|Jane Veeder is a professor at San Francisco State University, where she directs the digital cinema lab. She is a pioneer of animation and interactive computer graphics, who spent the 1994-95 season as director of animation at Time-Warnerís interactive video game division. Her work has been shown internationally and perhaps today she'll show us a snippet of her film, Jane Goes 3-D, a current work in progress. This past spring she lectured on digital artists and current tool development at the Museum of Modern Art in New York.|
Jane Veeder: I'm not going to show you anything, I always get in trouble on panels, I try to show too much and say too much and it doesn't work. What is the technological potential of online media and will they live up to it? As Robert said in his opening remarks, this is an open ended subject. The technological potential of new media is evolving so fast that it's really difficult to talk about their potential at this point. I do have some remarks to make about patterns I see, and I have a few things to say about how I think artists are using new, interactive media.
Interactivity is idiomatic to the digital computer--meaning intimate and unique to it. Although successfully turning the viewer into a player and an explicit accomplice in manifesting the artwork is no mean feat. Even with CD-ROMs where you have wider bandwidth and more rapid interactivity than on the Web, this is still a problem. Many interactive works co-opt the viewer without offering any real control, or ability to sub-create within them. Many people see the Internet and interactive television as environments for art presentation but we may be a generation away from thinking in new enough ways to realize that potential. I was interested in what Robert said in his lecture last night about book publishers basically ruining the multi-media, CD-ROM market because they saw it as a new way of publishing books while their business culture--hierarchical and uncollaborative--gives so little power to the content creators that it has pretty much stifled production.
Many publishers have also brought what I call their ëfart-in-a-bottleí ideas to this new medium. A good example is the Random House Interactive books. Theyíve turned it into a funnel to translate and publish interactive, Dr. Suess titles. So all original, content-production stopped and the whole company--which has done very creative things in interactive content for children--then reverted to piping through this Dr. Suess material. It seems to be a phase we always go through. Just when some of us get excited about the potential of a new medium is when everybody else is trying to cram their ëfart-in-a-bottleí ideas through it.
I was very active in the late 70's and early 80's when a lot of similar, telecommunication things were happening: Satellite teleconferencing, amateur television, ham radio and television. Cable TV was supposed to be the second coming. Of course the broadcast people went in there and turned it into a shriveled and dry husk of what the idea was. The Web has done better, but it participates in a lot of the same ideas that were being thrown around in the early days of cable TV. There are some things that human beings want to do with communications technology--that is, any means of communication. For the people who work in these fields, you never get it off the first time. How many people have the greatest orgasm of their life the first time they have sex? The people who work in this area frequently have dreams of what they hope to achieve. They're way beyond what the current financial and cultural models can support and they make a little progress. It fails, of course, and then they go on to the next step. Succeed a little bit, fail, succeed a little bit, fail and so it moves on.
Today we have two extremes of interactive digital experience. On the one hand, the Internet is extremely useful for information, publication, and access. So itís very interesting as a cultural phenomenon, but itís just ho-hum as an interactive experience. On the other hand, at the other end of the spectrum, commercial video games and location-based entertainment offer compelling interactive experiences but ones which center upon physical responses and hormoned-centered social systems that are not really the province of art. Ubiquitous interactive television--regardless of how this is delivered--is inevitable. Will we see the Internet-computers take over the function of what we now see as television? Or will the absorption work in the other direction? There are major companies that are working on prototypes of one or the other model and betting very large budgets on them. I think it's hard to tell right now which way things are going to go. Development efforts periodically resurface that are getting closer and better each time. This will offer new experiences via graphical extension of today's muds, or multi-user domains. Their role playing and communally constructed narrative might offer something for everyone. Artists can gather to create virtual art and game players can gather for contests of skill. Interestingly, both groups will end up dealing with identity, power, interaction, and virtual community.
The other thing I have to say has to do with big patterns in technology. You can say, ëWell this is just the technology.í But the evolution of technology really represents an intellectual evolution on the part of people with desires, who are often content people collaborating with technologists. The technologists want to leverage certain kinds of interaction and to interact with content providers. So we can look at a progression from prescriptive/determinant, where things are determined and programmed in advance, and then later just seem to happen: Centrally-authored-and-controlled information-culture moving to an information-culture which is adaptive/emergent and decentrally authored.
The term emergent here relates to a couple of different areas. Emergent evolution based on different combinations of things, different adaptive strategies are sometimes generated within the life of an individual creature. Theyíve just discovered a gene in mice that, if disabled, checks the brainís ability to formulate new emergent behaviors. If they disable this gene, a mother mouse who gives birth doesn't have the impulse to generate normal mothering behaviors simply because the babies are there. I see one of the beginnings of this movement from prescriptive, centrally-authored and controlled information culture to an adaptive, decentrally-authored information-culture in a paper Alan Turing wrote in 1939. This was a theoretical mathematics paper with two new concepts: One was representing anything with numbers, basically the concept of digital information. At that point we had calculation machines but they really didn't represent anything.
