DARPA Narrative Networks solicitation.

The full text of the call for proposals from DARPA. This is only stage one of the research proposal.


Do narratives uniquely modulate human hormone or neurotransmitter production? Is the production and uptake of behaviorally important neurotransmitters such as oxytocin or serotonin influenced by narratives, and if so, in what way? How are volume transmission systems in the brain in general affected by narratives?

DARPA and Narrative Detection

Edward Bernays' engineering of the invasion of Guatemala and the overthrow of it's government to ensure a docile and well-supplied consumer base, the US government and its military apparatus have been responsible for some of the most compelling storytelling of the last century. Compelling dozens of regime changes.

A week or so ago DARPA (where the military get all their toys) called for research to establish a way to neuro-chemically detect the influence of storytelling on individuals and to help identify those who might be 'vulnerable' to the tendrils of fiction.

DARPA is soliciting innovative research proposals in the areas of (1)
quantitative analysis of narratives, (2) understanding the effects narratives
have on human psychology and its affiliated neurobiology, and (3) modeling,
simulating, and sensing-especially in stand-off modalities-these narrative
influences. Proposers to this effort will be expected to revolutionize the study
of narratives and narrative influence by advancing narrative analysis and
neuroscience so as to create new narrative influence sensors, doubling status
quo capacity to forecast narrative influence.

WIRED also recently dropped an article about this. ALthough the entire thing is fascinating it presents several interesting branches of enquiry which will probably never be publically exposed and areas that I myself may chose to pursue.

  • The neurochemical reduction of narratives: Is it possible for a series of chemicals to encode an entire story in, much like DNA? Apparently DARPA is vaguely freewheeling toward a piece of hardware that would be able to 'sniff-out' certain narratives based on the chemical effect they have on a user's brain. We then have to question in what context this might be applied.

  • Would these devices be used in interrogation as opposed to current lie-detection methodologies? Or could they be used in a checkpoint-like scenario whereby people are sniffer-tested for the influences that narratives are having on them, either with an aim to sniff out potential insurgents or to create census data of the influence of certain groups in a certain area.

  • In the second instance, could this be conducted from an aerial point of view perhaps equipped to unmanned drones to survey large tracts of land for the influence of certain narratives?

  • The physicality of the device itself would be interesting to explore, whether this device would necessarily be invasive or something passive that could be used without the consent or awareness of those being 'surveyed.'

A Computer, in Your Game, in Your Computer

I was reading this article at the Escapist about the future of gaming in regards to how we view fiction today. It's interesting how much press the release of LA Noire drummed up in respect of it's 'respectable' structure and it was perhaps a conscious decision on the behalf of the publishers to sell it as more of an interactive movie than a video game in order to try and reap back the millions they'd sunk into it. To be fair, the visuals are startling and a lot of those millions were pumped into the extensive amount of cut scene activity and realistic facial movement.

LA Noire realism

As a 'gamer' however, LA Noire left me unfulfilled. As an interactive movie it was unarguably ingenious, but much like this article points out, us geeks, and probably most people in general want to feel like they're contributing to the world, whether that be real or imagined. The fulfillment lost in LA Noire comes from knowing that you play a key part in your imagined world, that it's at your whim, kind of like the God-complex that The Sims series so well indulges. That's why that article points to Second Life and Minecraft as the future of gaming. Developers should save money on realistic faces because we know what they look like. They should provide us the tools and building blocks of our own worlds, because so far we can only imagine what they look like.

Which is why, when a chance misspelling of a research term for a class tomorrow led me to the fact that using the raw building materials of the Minecraft and with a full understanding of the in-game mechanics, people were building fully working (if relatively low-power) computers, I was totally blown away.

Minecraft Logic Gates
(Minecraft logic gates.)

