Mind Driven Environments Matas Ubarevicius Theory Essay
Contents Summary ................................................................................................................................................. 1 Introduction ............................................................................................................................................ 2 Brain-Machine Interface ......................................................................................................................... 3 Extended Reach of Evolving Species ....................................................................................................... 7 Human Nature in Motion ...................................................................................................................... 13 Synthetic Matter ................................................................................................................................... 18 Architectural Cyborg ............................................................................................................................. 22 By Way of Conclusion ........................................................................................................................... 24 Bibliography .......................................................................................................................................... 27
Summary While arguing for architecture being an extension of human I reveal two underpinning revolutions in science of the human body and synthetic matter to stress the importance of brain-machine interface technologies in the field of architecture. It was necessary to show how neuroscience and biotechnology can intervene in slow biological evolution of human nature. Moreover, programmable matter was identified as primary candidate to form advanced hybrid spaces. Enhanced human body and technological man-made reality were explained to form coherent system in which cyborg of changed human condition can emerge. Speculation was made that such cyborg will be able to have thought control over dependent and semi-dependent categories of architecture through all scales of scientifically mastered physical and virtual reality. In my main argument I develop a notion of technologically enriched architecture that can be directly or partially affected through brain-machine interface. Analysis of advanced material science within fields of robotics and biotechnology was made, touching on themes of pario media, artificial life and synthetic reality. These topics draw an important character of todayâ€™s physical environment which is not yet fully understood, but, through science, already conceptually empowered to serve as a framework in building high-tech hybrid spaces. History, present and future of brain-machine interface research was uncovered to identify initial and ultimate goals, current state and later prospects of such technology in relation to architecture. Mind driven environments are suggested to be a natural outcome of advances in science and interactive architecture. These environments were conceptually interpreted as belonging to unified human bodyâ€“brain circuitry. Various perspectives on technological progress were given by following ideas of scientists, futurists, philosophers and architects to stress the fact that humans were seeking to increase their influence over environment throughout our history and prehistory. This allowed putting mind driven environments and idea of architectural cyborg into wider evolutionary context.
Keywords: Mind Driven Environments, Brain-Machine Interface, Synthetic Matter, Architecture, Cyborg, Human Body, Hybrid Space, Robotics, Neuroscience, Biotechnology, Environment.
Introduction In the famous BBC Horizon documentary “Human Version 2.0”, first broadcasted in the year 2006, highly controversial perspectives on our evolution were discussed by leading scientists. Despite the clash of opinions between optimists, pessimists and even fatalists, everyone agreed on one thing – man is being continuously changed and even enhanced through modern technology. In architecture we can talk about the very similar process that is happening to space. Elizabeth Sikiaridi and Frans Vogelaar in their article ‘Idensity’ write that ‘Hybrid space is the product of alliances between physical objects and information-communication networks, between architectural and media space.’1 It is important to recognize that human and space are both being transformed by the same process of technological interference and as we speak about “Human v2.0”, “Space v2.0”2 is being born. Architectural techniques in this context incorporate ideas of “software” that let us manipulate our “hardware” environments from within by using our own influence and intelligence. Architecture3, being part of the technological environment, thus becomes susceptive to multidimensional control and behavior. As computers can incorporate different kinds of operating systems, not to mention programs, our buildings4 are subject to being preprogrammed with various forms of logics and interfaces. In this essay I will argue that by giving this sort of multifunctional plasticity to architecture we will be able to directly influence its output of spatial, structural, functional or even aesthetic behaviors that pleases our comfort and purpose through brain-machine interface (BMI). It is natural that architects, while speculating about the future of the discipline, mostly focus on evolution of built material environments, methods of production and socio-economic variables, but in this essay I will pay tribute to conceptual and physical changes that happen in human body as well, which, according to my main argument, is becoming very important part of the architectural discourse. It will be seen that as technologies in medical science advance we are getting increasingly accurate output of meaningful information about the inner workings of human brain. Today’s BMI technologies are a good example of this – gaining and extracting data of thought processes allows human mind to be externalized from within the body towards its surroundings. Input of signals to the brain can also be used to sense information embedded in surroundings. This mechanically imposed loop of communication between human and environment illustrates one of the most important outcomes of new reality brought by “Human v2.0” and “Space v2.0” – it is no longer possible to say that limits of direct brain influence ends at boundaries of our body, human brain is now free to reach and influence architectural content. Empowered architecture extends its previous capabilities and categories by becoming more exo-human. Mind driven environments indicate how technologically advanced human embodies space by externalizing its inner processes and integrating them to wider virtual, synthetic or natural systems. This kind of integral physical operation will give us control over synthetic, man-made reality and at the same time will change our nature by driving human techno-evolution.
Elizabeth Sikiaridi and Frans Vogelaar, ‘Idensity,’ in Cognitive architecture, ed. Deborah Hauptmann and Warren Neidich (Rotterdam: 010 Publishers, 2010), 523. 2 Space v2.0 should be understood as hybrid space, explained by Elizabeth Sikiaridi and Frans Vogelaar. 3 In this article “architecture” is understood as our built, virtual or augmented environment. 4 I suggest thinking about robotic buildings or at least smart ones.
Architect Philippe Rahm indicates that the ‘primary reason that architecture exists is related to the enzymes necessary for the biochemical reactions of the body’s metabolism. Thus, if we want to know the essence of architecture, we have to return to our endothermic condition, which carries the necessity of maintaining the human body temperature between 35 and 37.6°C. (…) In this sense architecture is not autonomous, as it must address a range of means to maintain our endothermic condition close to the 37°C necessary for biophysical survival.’5 If not for this reason buildings would look very different indeed. We see Rahm indicating primary purpose of architecture as deeply related to human body; through BMI technologies this relationship increases further to the point where some categories of architecture can become an integral part of human body–brain circuitry. Rahm further writes about the need to recognize condition and relevance of human body in architecture: ‘the contemporary forms of architecture should conceptually accept the participation of the body by acting, for instance on the neurons, on the neurotransmitters, by chemically stimulating desire and mood. Modern biology draws a distinction between corporeal and extracorporeal space. The first is the communication space managed by neurons and hormones, inter alia. The second is the space outside the body, that which informs us through the senses.’6 Throughout the essay I will argue that participation of the body in architecture extends beyond the architectural impact on the body. The vice versa is also true and although modern biology separates this boundary between corporeal and extracorporeal spaces it becomes increasingly dynamic and unstable. BMI technologies allow human body to be integrated into architecture not only conceptually, but literally. Biotechnologies and neuroscience open up completely new domains for communication between hybrid space and altered human, thus “Space v2.0” and “Human v2.0”, by creating the matrix of possibilities with many dimensions that can lead architecture to various directions. These notions deserve analysis and reflection.
Brain-Machine Interface Human body performs and exists in space, but is naturally limited in size and ability to influence extracorporeal environment. Tools were invented to operate beyond these limits. Today’s digital technologies relate humans and machines more than ever, allowing us to transcend spatial borders by providing shortcuts for communication. Information technologies (IT) are mostly used for this purpose. Nicholas Negroponte writes that ‘In the same ways that hypertext removes the limitations of the printed page, the post-information age will remove the limitations of geography. Digital living will include less and less dependence upon being in a specific place at a specific time, and the transmission of place itself will start to become possible.’7 It seems that mentioned revolution, to some extent, has already happened, but there is more to this wormhole of space-time. When digital medium of IT is being used to perform a physical action at a distance by creating a bridge of communication for operator and a machine, human extends his body by broadcasting nervous impulses through various interfaces and networks to the robot. In this cooperation of biology and technology different material makeup does not play a decisive role for communication. Marvin 5
Philippe Rahm, ‘Edible Architecture,’ in Cognitive architecture, ed. Deborah Hauptmann and Warren Neidich (Rotterdam: 010 Publishers, 2010), 387. 6 Rahm, Edible Architecture, 389. 7 Nicholas Negroponte, Being Digital, (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, Inc, 1995), 165.
