Plato’s Virtual Reality

From a Humanist note I came across the fine essay on virtual reality, The Promise and Disappointment of Virtual Reality. It starts and ends with Plato’s cave and the responsibility of those freed from the cave to go back in and help others. Alas the state of VR technology doesn’t yet seem good enough to free us from reality and in this case the reality of VR is the commercialism of it.

But Plato’s Cave presupposes that those freeing the prisoner from their chains to reveal the true nature of “reality” are altruistic in their intent—that the world being shown the freed prisoners is indeed the truth. It is an allegory that does not allow for the world as it is today, or the pervasive desire to escape it.

The continued commercial failure of VR may represent an unconscious resistance to jettisoning our connection to the real. Maybe we are waiting for that blockbuster game to drive mass-market appeal. Perhaps the technology simply is not good enough yet to simulate a truly authentic—and profitable—experience. In this sense we are trapped. We crave authenticity of experience but, despite the efforts of philosophers, authors and auteurs, our imaginations appear limited to what we can individually consume and identify with. While capitalism lumbers on, we cannot see anything but the shadows on the wall.

What is nice about this essay by Mark Riboldi is the tour of the history of virtual reality technologies and dreams. What he doesn’t talk about is the sense of disappointment when the first generation of VR didn’t live up to the hype. I remember in the 1990s believing in VR (and lecturing on it.) When it proved clunky and nausea-inducing I felt let down by technology. Perhaps I and others had dreamed too much into VR led on by novels like Neuromancer. I was convinced VR was the logical next thing after the GUI. We had gone from a one-dimensional calligraphic screen to a two-dimensional desktop … wasn’t the three-dimensional virtual world next?

It is also worth mentioning that there have been a number of people writing about gender differences in how VR technology affects us. See Closing the Gender Gap in Virtual Reality. The technology seems to have been designed for men and calibrated to the male experience of reality.

Hermeneutica, une expérience numérique de l’interprétation

Arianne Mayer has posted a thorough review of our book Hermeneutica on Sens Public under the title, Hermeneutica, une expérience numérique de l’interprétation (in French.) She notes the centrality of dialogue and in the spirit of dialogue ends with some good questions about silence to keep the dialogue going,

Pour continuer le dialogue, on gagnerait à faire converser Hermeneutica avec des théories de la lecture comme celle d’Umberto Eco ou avec l’esthétique de la réception, représentée par Hans Robert Jauss et Wolfgang Iser. Aux yeux d’Umberto Eco (Lector in fabula), il n’y a à interpréter que là où le texte se tait. Ce sont tous les lieux d’ambivalence, les propositions implicites et les vides de l’œuvre, suscitant la coopération d’un lecteur qui met du sien dans le texte pour combler les blancs, qui font le propre du fonctionnement littéraire. Wolfgang Iser (L’Appel du texte) affirme de son côté que, loin de déduire le sens d’une œuvre de ses mots les plus utilisés, « l’essentiel d’un texte est ce qu’il passe sous silence ».

How can we analyze the gaps, the silences, or that which has not been written?

Rez Infinite for the PS4

I finally got around to downloading and playing Rez Infinite on the PS4. This is an upgraded (hi-res) version of the original which SEGA released for the Playstation 2 and Dreamcast in 2001. The game is a beautiful rail shooter and a music game which produces trance like electronic music (and vibrations) as you play. There is a traveller mode where you don’t die and you can just make music and travel through the spaces. I found myself wanting to repeat levels to continue the beat.

The new 2016 version for the PS4 support VR (though I don’t have it). It also has an extra level called “Area X” which, while more sophisticated, lacks the charming Tron-like graphic imagination of the rest. It would be interesting to map all the references to Tron in Rez – it too places you as a hacker going through a computing landscape.

Polygon has a story on the Rez producer Tetsuya Mizuguchi on his return to music games. The story mentions a Synesthesia Suit (PDF) created to go with VR games like Rez Infinite. Below is a video from Siggraph 2016 to show (feel) of the suit’s capabilities. I’m intrigued by this intersection of art and game around music.

And here is link to a video showing the suit.

Geofeedia ‘allowed police to track protesters’

geofeedia
From the BBC a story about US start-up Geofeedia ‘allowed police to track protesters’. Geofeedia is apparently using social media data from Twitter, Facebook and Instagram to monitor activists and protesters for law enforcement. Access to these social media was changed once the ACLU reported on the surveillance product. The ACLU discovered the agreements with Geofeedia when they requested public records of California law enforcement agencies. Geofeedia was boasting to law enforcement about their access. The ACLU has released some of the documents of interest including a PDF of a Geofeedia Product Update email discussing “sentiment” analytics (May 18, 2016).

