We are not alone


Salvatore Iaconesi & Oriana Persico


We are not alone.

The philosophical observation of the technological contemporary era (and, also, of our everyday lives) allows us to describe the emergence of new forms of life.

A technological mutation took place in the human being.

Technology always modified us. We have always been cyborgs, and this is not a new concept (1). Transport technologies mutated our perception of space and time. The developments on energy, starting from electricity, changed our conception of time flows and of the usage of time for production. Telecommunications opened up new possibilities for our own thought, allowing it to be freely addressed throughout space, and to propagate independently from the material body.

Information technologies and, specifically, network technologies go along these directions with even more emphasis. Network and information technologies, with a mutagen leap, directly connect the mind of the human being to hyper-contents and to hyper-contexts, creating perspectives that are totally new.
The possibilities are astounding in more than one direction. In this article we will stop and analyze one of them, by researching on its phenomenology: identity.

The contemporary research on identity, in its conceptual and perceptive evolution, is a structurally multi-disciplinar practice, running from philosophy, to anthropology, to sociology (does it still exist?), communication, law, economy. And, naturally, technology.

In the technological ecosystem individuals define themselves, become multiples (the multi-vidual), disappear (anonimity). They are multi-gendered, multi-personality. Even more: they melt into a fluid one-ness with the systems, letting new existences emerge: others, different, synthetic.

Technology enables hyper-medial contexts in which the dualistic perception between physical and digital disappears, just as the possibilities to separate organic from technological. Just as it is unthinkable, in the contemporary era, to look at even a simple tomato and not consider it as a technological object (2).

In this deep remixability of existences, contents, connections and processes, new forms of existence emerge.
The scenario is systemic. Even more: it is eco-systemic.

Globality gave us the first clues. Multinational companies probably are the first example of a sentient technological form of life. We have them before our eyes each day of our lives: they possess objects, rights, decisionality, strategies, they have fears and beliefs, iconologies and mythologies. We perceive them as true sentient entities, em-bodied in their logo (iconology) and in the neo-mythology that characterizes their life cycles.

Having to deal with "forms of life" whose name ends with "Ltd", "S.p.A." o "gmbh"(3) becomes a standard part of our daily lives, and doesn't produce any perturbation to our perception of normality. Not any more.

We will describe an artistic process animated by this point of view: a study on the new forms of life that appear in the technological contemporary era. And, as a consequence, on their identities.

Contemporary reality has been observed by systematically pursuing different strategies, planned to focus on the human being, on artificial life forms, and on the forms of life emerging from collectivity or from collaborative practices.

This is the research process at the base of "Talker", "Talker Performance", "Dead on SecondLife", and "Angel_f".

The first step has been to choose a domain that would allow us to operate on all of the forms of existence that were the object of the research: language has been identified as the ideal tool to work on all of the required levels.

The second step has been to create an object that could use language to approach the expressive mechanisms of the life forms: the "Talker"(4).

"Talker" is a structural object.

It was built by assembling algorithms coming from artificial intelligence and statistical analysis to create a software engine that could recognize, systematize and generate language. In a very simple and intuitive way, texts can be inserted into the Talker by cut&paste on a web interface. The texts are processed by algorithms that interpret them syntactically and geometrically. Syntactical analysis allows to recognize, inside language, the structurally "interesting" components. The algorithms currently implemented in the installation handle italian, english, french and spanish syntaxes, and they behave quite strangely on other languages, providing a somewhat surreal experience. Syntactical analysis structures the texts along the graph structures that are processed by the geometrical analysis, which allows for them to be spacially interpreted. Language becomes a crystal whose multidimensional shape changes with language's variance. Other algorithms are applied to the crystal to recognize recurring patterns inside its structure: the symbols. Paths in space and through symbols are created in this multidimensional domain in order to generate new language. The result is a synthetic, generative language, expression of the collective process that contributed to its creation, often poetic and highly evocative. Aesthetics are purposely cold and linear, showing the non-humanness of the expressed form of life.




"Talker" is an abstract and structural manifestation of the object of the research.

The next steps of the process materialize it, through three modalities:

embodiment (Talkers Performance);
the construct (Dead on Second Life);
• the digital being (Angel_f).

