Burning Man announced its 2018 theme on Wednesday, “I, Robot,” a theme inspired by the 1950 collection of short stories published by author Isaac Asimov. The stories tell the fictional history of robots…
“This year’s art theme will focus on the many forms of artificial intelligence that permeate our lives; from the humble algorithm and its subroutines that sift us, sort us and surveilus, to automated forms of labor that supplant us. Are we entering a Golden Age that frees us all from mindless labor? Everything, it seems, depends on HMI, the Human-Machine Interface. In a world increasingly controlled by smart machines, who will be master and who will be the slave?” …
The theme seems appropriate given the increasing reliance Burners have on technology at the week-long event
If you wonder what that means, especially in the context of Burning Man, start here.
You can read more of the philosophy of I, Robot at the BJ.
The allure of immortality and god-like powers is as old as god. The Greeks, who more or less invented humanism, had a word for this ― they called it hubris, making it the basis of all tragedy. This enduring fantasy is lately clothed in cyber-togs. It is said that computational power is increasing exponentially, much like the singularity that created the universe, and charts and numbers are employed to predict the point in time at which this supra-intelligence will take over.
This is a millenarian idea, sometimes called the Rapture of the Techies, and like all such schemes, it is essentially a religious concept now dressed in the trappings of science. In this scenario, the future rule of one vast integrated Robot will exceed all human comprehension. This notion also contains an ingenious escape clause, a sort of intellectual insurance policy. When pressed to pinpoint exactly when this event will occur, its acolytes reply that it may have already happened — its advent will elude the grasp of slimy brains. This is a contest between wet intelligence, something that we barely understand that has evolved on earth over a span of billions of years, and dry intelligence, which in its digital form was invented in 1936
Burning Man is a contest? I guess they started the themes with Good vs Evil, and now it’s humans vs robots.
Image: Tyler FuQua
I agree with them that the Singularity has already happened, and Google and the NSA are already inside our heads. We live in a Sentient World Simulation, operated by the Deep State. The Defense Department, defending The Man against the humans that might question him with armies of always on, always faithful robots.
Will Smith loved Burning Man so much they named their theme after him?
As I pointed out in Shadow History Part 3, robots are a specific vision of the Church of Satan (as is the “allure of immortality and god-like powers” that are also part of this theme).
Will Google and Tesla be debuting new walking robots at Burning Man 2018?
In 2004, the DARPA Grand Challenge was launched: for a car able to navigate through an obstacle course by itself. It was a complete failure. By 2007, half a dozen cars successfully completed the course. In 2014, Tesla announced Auto-Pilot – and self-driving cars hit the mainstream. Tesla expects to have completely self-driving cars by the end of this year.
In 2013, the DARPA Robotics Challenge was for humanoid robots to walk, climb over rubble and stairs, open doors and use tools.
They’ve come a long way since then.
As if all that wasn’t trippy enough, check out this little guy:
So what’s it going to take to bring Androids into everyday life? Burning Man?
The project will feature “worker” participants drawn from Burning Man attendees, who will make Apple parody products as part of an interactive art installation in which participants will experience working in an electronics factory meant to draw parallel to the real-life Foxconn, complete with a robotic overseer arm overhead.
The installation draws from both the Taiwanese-owned but China-based company Foxconn, which manufactures much of the key electronic components in Apple projects under inhumane labor conditions, as well as the Taiwanese tradition of betelnut beauties who are a common sight in the Taiwanese countryside.As described by organizers, this is meant to call attention to commodity fetishism in contemporary capitalism as well as the role of gendered labor.
The FoxCarn Facebook page is more direct in its commentary on FoxConn:
They met their lucky $2888 funding goal on Kickstarter. Looks like robotic overlords are pretty cheap, these days.
The Jackrabbit spake:
A cybernetic collaboration between Taiwan, China and the Burner diaspora, FoxCarn & the Betel Store, will set up shop in the Midway at the Man base this year. Exploring the symbiotic relationship between Chinese factories and Western consumer culture, FoxCarn’s rallying cries include: “Consume different! Think global, exploit local. Decommodifying the fetish, unalienating labor. Circulating gifts of Taiwan and China with the Burning world.”
FoxCarn & the Betel Store is the third in a series of regional projects from Taiwan and/or China to Black Rock City.
The first was Enlightenment in 2013, an eighteen-foot tall meditating man.
The second was the Taiwan Temple Market last year. They return to the market theme again in 2015 with the Betel Store.
The team for FoxCarn is largely composed of members from these past two projects plus the organizers of Dragon Burn, Shanghai’s regional event. The team mixes up “diaspora” Taiwanese and Chinese, with Taiwan and China-based expats.
Ian Rowen is the China Regional contact for Burning Man. He has put together and continues managing the concept and the team, and has written all of their copy.
Nathan Melenbrink is the lead architect and robot designer. He, Jiyoo Jye, and Tiffany Cheng (Taiwanese-American) are all students at the Harvard Graduate School of Design. Nathan designed the 2014 Dragon Burn effigy.
Kenny Yu, from Hong Kong, is the lead graphic designer.
Michael Huang, Taiwanese/Chinese-American, freelance designer and fire lead on Enlightenment, is co-managing.
Jen Childs and Nick Kothari, Dragon Burn organizers based in Shanghai, are leading up China-side sourcing along with Elaine Kang. They are also providing additional design help.
