A Phenomenological Framework of Architectural Paradigms for the User-Centered Design of Virtual Environments

Virtual Architectural Paradigms

Multimodal Technologies and Interaction 2, no. 4 (2018)

ABSTRACT: In some circumstances, immersion in virtual environments with the aid of virtual reality (VR) equipment can create feelings of anxiety in users and be experienced as something “frightening”, “oppressive”, “alienating”, “dehumanizing”, or “dystopian”. Sometimes (e.g., in exposure therapy or VR gaming), a virtual environment is intended to have such psychological impacts on users; however, such effects can also arise unintentionally due to the environment’s poor architectural design. Designers of virtual environments may employ user-centered design (UCD) to incrementally improve a design and generate a user experience more closely resembling the type desired; however, UCD can yield suboptimal results if an initial design relied on an inappropriate architectural approach. This study developed a framework that can facilitate the purposeful selection of the most appropriate architectural approach by drawing on Norberg-Schulz’s established phenomenological account of real-world architectural modes. By considering the unique possibilities for structuring and experiencing space within virtual environments and reinterpreting Norberg-Schulz’s schemas in the context of virtual environment design, a novel framework was formulated that explicates six fundamental “architectural paradigms” available to designers of virtual environments. It was shown that the application of this framework could easily be incorporated as an additional step within the UCD process.

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A Phenomenological Analysis of the Virtual World as Aesthetic Object: Echo, Deepening, or Dissolution of the Lifeworld?

A Phenomenological Analysis of the Virtual World

17th Annual Conference of the Polish Phenomenological Association: History, Body, and Life-World – On Patočka and Beyond • Institute of Philosophy and Sociology, Polish Academy of Sciences, Warsaw • December 15, 2017

ABSTRACT: In this work we build on the ontological and aesthetic frameworks formulated by Roman Ingarden to develop a phenomenological analysis of the virtual world as aesthetic object. First, ‘virtual reality technology’ is distinguished from ‘virtual environments’ and ‘virtual worlds.’ The types of immersive, interactive virtual worlds accessed through contemporary VR technologies are further distinguished from the types of ‘virtual worlds’ accessed, e.g., by reading a novel or watching a film. Essential and optional elements of virtual worlds are identified, with special attention given to the (software-enforced) ‘laws of nature’ governing the structure and dynamics of elements in a world, the pseudo-natural origins of apparently ‘natural’ elements like wild animals and geographic formations, and the unique positions of the world’s designer(s) and human visitor(s). The potential ‘incompleteness’ of virtual architectural structures and inability to determine whether one’s social interactions are with human or artificial agents is analyzed in light of Ingarden’s interpretation of Husserl’s phenomenological model of intentionality and the perception of objects. It is shown that a virtual building, e.g., does not display all the features of a real-world building but instead possesses some characteristics found in real-world paintings.

Drawing on Ingarden’s framework, the (physical) ontic basis of a virtual world is distinguished from the (purely intentional) virtual world as a work of art that is grasped through perception and the related aesthetic and cultural objects that may be constituted by a visitor who undergoes the right sort of conscious experience. The stratification of a virtual world as a work of art is also investigated. Building on Ingarden’s critique of Husserl’s concept of the ‘lifeworld’ as the natural world that is simultaneously (a) stripped of modern scientific theory and (b) the world that we live in and manipulate, it is suggested that VR-facilitated virtual worlds (like other highly technologized forms of art) undermine the factual possibility for such a lifeworld to exist. In response, though, Patočka’s notion (influenced by Ingarden) of fictional literary worlds as ‘echoes’ of the lifeworld is noted; we thus close by raising the question of whether certain virtual worlds might potentially be employed to help restore the possibility of (perhaps temporarily) establishing a Husserlian lifeworld.

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Światło ucieleśnione i zaciemniający parametryzm: Analiza fenomenologiczno-estetyczna praktyki architektonicznej w ‘świecie elektronicznym’

Ogólnopolska konferencja naukowa ‘Wszechświat Disneya’ • Instytut Filologii Polskiej Wydziału Filologicznego Uniwersytetu Pedagogicznego and the Facta Ficta Research Centre, Kraków • December 9, 2017

