15 Jan 2015

Daniel Tempkin – Entropy

“Entropy is about giving up control”

Entropy is a programming language in which program data is mutated every time it’s accessed.  Programming in Entropy is, by design, imprecise and unreliable.  It forces its programmers to abandon traditional assumptions — “the rigidity of logic” — and instead “compromise with the computer in order to get it to understand us”.

I love this project, because it doesn’t merely attempt to use technology as a novelty or a black box; instead, it examines the program for what it is and challenges some very software-specific notions to make an artistically rich statement about culture.  The experience is interactive, and forces users to, through the act of writing a program, encounter uncertainty where there typically is none and reflect on how their experience with the computer changes as a result.

While I think the idea and aims are great, it’s never been clear to me that Entropy actually does what it promises.  The sample program, Drunk Eliza, simply outputs increasingly mutated strings, but it’s never clear whether imprecision actually affects execution in any compelling way.  Either the project needs inspired programmers to craft more compelling examples, or the artist needs to find a better way to inspire programmers to write their software differently.

Miranda July – Somebody (2014)

Somebody is a mobile app for passing messages.  When a user wishes to send a message, it gets sent to the app user in closest physical proximity to the target, who delivers the message face-to-face.  It aims to create an experience that is “half-app, half-human”, and promises: “every conversation becomes a three-way”.

I love that this project makes such effective use of the app as its medium.  Somebody takes a tool we use constantly — the instant messaging application — and twists it in a way that truly requires engaging with others in a novel way.  I like that the artist has identified a medium that is so critical to the way we interact with others, and altered such that the experience really changes and requires new kinds of interaction.

While I like the concept for my own reasons, I’ve never managed to get behind the artist’s own justification for her work.  She calls it “the antithesis of utilitarian efficiency that tech promises”, and I think not only that tech is in no way utilitarian nor efficient by nature, but that this technology has far more interesting implications that simply making communication more difficult.