Monday, June 6, 2016

Event 3 - LASER 4/26

Note to Symrin: I was involved in a car accident recently so I did not get a chance to go to an event. Instead, I viewed an archived video of the LASER event happened on 4/26. This post is about that video.

Although I couldn't go to the LASER event on 4/26 physically, I was still able to watch the inspiring talks, thanks to the live stream and video archive of the Computing Technologies Research Lab at UCLA. LASER was a platform for scientists and artists to exchange their researches and ideas. At LASER, artists were informed by cutting-edge technology and could start from there to propose creative projects.
Figure 1: Profess Erkki illustrating "Hand"

The first speaker was Professor Erkki Huhtamo from UCLA. Describing himself as a Topos Archeologist, he introduced various concepts of Topos Archeology, a subject about cultural patterns in different contexts. As an example, he showed us the pattern of hand and its connotation of "control" ; where it originated from, how it appeared in different artwork and literature. He showed how the original appearance of the pattern was adopted in subsequent work. From his introduction, I also thought of some "Hands" standing for "Control", such as the Hearthstone card "Mind Control" showed in Figure 2.
Figure 2: "Mind Control" from a card game. Notice the hand behind the victim's head.
Next, Taylor Aubry from Schwartz Group of UCLA talked about plastic solar cells. She told us the major obstacle in front of massive usage of solar energy was the cost of manufacturing silicon solar cells. Therefore, the researchers at Schwartz Group were looking for cheap alternatives of silicon. Plastic was found a good candidate. She explained how to make plastic semiconductor by borrowing electrons from other materials with free electrons. She also showed many applications if the cheap solar cells were in place. The most interesting one to me was the self-powered WiFi routers, which could make full wireless network coverage of cities possible.
Figure 3: Marco Pinter showing object choreography
The other speaker whose topic interested me was Marco Pinter from UC Santa Barbara. He introduced the concept of computer aided design of choreography of objects. Unlike human dancers, sometimes objects could serve as a better tool to demonstrate certain concepts because their structures were more simple. Also, their shapes were more flexible. What's showed in Figure 3 was a video Pinter made using the software and technology developed by his group.

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Event 2 - Physics Lectures

Last Thursday, I was fortunate enough to attend the Art|Sci rendezvous hosted at CNSI. The rendezvous was to help artists and scientists exchange ideas. This time, I was really interested by the talks given by two physicists.

Video 1: Dr. Jofre's little motor
Ana Jofre gave a quick and brief introduction to magnetism. Ana got her Ph. D. in physics at U Toronto but she became an artist after that. Her work focused on the intersection of physics and art like cyborgs. To be honest, I was pretty familiar with the magnetism concepts she introduced because I learned that from Physics 1B as a south campus student. However, her live experiment pushed the talk to climax. She hand-made several sets of magnetic motors using batteries, magnets and copper wires. She demonstrated and passed the equipment to everyone. Everyone was fascinated by the simple yet elegant "toy". I was also excited and even shot a video of it.

Figure 2: Professor Vesna's proposal
Next, Professor Walter Gekelman talked about plasma and his lab. Plasma was also named "the fourth state of matter". As a plasma, the electrons in the matter were able to move freely and create wonderful visual effect. During the talk, Professor Vesna showed a proposal in which a plasma container was put above a fish tank. The design was inspired by Professor Gekelman's interest in golden fish.

Figure 3: Image of solar wind
Professor Gekelman also talked about the applications of plasma research. One of them was to predict the behavior of solar wind. Solar wind was plasma ejected from the surface the sun which could disable the telecommunication infrastructure on Earth. The study of such behavior could save us from the loss from the shutdown of such infrastructure.

One more thing! The wine was really great. DESMA talks were the only events reaching such a high standard in terms of the food and drink provided. Yay!

