*EDITED*Assignment 5: Speculative You Final: The Black Box

*EDITED* NOW WITH FINAL WORK BELOW

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SUMMARY

One of the most basic human predicaments is that of mortality. Through the decaying nature of the human body (and organic matter in general), limitations are imposed on the human experience by a single lifespan as well as by the basic needs that need to be met in order to survive. Ultimately, we must face our unavoidable mortality.

Taking inspiration from the technology found in airplanes designed to survive emergency situations such as a crash, The Black Box is a speculative wearable that stretches the definition of “wearable tech” to encompass an object that is “worn” by an accurately mapped biomechanical recreation of an individual’s brain. The project speculates about an era in which the body of a consciousness sidesteps or greatly delays many of the limitations imposed by a single lifetime and a relatively defenceless flesh box.

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An artifact of this nature would need to fulfill many technical requirements. It would need to be constructed using material with high tensile strength so that it could withstand high energy impacts, such as in naturally occurring space phenomena, defence scenarios or in emergency landings. Alternatively, a concept explored in Larry Niven’s Known Universe series, the “slaver stasis field” could fulfill this requirement as well. The artifact would require resistance to heat and cold, would need to contain some kind of generator powered by renewable and/or readily available sources (solar cells, nuclear power), along with the ability to travel at relativistic speeds.

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(above: “Return to Earth”. Matthew Crans. 2016)

It would require extremities with which to manipulate its surroundings (prehensile tentacles), and would need to contain a complex computational and mechanical system that could store and retrieve vast amounts of data on a scale that astronomically outclasses any system currently in existence, as well as provides the structure with the ability to repair and improve itself as data and physical resources are available. Lastly, it would need to run an AI system that allows it to both communicate with and learn from its surroundings and interactions.

INSPIRATION

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(above: still from Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) depicting the Monolith and pre-homo sapiens sapiens primates)

This project takes it’s inspiration from a number of sources, notably the mysterious and omnipresent “Monolith” detailed in Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968). In the classic sci-fi film, a mysterious black tablet known as the “Monolith” takes up residence in the solar system and interacts with pre-homo sapiens sapiens primates, presumably triggering the development of civilization by influencing the ape-like primates to use a tool to attack a competing tribe. Millions of years later, astronauts aboard a spacecraft operated by an AI system named HAL encounter the Monolith. One crew member, after being led through a vision sequence depicting them at various ages, is eventually transformed into a fetus which orbits and observes the Earth.

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(above: “The Black Box VS the Monolith”. Matthew Crans. 2016)

The Black Box contains a similar air of mystery because of its apparently featureless structure. The imposing appearance of the artifact allows for a deep level of speculation about what technology conceivably lies inside, and tugs at and triggers a sense of awe and terror from observers. A structure of this nature could have existed for millennia, something that the project intends to suggest. What wisdom could an artifact like this with a developed conscience share with a civilization after having spent thousands of years exploring the galaxy and beyond?

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(left: “Ringworld”. Bill Spitzak. c.1985; right: “Ringworld”. Dean Ellis. 1970)

Another inspiration is the concept of a “Ringworld” depicted in Larry Niven’s novel and series of the same name. The “Ringworld” is, “…an artificial ring about one million miles wide and approximately the diameter of Earth’s orbit (which makes it about 600 million miles in circumference), encircling a Sol-type star”(Wikia), and whose inner landmass is habitable. Similar to The Black Box and the “Monolith”, it is a mysterious alien artifact with an unclear origin inspiring awe, and which appears deceptively minimal.

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(above: “Observation/Contemplation”. Matthew Crans. 2016)

The Black Box might also require another technology found in Ringworld known as the “slaver stasis field”, “…a field within which an object (or even a person) remains unaffected by the passage of time even for billions of years” and which acts as an airbag in crisis scenarios. Lastly, the material of which the Ringworld is constructed, “scrith”, has properties that should be identifiable in an artifact such as The Black Box: high tensile strength, conductivity, extreme temperature resistance, impact resistance etc.

1st ITERATION

The first iteration of The Black Box was completed for a similar wearables assignment completed for Erin Lewis in “Wearable Computing”. The following images depict process shots and the completed model.

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PROPOSAL

The Black Box has crash landed on a habitable planet as a result of a storm of interplanetary debris disabling crucial components. The artifact enters a stasis mode while it attempts to repair itself. It is soon discovered by sentient inhabitants of the planet who observe cautiously. The Black Box, observing the inhabitants in return (and unbeknownst to them), begins to compile a library of their language in order to eventually communicate. The Black Box uses light and sound to deter the curious species from disturbing it before it can safely communicate and fully repair its systems and mobility.