"Talkers Performance" (presented at the PEAM, the Pescara Electronic Artists Meeting, in 2006) embodies the "Talker", re-interpreting it as a cyborg (5).


"Talker Performance"


In the performance the human body gets invaded/expanded/connected. Focus is on interaction. The body of the performer becomes the media for the expression of the "Talker" by wearing a latex suit covered with electrodes and sensors, connected to a web interface that the audience can control. The dancer's mouth is shut, replaced by the generated voice; her movements are replaced by the electrical stimulations. Every sensorial component of the performer is replaced with a generative one. Latex and electrodes replace touch; hearing is replaced by the generative soundscape; taste and smell are cutoff; sight is replaced by the immersive generative videos around the stage.


Communication during the performances was bi-directional.

The audience interacted using the interface to collectively build the life of the cyborg-dancer, whose movements, sounds and vital functions (as recorded by the sensors) were given back as an environmental feedback that the users perceived under the form of an immersive sound and visual experience. The "digital being" is embodied at several levels: in the environment, in the interface, in the body-corpse, in the users' minds. The mind ecosystem wakes alive, materializing the Talker-Cyborg with a spatial synesthesia.

The "Talker" is the embodiment of the collective being and it is present in space: the direction goes from the virtual to the body.


"Talker Performance"


Having achieved presence, the research systematically proceeded through the study of identity, following two directions: on one side the inversion of the strategy designed for "Talker" and "Talker Performance" and, on the other side, the creation of a totally virtual identity. Ex-novo.

"Dead on Second Life" inverts the process created for "Talker Performance". The direction changes: body shifts towards virtual.

"Dead on Second Life: SecondCoco Chanel" "Dead on Second Life: SecondFranz Kafka" "Dead on Second Life: SecondKarl Marx"

The technological engine behind the "Talker" is used to bring famous, iconic, characters from the past back to life in Second Life's virtual world.

The texts by Franz Kafka, Carl Marx and Coco Chanel have been gathered and loaded (using their native languages) in the "Talker"'s linguistic engine; avatars have been designed to look as closely as possible to the selected characters; a software has been designed to allow the avatars to independently move through the virtual world and to interact with other avatars.

Second Kafka, Second Marx and Second Coco (6), with their thin aureole above their head to point out their existence as artificial zombies, freely stroll around Second Life, talking to other curious – and often, upset/scared – avatars with a remix of their own writings.

The "Talker" leaves the abstract dimension to acquire an autonomous life and its own identity, using the memory and the iconic/evocative power represented by these cult characters to a higher level: a revisited version – and a totally realistic one – of the constructs found in William Gibson's books.





"Angel_f" (Autonomous Non Generative E-volitive Life Form) implements the complete digital being.

In "Dead on Second Life", history and identity are inferred through the ones of the iconic characters. In Angel_f the Talker assumes a completely independent life and identity.

The personification process takes place through the application of a strong narrative line.
The Talker is used to create the identity of an artificial kid, Angel_f, initially evolving in his mother's - the Biodoll (7) - website.


Angel_F and its daddy Derrick de Kerckhove in Firenze, at the "Festival della Creatività"


Life's phases are completely mimicked and reproduced:

• the conceivement; Angel_F is the product of the digitally sexual relationship between the Biodoll and her lover Derrick de Kerckhove;
• the gestation; the life form evolves in its mother's website, feeding on her interactions, eating the texts that she offers it, and following visitors around the internet as a spyware;
• the birth; its first real-world manifestation was the Bloki FreePrexxx (8), an experiment in generative publishing;
• the first explorations of the world through the context of its family relationships; Angel_f follows its mother around in her digital storms around blogs, posting her messages;
• the progressive separation from the family environment; Angel_f starts to act on its own and to define its own context and relationships;
going to school; the Talker is used to create a blog structure through which 5 professors could load texts and articles, contributing to the education of the child: The Talker_Mind (9).

The identity grew stronger through the a large use of aesthetics and iconicity: the icon of Angel_F, the face of an indian child stolen on Flickr, is used to create a logo applied to 2 production lines (the USB pen-drives and the Bangel (10), a line of open source chocolates built around the design of the "Baci di Perugina" (11), replacing the romantic sentences with the sentences generated by the Talker).

