Ode to a Cybernetic Moloch

April 2022

Poster
Science
Cool Shit

In this project I attempted to work alongside the image-creating Disco Diffusion machine learning algorithm to design a narrative poster showing the plot of one of my favorite short stories, The Great C by Philip K. Dick. The short story, which tells the tale of a post-apocalyptic society of humans worshipping a sentient computer, cautions us to be mindful of our relationship with technology, especially with how we cede control of our decisions to it. To depict that story and that message, I wanted to see if I could work in collaboration with the AI rather than compete with it, as a way to embrace the new technology while remaining mindful of my place in the creative decision making process.

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The visual content of the tapestry can be split into three categories: frame images, center canvas, and typographic corners. To tell the story of The Great C, I used the frame images to form a clockwise scene-by-scene depiction of the written plot. The center canvas is a more generalized representation of the whole tale, sort of like a cover image. Lastly, the typographic corners served to exposit the most crucial pivots of the story in a style that further connects the art style to the Renaissance tapestries which inspired me.

Disco Diffusion (the ML algorithm I collaborated with through this project) allows for two primary modes of image creation: text prompt or initial image. Text prompt builds the final image based off a written statement which can encompass subject, color, art style, and trends. Initial images also use a text prompt, but allow the algorithm to interpret its final image off a starter image provided by the artist. For the frame images, I used the text prompt. For the center canvas I used an initial image.

Frame Image Evolution

To create the frame images, I isolated the 14 most integral scenes of the narrative and wrote out short (1-2 sentence) summaries of them to feed into the algorithm. It took some rewording to find the right phrases to get the algorithm to put out art styles and objects I was happy with.

This grid of images shows several of the raw outputs from Disco Diffusion. Each row are from the same text prompt.

Here are some examples of prompts I used, derived from scenes from the story.

After generating images I was satisfied with, I composited them into their final forms, making color alterations, style changes, and other editorial choices. The final output is on the right side above.

Center Canvas Evolution

To create the center canvas, I wanted to have more compositional control of the image, so I decided to use an initial image. Using a combination of 3D modeling and photoshop, I created an initial image that reflected the composition, object detail, and general texture that I wanted Disco Diffusion to maintain.

This is the final initial image I fed to Disco Diffusion.

This is the detailed 3D model of the sentient computer from the short story. I positioned it within a 3D scene in Rhino before exporting to Photoshop to add textures

Here is the prompt I used to interpret the initial image above.

This is one of the more outlandish raw images, showing how broadly the algorithm can interpret the initial image if left ungoverned.
This is a much more grounded raw image, one of several which were composited into the final center canvas image.

Final Tapestry

This is the final tapestry. The image was printed on canvas fabric and framed onto an MDF backing. I used steel plates with a laser-etched rust patina to frame the canvas, to evoke the machine-made passage of time the original story depicts.

STRUCTURAL

We imagine the structural level being the physical changes that will be made to the space. Here we go into how we imagine the parking garage to be retrofitted to facilitate our social and natural programming. In our endeavor to make the parking garage more multi-use we propose certain systems like vertical farming, rainwater collection systems, hydroponic irrigation systems, and a plethora of sensing technologies that we would then integrate into the space. At the city level it shows how the structure of the city will change overtime as a result of the network of connectivity established through the integration of technology into its buildings and the lives of its citizens.

Stage 0

Our primary concept for moving parking garages from single–use to multi–use is centered on adding farming and safety elements into the space, while decreasing the over–emphasis on parking over time.

The preliminary changes of Stage 0 would see vertical farming structures and aquaponics begin to be installed in the space. In this stage, the garage is mostly still a parking space, with some added structures to support farming.

Stage 1

Moving into stage 1, we would expand the farming capacity of the structure to keep up with growing food demands and install sophisticated multipurpose sensors that would provide data to assist the plants and people in the building.

Multipurpose sensors: to assist with the growth of crops, smart sensors would be installed in the space, including video, audio, sonar, light-level, and RF. In addition to monitoring the farms, these sensors would serve multiple functions and assist the adaptive sensing network. This will be elaborated upon in the Social level section.
Vertical farms: various forms of space–efficient farms will continue to be introduced to the space, including varieties of vertical farms, hydroponics, aquaponics, and others.

