Monday, February 16, 2009

The Old College Try


The Sheep Market, Aaron Koblin, 2006
So I did it. For the first time in my entire life I missed a flight. While I have certainly had moments in the past where I thought I might miss a flight, those were all do to poor connections on the airlines behalf. Most often times Delta. Damn you Delta!!!!! This time around it was sorta us. After farting around in Seattle's Fremont neighborhood yesterday morning and getting breakfast we decided to go back to J's pad and nap and watch a movie - Factory Girl ug(!). Though we did leave two hours before the flight we still had to gas up the rental car and return it before check-in. Mix that with I-5 being a parking lot and the rest of the story writes itself. After missing the flight we got rerouted to SF and then grabbed a rental car and drove home in the pissing rain arriving not long before 4am. Had things gone as planned we would have been in at about 10pm. If ifs and buts were candy and nuts right?

Even after a nap I am still exhausted but would like to give the old college try at making a blog post and staying in the game so here it is. Saturday night after the wedding J and I went out for drinks with some friends of her's, where I met M, a super smart, super interesting fellow who gave me a bunch of good pointers on digital photography. Talk of photos led to talk of art and he told me of The Sheep Market, an online piece who's history begins in the 1700s - if you want to get technical.

Wolfgang Von Kempelen unveiled a chess playing machine designed to look like an automaton in 1770 which was known as The Turk. At first folks were impressed by the robots chess playing abilities until the hoax was exposed in 1820 when Robert Willis revealed the small man who operated the said automaton from inside.

Recently, to extrapolate and profit on this idea of a machine which functions through the assistance of a human operator, Amazon launched The Mechanical Turk, a program designed to pair humans with clients who need work done that a computer can't accomplish. Things like picking the best image of something from many, or distinguishing the work of one artist or musician from that of another. These tasks are performed for varying amounts of money per assignment with most tasks falling on the low end of a dime.

Enter The Sheep Market. Artist Aaron Koblin made it his thesis project to develop a piece utilizing the services of Amazon's Mechanical Turk by enlisting thousands of Turkers to draw left facing sheep for two cents each. I just downloaded his thesis on the project and plan to read it in the coming days. On my initial review of the piece and its history it strikes me as an excellent analysis of today's virtual culture. Our increasing reliance on computers has led to the reintroduction of human resources, however, undervalued or seemingly insignificant. Also, on a larger level this idea of enlisting countless anonymous strangers to partake in mundane task for small sums of money feels fitting in an age of Facebook, Myspace, blogs, etc. Really, this work is smart on more levels than I can intelligently discuss given my current state of mind.

With that I thank M again for some killer tips and insights and now, it's off to dream land.

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