ABSTRACT: W niniejszej prezentacji przedstawione jest zastosowanie podejścia fenomenologicznego w celu przestudiowania dwóch zagadnień podnoszonych przez praktyki architektoniczne obrazowane w filmach Tron (1982) i Tron: Legacy (2010). Po pierwsze, rozważamy użycie światła ucieleśnionego jako składnika budowlanego w obrazowanym w tych filmach ‘świecie elektronicznym’ (lub ‘drugim wszeczświecie’). Ludzki programista i programy komputerowe przedstawieni jako główni architekci świata elektronicznego stosują światło ucieleśnione jako kluczowy element fizyczny budynków, mostów, dróg, pojazdów, ubrań i innych przedmiotów, albo stwarzając, albo nakreślając namacalne kształty wśród ciemności poza tym niezróżnicowanej. Światło wykorzystowane jest n.p. do stworzenia platform, na których mogą stać postacie, oraz pionowych murów, które stoją na przeszkodzie innym fizycznym przedmiotom ‘zderzającym się’ z nimi. Porównujemy ten fenomen z historycznym w świecie rzeczywistym użyciem światła jako elementu architektonicznego o roli ozdobnej, przedstawiającej, dydaktycznej i funkcjonalnej oraz, w szczególności, z użyciem oświetlenia, aby symulować istnienie dużych fizycznych konstrukcji architektonicznych, które w rzeczywistości nie istnieją. Architektoniczne zastosowanie światła ucieleśnionego inspiruje pytania estetyczne i ontologiczne, które można badać przy pomocy podejścia fenomenologicznego.

Po drugie, badamy sposób, w jaki architektura w świecie elektronicznym omawianych filmów przedstawiona jest jako coś współprojektowanego przez istoty ludzkie i sztucznie inteligentne programy komputerowe przeznaczone do tej roli. W omawianych filmach, ludzki programista wybrał ogólne jakości estetyczne, które mają się przejawiać w architekturze świata elektronicznego i powierzył programom AI rolę przełożenia tych celów na konkretne konstrukcje architektoniczne, automatyzując w ten sposób proces budowania świata spełniającego dane parametry estetyczne. Tron: Legacy prezentuje szczegółowe debaty między ludzkim a AI współarchitektem dotyczące zalet wyboru jakości estetycznych takich, jak swoboda, otwartość, piękno, porządek, doskonalność, skuteczność funkcjonalna, regularność, przewidywalność i chaotyczność, jako cele i parametry dla architektury systemu. Film argumentuje za tym, że dla wspieranego przez AI architektonicznego projektowania parametrycznego wybór jakości estetycznych, które same w sobie wydają się pożądane, może jednakże powodować powstanie struktur z nieprzewidzianymi i bardzo niepożądanymi właściwościami. Wspierany przez sztuczną inteligencję proces architektoniczny, do którego już robił aluzję Tron i który wyraźniej poznany został w Tron: Legacy, może być więc interpretowany (chociaż niezamierzenie) przepowiednia i krytyka współczesnych technik projektowania generatywnego i parametrycznego oraz szczególnego ruchu Parametryzmu.

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Technomancy and the Conjuring of Virtual Worlds: The Utilization of ‘Digital Magical Practice’ as Organizational Strategy

Technomancy and the Conjuring of Virtual Worlds

The 3rd DELab UW International Conference: Ongoing Digitalisation of Economies and Societies • Digital Economy Lab, Uniwersytet Warszawski, Warszawa • September 29, 2017

ABSTRACT: Efforts to formally define ‘magic’ and to identify the aspects that distinguish magical practice from other human pursuits have been made from both a theological perspective (e.g., St. Thomas Aquinas) and, more recently, an anthropological perspective (e.g., Frazer, Mauss, Durkheim, Malinowski, and Tambiah). Frequently cited elements of magic include its use of esoteric symbols, gestures, and speech that are only understood only by a small, elite group of initiated practitioners; its use of specially prepared ritual instruments; its attempt to harness the power of invisible, intelligent, nonhuman entities (such as demons or nature deities) to produce specific physical effects; and its attempt to manipulate hidden (or ‘occult’) forms of causality rather than obviously explicable physical causality.

As early as the 1970s, scholars noted that the practice of computer programming reflects several such aspects of magic as it is traditionally defined. For example, conventional computer programming requires mastery of an esoteric body of knowledge passed down between generations of programmers; it employs arcane symbols arranged in elaborate sequential scripts structurally similar to magical incantations; and it allows computers to perform highly complex, seemingly ‘intelligent’ behaviors by means of causal processes that may be comprehensible to programmers but which to ordinary computer users appear quite mystifying.

In this presentation, we argue that it can be expected that the ‘magical’ aspects of computing technology will be transformed and enhanced over the coming years through the development of increasingly sophisticated technologies for virtual reality (VR), artificial intelligence (AI), and ubiquitous computing (UC) that converge to create ‘magically responsive’ digital-physical ecosystems and ‘enchanted’ cyber-physical societies.

