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2004 World Technology Awards Winners & Finalists

David Rokeby

Please describe the work that you are doing that you consider to be the most innovative and of the greatest likely long-term significance.

It is a bit hard to sum up more than 20 years of my work and its most lasting implications.

The first phase of my work, centered around Very Nervous System which was perhaps one of the first truly visceral interactive interfaces. Developed over the period from 1981-1990, this system analyzed body movement in real-time, looking for qualities of movement, and used these movement qualities as the basis upon which to compose music. The music was produced simultaneous with the movement, with a latency of less than 1/30th of a second. The result was an extremely body-focussed interaction with the computer, where the mode of man/machine communication was visceral, gestural, intuitive and completely unencumbered.

One of the most intriguing aspects of this exploration for me was the discovery that real-time interactive systems can, if well designed, operate as additional loops of consciousness; added to our usual internal self-awareness, the interactive system adds additional loops of self-awareness which complement our own, adding dimensions to our sense of our self in the world.

I have continued since that time creating artworks that look or listen out into the world, trying to make sense out of what they are experiencing, and producing some sort of ongoing feedback for the audience so that the audience may also see the world, and themselves through these entirely and often wonderfully non-human eyes. I like to think of the computer as a philosophical prosthesis, a tool which allows us to step outside of the specific subjectivity of our own minds and bodies to see things about ourselves, minds, bodies and culture which are rendered invisible by excessive familiarity.

In works like "The Giver of Names" and "n-cha(n)t" I have created artificial subjective entities which experience the world in various ways and comment in full english sentences which they fabricate on the fly. These are perception, association and language mechanisms, somewhat like our own systems, but hobbled severely and interestingly by the absence of embodied life experience. I believe that a comprehensive system that imitates the more mechanical of our liniguistic and cognitive functions helps us to differentiate between what part of what we do we currently understand and can formalize, and what parts of what we do are still cloaked in mystery and need much deeper exploration. Underlying this exploration is a concern that we do not understand ourselves as humans well enough yet to draw new technologies into our culture in the most productive and appropriate ways.

In all my works, I am looking into the ways that technology is changing our experience and our culture, looking for both the exciting positives and disturbing negatives. I fear that too much of the development of technologies is being driven by purely commercial constraints. While such forces do causes a variety of kinds of innovation, I think that what is at stake as we move into an ever more technologically integrated world is to important to trust to product-based research alone. As a new media artist, I am trying to grasp and offer glimpses into the broader questions and possibilities that emerging technologies pose and offer.

Brief Biography

David Rokeby Biographical note

Born in Tillsonburg, Ontario in 1960, David Rokeby has been creating interactive sound and video installations with computers since 1982. His early work Very Nervous System (1982-1991) is acknowledged as a pioneering work of interactive art, translating physical gestures into real-time interactive sound environments. Very Nervous System was presented at the Venice Biennale in 1986, and was awarded the first Petro-Canada Award for Media Arts in 1988 and Austria's Prix Ars Electronica Award of Distinction for Interactive Art in 1991.

Several of his works have addressed issues of digital surveillance. Watched and Measured (2000) was awarded the first BAFTA award for interactive art from the British Academy of Film and Television Arts in 2000. Other works engage in a critical examination of the differences between human and artificial intelligence. The Giver of Names (1991-) and n-cha(n)t (2001) are artificial subjective entities, provoked by objects or spoken words in their immediate environment to formulate sentences and speak them aloud.

David Rokeby's installations have been exhibited extensively in the Americas, Europe and Asia. He has been an invited speaker at events around the world, and has published two papers that are required reading in the new media arts faculties of many universities. In 2002, Rokeby was awarded a Governor General's Award in Visual and Media Arts, Canada's highest honour in visual art, the Prix Ars Electronica Golden Nica for Interactive Art (for n-cha(n)t) and represented Canada at the Venice Biennale of Architecture with Seen (2002). In 2004 he will represent Canada at the Sao Paulo Bienal in Brazil.