|> Neural Magazine|
Marcos Novak interview.
by Alessandro Ludovico
Where *really* is the virtual space? In nowhere-land? In mind-land? In digital-land?
Your question refers to three conceptions of virtual space: the space of the Platonic Ideal; the space of consciousness; and technologically constructed information space. Each of these conceptions attempts to capture a species of the virtual. Your question also refers to 'reality,' by which we ordinarily mean that which has objective existence. Since we cannot know anything except as subjects, our experience of reality is always subjective. intersubjective, and social. We overcome our reservations about objectivity by reference to probabilities, but the fundamental difficulty persists: perhaps reality is just a very, very long, very, very unlikely random number. We, the finite, can never conduct a full critique of the infinite. Hence, by a curious reversal of terms, it is reality itself that is the most virtual for us, in the sense of being an asympotic potentiality that we can never fully know or exhaust. The 'real' is already virtual. As with the quantum universe, the difference between real and virtual is stochastic: a matter of probabilities. In a conventional sense, the real is that which is most likely. Technology is allowing us to change the common structure of probabilities and to stabilize formations that were previously so unlikely as to be delegated to the realm of dreams and miracles. Pure virtual space is the liquid structure of potentialities of all possible worlds, the quantum world, or the world that Italo Calvino's amazing character QwfwQ exists in, the rhizomatic world-before-categories where everything relates to everything somehow. Technological virtuality is the subset of pure virtual space that we can actually reach using available means. It is much smaller than the space of pure virtuality, but much larger and altogether different than the portion fo the virtual we can explore unassisted. Mediating between the pure and the technological is the virtual space of consciousness, the space of all the thoughts that are thinkable, at any given time or in principle, with any given set of conditions.
What are the consequences on perception caused from the loss of physical forces in cyberspace?
Our consciousness has evolved into and through this particular embodiment, this particular body, in this particular context. In other bodies and other spaces, we would have differing consciousnesses.
Contrary to popular belief, cyberspace is not a space without laws. If anything, it is a less tolerant space than the world we exist in. It is not so much lawless as it is liquid. At a low level, we have to accept a deep hierarchy of protocals, standards, and languages; at a high level, we define many of the its laws. Throughout, constants have been replaced by variables, but there is still a structure to the variables, though that structure itself is variable. In creating these liquid architectures, we define potential avenues for the development of our consciousness. Since we decide what physics our virtual worlds have, we implicitly decide what direction our perception will move in.
I agree with Pierre Levy that the virtual is about a motion from the specific to the general. If we consider this motion in the context of perception, we must think of generalized perception, and before that, generalized senses. Our perception operates on neural maps, arrays that mimic the arrangement of our sensory arrays (for example, the retina, which is reproduced many times over in the brain). In the past, we would have thought of this arrangement as fixed. Now, we can begin to think of it a general-purpose device that may be quite adaptable. What would the perceptual system do if we fed it inputs from virtual senses? Would it not try to cope? Would it not try to register periodicities, gradients, and invariances? All of a sudden questions such as these take on empirical importance. What if we really can teach our brain to detect patterns from virtuality? We already can make the blind see by connecting a video camera to the optic nerve; what if we placed sensors in virtual space and connected them to our optic arrays? Would we not learn to 'see' in that space? We see in three dimensions? If we created a four-dimensional virtual world and sent signals to our sensory arrays, would our brain not attempt to learn to see in that new space?
Of course, your question asks about force, and this implies mass and inertia, but like everything else, the virtual asks that we generalize these into new formations: transforce, transmass, transintertia. We need to be flexible and try to imagine what weight might be in a weightless world. It isn't so hard to find analogies: already we speak of large files as 'heavy' downloads; we speak of 'heavy' computation. Analogies cease to be merely rhetorical devices and take on empirically testable aspects. Given the opportunity, our perceptions will adjust to take these into account.
In your opinion, is the cyberspace really infinite, or the global hard disk space defines its own boundaries?
Strictly speaking, as a human construct, cyberspace is finite. However, we are not only finite but also very small, and confined to a very small region of reality, and anything that involves large enough numbers, or that exists in a sufficiently different scale than we exist in, is, effectively, if not literally, infinite or infinitesimal.