The possibilities and principles raised by this evolution of gaming implies several startling possibilities:
  • With a scaling up of the world of Minecraft we could see the growth of much bigger working models of computers. At the moment, the size of a Minecraft 'world' means that physically, and based on the size of a block, only so much information can be squeezed in but with growth we could see much complex systems.
  • Extrapolating this, an interesting thought experiment might be to see if a Minecraft computer could be built more powerful than the computer it runs on, based on the fact that Minecraft is a web-based game.
  • Would entire wolds be built STARTING with the computer? There already exists the plans for a 3D printer in Minecraft, how soon before players are building entire bespoke meta-worlds using only the rawest building blocks as atomic elements in the universe construction?

  • Finally, in the true spirit of being a part of something, almost all the major developments within this fringe world of Minecraft computing is put on their Wiki, meaning that unlike the true world of computing, it's not bogged down in patents and lawsuits. What happens when advances in Minecraft computing are parallel to or better than real-world technology?
The inventors of these computers have unwittingly combined a fundamental understanding of the in-game mechanics with their own knowledge of computer science and have been provided the raw materials and omniscience to build these constructions to indulge in a sort of fictive / reality cross-over that's totally unlike anything I've seen before.

Taiwan Show 2012

A couple of us from DI are petitioning to get a show in Taiwan at their prestigious national gallery's Digiark. Previously, they've shown primarily traditional interactive/digital art works but are becoming more open to alternative and more speculative forms of design. After the success of the What If... show in Beijing, we're hoping to piggyback on the growing popularity of our field in mainstream design and particularly in the far East where they're a lot more receptive and forward thinking than London.




Financial Fictions

Boston Shuffle


I previously mentioned the interview with Kevin Slavin where he talked about how financial fluctuations and patterns are named and thus assigned their own identities and stories. Here are some images of others, you know, just because. Over the next week, I've got to create something tangible that can be used to create a link between any fiction I model around this world and the reality to which we are all, regrettably, grounded.

TV Tropes

I'm probably well behind here and it's quite possible that I'm going to get leapt all over, this is after all the Internet, and there's no room for Antiques Roadshow here. I finally got around to actually looking at TV Tropes, a site that usually features pretty high up on Google search results. Although it specifies TV in the title, it actually self-admittedly deals with fiction as a whole and as such is an incredibly useful resource.

The combo of a wiki-style linkfest and the inoffensive humour makes for pretty strong 'Oh shit, it's 3 in the morning.'isms too.

I'm debating it's actual use in my work, but you never know.

Gartner Hype

A hype cycle in Gartner's interpretation comprises five phases:

1. "Technology Trigger" — The first phase of a hype cycle is the "technology trigger" or breakthrough, product launch or other event that generates significant press and interest.

2. "Peak of Inflated Expectations" — In the next phase, a frenzy of publicity typically generates over-enthusiasm and unrealistic expectations. There may be some successful applications of a technology, but there are typically more failures.

3. "Trough of Disillusionment" — Technologies enter the "trough of disillusionment" because they fail to meet expectations and quickly become unfashionable. Consequently, the press usually abandons the topic and the technology.

4. "Slope of Enlightenment" — Although the press may have stopped covering the technology, some businesses continue through the "slope of enlightenment" and experiment to understand the benefits and practical application of the technology.

5. "Plateau of Productivity" — A technology reaches the "plateau of productivity" as the benefits of it become widely demonstrated and accepted. The technology becomes increasingly stable and evolves in second and third generations. The final height of the plateau varies according to whether the technology is broadly applicable or benefits only a niche market.

Rejigging and Portals

So, I've spent the day re-doing the site, removing all those horrid framesets that I thought were so clever when I first started using them and replacing them with some clever CSS instead. At last, each page has it's own URL so I (or you) can link directly to a certain part and the images now take less than 15 years to load. The blog, as you can see, is still embedded and so you can still access things pretty easy I think.

Also, I didn't want to move too far away from the original design so hopefully it retains some of those European briefcase aesthetics I so enjoy.

Myself and Joseph also finally finished the Design Philanthropy film last week and have uploaded it over the weekend. You can find and read about it a bit here but I've embedded the video below anyway. Enjoy!

