Augmentology"...is a concise manual of reality for our digital age."

Mark Hancock,_Augmentology: Interfaccia Tra Due Mondi_

[Sponsored by The Ars Virtua Foundation/CADRE Laboratory for New Media]

_Neuromancer_: Brazilian Cover

Cyberspace. A consensual hallucination experienced daily by billions of legitimate operators, in every nation, by children being taught mathematical concepts… A graphic representation of data abstracted from banks of every computer in the human system. Unthinkable complexity. Lines of light ranged in the nonspace of the mind, clusters and constellations of data. Like city lights, receding…

-Neuromancer (1984) William Gibson

I am an avid reader. I love to read. Put a book with an interesting title, cover, or topic in front of me and I will read it. I’ll read it fast, and I’ll probably read it again months or years down the road. A good book is something to be savored more than once. You might mistake my speed for rushing to finish it, or assume I miss out on relishing the content. Not true: I just happen to read quickly. For me, books are something like pieces of theater that play themselves out in my head. If I read too slow, my mind wanders and I sort of tune out. I guess this is like watching a movie in slow motion with no audio.

Of course, some books are much more than interesting diversions or simple brain candy that goes “pop!” in my brain (even while generating ideas and sparkling little epiphanies). Some books are like a whirling vortex of images, emotions and thoughts: with accompanying explosions of sound, color, sense and scent (ok, not really – I do have a very active imagination). When I read, some books suck me in so deep that I literally become oblivious to the world around me. I might as well be dreaming. And – rarely – some books have such an impact on me that I can recall different scenes or events in the book as if I had really experienced or dreamt them. Odder still is that sometimes, when I find an old book that I haven’t read for a long time and start to reread it, I experience a tidal wave of nostalgia and memory of the time when I first read it. Things I have smelled, places I have been, the mumbled voices of my family in the background and (most especially) that particular atmosphere that is different in every city in which I have lived. I could go on, but I think you get the idea.

One of the passages that has had the greatest effect on me (at least in terms of technology, the future, and all the other fun things I’m doing now) is the aforementioned excerpt from Neuromancer. I can’t begin to tell you how many times I have read that paragraph, savoring and relishing the mental image it creates. I could build a whole synthetic world and story around that simple paragraph. Can you picture it? Like city lights, receding… I can picture it now, moving, changing and pulsing: almost as if it were a living thing. I want to go there. I want to build it. I want to share it with other people.

I think my desire to build – and share – such a space is one of the reasons I have devoted years of my life to virtual realities, virtual worlds, and massively multiplayer online role-playing games. It also explains my continuing interest in artificial intelligence, artificial life, simulations and so forth. About two years ago I had an awakening when I realized that the future I have been longing for (especially since we STILL don’t have flying cars or vacations at the Lunar hotel) is almost here.

Although many of the elements that truly blend the real and the virtual are here, these are yet to be concretely consolidated into one functional system. Also, not all of the pieces required to construct such system have matured to the point of usability. I could sit back and wait for others to develop the entire system, but I am too hungry for it. So I decided to form Neogence Enterprises and attempt to build the world’s first global mobile augmented reality network (even though I really don’t like the phrase augmented reality).

So, here I am. I’m doing it: I’m attempting to build it. I have a grand vision, more ambitious than just about anything else I have ever tried (although attempting to ski a black slope in the German Alps – right after I learned how to stop on the bunny slopes – ranks pretty high up there). In the rest of this multi-part series, I’m going to explain:

  1. What augmented reality is.
  2. What mobile augmented reality can be and associated potentialities.
  3. How mobile augmented reality is going to function.
  4. Details concerning Neogence’s short term goals.
  5. What Neogence plans on launching on October 10th 2010 (10/10/10).

I hope you stay tuned. I’m definitely looking forward to your opinions.

Becoming Dragon

I am becoming something else. In this moment, this being-in-transition, I am willfully stepping into the unknown. I am between realities. I can only imagine what I want to become, and then choose to become that new thing, but it is radically ungraspable, inconceivable. I can never know the reality of what I am choosing to become, desiring to become. My decision to transform can never be the right one, because it is always based on an illusion, a fantasy, a false conception with only a few points of data, not the rich details of an embodied life. As the transformation unfolds, those unknown events begin to occur, like seeing my breasts in the mirror for the first time after shaving my chest closely, feeling the movement in my orgasm change into something new or just walking down the street for a moment as a girl, unnoticed and not needing any special attention. My decision to become something else is always a decision to become mythopoetic, because the reality of the new state is always unknown, imaginary, a construct, a fantasy. Yet I don’t seek to decry this radical state of uncertainty but to embrace it. The very moments of everyday perception are also simply intersections of a real materiality with my symbolic and imaginary processing engines making sense of them, down to the way that I understand what pleasure is and what pain is and when the two become too close so as to be confused. And a choice to not transform is of course still a choice to transform into a different state, as our bodies are all in permanent transition, aging, training, consuming, producing, perceiving, creating new folds in our craniums.