Cyberspace is constructed in finite time using finite resources, so it must be finite. However, it may be unbounded, just as the surface of a sphere is finite but unbounded. As such, even though it is finite, it can still allow infinite traversals.
In any case, it does not need to be infinite to overwhelm us. We are certainly finite and can only manage small numbers. Sufficiently large numbers might as well be infinite.
In his book 'A Universe of Consciousness: How Matter Becomes Imagination' Gerald Edelman discusses a dynamic model of memory. He claims that memory is not simply localized in the brain, but is located in the activation patterns of neural firings. This means that the total number of possible memory states increases astronomically, because it is determined not by the numbers of nodes but the number of combinations of node activation patterns. This idea applies just as well to global hard disk space: cyberspace is not just the static storage of data on hard disks, but the living dance of data and processes interacting with each other and with the outside world. As such, it is many orders of magnitude larger than the physical storage it contains. It is not infinite, but it is larger than we ordinarily imagine.
Should we say that the vectors origins are the 'nodal points' of all transarchitectures?
What one uses as an origin is totally arbitrary, or is simply a matter of convenience. The space within the machine can be totally non-Euclidean, even transEuclidean and relativistic. However, there are still remnants of old space in the hardware, like ghosts of the old order. Still, however strange a space we construct, attractors, ordinary or strange, will still appear. Transarchitectures would be interested in strange attractors, where the behavior is the most interesting.
Sound data are strictly related to moving space. How do you like to relate sounds to transarchitectures?
The notion of the liquid pervades my stance toward definitions. I prefer to set aside distinctions between spatial and temporal phenomena, and to think of both as combined spatiotemporal patterns that are, to a certain extent, fluidly interchangeable. That is to say, I am interested in discovering and exploiting invariances that can be mapped across sensory modalities. As a matter of fact, I also prefer to consider that we may have more senses than those traditionally acknowledged, or that combinations of senses, as in synaesthesia, are more important to us than we normally recognize.
The notion of the liquid pervades my stance toward definitions. Once one allows such as stance, what becomes important are not the nodes but the balances, not quantities but qualities. Thus, when I listen to sound, I am interested in how the qualities of the sound might be though of as qualities of space, and how the two might become one: archimusic.
To do this as something more than an empty rhetorical gesture, one must return to something rigorous. For me, this implies working with data and algorithms for transforming sound to form.
'In the beginning was the wordÉ.' I've been playing with this notion recently, taking recorded sounds and converting them into virtual worlds. Words to worlds. Logos to Cosmos. An infinite number of static or dynamic transarchitectures exist within any single piece of sound. Even after sampling, when continuous sound has become discrete and finite, an astronomically large number of potential transaarchitectures remain. Like sound, they move in spacetime.
Accepting your fascinating notion of 'variable topology' in transarchitectures, do you think that there'd be a 'conservation society' of this kind of projects that should track and archive periodically the main topology, in order to analyze it later?
I suppose one could take snapshots and records from time to time, and this would be good. But, as with the human genome, which is my current fascination, the act of recording, magnificent and necessary though it is, is still secondary to understanding what the genome does procedurally. In other words, I think that the thing to do would be to conserve not just the effects, but the processes by which those effects are produced: the formulas, equations, algorithms, transformations, simulations, and other artifices by which topologies become animate.
A really good example of this comes from M-Theory, in the realization that there can be continuous transformation between different topologies that were once thought to require tearing or discontinuity. What interests me here is that these so-called 'conifold transitions' happen through the mediation of dimensionality, so that by reducing an extra dimension to zero extent an otherwise space-tearing topological transformation is produced, such as a torus becoming a sphere, topologically. This is exactly what I had in mind when I first wrote about 'variable topologies.' It would be interesting to record the 'what' of such projects, but the 'how' is even more intriguing.
Do you think that it's possible that sort of digital real estate will be founded in the near future? And what about a private virtual space guaranteed to everyone?
This is already happening, at a very rapid rate. Millions of people are already interacting in multi-user virtual environments. Both new public and new private space exists and is growing. In parallel, virtual economies are being set up. In a few years people will have their own virtual spaces just as they now have their own web pages.
