Project Plan Assignment
Project Eye of Dolittle
People say that "beauty is in the eye of the beholder". This sense of what is beautiful is influenced by culture and biology but mostly by the way the brain is build and programmed. To understand beauty is a key goal of most artists. To understand complex topics, it helps to model the topic to see it with fresh unbiased eyes. Science has been using small animals to model science topics for decades so I wish to model the topic of beauty w ithin the brains of small animals. Social media and "Web 2.0" has the power to filter out individual bias to reveal general truths. Because of this, social media and interactive websites that create data from their users (known as "Web 2.0") will be both the stage to present this project and the key tool set to create the art. The canvas of this art will be the brains of small animals and the paint will be the training and opinions that these animals develop during this project.
Mark Zuckerberg, co-founder of FaceBook social media website, started this phenomenon by making a program called "CourseMatch" that let people rank items by binary choices of preference then used that program to power a website called "Facemash" were visitors chose between two faces of college students linked from university dorm "face books" of residents. I will reverse-engineer this programming and use it to rank items based on beauty as decided upon by small animals. Experiments can then be set up to test countless types of questions including the following: Is there a cultural component to their beauty choices? Are there co-relations between human choices and the animal choices for the same lists of items sorted by beauty? Is there a biological or gender component to these choices? Can human or animal choices be influenced by the other species? By setting up this project as internet-accessible tools to be manipulated by general consensus, the range of questions developed and tested becomes an art form it's self.
When exploring uncharted territory, the path may come to be blocked and new paths must be considered. Because of this, the following is a 5 part plan of where I intend to take this project barring any unfulfilled expectations in the development of the animals.
Animals understand food and hunting for food and what tastes best. The first step would be to create the robotics and software to provide the animals with a binary choice of foods and record their preferences. With a general consensus of what foods are preferred, tastier foods can be made for them. For the scope of this project, several tools are being developed including the binary-choice-sorting software, robotics and biometrics to interact with the animals and identify individuals and discover their preferences. Web-cam and social media tools can also be developed to form an audience of interested people and possibly have social-network-developed food recipes to be tested. The animals will also be trained and primed to interact with computer systems.
Small screens can be introduced to the animals to create a "Facemash"-style choices of the visuals of the foods. Foods can be replaced with images of others of their own species to see if they choose their favorite. Image manipulation software can be developed that allows people to create versions of the animal species images to be compared and see if anyone can make an artificial animal image that ranks similar or better then the real photos. Cartoon versions of the animals, human photos, paintings and photographs of other things can also be added to see how they rank. Artists who rank high with their cartoons or digitally manipulated images can engage in social networking challenges to see who understands the animals best.
Face recognition software can be altered to study these lists of best-to-worst face images to find patterns and rules. Computer-generated image creation software can be used to further test the limits of creating the most beautiful versions of the animal in the species' own ranking. The animals opinions on human faces might also reveal connections with past research on human perceptions of beauty. The individual animals can be ranked mathematically on how "normal" their choices are indicating they are more in touch with their species in general. On the other end of that spectrum would be individuals whose choices of beauty are quite unique from the norm. One or both of these two extremes might encompass the kind of individual animal that thinks most like humans with artistic talents. These animals may be able to learn to manipulate the image creation software mentioned in "Stage 2" and such images ranked by others of their species. Individuals who rank high consistently would be a model for a popular artist. Humans following this project could do the human equivalent and create artificial human face images using an identical software tool then have their creations be ranked by humans. This model of the model will reveal what precisely is being modeled and compared to the human individuals who are singled out this way and their history as an artist.
individual animals that have been shown to be the equivalent to human artists can be trained to use other tools to make various forms of art to be ranked by (and potentially enjoyed by) their own species. To test for cultural influences, some of these animal-artist individuals can be shown popular human art within the medium they are skilled at. Their subsequent art can be compared to individuals without such cultural contamination. Humans can also rank these animal-created art. The shift in rankings post-contamination could be used to quantify the cultural component. With careful breeding records of all these animals, genetic or gender influences can also be deduced.
