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Archive for January, 2009

Do Humanlike Machines Deserve Human Rights?

Jan 2009

Interesting post on Wired that brought my attention. Not because of the toys but about the relation btw humans and machines. Are we getting friends with robots that .. ” And if we start caring about robot ethics, might we then go one insane step further and grant them rights?”

During the 20 months that Fisher-Price spent developing the innards and software of its latest animatronic Elmo, engineers gave the project the code name Elmo Live. And sure enough, they made him more animate than ever: He moves his mouth in time with the stories he tells, shivers when he gets scared, and has a fit when he sneezes.

When they were finally able to test the doll on children, they were struck by how immediately the kids blocked out all other stimuli in the room and began interacting with Elmo. ‘It was as if Elmo were part of their family,’ says Gina Sirard, Fisher-Price VP of marketing. ‘To a child, he really is alive.’

So the code name stuck, and over the past few months legions of $60 Elmo Live dolls have joined families everywhere. Some are certainly doomed to join previous Elmos in a new pastime: robotic-toy torture. YouTube is full of videos of idiots dousing Elmo with gas, setting him on fire, and laughing as his red fur turns to charcoal and he writhes in a painful dance.

I’ve seen videos of the incineration of T.M.X. Elmo (short for Tickle Me Extreme); they made me feel vaguely uncomfortable. Part of me wanted to laugh—Elmo giggled absurdly through the whole ordeal—but I also felt sick about what was going on. Why? I hardly shed a tear when the printer in Office Space got smashed to bits. Slamming my refrigerator door never leaves me feeling guilty. Yet give something a couple of eyes and the hint of lifelike abilities and suddenly some ancient region of my brain starts firing off empathy signals. And I don’t even like Elmo. How are kids who grow up with robots as companions going to handle this?

This question is starting to get debated by robot designers and toymakers. With advanced robotics becoming cheaper and more commonplace, the challenge isn’t how we learn to accept robots—but whether we should care when they’re mistreated. And if we start caring about robot ethics, might we then go one insane step further and grant them rights?

First, the science: The brain is hardwired to assign humanlike qualities to anything that somewhat resembles us. A 2003 study found that 12-month-olds would check to see what a football-shaped item was ‘looking at,’ even though the object lacked eyes. All the researcher had to do was move the item as if it were an animal and the infants would follow its ‘gaze.’ Adults? Same reaction.

The perennial concern about the rise of robots has been how to keep them from, well, killing us. Isaac Asimov came down from the mountaintop with his Three Laws of Robotics (to summarize: Robots shouldn’t disobey or hurt humans or themselves). But what are the rules for the humans in this relationship? As technology develops animal-like sophistication, finding the thin metallic line between what’s safe to treat as an object and what’s not will be tricky. ‘It’s going to be a tougher and tougher argument to say that technology doesn’t deserve the same protection as animals,’ says Clifford Nass, a Stanford professor who directs a program called the Communication Between Humans and Interactive Media Lab. ‘One could say life is special—whatever that means. And so, either we get tougher on technology abuse or it undermines laws about abuse of animals.’

It’s already being considered overseas. In 2007, a South Korean politician declared that his country would be the first to draw up legal guidelines on how to treat robots; the UK has also looked into the area (though nothing substantial has come of it anywhere). ‘As our products become more aware, there are things you probably shouldn’t do to them,’ says John Sosoka, CTO of Ugobe, which makes the eerily lifelike robot dinosaur Pleo (also tortured on Web video). ‘The point isn’t whether it’s an issue for the creature. It’s what does it do to us.’

We live in an age of anxiety—about the economy, the environment, terrorism. And now even about our toys, which are forcing us to question the boundaries of humanity and compassion. Back on Sesame Street, Elmo Live’s creators have an answer: Keep soul-searching to a minimum and recognize that you’re buying a product, pure and simple. ‘This is a toy,’ Fisher-Price’s Sirard says. ‘There shouldn’t be any laws about how you use your toys.’ Happy grilling, Elmo!

(Via Wired News.)

Research: Inspiration

Jan 2009

Alice Tseng Planas Thesis and Relational Aesthetics in general
Mouna Andraos : Power Cart
Ilan Schifter: OutPlay
Julianne Swartz
Improv Everywhere
MIlk and Tales
– Narrative Environments
Anthony Dunne and Fiona Raby – Design Noir

Thesis Statement 1

Jan 2009

We invented and created communication technologies to approximate people that are separated in space, geographically separated: the telephone,the radio, the tv, the Internet, the cellphone. (To bring closer what is far away (tele) ).
The effect that this technologies had in our society and in our daily life is immense and precious. For me, for example, is incredible.  I’m in NY but still I can talk and see my mother everyday when she wakes up and right before I go to bed as a goodnight kiss; I can talk with my best friends and “feel” their affection; I can talk with my boyfriend everyday, several times per day.