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Week 9 - Art + Space

Exploring the deep and remote space has long been the dream of human beings. I am not an exception. My curiosity on the universe started even when I was a child gazing at the sky at night. The blinking stars were as if a road sign welcoming me to explore. Deep into the night, my imagination was always able to fly high to the space even though my pathetic body is jailed on the ground.
Figure 1: The Doraemon movie on space exploration
At my early age, I was keen on watching a Japanese Anime called Doraemon. The anime series were a porn for juvenile tech lovers. In every episode, Doraemon, one of the protagonists coming from the 22nd century, took some high-tech machine from his "four-dimension" pocket which had unlimited capacity and helped his friend out of some embarrassing scenario. In 1981, they made a Doraemon anime film called Doraemon: The Records of Nobita, Spaceblazer. In the context of the film, earth beings like the protagonists were like supermen on Koya Koya Planet, which was connected to below Nobita's bed via a wormhole. The film told a story of how the "supermen" became friends with a group of natives on Koya Koya Planet and fought against a huge mineral monopolist. The film showed some spatial concepts like wormholes, teleportation and loss of gravity. As a young space lover, doubtlessly I was fascinated by the film.
Figure 2: Poster of the movie Interstellar
A more recent movie telling a time-space traveling story I liked was Interstellar. The selling point of this movie included not only the stunning graphics, but also the meticulous simulation of the "real" image of black holes and other scenarios. Many of the scenarios were actually supported by the work of top physicists. It was a satisfying visual banquet.
Figure 3: The cover of The Three Body Problem
Recently, a science fiction by a Chinese writer attracted many international readers' attention. It also won the 2015 Hugo Award for Best Novel. It was the title – The Three Body Problem. The book described how human beings interacted with the residents of the Three Body Galaxy, which was constantly threatened by its unstable state and finally destroyed due to the revelation of the coordinate. The most shining point of the book was the theory named Cosmic Sociology, describing the relationship among different civilizations under the situation of lacking of inter-communication.

I'm really glad to see the course ends with a chapter on space. The course may end, but the spirit of exploration exists forever.

Vesna, V. "Lecture Videos on Space." Web.
"Wikipedia - The Three Body Problem". <>
"Poster of Doraemon: The Records of Nobita, Spaceblazer." <>
"Poster of Interstellar." <>
"Poster of The Three Body Problem." <,204,203,200_.jpg>

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Week 8 - Art + NanoTech

Although nanotechnology is considered a new thing for most of the people just like many other microscopic technologies such as genetic technology, it has been the corner stone of my field for several decades. The whole computer science is possible because of the development of nanotechnology; the nano-scales transistors which make up the CPUs are deep at the core of every computer.
Figure 1: The Chip Butterfly from Intel

Intel, as the largest CPU designer and manufacturer in the world, has released many artworks like advertisements and posters. My favorite one is the "Chip Butterfly". The most remarkable feature of this work is the pattern of nano-scale integrated circuits on the wings of the butterfly. It symbolizes the interaction of technology, art and the nature. The flying butterfly also means the chip unleashes the potential of the user. 
Figure 2: Drug delivery robots
Nanotechnology also has potential in the field of medicine. Like the "3D Box" what Dr. Gimzewski introduced in the lecture video, there's a lot of space for creativity in this context. In my midterm proposal, I mentioned the possibility to build a wireless robot system to deliver drugs precisely in human bodies.
Figure 3: Patterns drawn using STM
The invention of Scanning Tunnel Microscope enables artists to draw on another canvas. With STM, operating on single atom is now possible. Figure 3 lists some atom drawings. The middle piece in the figure is the Chinese characters for "atom".

Gimzewski, J. K. "Lecture Video." <>
Gimzewski, J. K. Vesna, V. V. "The Nanomeme Syndrome: Blurring of fact & fiction in the construction of a new science" <>
Intel. "The Chip Butterfly". <>
Strickland, J. "How Nanorobots Will Work." <>
Ganapati, P. "20 Years of Moving Atoms, One by One." <>

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Week 7 - Art + NeuroSci

Neuroscience is about people's mind, memory and imagination. DESMA 9 was not the place where I first got experience with neuroscience topics. One year ago, in the summer vacation, I was reading a book called Incognito by David Eagleman. In the book, Eagleman models the brain as a pair of "rivals". On one hand, there exists a fast response system that will be triggered in the first place, and often unconsciously. The author describes an experiment to illustrate how this system works. The experimenter asked a group of people to describe the process of changing lanes in their words. None of them did it correctly because changing lanes was a process "burned like a circuit into the brain". On the other hand, something like doing hard mathematical problems is handled by a proactive thinking system; one has to go through the reasoning process to draw a conclusion.