Becoming Dragon Day 6

Through this process, I am also becoming an artist. Yet this is simply another fantasy which I use to structure my desires and find direction. Artist, porn star, student, professor, father, mother, husband, wife, lover, child, priest, these are all simply performances of being, yet their being a performance makes them no less real, nor more real, just another fold in the swirling interplay, the kaleidoscope of realities that is our being.

A mixed reality performance using an online 3D virtual world simply highlights the fantasy nature of our everyday interactions, of the physical world, by referring back to the physical, stirring up our memories and conceptions of embodiment. A mixed reality performance is a misnomer, as every step of our waking lives is a mix of realities, our self-perceptions, muscle memory, proprioceptions, others’ perceptions of us, our perceptions of their perceptions of us as they look at us, or don’t, our understanding that we are walking, taking on a step, on a sidewalk, by a building. A mixed reality performance simply highlights this fact, or this fiction, and allows one to see and begin to question the mythopoetic structure of reality. While performance sought to get closer to the real, to escape mediation, I embrace the pleasure of bits projected on my skin and the flickering of digital lights in my eyes, of the simulacrum of my own fantasy which creates that same fantasy. The mixture of real and imaginary is more real for being so.

While one can draw one’s fantasy, or write it out in words, 3D virtual worlds bring us one step closer to seeing in front of our eyes the fantasy films which play behind our eyes, yet there are many more steps to bring us closer to dreams. In my dreams I smell, I feel my body in action, I have visceral emotions, yet software such as Second Life is far from emulating such unreal realities. Still, we can make steps closer to dreams, with motion capture, head mounted displays, tactile interfaces, wish pressure interfaces. I wish for another reality, the electricity on my skin changes, transferring the new desired location to the system, and the pressure interface responds, as my chair morphs from a car seat to a comfy recliner in my skybox…loading world…arriving.

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e) Information Deformation: akin to process centering, this Social Tesseraction involves a shift in the very definition of information:

Information may be defined as the characteristics of the output of a process, these being informative about the process and the input. This discipline independent definition may be applied to all domains, from physics to epistemology.”

These deformed systems of data are constantly in flux and available for perpetual revision. Examples include:

Users are able to simultaneously modify, update and adapt their input in real time:

This type of liminal practice results in a deformation of current information architectures. Although traditional information construction may be flexible over time, it still demands unitary data snapshots for knowledge formation. Deforming such data in real time acts to fundamentally alter meaning production. Socially structured input is the keystone of such a dynamic, perpetually fluctuating system:

Here the notion of Social Froth takes on a new level of importance: information becomes a constantly shifting construct with variable endpoints.  Rewiring information in such a way radically changes its cohesive nature. This in turn effects:

In this deformation system, facts can be reality-edited* in real time:

Information becomes pliable in ways that challenge the perceived authority of institutions. The concept of narrative deforms as:

Narrative progression repositions the representational towards the freeform [think: paidia as opposed to ludic]. An instance of this information deformation in action is troll play [or uncontrolled play]. A social example of troll play is found in the wiki Encyclopedia Dramatica which:

satirizes both encyclopedic topics and current events, especially those related to or relevant to internet culture. The wiki has been the subject of media attention given its focus on trolling and use of shock value, as well as its criticism of other Internet communities. It is also associated with the Internet subculture Anonymous.”

_Encyclopedia Dramatica_ – and the affiliated imageboard/meme propagation site 4chan - showcase the challenge faced by narrative frameworks.  Platforms like _Encyclopedia Dramatica_ encourage troll-based comedic intent. Users remix absurd, and sometimes taboo, content. In particular, invasion boards like _4chan_ utilize shock networking*: where social content attempts to subvert social codas through deliberate agitation. In comparison with established narrative conventions, platforms like _Encyclopedia Dramatica_ offer an experimental system which bypasses strict censorship and ethical constraints. These platforms cater for unfiltered interactions that operate via immediacy-of-response. They are highly idiosyncratic in execution and linguistic formation: censorship and moderation may be limited or non-existent. The output is propagative, with contributors encouraged to riff and rip-off, replace, and even delete content. Narrative is deformed beyond a sequential structure whereby the climax or pay-off event becomes the spectacle:

An example of such modification is Copypasta, which consists of repeatedly copying and pasting blocks of text designed to evoke a heightened emotional response:

A time-tested classic. This ending usually comes into play at the climax of a very troubling or exciting situation. Rather than resolve the story, one of the characters will abruptly say something to the effect of “I had Reese’s for breakfast.” At this point, the other character will completely forget about his/her worries and jump into the corresponding commercial dialogue, enamored by the peanut butter and chocolaty goodness that is Reese’s Puffs cereal. “It’s Reese’s… for breakfast!”"