Recent Photos: Design Philanthropy

Ai Hasegawa

Recent activity including the crit for the design philanthropy project and subsequent celebrations. More, as ever, on flickr. Hopefully the film should surface soon and I'll get it up on here. Here's evidence that it was edited and in fact, exists.


Need to give this site a re-jig anyway, images are confusingly slow and the urls don't make sense.


I had a go on this the other day. I have to say that despite being hugely impressed by it's pattern recognition software, it is some of the most sinister, creepily debilitating technology I've ever seen. Amongst our joggers, bakers and commuters we throw in a device to even further distance users from the workings of their technology, embedded in their lives. It stinks of Asimov.

I have this terrifying image of station platforms full of glazed-over suits passing robotic (you still have to regularise your speech and give certain instructions) commands into 'nodes' in their hands or around their necks. Think of how many of theses people spend all the time not in front of a computer staring into their iPhones. This world will be dominated by the ceaseless chatter of Siri and her mechanised human slaves.

Film Grenade


The camera "captures an image at the highest point of flight—when it is hardly
moving." It "takes full spherical panoramas, requires no preparation and images
are taken instantaneously. It can capture scenes with many moving objects
without producing ghosting artifacts and creates unique images."


Design Philanthropy 5

Shoot 2

Still from the upcoming film.

Narrative Algorithms

I found this interview with Kevin Slaver over on Design Observer quite a unique take on what narratives are in relation to technology. May be not unique, but certainly one I'd never read before. There's a lot of stuff about Augmented Reality but he talks about how we try and reach compromises with machines in order to talk to eachother.

Like this: when I’m talking to a voice recognition system, and it’s telling me to say “Yes” or “No.” I find that I’m saying “Yes” in this way that isn’t speaking to be understood by a human; I’m speaking to be understood by a machine. The machine is basically making a concession by allowing you to speak human, and you’re making concessions to speak in machine dialect. You have to imagine how a computer wants to hear you, to make yourself understood.

We are learning, all of us, how to speak system.

He also brings up the interesting account of the stock analysis company, Nanex, naming certain algorithmic behaviours that repeat in patterns (above is the 'Boston Shuffle') drawing analogy between that and the first sailors who named constellations for navigation, unable to fathom properly and thus map the sky

Without Nanex providing us with the names and images of the market, how
would we be able to imagine it? We make stories to understand the world. If
they’re fictional, like the stories of the zodiac, that doesn’t make them any
less important for sailors in understanding where they were.

Some great consideration on the crossroads of systems and technology that brush quite close to, and present expansion on the initial research I did into databasing and fiction.

...what spooks me about algorithms as nature is precisely that they have
no distortion, they have no affordance, there's no purchase on the world they
describe. Their illegible nature is, quite literally, a world without narrative.
There's only a beginning and an end.

Design Philanthropy 4; Location Scouting

Vauxhall really, really has to be one of my favourite places to be. Not through any emotional connection, just the fact that I'm there so often, must statistically imply that I really love it. I don't. Especially when it's extra drizzly and shitty and I'm in a bad mood anyway. Anyway, we took some photos of locations for the video we're making on Monday/Tuesday.

location scouting

location scouting

location scouting

Show and Tell

show and tell

show and tell

show and tell

Eager beavers of DI gathered round for an evening of 'Show and Tell' as hosted by yours truly. We each had three minutes to talk about ourselves and what a joyous 3 minutes they each were.

Salaryman 6

Great little film providing inspiration for our next shoot.

Philanthrascout Video

American News

Full story: http://www.observer.com/2011/10/exclusive-occupy-wall-street-activist-slams-f...

Jesse LaGreca from Occupy Wall Street talks to Fox News...this clip never made it to air, via Kyle Christopher of Occupy Wall St.'s media team.

IMI;Men First Class

Not a very good title. But, you know. It's that time of week. Some photos from class the other day.

