The Foundation has supported David Rokeby's research into developing the technological infrastructure of an updated version of The Giver of Names
(1990-), an evolving project that delves into artificial perception and the generation of computer-assisted linguistic units.
The Giver of Names
explores complex phenomena in the linguistic systems of both man and machine. The work consists of an intelligent interface that translates into words the characteristics of physical objects that a visitor chooses and places before a camera. A computer analyzes the visual data collected and establishes links through an existing network of semantic parameters stored in a relational database. Finally, a screen displays a sentence created through a process of association. Like the interface for Very Nervous System
(1986), the machine is both a computer operating platform and an installation. The first version of this work was presented to great critical acclaim at Oboro (Montreal, Canada) (1)
in 1998 and at the Kiasma Museum of Contemporary Art (Helsinki, Finland) in 2000.
Rokeby used the applications developed for The Giver of Names
to design n-Cha(n)t
(2001), a larger installation shown in 2001 at the Walter Phillips Gallery (Banff, Alberta, Canada). (2) n-Cha(n)t
essentially recycles the same techniques for generating linguistic units. In this work, a network of computers operating in unison shares a stream of semantic associations. This pooling of data culminates with the creation of a group chant. Each computer is linked to a video monitor displaying the image of a human ear. When visitors speak through a microphone to one of the computers in the community, they disrupt this computer's synchronicity with its neighbours and trigger a process of free association. A visitor's utterance also affects the overall distribution of data in the network. Ultimately, this utterance undermines the linguistic consensus reached by the community of computers. When left alone again, the community gradually returns to its coherent chant.
The current versions of The Giver of Names
have a limited ability to understand information and produce associations rich in meaning. The system extrapolates semantic links according to relationships existing among words within a sentence. Yet the system can't link a group of terms hierarchically to a more general concept.
In the new development phase for The Giver of Names
, the computer system acquires ways to accumulate a sort of common sense when reading electronic texts. To this end, the data conversion system associates terms using a hierarchical framework akin to a thesaurus. Although the sentences produced by the recent version of The Giver of Names
aren't always grammatically correct, they do contain a logic inherent to the computer system that produces them. To reach a compromise between the machine's free-association structure and human language's communicative nature, Rokeby designed a mechanism for generating longer statements (paragraphs and short texts) whose ideas offer a certain consistency. Though these theoretical solutions were applied to the interfaces of n-Cha(n)t
and The Giver of Names
, they will also help develop other interactive installation projects. In addition to gallery presentations, Rokeby plans to vary the exhibition sites for this body of work so that the interface experiences different social contexts (supermarkets, history museums and more) that feature heterogeneous sets of objects.
, The Giver of Names
were shown at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts from September 20 to December 9, 2007, for the exhibition e-art: New Technologies and Contemporary Art, Ten Years of Accomplishments by the Daniel Langlois Foundation