Art, Science + Technology

DMA9 Fall 2007, Section B

Archive for Spencer Hill

Final Projects

Final Projects


I was really impressed with all of the final projects that were presented in class on Monday and Wednesday. Presentations from all four elements, earth, water, fire, and air, were really impressive in their creativity and their design. Many used the element requirement as a springboard to create projects that dealt with pollution and/or other issues facing our planet today. They tackled these problems in a variety of ways, from designs for wildfire defense systems to art projects that aim to raise awareness about these topics. Whatever angle they took, most of the projects were very successful. One in particular that really intrigued me was the reverse gravity art display, where the tree inside the glass cube shed leaves that would float upwards. I’m sorry I don’t know the name of who made that project and thus can’t give them credit, but I think that would be a really spectacular piece to actually create in real life.

Experimental as this format for the midterm and final was, I think it was a huge success. It forced us to directly apply what we’ve learned in class to create something special of our own. Furthermore, viewing the one-minute presentations exposed us to some really cool project ideas, and, at least for me, opened my eyes to all the great ideas that our floating through the minds of my fellow UCLA students. Plus, having no written final and being done with class a week before finals is a huge plus. Overall, it was a fitting ending to a very memorable class.

Week 9: Guest Lecture

Guest Speaker: Prof. Gimzewski

I was really impressed with the guest lecture today given by Professor Gimzewski. His view on science and academia was really refreshing and definitely not what I expected. Also, it was cool to see somebody who has been extremely successful and who has garnered so much praise in their field that hadn’t let it get to their head at all. Both of himself personally and of academia as a whole, he remains self-critical and skeptical, which is necessary in order for progress to continue. His comments on professors (from all disciplines) who lack real experience really made sense to me (and made me laugh out loud). Everything about him was very unorthodox, notwithstanding his speaking style; his rambling, humorous delivery was offsetting at first but totally fit his attitude.

What I found most interesting about his talk, however, was his description at the end of the lecture about meditation and Buddhist philosophy. The Buddhist teachings of impermanence and the interconnected nature of everything in the universe seem to me to fit very well with the themes of this class. That such a successful scientist as himself would put more import on these things than on the incredible work he does really impressed me. And beyond his outlook on life, I thought the projects he has worked on in nanotechnology were remarkable in their vision and their potential. Plus, any speaker is a thousand times better when they have a sweet Scottish accent and can tell stories about drinking whiskey with Nobel laureates until four in the morning.



In Class Debate

In-class Debate

The debate over coincidence vs. fate is one that is based almost entirely on personal beliefs. And, as was evident in our in-class discussion of these issues in lecture last Wednesday, it is a sensitive topic that evokes strong emotions from people on both sides of the argument. What is also apparent is that any individual’s particular take on whether or not fate exists or whether or not coincidence is a human construct is very much a consequence of that person’s religious convictions, or lack thereof. Of course in such a debate, there are no real right or wrong answers, at least not that humans can prove to be true at this point in time. With that being said, here’s my take on the issue. (I apologize if my views offend anybody.)


My Take

I personally don’t believe in fate, which stems very much in part from my being agnostic. A lot of people, Christians in particular (but definitely not just them), often call it divine intervention when things end up working out in strange ways in their favor. They say that every single thing that happens is part of God’s master plan, that every minor circumstance in this world is just a piece of His plan. My problem with this argument lies in the circumstances where things don’t work out, and I’m not talking in terms of our own petty problems. What about the thousands of children in Africa born with AIDS, or the thousands of innocent people being massacred in Darfur? What about all the children here in the United States (and throughout the world) that die of disease or in accidents before they are even able to comprehend notions of free will or fate? Are all these things, too, part of God’s master plan? If so, it’s not a plan (or a religion) that I want to subscribe to.


Plastic Surgery

How has marketing/mass media contributed to the plastic surgery craze?

In today’s image obsessed society, plastic surgery has become a commonplace practice for anybody looking to upgrade their look. Now any part of the body can be altered through medical techniques. Doctors now even put out tv and radio commercials and pay for billboards advertising the various enhancements they can make to your body. Marketing has become a crucial part of the industry, with plastic surgeons now buying out newspaper ads that highlight the special financing and low prices they offer. Since when was it ok for doctor’s to be this concerned with money? With more and more celebrities getting work done, whether it be tummy tucks, breast augmentation, nose jobs, or something else, plastic surgery is becoming the norm in America.


Can (or should) anything be done about this increase in plastic surgeries?

I personally believe that this current craze with plastic surgeries is in fact detrimental to our society and should be stopped. The whole concept of being able to change anything you don’t like about yourself through surgery is sending the wrong message to people. Furthermore, I feel that these purely cosmetic procedures are tainting the supposedly benevolent realm of medicine, changing it from field of easing people’s suffering to increasing their sex appeal. The problem is that this has become a very lucrative area. Sex sells, and as long as people are willing to pay lots of money to make themselves look better, there will be doctors there to perform these surgeries and to collect these hefty bills. The solution to this dilemma certainly doesn’t seem to be a simple one.




