Slow Computing

Professor: Terry Knight
Duration: Fall 2016

Automated machine processes, whether they be factory line productions or multi-axis 2D/3D printing jobs, tend to engender a certain expectation of quality, speed, and reproducibility. The entire concept of “machine-like precision” echoes this appeal to objectivity, and stands in contrast with the type of subjective, varying, often improvisational work conducted by designers during the creative process. In previous research I have highlighted this difference as the difference between the pursuit of certainty and the pursuit of risk, and positioned the latter as critical to both creative design and, in turn, my proposed framework of computational play.

For Terry Knight’s class Projects in Computational Making, I sought to study the perception of these different approaches. To do this, I constructed a drawing machine that is capable of demonstrating characteristics of play behavior – notably, an intentional slowness in the drawing process that has no direct correlation to drawing complexity, or other routine machine factors. In doing so, my aim was to defy a viewer’s expectations by implanting risk-like behaviors in a “certain” process.

The machine creates an abstract, gestural, expressive drawing (in the style of Wassily Kandinsky and Paul Klee), pre-altered with a random speed profile such that the drawing is executed at various speeds throughout the process. The drawing is transformed from a standard machine plot to a hesitating, ambiguously-paced performance.

To study the perception of this activity, I conducted a pilot experiment during which observers view the process and comment on anything interesting or peculiar they noticed. While most of the comments related to the produced drawing itself, some of the observers began to express interest in the speed of the machine, with conclusions ranging from assumed intentionality to machine error. 

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