Sex Robots, an African Heroine, and the Uncanny Valley (Part 1)

May 26, 2017 § Leave a comment

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When I first came across African artist Milumbe Haimbe a couple years ago, thanks to introduction by Cissie Swig, beloved San Francisco art benefactor, her graphic novel “The Revolutionist” was clearly a science fiction. The story is set in the near future on a satellite colony off the orbit of mainland Earth, dominated by a corporation. Social conformity is subliminally reinforced, the economy is purely corporate-driven, exploitation of human by human thrives and the insatiable appetite for sex robots threatens to tip the already delicate social balance. This gives rise to the resistance called Army for the Restoration of Womanhood. The protagonist Ananiya is a special agent in its Covert Operations Division when news spreads that the Corporation is developing a prototype robot that is sophisticated and sexually attractive enough to replace human women altogether. Before long the resistance galvanizes into a full-blown revolution, and Ananiya thrives to become the most unlikely hero on a mission to destruct the prototype before it enters the mass market.

If the story of robots replacing real women sounds far-fetched, I am here to report that Abyss Creations, manufacturer of RealDoll, life-size sex dolls designed to recreate the appearance, texture, and weight of the human form, has launched Harmony AI, bringing artificial intelligence to the dolls the company has been making for 20+ years.  “Harmony smiles, blinks and frowns. She can hold a conversation, tell jokes and quote Shakespeare. She’ll remember your birthday, […], what you like to eat, and the names of your brothers and sisters. She can hold a conversation about music, movies and books. And of course, Harmony will have sex with you whenever you want”, as Jenny Kleeman reports for The Guardian after visiting the factory and interacting with the prototype.   « Read the rest of this entry »

Windhover – a Sanctuary, a Discovery, and a Soaring Spirit

November 23, 2016 § Leave a comment

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The Windhover Diptych through the glass wall of the building. Photo by Matthew Millman.

It has been a rough month.  Just when the Windhover is sorely needed.

I stumbled upon the Windhover Contemplative Center at Stanford on a stroll through campus 2-3 years ago, when it was still under construction.  Intrigued, I made a mental note to visit, but did not have a chance to do so until last Thursday, thanks to a faculty friend who accompanied me in.

I discovered not only a poetically restorative sanctuary, but also the stunning artworks by Nathan Oliveira, Prof. of Studio Art at the School until his passing in 2010; as well as the inspirational story of the space’s very creation. « Read the rest of this entry »

The Big Picture, V – China’s Creative Economy, Beijing’s Creative Spaces and a Robot Monk

August 19, 2016 § Leave a comment

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China’s Creative Economy, through the lens of creative spaces, is the subject of the last installment of our Big Picture series.

It was a few days before New Year 2016 when I first heard the word 融合业态 (Rong He Ye Tai)- fusion or convergence of industries – as a latest trend in China. The son of my father’s friend visited San Francisco with his newly-wed wife during the holidays, and I entertained them. I was trying to explain what kind of work I do (or am doing in recent years), and instead of an awkward silence which I thought would ensue, he was unexpectedly turned on by my “explorations between art and science, culture and technology, nature and lifestyle”, a concept I had thought would be too esoteric, convoluted or impractical for anyone in China to care. “融合业态!” He declared, “It’s the ‘in’ thing now!” He went on to tell me how high tech parks are passé now, replaced by creativity and design parks, and cultural incubators; how a real estate or tourist project would get funding more easily, if it had a cultural theme. He urged me to collaborate with the association he was working for, affiliated with the Ministry of Culture.

Sensing my skepticism, he handed me a document a few days later, on red letterhead. It is the State Council 2014 [10] Gazette, on promoting “the integration of cultural creativity and design services with the development of industries”.

I was blown away.  The central government is recognizing that the culture industry has the desirable attributes of “high knowledge intensity, high value-add, low energy consumption, and low pollution”, as the country’s economy goes through much-needed transformation.  It is encouraging the “deep integration” of culture industries with ‘real’ economy industries such as technology, manufacturing, real estate and retail, as new sources of growth, competitiveness, employment, consumption diversity and higher standard of living. It knows that without culture leading the way, there would be no “Created in China”.

