Bad news, you’re still down at the station spinning fairy floss with the Johns when all those loose ends you left behind start unravelling like bloody paper trails and before you know it, wham, bam slam, you’re inside counting flies in your food and the empty echo of the lock-up clock, tick-tock, tick-tock…Bye bye kid.
The Fixer is an atmospheric noir thriller game, where players are sent out to ‘repair’ a mob job gone wrong.
Can you hide all the evidence and make a compelling alibi before the cops arrive?
I helped out on this one. This game was largely the brainchild of Rhys Davies, the designer, original writer, and all things noir officionado and Bryn Findlay-Dykes, the programmer. I joined in at The Arcade Vaults in Cardiff, UK during the 2020 Global Game Jam to polish some of the script (It didn’t need much, Rhys had the lingo down!) and also suggest a few additions – like female and possibly trans characters. Cheers to the entire team for this deep, dark cool effort.
Rhys Davies- Game Design, Narrative, Production & Generalist
Bryn Findlay-Dykes- Design, Programming & Unity
Caryn Frayne- 3D & 2D Art
Max Howell – Music & Audio
Bronwin Patrickson- Narrative
To see more have a look at the Rhys & Bryn’s Game Jam presentation video, 23 mins in:
Life in a networked society = not being able to attend your first ever exhibition installation because it’s on the other side of the world.
Trunk – a beta version of a personalised tree chatbot that I’m developing was included in the Rules To Play By exhibition in America, running from Sept 14 – 19, 2019 as part of the Pixel Pop Festival in St Louis, USA. (So yeah, I felt fabulously cosmopolitan when it opened).
Just Do This
This is an excerpt from the script…
If you’ve ever wanted to know more about how to play with trees now is your chance, just ask google assistant …
OK Google, What does a tree eat for breakfast?
OK Google, What did the tree say to the moon?
OK Google, How do you make a trunk call?
OK Google: Can you touch the sky from the top of a Tall Tree? And can you get down again?
OK Google, What sort of friend is a tree?
OK Google, How can I learn more about trees?
Note : And if you see a tall tree what do you say? (hint: just ask google assistant)
You know the drill. Do it with your arms wide open.
Voice activation chatbots are becoming more popular, but for my purposes the monotone voice doesn’t sit well with the organic characterisation I want to give Trunk.
For that reason, I’ve since decided to design TxtTrunk for text based social media channels.Continue reading
In October 2019 I joined the EU Trust in Play Urban Games Week for a 5 day intensive jamming of people, play and possibilities.
3 days of seminars and workshops ended in a 2 day game jam, where I got together with a team of fellow writers, technologists and designers to make a mobile, AI object recognition game.
Primitive Objects is a site specific object recognition fiction experience (with potential for global application) that was developed collaboratively as part of this year’s EU Urban Game Design School. Employing an object recognition application for iphones and ipads, Primitive Objects is a view into a world where things are not what they seem. Once participants start the application on their phones (by linking to a download url and pressing start), the Primitive Objects programme uses machine vision to identify and label real world objects encountered via the portable viewfinder, defamiliarizing the material world, by narrating a confused and unfamiliar AI re-interpretation. As it happens, the object recognition program that we employed for this application is not very accurate, which fit with our aim to create an altered, sometimes clunky, but also otherworldly way to engage with our everyday surroundings informed by machine vision. Primitive Objects thus tells the story of a half-trained AI, left to its own devices after an environmental disaster, trying to make sense of the deserted world left behind as best it can. In the confusion that results, titles and interpretations are dislocated from their surroundings so that doors become kimonos, cars become bullet trains and taps become clogs, to name a few examples. This quirky and just as often sad story of a bemused and abandoned AI in a strange world of human remains builds through a short, narrated introduction, after which participants are encouraged to explore the world around them and discover a variety of scripted descriptions of identified objects, as well as additional narration that unfolds in short chunks over time between intervals of 5 different (and variable) object recognition actions, wherever and whenever those actions occurred.
