Digital Storytelling, Science, and Society
A new project funded by the National Science Foundation uses the interactive nature of digital narrative to invite deeper conversations about creativity and responsibility.
- Dec 11 2015Total Recall Double Feature 6:00pm
- Jan 28 2016Science Fiction TV Dinner: Starships from the 1970s 6:00pm
Annual Report 2014-2015October 30, 2015
Clockwork Conversation: Not Everything Could Be Half of SomethingOctober 29, 2015
In 1562, Don Carlos, the seventeen-year-old heir apparent to the Spanish throne, falls down a flight of stairs. Tragically, he sustains a terrible head wound. HisOctober 29, 2015 Corey Pressman
In 1562, Don Carlos, the seventeen-year-old heir apparent to the Spanish throne, falls down a flight of stairs. Tragically, he sustains a terrible head wound. His father, King Philip II, orders physicians to attempt every available cure. Nothing works – not the birthwort powder applied to the skull, not the mixture of turpentine and egg yolk to the lips. What to do?
Philip turns to religion. Monks bring in the physical remains of a deceased member of their order: the holy Brother Diego de Alcalá. This is a century after Diego died, a decade before he was sainted, and forty years before San Diego, California was named after him. The monks lay the remains beside the suppurating, head-swollen Don Carlos. Desperate and distraught, Philip promises God a miracle in exchange for a miraculous recovery. The deal is accepted; Don Carlos is up and about the very next day, telling of fever-vision conversations with a monk. It is clear to all involved what has occurred. The king must now keep his side of the bargain – he owes God a miracle.
Philip commissions Juanelo Turriana, noted maker of clocks and automatons, to create his gift for God: a wood and iron mechanical monk. The monk is an automaton and, once wound up, moves about nearly on its own. Remarkably, this thing survives and today lives at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History. Here he is doing his thing:
This fifteen-inch masterpiece goes through the motions of penitence: the robomonk beats his chest, bows his head, rolls his eyes, kisses his cross, and shuffles to and fro. Philip II has fulfilled his promise with the ultimate votive offering – the gift of perpetual prayer.
The monkbot’s clockwork prayer derives its religious and sociological power from the magical dimension of mechanical repetition. This is the power source of the Catholic rosary, Bhakti yoga japa beads, Tibetan prayer wheels, and shamanic drumming. The automaton’s prayers are formally correct and therefore technically effective. Philip’s gift to God was, indeed, a steady stream of supplication – so long as the little guy is occasionally rewound.
As a very early immigrant from the uncanny valley, the thing is a spectacle – then and now. An engineering miracle and an engineered miracle, this particular automaton skirts the border between science, magic, and theatre. And as with all mimics, puppets, and other moving simulacra, we wonder at the technique of the illusion while also getting lost in the performance. It’s not real; it’s real.
But does it have soul? Does it touch the divine and sublime on Philip’s behalf? Do the mechanical monk’s prayers count as prayer? And if so, for whom? The king? Juanelo Turriana? The beholder? The monk itself? Is a good mimic good enough?
I don’t know.
Automata have come a long way. No longer an obscure curiosity of the clockmaker’s art, human mimics move through our lives most every day. The artificial intelligences of the internet, chatbots, self-aware robots, and smart cars are far more central to our daily lives than was any gear-driven doll in the sixteenth century. A Bloomberg report earlier this week about Google’s dedication to AI underscores the business giant this technology has become.
It takes more than being intelligent, however, to truly mimic humanity. Due to its awkward immediacy, the automaton monk may in fact be creepier than the Facebook News Feed Algorithm. Set up computer intelligence to do something more tangibly human, however, and the uncanny flag unfurls. For example, watch this video of two Cleverbot chatbots conversing with one another using real language:
Their conversation takes me right back to the mechanical monk (who was, admittedly, better dressed than these business-attired avatars). There are times in this video when I am truly gobsmacked. “Not everything could be half of something” and “don’t you wish you had a body” – these novel expressions are haunting. The conversation among the bots is, frankly, as deep and confusing as one I may have on any given day.
So, have the Cleverbot clockmakers crafted a thinking and speaking machine? Is language really just this? The syntax and diction are correct. The mechanics of conversation are present, or at least seem to be.
While watching this, I am always aware of the engineered nature of the thing. I know it’s a puppet. But it’s conversing! Right? It’s not real; it’s real.
But does it have soul? Do its words and phrases count as expressive speech? And if so, for whom? The engineers? The beholder? Cleverbot itself? Is a good mimic good enough?
I don’t know.