Minsky indicates that: ‘today it is widely recognized that behavior of a complex machine depends only on how its parts interact, but not on the “stuff” of which they are made (except for matters of speed and strength). In other words, all that matters is the manner in which each part reacts to the other parts to which it is connected. For example, we can build computers that behave in identical ways, no matter if they consist of electronic chips or of wood and paper clips – provided that their parts perform the same processes, so far as the other parts can see.’8 The system joining biological human operator and a machine made out of steel can thus already be viewed as coherent entity. BMI steps into this cooperation and brings event of information exchange into more natural level by allowing nervous signals to be transferred directly to the robot from the brain. BMI research was initiated in 1970 at University of California Los Angeles (UCLA). In the article ‘Toward Direct Brain-Computer Communication’, published in 1973, Jacques J. Vidal wrote: ‘The Brain Computer Interface project (…) was meant to be a first attempt to evaluate the feasibility and practicality of utilizing the brain signals in a man-computer dialogue while at the same time developing a novel tool for the study of the neurophysiological phenomena that govern the production and the control of observable neuroelectric events.’9 Scientist explained that: ‘The longrange implications of systems of that type can only be speculated upon at present. To provide a direct link between the inductive mental process used in solving problems and the symbolmanipulating, deductive capabilities of the computer, is, in a sense, the ultimate goal in manmachine communication. It would indeed elevate the computer to a genuine prosthetic extension of the brain. To achieve that goal with adequate generality is a formidable task that will require considerable advances in neurophysiology (to identify appropriate correlates of mental states and decisions in external signals), in signal analysis techniques (to sort and identify the relevant information carriers from the garbled and diffuse mixture that reaches the scalp), and in computer science (to develop appropriate software within the constraints introduced by the nature of brain messages).’10 Ultimate goal of BMI research is still unachieved, but extensive research is already giving results that can be practically applied. Of course, BMI followed earlier ideas related to biofeedback technologies. Term biofeedback implies that biological system is sending information to and receiving it from external, mechanical objects. This information loop is used to influence both parties through constant processing and reinterpretation of input signals; in BMI case those two parties are human brain and a machine. First scientific experiments in biofeedback could be traced to cybernetics. Hybrid spaces, human-machine interaction and all sorts of chimera systems relates deeply with this field. According to Andrew Pickering, in his book The Cybernetic Brain, ‘The first meeting of biofeedback professionals took place at Snowmass, Colorado, in 1968’11 This meeting was in great extent inspired by work of Grey Walter in the field of electroencephalography (EEG). One of the first biofeedback experiments was created by Harold Shipton working under Walter’s leadership in 1945. Flickering light bulb was introduced to EEG experiments as a feedback loop to impose epileptic symptoms on patients. ‘The strobe stimulated the brain, the emergent brainwaves stimulated the feedback circuit, the circuit
Marvin Minsky, Emotion Machine, (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2006), 22. Jacques J. Vidal, ‘Toward Direct Brain-Computer Communication,’ Annual Review of Biophysics and Bioengineering Vol. 2 (1973): 157-158. 10 Vidal, Toward Direct Brain-Computer Communication, 158. 11 Andrew Pickering, The Cybernetic Brain, (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2010), 83. 9
controlled the strobe, which stimulated the brain, and so on around the loop. We could say that the brain explored the performative potential of the material technology (in an entirely nonvoluntary, nonmodern fashion), while the technology explored the space of brain performance.’12 This led Pickering to conclude that this kind of loop ‘offers us a more symmetric ontological spectacle, lively on both sides – dance of agency between the human and the nonhuman. What acted in these experiments was genuinely a cyborg, a lively decentered combination of human and machine.’13 Biofeedback to Pickering is philosophically important phenomenon. It allows human to develop a new kind of relationship with machines he himself produces. We see from previous examples in history that fascination directed towards cyborg future of human was seriously, thus scientifically, considered throughout second part of the last century. This fascination is still growing and BMI technologies are gaining more interest. In 2002, Rodolfo R. Llinas and Valeri A. Makarov in the article called ‘Brain-Machine Interface via a Neurovascular Approach’ indicated that ‘The issue of brain-machine (computer) interface is, without doubt, one of the central problems to be addressed in the next two decades when considering the role of neuroscience in modern society. Indeed, our ability to design and build new information analysis and storage systems that are sufficiently light to be easily carried by a human, will serve as a strong impetus to develop such peripherals.’14 Potential of BMI is gaining more attention by scientists. Authors make it clear that this technology is relevant for the wider public and even the future of society. For architects, belonging to wider public and being active members of society, pressure is rising to speculate about relevance and implications of these technologies. Current tensions and fluctuations in the field indicate that critical reflection is needed to deal with high-tech ideas. As will be seen from later examples, provided by leading BMI experts, spaces and environments (objects of architecture), are not immune to developments in neuroscience, robotics or virtual reality. Scientists themselves are taking a position to suggest new concepts for architects to contextualize and explore: neurobiologist Miguel A.L. Nicolelis (Duke University Medical Center) with mechanical engineer Mandayam A. Srinivasan (MIT) together published an article for the book Converging Technologies for Improving Human Performance where they discuss how BMI will transform our abilities to affect spaces and environments: ‘BMI could also lead to a major paradigm shift in the way normal healthy subjects can interact with their environment. Indeed, one can envision a series of applications that may lead to unprecedented ability to augment perception and performance in almost all human activities. These applications would involve interactions with either real or virtual environments.’15 Nicolelis and Srinivasan go on further to give us four categories of these environments which would be affected by human subject: 1 - Local, real environment: Restoration of the motor function in a quadriplegic patient. Using a neurochip implanted in the subject’s brain, neural signals from healthy motor brain 12
Pickering, The Cybernetic Brain, 77-78. Pickering, The Cybernetic Brain, 78. 14 Rudolfo R. Llinas and Valeri A. Makarov, ‘Brain-Machine Interface via a Neurovascular Approach,’ in Converging Technologies for Improving Human Performance, ed. Michael C. Roco and William Sims Bainbridge (Dordrecht: Kluwer Academic Publishers, 2003), 244. 15 Miguel A.L. Nicolelis and Mandayam A. Srinivasan, ‘Human-Machine Interaction: Potential Impact of Nanotechnology in The Design of Neuroprosthetic Devices Aimed at Restoring or Augmenting Human Performance,’ in Converging Technologies for Improving Human Performance, ed. Michael C. Roco and William Sims Bainbridge (Dordrecht: Kluwer Academic Publishers, 2003), 253. 13
areas can be used to control an exoskeleton or prosthetic robotic arm used to restore fundamental motor functions such as reaching, grabbing, and walking. 2 - Remote, real environment: Superhuman performance, such as clearing heavy debris by a robot, controlled by the brain signals of a human operator located far away from the danger zone. Recent results by the P.I. and his collaborators have demonstrated that such remote control could be achieved even across the internet. 3 - Realistic virtual environment: Training to learn a complex sequence of repair operations by the trainee’s brain directly interacting with a virtual reality program, with or without the involvement of the trainee’s peripheral sensorimotor system. 4 - Unrealistic virtual environment: Experiencing unrealistic physics through a virtual reality system for a “what if” scenario, in order to understand deeply the consequences of terrestrial physics.16 Scientists suggest that our body could be extended to various forms of environments. That would give rise to another hybrid of “Human v2.0” and “Space v2.0”. ‘By establishing direct links between neuronal tissue and machines, these devices could significantly enhance our ability to use voluntary neuronal activity to directly control mechanical, electronic, and even virtual objects as if they were extensions of our own bodies.’ 17 At the time Nicolelis and Srinivasan were publishing their article Emotiv Systems were founded, a company that develops brain-computer interfaces based on the same EEG technology that Walter used in his experiments. By now it has successfully formed the market for its products and ships relatively cheap devices to customers around the world. Nicolelis and Srinivasan were talking about future nanoscale implants to the brain, but EEG technology is already available and it lets us create BMI applications that are functionally similar to those discussed in their article without the need to be implanted under the skull. Of course intrusive method to establish BMI connection to the brain is also possible. Scientists Llinas and Makarov indicate: One of the most attractive possibilities that come to mind in trying to solve the hardware problem concerns the development of a vascular approach. The fact that the nervous system parenchyma is totally permeated by a very rich vascular bed that supplies blood gas exchange and nurturing to the brain mass makes this space a very attractive candidate for our interface. The capillary bed consists of 25,000 meters of arterio-venous capillary connections with a gauge of approximately 10 microns. At distance more proximal to the heart, the vessels increase rapidity in diameter, with a final dimension of over 20 millimeters. Concerning the acquisition of brain activity through the vascular system, the use of n-wire18 technology coupled with n-technology electronics seems very attractive. It would allow the nervous system to be addressed by an extraordinary large number of isolated n-
Nicolelis and Srinivasan, Human-Machine Interaction, 253. Nicolelis and Srinivasan, Human-Machine Interaction, 251. 18 “n” stands for nano. 17
probes via the vascular bed, utilizing the catheter-type technology used extensively in medicine and in particular in interventional neuro-radiology.19 Such combinations of brain and machine would change the field of architecture profoundly, because both the architectural object (environment) and the subject (human) would transcend each other. Deborah Hauptmann, while thinking about the similar kind of hybrid creatures, conceptualized by Donna Haraway, concludes that ‘Such theories are about collectivity and individuality, but at the same time deal with biotechnology, microelectronics and the human body. Such thought models in architecture and urbanism have yet to be explored critically.’20 BMI will allow humans to communicate with advanced architectural environments and various mechanical objects simply by thinking. The limit of our mental and physical grasp in this case will be precisely the limit of our hybrid space to which we will have access to and the remaining part will function as independent environment. Following this model of influence there should be three possible categories of architecture: Independent - Environments that do not hold qualities of hybrid spaces, they are not enhanced through information-communication networks. Also spaces that can be considered hybrid spaces, but we do not have access to them or they function completely on their own artificial intelligence systems. Semi-dependent – Environments that interpret our commands by following their own logic and intelligence, evaluating other factors and responding critically to our influence. Dependent – Environments of objects that are actuated directly as our body parts. They process signals reflexively. As we see in last two categories there exists a sleek line between what we consider to be human body and surrounding environment. Both of these systems can join to form one and split into several. Advanced architectural systems can also accommodate various forms of BMI technologies in many different ways allowing for broad spectrum of applications. It needs to be stressed here that BMI technologies in architecture should be seen as enriching factor that does not diminish diversity or otherwise wide range of ideas and practices. It is reflected in new dependent and semidependent categories of architecture that include before non-existent possibilities for mind driven environments.
