Sunday, October 9, 2016

gesture and machine personality

I saw reference to a 'CNC machine', and I had no idea what it was. So, I googled, and it came up on youtube.

After watching, I realized this is totally my sense of humor, and I had to think about why.

Particularly, the surprise of not knowing what was coming and the revelation of the creation in 'mind' is funny. The moment the tool changes indicates when it's time for the next action, but my imagination has to immediately fathom what the tool is going to do before it shows me. Then, it begins the execution with utmost precision and zeal.

Watching a person do anything creative can be just as funny and fascinating if you don't know what they have in mind. If you do know, for example, a person is going to draw, but you can't tell what they are doing until it takes more form, the surprise is in observing where they begin, maybe compared to how I myself might think to begin. 

The same kind of effect can be achieved by watching three people perform the same simple, familiar task - washing hands, typing, tossing something in the trash, shaving, selecting food from a buffet, running or walking, scraping the last bite of yogurt from the bottom of the cup. I always wanted to make a montage of this kind of activity because the comparison reveals personality through gesture, pace, intensity, hesitation, the thought process and decision making, the level of attention, any addition of subtasks, and criteria for satisfying the given task to completion. Such purely absurd actions sometimes render performers into ridiculous caricatures as they submit to whatever method necessary to achieve the desired outcome.

One of the more hilarious such tasks is the act of licking an envelope. At the post office, I've witnessed some who lick their finger and press it across the glue strip, which strikes me as unhygienic, though perhaps they are either avoiding the taste, or trusting the sanitation of their own finger over the envelope. I myself would run my tongue up one length of the glue strip from end to center, then again to complete the other side, and I believe this to be the most thorough and efficient. However, I observed one person licking in rapid upward strokes across the glue strip, the way a dog pesters its owner for attention. This very energetic and frivolous performance was exacerbated by his being a fat, buck-toothed fry cook with rolls of neck fat covered in spiny crew-cut hair buckling from under a mesh ball cap. 

But, back to the CNC machine. A machine's movement is funny because of the precision, and because of the timing. There are moments of perceived finesse and brutality - the most precise, micro movements reading as meticulous and sensitive, and the macro movements seeming merciless, frighteningly relentless and forceful as teeth bare into metal the shards are cast away, appealing to my dark humor. Robots and machines might read as ultimate OCD introverts in that they exhibit strong intention and superior decisiveness, yet have no sense of self awareness, and are only concerned for monomaniacally focusing on the task at hand, like some kind of an autistic adolescent. 

In this instance, the automated task is funnier because there is no processing, no evaluation, just sheer execution. The only pause is when the next tool rolls out to begin the next task, and though it's a mere formality, it invites us to personify the machine as sentient.

Bear in mind, the machine is operated by a human, but it is performing a sequence of tasks previously handled by a human. Comparing human and machine performance of this operation might be funny by contrast, but the darkness in the humor would be stark.