Marina Grzinic on Tue, 15 Aug 2000 08:48:11 +0200

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Syndicate: Grzinic FWD:Review of The Robot in the Garden - Rhizom

Dear Syndalists, 
Here is the review of the Robot in the Garden (MIT PRESS, 
2000) edited by Ken Goldberg.
Have a look!
Rhizome is the primary site for dialogue on net art:Review of 
"The Robot in the Garden" by Eugene Thacker (eugenethacker@HOTMAIL.COM)8.7.2000 
of the common dissatisfactions with interactivity on the Web isthat 
telepresence is not, well, presence. Certainly some of the moreinteresting 
new media projects have deconstructed our assumptionsconcerning presence and 
the sense of "really" being there. But, whenit comes down to it, 
we are faced with the experience that you and Iin our separate 
computer-hovels chatting over CU-SeeMe, is not thesame as you and I having 
drinks in a cozy bar. This difference hasprompted talk of a qualitative 
difference between two essentiallydifferent modes of communication and 
interaction, each contingent upona variety of factors (technology, class, 
cultural difference, race,geography, language, etc.). The "noise" 
that often comes through isnot just technical, but can also be 
social.Part of the problem of computer-mediated communication has to do 
withthe status of the body in the interaction--or rather, the state 
of"embodiment." We all want our communication and interactions to 
be astransparent as possible, and there is a sense in which 
physicalpresence plays an important part in giving us that feeling 
ofauthenticity, of transparency. But how do we address the importance 
ofembodiment when dealing with technologies such as the Web?This is 
one of the main questions in Ken Goldberg's new anthology,"The Robot in 
the Garden: Telerobotics and Telepistemology in the Ageof the Internet" 
(MIT Press, 2000) Using the term "telepistemology" totalk about 
how knowledge is transmitted, produced, and circulated onthe net, Goldberg 
has assembled a collection of different perspectiveson tele- robotics, as 
both a technological and a culturalissue. Roughly divided into three 
sections (the philosophy oftelepistemology, tele-robotic art, and the 
engineering oftele-robotics), "The Robot in the Garden" covers a 
wide range ofmaterial, from Thomas Campanella's essay on webcams, to Martin 
Jay'sessay on time-delay and light-speed, to art- based 
"dialogicaltelepresence" (Eduardo Kac's term), to the engineering 
oftele-robotics interfaces in the essay by Michael Idinopulos. Eachpiece 
brings up, from its own perspective, the issue of how theintersection of 
communication and control can produce forms ofknowledge, agency, 
authenticity, and meaningful interaction.While the various essays are 
interesting on their own, "The Robot inthe Garden" is strongest 
when essays are linked together. Forinstance, philosopher Hubert Dreyfus' 
accounts of phenomenologicalapproaches to cognition (opposed to Descartes' 
classical dividebetween mind and body) forms a strong foundation for John 
Canny andEric Paulos' essay on the design of unique, 
"tele-embodied" systemsfor human-to-human tele- robotic 
interaction. Similarly, artist andcritic Marina Grzinic's elaboration of 
net-based time-delay andBenjamin's notion of "aura" forms an 
interesting dialogue to AlbertBorgmann's sharp distinctions between 
"promixal" or real space and"mediated" 
space.Blake Hannaford's history of telerobotics is perhaps the 
mostfascinating piece in the collection. It supplements the 
book'sphilosophical reflections with hard, technical details. 
Hannaford'sdiscussion of tele-robotics research in terms of energetics 
transfer,time-delay, degree of control, and system stability takes 
oninteresting resonances when considered in political terms. 
LevManovich's essay is similar, especially when he discusses 
telepresencenot as image- deception but as "acting over distance. In 
real time."For Manovich, telepresence is actually about the negation of 
presence,or better, the banalization of presence: "the essence of 
telepresenceis that it is antipresence. I don't have to be physically 
present in alocation to affect reality at this 
location."Although "The Robot in the Garden" does not 
contain texts on specificreal-world uses of tele-robotic technology (for 
instance, the MarsSojourner, hazardous waste sites, deep-sea excavation, or 
tele-roboticsurgery; most of the examples come from art), it does 
provideimportant epistemological questions for understanding this 
latestaddition to Web technology, showing how the cultural and 
thetechnological are both implicated in the ambiguities