Google Voice Transcription of a Busy Signal.
A piece in mixed media (metal, audio, software, telephony), 2014.
While critics may dismiss this work as the accident of new technology, it is commonly understood that Google Voice Transcription of a Busy Signal offers a commentary on our times. We have a deep trust in technology even as we fear its replacing us. This work reinstalls our faith that computers, however much they threaten our jobs and perhaps our very existence, are still fickle and easily misled. While computers can operate without humans it is only because a human was attentive enough to insert a time limit that the loop creating the busy signal together with the transcription engine, didn’t continue into an infinity of gibberish. At its center this piece raises questions about our own mortality. The Singularity, and other advances in technology, might at any moment take us over. But while they threaten us Busy reminds us that computers need our help. A computer’s immortality must be limited – its infinity given mortality – else it risks folding into itself forever, transcribing beeps into simulacra of sentences.
The choice of medium for Busy is critical to understanding it. The rhythmic use of shapes (“letters”) reminds us of Sol LeWitt, while the precision and near perfect aesthetic simplicity is inspired by Agnes Martin. While carrying their legacies, Busy uses new media to present a more malleable – some might say “modern” – visualization of something absolutely unchangeable.
This again symbolizes humanity’s relationship to computers, each sides’ limits, and the ever-present threat of computers to replace humans with their sheer determination to repeat, repeat, repeat. In Busy, we can change the rectangle in which letters are displayed, but not their order or grammar (this screen capture represents a standard browsers width in 2014).
Finally, extending a false olive branch of control over the the computer, the user is presented with a binary choice: “Transcript useful?”
Yes. Yes it is.