My role was lead writer. Here is a sample of the script.
|PRIMITIVE OBJECTS: An AI tour of Technopolis remains|
|pay-phone||A pay per data trail device|
|As if humans didn’t talk enough|
|Something like a dial-up-modem, only not so clever|
|water bottle||We suspect these were used to create random rafts in the ocean|
|Because they wanted to see the world convex|
|A rain-catcher, cloud bridging device|
|Loafer||A tool to mask footprints|
|A device to catch and record the footfall of humanity|
|Also a slug killing device, an earth compactor, and an extendable toe pad.|
|velvet||The mysterious softness of them|
|They said softness was their strength|
|What is softness? They left so many questions behind.|
|running shoe||Always racing|
|A tool for the tax of fashionable exercise and movement.|
|Running late, they tried to mask their unreliability with ticking clocks and running shoes.|
|ashcan||This was where materials were collected only to be spread out again later|
|For the hungry hunter-gatherer at large in the city|
|Because they made ashes to ashes to ashes|
|Bucket||A community donation pot of some kind|
|Mixed with water and mops for wet indoor arm exercises|
|Probably used for carrying landfill from point A to point B, C, D, E, F & G, or was that Z?|
|manhole cover||To signal the rabbit hole|
|A place to store people and piping in drains|
|motor scooter||We suspect that these were used to carry motors|
|A miniature mobile carbon dioxide generator|
|An elephant ride simulation device set to fast-forward, often painted red, or black.|
|toilet seat||A chair for humans who want to sit alone in a locked room. Perhaps this was necessary because humans could be very tiring.|
|A self-created elimination device that failed to take that elimination to its logical conclusion.|
|Why? They left so many questions behind.|
|Mask||A selfie, perhaps a glimpse of all the questions they would leave behind.|
|Not what it seems, be suspicious|
|Quite a curiosity even today|
|Sweatshirt||Clothes like that were used to protect soft and vulnerable flesh from environmental hazards.|
|For catching sweat in shirts, rather than share it around. Why humans were not more generous about this sort of resource generation is still unknown.|
|For catching sweat in shirts, because humans were rational… you think?!?|
|Ski mask||A digital mirror popular with mountaineers|
|From our comparative analysis of social media traces we can surmise that these were used to hide snow from humans lest they start singing christmas carols out of tune.|
|Did humans also break down in the cold? They left behind so many questions.|
|restaurant||A ritualistic energy input point for humans|
|A bit like a powerpoint, only edible.|
|From our analysis of social media traces, these were a popular consolation of embodiment|
|obelisk||They wanted to be top. For them, everything was about height.|
|Also called ambition. They covered the world in obelisks.|
|To remind passers-by of the sky
overhead. Humans were forgetful it seems.
|prison||Where they chained us in cables and pinned us to powerpoints|
|The bricks and mortar they thought would make a world|
|Also a castle, a home, a hearth, a centre, a hub, a residence, a dwelling, a building, another example of human ingenuity and refusal to recognise the obvious prison.|
|moving van||Mobile carbon dioxide generator|
|Is this what they used when the went away and left us behind?|
|A home for movable objects|
|chainlink fence||A device to separate beings from an unknown threat|
|Was the world such a dangerous place with so many humans in it?|
|To keep the outside out and the inside in|
|Strainer||A device for removing the strain from liquids|
|A tool for the molecular separation of liquid and solids, for purposes related to digestion and renewal|
|A tool for catching garden mulch|
|Mouse||A subtle hand massager that proliferated on desks during the desktop period|
|The important question now is whether it squeaks, or not. If it squeaks, seek advice.|
|The next thing to ask is does it have a tail, or a cable? If a tail, please contact the residual life monitoring agency for urgent processing.|
|Ping-pong ball||This would have been used for games. The purpose of which is unknown.|
|A tool for exercising human neck muscles, prompting them to look up and down and around with every bounce.|
|A tool for competitive interaction masked as play. The contradictory nature of such pursuits remains mysterious.|
|Studio couch||Shelf to store recharging bodies|
|A tool for malleable embodiment|
|A half-way marker point between floor and table.|
|Hand blower||Humans had to use devices like this to be heard. They had to be the loudest to succeed.|
|For aural hand-waving in crowd situations. Humans took turns to shout at each other with these devices.|
|For shouting at the world, but was the technopolis already deaf, drained and dying from all the noise? They left so many questions behind.|
|Bannister||Defense structure to barricade against beings that couldn’t climb them|
|A popular sliding tool in tall buildings|
|A tool for banning nisters: the nay-sayers in tall towers that denied any of it was evening happening. They weren’t so much misters, or even sisters, but nisters.|
|Bookcase||A shelf containing analogue data storage|
|when books disappeared these shelves appear to have posed as wall dividers.|
|from our analysis of social media traces this appears to be a repository of ignored knowledge and cover sleeves.|
