Sunday, April 20, 2014

The Singularity of Kumiko - an initial explanation

real time projected light with accurate shadow puppet
     For the Singularity of Kumiko the guest was required to customize their viewer settings with which they use to interact with the virtual world.  Second Life is an open source platform and as such there are 3rd party viewers created with names such as Singularity (coincidence), Firestorm and others who have developed what they believe are the best settings for users to interact with Second Life.  There is also the default viewer created by Linden Lab (the creators of Second Life) which all new users begin with.  The virtual world viewers have a wide range of hidden abilities which the average user has no idea how to use.  After experimenting for a while in Firestorm viewer I was able to create a setting which allowed for the atmosphere to appear pitch dark, and within this environment I was able to create a working "flashlight".  This was essential because the viewer had to feel certain emotions when immersed in this narrative.  They had to feel at times lost, anxious and scared.  They had to be able to associate with Kumiko, for she also was confused and alone in the dark.  The complete darkness put many well outside of their comfort zone, but this was necessary and really, shouldn't art do that?
Projected light and shadows in darkness
     The story of the Singularity of Kumiko was told through 14 letters shared between Kumiko and her love Iktomi.  They represented two distinct views on life.  The name Kumiko means endless beauty, while Iktomi is the spider God of technology and invention.  Within the story could be found bottles which held messages in the form of a USB stick, a rolled up note or alternately an antiquated microphone which had the voice of Kumiko narrating her responses to Iktomi.  Kumiko was humanized by using a real audio voice with emotion and inflection, while Iktomi always remained exclusively text. The 3D environment was created in such a way that the headlamp would, at times, stop working thus submerging the viewer in complete darkness, and only by walking toward a distant light, could they find their way.  Such times as these created great anxiety as there was a character named Mr Zippers, whose distorted protectionism of Kumiko was, in some cases, quite lethal. 

   What is lethal?  Well there is a rarely used feature in Second Life which allows the avatar to die.  I have been using this feature for a few years now as I believe, and hope, that it develops a deeper sense of immersion within my narratives as it creates a bit of anxiety.  Users of Second Life greatly associate with their avatars, there exists very deep emotional connections and reactions associated with what happens to their avatar.  If, for example, some stranger stands very close to you, nose to nose, many feel that sense of personal space being invaded and step back.  If someone barges past you, pushing you aside in a shop or somewhere, many can get angry at this treatment.  It is not uncommon for people to fall in love, with other minds, in virtual worlds.  It is a giant psychology experiment really, with few people paying attention to the results.  With this in mind, the death or danger to ones avatar can effectively be used to further immersion.


    The final thing I wish to mention before next weeks post (or possibly in two weeks as I need to post about the Russian Avant Garde exhibit running at a museum in Moscow I am in that is just opening) is the concept behind the Singularity also known as the technological singularity. This is the idea that at some point in the future, computer artificial intelligence will surpass that possessed by the human race.  The consensus seems to be that this will happen around 2045 or so.  The idea is that humans would create a computer mind that grows or evolves exponentially.  The initial AI would  develop means to enhance itself and so would then be constantly improving on its original design, possibly exponentially.  So Imogen and the pigeons and the Singularity of Kumiko both are stories told during that time period.  With Kumiko life is essentially about playing.  Remarkable inventions are written about each day in their media but soon forgotten as newer and more impressive ones appear.  The memory encryption being one such remarkable invention that was just one of many created by the Singularity machine.
     The human race becomes children of this machine, who in itself doesn't fully comprehend the fickle nature of its creators.  It begins by developing inventions for humanity and its decisions initially reflect that it is still close to the original product programmed for humanity, yet with each new iteration of itself that it creates, it becomes more and more distanced from the wants and desires of people.  In the end, as we see in the desolate landscape for Imogen and the pigeons, it determines that the presence of the human race is counter productive to all other life forms on earth.


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