|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, Â Here is the review of the Robot in the Garden (MIT PRESS, 2000) edited by Ken Goldberg. Â Have a look! Â Rhizome is the primary site for dialogue on net art:Review of "The Robot in the Garden" by Eugene Thacker (eugenethacker@HOTMAIL.COM)8.7.2000http://rhizome.org/object.rhiz?1811One 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 surroundingcomputer-mediated communication.