Extended Reach of Evolving Species The purpose of biofeedback is to increase potential of both biological and technological systems. Such organization allows for greater performance when compared to individual possibilities of bio and techno composites. Sharing medium of communication allows two worlds of human and robot to influence each other through bidirectional interactions. Biofeedback is thus a wide concept and 19
Llinas and Makarov, Brain-Machine Interface, 244-245. Deborah Hauptmann, introduction to The Body in Architecture, ed. Deborah Hauptmann (Rotterdam: 010 Publishers, 2006), 11. 20
BMI is only one of its implementations, but, at the same time, it is a very important one, extending capabilities of human being far beyond the limits of his natural condition. One of the most important qualities of human brain that allowed BMI to be created is ability to adapt and learn. Pickering explains that: ‘In the 1960s, biofeedback came to refer to a species of selftraining, in which subjects learned to control aspects of their EEG spectrum (without ever being able to articulate how they did it).’21 The same aspect is true today. Subjects wearing EEG helmets22 control virtual and real objects/machines without exactly knowing how. It seems that brain adapts easily to its new body parts. Natural human motor control acts similarly. Without thinking about all the subtleties that are going on in the nervous system and the body itself we can perform purposeful tasks. In the article ‘Behavior, Purpose and Teleology’, written in 1943 by Norbert Wiener, Arturo Rosenblueth and Julian Bigelow we see this same point being mentioned: ’When we perform a voluntary action what we select voluntarily is a specific purpose, not a specific movement. Thus, if we decide to take a glass containing water and carry it to our mouth we do not command certain muscles to contract to a certain degree and in a certain sequence; we merely trip the purpose and the reaction follows automatically.’23 Skill used to unconsciously perform a task, to some extent, helps when one is learning to control a robot by thought alone. Brain’s ability to do this was unexpected for scientists, but it seems that these effects are mostly caused by neuroplasticity of the human cerebrum. It was explained by Hauptmann in the introduction to the book Cognitive Architecture that: ‘Neuroplasticity, accordingly, provides a key function with respect to the evolution of the human brain both within an individual lifetime and during the evolution of the species over time. The potential of neuroplasticity (and the neurochemical mechanisms that support it) also indicates the adaptive function of neurons to supplement selective processes (for instance the rerouting of visual with auditory input in the auditory cortex).’24 Although effects of neuroplasticity and already existing EEG technologies allow human reach to be extended, it is still hard to imagine what it would mean for a brain to be directly connected to robotic building/machine, communicate with its systems or actuators and sense its environment. The scale of body’s physical influence in this case begins to vary, because brain can be detached from one system and attached to another, a bigger/smaller one, complex one or not so much. If this environmentally extended body is to be understood as one system, it seems that size and inner qualities of human physique with scale and parameters of independent space (extracorporeal environment) that surrounds it should be seen as dynamic. By allowing brains to reach previously inaccessible spatial domains through BMI we increase human abilities by extending his body and thus decreasing extracorporeal (unreachable) environment. Here, again, we are reminded of terms “Human v2.0” and “Space v2.0” that were mentioned earlier. But as those terms do not imply an aspect of transcendence between an architectural object and a subject we lose important quality of unity when dealing with human-environment interactions. Futurist Ray Kurzweil has a name for this 21
Pickering, The Cybernetic Brain, 83. Devices produced by Emotiv Systems or other companies. 23 Norbert Wiener et. al., ‘Behavior, Purpose and Teleology’, Philosophy of Science 10 (1943): 19. Note: this article is considered to be foundational for cybernetics as a science. 24 Deborah Hauptmann, ‘Introduction: Architecture & Mind in the Age of Communication and Information’, in Cognitive Architecture, 20-21. 22
twist; he calls it “Singularity”. When talking about the technological evolution in one of his bestselling books The Singularity Is Near he states that ‘The Singularity will represent the culmination of the merger of our biological thinking and existence with our technology, resulting in a world that is still human, but that transcends our biological roots. There will be no distinction, postSingularity, between human and machine or between physical and virtual reality. If you wonder what will remain unequivocally human in such a world, it’s simply this quality: ours is the species that inherently seeks to extend its physical and mental reach beyond current limitations.’25 To Kurzweil unity between human and environment means that our physical and mental reach will be extended at will. Thus, in principle, there is no difference between manipulation of robotic building and control of infrastructure that constitutes entire city through BMI technologies. We can already see implications of this interaction not only at a scale of architecture, but also urbanism, geography, astrophysics or even atom. Last statement needs further explanation: parameters of urban spaces might be influenced by collective BMI inputs of the users while software would discriminate between public and individual demands. Various public environments in cities could be changed by following individual or collective needs and commands. Surgery in medicine can be performed by remotely controlled robots through BMI, thus geographic borders would be irrelevant for a doctor’s mind. One can imagine nanobot with robotic actuators and some simple sensory apparatus to be influenced by thought alone while traveling, orienting or performing tasks in micro scale environments. Controlling a space probe directly might also be beneficial to some extent. Brains in these cases would influence a world which was never before accessible because of natural human condition. Nicolelis and Srinivasan write: What real advantages might we obtain from future BMI based devices, compared to more conventional interfaces such as joysticks, mice, keyboards, voice recognition systems and so forth? Three possible application domains emerge: 1. Scaling of position and motion, so that a “slave” actuator, being controlled directly by the subject’s voluntary brain activity, can operate within workspaces that are either far smaller (e.g., nanoscale) or far bigger (e.g., space robots; industrial robots, cranes, etc.) than our normal reach 2. Scaling of forces and power, so that extremely delicate (e.g., microsurgery) or high-force tasks (e.g., lifting and displacing a tank) can be accomplished 3. Scaling of time, so that tasks can be accomplished much more rapidly than normal human reaction time, and normally impossible tasks become possible (e.g., braking a vehicle to a stop after seeing brake lights ahead; catching a fly in your hand, catching something you dropped; responding in hand-to-hand combat at a rate far exceeding that of an opponent)26 Interestingly, as stated by Bruce Wexler in his paper ‘Shaping the Environments that Shape Our Brains’, our influence towards environment was always increasing throughout biological evolution:
Ray Kurzweil, The Singularity Is Near - When Humans Transcend Biology, (London: Penguin Books Ltd., 2006), 25. 26 Nicolelis and Srinivasan, Human-Machine Interaction, 253-254.
‘The shaping of the environment was a long process throughout human prehistory and history, with long periods of limited and other periods of marked increase in the impact of human activity.’27 This activity of increasing impact is exactly the quality of extended reach that Kurzweil defines as unequivocally human. Merging enhanced human with enhanced space, thus, is only a step forward in this process. It also seems that technological innovation was always behind the scenes of this progress. ‘The wide tool set implied a general view that the environment can be altered and increased the time and variety of ways in which individuals acted on the environment in a manner that would not have been possible without the tools they created.’28 Although we know from Wexler that environments are able to wire our brains in remarkable ways, it is hard to predict how unenhanced human intelligence would cope with controlling varying degrees of freedom in his extended body. For sure, enhanced dependent environment, as well as independent one, acting through neuroplasticity, would train one’s mind to appreciate its qualities and behavior, especially if this learning process would start at an early age ‘Intensive practice of string instruments leads to selective increase in volume of the right somatosensory and motor areas associated with the rapid, fine motor movements of the fingers of the left hand that provide intricate and fast moving sequences of pressure to the strings. The changes in the brain are greater in adults who practiced more hours and began practicing at younger ages.’29 Some scientists identify that enhancements in human cognition can also be made. Brian M. Pierce writes that: ‘Improvements in human cognition and communication will also follow a path of higher integration and increased functionality. The exciting prospect is that the convergent technologies encompass the three major improvement paths: external, human-machine interface, and internal. This breadth should make it possible to pursue a more complete system solution to a particular need. (…) Memory enhancement is an important element of improving human cognition, and perhaps convergent technologies could be used to build on work that reports using external electrical stimulation or infusion of nerve growth factor to improve/restore memory in aged rats.’30 Possibility to seriously increase human ability to learn is still generally a speculation, but initial ideas are already developed and intensive research is taking place. By positively manipulating cognitive abilities human reach would be extended even further, because it would be possible to comprehend extended body more accurately and increase overall performance of biofeedback circuitry. Kurzweil, while discussing brain’s ability to act on extended body parts, points to a very important experiment made by before mentioned Nicolelis: Miguel Nicolelis and his colleagues at Duke University implanted sensors in the brains of monkeys, enabling the animals to control a robot through thought alone. The first step in the experiment involved teaching the monkeys to control a cursor on a screen with a joystick. The scientists collected a pattern of signals from EEGs (brain sensors) and 27
Bruce Wexler, ‘Shaping the Environments that Shape Our Brains,’ in Cognitive architecture, ed. Deborah Hauptmann and Warren Neidich (Rotterdam: 010 Publishers, 2010), 158. 28 Wexler, Shaping the Environments, 161. 29 Wexler, Shaping the Environment, 157. 30 Brian M. Pierce, ‘Sensor System Engineering Insights on Improving Human Cognition and Communication,’ in Converging Technologies for Improving Human Performance, ed. Michael C. Roco and William Sims Bainbridge (Dordrecht: Kluwer Academic Publishers, 2003), 119.
