1st Colloquium on the Law of Transhuman Persons in Florida

Moot Court Hearing On The Petition Of A Conscious Computer

Ray Kurzweil runs a terrific web site on artificial intelligence and other matters related to technology and society. He recently provided the transcript of the court hearing on whether a conscious computer should be treated as a person.

This issue has been raging for some time. It reached its apogee with the discussion about whether "Deep Blue" the computer that (who?) beat Gary Kasparov was actually intelligent. IBM has some wonderful research on this available here.

"We have a petition by BINA48, an intelligent computer, to prevent its owner and creator, Exabit Corporation, from either turning off its power, or if it turns off its power, from reconfiguring it; and BINA48 doesn't want that to happen."

Machines attract and repel us. Although human beings are surrounded by many different machines and rely on them everyday, our culture views them with a great deal of skepticism . At the same time, the desire to automate the world we live in and efforts to link humans and machines have always been a part of the arts, sciences and mythology and have been foundational to the cultural and economic development of Western societies. Automation brings with it many attendant dangers including the assumption, if not the reality that humans no longer control their own destiny. If the interactions were between nature and humans, then this loss of control would be expected. For example, you might anticipate a tornado or a hurricane, but you cannot control them. The fact is that virtual spaces are cultural and technological and are therefore subject to different rules than nature. They are artificial constructs. It seems clear however, that the conventional meaning of artificial will not suffice to explain autonomous processes that build microscopic and macroscopic worlds using algorithms that often develop far beyond the original conceptions of their progenitors. We may be in need of a radical revision of what we mean by simulation and artificiality because of the ease with which digital machines build complex non-natural environments. (From "How Images Think")

Speech presented at the 77th Graduation Ceremony of Emily Carr Institute

Honoured guests, Dr. George Pederson, Chair of the Board of Governors, members of the Board, Graduates, Faculty, Staff, Families and Friends, today I will speak to you about some of the challenges that we will all face in the near future and the crucial role that the graduates from this institution will play in the future well-being of our society and of Emily Carr Institute.

This is my tenth graduation ceremony since being appointed President in 1996. Each year is different and each year is special. Each year we celebrate your achievements and your successes. It is always a humbling experience for me and I hope for all of you. Over the last ten years 2800 hundred students have graduated from Emily Carr. Since 1929, 7500 students have graduated from our great institution. In other words, 81 years after our founding, over 37 percent of our graduates have come through Emily Carr during the last ten years.

Before I begin my formal speech, I want to take a moment to honour someone whom many of you have met. Rick Robinson has been working at Emily Carr since the early 1970’s and since 1974 as a core member of our technical staff. If you have ever gone into the wood workshop in the North Building, then you have met Rick. This is a man whose dedication to the job, to the Institute and to students has been total — a dedication that goes far beyond conventional norms and expectations. Rick is a gentle, wonderful person whose contribution to Emily Carr has been so very profound. Today, we are going to honour Rick with a certificate of achievement and by permanently establishing an entrance scholarship in his name. The Rick Robinson Entrance scholarship will pay the full fees of an incoming domestic student and is our way of saying thank-you to someone who has done so much for so many generations of students and who is a crucial part of the very fabric of our institution.


On the Future…
“Sometimes there are moments in human history that seem to beckon awakenings. They perturb us to reevaluate our beliefs, assumptions, and reigning cultural stories. They challenge us to synthesize and integrate seemingly disparate forms of knowledge into new relationships, new patterns, and new theories. They invite us to invent new language, new rules, and new structures. They call us to create and live into new stories of possibility. These moments grace us with enlightened insights and more soulful understanding. They fill us with wonder and amazement. They open us to life and to the invitation to reclaim the fire and light that resides within us all to change the world.

(Stephanie Pace Marshall)

Stephanie Pace Marshall who wrote those words is one of America’s most important educational leaders. Her words are very important in the context of this ceremony. As graduates of Emily Carr you will encounter a series of moral and ethical issues and challenges that will test not only the education that you have had, but also your ability to respond quickly and sensibly to dramatic change at the social, cultural and political level. Soulful understanding connects you to your role as both artist and citizen, as designer and citizen, and as media creator and citizen. We carry many labels in our lives but none is more important than the label of citizen and with that label come many responsibilities including a passion for the social good, an understanding of and compassion for those less fortunate than us and a desire to contribute to the well-being of our society.

One of your most important challenges will be to make the environment for living and working in our society a more humane one and it will be your creativity, your knowledge and your sensitivity to invention and innovation that will mark you and also separate you from other post-secondary graduates.

In this, the sixth year of a new century, your skills in advancing and widening the role of the arts as an integral part of our social fabric and as a powerful catalyst in shaping the life of our local, national and global communities will be crucial not only to your well-being but to the well-being of the planet.