A couple of trips to China in the ensuing months gave me the opportunity to investigate and see with my own eyes. Below I share with you several creative spaces I visited as part of this reconnaissance. It is not a conclusive report on whether the government’s policy is working – much more time and resources would be needed for that – but rather an observation of the physical (and in some cases, business and cultural) environments that creativity is being pursued, along with anecdotal stories. They are not necessarily born out of the Directive – some of these places predated the Gazette by a decade; and the people I spoke to at these places did not necessarily know anything about the policy; but in a uniquely characteristic Chinese way, the Visible Hand of the Government and the Invisible Hand of the Market are certainly at interplay, with the former sometimes directing the latter, while other times shrewdly taking clues and multiplying the latter.
« Read the rest of this entry »

The Big Picture, IV – How about a 21st Century Florence? Or for that matter, a new Hangzhou?

June 10, 2016 § 1 Comment

Athenian bowl, Chinese Song Dynasty compass, Michelangelo drawing, image of brain as circuit

“Silicon Valley’s continued success depends, ironically, not on some shiny new gizmo but on learning the lessons of history.”

“What jumpstarts a golden age is not necessarily what keeps it going. The good ones manage to change fuel sources midstream. The Renaissance was initially powered by the recovered ancient texts, but the Humanists who discovered them soon generated their own ideas, their own intellectual momentum. Silicon Valley, if it is to survive, needs to find alternative energy sources, new ways of being creative and not simply new creative products.”

– Eric Weiner, Geography of Genius

“History is a mirror for the future!”

– My parents. Or maybe Chinese axiom?

So it appears that the Bay Area has an art scene undergoing transformation, with exodus and influx both at play. My roundup in the last installment of the Series didn’t even include the Stanford Arts District — the one-stop, four-institution arts compound at Stanford University that is quickly ascending in national significance, with three new buildings in three years (at a cost of $235 million), adding to the existing Cantor Arts Center.

« Read the rest of this entry »

The Big Picture, III – Venture Capitalist Steps in on San Francisco’s Art exodus; Big Art Meets Big Tech in Silicon Valley’s First Serious Gallery

May 7, 2016 § 4 Comments

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This installment of our Big Picture series zooms in on Silicon Valley.

As the 2010’s enters its second half, something curious is going on between tech and art, in the oft-proclaimed “innovation capital”.

On the one hand, angry protests from San Francisco’s art community, against the new monied tech elites driving up real estate prices and edging out artists and other creatives, are still ringing in the ear. A personal anecdote (other than the fact that non-artist regular people like myself can hardly afford housing here too): just yesterday I was calling a string of art supply stores for a gift I’m planning on buying for a friend in China, only to find out that half of them have moved from their previously listed locations – the one in downtown Palo Alto has moved to Redwood City, after losing its lease to a “social networking company”; the one in San Francisco is in the process of moving to Oakland, vacating space for a condo development (perhaps  targeting employees of that social networking company). All-too-familiar stories, about the exodus of art. « Read the rest of this entry »

The Sound and The Fury. And the Redemption?

April 26, 2015 § 7 Comments

A scientist’s chamber orchestra project for nature and humanity, a photographer’s beautifully haunting industrial documentary, an architect designer’s alluring vision of future human habitat, and my (humble) reflections.

Fashionably late for Earth Day.

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Saturday morning at WholeFoods.  I sit down at a table outside the check-out counters to start writing this article, while my parents go into the aisles for the week’s grocery.  Earlier in the car, they were discussing an added task for this weekend – which other shops to go to next, to get what present for which relative or friend, since my father is going back to China for a month, my hometown being one of his stops.  The task is a rather difficult one these days, as China has every kind of stuff sold in America, then some; but gifts remain a must to bring along with a visit, as good social grace and relationship gestures.  Pushing a green shopping trolley, they continue their discussions.

 I, on the other hand, am preoccupied with my article for Earth Day.  WholeFoods seems like an appropriate venue to kick off the writing while waiting for my parents to go through their chores.  But before I type the first word, that feel-right ambiance also cast a shadow of doubt.  Have I, a California-living, healthy-eating, WholeFoods-shopping “liberal progressive” become too out of touch with reality and too self-righteous? « Read the rest of this entry »

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