But at the same time these technologies that aim to bring closer and break distances had the effect of separate us from what is near us, lock us online and turn us into screen addicts.(explain better…and see if I’m not going to use screens..eheeh!!).

We need to develop more projects that encourage social interactions in the city to make people go out, revive the idea of public space and bring people together.

Sometimes is time to change…to go back “home”

Jan 2009

This week I was sick at home. When we spend too much time alone we think too much.  I started thinking better about the initial idea I had for thesis and I started to question if it was really want I desire to make for thesis.

For me thesis is not only another project but also a culmination of the projects I have been developing at ITP. Since I was not happy and confused I decided to go back and review some of the projects ( following the advice of Marina). Is not that I don’t know what I did and what move me to develop them but It was a very important exercise to go back and analyze them. ( see previous posts).

What that I took from it ? First:  I’m really interested in encourage social interactions in different contexts, that could be or not mediated through technology and that bring people together physically. ( on the “real world”). That is the aim of the majority of the projects.

And that is what I really want to keep explore in my thesis. First I was divided if I wanted to do a new project or just pick one of the previous and develop it much further.I’m still not decided in what exactly/concrete I want to do and I’m just going to talk about all of them:

1. I think that in the context of the museums, there still a lot of work that can be done to improve the museums as social spaces. ( MuseumTalk). Maybe start from the scratch or take some ideas that are part of the older project. Motivation: I always love museums and I’ll be very happy to develop a project that could enrich the experience of visiting a museum – from the social point of view.

2. Please do Disturb: I really like to put this project in practice and do some user testing. I faced it as a research in how different media require different things from it’s users but also get different responses. The idea is to develop it both in paper and with cellphones, implement, test it, analyze results and develop a final version based on that data.

3. Jealous Furniture: I would like to keep exploring concepts that are related with critical design. One of the ideas is to bring this concept to the streets and have objects or possible street furniture that assume critical attitude over the urban environment and maybe, the “internet of things”.

4. Start a new project from the begining: I still have the fantasy of building a vehicle ( this is part of my previous idea). I like the idea of a vehicle that I could take into the city, walk around with it and do funny things with it and interact with people in order to break their daily routine.  I though about creating a kind of childs  environment – where there is a machine that people have to interact to get something from her. Somehow enigmatic and fun that could motivate people to participate. The idea is that people are atracted to interact and play because of the vehicle itself but what I really wanted to do is to motivate people to interact with each other. A) to operate with the vehicle/machine and to get something from it, more that one person is needed. B) or when we get something from the machines we have to do something that involves interact with others…. more hard to convince people to “play”.

5. Another idea that I had is to have 4 or 5 “vehicles” that can circulate in a park, in NY. ( Washington Park or Tompkins Square Park – chosen by dimension). Each one could be conducted by a person and they will be doing something in relation with the environment. The idea is that they will try to make the person move the vehicles closer to the other ones.  For example, each “vehicle” is capturing video of the surrounding environment but it doesn’t have access to that data since is sending that same data to other vehicle. The other vehicle is also doing the same – so what one is receiving is what the other is transmitting. With image is simple to explain- since we can see the park but the image that we see on the screen is from another part. Play with this kind of games…still hard to define them in concrete.

The idea is to keep exploring ideas and play with them for now. I hope one makes a click in my heart! I will try to develop this ideas better in other posts and make them more clear and comprehensible.


Jan 2009

Jealous Furniture

Jan 2009

Aim: critic the time we spend on a computer and not enjoying real life. Play with how machines can express human emotions.

Description: Playing with the Real versus Virtual, Jealous Furniture critic the time we spent nowadays in front of a computer, connected to the “Virtual World” instead of enjoying the pleasure of “reality”. A set of objects will be designed that adapt ” jealous” behaviors, calling or attention or disturbing you. Ex: a lamp( extreme importance for the perception/function of the space) that moves and dim disturbing the space if you spend to much time online; a bookshelf that throws books to the floor or to you, criticizing that nowadays we don’t read anymore but we scan data from website to website without absorbing and understanding it’s meaning

PostMortem: I really like this project. It is a design intervention that worked really well. I think that the only thing I could improve is the final look of the bookshelf and the lamp that needs more work.

I still think that one of my initial ideas was to have street furniture on the streets on the city to have critical behaviors. What I don’t know ?