Stage 2

In stage 2, our focus would turn to reinforcing the underground sections of the space to prepare for the upcoming flooding of coastal areas. We would also upgrade the sensor system to enhance connectivity and responsiveness of the to space, including connections to screens and speakers, as well as navigational LED walkways.

In this stage, emphasis on parking is slowly being stripped back, with more vertical farms added, resulting in less parking spaces. Instead, the garage is being moved closer to a community space.

In stage 2, our focus would turn to reinforcing the underground sections of the space to prepare for the upcoming flooding of coastal areas. We would also upgrade the sensor system to enhance connectivity and responsiveness of the to space, including connections to screens and speakers, as well as navigational LED walkways.

In this stage, emphasis on parking is slowly being stripped back, with more vertical farms added, resulting in less parking spaces. Instead, the garage is being moved closer to a community space.

In preparation for flooding, we would reinforce basements to hold water by sealing drains and other orifices.
In preparation for marine agriculture, we would also create devices that reflect sunlight down a highly reflective column, and bring sunlight underground so that seaweed can be cultivated in low light conditions. This concept is based off a similar project done by the Lowline in New York City.

Upgraded sensor systems: To create a higher level of fidelity for the system in the space, the sensor systems would be upgraded to collect more data and interact more physically with individuals inside. The LED walkway idea sees light-based pathways installed inside the garage that the system could trigger to direct people inside the space to a particular location. This could be used for emergency scenarios, like weather events, or for simple applications, like interior navigation.

Adaptive Awareness Network: The Community Adaptive Awareness Network is a concept that would help organize our future society. It is an integrated network of sensors and responsive technologies that interact with individual nodes which could be a person, a building, vehicle or other structures.

Rooftop renovations: additional green spaces would be added to the structure, including gardening beds on the roof for the community to interact with, along solar panels to aid system processes.

Stage 3

Stage 3 is focused on a need–based resource allocation system governed by the community adaptive awareness network. Moving forward from the parking garage module, the tech and logics present in the previous stages will be implemented city–wide. The map below shows how structures across the city could be transformed into multi–use spaces that are all able to interface together as part of the network.

Adaptive Awareness Network: inspired by the phenotypic plasticity in ants and the collective awareness of altruistic systems, this network of connectivity connects people to their environment, their needs and to each other. Over time this network of inputs, responses and feedback loops governs the structure of the city by controlling long term resource allocations based on need.

System details: This system would be able to reorganize over time based off input from individual nodes which could be a person, a building, vehicle or any other actor connected to the community adaptive awareness network . That reorganization could be physical, like activating temporary shelter spaces in response to a weather event, or it could be digital, like a ping being sent out to notify the citizens of a certain community or individual need.

If the city can recognize need and respond to it effectively, that adds to resource efficiency, especially when resources are scarce. It would only provide things where they are needed- and this need can be crowdsourced.

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Social

At our case study level, our social level outlines how the increased multi-use programming and adaptive awareness system might benefit the community. Urban design is often viewed from a structural lens, but we seek to address social issues through social solutions here. How might we use emerging technologies to improve our spaces? How might we use social programs to create more welcoming community spaces?

Stage 0

As we mentioned a little earlier, we want to build an adaptive sensing network that addresses needs across the case study and larger city.

In stage 0, people will tap into/ access the adaptive sensing system through the format of a smart device app. This will allow an accessible forward route into the system.

Another important element on the social side is reducing the amount of violent crime that occurs. Due to the vertical farms implemented in the same stage from the Structural level, the garage will be naturally brighter and more populated. This will begin to passively address crime rates by removing factors that contribute to making current garages hotspots for assaults.

Stage 1

In stage 1, we would be focusing on how to allow the benefits of the farming within the garage to reach to residents of the local neighborhood. To ensure the transfer of power from the hands of the entity that built the garage to the hands of the people who live and act in the space, a training program would be instituted. This program would teach community members how to cultivate the farming space.

These trainings would be open to the entire community, without discrimination towards marginalized groups like the unhoused or the undocumented. A harsh reality of urban life is that despite those aforementioned groups being full members of the communities they live in, they are often seen as separate or unwelcome. This ability to engage in the space and become an active, visibly productive member of the community could begin to address the stigmas marginalized groups face in these settings, all while maintaining the farm space which provides food and income. The app would continue to be updated, with further connections drawn between the physical space and the digital. For example, in the community page of the app, trainings for the farm could appear as job listings.

