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[rohrpost] Review of The Robot in the Garden
Oliver Grau on 11 Aug 2000 22:52:11 -0000

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[rohrpost] Review of The Robot in the Garden

Subject: Review of The Robot in the Garden

Rhizome is the primary site for dialogue on net art:
Review of "The Robot in the Garden"
by Eugene Thacker (eugenethacker {AT} HOTMAIL.COM)
One of the common dissatisfactions with interactivity on the Web is
that telepresence is not, well, presence. Certainly some of the more
interesting new media projects have deconstructed our assumptions
concerning presence and the sense of "really" being there. But, when
it comes down to it, we are faced with the experience that you and I
in our separate computer-hovels chatting over CU-SeeMe, is not the
same as you and I having drinks in a cozy bar. This difference has
prompted talk of a qualitative difference between two essentially
different modes of communication and interaction, each contingent upon
a variety of factors (technology, class, cultural difference, race,
geography, language, etc.). The "noise" that often comes through is
not just technical, but can also be social.
Part of the problem of computer-mediated communication has to do with
the status of the body in the interaction--or rather, the state of
"embodiment." We all want our communication and interactions to be as
transparent as possible, and there is a sense in which physical
presence plays an important part in giving us that feeling of
authenticity, of transparency. But how do we address the importance of
embodiment when dealing with technologies such as the Web?
This is one of the main questions in Ken Goldberg's new anthology,
"The Robot in the Garden: Telerobotics and Telepistemology in the Age
of the Internet" (MIT Press, 2000) Using the term "telepistemology" to
talk about how knowledge is transmitted, produced, and circulated on
the net, Goldberg has assembled a collection of different perspectives
on tele- robotics, as both a technological and a cultural
issue. Roughly divided into three sections (the philosophy of
telepistemology, tele-robotic art, and the engineering of
tele-robotics), "The Robot in the Garden" covers a wide range of
material, from Thomas Campanella's essay on webcams, to Martin Jay's
essay on time-delay and light-speed, to art- based "dialogical
telepresence" (Eduardo Kac's term), to the engineering of
tele-robotics interfaces in the essay by Michael Idinopulos. Each
piece brings up, from its own perspective, the issue of how the
intersection of communication and control can produce forms of
knowledge, agency, authenticity, and meaningful interaction.
While the various essays are interesting on their own, "The Robot in
the Garden" is strongest when essays are linked together. For
instance, philosopher Hubert Dreyfus' accounts of phenomenological
approaches to cognition (opposed to Descartes' classical divide
between mind and body) forms a strong foundation for John Canny and
Eric Paulos' essay on the design of unique, "tele-embodied" systems
for human-to-human tele- robotic interaction. Similarly, artist and
critic Marina Grzinic's elaboration of net-based time-delay and
Benjamin's notion of "aura" forms an interesting dialogue to Albert
Borgmann's sharp distinctions between "promixal" or real space and
"mediated" space.
Blake Hannaford's history of telerobotics is perhaps the most
fascinating piece in the collection. It supplements the book's
philosophical reflections with hard, technical details. Hannaford's
discussion of tele-robotics research in terms of energetics transfer,
time-delay, degree of control, and system stability takes on
interesting resonances when considered in political terms. Lev
Manovich's essay is similar, especially when he discusses telepresence
not as image- deception but as "acting over distance. In real time."
For Manovich, telepresence is actually about the negation of presence,
or better, the banalization of presence: "the essence of telepresence
is that it is antipresence. I don't have to be physically present in a
location to affect reality at this location."
Although "The Robot in the Garden" does not contain texts on specific
real-world uses of tele-robotic technology (for instance, the Mars
Sojourner, hazardous waste sites, deep-sea excavation, or tele-robotic
surgery; most of the examples come from art), it does provide
important epistemological questions for understanding this latest
addition to Web technology, showing how the cultural and the
technological are both implicated in the ambiguities surrounding
computer-mediated communication.

Table of Contents
1. Introduction: The Unique Phenomenon of a Distance
Ken Goldberg, UC Berkeley, Engineering
2. Eden by Wire: Webcameras and the Telepresent
Tom Campanella, MIT School of Architecture and
3. Telepistemology : Descartes' Last Stand
Hubert Dreyfus, UC Berkeley, Philosophy
4. Vicariousness and Authenticity
Catherine Wilson, U. Alberta, Philosophy
5. Information, Nearness, and Farness
Albert Borgmann, U. Montana, Philosophy
6. Acting at a Distance and Knowing from Afar:
Agency and Knowledge on the Internet
Jeff Malpas, U. Tasmania, Philosophy
7. Telerobotic Knowledge: A Reliabilist Approach
Alvin Goldman, U. Arizona, Philosophy
Art, History, and Critical Theory
8. The Speed of Light and Virtualized Reality
Martin Jay, UC Berkeley, History
9. To Lie and to Act: Cinema and Telepresence
Lev Manovich, UCSD, Visual Arts Department
10. Dialogical Telepresence and Net Ecology
Eduardo Kac, The School of the Art Institute of
11. Presence, Absence, and Knowledge in Telerobotic Art
Machiko Kusahara, Kobe University
12. Exposure Time, the Aura, and Telerobotics
Marina Grzinic, Slovenian Academy of Science and Art
13. The History of Telepresence: Automata, Illusion,
and The Rejection of the Body
Oliver Grau, Humboldt-University Berlin, Art History
Engineering, Interface, and System Design
14. Feeling is Believing: A History of Telerobotics
Blake Hannaford, U. Washington, Electrical
15. Tele-Embodiment and Shattered Presence:
Reconstructing the Body for Online Interaction
John Canny and Eric Paulos, UC Berkeley, Computer
16. Being Real: Questions of Tele-Identity
Judith Donath, MIT Media Lab
17. Telepistemology, Mediation, and the Design of
Transparent Interfaces
Michael Idinopulos, UC Berkeley, Philosophy
18. The Film and the New Psychology (1945)
Maurice Merleau-Ponty
Author Biographies
For more information please contact Prof. Goldberg at
goldberg {AT} ieor.berkeley.edu, or 510-643-9565.
This text can be found online at:

Kunstgeschichtliches Seminar der
Philosophische Fakultät III
Dorotheenstrasse 28, D-10099 Berlin
Oliver.Grau {AT} culture.hu-berlin.de
Tel. (030) 2093-4295 (dir.)
Tel. (030) 2093-4209 (Sekr.)

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