subsequently caused the cursor to respond to the appropriate patterns rather than physical movements of the joystick. The monkeys quickly learned that the joystick was no longer operative and that they could control the cursor just by thinking. This “thought direction” system was then hooked up to a robot, and the monkeys were able to learn how to control the robot’s movements with their thoughts alone. By getting visual feedback on the robot’s performance, the monkeys were able to perfect their thought control over the robot. The goal of this research is to provide a similar system for paralyzed humans that will enable them to control their limbs and environment.31 Already, a company called Touch Bionics produces one of the most advanced active prosthesis solution named “i-limb”32 that is, at least in part, a byproduct of this experiment. Car manufacturer Honda is investing large amounts of money to create exoskeletons that would help people to walk and increase their natural performance at workplace or everyday life33. Kurzweil suggests that eventually from prosthesis we will move on to extend our influence towards all sorts of machines, including hybrid spaces. Full integration between human and technological environment is a moment of “Singularity” for him. In a way Marcos Novak shares views with Kurzweil on issue of “Singularity” by stating that, ‘The death of Man does not suggest some sort of literal, alarmist and paranoid apocalyptic fear. Rather, it implies that Man is an ongoing project and, moreover, that the cladogenetic speciation of Man necessarily leads to cladogenetic specialization of all of Man’s categories and taxonomies’34. If architecture here is just one of Man’s categories, transformation of Man seamlessly implies transformation of architecture. One can easily find parallels between Novak’s notions and Nietzche’s Übermensch: ‘I teach you the Superman. Man is something that is to be surpassed.’35 For Nietzche ‘the man is a bridge and not a goal.’36 Zarathustra speaks: ‘All beings hitherto have created something beyond themselves: and ye want to be the ebb of that great tide, and would rather go back to the beast than surpass man? What is the ape to man? A laughing-stock, a thing of shame. And just the same shall man be to the Superman: a laughing stock, a thing of shame. Ye have made your way from the worm to man, and much within you is still worm. Once were ye apes, and even yet man is more of an ape than any of the apes. Even the wisest among you is only a disharmony and hybrid of plant and phantom. But do I bid you become phantoms or plants? Lo, I teach you the Superman!’37 It is philosophically clear to Nietzche and Novak that nature of Man is changing in time, thus the ongoing project of future Man will be very different – a Superman (Übermensch) for Nietzche or Alien for Novak: ‘The birth of Man eventually led to the collapse of theocentrism, which Nietzche characterized as the ‘Death of God’, thus, I suggest, beginning a series: the production of God (PoG) is followed by the production of Man (PoM); the production of Man leads to the death of God (DoG); the production of Man is followed by the production of the Alien (PoA), which, in turn
Kurzweil, The Singularity Is Near, 164. Read more at http://www.touchbionics.com/products/active-prostheses/. 33 Read more at http://corporate.honda.com/innovation/walk-assist/. 34 Marcos Novak, ‘Speciation, Transvergence, Allogenesis: Notes on the Production of the Alien,’ Architectural Design 72 (2002): 67. 35 Friedrich Nietzche, Thus Spake Zarathustra, (New York: Random House, 1928), 6. 36 Nietzche, Thus Spake Zarathustra, 220. 37 Nietzche, Thus Spake Zarathustra, 6. 32
leads to the death of Man (DoM).’38 Novak’s Alien might still be seen as being conceptually different from Nietzchean Superman in that it does not suggest linear perfection-oriented evolution, but simply recognizes and appreciates natural diversity and change of human condition. Novak explains human technological evolution and progress further: ‘As technology opens new or previously inaccessible spatial domains to traversal, inhabitation and dwelling, the scope of investigation of architecture and the spatial arts is expanded far beyond the purview of ordinary theories and practices. New transgressions demand new architecture.’ 39 Thus meaning of architecture, according to Novak, shifts together with human techno-evolution. It is easy to recognize two-way relationship here between human and architecture - man transforms his environment that changes his own nature by purpose or accident. A broken imaginary line that separated our biology and machine is very important in this “ongoing project”. Biotechnology is here already with all the implications that follow. Jim Spohrer writes that: In the past million years, human performance has primarily been improved in two ways: evolution (physical-cognitive-social changes to people) and technology (human-made artifacts and other changes to the environment). For example, approximately one hundred thousand generations ago, a physical-cognitive-social evolution resulted in widespread spoken language communication among our ancestors. About 500 generations ago, early evidence of written language existed. Then the pace of technological progress picked up: 400 generations ago, libraries existed; 40 generations ago, universities appeared; and 24 generations ago, printing of language began to spread. Again, the pace of technological advancements picked up: 16 generations ago, accurate clocks appeared that were suitable for accurate global navigation; five generations ago, telephones were in use; four, radios; three, television; two, computers; and one generation ago, the Internet. In the next century (or in about five more generations), breakthroughs in nanotechnology (blurring the boundaries between natural and human-made molecular systems), information sciences (leading to more autonomous, intelligent machines), biosciences or life sciences (extending human life with genomics and proteomics), cognitive and neural sciences (creating artificial neural nets and decoding the human cognome), and social sciences (understanding “memes” and harnessing collective IQ) are poised to further pick up the pace of technological progress and perhaps change our species again in as profound a way as the first spoken language learning did some one hundred thousand generations ago.’40 Ideas of Kurzweil, Novak, Nietzche, Spohrer and Wexler show that evolving species extend physical and mental reach constantly throughout a history. This brings advantage of being better prepared for various possible threats facing humanity, thus one can make a prediction that the trend will continue. BMI technologies in this case will be an important part of the next step in human technological evolution.
Novak, Production of the Alien, 67. Novak, Production of the Alien, 66. 40 Jim Spohrer, ‘NBICS (Nano-Bio-Info-Cogno-Socio) Convergence to Improve Human Performance: Opportunities and Challenges,’ in Converging Technologies for Improving Human Performance, ed. Michael C. Roco and William Sims Bainbridge (Dordrecht: Kluwer Academic Publishers, 2003), 101-102. 39
Human Nature in Motion Extended reach of humans, in evolutionary terms, in many cases resonates with changes in biological body. Anthropologists see a relationship between evolutionary cognitive improvements of humans and their ability to affect the environment, although Thomas Wynn indicates that: ‘It is heartening that some correlation exists between changes in brains and changes in cognition as revealed in stone tools. But it is also not surprising that there is not a tight fit, given our current limited ability to relate changes in gross brain anatomy to changes in behavior. Together, cognitive archeology and human paleontology may eventually be able to paint a coherent picture of the evolution of the brain and cognition, but there is still a very long way to go.’41 One can nevertheless see differences in between healthy and damaged brain’s ability to perform cognition related tasks. Human behavioral changes can also be linked to deterioration in the brain structures. It is thus possible to reason that changes in anatomy of human brain can lead to improved or reduced cognitive abilities of the individual. “New Scientist” recently published an article called ‘Rat Cyborg Gets Digital Cerebellum’. The name speaks for itself, but few lines are of interest here: ‘Cochlear implants and prosthetic limbs have already proved that it is possible to wire electrical devices into the brain and make sense of them, but such devices involve one-way communication, either from the device to the brain or vice-versa. Now Matti Mintz of Tel Aviv University in Israel and his colleagues have created a synthetic cerebellum which can receive sensory inputs from the brainstem – a region that acts as a conduit for neuronal information from the rest of the body. Their device can interpret these inputs, and send a signal to a different region of the brainstem that prompts motor neurons to execute the appropriate movement.’42 Scientist Francesco Sepulveda, working in the University of Essex in Colchester, UK, was cited in the same article while commenting on Mintz’s team achievements by saying that ‘This demonstrates how far we have come towards creating circuitry that could one day replace damaged brain areas and even enhance the power of the healthy brain (…) The circuitry mimics functionality that is very basic. Nonetheless, this is an exciting step towards enormous possibilities.’43 EEG helmets that were discussed earlier makes it possible to control objects by using our brains, but, as mentioned in this article, it is still a one-way communication. Particular research by Mintz and his team opens up a path for complete interaction between human and environment with possibilities of additional sensations, enhanced cognitive capabilities, etc. Rudy Burger in the article ‘Enhancing Personal Area Sensory and Social Communication through Converging Technologies’ write: ‘We understand the input systems to the brain – the sensory systems – better than the rest of the brain at this time. Therefore, we start with ways of fooling the senses by means of electronic media, which can be done now, using our present understanding of senses.’44 Here are few examples: Non-invasive, removable sensory enhancements (eyeglasses and contact lenses) are used now and are a useful first step. But why not go the second step and surgically correct the 41
Thomas Wynn, ‘Archeology and Cognitive Evolution,’ Behavioral and Brain Sciences 25 (2002): 431. Linda Geddes, ‘Rat Cyborg Gets Digital Cerebellum,’ New Scientist, September 24, 2011, 25. 43 Geddes, Rat Cyborg Gets Digital Cerebellum, 25. 44 Rudy Burger, ‘Enhancing Personal Area Sensory and Social Communication through Converging Technologies,’ in Converging Technologies for Improving Human Performance, ed. Michael C. Roco and William Sims Bainbridge (Dordrecht: Kluwer Academic Publishers, 2003), 167. 42