DJ Furth, Beijing-based filmmaker, cut their Kickstarter video.
Jimi Moe, Spring Scream co-founder and member of the Taiwan Temple Market last year, is helping with materials production.
Ty Chen, founder of dance troupe Luxy Boyz, will choreograph the “product launch” on Tuesday night, during which Ian Rowen will don a turtleneck and wire rim glasses for the launch of:iSwag: their most personal swag yet. Tagline: “This changes nothing!”
FoxCarn robot team. Photo credit: FoxCarn & the Betel Store
Ian Rowen, the producer of this project, recently gave an interview about the project to Taiwanese Columbia University student Brian Hioe in New Bloom magazine:
IR:FoxCarn shows how Taiwan is implicated in China’s economy as investor, manager, and mediator between the Chinese party-state land masters, Chinese labor, and global capital. The design of the space, with the FoxCarn factory and the adjacent Betel Store, also in some ways reflects cross-Strait economic geography. In general, the piece takes aim at commodity fetishism and capitalism more broadly, and is meant to give participants a visceral reminder that their objects of desire don’t materialize from thin air, without real human and environmental costs. In this way, we intend to playfully “unalienate labor”.
BH: I also want to ask about the aspect of the betelnut beauties.This is something distinctively Taiwanese and isn’t something which has any direct relation to FoxConn that you’ve incorporated into FoxCarn.What is the role of the betelnut beauties in regards to FoxCarn?
IR: FoxCarn is the production side of our project, while the Betel Store is the sales and marketing side. The Betel Store satirizes Apple, and adds a uniquely Taiwanese sense of place that highlights the erotic imaginaries that drive so much of consumer product marketing. Instead of the Apple Store’s “genius” salesperson, our sales staff, male, female or otherwise, will be a “beauty”. By, if you will, “decommodifying” the oft-fetishized betelnut beauty, our project also plays with desire as a motive force of capitalism, not just in the sales of stuff, but in the deployment of the human body. So we’ll swank up our otherwise sleekly minimal Betel Store with gaudy pink lighting, and our staff will wear provocative Taiwanese/Chinese uniforms, including Betel-branded dudou.
IR: FoxCarn & the Betel Store are in a premier, highly-trafficked set of tents located right at the base of the Burning Man, the center of the whole event. The Man Base is meant to manifest the year’s art theme, and in recent years has also been a showcase for the globalization of the event’s culture. This year the theme is Carnival of Mirrors, so they’ll be sent up like a Carnival Midway, hence our name, FoxCarn. Burning Man is a big place—with 70,000 people and thousands of projects, there’s too much for one person to see. But pretty much everyone makes it to the Man Base, so this is a perfect spot to interact with the very wide variety of creative and influential people that compose the city’s population. Given Burning Man’s increasingly broad impact beyond its temporary urban confines—and with most major press organs in attendance—we also look forward to our message, and our “goods,” spreading far and wide. We’re also building our online presence and community. Of course, supporting our Kickstarter is a great place to start.
Last year, with Caravansary and the Silk Road, the theme was commerce and trade. We had a souk at the Man base, a market place selling (ironic) timeshares and whatnot. This year, in the carnival, it looks like we have ironic retail stores again (and ironic Commodification Camps). We get some subliminal messaging about our robot overlords thrown in, buzzing over our heads while we enjoying playing rubes at the carny.
I’m surprised they’re not handing out “Hello Titty” t-shirts or something. Perhaps that’s more of a Japanese thing.
First we had the iPhone on the Playa, now we have an Apple Store and iPhone factory. This comes after previous Burning Man advertising ironic looks at commodity fetishism:
Image: Curtis Simmons/Flickr (Creative Commons)
Image: jojomelons/Flickr (Creative Commons)
Mal Mart presents Baal Mart and TaarGay. Image: Wayne Stadler/Flickr (Creative Commons)
Image: Blip.TV documentary on Helco
Baal Mart, 2012. Image: Wayne Stadler/Flickr (Creative Commons)
SpamTanic by Karen Weir (Burning Man 2012) Photo: Wendy Goodfriend
Image: Hiker Carl
Some of these were pretty funny. Some of them fell flat. It’s a fine line – let’s hope that Foxcarn and the Betel Store falls more on the funny side than the thinly veiled commercial promotion side.
Ultimately, psychologically, the thing that you are mimicking and emulating is the thing that you are promoting. The irony helps make these mainstream brands more palatable to those who might otherwise be offended by them. As They say, “there’s no such thing as bad publicity”. And as They also say “sex sells”. It doesn’t matter whether money changes hands: you are being sold this commodity fetishized lifestyle at this art project that supposedly parodies it.
For anyone interested in exactly how subtle and psychological modern marketing can be, I highly recommend Douglas Rushkoff’s book Coercion: Why We Listen To What “They” Say. It was published in 2000, before social media, smart phones, and Big Data, but everything described is still part of the system and working better than ever.
Apple is the world’s most valuable company, and a core part of the Bay Area tech scene. Many current and former Apple employees are Burners, as are many loyal Apple users. Building robots for Apple is right there at burningman.org, on the Founders page. Slavery, robots, and the tech industry are interesting themes with which to build a bridge towards potential Chinese Burners. To me this showroom and production line says “commerce and politics” more than “art and culture”.
Burning Man is becoming a must-see place for an upwardly mobile generation of Mainland Chinese, and there is even a major Chinese theme camp now. More on that “coming soon”…