Figure 1: The book Incognito
Besides literature, neuroscience ideas are also borrowed by computer scientists. Neural networks is  an advanced technique in the subfield of artificial intelligence. Like how real neuro-systems build responses from experiences, neural networks are trained by real data to simulate any function which accepts a set of parameters as input and returns a value as output. The program named AlphaGo which defeated Go world champion Lee Sedol used neural networks as part of its reasoning system.
Figure 2: Neural networks utilized by AlphaGo
Many visual art forms also get ideas from neuroscience. My favorite is the film Inception, which depicts a world where people can be trapped in their dreams. In this situation, it is interesting to see how people invent secret methods to help them distinguish real world from dream worlds.
Figure 3: The poster of movie Inception
The various application of neuroscience is referred to as "neuroculture" by Giovanni Frazzetto and Suzanne Anker. They believe the transformation from a science to a culture has made neuroscience more friendly to the society. As a fan of neuroscience, I'm also happy to see the chemistry happening between the science and the society.

Vesna, V. "Lectures on Neuroscience + Art".
Frazzetto, G. Anker, S. "Neuroculture". <>
Eagleman, D. Incognito. Vintage. 2012.
"Inception Poster". <>
"Neural Networks Figure". <>

Sunday, May 8, 2016

Week 6 - Art + BioTech

Biotechnology, as Professor Vesna introduced in the video for this week, is full of controversy and undefined things. People are curious about biotechnology, but also are afraid of it, because they know only a small corner of whole map. Biotechnology remains unknown to most of the public and this mysterious characteristic amplifies the concern of people about its research and application. Artistic expressions of biotechnology, as one of the applications of it, induced both inspiration and criticism.

Art work normally means creation, which is generally accepted as a good thing except under this special context – biotechnology. Public opinions have not yet decided whether "life" should be proprietary to some higher beings, possibly the God. Many people believe that human beings should not modify life forms, viewing the modification as profanity. Others are concerned about potential biological disaster without proper control and regulation of the usage of biotechnology. Imagine a plant which could transmit virus via its fruit. How frightening would that be? It may be a extreme example, but the core problem – safety – remains unchanged. For example, transgenesis technology allows farmers to grow crops that are more productive and more resistant to crop diseases. However, the public are questioning if genetically modified food could cause human diseases like cancer. The public medias are also deliberately informing people this kind of ideas by using cartoons or exaggerated pictures, like those shown below.

Figure 1: Negative propaganda of GM tomatoes
Figure 2: Another negative propaganda
The existence of "outlaws" makes the regulation harder to implement. From an essay called "Meanings of Participation: Outlaw Biology?", the will of participation in biotechnology gives birth to homelabs and "rogue biologists". In 2004, Art professor Steve Kurtz was arrested because FBI found biological equipment at his home after he reported the death of his wife. Although I personally believe professor Kurtz knew what he's doing, we are not assured that every artist or owner of homelabs know what they are doing. Even if they know, are they prepared for the potential outcomes of the experiment?
Figure 3: Scientists operating child's gene in Gundam SEED
The Japanese cartoon Mobile Suit Gundam SEED depicts a world in which human beings are divided into two groups – genetically unmodified people called "Naturals" and genetically modified people called "Coordinators". In the cartoon, the Coordinators own superior abilities to Naturals because of their enhanced genes. This gap between the two groups generate sharp social conflicts. Naturals are jealous of Coordinators' ability and expel them from the Earth. After that, Naturals even nuked Coordinators' colonial satellite. Under this situation, war was born. This cartoon warns us to be cautious about the regulation of biological technologies.

Vesna, V. "Art + Biotech BiotechLecture Video." UCOnline.
"Meanings of Participation: Outlaw Biology." UCOnline.
"Genetically Modified Food." <>
"The Biggest Concerns About Genetically Modified Food Aren't Really About GMOs." <>
"Coordinators." <>

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Event 1 - Toni Dove Lecture

Two weeks ago, I went to the EDA room of Broad Art Center in UCLA for a lecture given by Toni Dove. Dove was regarded as a precursor in the field of interactive art. She was especially interested in  human computer interaction, also a hot topic in my field – Computer Science. Not surprisingly, she talked about the experience she cooperated with a software engineer in her studio in New York City. She introduced to us the process through which her artistic ideas were realized – designing, modeling, and iterating.

