Seminar presentation: blurry boundaries, relations and responsibilities.

Hi everyone!

In this week’s seminar, I will present the chapter Cybernetics by N. Katherine Hayles. I will pay special attention to the how cybernetics has reconfigured boundaries.


As Hayles sums up, first order cybernetics no longer separated machines from biological organisms (nature-technology boundary), second order cybernetics considered the observer to be part of the system too (object-subject boundary), and third order cybernetics considered the observer and the system within a complex, networked, adaptive and co-evolving environment through which information and data are pervasively flowing (individual-network boundary).

“Pulse Room is an interactive installation featuring one to three hundred clear incandescent light bulbs, 300 W each and hung from a cable at a height of three metres. The bulbs are uniformly distributed over the exhibition room, filling it completely. An interface placed on a side of the room has a sensor that detects the heart rate of participants. When someone holds the interface, a computer detects his or her pulse and immediately sets off the closest bulb to flash at the exact rhythm of his or her heart. The moment the interface is released all the lights turn off briefly and the flashing sequence advances by one position down the queue, to the next bulb in the grid. Each time someone touches the interface a heart pattern is recorded and this is sent to the first bulb in the grid, pushing ahead all the existing recordings. At any given time the installation shows the recordings from the most recent participants.”

In the second part of my presentation, I want to elaborate and extend on some of the works that Hayles refers to, including Latour’s actor-network theory. I would like to set up our discussion to talk about how the destruction / construction of boundaries allows us to talk about what things do. More specifically, how things have politics, moralise and shape our relations to the world.

Questions that I would like to explore include:

“Pulse Index” is an interactive installation that records participants’ fingerprints at the same time as it detects their heart rates. The piece displays data for the last 765 and over participants in a stepped display that creates a horizon line of skin. To participate, people introduce their finger into a custom-made sensor equipped with a 220x digital microscope and a heart rate sensor; their fingerprint immediately appears on the largest cell of the display, pulsating to their heart beat.”
– How do we relate to technologies? What happens when technologies try to understand us as a system?

Where normally, we might expect technology to function for us, what happens if these roles are swopped? The work of Rafael-Lorenzo Hemmer takes personal data from the human body (fingerprints, heartbeats), enlarges and displays it – the way we might do with things, or technologies, in order to understand them better.

Please have a look at the two of his Pulse works, the Pulse Room and the Pulse Index, as well as the video I posted accompanying my blog post from week 3.

Will we get to a point where technologies understand us better than we understand ourselves? Are we already there? What do you think?

– How do technologies moralise? And, coming back again to our previous discussions: if boundaries get blurry, who is to be held accountable?

See you Friday!

Add yours Comments – 1

Leave me a Comment