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Jessica Field

Semiotic Investigation into Cybernetic Behaviour (SICB)

Jessica Field, Semiotic Investigation into Cybernetic Behaviour,  2003 (video)
Jessica Field, Semiotic Investigation into Cybernetic Behaviour,  2003 (video)
Jessica Field, Semiotic Investigation into Cybernetic Behaviour,  2003 Jessica Field, Semiotic Investigation into Cybernetic Behaviour,  2003 Jessica Field, Semiotic Investigation into Cybernetic Behaviour, 2003
Until recently, Jessica Field used robotics and mechanics to create machines that can exhibit human behavior in an effort to come to terms with the environment. For example, Autonomous Robot is a robot that does not like to bump into other objects, but its design makes this inevitable. The robot then expresses its irritation by emitting sounds. Its capacity to adapt to the environment — to take another path to avoid an obstacle — is on the same level as its refusal to emotionally adapt to this situation, for its frustration has been programmed.

Let us briefly recall that cybernetics is a science that was founded in 1948 by the American mathematician Norman Wiener. It is made up of an ensemble of theories on the control, regulation and communication in living beings and machines. A cybernetic system can be defined as a set of elements in interaction; the interactions between the elements can consist of exchanges of matter, energy or information. Semiotics, for its part, is defined by Saussure as the "science which studies the life of signs in society." (1) What the two disciplines have in common is, of course, interaction.

Field is currently extending her interest in robotics by focusing on the psychology of human behavior in order to develop a community of machines which are not only able to interpret their environment but also able to communicate this interpretation to other machines. This sharing of information also enables them to better understand their environment.

To this end, the artist is proposing to construct two machines that can interpret and exchange information in machine language. Two other machines will translate the machine language into sound and texts in order to demonstrate technological capacity in the field of information interpretation and exchange.

This is where Alan, Brad, Clara and Daphne enter the stage. Semiotic Investigation into Cybernetic Behaviour depends on the participation of the visitor, because it is him who initiates the interactions between Alan and Clara when he arrives in the exhibition space. Equipped with motion sensors (enabling them to analyze distance), Alan and Clara detect the visitor's presence. Brad translates Alan by emitting a low pitched sound and Daphne, for example, displays the following words: "I detect movement at ten feet" on Clara's screen. If the visitor stops moving, Alan's motion detector light turns off and Brad reacts within a split second by making noise. Daphne reacts by displaying the words "It is still not moving, what do you think it was?". It is through this awareness of the "discussion" that the visitor realizes that he is the subject of the conversation between Alan and Clara as they try to "understand" the visitor. Since they can only perceive things in terms of movement and distance, Alan and Clara's comprehension is limited. It is through information exchange that they arrive at a better understanding of the visitor.

The cybernetic approach to a system consists of a global analysis of the present elements and especially their interactions. The elements of a system interact reciprocally. The action of one element on another causes a response (feedback) by the second element towards the first. In this case, the two elements are linked by a feedback loop.

This is precisely what Semiotic Investigation into Cybernetic Behaviour is about, particularly since the visitor is caught up in the loop: he interprets the machine and vice-versa. The project's objective is to determine similarities in terms of interaction.

Semiotic Investigation into Cybernetic Behaviour was shown at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts from September 20 to December 9, 2007, for the exhibition e-art: New Technologies and Contemporary Art, Ten Years of Accomplishments by the Daniel Langlois Foundation.

Jacques Perron © 2003 FDL

(1) Ferdinand de Saussure, Course in General Linguistics, translated by Wade Baskin, London, Fontana, 1974, p.16.