Tuesday, February 17, 2009

I am now ready to read Philip K. Dick

It's hard for me to really say what to write, partly because I've become concerned about what kinds of specifics would really be "okay" to just throw out there. So just random, disjointed musings...

After being involved (ie observing, watching, interacting, participating, talking) in a number of different experiments and demonstrations, for partial moments and catching small glimpses, what really strikes me as how certain orders are cascaded onto each other in a ways that would seem incompatible or, at least, at somewhat at odds. Like in many experiments and demonstrations (the specifics of which I am trying to be both vague and concrete about) what is presented to the naive lay person is an autonomous agent, something they interact with that thinks or responds. But, actually, what is happening is someone is in the back, behind a screen, in another room, in a little enclosed hut, monitoring over video and headphones, and choosing responses by the robot. Making it do this thing or that, like a puppet. Sometimes this is because it doesn't matter, some kind of psychology-esque test is what it's really about. In fact, the idea is to find that pattern in human behaviour, the determinate that will unlock sociality (never heard it phrased that way though!). What does a person do when the robot does this? And sometimes its because the image is what is important. Oh, how the this so easily leads to facile Jean Baudrillard references--meaning, can we really tell the difference between the virutal and the real? Well, its a robot. I've overheard people discussing what is the natural behaviour for the robot---and I silently approved when its pointed out that there is no natural behaviour towards a robot. They seem kind of virtual to me (but also real enough that I wouldn't want it to barrel right into me at full speed). Further, and again this is something that others realize, not my birds-eye-view privilege, is that the people interacting with the robot are playing it a bit virtual themselves. For example, they try to make sure they are competently performing the task that is expected of them, as if it was an examination. Of course, this is not the idea. But after trying something like it myself, I couldn't help it either. When I felt confused or felt like I screwed up, I feel a bit guilty and apologetic. Afterwards, I realize that it didn't even matter.

But, on the bright side, such complex cascading (kind of like the term!) has a certain "rich" ethnographic sound to it. Even though, I'm pretty sure my ethnography is not very rich at all since I spend a large amount of time hardly doing anything at all, in front of a computer... in the virtual/real world!

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