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The Dystopian Megacorp: Non-Financial Strategies for Domination in Near-Future Cyber-Physical Ecosystems

The Dystopian Megacorp

His Master’s Voice 4th Annual Symposium: Utopias, Dystopias, and Ecotopias • Facta Ficta Research Centre, Kraków • March 25, 2017

ABSTRACT: Creators of cyberpunk science fiction envision a near future in which technological, political, and economic change yield a powerful new type of organization: the megacorporation or ‘megacorp,’ which is frequently depicted as contributing to (and exploiting) the dystopian nature of its society. By analyzing such fictional works, we formulate a definition of the ‘megacorp’ along with two conceptual frameworks: (1) a model of the megacorp as cyber-physical organism; and (2) a typology that reveals the ways in which different kinds of megacorps generate dystopian or (limited) utopian dynamics within their cyber-physical ecosystems. In developing the first framework, concepts from artificial life and management cybernetics are employed to argue that some megacorps are presented as incorporating artificial agency into their organizational architecture in such ways that they do not simply act ‘like’ living organisms but indeed constitute massive synthetic life-forms that inhabit the globalized digital-physical ecosystems of the near future. In developing the second framework, it is noted that contemporary corporations typically pursue a narrow range of strategies for achieving financial profitability so they can purchase resources needed to adapt and grow. However, we contend that – as depicted in cyberpunk science fiction – dystopian megacorps have available to them a broader range of non-financial strategies that they exploit to subdue competitors and obtain the resources needed to survive, evolve, and grow.

Such strategies may employ approaches that are legal and political (e.g., extraterritoriality; corporate courts; corporate citizenship; EULAs; ownership of individuals’ genetic code, cybernetic augmentations, and output); paramilitary (deployment of private military, police, and security forces; cyberwarfare); geospatial (construction of facilities isolated in fortified, orbital, or undersea arcologies; use of ubiquitous sensors and effectors to convert the entire Internet of Things into a corporate facility; virtualization and nonlocalization of organizational architecture; construction of new digital-physical ecosystems to dominate); biological (engineering of biomedical dependencies among employees and consumers; creation of ‘walled-garden’ commercial ecosystems requiring genetic modification for entry); psychological and sociocultural (direct neurocybernetic access to a population’s sensory, cognitive, and motor activity; cultural engineering; memetic warfare); or technological and informatic (monopolization of core global ICT infrastructure; ‘megascale’ data mining, computational simulation, and prediction; automated decision-making by AI; workforce roboticization and cyborgization). Three ‘views’ for analyzing competitive strategies of a megacorp are presented, each of which utilizes two dimensions to distinguish four types of megacorps according to their interactions with their ecosystem and resulting generation of dystopian or utopian dynamics.

The framework is then applied to numerous megacorps described in cyberpunk RPGs, including Arasaka and WorldSat (from Cyberpunk 2020); Evo, NeoNET, Proteus, Renraku, Saeder-Krupp, and Shiawase (from Shadowrun); Belltower Associates, the Picus Group, Tai Yong Medical, and VersaLife (from Deus Ex); Anubis, Augustus, and Imperial (from Ex Machina); and Golden Promise (from Interface Zero).

It is hoped that such frameworks can facilitate efforts to: (1) analyze the roles that creators of cyberpunk science fiction envision for megacorps in their worlds’ ecosystems; (2) explicate how megacorps’ competitive strategies contribute to the dystopian nature of their societies; (3) anticipate new competitive strategies that may emerge if our world’s actual business ecosystems evolve to resemble those presented in cyberpunk fiction; and (4) recognize any real-world corporations that begin to acquire characteristics of (dystopian) megacorps.

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From Stand Alone Complexes to Memetic Warfare: Cultural Cybernetics and the Engineering of Posthuman Popular Culture

50 Shades of Popular Culture International Conference • Facta Ficta Research Centre, Kraków • February 19, 2016

ABSTRACT: Here we argue that five emerging social and technological trends are creating new possibilities for the instrumentalization (or even “weaponization”) of popular culture for commercial, ideological, political, or military ends and for the development of a posthuman popular culture that is no longer solely produced by or for “humanity” as presently understood. These five trends are the: 1) decentralization of the sources of popular culture, as reflected in the ability of ordinary users to create and upload content that “goes viral” within popular culture, as well as the use of “astroturfing” and paid “troll armies” by corporate or state actors to create the appearance of broad-based grassroots support for particular products, services, actions, or ideologies; 2) centralization of the mechanisms for accessing popular culture, as seen in the role of instruments like Google’s search engine, YouTube, Facebook, Instagram, and Wikipedia in concentrating the distribution channels for cultural products, as well as efforts by state actors to censor social media content perceived as threatening or disruptive; 3) personalization of popular culture, as manifested in the growth of cultural products like computer games that dynamically reconfigure themselves in response to a player’s behavior, thereby creating a different product for each individual that is adapted to a user’s unique experiences, desires, and psychological characteristics; 4) automatization of the creation of products of popular culture, as seen in the automated high-speed generation of webpages, artwork, music, memes, and computer game content by AI systems that could potentially allow venues of popular culture (such as the Internet) to be flooded with content designed to influence a social group in particular ways; and 5) virtualization of the technological systems and mechanisms for creating, transmitting, and experiencing the products of popular culture, as witnessed in the development of all-purpose nodes (such as smartphones) that are capable of handling a full range of cultural products in the form of still images, video, audio, text, and interactive experiences, and the growing digitalization of cultural products that allows them to be more easily manipulated and injected into the popular culture of other states or social groups, bypassing physical and political barriers.