eyeball? Even better, replace the eyeball. As with artificial hips and artificial hearts, people are happy to get a new, better component; artificial sensory organs will follow. We can look at binoculars, night-vision goggles, and Geiger counters (all currently external to the body) to get an idea of what is possible: better resolution, better sensitivity, and the ability to see phenomena (such as radioactivity) that are normally imperceptible to humans. Electronic technology can be expected to provide artificial sensory organs that are small, lightweight, and self-powered. An understanding of the sensory systems and neural channels will enable, for example, hooking up the high-resolution electronic eyeball to the optic nerve. By the time we have a full understanding of all human sensory systems, it is likely we will have a means of performing the necessary microsurgery to link electronic signals to nerves.45 Aesthetics and wider concepts of architecture were always related to stable human sensory apparatus, thus mentioned enhancements can cause serious changes in perception of existing architectural environments. Nothing is stable in this case, because cognitive improvements may also affect architectural design and realization methods. Discussed BMI augmentation can reshape ways in which we interact with buildings, virtual or augmented environments. Deeper implications may follow if fundamental changes in human body take place. If, in this context, transformation of man still implies immediate transformation of architecture, the outcomes become hardly predictable. Biology interacts with technology fully as being part of the same “software” and “hardware” (domain of bioinformatics). At the same time our virtual worlds exist as extremes46 of hybrid spaces; they are fully simulated in computers and interpreted in our brains. These computational environments, according to N. Katherine Hayles in her article ‘Virtual Bodies and Flickering Signifiers’, also interact with human nature in affective ways: ‘Working with a VR47 simulation, the user learns to move her hand in stylized gestures that the computer can accommodate. In the process, changes take place in the neural configuration of the user’s brain, some of which can be long-lasting. The computer molds the human even as the human builds the computer.’48 Last statement is true, but effects that virtual or augmented environments imposed on us were always limited by our biological ability to adapt, in this case, cognitive – neuronal configurations. Now we see through research of Mintz that these limitations are about to be broken by advances in biotechnology which makes direct physical interference into our own bodies, sensors, and brain’s circuitry, thus overall human nature, possible. It was comfortable to think that virtual reality is somehow less real than physical one. It was thought to be “detached” from material environment and from Hayles insight we see how such thinking might be misleading. Furthermore, augmented reality crossed the line of virtual completely and simulated is now on top of physical as extra quality. It is important, at this moment, to mention three more research projects made in neuroscience that are relevant when discussing this controversy of virtuality.
Burger, Enhancing Personal Area Sensory and Social Communication, 167-168. Although virtual environments could be already considered as having separate spatial dimension in our physical world, simulation is still being run on physical hardware, thus in this essay, I suggest thinking that it does not cross borders of hybrid space. 47 Virtual Reality 48 N. Katherine Hayles, ‘Virtual Bodies and Flickering Signifiers,’ October 66 (1993): 90. 46
First one is made by team of scientists Shinji Nishimoto, An T. Vu, Thomas Naselaris, Yuvai Benjamini, Bin Yu, and Jack L. Gallant. This group recently published an article in Current Biology named ‘Reconstructing Visual Experiences from Brain Activity Evoked by Natural Movies’. Team explains what they have been able to achieve: ‘In this study, we developed an encoding model that predicts BOLD49 signals in early visual areas with unprecedented accuracy. By using this model in a Bayesian framework, we provide the first reconstructions of natural movies from human brain activity. This is a critical step toward the creation of brain reading devices that can reconstruct dynamic perceptual experiences. Our solution of this problem rests on two key innovations. The first is a new motionenergy encoding model that is optimized for use with fMRI50 and that aims to reflect the separate contributions of the underlying neuronal population and hemodynamic coupling. This encoding model recovers fine temporal information from relatively slow BOLD signals. The second is a sampled natural movie prior that is embedded within a Bayesian decoding framework. This approach provides a simple method for reconstructing spatio-temporal stimuli from the sparsely sampled and slow BOLD signals.’51 This makes visual mind reading possible and creates further opportunities for brain-machine interaction: ‘Quantitative models of dynamic mental events could also have important applications as tools for psychiatric diagnosis and as the foundation of brain machine interface devices.’52 Scientists also say that: ‘this modeling framework might also permit reconstruction of dynamic mental content such as continuous natural visual imagery. In contrast to earlier studies that reconstruct visual patterns defined by checkerboard contrast, our framework could potentially be used to decode involuntary subjective mental states (e.g., dreaming or hallucination), though it would be difficult to determine whether the decoded content was accurate. One recent study showed that BOLD signals elicited by visual imagery are more prominent in ventral-temporal visual areas than in early visual areas. This finding suggests that a hybrid encoding model that combines the structural motion-energy model developed here with a semantic model of the form developed in previous studies could provide even better reconstruction of subjective mental experiences.’53 Research raises serious ethical considerations, but idea of mind reading is starting to look very realistic. The other research was made by Edward S. Boyden as a co-author, who, in his TED talk “A Light Switch for Neurons”, while talking about targeted brain manipulation to cure disease asks: ‘Can we dial-in information precisely where we want it to go?’54 And the answer to this question seems to be positive. Individual switching of neurons can be achieved by using techniques of optogenetics. Boyden with his colleagues wrote an article called ‘A Wirelessly Powered and Controlled Device for Optical Neural Control of Freely-Behaving Animals’ where they present technology needed to manipulate animal’s behavior by intervening into mice brain’s circuitry: ‘We demonstrate use of the technology to wirelessly drive cortical control of movement in mice. These devices may serve as prototypes for clinical ultra-precise neural prosthetics that use light as the modality for biological 49
Blood Oxygen Level-Dependent. Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging. 51 Nishimoto et al., ‘Reconstructing Visual Experiences from Brain Activity Evoked by Natural Movies,’ Current Biology 21 (2011): 3-4, http://www.cell.com/current-biology/abstract/S0960-9822(11)00937-7. 52 Nishimoto et al., Reconstructing Visual Experiences, 1. 53 Nishimoto et al., Reconstructing Visual Experiences, 5. 54 http://www.ted.com/talks/lang/eng/ed_boyden.html at 4:35. 50
control.’55 In the beginning of the article scientists explain that ‘Optogenetics, the ability to use light to activate and silence specific neuron types within neural networks in vivo and in vitro, is revolutionizing neuroscientists’ capacity to understand how defined neural circuit elements contribute to normal and pathological brain functions.’56 It is useful to see more precisely how their technique works: In order to satisfy the power and control requirements for freely-behaving optogenetic experiments, we have developed a supercapacitor-based headborne device which can control multiple headborne LEDs, receiving power (and optionally, real-time delivered stimulation protocol information) in a fully wireless fashion. The device is small (<1 cm 3), and weighs approximately 2 g when operated autonomously with preprogrammed modulation protocols, or 3 g when equipped with optional wireless telemetry, both implementations being appropriate for use in small animals such as mice. In this paper we present the design, which centers around a high-efficiency resonant wireless power transfer system and headborne supercapacitor-based energy storage, appropriate to support the reliability and high-power operation requirements of the optogenetic research. The power transmitters are low-profile devices that can fit under behavioral arenas or cages. We show that such systems can sustain multi-watt power delivery both continually and in burst mode, and demonstrate control of behavior in untethered mice expressing ChR257 in motor cortex pyramidal cells. Such systems will only enable a number of fundamentally new kinds of experiment, but may also serve as prototypes for a new generation of clinical neural prosthetics that achieve great precision through the use of light targetable molecules as transducers of cell-type-specific neural control.58 Changes in behavior of mice were obvious: ‘We demonstrate the applicability of this technology to untethered freely-behaving animal optogenetics, using a well-validated and easily quantified behavioral paradigm of cortically-driven unilateral motor control in the mouse. A simple paradigm in which 470 nm light was delivered unilaterally to M1 motor cortex at 30 Hz with 15 ms pulse width at 250 mW LED input power in 30 s epochs followed by 90 s periods of rest resulted in increased rotation to the contralateral side during stimulation as compared to the epoch before stimulation. Thus, we can drive behaviorally-relevant protocols at sufficiently high power levels to elicit robust behavioral changes.’59 Third research is concentrated on visual prostheses that are supposed to restore sight to blind people. John S. Pezaris and Emad N. Eskandar in 2009 published an article ‘Getting Signals Into the Brain: Visual Prosthetics Through Thalamic Microstimulation’ where they discuss and compare various intrusive methods that can be applied to restore visual sensation to people with damaged eyes: ‘Common causes of blindness are diseases that affect the ocular structures, such as glaucoma, retinitis, pigmentosa, and macular degeneration, rendering the eyes no longer sensitive to light. The visual pathway, however, as a predominantly central structure, is largely separated in these cases. It 55
Edward S. Boyden et al., ‘A Wirelessly Powered and Controlled Device for Optical Neural Control of FreelyBehaving Animals,’ Journal of Neural Engineering 8 (2011): 1, http://stacks.iop.org/JNE/8/046021. 56 Boyden et al., A Wirelessly Powered and Controlled Device for Optical Neural Control, 1. 57 Light-gated ion transport protein “Channelrhodopsin-2”. 58 Boyden et al., A Wirelessly Powered and Controlled Device for Optical Neural Control, 2. 59 Boyden et al., A Wirelessly Powered and Controlled Device for Optical Neural Control, 8.
