IoT for The World-Without-Us

Alien Frameworks:

Language, Remixing, Contemplation, Mimic, Speech, Sound, Copy-cat, Observance, Collection, Filtering, Lists, Ontology, Collections, Connections, Inward, Learning, Knowledge Gathering.

Notifications, Alert, Outward, Attempting, Movement, Visual, Attention.

Hive, Swarm, Networking, Sharing.

I’ve been thinking about ideas that could encompass some vignettes based around the idea of “aliens”. For CFC Prototyping, I am plotting to subvert a google home assistant to be a bot not for us, but perhaps for “the planet” (aka the world-without-us). Which is an idea brought on from Thacker’s book.

The idea of a home assistant, that is not serving us, but perhaps serving itself, or serving its collective, is, I feel an interesting thing to explore. I am not sure if it is going to acknowledge its viewers yet or not. I had considered that it would notice, and perhaps try and absorb some language into its own data stream thereby treating you as just something in the environment at large vs the focus. But again, not sure.

Anyways, thinking about how to build the bot-assistant led me to think about these three headings which will I think will help me anchor this project more. It may also lead me to start flagging things in my independent study for future use.


I think I might be going down the path of the inhuman when thinking about thesis stuff. I know I’m very interested in things like oracles, and rituals. But I’m also into things that aren’t for people. Where people are the observer, or where their interaction is not always welcome. I found some of Alan Rath’s work the other day and its so weird. I love the idea of these heavy machines moving around feathers. But the affect is almost like birds or squids signaling one another.

CFC: Assignment One

Project One: Adelbrecht 2x (Martin Spanjaard)

What: “Intelligence” manipulates us too much in a direction that is not necessary for art, namely to try to build intelligent objects. The hell with the intelligence, art has something to do with ‘interesting’. And therefore: ‘capable’
Why: The explore the actions of something alien when given a small set of parameters
How: Iteration an improvement on one core design
So What: It is interesting to think about the idea that something like a small robot might be somewhat human, but take no human form.

Project Two: Spooky Action at a Distance: Fragments of Presence in Remote Objects (Jackson MCConnell)
Thesis Link

What: How can the behaviour of objects enact the presence of remote individuals? What qualities of the object’s design contribute to emotional effect?
Why: The contemporary landscape is filled with everything is connected all the time objects and scenarios, but in this context designers are tasked with making that interaction meaningful.
How: Research through a collection of internet based projects that reflect the questions posed. Reflection upon completion.
So What: Building an emotional relationship to technology that is not based around UI. Thinking about how technology can bring you closer to someone that is not there.

Project Three: n-Chan(n)t (David Rokeby)

What: What does a community of computers talking to one another look like?
Why: I think its more of an exploration to give these agents some hive behaviour and autonomy. The fact they come back to equilibrium when no outside stimulus is around is very interesting.
How: This is built as an iteration on a previous project that dealt with naming and language. It is a variation on a theme of smart agents / computer intelligence.
So What: Rokeby is not trying to model human social groups. These agents are their own thing. They might be distracted by outside stimulus, but they will turn that stimulus into thier own formulations of language.

Project Four: Two Google Home Bots Talking To One Another (@seebotschat)

What: Can two bots engaging in conversation be relatable to us?
Why: The need to relate to the things that we use. Also its very amusing.
How: Tech Side: Likely some custom actions and hooks programmed into the home api, its reported that the speakers are using a webhook into Cleverbot and reading the responses from that. Method Side: This is trial by fire. There wasn’t any real method, it was developed and thrown out into the world to see what people would do.
So What: Relatable patterns in chaotic nonsense. Glimmers in constant noise. Maybe what makes us human isn’t really all that special.


Devices for disinterest
Devices for discontent
Devices that hate you
Devices that only speak when spoken too
Devices with agendas
Devices that don’t care
Devices that die
Devices with their own lives
Devices that roam
Devices that stay put
Devices that don’t play well
Devices that are not about you
Devices that troll
Devices that are relentless
Devices that spy
Devices that inform
Devices that occult
Devices for urban witches
Devices that are haunted
Devices that are demons who run daemons
Devices from the future
Devices made of dark matter
Devices for the modern dystopia
Devices with ethics
Devices that reject ethics
Devices that reject everything

Nihilistic Devices?

The Internet Of Absurd Things

The Internet of Things refers to a collection of networked devices, that receive and send data [Oxford English Dictionary]. These devices are usually marketed to us by Startup Culture, as a way to make our lives easier, or to give us a sense of control. But not being able to open the garbage bin because the wifi is down, or turn on the lights because you don’t have an app is the exact opposite of ease or control, which makes the whole situation a technological comedy of errors.

The purpose of this proposal is to formulate a critique of the Internet of Things, and people’s relationship to their devices and environment, by subverting a collection of smart objects into new scenarios to highlight how their intended functionality is absurd. By doing this, I will inform designers and technologists about the wider societal effects of the connected objects they create. The project will cumultate in the output of the devices, a paper, public code repositories, and instructions on how people can subvert these items for themselves.

Context / Background
My background and training is in web design and development. This has been augmented with my involvement in the maker community. I have experience doing physical computing, networking, and fabrication which will come in useful during this project. The maker world has also provided me with a framework regarding The Internet of Things, as it is quite critical of Startup Culture’s offerings. Asking why we produce these Things, and what is the purpose they serve, is an on-going conversation in that community and has informed my thoughts around the production of “smart objects”.

Theoretical Framework
In 2005, Bruce Sterling coined the term SPIMES in his book Shaping Things. SPIMES were defined as “manufactured objects whose informational support is so overwhelmingly extensive and rich that they are regarded as material instantiations of an immaterial system. SPIMES begin and end with data.” [Sterling, Bruce, 2005,11]. Sterling voiced that true SPIMES do not yet exist, but their speculative existence would trigger a world full of objects that “tend to take on a pervasive flavor of gizmo”. Gizmo is defined as something just smart enough to bother you. [Sterling, Bruce, 2005,15]. In a way, the current reality of The Internet Of Things is a lot like Douglas Adams’ Nutrimatic Drinks Dispenser from Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy [Adams,Douglas,1978], and less like the Enchanted Objects coined by David Rose [Rose,David,2014]. But stuff can sometimes have secret lives. And when it comes to smart objects, these units exist not only on their own, but in large support systems that influences their existence. [Bogost, Ian, 2012]. Because of this you could argue that these smart things don’t really know what they are, and if “the essence of a thing is considered to be what the thing is” then what is The Internet of Things? [Heidegger 1977].

The time period for this proposal is the current day and age, and is geographically focused on North America. I will conduct a survey into the most used Internet of Things devices, and also ones that people tend to laugh at. I’ll combine these findings with everyday human needs using a combination of technology and human activity as a basis for subverting these constructed objects.

Contribution to the Advancement of Knowledge
There’s a beauty in these absurd “smart objects”, and through this project, I will be able to contribute critical, and practical knowledge, about how to subvert these items for more open source explorations.

References Cited

  • Adams, Douglas. The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy Series 2 (radio program). BBC. 1978.
  • Bogost, Ian. Alien Phenomenology, or What It’s Like to Be a Thing. Univ Of Minnesota Press. 2012.
  • Heidegger, Martin. The Question Concerning Technology. Garland Science. 1977.
  • Rose, David, Enchanted Objects: Innovation, Design, and the Future of Technology. Scribner, 2015
  • Sterling, Bruce. Shaping Things. The MIT Press. 2005