I was especially interested in two projects she demonstrated. She showed a scene with a dancer on the screen embracing a transparent ball. She was able to use gestures to control the motion of the dancer. She also showed us the mechanism – a gesture sampling and analysis software. It was a successful project about human interacting with computers via something not keyboard and mouse.

Artificial Changelings was the other project. A view was able to stand in front of a screen. Depending on the different zones s/he stood in, the image changed its topic. Different scenarios could also decode the motion and gestures in various ways. For example, in the "inside the character's head" mode, the viewer's gestures changed the character's facial expression.

These two projects are interesting to me because HCI is a hot topic in Computer Science. The very last revolution in HCI has made Apple, once struggling with their computer sales, rise again with their stunning iPhones. The innovative way of interaction – touching – at that time, has caught users' will of purchase immediately. Therefore, I believe the next revolution in human computer interaction will also unleash a dazzling new style of life.

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Week 4 - Art + MedTech

The bloom of art, science and technology has given birth to a world with more diversity and possibility than ever before. It has been a more urgent wish that people can live longer than before to be able to explore this world. Therefore, medical science and technology has never been out of the lens of the public. Artists like to create work about medical topics, too, especially for the interest in human anatomy.
Figure 1: Various of human body cross-sections from Visible Human Project
Despite Egyptians had been cutting open human bodies long time before, doing so even for research purpose was once prohibited by the Church. The turning point, however, happened in the period of renaissance. (Vesna) With accurate understanding of human body structure enabled by anatomy, many medical measures were fortified by anatomical evidence while others were proved to be unreasonable. It greatly improved the effectiveness and reliability of the medical measures. At the same time, artists also studied human anatomy a lot, effectively boosting the exploration of the internals of human body. For example, Leonardo da Vinci was considered not only a famous painter but also a great anatomist; Alastair Sooke, an art critic of Daily Telegraph, commented, "had [Leonardo] published his treatise, he would be considered more important than the Belgian anatomist Andreas Vesalius, whose influential textbook On the Fabric of the Human Body appeared in 1543." (1) The enthusiasm of artists on anatomy has lasted since then to now. The Human World Project and Visible Human Project, for example, has been influenced the perspective of artists and medical researchers hugely. The latter was launched to create dataset for visualization of the internals of human body. The accurate visual representation brought by the Visible Human Project, inspired many artistic ideas, according to Professor Vesna.

Figure 2: Drawing of a Woman's Torso by Leonardo da Vinci
Silvia Casini from University of Venice introduced these artistic ideas and source of them when she discussed a technology called MRI. Like anatomy, MRI could provide accurate illustration of human body. Casini described MRI as a “mirror”. She pointed out the accuracy of the image formation made people believe that MRI images were “unmediated representation of themselves” and generated “powerful shock of recognition.” (Casini 81) It was the juxtaposition of the original body and the mirror image that created the artistic ideas.
Figure 3: Installation images of two convex mirrors

Looking into future, the gradual exploration of human body will not stop at the anatomic level. Besides mechanical properties of human parts, scientists are getting more and more interested in even more microscopic fields like neurologic signal transmission and genetics. Together with the rapid development of computer science, scientists are seeking to build interfaces between human body and outside world by digitizing neural signals. Recently, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency has fund a $60 million project on this topic. (Mathas 1)


Casini, S. "Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) as Mirror and Portrait: MRI Con gurations between Science and the Arts". Web. Accessed Apr. 24, 2016.
Mathas, C. "DARPA Challenges Developers to Create Device to Access and Digitize Brain Signals". Web. Accessed Apr. 24, 2016.
Sooke, A. "Leonardo da Vinci's groundbreaking anatomical sketches". Web. Accessed Apr. 24, 2016.
The Creaters Project Team. "MRI Art Exhibit Captures The Beauty Of The Human Brain". Web. Accessed Apr. 24, 2016.
Vesna, V. "Lectures on Art+Medtech". Web. Accessed Apr. 24, 2016.