You are our greatest asset. You represent the living memories of the learning experiences at Emily Carr Institute, the continuity and connections between generations and the future of the institution as well as the future of the arts.

As Emily Carr moves into its next phase with graduate programs, a joint degree with the University of Northern British Columbia and the opening of our new research studio, Intersections Digital Studio of Art, Design and Media, we invite you to stay connected with us and to always feel that we are part of your extended family.

What do you take from this place? A grad project, stories, friendships, memories? Learning cannot be quantified. Hopefully you have learned some lessons about how to overcome hurdles, how to take on a challenge and succeed, how to better understand the story of your life and how to be sensitive to the stories of others. You will have brought poetry and imagination to your learning, new vision and the sense that the creative spirit cannot and should not be kept at bay. Hopefully, you will have learned how to channel your ideas into material forms but never at the cost of the passion that you have for experimentation. Some things cannot be expressed and some projects cannot fully represent the depth and complexity of your initial impulses. But, you are also part of a time when conventional notions of art, audience and display are undergoing fundamental change. It is no longer that simple to see oneself as an isolated creator. For better or worse, you are part of a growing cultural space that more and more people are noticing. You are a generation that will have a voice and with that comes even greater responsibilities to your families and to your communities.

My challenge to you is to always remember the institution that you have come from and to integrate your learning into the values of your life and to never forget that as holders of degrees from an Art and Design school, your mission is to bring the light and fire of creativity to the everyday lives of people in your communities, to inspire and be inspired, to challenge and be challenged, to create and promote and support the arts.

I will end with a quote from William Allen White who was one of the great journalists of the early 20th century:

"About all that a grad speaker can do for his auditors is to turn their faces around. He looks back upon the world as he thinks it was. Then he considers the world as he thinks it is. Finally in his receding perspective he discloses the pictured phantasm which he hopes will be the future. Thereupon his listeners may see mirrored in the gloss of his picture the world which they think they will make. It is a pleasant exercise.


The Practice of Interdisciplinarity in Design and New Media (Final)

Please refer to the last three entries for the context for this series.

The NewMic collaboration began with two major reference points, Palo Alto and MIT’s Media Lab. Again, this was not unusual. Other projects in Montreal, Melbourne, Dublin and Germany referred to and attempted to reflect the successes of MIT and Xerox. In the beginning the mandate of NewMic was described as follows:

To accomplish its mission, NewMIC is focused on the following objectives:

• Attracting and retaining outstanding faculty and graduate and undergraduate students in new media research and in art and design areas.
• Building excellence in new media innovation.
• Creating more skilled IT staff and industry clusters.
• Developing better industry-university-institute collaboration for the purposes of technology transfer.
• Encouraging the transfer and commercialization of technology through incubation support.
• Attracting more venture capital to the new media industry. (March 2001)

The industrial design component was incorporated into the vision by default under the rubric of New Media. This proved to be an error because so much of New Media is driven by the cross disciplinary relationship among interface design, product design and inclusive design. Ultimately, the goal was to frame the experience of users of New Media within a product-oriented set of research pursuits. Ironically, so many of the lessons that designers have learned over the last two decades, the importance of detailed ethnographic inquiry, the need to think about the relationship between product and user, the flexibility that is necessary to make interfaces work for many diverse constituents, the fact that design is really about people. See a recent speech by Dr. Stefano Marzano, CEO & Chief Creative Director, Philips Design and the knowledge that inclusivity cannot be attained without understanding how people live, was not directly applied to the research in New Media.

The emphasis on innovation, technology transfer and commercialization, although necessary, cannot be accomplished in a context that is entirely oriented towards applied research with short timelines. This is a conundrum because it is completely understandable that industry would want to see some results from their investment, but the essence of collaboration is that it takes time. In fact, one of the crucial lessons of the NewMic experience is that developing designs that are environmentally sensitive and inclusive requires not only that people from different disciplines participate, but that time be given over to the development of shared communities of interest. Interdisciplinarity is as much about a coming together as it is about recognizing differences.

Here are some examples of the discussions that were held on various projects:

Scenario 1:

Setting: World Trade Organization demonstrations in Seattle
Technology: Wireless devices
1. Two organizers need to stay in constant contact. They need to gain access to information quickly and efficiently.
2. Their wireless devices have to have access to a mapping program that allows them to constantly track each other,
3. They run into unexpected problems including some demonstrators destroying public property, additional police blockades and more passive demonstrators who want to march peacefully but find themselves caught up in the action.