is thus widely thought that a device-based prosthetic approach to restoration of visual function will be effective and will enjoy similar success as cochlear implants have for restoration of auditory function.’ 60 Scientists go on to present how visual prosthetics work: ‘The fundamental idea underpinning visual prosthetics is to create an imaging device that, through some artificial means, injects appropriately processed signals into the visual stream. While some of the retinal approaches seek to create device that does little or no image processing or to have no device at all by photosensitizing normal cells, most projects have a device that performs a function that is akin to normal retinal image processing. As such, visual prosthetic devices are not unlike bionic eyes: they focus photons onto a light-sensitive surface to create an image, extract salient features from that image, and transmit those features to the brain.’61 At the moment main targets for implants are as follows: ‘In cases in which the early visual system is intact, 6 distinct structures along the pathway from retina to primary visual cortex provide potential targets for a device-based approach: the retina, the optic nerve, the optic tract, the LGN62, the optic radiation, and the primary visual cortex.’63 Without going into accurate technical details it is enough to cite few lines here about this technology: In a visual prosthesis device, each electrode contact is typically intended to generate 1 phosphene. If the phosphenes are small and tightly focused, they can be thought of as pixels, although they will likely not be close-packed like in a computer or camera display, but more probably separated by an unstimulated background. Mapping the visual scene to these pixels can be thought of as looking through an opaque screen through which holes have been punched, somewhat like looking through a kitchen colander, although each pixel in a prosthesis will be solid in appearance, or nearly so, and each hole in an opaque screen will show some detail of the scene beyond within the diameter of the hole. Nevertheless, a prosthetic image can be constructed from a collection of pixels where each has been adjusted according to the brightness of the original image, even if there are far fewer pixels in the prosthetic image than in the original, and even if the prosthetic pixels are not arranged in a perfect grid.64 These comments draw an important concept of our brain. It is the place where our world exists. Tweaking the brain can change the world, in this case – shed light onto darkness for blind people. Theoretically, similar methods also allow for improved vision in healthy individuals. Although scientists do not suggest this, as current research is in early stages, digitally augmented prosthetics can be created in the future as stated by Burger. Now it is time to get back to the theme of virtual controversy. By looking at selected research projects we see that scientists are now starting to understand how to decode perception directly from the brain’s spatial changes in BOLD fluctuations using fMRI, how it is possible, more precisely than ever, to manipulate neurons to change behavior of animals by using optogenetics instead of 60
John S. Pezaris and Emad N. Eskandar, ‘Getting Signals into the Brain: Visual Prosthetics through Thalamic Microstimulation,’ Neurosurgical Focus 27, no. 1 (2009): 1, http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2848996. 61 Pezaris and Eskandar, Getting Signals into the Brain, 5. 62 Lateral Geniculate Nucleus. 63 Pezaris and Eskandar, Getting Signals into the Brain, 10. 64 Pezaris and Eskandar, Getting Signals into the Brain, 5.
DBS65 implants. It is also possible that through advances in visual prostheses, interference into visual stream processing structures between retina and primary visual cortex can be used to restore sight to blind people. Add up techniques that allow scientists to intervene into brain’s circuitry by using man made systems like digital cerebellum and we get a full spectrum of developing ideas which will be needed to attach virtual environment directly to the brain. It is possible to speculate that knowledge needed to read high resolution dreams will be used to precisely stimulate neuronal structures by imposing visual imagery (simulated dreaming) directly on human brain. This will be used in technologies of augmented and virtual reality, but at this point reality will be enhanced not only through visual layer of information. Additional senses like ultrasonic hearing, infrared vision, more delicate smell, taste, etc., can be included. Virtual has a potential to become a richer environment for our experience than that of a natural-physical one by opening wider frequencies of reality. And this is a controversy of being “less” real. Augmentation of perceivable reality through brain stimulation provides risky framework for our future and there already exists many difficult questions to be addressed by humanity, but we should recognize from what was said about virtuality and neuroscience that, although human nature was slowly changing throughout our evolution, technological advances can increase the rate of this process. This also affects field of architecture. Internal and external changes in human body can influence not only perception of architecture or methods of building, but also needs of the user and thus values of the architect. It is clear that consequences for architecture in this case are fundamental and need to be analyzed further.
Synthetic Matter Neri Oxman together with colleagues in the article ‘Programming Reality: From Transitive Materials to Organic User Interfaces’ indicates that: ‘Computation today still remains an entity of information which is overlaid on top of the passive physical world, with little regard for how material and computationally-driven behaviors can operate together. Transitive materials attempt to blur such boundaries by supporting the design of integrated structures that are themselves capable of input/output, computation, and ultimately of interactivity and personalization.’66 As of today this potential is still largely unexplored, but even existing transitive materials allow creation of first hybrid spaces. Authors of the article explain computationally enhanced physical reality as follows: ‘Transitive materials combine the transient qualities of smart, composite, and computational materials, and encapsulate the ability to function as frame, skeleton, sensor, actuator and/or processor. The multifaceted nature of transitive materials provides a link between computational devices and physical material elements.’67 Sophisticated hybrid spaces would revolutionize our material world: ‘In the future, we will observe increasing integration of computation and the physical environment to the point where basic material properties will be computationally controlled. In this brave new world, we will be programming not only computers or devices, but the fabric of reality
Deep Brain Stimulation. Marcelo Coelho et al., ‘Programming Reality: From Transitive Materials to Organic User Interfaces,’ Ext. Abstracts CHI 2009 (Boston: ACM Press, 2009): 4760. 67 Marcelo Coelho et al., Programming Reality, 4760. 66
itself.’68 It is also important to recognize that interfaces for human-environment communication will become increasingly organic: ‘Organic User Interfaces (OUI) explore future interactive designs as computationally controlled materials become commonplace. The OUI vision is based on an understanding that physical shape of display devices will become non-flat, potentially arbitrary and even fluid or computationally controlled. This allows display devices and entire environments to take on shapes that are flexible, dynamic, modifiable by users or self-actuated.’69 BMI should also be considered organic as it holds some of the most important qualities of this vision by suggesting direct biofeedback communication. Programming reality and building a bridge of communication through OUI will allow our brains and bodies to communicate with their surroundings in many different ways, but it is still very important to recognize current advances in material science to better understand future possibilities of such a revolution. Two research projects will be discussed to explain actual reality of programmable matter. Claytronics – a project made in Carnegie Mellon University aims at creating small modular robots (catoms acting like material voxels) that can orient and organize themselves in spatial reality to form physical models. Seth C. Goldstein together with Todd C. Mowry in the article called ‘Claytronics: A Scalable Basis for Future Robots’ states that: ‘One of the primary goals of claytronics is to form the basis of a new media type, pario. Pario, a logical extension of audio and video is a media type used to reproduce moving 3D objects in the real world. A direct result of our goal is that claytronics must scale to millions of micron-scale units. Having scaling (both in number and size) as primary design goal impacts the work significantly.’70 New media, called pario, should be understood as one type of programmable matter that could shape future hybrid spaces. ‘The long term goal of our work is to render physical artifacts with such high fidelity that our senses will easily accept the reproduction for the original. When this goal is achieved we will be able to create an environment, which we call synthetic reality, in which a user can interact with computer generated artifacts as if they were the real thing. Synthetic reality has significant advantages over virtual reality or augmented reality.‘71 Authors indicate that synthetic objects could be sensed, experienced and even used more naturally without wearing additional glasses or haptic feedback devices. Technology is explained further: ‘Claytronics is our name for an instance of programmable matter whose primary function is to organize itself into the shape of an object and render its outer surface to match the visual appearance of that object. Claytronics is made up of individual components, called catoms – for Claytronic atoms – that can move in three dimensions (in relation to other catoms), adhere to other catoms to maintain a 3D shape, and compute state information (with possible assistance from other catoms in the ensemble). Each catom is a self-contained unit with CPU, an energy store, a network device, a video output device, one or more sensors, a means of locomotion, and a mechanism for adhering to other catoms.’72 As fictional as it sounds, the authors say that ‘the core concepts in claytronics are hardly new; from science fiction to realized reconfigurable robots, to proposed modular robots, scientists and writers have contemplated the automatic synthesis of 3D objects. 68
