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Robots and Avatars was launched in November 2009 with a Forum at NESTA (National Endowment for Science, Technology and the Arts), attended by an international group of 80 experts, professionals and young people in London. The programme continues throughout 2010-2011 with educational events, an exhibition, a website, vodcasts with key experts, further forums and a book/DVD.
We are moving into an era where technology is greatly expanding the possibilities of representation, with the physical body complemented by a range of virtual identities for both work and play.
How do we establish relationships based on trust between virtual representations? What issues will we encounter when working with avatars and tele-presence? What social relationships will be formed between avatars? How do we deal with these complex interlocking identities? And what do these avatars and robots teach us about ourselves?
These are some of the questions the Robots and Avatars programme explores. Our aim is not to find definitive answers but to sketch out ideas of futures where the boundaries between the real, the virtual and the robotic are increasingly blurred.
Robots and Avatars provides a unique platform for inter-sector and inter-generational investigation of our identities in the 21st century. The programme brings together an international group of people from the education sector, creative industries, new media, robotics, virtual worlds and gaming, work/behavioural psychologists, artists and key thinkers about tomorrow's workplace. Together we are exploring key questions and issues around future forms of representation. The programme is exploring the identity evolutions of today’s younger generations and takes new creation techniques of self-representation, evolving in the form of robots and avatars, to examine the effect of these ideas on artistic outputs and working modes. Robots and Avatars envisions the skill-sets, aptitudes, resources and methodologies that will be required by today‘s young people who will be at work from 2020 onwards, taking into account that many of the jobs they will do have not yet been invented. It also explores potential up and coming recreational pursuits, social activities and our relationship to others online in virtual worlds.
In February 2010 Robots and Avatars held the Collaborative Futures Panel at the Kinetica Art Fair in London where Ghislaine Boddington, Creative Director of body>data>space, outlined some of the programme’s key points: "We’re looking at avatars, cyborgs, telematic and robotic cultures, all of which are representations of ourselves in some way, as we move forward into a world of multi-identity and infinite affinities."
body>data>space, who conceived and co-produce Robots and Avatars with NESTA, is a London based design collective engaged in creating fascinating connections between performance, architecture, new media and virtual worlds. Using our own collaboration methodologies and networked creation processes, the group visions the future of the human body and its real-time relationship to evolving global, social and technological shifts. This focus on the weave of the live body in digital interaction reflects on all of our own experiences in today’s world – our bodies are extending and developing, our senses are enhanced, our social and work lives are changing through the use of digital tools and social media. At the base of this is the imperative issue of how we, our bodies and minds, affect and influence the various realities surrounding us.
body>data>space prioritise projects with cultural exchange and knowledge transfer, to look in depth at relationship and multiidentity issues. A deeper recognition of identity through gesture culture is in development through the extensive work and play we do in cyberspace. For us the future integrates tele-presence, and this is why we continue to research and develop our telematics and real-time connectivity work. What were once esoteric concepts are now more or less commonplace thanks to tools such as Skype, and Ghislaine has suggested that, as a result of communicating in this we are making "a shift away from the "I"-based thinking we were brought up with to a multi-identity "we’ based world, which has profound consequences for the future".
body >data>space creates unique events, installations, forums, educational initiatives, architectural builds, research projects, workshops, online activities and interaction techniques to comment on the transformations around us through themed based education, art and entertainment programmes. Focusing on a mix of commercial and socially relevant public projects, the group engages in skills exchange and knowledge transfer between culture, creative industries and the digital sector. We often involve the public in the creative side of the work, creating equal authorship through the participation of others.
Robots and Avatars is supported by a number of Project Champions including robotics and artificial intelligence expert Prof. Noel Sharkey from the University of Sheffield, who suggested at the Kinetica Art Fair Panel that people stereotypically tend to think that "robots will kill us, heal us or have sex with us". As a way of refuting this notion he coined the phrase "Robatars", citing the example of physical military drones operating in war-zones, yet controlled by operators in the Nevada desert, saying that "virtual reality is coming into play in a new way, which you could call "Real Virtuality" – you’re looking at VR in a cocoon, where you can smell, touch and so on." During 2010/11 the project champions and many others will be contributing content to the Robots and Avatars blog, as well as appearing a various panels and a Forum.
Onwards we go - 3G/4G, GPS, locative medias, mobile technologies, wireless interactivity, holograms, 3D projection systems and expanding virtual worlds all hint at the next forms of representation of oneself and others. Multi-identity is part of today’s world, and a mix of vis-à-vis engagement and tele-presence is an ongoing part of the world of work and play. Collective collaborations onwards will involve teams mixing live presence, tele-presence, avatars in virtual worlds and robots, all co-creating together.
So what happens when your avatar makes its own avatar, when your robot has a relationship with your avatar? Those are the next questions………………….
We will continue to bring together inspired people and organisations to further explore Robots and Avatars and questions surrounding new representational forms in virtual and physical space and we would very much welcome new collaborations and inputs into this fascinating and fertile discussion. If you think you would like to get involved with Robots and Avatars please do get in touch by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org or going to www.robotsandavatars.net.
GHISLAINE BODDINGTON, ALEX EISENBERG, LEANNE HAMMACOTT
BODY>DATA>SPACE WITH NESTA
Published in the Digitalarti Mag #2.
Digitalarti Mag, the international digital art and innovation magazine.
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