STage 2

Connecting to mental health & green spaces: This stage would include further development of the green spaces in the garage, particularly the conversion of the roof into an accessible community garden and gathering spot. Building up regions that possess a biophilic appeal would significantly assist mental health of locals.

A major element of this stage would be the conversion of the garage from a passive space to an active one. This means that the system governing the garage would be able tlo use its vast array of sensors and digital connections to monitor its space and respond appropriately to incidents that could occur inside. The animation below illustrates how, given a series of events, the system might respond to an individual collapsing inside the garage.

System in action: in the previous images, we saw this proposed system of responses in action. The system follows a series of decisions to assist them. These decisions make use of the app and the sensors installed during the structural section.
Bystander effect: to address the passivity caused by the bystander effect, the app would contain notifications and triggers that would work with the screens and LED paths installed with the structural Stage 1 to guide people in the space to assist others in need.
Inspired by ants: this method of recursive, algorithmic decision making was inspired by our research into the behavioral patterns of ants in the research phase. The strength ants have is that they are capable of acting as nodes to a larger superorganism. Our adaptive awareness system aims to make use of a similar network of nodes, treating all sources of information (devices, sensors, people, etc.) as usable bytes of data.

Stage 3

The final stage would see the expansion of this cascading series of logics across the citywide system. The rise of magnetic smart fabrics and non-electronic tokens would allow all people, regardless of economic level, access to the technology needed to interface with the system. The system itself would not be limited to the parking garages and instead would operate across the entire urban landscape.

During our research into relevant emerging technologies, we discovered a process for encoding data into magnetic thread which can be woven into apparel items. We speculated this technology could be used to further enhance interfacing between people and the adaptive awareness system in stage 3. Theoretically, if one was wearing clothing woven with the correct magnetic threading, they could encode personal data elements into their apparel.

For example, a person prone to seizures could encode that, along with their necessary medication. As they enter a smart space like the garage, the system would be able to read their chosen data using magnetometers. Then, if that person were to have a seizure in the space, even if their mobile device was out of battery or if the system was down, the local garage system would be able to access the medical data and react.

Non-electronic tokens: Our theorized use of smart fabrics offers an exciting alternative to traditional data storage, but one issue it faces is further marginalizing any individual who lacks access to technology, such as the unhoused. To address this deficiency, we have also researched a method of interfacing with our digital ecosystem without the need for an electronic device. By using this technology, which simply requires a conductive physical input object (a token), we could allow an incredibly low–cost way to access digital systems.

To encode their token with personal medical data or whatever else, an individual could simply visit a public internet resource like the library and use the system there. From that point, their token would be comprehensible to the general system by way of RF scanners and WiFi backscatter , providing the same safety net as the smart fabrics.

This system map shows the connective network of technology that would bind our city, with the rollout ordered by our stages. Here, we would apply the same multi-decision logic from the parking garage example across all the structures in the city.
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Natural

Our natural level goes into how we envision our relationship with nature. It tries to define a new, more equitable dynamic between humans, cities and native ecosystems by the planned assimilation of the city into its surroundings to create an integrated ecosystem. Rewilding of the city space repositions humans within nature’s framework and makes room for a respectful, balanced, and healthy relationship between the two.

Stage 0

Urban farming & gardening: As shown in earlier stages, here we would call for establishing urban farms that grow indigenous food and medicinal crops.

Stage 1

Introducing biodiversity: In the wake of global warming and rising populations it will become increasingly important for the city to support itself. This is where nature can come in and create an abundant landscape in the city so we might take what we need from it but also nurture it to live with us. We see so much potential for future cities to be meaningfully green and by that we mean, the plants grown inside the city should either be food crops, medical plants or ecologically relevant and restorative.

Our goal is to gradually transition the parking structures in the city into productive urban farms that nourish their communities. Growing medicinal plants in these community gardens might provide people with knowledge and access to beneficial plant based remedies. We would also work to reintroduce native ecosystems into the city by transforming monocultural public parks into havens for indigenous biodiversity.

