Final Project Machine Concept

You can find a more detailed process of my final project prototyping here.

The final project is a non-interactive mechanical arm that will pick small cubes up and “feed” itself. It will drop the cubes into a larger structure, and the structure will expand with the addition of new cubes. I wanted the piece to showcase a movement indifferent to human presence, so nothing is triggered by human control.

The piece is based largely on thinking about predictive machine learning models, and some conceptual ramifications of predictive model generation. While machine learning can be used to generate eerily accurate pattern predictions, it more interestingly obfuscates any semblance to the users from which the data was pulled, resulting in a hyper-specific set of characteristics about multiple people that will never be made visible, human, or intelligible to those receiving its predictions. I am interested in demonstrating this plurality through the accumulation of cubes, which can resemble different user data.

A lot of my research came from the 3d Additivist Manifesto, and thinking about 3d printing as a way to explain machine learning. I use 3-d printing’s process of concatenating accumulation to help understand machine learning’s paradigm of production. If we think of each chain of plastic in a 3-d printed form as a representation of a unique set of user data, predictive machine learning models give us a sort of cubist portrait of users; a plurality of a few hyper-specific qualities of multiple persons. This “transparent” singular piece constructed of fragmented bits of plastic obfuscates not only each individual blob of glue itself, but also any visible conception that the fragmented pieces could at one time, not be a part of this whole. Moreover, each blob of molten plastic used in 3-d printing functions both as adhesive and as part in a unified whole. If we think about each blob of glue/part as an isolated set of user data, each individual user is not only indistinguishable from the next, it moreover becomes completely invisible which parts of the user were taken and then added to the whole.  3-d printing production stops once the model is made, but predictive machine learning-generative models continually create plural portraits of consumer behavior, and the more data absorbed by the model, the more what went into the model becomes closer to being completely abstracted. 

My project removes the liquid “adhesive” nature of 3d printing but simply taking cubes from one place and "ingesting” them in a non-human way. The collection or final form is in the machine’s own body, rather than producing a separate object or prediction like 3-d printing and machine learning generate. Moreover, my project will not “learn” or generate anything outside of itself.

Week 9: Final Project Cont.

Here are a few visualizations I made to continue exploring ideas. At this point, I would love to work on 3d modeling and mock up a digital prototype. As of now, I am thinking that having a multi-screen laptop would be great. Adding an arduino and maybe an “alternative” keyboard would be great, as it would create be two input and two methods. Right now, I need to decide whether or not this speculative design should be based more on a speculative product side, or on the conceptual artwork side.

Week 8+: Final Project Ideas


Throughout PComp and also ICM, I have been confronted with the overlap between human, object, and machine. Personally and socially, I have noticed that unknown technology/organization structures are treated as rational + god-like deities, with an omniscient kind of power. I am interested in the pervasive language/anxiety surrounding social media advertising algorithms "knowing” what I just ate, what I just googled, what I just spoke out loud, what I just dreamt about, etc. I think the explanation of programming as “trying to speak to the computer in a language it ‘can understand’” follows a similar paradigm. I wouldn’t necessarily call these metaphors anthropomorphic so much as they are constructions of another being, not human, not object, but more similar to that of a highly masculine, highly rational, highly surveilling, divine-like figure. This type of rhetoric places technology no longer as a tool for surveillance, but as the surveyor itself, and users as the subjects within a panopticon.

My first instinct to organize these ideas was to physically anthropomorphize formal elements of a computer in order to illustrate its inert humanness. A simple example of this “humanness” could be the arbitrary shorthand in p5 (why a rectangle can be drawn with rect() and an ellipse can be drawn with ellipse() but not an abbreviated version), more complex examples would involve a knowledge of computing that I currently don’t think I have. I am also privy to linguistic/sign examples, but am sure that the modern computer is riddled with non-sign examples of human decision. Aesthetically and conceptually, I don’t know if I have enough awareness of these examples to create a cohesive project, and I also don’t think giving a machine overt human characteristics fully illustrates the tension I am describing.