Some of my class

Also, my good friend Gayle in some strange, deceitful sit-sleeping. She had some quite well developed sleep-face after this.

Raised Utopia

There's something about the psychology of height that seems born of skyscraper architecture. Before height, power over the lower echelons of a working or governing space must have been dictated by flat area. Either this ornament within the room. The skyscraper brought the elements of height and the literal realisation of the metaphor of one being 'above' came into being. The person that is your better, the person that has climbed higher. The superior above, the anterior below. It's interesting to consider how this might have gone on to inform other types of architecture.

A certain type of person who may have a working space in the center of a city would expect height in their domestic environment too. They would wish to take their height home with them and thus penthouse apartments and flats in St. Georges Tower that go up by £10,000 for every floor. Of course, the alternative - the urban sprawl of US fame - is probably born of a wish to separate the work and home, and more often than not, return to the initial sense of material boasting that occupies the gated, gravel-driveway'd houses of our own suburbias.

Science-fiction architecture (sometimes the best kind) seems to draw on this obsession with verticallity, though usually citing population inflation as the main reason. Again however, the controllers of the world sit at the top while the peons often inhabit an under-city where they cannot be observed and do not interact (think Metropolis, that Doctor Who episode, Brave New World) Architecture, as is so obvious it need not be said, is a physicality of our own social beliefs. Science-fiction writers use it as a way to analogise their worlds. It in turn can be used to analogise our own.

The High Line

New York's High Line park.

It's interesting to see a slightly different potential version of a raised sky-walk sort of area in New York. This kind of Utopia though is born of once again different motivations. It is repurposing old materials, as the residents of Bonnington Square in Vauxhall have done for instance, but it's also created by designers and developers. So it provides as interesting direct correlation between the two. Once again we're dealing with a development that is created as a subtle statement. A piece of architecture that quite literally raises the people on it above street level and constructs a dream world of flora for them to immerse themselves in.

Design Philanthropy 3

Philanthrascouting around Vauxhall in some of the most unbearable wind I've ever had the displeasure of experiencing without a kite and a palm that simply would not stay vertical. The initial video clips look both hilarious and insightful. Hopefully we'll have a video together shortly.

Design Philanthropy 2

Myself and my good friend Joseph Popper are going to be initiating the first part of our project on 'Design Philanthropy' in Vauxhall. We're looking at the ideaology behind the developments in around Vauxhall Station, particularly the 'Linear Skyway' - a 300 meter bridge that will connect the new residential buildings in the new US Embassy 'quarter' with Vauxhall Station. The designs of this walkway point to a methodology of separating users (i.e the residents of the new developments) from the rest of Vauxhall.

It provides them with their own secluded red-carpet-route to the station, from whence they can head off to jobs in the City or Westminster. It seems that the development will not integrate with the city, so much as overlay the developer's idea of a rubber-stamped Utopia.

We'll upload some images and footage of our activities as and when they come to fruition and hopefully it'll provide some new spaces for thought. Essentially, we aim to use props to try and analogise the ideology of the walkway. Hopefully this will encourage some interaction from residents and help them question the fundamentals of the developments. If it doesn't then that itself says something about the regard in which the changes are held. We looked to this for inspiration:

Design Philanthropy 1

Monday was the first day of the new brief of 'Design Philanthropy.' Largely spent discussing the in-situe nature of the brief, which revolves around the developments and communities in Vauxhall. I spent years putting off 'community' briefs. I've always considered myself far too cynical for community briefs - reluctant to grasp the idea that there are simply individuals and groups who want to better humanity.

Here's some photos from the first day:







And here's the collective blog for the whole project: http://www.interaction.rca.ac.uk/philanthropy/

Recent Photos

New Shelves

Lads on the sill

Freddi Grubb

>Dad and Joana

Dissertation mk1

More, as ever, on flickr.

Fear of The Feelies

I uploaded my thesis to the 'Work' bit. You can download it or just look at pictures of it. Promise I'll get back to proper blogging ASAP.