But I suspect not. With both the Diego bot and the Cleverbot, there is something that feels out of place, or not in place at all. In both cases, the ghost in the machine is not a ghost at all, but a human touch. While they’re clearly amazing and magical in their way, they lack the mundane magic at the core of actual vitality. But is approximation enough? Not everything could be half of something. Right?
Corey Pressman is the Director of Experience Strategy at Neologic, a member of CSI’s Imaginary College, and the director of Poetry for Robots, a digital humanities experiment that is trying to teach poetry and human metaphors to robots and computers.
Using digital storytelling to grapple with scientific progressOctober 16, 2015
Researchers at Arizona State University have received a four-year, $3 million grant from the National Science Foundation to use the interactive, engaging nature of digital narratives to invite deeper conversations about questions of scientific creativity and responsibility.October 16, 2015 Joey Eschrich
This story was originally published at ASU News.
How can we come to terms with the complex social impact of new research in cutting-edge fields like synthetic biology, tissue engineering, robotics, and artificial intelligence?
To manage the transformations driven by these innovations, people must understand science, technology, and their social consequences while also mastering a new set of digital skills that enable them to share their ideas and shape our collective understanding of science and society.
Researchers at Arizona State University have received a four-year, $3 million grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) to use the interactive, engaging nature of digital narratives to invite deeper conversations about questions of scientific creativity and responsibility. The project, “Increasing Learning and Efficacy about Emerging Technologies through Transmedia Engagement by the Public in Science-in-Society Activities,” unites the Center for Science and the Imagination, the School for the Future of Innovation in Society, and the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering in creating a set of integrated activities to help people explore the effects of scientific and technological change on societies and cultures in new hands-on, interactive ways.
“From Star Trek to the ever-expanding Lego universe, we’ve come to expect our most exciting stories to unfold across novels, video games, the silver screen and a host of other media. This project asks if we can use that phenomenon — which we call ‘transmedia storytelling’ — to deepen public engagement on crucial questions at the intersection of science and society,” says Ed Finn, director of the Center for Science and the Imagination (CSI) and the lead investigator on the project.
The project, is funded through NSF’s Advancing Informal STEM Learning program. It will build on themes of human creativity, societal responsibility and scientific ethics as first presented in Mary Shelley’s classic novel Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus, which will be celebrating the 200th anniversary of its publication in 2018.
This project will be a major component of ASU’s Frankenstein Bicentennial Project, which encompasses a diverse array of public events, research projects, scientific demonstrations, competitions, festivals, physical and digital exhibits, and publications exploring Frankenstein’s colossal scientific, technological, artistic, and cultural impacts. The bicentennial celebration will last from 2016—the 200th anniversary of the “dare” on the shores of Lake Geneva in Switzerland that gave rise to the story—to 2018, the anniversary of the novel’s publication. ASU will act as a network hub for the global celebration of the bicentennial, encouraging and coordinating collaboration across institutions and among diverse groups worldwide.
“No work of literature has done more to shape the way people imagine science and its moral and social consequences than Frankenstein,” says Dave Guston, director of ASU’s new School for the Future of Innovation in Society (SFIS) and a co-investigator on the project. “The novel, along with its many adaptations in film, theatre, and art, continues to influence the way we confront new technologies, imagine the motivations and ethical struggles of scientists, and weigh the benefits of innovation with its unforeseen pitfalls.”
Plans for the grant-funded project include:
- A digital museum that will feature collections from a broad range of museums and science centers about Frankenstein and science-in-society topics, which will enable members of the public to create and share their own virtual exhibits.
- “Frankenstein’s Footlocker,” a tabletop kit that will be distributed to museums and science centers that will contain experiments, crafting, problem-solving and storytelling activities that explore “Frankensteinian” emerging technologies like artificial intelligence, synthetic biology, robotics, and bioengineering and connect them to social and ethical issues.
- “Frankenstein’s Workbench,” a set of hands-on maker challenges and competitions that encourage members of the public to build their own monsters with tools ranging from cutting-edge 3-D printers to traditional methods like sculpting, woodworking, drawing, and painting.
The grant, part of NSF’s Advancing STEM Learning program, seeks to advance new approaches to the design and development of STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) learning in informal environments outside of traditional classrooms like museums, libraries, community centers, indoor and outdoor public spaces, and digital spaces.
ASU’s research team, led by Finn, includes Ruth Wylie, assistant director of CSI and assistant research professor in the Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College; Rae Ostman, associate research professor at SFIS; Steve Gano, adjunct at SFIS and principal at Object Cult; Micah Lande, assistant professor in the Polytechnic School of the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering; and Guston as co-investigators. Other senior personnel include Darlene Cavalier, professor of practice at SFIS; Michael Simeone, director of ASU’s Nexus Lab; and Mark Tebeau, associate professor in the School of Historical, Philosophical and Religious Studies.