While these trends are expected to yield a broad range of positive and negative impacts, we focus on a particular subset of these impacts. Namely, we argue that the convergence of these five trends opens the door for the creation of popular culture that: 1) does not exist in any permanent, tangible physical artifacts but only as a collection of continuously transforming digital data that that is stored on the servers of a few powerful corporate or state actors and is subject to manipulation or degradation as a result of computer viruses, hacking, power outages, or other factors; 2) can be purposefully and effectively engineered using techniques commonly employed within IT management, electronics engineering, marketing, and other disciplines; 3) can become a new kind of weapon and battleground in struggles for military, political, ideological, and commercial superiority on the part of corporate, state, and other actors.

In order to stimulate thinking about ways in which these trends might develop, we conclude by considering two fictional near-future worlds – those depicted in Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex and Transhuman Space: Toxic Memes – in which the further evolution of these five trends is shown as leading to the neurocybernetically facilitated manipulation of popular culture, “memetic warfare,” and related phenomena. We suggest that these fictional works represent examples of self-reflexive futurology: i.e., elements of contemporary popular culture that attempt to anticipate and explore the ways in which future popular culture could be purposefully engineered, instrumentalized, and even weaponized in the service of a diverse array of ends.

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Utopias and Dystopias as Cybernetic Information Systems: Envisioning the Posthuman Neuropolity

Creatio Fantastica no. 3(50) (2015)

ABSTRACT: While it is possible to understand utopias and dystopias as particular kinds of sociopolitical systems, in this text we argue that utopias and dystopias can also be understood as particular kinds of information systems in which data is received, stored, generated, processed, and transmitted by the minds of human beings that constitute the system’s ‘nodes’ and which are connected according to specific network topologies. We begin by formulating a model of cybernetic information-processing properties that characterize utopias and dystopias. It is then shown that the growing use of neuroprosthetic technologies for human enhancement is expected to radically reshape the ways in which human minds access, manipulate, and share information with one another; for example, such technologies may give rise to posthuman ‘neuropolities’ in which human minds can interact with their environment using new sensorimotor capacities, dwell within shared virtual cyberworlds, and link with one another to form new kinds of social organizations , including hive minds that utilize communal memory and decision-making. Drawing on our model, we argue that the dynamics of such neuropolities will allow (or perhaps even impel) the creation of new kinds of utopias and dystopias that were previously impossible to realize. Finally, we suggest that it is important that humanity begin thoughtfully exploring the ethical, social, and political implications of realizing such technologically enabled societies by studying neuropolities in a place where they have already been ‘pre-engineered’ and provisionally exist: in works of audiovisual science fiction such as films, television series, and role-playing games.

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Tachikomatic Domains: Utopian Cyberspace as a ‘Contingent Heaven’ for Humans, Robots, and Hybrid Intelligences

Tachikomatic Domains

His Master’s Voice: Utopias and Dystopias in Audiovisual Culture • Facta Ficta Research Centre, Kraków • March 24, 2015

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The Social Robot as ‘Charismatic Leader’: A Phenomenology of Human Submission to Nonhuman Power

In Sociable Robots and the Future of Social Relations: Proceedings of Robo-Philosophy 2014, edited by Johanna Seibt, Raul Hakli, and Marco Nørskov, pp. 329-39 • Frontiers in Artificial Intelligence and Applications 273 • IOS Press, 2014

ABSTRACT: Much has been written about the possibility of human trust in robots. In this article we consider a more specific relationship: that of a human follower’s obedience to a social robot who leads through the exercise of referent power and what Weber described as ‘charismatic authority.’ By studying robotic design efforts and literary depictions of robots, we suggest that human beings are striving to create charismatic robot leaders that will either (1) inspire us through their display of superior morality; (2) enthrall us through their possession of superhuman knowledge; or (3) seduce us with their romantic allure. Rejecting a contractarian-individualist approach which presumes that human beings will be able to consciously ‘choose’ particular robot leaders, we build on the phenomenological-social approach to trust in robots to argue that charismatic robot leaders will emerge naturally from our world’s social fabric, without any rational decision on our part. Finally, we argue that the stability of these leader-follower relations will hinge on a fundamental, unresolved question of robotic intelligence: is it possible for synthetic intelligences to exist that are morally, intellectually, and emotionally sophisticated enough to exercise charismatic authority over human beings—but not so sophisticated that they lose the desire to do so?

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