(source)

Urban Heat: Existing concrete parking lots and pavements are impermeable flood prone areas and causes of urban heat island effect . We propose depaving significant surface area of concrete and constructing low impact developments like bioswales and other biofilters to make the ground more permeable to water to mitigate floods. These bioswales can be created around the edges of parking lots and around pavements, roads and rooftops to capture and treat stormwater and other polluted runoff . They can also be integrated into road medians, curb cutouts, sidewalks, or any public space.

Bioswales: Bioswales are elevated low impact drainage systems used to treat stormwater. As the storm water runoff flows through the bioswale, the pollutants are captured and settled by the leaves and stems of the plants.

The pollutants then enter the soil where they decompose or can be broken down by the bacteria in healthy soil. They are extremely beneficial in protecting surface water and local waterways from excessive pollution and help recharge groundwater.

Bioswales can also be designed to be aesthetically pleasing and attract animals and create habitats.

Stage 2

To capitalize on the rising sea levels we propose establishing marine agricultural systems in the lower levels of buildings by strategically retrofitting them to flood and receive sunlight through reflective daylighting techniques as seen in Lowline Project. We could cultivate algae, seaweed, oysters, mussels and other useful species. These could be consumed as food but also have great economic value. Mussels and oysters are also filter feeders and clean the water that passes through them.

Most coastal cities will experience floods of saltwater when climate change has accelerated past the point of seawall protection. As a result, we have planned our marine agricultural system around saltwater crops. However, some coastal cities meet the water in the form of rivers or lakes. To accommodate these city models, we have a secondary agricultural plan which makes greater use of hydroponics.

Stage 3

Due to increased levels of coastal flooding, Stage 3 will be characterized by the recolonization of the city by native aquatic and terrestrial ecosystems that will provide us with numerous ecosystem services to form a city that grows with nature.

Early in Stage 3 we would construct elevated walkways and public transit to prepare for the rising sea levels. To connect the archipelago of buildings to one another we propose the construction of a new connective tissue of elevated walkways, public transit and unmanned cargo channels.

The lowest layer would be pedestrian walkways that span buildings. These walkways would have wider platforms to act as areas of public congregation. The middle layer would be electric public transit vehicles. The highest layer would be the unmanned cargo carriers.

Later in Stage 3 as cities begin to get denser, the goal would be to emphasize walkability and with the layout of the city becoming increasingly multi use, one won’t need to travel larger distances to fulfill their needs. This would redefine movement in the city.

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Conclusion

Here’s a flyover view of what our Stage 3 city could look like. You might be thinking that this looks dystopian or apocalyptic, with the flooding and the overgrown green spaces. But that isn't how we see it.

Unfortunately for us, climate change has ensured that coastal flooding is an inevitable part of our future. And it’s beyond clear massive reform is needed to steer us away from our current unsustainable trajectory. Since many of these elements are happening no matter what, we’ve chosen to embrace them. But we don't see that as a bad thing, and certainly did not create this project to be a dystopia. If this is how our future will be, we want to maximize how incredible that could be, instead of dwelling on the collective selfishness that led us to this position.

We’ve chosen to fortify our flooded cities and optimize them for the incoming water, because abandoning that level of infrastructure would be an expensive mistake and a bad precedent for future cities. We’ve chosen to put the people of our city first, with safety, shelter, and stability all crucial elements of our social level. We’ve allowed nature to reclaim our city to enact a truly collaborative future city which exists in tandem with local ecologies, not in spite of it.

We’ve designed this module because we choose to believe in our futures, and will do the best we can to see them through.

(View our sources here)

intervention

The Isolation Helm

The Isolation Helm exists to keep wearers safe from the social anxiety of wandering out into the public eye. You can read a more detailed description of this intervention here.

This manual details the functionality of the Helm in the world it inhabits.

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intervention

Click and drag to orbit, mouse wheel to zoom!

This altar exists to let users pivot between trending conspiracy theories with ease, allowing for the ability to keep up with the rising tides of frenetic communal panic as efficiently as possible.

This manual details the functionality of the Altar in the world it inhabits.
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intervention

Click and drag to orbit, mouse wheel to zoom!