Rather than archiving instances of humanness in a modern day computer, I think it makes more sense to re-imagine a laptop computer (or a simpler machine) that embodies these complexities more overtly. One potentially problematic of this notion is the tension of the computer being made useless. A fear I have for this project is honestly just making a shittier version of a normal computer by being reimagining its physicality as more human, more machine, or more object. Currently, laptop computers are designed entirely around functionality, although we don’t always use them in utilitarian ways.

When I think about the ways we do use the modern laptop, it is closely related to the domestic space of a home. Obviously there are major architectural differences (not even taking scale into consideration here) between the form of a house and the form of a computer, however, in terms of user experience they aren’t completely dissimilar. In a large way, a laptop functions as a portable bedroom, affording privacy and an intense sense of personalization. Historically in the United States, the domestic space/property has been heavily associated with individual freedom granted under capitalism, and most prominently as something that white, heterosexual citizens are entitled to. The house especially granted inner privacy and self-hood, a concept strongly developed by Puritan Americans, and furthered through the prominence of capitalism. In a similar way, the laptop computer is a continuation of these concepts, except its portability allows for privacy and individuation in even the most public of places.

In order to “re-imagine” the architecture of a computer, then, we would have to externalize/make public many of these traditionally private aspects.

In the way that a hypertext reimagines the physical “body” of a text which creates similar –but different– versions of narrative, I would like to research ways to reimagine the physical “body” of a computer to more aptly represent what it is.



Images explained, left to right, top to bottom:

  • Walead Beshty, Performances Under Working Conditions — During the installation process of his sculpture at Petzel Gallery, Beshty asked gallery employees to use these copper slabs as desk tabletops. The copper slabs were very receptive of natural oil on human skin, coffee cups, any spills, food, etc. As seen above, the copper was very marked by the end of the installation, at which point Besthy asked to hang the slabs up as the final part of the exhibition. The oxidation of the copper serves an archive or portrait of the human labor, which is not visible in the Beshty’s sculpture that was being installed.

  • Mandarin Keyboard, shown on the cover of an interview from Tank Magazine with Yuk Hui.

  • Unmaking Mimesis, by Elin Diamond.

  • The 3-d Additivist Cookbook + Manifesto, an uncanny collection of speculative 3-d printing “recipes” that play with notions of reproduction, labor + production, human vs. machine, and climate change.

  • The handmade computer, Taeyoon Choi with the School of Poetic Computation.

  • Drawing Negative, Burgess Voshell. This Apparatus allows the user to draw whatever they like, while it compiles an archive of the User’s bodily motion + negative space of the original drawing.

practical execution/planning

it might make the most sense to render a 3-d model of this “re-imagination” as a speculative design and then focus on one or two core features of the structure to fabricate fully.

Week 7/8: Midterm

This project took many forms, iterations, failures, and help from the residents. Ultimately, I was disappointed in the final result so I won’t linger too much on what it could have been, other than I wish we experimented a little more with either the form or its presentation.

I worked mostly on the p5 sketch for this project, which was extremely difficult at times. Loading the gif, uploading audio files (which do work with keyPressed function), loading and randomizing the array of fortunes, and linking the p5 sketch to the serial input to get the digital output were all strenuous aspects of the programming aspect. Some parts that I thought worked well were the use of font, color, and the spider animation I created.

For my final project, I would like to focus more on developing the concept and executing the fabrication. Some of my favorite projects in class had complex theoretical concepts but simple electronic applications, and were executed very well.

p5 sketch

Week 6: Serial Communication

This week I really enjoyed connecting p5 to the Arduino. It opens up a lot of creative possibilities and is nice to bring multiple courses together. Unfortunately, I struggled a bit oscillating between serialP5, Arduino, the breadboard, and the p5 web editor. The labs took me a while to orient myself in everything that was going on, and when one thing wasn’t working I had no idea where to check first or how to problem solve. Eventually, I was able to get everything working after realizing that, yes my code in both p5 and arduino were correct, and yes serial port was connecting to the correct USB, and simply, the resistor I was using was too strong and that is why the LED wouldn’t light up.