1. Telephonic
2. Exchange of information
3. Mapping
4. Ability to connect to other organizers
5. Ability to send video images quickly to confirm events
6. Ability to allow other organizers to join their private network
7. Ability to gather in snippets of news broadcasts for additional overviews of the information
8. Instant messaging
9. Use of icons to show location and intention

The distance between the devices determines connectivity and peering relationships are established and can change as circumstances permit. An important feature would have to be the ability to identify hostile as well as friendly “connects.��?

Living Archive:

The living archive becomes an adaptable software component of P2P. As the demonstrations develop, the LA brings all of the data into a series of predetermined categories. Then, using AI, it begins to prioritize the input and change the order to reflect moment-to-moment changes in events.


1. Memory cells
2. Visible icons for the cells
3. Input tracing
4. Output tracing
5. Cells can be rearranged and edited in much the same way as a series of images
6. As different memory cells are attached to each other, the program maps the history
7. Images and sounds form one of the sources for the cells

The key to a successful communications network will be the ad hoc nature of the usage. There will have to be enough elements to allow for changes on the spot.

Response from Alan to the series on Design and Interdisciplinarity

Thanks for this dialogue Ron.

I have been involved in many successful interdisciplinary ventures including going from artistic and/or future vision to successful market products...including disruptive category shifts. In fact, it is refreshing to see that some of the research I pioneered in the VOIP field is finally surfacing as infrastructure shifts. Therefore, I am less curioius about the magic that happens because, as you reference...., it happens, has happened and will continue to happen. I would argue that EVERY product that is on shelves is as a result of interdisciplinary activity!! The person on the assempbly line is as important as your take on the creative and birthing phase. Are all products luscious and desirable? NO!! could they be improved by more inputs and sweeter collaboration? YES!! However, I'm not that interested to hear about another IDEO flexi toothbrush...mine is fine...

I am more interested in hearing your take on why things don't work...I would love to hear about why innovation and imagination transfer fails.... I have thoughts about this...

I think that your third chapter should be about governance. I was involved in a successful bid to set up a research center in Australia in Interaction Design which was very similar to NewMic

The reason for its success is, in part, how it has been set up. The University partners don't have their hands out looking for dollars. The involvement of researchers is the Universities' in-kind input into the organization (a battle actually occurred as one of the University partners kept committing more people so they would contorl the reserach obejective. Eventually we decided that a researcher would need to commit two days a week to be a valid contributor!). The researchers are then rewarded as the papers they produce are part of their tenure track efforts.

This guarantees a stable research output and results in a research pedigree for the organization. Industry partners are then engaged to take part in taking advantage of this stable research base. There is also a component of SME engagement...that is.... small companies are engaged to do small contract pieces to productize research that the larger companies may be interested in. I haven't checked in lately but they're still operating which is more than can be said for NewMic.

Endpoint is that the governance of engaging disparate organizations is all important before the philosophy and spirit of working together. This is usually quite attainable as I have demonstrated and experienced. Reason before philosophy.

In my time at NewMic I had too many phone calls from University researchers asking for money for their individual reserach efforts which had no connection to the desires of the industry partners...Governance period.


The Practice of Interdisciplinarity in Design and New Media (1)

This short piece examines the history of a multi-disciplinary centre for Design and New Media in Vancouver, Canada. I explore the challenges of developing research models that make it possible for a variety of investigators and practitioners in the areas of Design and New Media to link their work to that of engineers and computer scientists. This is a crucial area for collaborative projects that involve designers and new media creators.

In 2000, the New Media Innovation Centre (NewMic) was started in Vancouver, Canada under the aegis and with the support of five post-secondary academic institutions, industry and the federal and provincial governments. Approximately, nineteen million dollars was invested at the outset mostly from industry and government. I was one of the leaders in the planning and development of NewMic, in large measure because I have a long history of involvement teaching and researching, as well as producing New Media. (The industry members included, Electronic Arts, IBM, Nortel Networks, Sierra Wireless, Telus and Xerox Parc.)

One of the foundational goals of NewMic was to bring engineers, computer scientists, social scientists, artists, designers and industry together, in order to create an interdisciplinary mix of expertise from a variety of areas. The premise was that this group would engage in innovative research to produce inclusive and new media designs of a variety of products, network tools and multimedia applications. The secondary premise was that the research would produce outcomes that could be implemented and commercialized in order to produce added value for all of the partners.