Building on the concept developed in the previous wearables class, I intend to produce a similar model of The Black Box in a new environment, and containing functional electronics that depict an interaction between the artifact and its surroundings. I propose using a Ping sensor to detect proximity of an object to the Black Box, which will trigger a series of responses by the artifact in the form of light and sound.

Electronic Components:

  • Ping sensor
  • Arduino
  • Battery
  • Buzzer
  • LED’s

Other materials

  • Plaster fabric roll
  • Masonite
  • Newsprint
  • Acrylic Paint
  • Modeling putty
  • Mounting board
  • Exacto knife
  • Cutting mat

THE FINAL WORK

PARTS LIST

Electronic Components:

  • Arduino UNO – R3; DEV-11021
  • 9V Battery
  • 9V Battery Snap; BATTH-900010 (Creatron)
  • Conductive Thread Bobbin – 30ft (Stainless Steel); DEV-10867
  • LilyPad Tricolor LED; DEV-08467
  • Alligator Clips (red & black); PRT-12978
  • Low voltage wire (multiple colours); Creatron

Other materials:

  • Plaster fabric roll
  • Newsprint
  • Acrylic Paint
  • Mounting board
  • Exacto knife
  • Cutting mat
  • Large paint brush

 

CONSTRUCTION

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To make a relief map of my intended snowy landscape, I started with a rough 3D outline using newsprint and masking tape.

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To cover the structure, I cut strips of plaster fabric from a large roll.

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Partially covered!

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Full coverage, now it needs to dry before paint is applied.

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The Black Box consists of two parts: one which houses the electronics and front tendrils, and one which houses the other six tendrils and the body of the Box.

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The RGB LED’s I had on hand needed to be soldered, so I opted for a sewable LED to get rid of that pesky problem. Using pliers, I formed circles at the end of each wire through which to sew.

Each pin of the Lilypad RGB LED has to be assigned to a digital pin on the Arduino (9, 10 and 11).

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The wire that the 9V snap consists of is quite thin and consists of many small threads, so I used some alligator clips and extra wire to connect it to the VIN and GRND pins of the Arduino.

 

COMMUNICATION

One element that was important for the final iteration of this concept given feedback from the previous class, was that the interaction between the Black Box and whatever it was encountering had to have better context that justified what was taking place.

I started to think about how every interaction would be unique in some way given the things, living and nonliving, that the BB could encounter. The possibilities were endless, so I reflected on a few different scenarios:

The Black Box is socially-minded/helpful

  • soothing
  • conducts risk-assessment procedures
  • passive listening builds language library
  • database scans – have any Black Boxes catalogued this species?
  • modeling behaviour, bio-mimicry to soothe/communicate
  • non-aggression
  • defensive maneuvers when met with aggression
  • provides knowledge
  • helps societies innovate, improve their technology

The Black Box is insociable/aggressive

  • sneaky
  • also conducts risk assessment (can I fell this foe?)
  • builds and deploys weaponry
  • offensive maneuvers (capturing cities, towns)
  • aggression
  • captivity
  • modeling behaviour to trick and overpower

In addition to the moral compass of the conscience within the Black Box, its behaviour and communication style will depend on its environment.

This interaction:

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would differ greatly from this one:

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For the purposes of this project, I decided that the Black Box would be making it’s first encounter with a species of ponies and unicorns found in the Clouds of Magellan, just outside the Milky Way on a wintery planet.

  • Species is peaceful and diplomatic, with the ability to be fierce and magical if threats arise
  • Welcoming: making offerings of giant bubbles and candy
  • BB responds by emitting a soft pulsing rainbow, one of the favourite colours of the pretty unicorns and ponies
  • Advanced communicators, society goes back millenia
  • Advanced technology, frilly packaging

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Check out the rainbow in action!

BIBLIOGRAPHY

2001: A Space Odyssey. Dir. Stanley Kubrick. Prod. Stanley Kubrick. By Stanley Kubrick, Arthur C. Clarke, Geoffrey Unsworth, and Ray Lovejoy. Perf. Keir Dullea, Gary Lockwood, and William Sylvester. Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 1968.

“Ringworld.” Larry Niven Wiki. Wikia. Web. 4 Dec. 2016.<http://larryniven.wikia.com/wiki/Ringworld>.

“Stasis Field.” Larry Niven Wiki. Wikia. Web. 4 Dec. 2016. <http://larryniven.wikia.com/wiki/Stasis_field>.

Niven, Larry. Ringworld. New York: Ballantine, 1970. Print.