And the other concept was that of modifying the operation of hardware with instructions, which is basically the concept of software. So that was a big jump. ENIAC was one of the first big computers created by the government to compute trajectories of weapon systems. It had no software. It had about 15,000 switches, you'd set the switches, and then the machine would operate a certain way. So Alan Turing's concept allowed the evolution to move ahead to a point where the machine you sit down at is a computer. One minute it's a word processor and the next it operates a drawing program, and the next it's a communications device.
In the early-60's a prototype called Sketch Pad was developed at M.I.T. by Ivan Sutherland. He introduced prototypes with a couple of new concepts in an operational form. One was the introduction of arbitrary information, while the computer program was running. Previous to that, you'd get the computer program perfect and then just run it. The other concept was that of the computer as a smart assistant. There's a videotape of Sketch Pad and it shows computer aided design (CAD) drawings. But the computer based on its program knows something about the drawing. So it helps the drawer, the human drawer make the drawing. This was the beginning of interactive computer use, rather than just prescripted use.
In the mid-70's, the big things were: Video games, which were an extravaganza of interaction with computers in real time; SIMNET, which was a multi-user, networked, interactive military game whose purpose was to learn and develop skills at tactical operations in battle; and Logo, by Seymour Papert. These three developments gave us the concepts of the user interacting in real time with a synthetic digital world that tracks--and responds to--his or her actions, multi-user interaction, subcreation within an interactive micro-world. So, now we have the concept of interaction with digital content.
In the 1980's, there was cable TV and interactive television. In 1981, I gave a presentation at the Center for New Television in Chicago called the "State of Two Way" and I showed examples of amateur television aiming at a relay like ham radio, except that it is image as well as sound. This looked very much like today's Web site. You could use it to order airplane tickets, as well as talk on the phone and watch your television.There was an interactive, prototype cable TV system in Japan as well as QUBE in Columbus, Ohio. These typically offered television with multiple-choice options, which was about the extent of the interaction. The 80's also saw the rise of the personal computer, bulletin boards, graphics applications running on individual work stations, off-the-shelf software, the emergence of human factors in user interface design, computer- supported cooperative work, and then the idea--"How do we use computers to work together?"
The 90's brought the World Wide Web; the ability to share, exchange, obtain digital content and tools to develop that content; the ability to self-publish in unparalleled fashion; and virtual reality. What started out like a new drug-craze settled down to the hard work of using simulated, three-D environments for engineering, medical, aerospace, and molecular biology projects. All kinds of useful things are now being prototyped in VR.
I want to touch on a few of the things that are going to shape and dramatically change what we think of as online media now. This is part of my progression toward a decentralized, interactive environment--an emergent, adaptive environment for online media. Artificial Life (or AL) is a big area in technical fields, genetic programming, and emergent-behavior, scripting animation. For a while procedural animation was a big deal. You saw quite a bit of this in Jurassic Park. Okay, how do we make a dinosaur walk? We tune it! We tune it! We tune it! Start out rough and end up with a very refined idea. We are now moving toward emergent behavior animation, toward new strategies in the technical field to make an object respond to its environment. There is a lot of research going on; one project enables us to specify skeleton-musculature, the physics of the medium the creature is in, and then it learns how to locomote itself through that medium.
Another strategy is to use genetic evolutionary algorithms--or ones that mimic how we think that works--in order to get something that will evolve its own behavior. Java, for instance, is a new object-oriented, network-aware language that supports a fast evolving, decentralized, non-authoritarian voice, which kind of mirrors what's happening in the art world. We have dispensed with the need for an avant garde. VRML, quick time VR are bodies of programming knowledge and language that will support online, 3-dimensional environments. So the content is going from something that is prescriptively developed and consumed to something that is generated on the fly as part of a process of the audience being there and interacting. I see that as a really big shift. We can see the same thing happening in education. We need to shift from an educational model of transmitting information to be memorized, to a model of developing skills at researching and synthesizing information.
I mentioned this in a meeting and this guy said "Right, on-site manufacturing instead of warehousing." You can see reflections of that in lots of areas. Tower Records was going to start a thing where if you walk in and say, "I want that new CD by so and so," they would type in some instructions on a computer terminal, then the satellite would beam down all the digital data for the cd, print it right there, stick it in a sleeve, and hand it to you. Think of what that saves in terms of unused inventory, transportation, gasoline, pollution etc. Sony has experimented with beaming high-def movies right into the movie theater. Things from the intellectual and creative worlds can be reflected in the business and manufacturing worlds. Now this all sounds really cool, but of course it will not go unresisted. Our culture is changing on a quicker-than-generational basis and there will always be lots of people who hate that.
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