All posts made the week commencing Sunday 28 Sep., 2003:

Presence in Collaborative Virtual Environments (CVEs) as extelligence: virtuality and collectivity (1998) by Mike Holderness. Presence may be easier than we think: "The author modestly proposes that CVEs are best seen as 'channels of communication' between participants in Lévy's 'collective intelligence' or Stewart and Cohen's 'extelligence'; and therefore that an effective design principle for CVEs is not fidelity, but the avoidance of noise."

This pulls together Deleuze's concept of the virtual (a matrix of possible/real, virtual/actual is given), and Lévy's 'collective intelligence'... or what Stewart and Cohen call extelligence: "Extelligence is all of the 'cultural capital' that is available to us in the form of tribal legends, folklore, nursery tales, books, videotapes, CD-ROMs, and so on" (I would argue it's also our behaviour encoded into dynamical processes, placements, structural assumptions etc: culture is unfolded architecture). (Incidentally, Stewart and Cohen also came up with complicity - "two or more complex systems interact in a kind of mutual feedback that changes them both, leading to behaviour that is not present in either system on its own" - which sounds to me like re-entrant behaviour in the brain, which is something different from the more basic cybernetic feedback loops.)

More: "Lots of people have discussed this kind of interaction in terms of Karl Popper's 'Third World', Teilhard de Chardin's 'noösphere', or Medawar's 'extrasomatic evolution'. Our notion of 'extelligence' differs from these, we think, and from the general word 'culture', because we look at the external influence from the point of view of each complicit individual."

In summary, "Your extelligence, then, includes all the elements of what it is like to be you which do not reside in that unlikely grey goo in your skull. From now on, this (whether through your acceptance or rejection of it) will form a part of your extelligence; and should you choose to respond, a part of the author's extelligence will thenceforth reside in you."

Back to the shared environments... "It is surely the point of a CVE, in the terms discussed here, to serve as a channel of communication between the parts of the participants' extelligences."

And then, beautifully, and correctly: "The goal of realism in CVEs is arguably a category error" which is a major step and something we now take for granted, but don't really think of why. It continues, and presents the current view of presence:

"The alternative goal of reducing noise allows the participants to maximise for themselves the arrival of events of communication. At times, to be specific, the sparsest of channels may be preferable to the richest - allowing the participants, perhaps, collectively to 'close their eyes to think together'."

At the Heart of it All: The Concept of Telepresence (1997) by Matthew Lombard and Teresa Ditton: "A number of emerging technologies including virtual reality, simulation rides, video conferencing, home theater, and high definition television are designed to provide media users with an illusion that a mediated experience is not mediated, a perception defined here as presence". (While this paper concentrates on immersive media - such as virtual reality - it still applies to media like instant messaging -- you can be communicating with low-bandwidth text-only and still have a concept of presence.)

Six conceptualizations in the literature are identified. Presence as...

  1. Social richness, "the extent to which a medium is perceived as sociable, warm, sensitive, personal or intimate when it is used to interact with other people".
  2. Realism, "the degree to which a medium can produce seemingly accurate representations of objects, events, and people".
  3. Transportation. "Three distinct types of transportation can be identified: 'You are there,' in which the user is transported to another place; 'It is here,' in which another place and the objects within it are transported to the user; and 'We are together,' in which two (or more) communicators are transported together to a place that they share".
  4. Immersion, "the degree to which a virtual environment submerges the perceptual system of the user".
  5. Social actor within medium. "In a parasocial interaction media users respond to social cues presented by persons they encounter within a medium even though it is illogical and even inappropriate to do so", (people respond to actors on television even though the interaction is one-way).
  6. Social actor as medium. "Certain viewer mannerisms suggested that television [not the people on television] was perceived as a communicative partner and not merely as a physical object", (so a computer can pretend to be a social actor and have 'presence', and this has been found to occur).

This is summarised into the Illusion of Nonmediation: "Presence in this view can not occur unless a person is using a medium. It does not occur in degrees but either does or does not occur at any instant during media use; the subjective feeling that a medium or media-use experience produces a greater or lesser sense of presence is attributable to there being a greater or lesser number of instants during the experience in which the illusion of nonmediation occurs".

