 dimensional representation in time)

[The words rendition and representation should be understood in these terms as historical flow markers rather than definitions. Theatre is not addressed here, because theatre is taken as the actual representation of ourselves and our bodies as art themselves, rather than the representation or rendition of ourselves within our without time. Theatre could thus be considered the all encompassing art form, as witnessed by the works of Richard Wagner, operas which combined theatre with every known artform of the time.]
           
Under this premise, that holograms, genetic art and robots may very well represent the next evolution in art, and that the history of robotic art is a self reflecting history, it is interesting to remember that ancient and classic definition of art : “we create art such that we may mimic ourselves in greater and greater detail”.

Indeed the machine is alive. In the history of robotic art, what have we sought to achieve? The dog barking at the machine is evidence enough that the machine is alive. Why would anyone trust the instincts of a man over an animal? Were there such machines exactly resembling organs, in outward form an ape or any other irrational animal, we could have no means of knowing that they were in any respect of a different nature from these animals.  (1)

When we think of machines, it might do us well to comprehend them as animals, rather than that stereotype of tin voiced metal boxes.

Human beings learned to fly when we mastered aerodynamics, not when we fashioned realistic-looking birds. A socially capable robot might not resemble a human being anymore than an airplane looks like a sparrow. (2)

While the day has certainly not arrived where we confuse humans for cyborgs, despite all the robotic toys on the market today, the idea is nevertheless predicted in countless science fictions. That the human being has the power of creating a living organism has already been proven. Take the computer virus for example, judged by Stephen Hawking in his A Brief History of Time, to be the first living organism ever created by mankind. The intelligent computer virus or worm can self-replicate, breed and flourish by making copies of itself across global networks. The most intelligent viruses and worms can also reproduce with other viruses and worms that it encounters on the net, simply by having as set of code that calls for sexual activity or the act of scanning hard drives along its travels. When a suitable virus mate is found, segments of those viruses’ code can be shared. The first self replication after these viruses have mated, thus represents the new family spawn. Further, computer viruses live by natural laws eerily simillar to organic viruses in the natural world. A virus must not destroy its host computer, for that would mean its eventual own destruction. Rather, the computer virus must take away only the minimum life energy or system memory necessary for its existance within the body. The most fatal human viruses, plagues and diseases have never had nearly so much success as the common cold. Imagine these principals applied to robotic art, or genetic art. For example, two old women were talking one day about ectopic pregnancies. This is a very serious situation for a mother, when a child is born within its mother's ovaries. The child here is like a virus, and the virus is alive. Or take the idea of the organism and technology, for instance, such that a dog has adapted to the vehicle more than the cat, and takes joy in riding inside a machine. The pigeon recognizes the car also. The pigeon uses the vehicle express-way as a home to live under. One could eventually foresee an animal kingdom on earth, born of man, like pets and parasites.

“Technology tempts us like the snake of old...
into believing that we can ‘save’ ourselves.“  (3)

 

With each discovery we make, we must learn more about ourselves, and in so doing, we continually recreate our own image. The history of robotic art is diverse, nevertheless this is a main thread. Furthermore science describes us, as much as we describe science. And if, like the stranger walking down the streets of a new city, we must  justify to ourselves always - our identities, those pieces of ourselves which we hold as the very essence of our beings - but someone or something destroys that, and says we are only our families, friends and lovers, we are only what we know, we are nothing with no one, with no one we would have no essence, then the fall begins, our identity is gone and we cope but then give way, unlearning language such that we may discover ourselves in nothingness or death.

(These ideas concern a discourse on God, human history, robotics and art, and not on spirituality. Can we separate these ideas? Why must we? Rather, these ideas represent an investigation of our belief systems).


In the history of human kind, some have said that great art puts the mirror up to nature, and no matter what abstractions in art are in vogue, this will always be pop art, like those little tourist art shops with exact human representations, along with exact nature representation, like it or not these little shops will always be the median of the art world. Indeed, in the history of cinematic representations of robotic art, again we look toward ever increasing exactness in human representation and the horror that this creates. Of course, there are great abstractions in all art forms. These abstractions in robotic art and all art forms entail some of the greatest art ever made, artworks that choose to stand on their own, away from the drudgery of continual self reference. Nevertheless, a walk through the galleries, gift shops, and musems of the world reveals one persistent thread - that we love to look at ourselves.


This horror of self revelation has its representation in our fear of self created technology, and the Y2K's of the world. We are constantly made to feel by the political and relgious powers of continuous generations, that we should distance ourselves from technology, because should it fail, all will be lost. The truth is that many people made a great deal of questionable money in the years 999 and 1999. In the year 1999 there was more religious propoganda, gas masks, cement for bomb shelters, bottled water, and useless software upgrades, bought and sold than at any other time in America's history. We were sold out under the presumption that we should all be ashamed of our greatest technological achievements. yet Y2K was all but forgotten by the early days of the year two thousand. Why have we failed to look back on our mistake? We have chosen instead to drop our memories, to lose our own history. Fear of our own creation and of technology, dangerously persists today, in a world that we can only hope will one day no longer be post 9-11. 


Now the supposed mayan prophecies, melting worlds, and terror fear are all very fashionable. Y2K seems like it passed our minds a thousand years ago, just forgotten and swept beneath the carpet of our consciousness. But prophecy can be self fulfilling, fear of science turns the world into a frightful place. Nothing physically happened to you when you were packing in a hundred gallons of water or crouched in that  homemade bomb shelter, surrounded by gas masks and canned goods, but mentally, your own personal apocalypse was assured.

When we have re-created ourselves, in a mimicry of humanity, as living robotic creatures... when we have re-made ourselves through art, technology, science, or dance, only then will we have been evolved beyond ourselves. The power of art is the power creation. Even today, at the dusk of the age of cinema, we seek to create what we are through the moving image and in this societal perception of reality we are the gods of ourselves.


Still horrified by Frankenstein, we berate science in the name of God, only to look back and call ourselves savages for having bathed in piss and thought of the world as a flat rock. Since the dawn of humankind and religion, to halt technology and stall creation has been a very human thing to do.  Stem cells, genetic mapping, and the Descartes’ philosophy turned science of organ regrowth... all these creations may indeed take another thousand years to develope.


When the appliances turn on do we become God? When a computer rests next to a refrigerator, the flow of communicatory electricity between the two makes it seem as if one is speaking to the other. The computer clicks and then the fridge begins buzzing. Possessed people seem like possessed appliances. Suffering people, in their obsessive circular thinking, are like distressed non-functioning mechanical objects. The human and the object - the distinction is lost. Then we must have a mechanical seance, to expell the ghost from the machine. There is irony in religion’s historic opposition to technological movement. Perhaps God lives within our technology, science, art, and in our creations, within ourselves.

I see great possibilities in the creation of a new hybrid in the arts: electronic theatre and three-dimensional cinema, robotic art embodied as robotic actors in a cinema with four walls. We will create a new history. Robotic art embodies the re-creation of ourselves as humans in greater and greater likeness, and what follows is the sense of shock and horror that we must experience as we behold the re-creation of ourselves.

 

endnotes :
(1)  Rene Descartes, A Discourse on Method, and Meditations on First philosophy: p.49
Descartes Google Book Link

(2)Ron Chrisley, Quoted in Smithsonian Magazine's 'Robot Babies' July, 2009.
Robot Art Babies Article

(3)  Jay Newman, Religion and Technology : A Study in the Philosophy of Culture : p.10 Questia Book page for Newman's 'Religion and Technology'

 

 


This text is a copyright (c) of David Karave, David-->at-->crashingart.com