Two species of fossorial (live underground), diurnal (active in the day), prairie-dwelling, social animals have been tested to have a complex verbal language. These two species are not closely related so it is genetic pressure causing the coevolution of this verbal language. New studies are underway on the naturally occurring verbal language of at least 3 other species of fossorial, diurnal, prairie-dwelling, social animals. While this project is underway in earlier stages, efforts will also be made to create verbal interface mechanisms and artificial languages for some of these species. Voice-recognition software will be altered for interpreting these animal calls. Voice generating software will also be altered to generate these animal sounds. Two-way communication with the animals will be made to be an integral part of every aspect of their life from birth. Once that is successful, artificial intelligence programming will be developed for interpreting the meanings behind these calls to and from human language with the intention to allow people to have live dialog with these animals via instant messaging protocols such as IRC (Internet Relay Chat) and Jabber.
The study of this model of artist and beauty can be taken further into the realm of abstract concepts and psychological analysis with such communication methods. The film "Doctor Dolittle" (1967), Dolittle speculates how wonderful it would be if we could talk to the animals so Dolittle proceeds to learn countless animal languages. I figure many aspects of our brains can be modeled and tested within the brains of these animals with this tool. Some animal species exhibit sexual dimorphism (male and female look different beyond what is needed for reproductive purposes) which is most likely created by genetic pressure caused by beauty-based choices of the opposite gender. This suggests that beauty is one of the complex aspects of human brains that can be successfully modeled within non-human brains. One key activity for a large portion of animal species is the creation of a nest or food cache. This activity involves the vision of a goal to be formed and then the creation of that vision. That description could be applied to the activity of an artist suggesting that the role of an artist can also be modeled within certain species including fossorial animals.
Themes and Inspirations
The first animated feature film I had ever seen was Disney's "The Rescuers" where an organization of mice help people held against their will. In the film, they help a young girl escape from a pair of kidnappers who were forcing her to recover a diamond from a cave with a child-sized opening. This film started my obsession with the idea that small animals like mice can show much of the same thought processes as humans even though their brains are many hundreds of times smaller in volume. This realization lead to a paradigm shift in thinking that brain size is not directly connected nor proportional to functional use of that brain. I sought to elicit such a paradigm shift in the general population through fiction staring small non-humans and through scientific research on cognitive abilities of non-humans.
To experiment with animals and their cognitive abilities, I assumed I needed a scientific research grant and thus a science degree and a facility up to the standards of scientific research. The art of Eduardo Kac showed me that paradigm shifts can be elicited with controversy, the use of mass media, and purposely crossing a moral line to bring that line into clearer light in the public sphere. He also showed that art can be something beyond a physical object or a recorded media but actually be a discussion or an idea or even a moral stance. Kac's "GFP Bunny" had a transgenetic bunny actually made by a research facility on Kac's behalf (to contain a GFP or Green Fluorescent Protein in her DNA so she glows green under an ultraviolet light). Later related projects included art done by other people on-line to protest the change of mind of the research facilities that created the bunny to not release the bunny to Kac. This sort of art is termed "bio art" or as Kac prefers, "transgenic artwork." This project could be classed as a bio art where the art is embodied in the brains of living creatures. Teaching animals to communicate via text chat and opening such conversation to the general public is stepping across several moral lines. Will the animals reject the efforts to show them as intelligent due to the unique lives they are forced to live in without their freedom to choose? It can be argued that humans have a choice to make themselves cyborgs in the sense that they are becoming one with the machinery of digital communications. My animals will not have such a choice nor will they have personal privacy or freedom to live their life as they choose.
The course this document was created for is called "Introduction to Creative Technologies" (FA 169). Most of the technologies introduced in this course will be incorporated within the scope of this project. Social media will be central both as a stage and as the key interactive tools for the audience to manipulate. Robotics and cybernetics will be thematically central to the way the bio art is created and displayed. Digital image manipulation and performance art will incorporated. Being that the animal species chosen are generally quite vocal, some of the animal art they might make could be vocal performances. Live "Web-cam" video and live audio will be incorporated through the internet to demonstrate the animal interactions.