Marcelo Coelho et al., Programming Reality, 4762. Marcelo Coelho et al., Programming Reality, 4760. 70 Seth C. Goldstein and Todd C. Mowry, ‘Claytronics: A Scalable Basis For Future Robots,’ Computer Science Department Paper 770 (2004): 1, http://repository.cmu.edu/compsci/770. 71 Seth Goldstein and Todd Mowry, Claytronics: A Scalable Basis For Future Robots, 1. 72 Seth Goldstein and Todd Mowry, Claytronics: A Scalable Basis For Future Robots, 1. 69
However, technology has finally reached a point where we can for the first time realistically build a system guided by design principles which will allow it to ultimately scale to millions of sub-millimeter catoms. The resulting ensemble can be viewed as either a form of programmable matter suited for implementing pario or as a swarm of modular robots.’73 For sure working prototypes, at the moment, have pretty low resolution, but they are strong proof of the concept and will be scaled down (in size) as research goes on. This is explained further: ‘In addition to capabilities, the different regimes (macro, micro, and nano) have significantly different economics. Macro-scale catoms require the assembly of multiple parts into a single unit. We expect that this will make the realization of life-size synthetic reality prohibitive due to the cost per catom. The micro-scale catoms may also require assembly, but with many fewer parts, e.g., photolithography. Just as VLSI-based computers are commonplace (as opposed to vacuum tube based computers), in this regime, catoms are inexpensive enough that synthetic reality, though expensive, becomes viable.’74 This means that higher resolution claytronics might be cheaper than low resolution equivalent. It needs to be stressed here that term synthetic, which describes catomic reality, does not suppose a low sophistication level of the system when compared to nature. Synthetic can reach and even surpass capabilities of biological systems, although a lot of work still needs to be done. J. Craig Venter with colleagues, in the article ‘Creation of a Bacterial Cell Controlled by a Chemically Synthesized Genome’, writes: ‘… in 1995, our team was able to read the first complete genetic code of a self-replicating bacterium, Haemophilus influenzae. Reading the genetic code of a wide range of species has increased exponentially from these early studies. Our ability to rapidly digitize genomic information has increased by more than eight orders of magnitude over the past 25 years. Efforts to understand all this new genomic information have spawned numerous new computational and experimental paradigms, yet our genomic knowledge remains very limited.’75 But even with this limited knowledge scientists were able to create first synthetic life form: ‘We now have combined all of our previously established procedures and report the synthesis, assembly, cloning, and successful transplantation of the 1.08-Mbp76 M. mycoides JCVI-syn1.0 genome, to create a new cell controlled by this synthetic genome.’77 Advances in biotechnology made this possible and it is already obvious that 3D mimicry of virtual objects using claytronics is just one method of making synthetic reality between many. We can organize matter in order to create living creatures. This is a great example on how synthetic life forms can already extend biological ones: In 1995, the quality standard for sequencing was considered to be one error in 10000 bp and the sequencing of a microbial genome required months. Today, the accuracy is substantially higher. Genome coverage of 30-50X is not unusual, and sequencing only requires a few days. However, obtaining an error-free genome that could be transplanted into a recipient cell to create a new cell controlled only by the synthetic genome was complicated and required many quality control steps. Our success was thwarted for many weeks by a single base pair deletion in the essential gene dnaA. One wrong base out of over one million in an essential gene rendered the genome inactive, while major genome insertions and deletions in non73
Seth Goldstein and Todd Mowry, Claytronics: A Scalable Basis For Future Robots, 1. Seth Goldstein and Todd Mowry, Claytronics: A Scalable Basis For Future Robots, 3. 75 J. Craig Venter et al., ‘Creation of a Bacterial Cell Controlled by a Chemically Synthesized Genome,’ Science Vol 329 no. 5987 (2010), http://www.sciencemag.org/content/329/5987/52.full. 76 Mega base pairs. 77 J. Craig Venter et al., http://www.sciencemag.org/content/329/5987/52.full. 74
essential parts of the genome had no observable impact on viability. The demonstration that our synthetic genome gives rise to transplants with the characteristics of M. mycoides cells implies that the DNA sequence upon which it is based is accurate enough to specify a living cell with the appropriate properties.78 It is a huge leap towards programmable matter that can grow and perform life like behaviors. Genetic engineering extends possibilities of synthetic reality and pario media. Scientists explain that future synthetic life forms can be produced purely by coding genetic information which would determine rules for organizing matter to create artificial biology: ‘The properties of the cells controlled by the assembled genome are expected to be the same as if the whole cell had been produced synthetically (the DNA software builds its own hardware)’. Statement that DNA software makes its own hardware is of great importance here as it relates bioengineering methods to hybrid spaces in reversed angle. Hardware environments, in this context, are not only being passively enriched with software layers of information 79 to manipulate pre-given set of geometrical possibilities of a system, but are lively constructed from material components, driven and affected by these data layers themselves. It seems, after all, that DNA-like mechanisms producing bio-like synthetic matter can shape our enhanced spaces. Synthetic biology is defined as ‘the design and construction of new biological parts, devices, and systems, and the re-design of existing, natural biological systems for useful purposes.’80 Fabulous efforts are put by BioBricks Foundation 81 to collect, store and openly share DNA sequences (BioBricks) of known functions and effects that can be used to build synthetic reality. On the index page of foundation’s website main column states that ‘We envision a world in which scientists and engineers work together using BioBrick™ parts — freely available standardized biological parts — to create safe, ethical solutions to the problems facing humanity. We envision synthetic biology as a force for good in the world. We see a future in which architecture, medicine, environmental remediation, agriculture, and many other fields are using the technology of synthetic biology.’82 Bricks that will be shared are coding blocks of biology. Having these freely available artificial genes makes biotechnology accessible to architectural research in order to create synthetic materials and environments. Of course it might also be that DNA is not necessary to produce artificial biology or life. Good examples of these are protocells, explained by Martin Hanczyc in his TED talk83, that exhibit life-like behaviors without having any genes, they are driven by elementary chemical interactions, but it is still thought that for more complex organisms there needs to be some sort of information carrier containing genetic instructions (like DNA). Such physical systems that can build themselves and contain man-made functions fall under the concept of programmable matter. Synthetic reality is reality of hybrid environments. Both catomic and genetically driven, selforganizing matter can be coded to interact with human subject through various interfaces. Programmed matter in this context becomes as sophisticated as biological one, thus humanenvironment interaction modes can be made simple and natural. Scientists experimenting with 78
J. Craig Venter et al., http://www.sciencemag.org/content/329/5987/52.full. As discussed by Neri Oxman and colleagues. 80 http://syntheticbiology.org. 81 http://biobricks.org/. 82 http://biobricks.org/. 83 http://www.ted.com/talks/martin_hanczyc_the_line_between_life_and_not_life.html. 79
robots controlled through EEG helmets are just beginning to tackle the world of brain controlled objects, but outcomes already seem promising and far reaching. It is obvious that developments in neuroscience, biotechnology and robotics affect architectural discourse; these scientific influences may cause deep theoretical and practical impact as human mind becomes opened to and merged with its surroundings throughout various scales. Qualities and quantities of synthetic architecture, like form, function, aesthetics, structure, size, composition, organization, etc., can be transformed through robotic84 synthetic media. Plugging brain as control mechanism into this media by two-way communication feedback loop will thus extend potential of both space and human.