I spent a year at NewMic as a designer/artist in residence in 2002 and was also on its Board of Governors from 2000-2003 until it was closed down late in 2003. There are a number of important features to the history of this short-lived institution that are important markers of the challenges and obstacles facing any interdisciplinary dialogue that includes artists and designers working with engineers and computer scientists. Among the challenges are:

* The tendency among engineers, designers and computer scientists to have an unproblematic relationship to knowledge and knowledge production;

* Lack of clarity as to the meaning, impact and social role of inclusive and new media design products;

* Profound misunderstanding of the relationship between inclusivity, user needs and technological innovation;

* Conflicting cultures and discourses;

* An uninformed and generally superficial understanding of the differences between the cognitive sciences and ethnographic explorations of human-computer interaction;

* Focus on a false distinction between pure and applied research.

Underlying some of these challenges was an apprehension that without interdisciplinarity, it would be impossible to be innovative. The artists and designers from Emily Carr Institute who participated in NewMic and whose concerns were centred on community, creativity, outreach, inclusivity and the ethical implications and effects of new technologies, found themselves in a difficult and demanding position. In my next entry I will examine the benefits and successes as well as some of the problems and failures that were encountered in trying to make NewMic into a world-class environment for new media and design research.

Part Two…

Hypochondriac Culture (6)

Imagine the following. There is a sudden change in your body temperature. Your heart starts to beat more quickly. You begin to sweat. You have read about the symptoms of a heart attack. You beging to think that you are having a heart attack. Your anxiety rises. The combination of fear, fantasy and a catalogue of symptoms that you have heard about through our culture pushes you closer and closer to a panic attack.

Hypochondria is rarely a personal or private expression of symptoms and behviour. It is a private pain that has its roots inside image-worlds that are packed with information. In this case, information about symptoms may produce them.

Hypochondriac Culture (5)

What happens when you eat junk food? Although most diets in the United States and Canada are based on a variety of prepared and junk foods, the reality is that people continue to eat as if their actions will produce no effect. The contrast between the fetish for health and the disregard for nutrition is one of the central paradoxes of Hypochondria.  

Part Six

Hypochondriac Culture (4)

In cultures devoted to the body, there are any number of different ways in which hypochondria manifests itself. One of the overwhelming cultural concerns of the moment is what is being described as an epidemic of obesity. The response has been an epidemic of diets, diet movements and articles in magazines and newspapers about weight, body shape and health. I am not suggesting that a population that is generally overweight is a good thing. I support healthy living and exercise and so on. The challenge is how to explain weight, the body and biology in such a way that people do not get scared and worried about their health. Fear of the consequences is only one of many possible ways in which individuals will come to grips with the challenges that they face. But, fear can overtake the process and in fact lead to a defensive or stoical response. A fatalistic attitude is not the answer, but if the odds seem too great, and the fear too strong, why attack the core of the issue? Weight is as much about overeating as it is about an inability to "see" the body, to see our own bodies.

The aesthetics of body image -- how we hold to and understand our own sense of self, will not be solved by just losing weight.



Hypochondriac Culture (3)

What if the hyponchondriac body is an aesthetic projection?

Lets for a moment assume that our daily experiences are continuously in a kind of flux between awareness and loss of awareness. We engage with the world around us without being fully aware of our intentions, often without understanding what motivates us to do certain things or react in specific ways to people and to objects.

When someone looks at us we take that look and project it onto our bodies and into our minds. This is not a mechanical process and has no particular sequence to it. Nevertheless, a particular look can lead to any number of thoughts and from those any number of different projections.

Now, lets reverse what I just said. What happens when the feelings you are expressing towards a friend for example, don't play out in the way that you anticipated? How does your body deal with the impact of that experience?

Another way of thinking about this is to reflect on the fact that our bodies represent and express our histories, both personal and public. Pain becomes an interface between the internal and external images that we have of our biological selves. Irrespective of whether that pain is real or not, our bodies express and represent our thoughts—the internal becomes visible.

If the pain is a fiction, the only way to make it real is to rescuplt the body, remake it in the light of the artifice, mark it with evidence, in other words, transform it into an aesthetic object.

Part Four



The Value of Art

A recent study by the Connecticut Commission on Culture and Tourism persuasively argues not only for the value of the arts to the health of our society, but for its necessity as a fundamental part of everyday life. It is a great report, but it amazes me that we are still producing reports on these issues as if the debate is a new one. No city can survive without culture. No country would even dare call itself a country if it couldn't link its culture to its history. Every aspect of what we do and of how we live is intertwined with the cultural actitvities we pursue. No small town in Canada or the United States is without its craftspeople. Most of the environments that we inhabit either reference culture or express some form of cultural activity. The fork and knife that you use to eat with were designed by creative people. The buildings we inhabit are the product of centuries of thinking about the built environment. Unless we start connecting the dots here, we will continue to think of culture as something that is done by others, by artists and designers, as opposed to a process that we all engage in to varying degrees. Artists create the windows through which we can view and engage with our own world and the worlds of others.


An item from my extensive collection of newspapers from 1968