The Midterms

I was very impressed with the project ideas that the class presented. Without exception, every single idea presented had some very interesting points. Some of the product/invention ideas would be very beneficial to humankind if they were ever manufactured. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if some technologies go into production in the near future that are very similar to those introduced in class. Other projects were less practical but were just as inspiring. Ideas for art exhibits using robotics and user interaction definitely opened my eyes to ways in which art can be expressed. Overall, I thought that the whole ordeal was a big success. The assignment forced us to think outside of the box, further closing the inherent gap in our minds between the arts and the sciences. Congrats to all my classmates on their great projects and to our professor and TA’s for saving us from a boring blue book midterm.


Tensegrity/Magnetic Rehab Project

One of the proposals that I was most impressed with was the idea that involved tensegrity and using magnets to heal various medical conditions, such as reshaping red blood cells in folks with sickle cell anemia or correcting tumors in those with cancer. I thought this project had it all. It was a very unique idea that could potentially become a reality in the future. Furthermore, this idea, if ever actually produced, could save thousands of lives and relieve the suffering of countless more. It was also very well presented. I thought all of the projects were very interesting, and there were several others that stood out, but this project left the most lasting impression. I’m sorry I don’t know the name of who created this project, but whoever you are, you did a great job.

Artificial Intelligence and the GFP Bunny

Is artificial intelligence really intelligent?

Computer systems today are capable of incredible feats of computation that far exceed the abilities of humans. We depend on computers to do such complicated tasks as guiding the flight path of NASA rockets. But as impressive as these things are, the way all computers function makes their “intelligence” very limited. Jeff Hawkins, inventor of the Palm Pilot and founder of the Redwood Neuroscience Institute, addresses this issue in his book On Intelligence. In the book, Hawkins asserts that real (human) intelligence is based on the ability to learn new things and adapt to changing information based on past knowledge stored as memories. Computers lack this ability completely; they are only able to perform the specific tasks they were programmed for and are unable to complete the task if it is altered in anyway, without being reprogrammed. In On Intelligence, Hawkins gives the following example to show the limits of computer “intelligence”: Whereas essentially any person would be able to figure it out almost instantly, even the most powerful computers in the world wouldn’t be able to predict what the last word will be in this ________ (sentence). Hawkins wants to one day create truly intelligent machines by wiring them not like modern computers but by mimicking the way human brains are wired. It’s a fascinating book that is surprisingly easy to read but has far reaching implications in neuroscience, computer technology and other areas.


Is the GFP Bunny art?

I was surprised by how Mr. Edward Shanken’s lecture on the GFP Bunny elicited very strong responses from members of the class, so I figured I would give my take on the subject. I actually feel that the bunny is art, albeit not in the most traditional sense of the word. As we progress farther and farther in our technological abilities, the reality is that society will have to face the moral and ethical questions of genetic engineering and transgenic practices. GFP Bunny, to me, forces us to think about these issues. The image of that neon green bunny rabbit is a striking one, and in a way puts a face on an issue that most have a hard time imagining. I personally have very little background in art, but for me art is something that challenges our thinking or that makes us see things in a different light. GFP Bunny accomplishes this quite well, as was made apparent by the emotional reactions it drew from our class. But I think that more important than the question of whether it is art or not are the questions that GFP Bunny itself raises about genetic engineering. These are the questions we should be focusing on.


Robotic Arts and Steroids

What is the controversy that surrounds robotic art?

Robot art, like any subset of art, arouses extremely different responses from different people. Some are enthralled by the implications of harnessing the power of robots to create stimulating art. Boosters of the scene say that by using robots, whose task typically involves nothing of creativity, to create art helps fuse the world of technology and science with the art world. Others, art purists among them, feel that adding a mechanical element to creating art takes away from its authenticity, or makes it less than “art.” Some might say that in a society such as ours in which technology and industry dominate our day to day lives, that art is one of the only escapes from the clutches of technology and thus shouldn’t be created through robotics. In a way, these people feel like art is one of the few things left in society that is truly human. Adding robots to the picture takes away from the humanity of it all.


How is this debate over robotic art similar to that of performance enhancing drugs?

This debate surrounding robotic art is very similar to that of the role of performance enhancing drugs in professional athletics. Supporters of the drugs feel that the athletes are there to entertain us, and that as entertainers they should be allowed to do whatever it takes to take their performances to the highest possible level. Detractors feel that steroids and other performance enhancers create an unfair advantage for players and that their use takes away from the idea of sport as competition. Furthermore, these people say that professional athletes who use performance enhancing substances are sending the message to kids that it is ok to cheat or to bend the rules. Although not nearly as much in the mainstream as the debate over drugs and sports, the controversy over robotic art has at its core the same conflict: what is the point at which innovation and technological advancement seizes to enhance something and begins to chip away at its purity?