Tuesday, March 23, 2004

Today I attended a seminar entitled Haptics: Adding Simulated Touch to Immersive Environments at the Interactive Institute here in Umea. A man by the name of Marcus Haggqvist gave a good run down on the situation in regard to "the science of simulating and applying the sense of touch in computer simulated environments"......from the Greek haptesthai "to touch".
It was very interesting stuff, and Marcus being a software engineer he tended to concentrate on the status of software and hardware today and the applications of them. On a practical sense this sort of technology is used everywhere (at the moment typing this I am utilizing a system of 'Indirect Haptic Feedback' in regard to the keyboard and the screen in front of me)....the more sense subversive aspect of Haptic technology is 'Active Direct Haptic Feedback' whereby the experience of direct interaction with a virtual object is so 'real' as to appear to our sense dependant organism as so. This is where things get interesting.
When I arrived at the seminar I kept thinking about Aldous Huxley's "Feelies" from Brave New World, the banal practice of the soma inebriated masses, which provides out of context sensory experiences to what are essentially movies with extra dimensions; not exactly immersive environments but rather semi-immersive experiences. Janet Murray in her book Hamlet on the Holodeck (1997) takes up this comparison in some detail. I abandoned my memories of Huxley's powerful nightmare text quickly when I saw at what clumsy stage active direct haptic feedback is at the moment. A piece of equipment called Cyberforce sells for $US100 000 at the moment and seems to be able to provide a convincing degree of feedback with lifting and moving objects, but we are a long way from losing ourselves in the virtual real...although I believe it will arrive one day.
One of the many thoughts that were provoked by this interesting seminar was the idea that we are continuing to maintain many of the subject/object relations that seem to have come down to us from the Renaissance. Even in an immersive virtual environment we continue to maintain the body as an independent signifier of self, attempting to wrap (so to speak) the scene around the body that interacts with it, rather than, for example, have the centre of consciousness radiating from numerous points in the space, each disembodied but attached to the body of the individual negotiating the space.
This reminds me of an experience I had a few days ago when I was trying to take a screen shot of the world feature below.....I found that there was only one really good angle and I had gone and constructed a 3D painting rather a 3D world, in terms of visual meshing of images. It was at this moment I transcended the screen...it really is a space and I have to build like it is, rather than looking through the window, I have to crawl through the screen and inhabit the space, look around and understand the x, y, and z axes in all their strange glory.
Booked tickets today: will be dining with Don Bosco in Little India in Singapore on the 9 May and then travel to Darwin, Northern Territory, Australia (The Mother Country) a few days later.......should be reel deadly bro.....

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