Frome the Geofeedia web site I was surprised to see that they are offering solutions for education too.

Stylometry

At the European Summer University in Digital Humanities 2016 I was luck to be able to attend some sessions on Stylometry run by Maciej Eder. In his historical review he mentioned people like Valla and Mendenhall, but also mentioned a fellow Pole, Wincenty Lutoslawksi whose book The origin and growth of Plato’s logic; with an account of Plato’s style and of the chronology of his writings (1897) is the first to use the term “stylometry”. Lutoslawski develops a Theory of Stylometry and reviewed “500 peculiarities of Plato’s style” as part of his work on Plato’s logic. The nice thing is that the book is available through the Internet Archive.

Eder has a nice page about the work he and ogthers in the Computational Stylistics Group are doing. In the workshop sessions I was able to attend he showed us how to set up and run his “stylo” package (PDF) that provides a simple user interface over R for doing stylometry. He also showed us how to then use Gephi for network visualization.

 

They know (on surveillance)

They know is a must see design project by Christian Gross from the Interface Design Programme at University of Applied Sciences in Potsdam (FHP), Germany. The idea behind the project, described in the They Know showcase for FHP, is,

I could see in my daily work how difficult it was to inform people about their privacy issues. Nobody seemed to care. My hypothesis was that the whole subject was too complex. There were no examples, no images that could help the audience to understand the process behind the mass surveillance.

The answer is to mock up a design fiction of an NSA surveillance dashboard based on what we know and then a video describing a fictional use of it to track an architecture student from Berlin. It seems to me the video and mock designs nicely bring together a number of things we can infer about the tools they have.

Past Visions

pastVisions

Past Visions: penned by Frederick William IV is a lovely visualization of hist historical sketches and doodles. The visualization has a rich prospect view where you see miniatures of all the sketches arranged over time. You can pan in and out or use the keywords to see subsets. There is information available about each sketch (in German.)

This visualization was developed by the research project VIKUS – Visualising Cultural Collections at the University of Applied Sciences Potsdam. Thanks to Johanna for introducing it to us.

Replication as a way of knowing in the digital humanities

Poster for Replication Talk
Poster for Replication Talk

At the end of April I gave a talk at the University of Würzburg on Replication as a way of knowing in the digital humanities. This was sponsored by the Dr. Fotis Jannidis who holds the position of Chair of computer philology and modern German literature there. He and others have built a digital humanities program and interesting research agenda around text mining and German literature. The talk tried out some new ideas Stéfan Sinclair and I are working on. The abstract read:

Much new knowledge in the digital humanities comes from the practices of encoding and programming not through discourse. These practices can be considered forms of modelling in the active sense of making by modelling or, as I like to call them, practices of thinking-through. Alas, these practices and the associated ways of knowing are not captured or communicated very well through the usual academic forms of publication which come out of discursive knowledge traditions. In this talk I will argue for “replication” as a way of thinking-through the making of code. I will give examples and conclude by arguing that such thinking-through replication is critical to the digital literacy needed in the age of big data and algorithms.

The Rise and Fall Tool-Related Topics in CHum

Tool Network Image
Tool network with COCOA selected

I just found out that a paper we gave in 2014 was just published. See The Rise and Fall Tool-Related Topics in CHum. Here is the abstract:

What can we learn from the discourse around text tools? More than might be expected. The development of text analysis tools has been a feature of computing in the humanities since IBM supported Father Busa’s production of the Index Thomisticus (Tasman 1957). Despite the importance of tools in the digital humanities (DH), few have looked at the discourse around tool development to understand how the research agenda changed over the years. Recognizing the need for such an investigation a corpus of articles from the entire run of Computers and the Humanities (CHum) was analyzed using both distant and close reading techniques. By analyzing this corpus using traditional category assignments alongside topic modelling and statistical analysis we are able to gain insight into how the digital humanities shaped itself and grew as a discipline in what can be considered its “middle years,” from when the field professionalized (through the development of journals like CHum) to when it changed its name to “digital humanities.” The initial results (Simpson et al. 2013a; Simpson et al. 2013b), are at once informative and surprising, showing evidence of the maturation of the discipline and hinting at moments of change in editorial policy and the rise of the Internet as a new forum for delivering tools and information about them.