_Copypasta_ derails notions of story or plot progression, resolution or dénouement. It embodies context-counteraction* and meme perpetuation. Dramatic intent shifts to reiterative moments containing affectivity spiking which ignores the rigors of institutionalized framing [think: morality, hierarchy or ownership]:

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f) Attribution Modding involves an extension of Stewart Brand’s iconic phrase “Information wants to be free” to “Identity wants to be freeform”. This category describes users focused on mobilization rather than individual recognition.  The group Anonymous* projects attribution modding via collusive identity constructions. The collective’s title is based on the method _4chan_ uses to brand all contributors “Anonymous” by default:

As making a post without filling in the “Name” field causes posts to be attributed to “Anonymous”, general understanding on 4chan holds that Anonymous is not a single person but a collective (hive) of users.”

Anonymous is a social-tesseractivist group who perform raid actions [think: the immediate action to halt the abuse of Dusty The Cat and Project Chanology's DDoS attacks]:

The collective broadcasts non-attribution ideologies where members are viewed as units of a social mechanism with a deemphasis on individual identification. Attribution modding illustrates the rise of collective identity cognizance and the accompanying shift from expert-centric disciplines.

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g) Decline of Silo Ghettos: as information deformation impacts knowledge formation, there’s an increasing need to provide social tesseractors with comprehensive dimensional engagement. This type of borderless interaction deforms monostreams into cross-channelled productions. Social tesseracts assist in addressing the somewhat restrictive walled garden approach to software and platform production [think: the frustration levels encountered whilst experiencing the locked door syndrome].

Google Wave is one system that removes such constraints and allows users to input directly into previously distinct arenas. Other instances of interoperable systems that require the reorientation of Information Silos:

  • augmented applications that encourage a pairing of geolocative and geophysical needs:

Information Deformation, Attribution Modding, and the Decline of Silo Ghettos are paradigm-shifting markers that highlight socially directed trends. One significant user-centric challenge involves ensuring a smooth migration into a Social Tesseracted future. Such transitions should lessen future shock and encourage a type of overlaid meta-comprehension which promotes the seamless recognition of synthetic conditions.

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* Shock networking, reality editing, context-counteraction and Anonymous will be discussed in upcoming augmentology entries.

Dimensionality is a concept that attempts to define reality through scientific framing. Dimensionality refers to the theoretical construction and quantification of fundaments. These fundaments, or dimensions, act to define the:

…parameterization of the conceptual or visual complexity of any geometric object. In fact, the concept can even be applied to abstract objects which cannot be directly visualized. For example, the notion of time can be considered as one-dimensional, since it can be thought of as consisting of only “now,” “before” and “after.” Since “before” and “after,” regardless of how far back or how far into the future they are, are extensions, time is like a line, a one-dimensional object.”

Just as the idea of dimensions can be applied to non-concrete elements in order to frame theoretical states:

…the principle can expand to encompass aspects of emergent social actions. These actions are evident in shifting social dimensions/states. These states [collectively termed "Social Tesseractions"] emerge from certain communication patterns displayed through synthetic interactions. If you’re a user of augmented technology in multiple forms [think: MMO/Mobile gaming, iPhone or Android apps and social networking sites] you will inevitably become part of engagement procedures that promote a type of “social froth”. This froth manifests via electronic gesturing:

These gestures are created through:

The important factor for both connection modes are the resultant patterns a user creates through social inscriptions/gestures:

These gestures create complex interpersonal streams that provoke additional connections and accompanying interactions. Sending remote tweets is considered an example of a synthetic interaction [via electronic gesturing]. As this incremental data melds with other user-streams and crossmodal platforms, aggregative patterns emerge. These combined patterns may be considered as a parameter space blueprint that produce, and are in turn produced by, synthaptic communication tides. Examples of such variables include information traffic patterns or “hot” social tracts [when certain users are active according to time zone variations].

