Thursday, September 17, 2009

Passing Conversations, An Improbable Monument

In San Francisco's Union Square would be installed as an ephemeral monument Passing Conversations. This would me a monument the lives of everyday people who pass through the square, represented in the random ephemeral phrases of their conversations captured by the microcontrollers and projected as text on the surfaces of the space. This reflects the dynamic, shifting aspect of our public spaces and translates to a visualization how people and language pass through space.

“Within the rhythms of a city, monuments become like a strobe light: they have the capacity to freeze moments of time, capturing the vectors of our experience for our examination and contemplation. Monuments have the capability to pass on, from generation to generation, memories and events that have transpired, and thereby contribute to the creation of a collective cultural consciousness.”

As a transitory monument, it passes on digitally captured experience to the next passerby, the experience a trace in the sand which fades relatively quickly. It is a monument on a compressed timescale, collecting moments and their, re-displaying them as a trace of their presence.

The microcontroller would record sounds above a certain volume threshold, transmit them wirelessly to a nearby computer where sound would be analyzed with speech-to-text programming. If the recording was what it determined to be language, it would be converted to an image of the text and transmitted back to the microcontroller and stored. These bits of conversations we will call language strings.

After dark the microcontroller would project language strings from the day and continue to collect more strings. At night when it received a new string, the new string would be immediately projected. Giving passerbys the satisfaction of automatic feedback and thereby making it clear what the project was. This would encourage people to leave messages for future passerbys. It would do this in many languages. Each microcontroller would have the capacity to store about 100 strings, and would write over them randomly, so most strings would be from that day, but some could conceivably remain in memory for a week or more. Each unit would cost about $400, plus the cost of the main computer, so an installation of ten of them would cost $4,200.

This monument is inspired by Listening Post by Mark Hansen and Ben Rubin, the work of Krzystof Wodiczko, The Sixth Sense by Pranav Mistry of Media Labs, and “Microphones” by Rafael Lozano-Hemmer

This is Improbable because the technology is not quite here yet. Specifically speech-to-text in this situation would probably have low accuracy, which could only be partially filtered by programming. Microcontrollers are not used to give images to projectors.

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