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.

Saturday, April 9, 2016

Week 2 - Math + Art

Although art is perhaps one of the most diverse things ever invented by human beings, many branches of it try to present a precise view of the real or imagination world of artists to people. To reach such precision, artists must conform to patterns and rules by which human eyes perceive the world. Mathematics is designed exactly for this reason – to precisely describe patterns, rules and relationships of things in the world. Among all the tools developed and adopted, the technique of perspective is truly a milestone in the history of art. Proposed by Muslin mathematician Alhazen, perspective formulates how three-dimension objects should be put on the canvas according to their relative position and size. (Vesna, “Lecture …”) It is the perspective rules that makes drawings look “real”.

While artists create precise drawings of objects using tools like perspective, they also like to jump out of the box and think of something abstract or innovative. For example, the fourth dimension is a popular concept that artists extend. Although inspired by the idea in math and physics, artists tend not to replicate mathematicians’ and physicists’ interpretation exactly. Instead, they add flavors to it. To some of the artists like Duchamp, the fourth dimension is a lever for him to jump across the bar set by the real world to create abstract artworks. (Henderson, “The Fourth …”) Another artist in 1970s, Tony Robbin, also makes a similar points when he says
Artist who are interested in four dimensional space are not motivated by a desire to solve mathematical problems. We are motivated by a desire to complete our subjective experience by inventing new aesthetic and conceptual capabilities. (Robbin, "The New ...")
Figure 1: Drawing Hands by Escher

Figure 2: "GEB" Book
This creates an interesting relationship between science and art. Art uses scientific methods as a tool, but is not limited by science. Usually, art shows innovative representations of scientific ideas. My favorite artist, Escher, perhaps many computer scientists’ favorite as well, created many drawings in close relation to concepts in logic and computer science. The drawing Drawing Hands visualizes the idea of mutual recursion; the left hand is drawing the right hand while the right hand is drawing the left hand. This idea can also be represented in code. Consider the following C code, if someone calls either of the two, the program will not terminate. This concept, named Strange Loop by Douglas Hofstadter, is explained in detail in his Pulitzer-awarded book Gödel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid. I recommend this book to all of you.

void draw_left_hand() {

void draw_right_hand() {
Listing 2: Mutual recursive functions

Gödel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid is a perfect illustration of the juxtaposition of art and science. In the book, the author discusses one conceptual pattern – iteration and recursion – with different realizations in different subjects. We have seen Escher’s work. Hofstadter also covers the techniques of round and canon in music, the problem of self-reference in mathematics, and program language parsing in computer science. For me, it is rewarding to examine an abstract idea in different ways. This intellectual diversity constructs the beauty of the cosmos.


D. Hofstadter. Gödel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid. 1979. Print.
Robbin. "The New Art of 4-Dimensional Space." 1977. Print.
L. D. Henderson. "The Fourth Dimension and Non-Euclidean Geometry in Modern Art: Conclusion." 1984. Print.
V. Vesna. DESMA 9 Lectures on Math + Art. 2016. Video. Accessed 04/08/2016.

Friday, April 1, 2016

Week 1 - Me and Two Cultures

Hi, dear colleagues. I am excited to take part in this quarter's discussion of art, science and technology. Being a computer science student, I have been fortunate enough to experience the fusion of art and technology in both daily life and the industry.

Robert E. Greene on set of Mater and Commander
Professor Robert Greene as a violinist.
I have been devoted to mathematics and computer science since the freshman year. Besides completing academic goals, I am also keen on researching for anecdotes and trivia of my professors. I am surprised to find out that many mathematicians are also musicians. For example, my MATH 31 professor Dr. Robert Greene is also an audio expert and musician, and he is the violin instructor of Russel Crowe, the portrayer of John Nash in the well-know biopic Beautiful Mind. Just another example, my CHEM 20A professor Eric Scerri usually plays one piece of guitar in the last lecture in a quarter. You can find a video of his performance on YouTube.

Professor Eric Scerri plays guitar in a lecture
Language Instinct by Steven Pinker
My discoveries convince me that art and science are not far away from each other. Indeed, even the third party of the "triangulation" – a term proposed by Professor Vesna to describe the relationship between scientists, artists and writers – the writers or intellectuals in traditional sense are also merging with the scientists. (121) John Brockman's book The Third Culture presents a list of figures who are not only influential scientists but also exceptional writers. Amongst them, the name Steven Pinker catches my attention especially, because his excellent book The Language Instinct is the textbook of Linguistics 1, which I took two years ago in summer. The book has been one of the few books that I manage to read to the last page.

If Snow were alive, he would be satisfied to see the ongoing paradigm shift in education because he believed that the gap between cultures must be filled by education. (35 - 42) Every student here in UCLA can feel it. The university enforced general education courses. For example, as an engineering school student, I have also taken courses in geology, history and art. My department also includes an engineering ethics course in the curriculum. It is an interesting fact that the first week of that course and this one both coincidentally focuses on the thesis of C.P. Snow. The ultimate goal of such educational effort is to improve the mutual understanding of the "Two Cultures".
One slide from the first lecture of ENGR 183EW – Engineering Ethics
Gershon Weltman. Slides. Accessed 04/01/2016.
In my field, artistic visualization of process and data has become a significant pathway of learning and understanding. Educators have designed intuitive animations to teach algorithms to beginners. The following video visualize the process of sorting a list of elements in ascending order.
Fifteen algorithms in six minutes
Again, it is really exciting for me to join this course and explore the potential released by the collision of art, science and technology. Nice to meet you!

J. Brockman. The Third Culture. 1995. Print.
R. Greene. Personal Website. Web. Accessed 04/01/2016.
C.P. Snow. Two Cultures and the Scientific Revolution. 1964. Print.
V. Vesna. "Toward a Third Culture: Being In Between." 2001. Web. Accessed 04/01/2016.
V. Vesna. DESMA 9 Lectures on Two Cultures. 2016. Video. Accessed 03/31/2016.