Social Tesseractions assist in shaping contemporary notions related to Sociorelational information. Just as raw geophysical encounters evoke varying psychological and communicative responses [think: Communication Accommodation Theory], Tesseracting engenders similarly relevant synthetic loadings. In attempting to establish a conceptual structure surrounding Social Tesseractions, contemporary theorists display a pervasive tendency to shrink all synthetic interactions to a geophysical/biological endpoint. In order to establish whether Tesseraction can be considered a tangible phenomena, this assumed standard of endpoint interaction should shift from a reductionist angling towards more appropriate markers. These markers will be discussed in _Social Tesseracting: Part 2_.

Shok Antwerp Transforms

<cont>

The web was built on openness and designed from the ground up to enable sharing of code – view the source from early web pages for examples. Yet it seems that already Second Life content creators want strict restrictions on copying, even going so far as to support the DMCA. So, while the DMCA is decried in so many cases (such as the RIAA suing elderly women and children who don’t even own computers), Second Life content creators want to call upon it for protection. There are currently multitudes of useful business models built around open source and free sharing. Why do users of Second Life, who have the ability to create a new world and rethink the negatives associated with our geophysical one, want to rely on an obsolete notion of copy restriction? This acts to simulate the production of physically-templated objects instead of assisting in the understanding of new models which are based on (and flourish from) copying, sharing and building commons.

Ultimately, this is my argument: much like the alter-globalization movement wants to create a new world, an “other globalization” not based on corporate profit at the expense of the millions who are exploited, synthetic worlds present us with an opportunity to imagine and craft the kind of worlds in which we want to exist. While many argue that Second Life duplicates the problems of sexism, racism and homophobia that we see in the geophysical world, I would argue that we can’t ignore the way that corporations are shaping our synthetic environs.

Linden Labs are currently the ones responsible for offering new avatars birthed into a synthetic world that is bursting with potentialites. At present, these avatars have the choice of manifesting as Male or Female, City Chic or Clubber. Why aren’t Second Life standard avatars such as these included instead: Steamclock builder, Vampire Neko, Futanari and Transformer? Clearly, Linden Labs choose to please their conservative corporate customers by ensuring sexual standards conform along a traditional axis. If most of Second Life looks like a mall, perhaps that’s because the current system structure is constructed to maintain profitability from every Linden exchange in-world. Another crucial element of interoperability, it would seem, is an open money system. Where are the developers imagining new currency systems who were so active a few years ago? Where are all the offshore havens? It is the responsibility of the creators of, and those passionate about, synthetic worlds to act ethically in the construction of said worlds. Each user is responsible for the emergent system. In light of this, let’s start setting up those realXtend and OpenSim servers, working on the code for interoperable worlds, begin populating them and seeing what new creations and relations arise.
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Mitch Kapor’s keynote speech presents current users of virtual worlds as marginal people in a “frontier world” that should expect the strong hand of the law to intervene, where the 3D sheriff strides into town on his new mount. Kapor said: “in the earliest wave of pioneers in any new disruptive platform, the marginal and the dispossessed are over represented, not the sole constituents by any means but people who feel they don’t fit, who have nothing left to lose or who were impelled by some kind of dream, who may be outsiders to whatever mainstream they are coming from, all come and arrive early in disproportionate numbers…that sort of arduous frontier conditions really give these environments their charm and their character…that is going to make things challenging for people who feel that as the frontier is being settled and there is less novelty and in some senses less freedom, it is always an uneasy transition for the pioneers.” Kapor goes on to say: “It was the way the west in the U.S. was settled. It is the way Second Life has been settled” and that he endeavours to make virtual worlds operate “in a more decentralized kind of way, one that Thomas Jefferson, if he were around, would be proud of…”. I, for one, want to abandon the whole wild west metaphor in relation to synthetic worlds. I would also hope that the settling of Second Life doesn’t involve the killing of millions of indigenous people and would not make slave owners proud. I prefer instead to think of synthetic worlds as birthed arenas based on the gestation of code. These arenas will then develop through nourishment provided by hardware and user creativity. The kind of decentralization that synthetic environments need to ensure freedom and growth would scare the hell out of Thomas Jefferson.
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If the example of the web shows us anything, it is that users and developers can ensure some degree of freedom for the next few decades. While net neutrality threatens the future of that openness – as phone companies demand laws that guarantee the prevention of copyrighted films from being downloaded – new technologies like wireless mesh networks offer the possibility for hope. One of the most important and wonderful properties of the net is that problems are identified and routed around. It seems that synthetic worlds are at a point where some routing is necessary.