Virtual Slap: A Keynote Presentation

Virtual Slap: A Keynote Presentation

by Adam Karrera
June 23, 1998

Eric Paulos, UC Berkeley

Guest speakers:
Eduardo Kac, Chicago Art Institute
Natalie Jeremijenko, Yale University
Mark Pauline, SRL Artists & Scientists

This years' keynote address at the Web Design '98 Conference, shattered the ball-and-chain mentality of conventional Web developer thinking. The words "tools," "technology," and "virtuality," took on new meanings before a genuinely surprised, yet eager audience.

The "digital potential becoming a physical reality" was the message being delivered by Misty West, of Miller Freeman, as she introduced the select panel of guest speakers. In fact, the true awards for Web innovation, which were handed out earlier in the evening, could have arguably been received by any of the esteemed visionaries.

Eduardo Kac led things off with a slide presentation demonstrating how the Web can become a life source. During his experiment in 1996, people worldwide where asked to join a teleconference, anytime during a three week period. The participants simply aimed their cameras to the heavens so that light on the other end of their transmission could be used to grow a freshly planted seed, which had been isolated in total darkness. Through the nourishment of the white lights, the seedling grew to 18" in height and was later planted outside the Art Institute of Chicago.

In a different process, Natalie Jeremijenko, in collaboration with the Bureau of Inverse Technology, led an experiment, called the Suicide Box. In this experiment, a sensor camera was placed under the Golden Gate Bridge so that each time someone jumped off it, a photo would be taken documenting the event. The data was continuously updated on the Web in a graph form, known as the Despondency Index, clearly showing the correlation between the daily Dow Jones Industrial average and the rate of suicides. In a more recent project, referred to as "One Tree," 100 trees which are biological clones, were placed throughout the bay area. This allows scientist to have a common denominator when researching and determining air quality in a specific region. The overall health of the bay is displayed algorithmically, via cyber trees on the Web, that reflect the current status of any particular clone.

The moderator himself, highlighted various uses of telerobotics. In one instance, Web surfers could go to a live garden, where, via teleconferencing and simple robotics, a user could plant, water and nurture an existing real-time garden, which was placed at a science museum. Eric also demonstrated, on location, a technologically similar experiment. This time, though, he was controlling a large robot, with a powerful air gun used to aim, shoot and destroy various moving targets set up at the Survival Research Labs, all via his laptop.

This led, of course, to the introduction of Mark Pauline, of SRL fame, who calmly explained the method to his madness. Mark feels that with the government continually modifying and enacting new laws that prohibit or further restrict any kind of activities, which may be slightly dangerous, the world is losing its sense of excitement; being restricted, as it were, by ball in chain. Survival Research Labs is there to reverse this path of unexcitement, by providing people a genuine interactive opportunity to use hyper extreme, possibly, life threatening devices.

In fact, today, as I sit at the SRL booth, I am roaming the city of San Francisco through the camera eyes of a land-based, four-wheeled robot. It features an extendable arm which lets you interact with the city population via force feedback devices.

Clearly this group, of scientists and artistically talented people, sees the opportunities, presented through the WWW in a slightly different outlook than the business oriented e-commerce theme which is prominent at this stage of the Web's development. Right now, I personally see, a really pretty girl...sitting down on a park bench.

Ouch!!! I just got slapped in the face...virtually that is.

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