Please Do Disturb

Jan 2009

Aim: create social interactions in the context of a building/ apartment

Description: Please do disturb is a social experiment, a community based project that aims to encourage social interaction in the context of a building. How many neighbors do you know in the building where you live ? do you interact with them ? The idea of this project came from the “Please don’t disturb sign” that normally we see in hostels and subvert it’s meaning by creating a visual system that invite people to disturb. I thought that the perfect place for this to occur is a building. Shared by so many people that don’t know each other or if do, don’t say more than a “Hi!” or ” Bye!” .Instead of using the signs posted in the door of each apartment, the idea is that each person when wanted to be disturb, should post a sign in the mailboxes. The mailboxes acts as a “shortcut” for the door, since it is visible to all the persons that lived and that entered in the building.

PostMortem: This is a project that was never tested. It still needs to be designed to work better and to improve it’s usability. A critic that I received when I presented was that why I was developing it with paper ( analog) and not with technology? I think that maybe because I really like it to have this more informal look or raw or maybe because I wanted to create a system that could be used everywhere and by everyone, without requiring a computer or any kind of tech to be installed.  The critic also was talking about the fact that a person living on the 6 floor had to come downstairs to “updated” their status but in part I think I wanted to put action/responsibility on people to make it work.

Today I think a little bit different. First after a while, people loose interested but with or without technology. But I still would like to test with and without technology. Improve the same system, build and test. And design a new system to work with cellphones and sms – since everyone has one and every cellphone has the ability of sending sms ( to the system – not to individual neighbors – the privacy will be maintain).


Jan 2009

Aim: create social interactions in the context of a museum

Description: Create a device that enriches the experience of visiting a museum at the same time that allows social interactions by connecting visitors with similar experiences. When visiting a museum our emotions are constantly changing. We like some artworks that we see, we don’t like others and our body responds differently according to the stimulus received/given from an artwork. What if we could map the emotional responses of our body in relation with what we are experiencing? Later on we can have access to that information and visualize how our emotions changed during the visit to the museum and see, for example, how our body reacted to a specific artwork that we really liked. ( only one part was developed..)

PostMortem: I develop this project for my final for PhyComp and ICM. It was really important to me because made understand that I was learning not only the tools and specific programming languages but learning how to loose fear in doing anything else that I wanted. Today the project itself is not so important has the lesson that I took from it. At the time I think I was a little bit to much enthusiastic about technology and about affective computing. I think it is a very interesting project but I guess that people are not so open to have their private/intimate data floating around and networked. If I do it today I completely removed the part that the artworks are logged according to the GSR of the user but probably made him take that decision.

I still think that museums are very rich and powerful social and culture spaces. I think the culture and education side are very well explored but not so much the social function that museums can pratice (?).


Jan 2009

Aim: create social interactions in the context of the park

Description: An object that ” lives” in public spaces and needs simultaneous human voice input to “live”. It works as communication device and it aims to encourage social interaction in public spaces. The object is reacting to the input of the participants, inflating and deflating based on the amount of input from the participants. If you don’t talk with it, he will “die/fall” and if people make talk through “him”, he ´ll become bigger/stronger and happier.



Jan 2009


Aim: create social interactions in the context of the subway

Description: Subtalk is a social experiment which aims to encourage social interactions in the subways of New York City. It´s an instruction based project where people are invited to change /exchange specific given objects (ex.throwaway cameras) while riding the subway trains. Such objects and instructions are given to participants on the starting points of subway lines which they must pass on to another passenger. These objects are not allowed to go over ground and must remain underground – within the subway network. The objects will function as an interface for social interactions and at the same time they will document the interactions. We hope that such actions and exchanges will create happenstance interactions within the subway network.


People really enjoyed and embraced the project, as I and Vaibhav. Around 16 kit’s were distributed at the headquarters of Conflux but only one arrived at my door after 2, 3 weeks. I was really happy at that moment, since I was waiting anxious for it.

After, for the Applications assignment at ITP, I decided to do the same project in the context of a bus. Having the opportunity to be present, observe and talk with people about it was really important for me and for the project.

One of the big problem that I think is the problem is to ask people to take a picture. Of themselves or even worst, ask to take a photo of another person. While on the bus, some many people refused taking pictures. Another problem is that the chain – the number of people needed to complete the project – ideally has to match the number of pictures that the disposable camera has, 24 – it too much. The experimental side of the project requires, in my opinion that less people need to be involved to increase the chance of the package return to home. Maybe also the idea of the project get dissolved as more people are involved.

But still I think that the camera is the very good interface for the purpose. Maybe another objects could be used.



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