Overall, I was very satisfied when I got the LED to light up, however, it was an exhausting process. I was really excited to make a mousePressed function that could control the LED, but was exhausted and had trouble going back and forth and back and forth some more to see that idea through. After midterms, I would love to take some time to really play around with input/output between my laptop and the Arduino breadboard.

Screen Shot 2018-10-17 at 5.26.24 PM.png

Week 5: Servo Motor + Soldering

I chose to catch up this week by doing the Servo Motor Lab, as it is the only one I have not completed so far. I found the lab to be quite straightforward, and again enjoyed the result. Everything made sense to me except for how to measure the 0 to 1023 range. The Serial.print printed results from the Force Sensing Resistor, which was great to be able to see fluctuating values. The highest (force) I was able to see displayed (and exert) was 309.

Nevertheless, I was able to complete the lab and get the Servo Motor to move, which was exciting.

This week I also met with my Midterm project partner, Lillian, to brainstorm ideas. The meeting went very well, and we came up with a solid idea. Additionally, Lillian briefly went over some Soldering basics with me, which is kind of like the extreme sports version of using a hot-glue gun.

Schematic of Arduino with a Servo Motor and Force Sensing Resistor
Breadboard Setup

Breadboard Setup


Week 3: Analog and Digital Circuits

This week had some really challenging concepts. I found the labs to be straightforward, but am still stumbling over some specific vocabulary and reading schematics.

I struggled a lit bit with programming the arduino to finish the last lab with the sensors. I was able to easily get one sensor to line up with one LED pin, however, getting the second sensor to line up with the other LED pin was difficult. Conceptually it is much more simple than what I can do now in p5, but I am not used to the syntax/naming variables with Arduino.

I worked with Winnie (and we had help from MANY others :) ) to make the sound, light, movement circuit (Ultrasonic Sensor). We copied the code from Howtomechatronics, you can click the button to visit their website. Conceptually, everything was pretty clear to me except the calculation for distance.

Observation: Elevator buttons + lights:

Elevators address a lot of accessibility issues as they can accommodate strollers, wheelchairs, and mobile scooters. There is braille on elevators to indicate each button as well as on the side doors to indicate the floor you’re getting off as well. Ironically, the only way to know you’ve pushed a button is to see it light up, so if you are blind you would have to trust you pushed the button fully. I have experienced a feeling like this when the light isn’t working but the elevator is, and will get worried that my floor wasn’t pushed because it doesn’t light up. For instance, the 6th floor of Bobst has a broken light at the elevator: when you request an elevator no light comes on, which has made me think multiple times the elevator did not receive my request when in fact it went through. Seeing other people use the simple analog function of pushing a button to see a light go on is very interesting as that light serves a colossal purpose. Moreover, even though the lights could be placed in any type of order I found it interested that they actually mirror the holes in a breadboard and are very evenly on a grid.

Week 2: Switches, Circuits, Ohm’s Law

This week’s assignment started off as quite stressful but ended with a lot of fun and satisfaction. Understanding the difference between all of the materials and terms has been really difficult to me. As a visual learner, it is much easier to understand online at photos of breadboard setups than to understand text instructions/guidance.

In the beginning I had a lot of trouble with my LED’s burning out and getting too hot, so I added resistors based on photos I saw. That didn’t help the problem, and eventually I just switched the resistance on the conductor/arduino from being at 5 V to 3.3~V. This helped.

I had a little bit of trouble conceptualizing what exactly a switch was, and don’t think I’ll be able to understand the nuances between each type of switch unless I see visual examples (preferably videos) of them used in a similar setup to ours.

I made my switches thinking about keyboards and touch screens, and how different “buttons” give you different output, even thought the choreographed input stays the same (and just the orientation of the “buttons” are different). These switches work similarly to buttons even though you do not push anything. to operate them. I had a lot of fun thinking about how to change the switches to achieve different outcomes, for instance each finger correlated to a different LED color in the last switch (Switch 3) I made.

LED red light on