Several large worlds already exist: ActiveWorlds, the outgrowth of AlphaWorlds; Blaxxun's Cybertown; the worlds of Worlds.com, and the worlds of the online gaming communities: EverQuest, Ultima Online, and so on. It is already clear that building a world is like building real estate, and people can already have their own private space within the larger worlds. MMORPGs, or Massively Multi-User Online Role-Playing Games, as they are called, are creating a new form of public space. If subscriptions and time spent within these worlds are any indication, people seem much more dedicated to these new public spaces than to real ones. Most architects would take a reactionary view to these developments; I prefer to see them as new challenges.
How do you'd define future 'intelligent' architectures?
One of the most defining characteristics of intelligence is constant adaptation. Intelligence is active: it observes, learns, changes, and acts, not only on its environment, but also on itself. Likewise, intelligent architectures must be actively adaptive. By this I mean much more than just 'smart houses.' I like to make a distinctions between active, interactive, and transactive intelligence. Active intelligence implies a degree of autonomous behavior; interactive intelligence implies active intelligence that is directly responsive to the user; transactive intelligence implies intelligence that not only interacts, but that transacts and transforms both the user and itself. So true intelligent architectures would have evolving personalities that wouldn't just behave differently in response to our behavior, but would also change and strive to change us. We would not command them; rather we would be in dialogue with them. Sometimes we would persuade them to do as we wish; sometimes they would persuade us.
What do you think of the Virtual Guggenheim project? In your opinion hiring also real architects for developing it gives a different perspective than hiring just software coders?
It is a very important development. I'm very happy to see it happen. Having real architects design virtual spaces is of course important for the project, since architects bring skills and concerns that programmers do not have, but that is not the greatest importance. What is more important is that a major institution has commissioned a virtual work of architecture, signaling that it is time for the profession to take the leap into cyberspace.
If you try to imagine a new building 100 years from now, which would be its most innovative characteristics?
We are building a civilization characterized by virtuality. The tendency of this virtuality is transformative and aims to alter everything into alloys of the familiar and the alien. An alien, magical animism seems to be the hidden desire behind many of our inventions. Alien, because we are producing constructs that evade any continuous evolutionary taxonomy; magical, because we use technology to allow our will to change the world without apparent effort; animistic because we are bestowing autonomous intelligence and desire to everything.
The vast majority of the world around us is in flux. The stillness of architecture has been the exception. This is about to change. Architecture is coming alive.
When I first wrote about 'liquid architectures,' it was clear to me that life was liquid architecture. At every level, we see a complex dance of rigor and variability. This is not just a matter or appearances, of liquid-looking form. It goes to the heart of the question of how something as complex as life can arise. We are learning to decipher the genome, and to see the interplay between code and context. We used to adorn our architecture with angels; now we can clone people. We have gone past representation into simulation, and past interactivity into generativity.
In my most recent 'data-driven form' explorations, I have been using data from the human genome, scanning through huge data files for patterns that I can transform into architecture. First, I transform it into form, so that I can see it; then into behavior, so that I can interact with it; eventually, I bend my experiments back over themselves, so that they produce more code, and form a feedback loop, and so move closer to life.
I have written about liquid architecture, transarchitectures, invisible architectures. When you ask about the next 100 years, I have to say that I am sure that we will see the liquid, the trans, and the invisible adopted into our general understanding of architecture and the city, but even more than that, I think that both architecture and the city will become more clearly alive. I see living architectures: living forms, living materials, with living minds, inextricably entangled with our own, running through a continuum from the virtual to the real and back. Buildings like large, warm animals, moving gracefully to allow for our activities, breathing slowly in a gentle slumber, dreaming of dancing in cyberspace.
These living architectures will contain the deep variability of the liquid, the taxonomy defying attitude of the trans, and the evanescence of total, wireless access to information in ubiquitous intelligent space. The merging of virtual and actual space will be nearly total.
One hundred years ago, cinema as we know it was just beginning. We are now witnessing a convergence of architecture, music, cinema, virtual reality, games, and the internet. Convergence implies divergence, as when cinema becomes digital cinema, using new technologies but keeping old forms, but also transvergence, allowing new technologies to evolve alien forms. One hundred years from now, moviemaking will have become worldmaking, and we will flow between intelligent, living, factual and fictional cities/worlds with ease. Our individual and collective physical, intellectual, and emotional states will drive the transarchitectures of these cities/worlds, and those transarchitectures will change us.