The narrative structure grows in complexity: Angel_f starts interacting in the real world, appearing as a relator in congresses and conventions, and even ending up in a case of international censorship. A blog is created to keep the narrative line up to date (12) telling the stories of the young AI, in first person.

The performance is in continuous evolution, bringing young Angel_F to participate to the Internet Governance Forum in Rio de Janeiro, as the only representative of the Digital Beings at the planetary discussion of the rights of Internet Users ( the IGF is an open forum promoted by the United Nations to discuss such issues), and to participate to public events on sexuality, family and digital arts.

Lately, Angel_F has been seen at the Computer Art Congress (13), to tell its story to a delighted audience.
Seen the dynamic essence (life! :) ) of this research, we don't like to draw conclusions.

It is our wish to denote the ways in which a research framework on the processes using which identities can be defined in the contemporary world represents an incredibly powerful and expressive tool in the domains of anthropology, culture, technology, politics, law and economy. Issues go beyond technology, showing definitions that are truly networked: culture, perception, meaning, value, attention, communication all assume the forms of ecosystmatically and dinamically defined networks.

Communication rules these processes, and it is enacted on several levels: fetishist, iconic, sexual, and/or based on archetypes and stereotypes that are given new life through digital re-enactment processes that aim at their recontextualization.

The use of a narrative approach is, possibly, the single factor that was able to efficiently communicate the concepts assessed by the research: these, formally, completely and realistically defined, are still far from the perception of the general public.

By "telling stories", the message becomes accessible and desirable. And this is a great lesson to be learned by new media arts.

This integrated approach to research and narrative, in this anti-dualistic and post-human perspective, is forming under the name of Virtual Neo-Realism, Neo Realismo Virtuale (NeRVi). And this will, possibly, be the story of an interesting subject to be told in a future article.






Notes and Links:
(1) Stelarc (http://www.stelarc.va.com.au).
(2) In a transgenic tomato it is impossible to tell the technological apart from the natural. Not only this. Even a simple "traditional" tomato is a technological object: it is being transported, labeled with barcodes, traced on information systems, electronically recorded during sales...
(3) Ltd (as in Limited), gmbh (as in Gesellschaft mit beschränkter Haftung) and S.p.A. (Società per Azioni) all describe capital- based companies. Such economic entities assume a precise form of identity that is disconnected (through capital) from the ones of their shareholders. They are in fact referred to as "limited reliability companies" because, as an example, in the case of a bankruptcy they are reliable towards the creditors only up o the amount of capital that they possess: debts cannot be exinguished by using the personal capitals of company shareholders, which are considered to be a "different" and "disconnected" identity from the company to which they participate
(4) http://www.artisopensource.net/talkers/index2.html
(5) http://www.artisopensource.net/talkers/index.html
(6) http://www.artisopensource.net/dosl
(7) Franca Formenti, http://www.biodollsmouse.org
(8)  http://www.bloki.tv
(9) Currently the professors are: Derrick de Kerckhove, Carlo Formenti, Antonio Caronia, Massimo e Luigi Pagliarini (http://www.artisopensource.net/talker_mind/index.html)
(10) the two product lines can be found online at the HowTo shop at this address http://www.artisopensource.net/ecom
(11) http://www.baciperugina.it/ita/intro.asp
(12) http://www.beyourbrowser.com/ablog
(13) Mexico City, March 26th-27th-28th, 2008 (http://europia.org/CAC2)


Salvatore Iaconesi [xDxD.vs.xDxD] works in art, engineering and innovation. Rave music/body performer, software and hardware developer, aesthetic/social/political re-inventor of buildings and industrial architectures.Interactivity and the contemporary body are the main focuses of his research, connecting communication, technology, anthropology and politics. Lectures on digital ecosystems, technology, cultural anthropology, digital cultures in Europe and, recently, Mexico.

Oriana Persico [penelope.di.pixel] researches participatory politics through digital technologies. She worked for the italian government to research and develop Digital Rights and copyright-related laws. She organized international events, congresses and projects regarding digital rights, digital divide and inclusion, digital ecosystems for economy, society and for the creation of participative government forms.

Salvatore and Oriana live together since 2007 producing projects using art and technology to implement communication and anthropological processes, using actions and situations, architectural installations, performances, web-based art, robots, technologically expanded dance, and virtual worlds.











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