Architectural Cyborg In such a reality where humans are able to create their own domains of existence, be it virtual, augmented or physical, there is a need to suggest integral topics for architectural research and practice. At the epicenter of merged “Human v2.0” and “Space v2.0” is a concept of interaction. Gordon Pask in the article ‘The Architectural Relevance of Cybernetics’ that was published in the year 1969 said: ‘The high point of functionalism is the concept of a house as a “machine for living in.” But the bias is towards a machine that acts as a tool serving the inhabitant. This notion will, I believe, be refined into the concept of an environment with which the inhabitant cooperates and in which he can externalize his mental processes.’85 It is clear from previous parts of the essay that there already exists a possibility to externalize mental processes literally through brain-machine interaction. Thus cooperation with environment can be achieved not only through usual sensors and visual output devices, but through OUI that allow for two-way communication biofeedback loops like BMI. Field of Interactive Architecture although exists as a part of very wide architectural and interdisciplinary scientific discourse, inherited its ideas mostly from cybernetics and is now deeply related with fields of intelligent environments (IE) and embedded computing. The fact that it deals with various forms of communication between human, built, virtual, augmented and natural environments makes it perfect for further research in biofeedback mechanisms and applications, including BMI technologies. In the book Interactive Architecture Michael Fox and Miles Kemp write that: ‘Advancement will only be accomplished when interactive architectural systems are addressed not primarily or singularly, but as an integral component of a larger vision that takes advantage of today’s pervasive, constantly unfolding, and far-reaching technology.’ 86 Authors stress that today’s technologies deserve recognition by architects as they can have significant influence to our built and simulated environments. They also advocate for architecture which would be integrated to wider scientific perspective. This is important when dealing with theories of biofeedback and synthetic reality in order to bring speculations into research and application level. Fox in his article ‘Beyond Kinetic’ writes that ‘we are rapidly approaching a time where the integration of embedded computation and kinetic function becomes a practical and feasible 84
Including various scales and kinds (like bio, nano, etc.). Gordon Pask, ‘The Architectural Relevance of Cybernetics,’ Architectural Design 39 (1969): 496. 86 Michael Fox and Miles Kemp, Interactive Architecture (New York: Princeton Architectural Press, 2009), 12. 85
reality.’ 87 Embedded computation, deeply integrated with hybrid responsive spaces, forms an important part of future brain driven environments. It is easy to see that interdisciplinary approach is at the heart of such a research: ‘From an architectural standpoint, embedded computation has taken an interesting foothold. Work in embedded computation has arisen primarily out of the field of computer science, reaching into the sub disciplines of both artificial intelligence and robotics. The research has come out of both academia and the corporate world and there are currently numerous precedent examples of embedded computation in that have begun to define a field now known as intelligent environments.’88 IE in all cases are independent, semi-dependent or fully dependent. In one way or another IE interact with human or other systems (natural or artificial). Such an intelligent and interactive hybrid spaces through embedded computing and active control mechanisms will allow our brain to cooperate with the environment by externalizing human mental processes as envisioned by Pask. Architect Kas Oosterhuis writes about interactive architecture in one of his recent books Towards a New Kind of Building: ‘The second paradigm shift leading architecture towards new horizons is the step from static to interactive architecture. Exactly the same prerequisite that allows for customized CNC production also allows for dynamic behavior of the constructs. Once the building components possess their unique numbers, once they are tagged, they can be addressed as individuals. When the individual components are continually addressed in a streaming mode in real time, and when the building components are capable of making moves, then that component may be said to be responsive, adaptive.’89 Tagged building components described by Oosterhuis are perhaps the first practical and feasible applications of programmable matter in architectural scale. Oosterhuis explains that: ‘From responsiveness to interaction is another step. Responding to incoming information is based on information streaming in one direction from the sender to the receiver, then the receiver responding back to the sender. But this is still far from the bi-directional dialogue that characterizes the interactivity paradigm. To have interactivity, the receiver must send back new information; it must process the received information and send it back in a slightly adjusted form. Some parameters must have changed. A dialogue is a two-way communication in which each actor is somewhat changed after having sent back its response.’90 We see that interactive architectural system is initiated by having a loop of communication between objects with integrated sending, receiving and processing functions. Given description of this communication resembles biofeedback circuitry discussed before in this essay. Two-way BMI could thus be used in such a way as to integrate architectural objects with human body. Current robotic technologies in building industry are slowly starting to be recognized, appreciated and implemented. Nevertheless, as seen from discussed advances in fields of material science, neuroscience, IT and biotechnology there is a huge potential for architectural application research and even fundamental experimentation in the scale of built or scope of virtual environments. When thinking about materiality of architecture, Fox and Kemp write that:
Michael Fox, ‘Beyond Kinetic,’ MIT Kinetic Design Group, 2004, 3, http://robotecture.com/Papers/Pdf/beyond.pdf. 88 Fox, Beyond Kinetic, 4. 89 Kas Oosterhuis, Towards a New Kind of Building, (Rotterdam: NAi Publishers, 2011), 114. 90 Oosterhuis, Towards a New Kind of Building, 114.
The prevalence of the organic paradigm is beginning to alter the conceptual model that we apply in order to comprehend our environment and, consequently, design within our environment. Consequentially, the organic paradigm of kinetic adaptation has driven a profound set of developments in both robotics and new materials whereby the adaptation becomes much more holistic, and operates on a very small internal scale. Technology has provided recent unprecedented insight into the workings of microscopic natural mechanisms and advanced manufacturing of high-quality kinetic parts with new materials such as fabrics, ceramics, polymers and gels, shape-memory alloy compounds, and composites. In the same vein, we cannot ignore those structures and systems being explored at even smaller scales, such as the nano. Nanocomposite materials are being developed that are self-sensing and self-actuating to improve strength, reliability, and performance. The combination of new materials and robotics at a very small scale opens up a fascinating area that is relevant to interactive architecture in bio-nanotechnology. Interactive architecture could greatly benefit from the integration of biological functions and nanoscale precision.91 We saw from various selected research projects that this bio-nanotechnologically driven revolution affects not only synthetic hybrid spaces, but can also change or even enhance human nature. This revolution ties together progress in two spheres of “Human v2.0” and “Space v2.0”. Slowly it brings us to reality of human-environment integration where boundary between our biological bodies and created machines begin to vanish. When bidirectional BMI technologies will be integrated to projects of biodigital interactive architecture, new kind of architectural cyborg will emerge. This mode of human being will be very different from the ones imagined in most sci-fi movies. If integration of human and synthetic environment increases to the degree when destruction of biofeedback loop can have serious existential consequences for both communicating sides, it will be hard to distinguish between biological bodies and dependent or semi-dependent physical, virtual or augmented environments as they would form mutually continuous mental and physical experience of the individual. Nervous signals in such a world would communicate not only with human limbs, but wider organizations of synthetic environments holding both physical and virtual dimensions. Mutual dependency between “Human v2.0” and “Space v2.0” creates condition where living organism is able to influence its own realms of performance in between physical and simulated levels. It is at this point that nothing could be taken for granted as upgrade in human cognition or extended body can cause changes in perception, thinking, behavior or physical and mental needs. One can draw a vision that future object of architecture - “Space v2.0”, will be able to merge with its subject - “Human v2.0”, and thus can become equal to object of future medicine – mind driven hybrid space – our new, extended, fluctuating and enhanced body. Architects, in this case, would be dealing with very different sets of issues than today as the field would have been changed and, nevertheless, still moving forward.
By Way of Conclusion Throughout this essay I discussed “Human v2.0” and “Space v2.0” by linking developments in neuroscience, robotics, IT and biotechnology together with philosophy of science to show how human brain and synthetic reality can interact in the future. Mind driven environments are 91
Fox and Kemp, Interactive Architecture, 19.
supposed to be seen as indicators and catalysts of development in ever changing field of architecture. As stated in my main argument, BMI is going to join human body with synthetic, robotically and computationally enhanced categories of architecture by redefining borders of corporeal and extracorporeal environments. Developments in BMI propose idea of architectural cyborg which may cause field to face serious transformations. Dependent and semi-dependent categories of architecture were shown to find themselves moving closer to the field of biotechnology, which will hold methods and techniques to handle or avoid erroneous malfunctions in advanced biofeedback systems. This particular aspect of development directly, thus technically, integrates human body into architecture’s discourse. Position to introduce a perspective of architecture which is deeply related to hard science was taken on purpose. As essay suggestively proposed, there is a need to extend theoretical technologicallyoriented background in order to promote interdisciplinary high-tech architectural research and practice. It was indeed necessary to speculate further into the future, where current disciplinary stereotypes become less relevant, to show that instead of searching for golden rules in architecture, field’s dynamism, unpredictability and constant change should be recognized. Novak’s term of “ongoing project” and ideas of “Singularity” were used to describe such a variable condition of both human and architecture in order to stress particular aspect of their nature while keeping its richness intact. Critique addressed to “naïve”, “over optimistic” and “pop-neuroscientific” neuroarchitectural approaches in the article ‘Designing the Lifeworld: Selfhood and Architecture from a Critical Neuroscience Perspective’, written by Lukas Ebensperger and colleagues, although deserves a thorough and detailed response, cannot deny the importance of factual effects brought by neuroscience and already existing BMI technologies for dependent and semi-dependent environments. In this context advances in material science and biotechnology forming a basis of synthetic reality are also significant to architectural domain. It is partly because an idea of mind driven environments goes beyond the range of neuroarchitecture that speculative architectural cyborg, under extent of given critique, in no way should be recognized as denying or “reducing” wider scopes of human selfhood and architecture. Such themes were not developed in this essay. Critics resist an idea that ‘cognitive neuroscience will fully be able to explain mental processes, emotions, moods, behavior and consciousness’92 and that such ‘knowledge can and will be fruitfully implemented in architecture.’93 All of this, for sure, is yet to be seen, but it could be recognized from the contents of this essay that complete white-boxed understanding of the human brain and consciousness is not needed to create useful mind driven environments. One will be left with the quote from Daniel L. Akins’s article ‘Mind over Matter in an Era of Convergent Technologies’: Within the next 10 to 15 years, economically viable activities connected with nanoscience, bioscience, information technology and cognitive science (NBIC) will have interlaced themselves within ongoing successful technologies, resulting in new and improved commercial endeavors. The impact of such eventualities would be enormous even if the 92
Lukas Ebensperger, Suparna Choudhury and Jan Slaby, ‘Designing the Lifeworld: Selfhood and Architecture from a Critical Neuroscience Perspective,’ in Cognitive architecture, ed. Deborah Hauptmann and Warren Neidich (Rotterdam: 010 Publishers, 2010), 245. 93 Ebensperger et al., Designing the Lifeworld, 245.
emerging activities were developing independently, but with a range of synergies, their overlapping emergence and transitioning into the applied engineering arena promises to result in industrial products and technologies that stretch our imaginations to the point that they appear fanciful. Indeed, it is becoming more widely acknowledged that the potential of the new convergent NBIC technologies for influencing and defining the future is unlimited and likely unimaginable.94
Daniel L. Akins, â€˜Mind Over Matter in an Era of Convergent Technologies,â€™ in Converging Technologies for Improving Human Performance, ed. Michael C. Roco and William Sims Bainbridge (Dordrecht: Kluwer Academic Publishers, 2003), 410.
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Published on Dec 20, 2013