Current collaborators in the study include The Rosenbach of the Free Library of Philadelphia and The Bakken Museum in Minneapolis, along with the Museum of Science, Boston. The project will ultimately engage over 50 institutional partners, ranging from museums and science centers to libraries and archives. A diverse board of advisors includes representatives of top science and learning institutions such as the New York Public Library, the J. Craig Venter Institute, the Arizona Science Center, the Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh, and Princeton University.
In contributing to the digital museum, The Bakken Museum “will create an online space for citizen-curators to interact and build exhibits offering many different views on Frankenstein — from the literary to the scientific to the artistic — wherever imagination takes them,” says Juliet Burba, chief curator. “We are very excited to partner with ASU in the study because of our rich Mary Shelley and Frankenstein-related collections. We are equally excited that the public will be able to contribute to the project by offering their own unique perspectives on human creativity, societal responsibility, and the challenges that come with scientific advancements and technological change.”
In parallel, The Bakken is developing a physical exhibition titled Mary and Her Monster: Mary Shelley and the World that Created Frankenstein, which will open in fall 2016 and is funded by the Institute for Museum and Library Services. Visitors to the exhibition will explore Mary Shelley’s life and the many personal, literary, and scientific influences she drew on when she wrote Frankenstein.
The Rosenbach is also developing programs and an exhibition under the title Frankenstein, Dracula, and the Monster Within, funded separately by Philadelphia’s Pew Center for Arts & Heritage. With ASU’s collaboration, content from this exhibition will be digitized and contributed to the digital museum the project is creating.
“The Rosenbach will also host the ‘Frankenstein’s Footlocker’ and ‘Frankenstein’s Workbench’ as hands-on activities for our audiences in conjunction with our exhibition,” says Judy Guston, curator and director of collections. “As a literary museum, we plan to present a mix of objects familiar to our audiences, plus participatory activities and technologies, and ask related science-in-society questions that connect the past to our lives in the present. We hope that this combination will engage our audiences, creating a more informed discussion of the scientific issues that were raised when Frankenstein and Dracula were written in the 19th century, and those issues that continue to challenge us today.”Filed under: News and Tagged: Darlene Cavalier, Dave Guston, digital museum, Dracula, Ed Finn, Frankenstein, Frankenstein's Footlocker, Frankenstein's Workbench, Mark Tebeau, Micah Lande, Michael Simeone, Rae Ostman, Ruth Wylie, science-in-society, Steve Gano, The Bakken, The Rosenbach, transmedia storytelling
Science fiction anthology explores futures shaped by journeys through time and spaceOctober 8, 2015
Just in time for the United Nations’ World Space Week (October 4-10, 2015) comes Journeys through Time and Space, a new anthology of creative, thought-provoking visions of the future shaped by excursions through space and time, and into the labyrinthine caverns of the human mind.October 8, 2015 Joey Eschrich
This story was originally published at ASU News.
Humanity defines itself by its journeys.
Whether we’re crossing oceans, blasting off into space, migrating to distant unknown lands or pursuing voyages of discovery within our own minds, we learn about who we are and who we want to become by traversing space, time, and the imagination.
Just in time for the United Nations’ World Space Week (October 4-10, 2015) comes Journeys through Time and Space, a new anthology of creative, thought-provoking visions of the future shaped by excursions through space and time, and into the labyrinthine caverns of the human mind. The anthology is published by Arizona State University’s Center for Science and the Imagination (CSI), Intel’s Tomorrow Project, and the Society for Science & the Public.
“Every journey is a journey of the imagination. We travel in order to see the world in new ways, and in the process to understand ourselves in it a little better. This anthology is a dazzling series of expeditions into the future that aim to help us understand who, what, and where we are,” says Ed Finn, director of CSI, who co-edited the anthology with G. Pascal Zachary, a professor of practice at the School for the Future of Innovation in Society.
Journeys through Time and Space features 11 science fiction stories written by youth ranging in age from 13 to 25 — including entries from Nepal, Singapore and eight different U.S. states. It also includes an essay from planetary scientist Jim Bell, a professor in ASU’s School of Earth and Space Exploration, director of the NewSpace Initiative and president of The Planetary Society, the world’s largest public space advocacy organization.
Journeys is the fourth and final anthology in a series of books drawn from “The Future: Powered by Fiction,” a global competition that challenged young people to create science-based narrative visions of the future. The competition attracted hundreds of entries from 15 countries and 36 states in the U.S., plus Puerto Rico and the District of Columbia. All four volumes are free to download, read, and share at tomorrow-projects.com.