The AmeriCoin Wallet is the American citizen's best friend and inescapable companion into the use and spending of Americoin on a daily basis, be it for casting votes, paying bail, or paying taxes.

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intervention

Click and drag to orbit, mouse wheel to zoom!

This Brand Medallion is used to give citizens access to their data and files seamlessly across the franchised internets! The devices keep the data that pertains to the company, allowing users to tap into any digital device to view their info, at the cost of a bit of weight around the neck.

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installation

The ceiling of the installation room is littered with documents depicting images and text. I wanted the entire space of the room to itself be a network which the viewer moves through as the navigate the space. The central pillar, seen on the left, is the origin of the internet, ornamented with old computers from the dawn of the internet. From there, across the ceiling, the images and text show and tell the various trends, technologies, and developments which are taking us into the futures depicted in each of the four corners. The map seen below offers a guide to the roof which shows this concept.

Thank you to Hammett Nurosi, Doug Scott, Becky Fong, Paul Soulellis, Kelsey Elder, Minkyoung Kim, Barron Webster, Mari Iwahara, Andy Pressman, Tom Weis, Leslie Fontana, & Rain Ruihua Yang for the mentorship, advice, and conversations!

PROCESS
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In my research, I noticed a lot of old Renaissance tapestries often possessed highly intricate and ornate frames. I wanted to emulate that and make the tapestry more dimensional, so I created my frame out of steel plates. To create the texture, I sprayed a vinegar solution onto the steel to rust the surface, before laser-etching away the patina with a circuit board pattern. I sprayed down the resulting plates with a clear coat to stop the encroachment of rust over time and attached the steel to the tapestry with screws.

Top
Ode to a Cybernetic Moloch
The visual content of the tapestry can be split into three categories: frame images, center canvas, and typographic corners. To tell the story of The Great C, I used the frame images to form a clockwise scene-by-scene depiction of the written plot. The center canvas is a more generalized representation of the whole tale, sort of like a cover image. Lastly, the typographic corners served to exposit the most crucial pivots of the story in a style that further connects the art style to the Renaissance tapestries which inspired me.

Disco Diffusion (the ML algorithm I collaborated with through this project) allows for two primary modes of image creation: text prompt or initial image. Text prompt builds the final image based off a written statement which can encompass subject, color, art style, and trends. Initial images also use a text prompt, but allow the algorithm to interpret its final image off a starter image provided by the artist. For the frame images, I used the text prompt. For the center canvas I used an initial image.

Frame Image Evolution

To create the frame images, I isolated the 14 most integral scenes of the narrative and wrote out short (1-2 sentence) summaries of them to feed into the algorithm. It took some rewording to find the right phrases to get the algorithm to put out art styles and objects I was happy with.

This grid of images shows several of the raw outputs from Disco Diffusion. Each row are from the same text prompt.

Here are some examples of prompts I used, derived from scenes from the story.

Center Canvas Evolution

To create the center canvas, I wanted to have more compositional control of the image, so I decided to use an initial image. Using a combination of 3D modeling and photoshop, I created an initial image that reflected the composition, object detail, and general texture that I wanted Disco Diffusion to maintain.

This is the detailed 3D model of the sentient computer from the short story. I positioned it within a 3D scene in Rhino before exporting to Photoshop to add textures

This is the final initial image I fed to Disco Diffusion.

Here is the prompt I used to interpret the initial image above.

This is one of the more outlandish raw images, showing how broadly the algorithm can interpret the initial image if left ungoverned.
This is a much more grounded raw image, one of several which were composited into the final center canvas image.

Final Tapestry

This is the final tapestry. The image was printed on canvas fabric and framed onto an MDF backing. I used steel plates with a laser-etched rust patina to frame the canvas, to evoke the machine-made passage of time the original story depicts.

PROCESS
No items found.

In my research, I noticed a lot of old Renaissance tapestries often possessed highly intricate and ornate frames. I wanted to emulate that and make the tapestry more dimensional, so I created my frame out of steel plates. To create the texture, I sprayed a vinegar solution onto the steel to rust the surface, before laser-etching away the patina with a circuit board pattern. I sprayed down the resulting plates with a clear coat to stop the encroachment of rust over time and attached the steel to the tapestry with screws.

Please view in portrait orientation for the full experience.