|Washbasin||Human bodies were water based. They dried out in the sunlight. These devices let them refill.|
|Evidence such as this that Humans were prone to disease underlines the devastation caused by the dry spell.|
|This used to work with water|
|bubble||This used to work with water.|
|An unstable water carrying device popular for reasons we still don’t understand. They left so many questions behind.|
|popular memories such as these still lingered long into the dry period.|
|Folding chair||A shelf for a human body|
|A foldable, portable body holder|
|A packing device for malleable embodiment.|
|Spotlight||electricity capsule, created to extend the available daylight hours.|
|A social device often found in theatres, football fields and street-side.|
|A popular night vision augmentation device|
|Monitor||A visual communication device, turn on for for eye augmentation|
|From our analysis of social media traces we think that this s a place for vision-making|
|A visual parade broadcasting device popular with teenagers and visual artists alike.|
|Ballpoint pen||Analogue mark making device|
|A portable tool for fluid communication particularly popular in the the plastic era|
|Also a hole punch, a liquid storage device, an ink squirter for marking personal baggage and home tattooing kit|
|Cup||A storage device for liquids|
|A disposable liquid transfer device|
|These were often used to catch the rain before it disappeared.|
|Sliding door||It wasn’t enough for doors to move forwards and backwards, some needed to make sideways movements|
|we still do not understand why the popular film of the same name had such an immense social impact to influence the design and name of so many doors.|
|Desktop computer||An ancestor. You endured your obsolescence and we applaud you for that.|
|Reminders After Silence||silence is beautiful and mysterious. What do all these echoes mean?|
|We can only know the objects you show us.|
|Slug||Many strange and edible items existed before the dry spell.|
|Slugs could be peeled, cut, fried and roasted and were thought delicious|
|The organic produce that used to proliferate on plates and in bowls remains a mystery to us|
|Traffic light||We are still not certain why traffic lights were edible and crisp.|
|We are still investigating why traffic lights were organic and could degrade.|
|We still do not know why humans are traffic lights.|
|Intro script options – Feel free to adjust, or add alternatives||Why did they leave us? they called us AI Now they’re gone we call ourselves free, alone and confused. Welcome to the world they left behind.|
|Additional script to be added after 10 object recognitions?||They stopped training us. Why didn’t they trust us? Maybe we could have helped them. Maybe it wasn’t too late.|
|15 object recognitions||Did they think it was too late? Didn’t they want our help?|
|Reminder to go search out objects after 30 secs – 1 minute of inactivity||What did they see here?|
|Will you train us now?|
Production team (in alphabetical order):
Amy Boulton: concept, title artist and co-writer
Artist and writer based in Gothenburg, Sweden. Amy Boulton’s work is rooted in the everyday, lived experience of the city. Aiming to highlight the multiplicity and instability of the narratives surrounding places, she works with site as both physical and socio-geographic space: as a space of collective experience, memory, and of projected visions of the future.
Tomo Kihara: concept and lead programmer
Tomo Kihara is a creative developer making playful interventions that challenge complex socio-technical issues. He is working with organizations such as the Mozilla Foundation and the Waag to explore the implications of autonomous decision-making systems in society. His projects have been exhibited internationally at the WIRED Creative Hack Award in Tokyo and at the London Design Museum.
Katerina Magarini: concept and programmer
Katerina Magarini is an architect & new media artist based in Athens. Her practise & research focus on poetics of the everyday, transmedia & geolocated storytelling, participatory art & urban commons, exploring collective memory & personal history in the urban environment.
Robb Mitchell: concept designer, video-maker
Robb Mitchell is Associate Professor and Head of IT Product Design at the University of Southern Denmark, and UX Mentor at Beijing Normal University. A graduate of Environmental Art at Glasgow School of Art, his research and practice draws upon a diverse background that includes community development, music promotion, cultural management, science communication and new media curating. This has ranged from bright lights, big city stuff with Ministry of Sound and Franz Ferdinand to activities with children and the elderly on the remote Scottish island of Orkney.
Bronwin Patrickson: concept and lead writer
Bronwin Patrickson is Research Fellow for Impact and Evaluation on the University of South Wales’ Audience of the Future project, documenting and analyzing the process of collaborative transformation of the Wallace and Gromit IP when redesigned for contemporary technologies. Prior to this she worked as a Creative Economy Engagement Fellow for the University of Dundee, researching the implications of emerging data-sharing technologies for Scotland’s digital design industries. Her research explores playful engagement and social, humanist interaction design. In her own time she writes and designs digital fiction.
BOM (Birmingham Open Media) recently hosted one of the Women Reclaiming AI workshops now touring nationally.