“These original and provocative writings highlight in fresh and original ways the two categories of human existence that follow — and lead us — wherever humans go,” says co-editor G. Pascal Zachary. “Space and time are both socially constructed in diverse ways by human communities. But these categories of existence — these parameters of our collective paradigms — never cease to both illuminate and shadow our pursuit of knowledge and a balanced life.”
October 8: Science Fiction TV Dinner features Star Trek, NASA astronaut, space industry expertSeptember 29, 2015
Arizona State University’s Center for Science and the Imagination and NewSpace Initiative will present the latest installment of the Science Fiction TV Dinner series on Thursday, October 8 at 5:30 pm at the Marston Exploration Theater on ASU’s Tempe campus.September 29, 2015 Joey Eschrich
Event features free food along with a screening of Star Trek: The Original Series and expert panelists
Arizona State University’s Center for Science and the Imagination and NewSpace Initiative will present the latest installment of the Science Fiction TV Dinner series on Thursday, October 8 at 5:30 pm at the Marston Exploration Theater on ASU’s Tempe campus.
The event, focused on the classic television series Star Trek: The Original Series, will feature Scott Parazynski, ASU’s University Explorer, former NASA astronaut, and Mount Everest climber, alongside Marcy Steinke, a retired Air Force Colonel, former Director of the White House Operations Directorate under Presidents Bush and Obama, and Senior Vice President of Government Relations at DigitalGlobe, a leading provider of high-resolution satellite images of Earth. The event is part of ASU’s celebration of World Space Week (October 4-10), an annual international celebration of space science and technology coordinated by the United Nations.
The event is free and open to the public, with reservations requested through asustartrek.eventbrite.com. Dinner and beverages, including a vegetarian option, will be provided for free to the first 150 attendees.
Before the event, at 4:30 pm, the NewSpace Initiative will host a public reception with light refreshments in the Interdisciplinary Science and Technology Building IV (ISTB4) lobby.
The Science Fiction TV Dinner series is a launch pad for imaginative conversations about science, technology, art and society. Founded in 2012, the series has developed an enthusiastic following at ASU and beyond, providing the opportunity for people of all ages and backgrounds to come together, learn, and explore visions of the future in an entertaining and informal setting. Previous events have featured popular science fiction shows such as The Walking Dead, Star Trek and The Jetsons.
This installment of the series will feature a screening of “The Trouble with Tribbles,” a canonical episode of Star Trek: The Original Series that premiered in 1967. The episode features furry, unforgettably-adorable little creatures (the titular “tribbles”) and explores issues of interplanetary commerce and foreign policy relations between humans and other species expanding throughout the cosmos.
Following the screening, Center for Science and the Imagination director Ed Finn will moderate a conversation with Parazynski and Steinke, drawing on their expertise in space science and exploration and examining the scientific, technological, and cultural aspects of the episode.
“The Science Fiction TV Dinner series uses compelling stories as a gateway to important issues in science and technology as well as ethics and society,” says Finn. “I’m excited to delve into the imagination and artistry that goes into creating Star Trek’s vision of the future, and to use this classic episode as a starting point for thinking about the economic and political aspects of a spacefaring future for humans.”
For more information, visit asustartrek.eventbrite.com.
Media contact: Joey Eschrich
The Internet of Slow ThingsSeptember 21, 2015
Higher education is obsessed with 3-D printing. Makerspaces and fab labs are sprouting like extruded weeds on college campuses, and everyone from business school deans to librarians are asking how 3-D printing and fabrication can be implemented in teaching.September 21, 2015 Ed Finn
By Ed Finn
Higher education is obsessed with 3-D printing. Makerspaces and fab labs are sprouting like extruded weeds on college campuses, and everyone from business school deans to librarians are asking how 3-D printing and fabrication can be implemented in teaching. It’s a compelling vision: With rapid prototyping we can create a physical version of any object we can imagine, encouraging students to combine design, critical thinking, and STEM (or is it STEAM?) skills as they remake the world.
The problem is, 3-D printing takes a really long time. The low- and mid-range printers that most students will encounter in their school facilities take hours to produce even small objects, and they usually use just one kind of material (typically a plastic that the printer head can melt and then deposit in carefully planned layers of material). In my home department at Arizona State University, the School of Arts, Media and Engineering, we have an amazing fabrication lab with multiple printers, laser cutters, and other devices, but every semester it’s the same story. Assigning my class of 40 students to produce something on the printer means 40 print jobs that each might take hours to complete. And that’s assuming that students who have never used these tools before came up with a design that’s actually going to work on the first try. (It usually doesn’t.)