A lengthy analysis of causes of presence then follows -- but these concentrate on the "realism" of the medium, the closeness of the appearance of the medium to the real world (body suits, three dimensions, etc). However, I think we've found that virtual reality isn't necessary for presence, only that the behaviour of something that appears to be "human" is transmitted through the behaviour of the medium. If the medium is either transparent or its behaviour is mechanical and easily understood, the channelled behaviour can be identified. Only an aspect of the medium need be human -- we're pretty good at identifying agency in the non-human (and often go too far in attributing it...). Also given are causes for the medium itself to be 'present'.

Effects of presence on the user are identified, and areas for further research.

(It seems this paper conflates a number of meanings of 'presence': the feeling that you, the user, are inside a medium; the feeling that a medium can be related to like a person; the sensation - to you - of other people also in the medium (which may or may not be transparent) with you. I don't think it's useful to regard these three together, especially if we're looking at the overall effects of presence. And the overlap between the three uses of the word would explain the over-concentration on VR, especially since - now - we tend to look mainly at the third use, that of multiple human actors in social software.)

The Extended Mind, by Andy Clark and David J Chalmers: "Where does the mind stop and the rest of the world begin?" This paper proposes that there are functions of the mind that are embedded in the physical world, a so-called "active externalism".

The premise: "Epistemic actions alter the world so as to aid and augment cognitive processes such as recognition and search. Merely pragmatic actions, by contrast, alter the world because some physical change is desirable for its own sake (e.g., putting cement into a hole in a dam. [...] Epistemic action, we suggest, demands spread of epistemic credit. If, as we confront some task, a part of the world functions as a process which, were it done in the head, we would have no hesitation in recognizing as part of the cognitive process, then that part of the world is (so we claim) part of the cognitive process.

"In the cases we describe, by contrast, the relevant external features are active, playing a crucial role in the here-and-now. Because they are coupled with the human organism, they have a direct impact on the organism and on its behavior. In these cases, the relevant parts of the world are in the loop, not dangling at the other end of a long causal chain."

(And I can't help thinking of the basal ganglia, acquiring learning to encode into their long, long unconscious loops, but now being looped round a nanometre-scale circuit in a computer's CPU.)

An analogy: "The extraordinary efficiency of the fish as a swimming device is partly due, it now seems, to an evolved capacity to couple its swimming behaviors to the pools of external kinetic energy found as swirls, eddies and vortices in its watery environment. These vortices include both naturally occurring ones (e.g., where water hits a rock) and self-induced ones (created by well-timed tail flaps). The fish swims by building these externally occurring processes into the very heart of its locomotion routines. [...]

"Now consider a reliable feature of the human environment, such as the sea of words. This linguistic surround envelopes us from birth. Under such conditions, the plastic human brain will surely come to treat such structures as a reliable resource to be factored into the shaping of on-board cognitive routines. Where the fish flaps its tail to set up the eddies and vortices it subsequently exploits, we intervene in multiple linguistic media, creating local structures and disturbances whose reliable presence drives our ongoing internal processes. Words and external symbols are thus paramount among the cognitive vortices which help constitute human thought."

(Except our vortices - words - persist over time in the environment, can be shared and depended on. And it's not just words: it's objects, arrangements, dynamic processes, behaviour of others.)

And to finish: "And what about socially-extended cognition? Could my mental states be partly constituted by the states of other thinkers? We see no reason why not, in principle."

(Agreed! Intelligence/expectances (that is, hard-coded assumptions of 'the environment') is articulated as behaviour, which folds into the environment, and becomes extelligence (the ubiquitous computing term for external knowledge). Extelligence then constrains behaviour in the same way as intelligence does... it's habit encoded into the universe - into other people - a cybernetic governer, in a way, part of the causal loop -- time-bound like individual learning, or evolution. Oh, I wrote an Upsideclown on the subject of extelligence a while back.)

Acoustic Cyberspace, by Erik Davis [via Heckler & Coch]: "Acoustic space is capable of simultaneity, superimposition, and nonlinearity, but above all, it resonates. [...] Where visual space emphasizes linearity, acoustic space emphasizes simultaneity - the possibility that many events that occur in the same zone of space-time. In such a scheme, a subject - a person, maybe - organizes space by synthesizing a variety of different events, points, images, and sources of information into a kind of organic totality".

See also: Tom Coates on why spaceships make noise in a vacuum.