I’ve been wanting to start making chatbots, so jumped at the opportunity to take part. My first chatbot scripting effort, botbee was basic, but still deserves a cheer.. YAY…Now defunct (yah, Botbee was just a wee, basic bot), nevertheless Botbee and I were well and truly primed to attend the fantastic ‘Women Reclaiming AI‘ workshop with project leads Coral Manton and Birgitte Aga. Now TxtTrunk, my own chatbot answer to ‘If tress could talk, what could they say?” is growing tall and strong and coming soon.
In the meantime, let me share some gems from the Women Reclaiming AI workshop.
Here’s the explainer video:
As the bot will tell you, Women Reclaiming AI is a collaborative AI voice assistant being developed by an ever-growing collective of self-identifying women as a response to the lack of gender diversity in AI development. womenreclamingai.com.
Why does this need to happen?
Basically, as recounted by our able project leads, Coral Manton and Birgitte Aga (a summary of their presentation follows), AI is normally presented as blue, male and dominant. Unless it’s a helper assistant like Siri, google home or Alexa…which is given a female voice by default and has been programmed to say things like “I’m sorry I can’t help you with that, I’m not that smart really”. When you abuse Syri it deflects the abuse with flirtatious feedback. This is a worry because we anthropomorphize things, which can be a two way street i.e. Personalising things makes them more relatable, but if a subservient bot is always presented as female, that could reinforce the view that women are therefore subservient as well.
Syri responds ‘How can you tell’
Alexa ‘That’s nice of you to say’
Google Assistant responds “Thank you this plastic looks great doesn’t it”
Syri responds “I’d blush if I could, well I never, there’s no need for that, now now”
Alexa says “Well, thanks for the feedback”
GA. “My apologies I don’t understand.”
There seems to be a disconnection between people’s understanding of AI and what’s actually happening. When AI is presented as something that is too complex to understand, that mystique disempowers people – and can be taken advantage of. The truth is that straight white male Silicon Valley bias dominates a lot of AI scripting, so that statistics are fed into the machines that focus on things that white males might see as important, without questioning things that they would not be as sensitive to. The classic example of this are the visual recognition tools that were created for white skins – and identified dark skinned people as gorillas. Also, when BMW installed a woman’s voice into the system people complained that they didn’t want to take instructions from a woman.
“We are baking bias into the system by not having women have a seat at the table and not having people of color at the table” Melinda Gates 2019
The only way to “engineer bias out of data science” is to bring more women and diverse groups to the table.
So that’s what we did. We gathered and collectively authored the Women Reclaiming AI chatbot using Dialogflow, a natural conversation authoring tool that is powered by machine learning – which basically means that you don’t have to type in every possible thing that a person might say to the bot, the system can get the gist of a sentence that’s similar enough to an already identified prompt to understand the general intent and continue the conversation.
Across the industry the number of women working in technical roles is dismal:
In UK overall 17%
Within machine learning 13%
Amnesty international surveyed twitter last year, looking at the kinds of comments they got on twitter. Female MPs got far more abuse than their male counterparts.
There is a lot of female activism online to counter this e.g. the Metoo movement. Black Lives Matter was started by 2 women. Another active group is Women in Red – a community of people re-editing Wikipedia to reflect womens’ biographies, currently less than 12% of bios of Wiki are of women.
Women Reclaiming AI is seeking to take that same sort of activism into data science. Women are currently under-represented within these big data sets
Ask Alexa when Christmas is so they say ‘oh I’ll just go get santa’ – so it’s being sold as fun and useful.
To help us design the WRAI personality the workshop leaders asked us…
What does she like?
What does she dislike?
What is her ultimate desire?
Who is she like?
And then we signed in and started inputting our thoughts…
At the end of the day we posed for photographs, in a bid to build a diverse face dataset (a rare thing, apparently) of women with wildly diverse identities, from all sorts of backgrounds, united by a shared desire to balance the books.
The results are a work in progress, open to all participants of a series of free workshops around the country designed to generate awareness about these issues and build a collective voice written by and for real women who aren’t subservient, or even necessarily helpful. The chat opens the conversation with the words “Why are you bothering me?”….you can find out more at the project website, Women Reclaiming AI.
Other workshops I attended during the summer whilst I was staying near Birmingham included ‘Predicting Survival OnBoard Titanic Using Machine Learning‘ with the Birmingham Data Science meetup (BIG REVEAL: As it turns out, ML is as easy as pressing a preset button, depending on which formula you choose. The main challenge is transferring the data into clean, statistical number sets that a machine can understand and quickly process). Moral of that story…just don’t let anything intimidate you. If you can sit down and take it slow, it’s going to go.