detail of clara's sign with text displayed from SICB by Jessica Field

Jessica Field

SICB, 2004 (Semiotic Investigation into Cybernetic Behaviour)

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Semiotic Investigation into Cybernetic Behaviour from Jessica Field on Vimeo.

The work “Semiotic Investigation into Cybernetic Behaviour” or SICB is a robotic installation that behaves like a real time theatrical performance carried out by two completely self-absorbed robots, ALAN and CLARA, that both see the world differently.

These robots have been programmed with all the possible choices they can use to react to their environment. They have also been programmed with the desire to interpret their environment accurately and the need to have their peer always agree with their analysis. Both robots have an opinion of how they think the world should behave and they both expect certain situations to occur often.

In having this expectation of how their world should behave, the two robots believe that there are other situations that cannot happen. If they do, the robot's confidence in themselves is questioned. Depending on how often they think they are wrong, the robot's confidence can degrade into paranoia where their world seems to be breaking all the rules of what should happen. Conversely, when the robots feel right all the time, they become exceptionally arrogant.

Due to their ability to choose their own reactions, this theatrical play shows all the possibilities in which these two robots can react to their environment and to each other. Thus, we see a performance that shows all the complications that arise from making unwavering assumptions about the world and the desire for the world to agree with an unyielding view.

Daniel Langlois Foundation logo
This project was realised with the support of the Daniel Langlois Foundation

Technical Information

SICB uses a wireless network to communicate large data packets of information. BRAD is the robot that controls who speaks when to keep the system orderly and is designed to move on with the conversation if any data packet is lost. The data BRAD receives from ALAN and CLARA is played as audio bits out of his speakers. The mood byte is used by BRAD to determine the way ALAN and CLARA’s voices should sound like to show how the robots feel about their present situation that they are discussing.

The text seen on DAPHNE’s pixel displays are statements that are organized on an Excel spreadsheet. A C program in DAPHNE called ASPECT receives the data packet from ALAN and CLARA and uses the information to determine who is talking, what colour is their personality, what mood they are in and the corresponding line on the Excel spreadsheet that needs to be displayed.

The AI systems used for ALAN and CLARA is a mixture of Fuzzy Logic and Cybernetics. The robot's sensor data is organized through a Fuzzy Logic system where the readings are simplified into categories of description, much how like we see objects in space. We don't say that we saw a person 4.5ft away in a conversation; we say that the person is close to us. ALAN and CLARA do the same thing so they appear accurate in what they say by being vague.

The complexity of the behaviours in the system is accomplished through feedback. There are 3 feedback loops that determine how ALAN and CLARA will react. They have a personality that is defined by confidence, irrationality and inquisitiveness. This perception slant influences how the robots will react to their present situation. Secondly, they remember how they felt from the last thing they said. Lastly, the robot remembers the last thing they said and felt and compares it to their idealisms of how they think the world should be. These 3 influences, when stirred together, make the system behave in unexpected ways. Needless to say, these robots never do what I expect them too.

ALAN has 450 possible statements to communicate his experiences while CLARA has 650 statements. CLARA's range sensor gives her more variations of things to say. The range sensor not only deals with distances, it also calculates probabilities on how accurate her readings are by taking multiple readings and comparing them to see how well the numbers match. CLARA is programmed with the belief that objects slowly move forward and backward in space and are never bold enough to encroach on her personal space. Thus all the data she collects is compared to a large series of rules that define her beliefs into calculated bytes so she can analyze how to react by going through all the data from her experiences. CLARA becomes confused when objects jump ranges by moving fast as this is an unexpected action and cannot happen in her opinion.

ALAN reads only on/off signals from a motion sensor. He believes that motion lives and eventually dies and, after some time, another motion life begins. He observes how long these motion lives take to pass on. Thus, any motion that lives, dies and reincarnates is an impossible action. Both ALAN and CLARA are so obsessed with their delusions that they would rather come up with conspiracy theories of a sentient being out to thwart them than to consider the possibility that their perception of the world could be wrong.

Daniel Langlois Foundation logo
This project was realised with the support of the Daniel Langlois Foundation


These are a collection of stills that show how the worked looked during the two years it took me to design the network and the AI system.

Daniel Langlois Foundation logo
This project was realised with the support of the Daniel Langlois Foundation