Sunday, April 17, 2016

Week 3 - Art + Robotics

Since modern industrialization revolutionized almost every corner of human society and culture, traditional art creation and critics have faced various of challenges. According to Walter Benjamin, a German philosopher and cultural critic, art works lost unique so-called “aura” of existence under the fact that plural, precise copies of artworks could be made by modern reproduction technology. (1) It implied that instead of watched, analyzed and criticized by only a few professionals, modern artworks were increasingly under inspection of the mass majority. This transformation happened so fast that many traditional artists harshly criticized the involvement of the mass majority. (Benjamin 3 - 5) Duhamel, for example, believed movie, a form of art primarily aiming for mass audience, “kindle[d] no light in the heart and awaken[ed] no hope …” Benjamin pointed out that art should be and had been appreciated by the mass majority with an example of architecture. Architecture had the duality of having value of both utility and aesthetics. However, Benjamin agreed with conservative artists and critics when he said the public was an “absent-minded” examiner. (Benjamin 7)
Figure 1: People in an auction of Scream
Douglas Davis, a vanguard of contemporary Internet art who just passed away two years ago, analyzed the concern of Benjamin and his contemporary artists and critics from an era in which not only the reproduction of work was more precise and convenient, but the transmission of that also reached the ceiling of the speed of light. With Internet, people’s work could reach every corner of the world in literally no time. Therefore, more of the mass majority could be involved, yet Davis suggested that last generation of critics overlooked the harm of the ability of reproduction. (382 - 383) In digital era, people were still maniac at pursuing the authentic version of artwork, investing millions of dollars in the genuine (see figure 1). The “aura” of the original work was not undermined but even enhanced when digital technology allowed incremental development, distribution and revision of work. Davis used his own work, The Last Nine Minutes, as an example of how this was possible. (383) At last, he emphasized the aura did not reside “in the thing itself but in the originality of the moment when we see, hear, read, repeat, revise.” (386)

Video 2: Massimo Banzi's TED talk on Arduino
I can even imagine, how harshly Massimo Banzi, one of the founders of Arduino, would criticize the 1900s critics for they believed the public were absent-minded. Arduino is a programmable micro controller that can serve as a “smart center” in many inventions. In his TED talk, Banzi showed the audience what Arduino had enabled men, women, and even kids to make their ideas come true. More importantly, it showed how smart, creative and imaginative the so-called absent-mined could be. Arduino was certainly a resultant of the industrial and digital revolution. The reproduction of Arduino did not evolve into replicates, but all those wonderful, miraculous and exciting little inventions brought out by the community.
Figure 3: World champion Lee Sedol couldn't believe his defeat against AI
The essence of the industrial revolution was the automation of production so that humans were able to make things much more efficient than handcrafting. In the twenty-first century, human beings are doing one similar thing – automation of thoughts – also known as artificial intelligence. Just like how conservatives reacted to mass production in the 1900s, many famous figures and critics today point out that artificial intelligence can smear the virtue of human intelligence and even threat human’s existence, including even Bill Gates and Stephen Hawking, both of who are standing on the frontier of human technology. This truly reminds me of the concern of dehumanization of workers in the period of industrial revolution. However, I believe both mass production and artificial intelligence cannot replace human for the same reason: mass production needs people to design and artificial intelligence needs people not only to design but also to train. If one looked at how DeepMind trained AlphaGo, a Go AI software “who” recently defeated Lee Sedol, one of the best Go professional players in the world, s/he should be convinced that the victory was not possible without the smart strategy DeepMind picked to train the algorithms in the software. 


W. Benjamin. "The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction." 1936. Print.
R. Cellan-Jones. "Stephen Hawking warns artificial intelligence could end mankind." 2014. Web.
D. Davis. "The Work of Art in the Age of Digital Reproduction." 1995. Leonardo, Vol. 28, No. 5. Third Annual New York Digital Salon. pp. 381-386. Print.
P. Holley. "Bill Gates on dangers of artificial intelligence: ‘I don’t understand why some people are not concerned’." 2015. Web.
D. Silver et al. "Mastering the game of Go with deep neural networks and tree search." 2016. Print.