Monday, April 12, 2010

Things That Look Like Humans

I have always been interested in pointing my camera at machines that look like humans.

I've also been interested in the people engaged with these the robotic work of David Hanson seemed like something rich to explore. Discover Magazine commissioned me to go see what Hanson was up to back in the fall and we are psyched that the story is out this month and psyched that the series will be in the PDN Photo Annual this year as well. Yea for us!
Hanson is influenced by science fiction author Philip K. Dick and in 2005 created the Philip K. Dick Android Project: an android robot of Dick that answered questions about his life, his work, and recognized close relatives of Dick who approached him. With tape recorder in hand, I asked Hanson to give me some backround. It's long and stream of consciousness stuff, but I wanted to share it because it really reflects what it feels like to speak to Hanson. It can be kinda epic:
When I was 18 yrs old I read the book VALIS by Philip K. Dick. In this book the narrator felt, in a flash of pink laser light, that he received this charge by the universe of information about how this future entities called Vast Active Living Intelligence Systems ( VALIS) were working thru humans to make themselves come into existence. This is what he called the God Artificial Intelligence. A fusion of human biology and technology, reaching this state of transcendence he was thinking this was going to come into existence in our future.

I had this type of realization myself ...on my a 15 year old, that this was going to come into existence. It was either that or disaster to me. So reading this book at 18, being this mad creative teenager, and adding my own poetic vision, I mean I was into science and art, it was almost like reading the book was like looking into a mirror. In the book, the narrator receives this message and here I am reading this book and it was powerful, because I felt I got this message too. Here I am reading this schlocky science fiction and there was this revelation! VALIS motivated me to want to build robots that would help save humans from their own destructive tendencies.
As I read PKD literature, I saw these robots that thought they were human, they had sometimes more compassion than humans, in some cases they had less compassion than humans. It seemed like such a metaphor for human evolution and how the human mind is. We have this idea that the human mind is in control of its self and the universe, but the truth is the mind is so out of control. It seemed like that was the true nature of creativity and the true nature of civilization and PKD tapped into the madness of it all. Ultimately compassion defines humanity. The dark side is where compassion is compromised, taken away from humans and technology. So in VALIS, this Vast Active Living Intelligence System exists only because it does have compassion.

It represented my own sense of what art could be through robotics. Making this robot version of Philip K. Dick that embodies science fiction , embodied a work of science fiction, that aspired to be science fiction, seemed perfect to me. Its intelligence, while not using cutting edge AI, it depicted a human , a totally brilliant creative human, was totally fictitious. There wasn’t that kind of creative genius in the machine. It was really just a portal into the creative works of this great author , it was a ghost echoing the thoughts of this great man. But with the prospect , evocative proposition that it could evolve into a machine that was as creative as this man who embodied it, and then beyond that , so that it became a seed of the great compassionate super intelligent machine that was in VALIS.

As I toured Hanson’s studio, Philip K Dick was gone. The original clay bust, exhibiting one blue eye and one red eye, remained. What happened to PKD?

I lost it…it was lost. Someone lost it. I was getting like 2 hours of sleep a night. I was going to Google with PKD to do a demonstration. I had him in carry on. I didn’t know we were changing planes in Vegas. I fell asleep and they woke me up and hustled me off the plane. I realized I forgot the PKD in the overhead compartment. American West told me they had it, they said they located it and would ship it, but it didn’t arrive. Either someone took it or it was just lost lost… sometimes things get lost.


Anonymous said...

too long :( but thoughtfull images and story :)


Darrell Eager said...

Great post! Thanks

Timothy Archibald said...

thank you...i wonder if anyone will really read the whole post?

Darrell Eager said...

Hmmm, I thought I did but maybe it was my giant robot half.