This was a project completed over 12 months as part of MFA Computational arts at Goldsmiths University during 2015 and 2016.
This is a speculative project that imagines what the future of computer hardware and software might be and draws upon different computational theories such as quantum computing, analogue computation and cybernetic theory. The aim of this project is to develop a system that uses different forms of light and energy to do computation. As this is a speculative project the project has been developed as both a scientific and artistic investigation into light based computing rather than being an engineering project. The reasoning behind this is because I am interested in the way in which artists can aid in the development of new technology by speculating on what the future might be.
In this project I specifically refer to the method of computing as light based comptuing which uses the idea of storing and transmitting energy into different states and frequencies. The project is driven by a radioactive isotope that triggers a geiger counter, this process is an effect of quantum mechanics and is the most pure form of randomness that occurs in nature. This seeds a random number generator that is then used by to trigger lasers and other lights throughout the system. In the aquarium a laser shines onto phosphorescent stones which act as short term memory units that dissapate the light energy with time. This residual light energy is then detected by photosensors which are feed back into the system as a cybernetic process in which the dissapation of light through Phosphorescent materials acts as a self regulating mechanism on the system (Wiener, N 1948) which is a process also important in analog computing. This concept of self regulation and storage of information in light systems is a further development of the work done by myself and Marija Bozinovska Jones (Bozinovska Jones, M. Haebich, J 2016).
The project is a cybernetic system comprised of light and energy with the concept of self regulation and autopoesis being preesent throughout the system. In the past first and second order cybernetics have been comprised of machines and living organisms. Furthering this I wanted to create a system based on the physical processes of light that acts in a self regulating way. When referring to light I mean both the visible and invisible spectrums of light such as ultraviolet, gamma amd beta radiation, visible light etc which are all used in different ways within this computation architecture. The overall process of this system is running a quantum search algorithm called grovers search algorithm (Grover, L 1997). The algorithm uses the random decay of the radioactive isotope to drive the quantum algorithm. It also uses the phosphorescent material to store output from the algorithm and read it back in later. The UV processing unit devices uses the routing of ultraviolet laser beams via mirrors and glass to make control decisions while executing the algorithm. This acts as a type of analog processing unit similar to the way in which mechines comprised of gears and cogs formed the first analog computers the UV processing unit can create non discrete output which is useful when using non binary computing methods such as quantum computing.
The project has been presented with a specific science/lab visual aesthetic in mind (Archival Aesthetics, 2015), with the reasoning behind this to show my work as if it is a working science prototype. The piece itself is presented within a large metallic tent which amplifies the feeling of being in a sealed/closed environment that protects the fragile cybernetic system from outside electromagnetic radiation. The modules themselves are self contained and I have taken care to present each as an almost finished product but I have deliberately left wires and components connecting the different modules together to expose the raw nature of the project in the same way a demonstration of a new computing technology would be presented in a lab rather than as product.
The final piece consists of a number of different modules that are connected together as can be seen in the diagram in the previous section. Each of these modules have been created using a variety of physical computing and software development tools with the overall system being controlled by an openframeworks app running on a computer. The system runs a simple kind of quantum based algorithm called Grovers Search Algorithm (Grover, S 1997) which uses probabilities to search an unstructured data set for a single piece of information. In my installation the light computer is looking for a single 7 bit number out of all possible solutions. This process can be seen on the text output screen.
The diagram in the pictures at the bottom shows the technical layout of the various components of the system with further information about each of the components listed below
Quantum Ionising Capacitor (QIC) - Uranium glass, 3d printed material. This component acts as a kind of battery or source of energy/information that drives the system as a whole. The QIC contains slightly radioactive uranium glass that gives off a steady but completely random stream of radioactive decay that the QSPU detects.
Quantum Seed Processing Unit (QSPU) - Arduino board and code, Geiger Counter Tube, 3D printed components. This component contains a geiger counter tube which detects radioactive decay which due to quantum mechanics is completely random and non deterministic (Loveland, Morrissey 2006). The device then uses this detection to create numbers that seed a random number generator that is used within the quantum algorithm.
Ultra Violet Processing Unit (UVPU) - Ultraviolet laser diodes, Arduino Board and code, Quinine infused gel mixture, mirrors, photoreactive sensors. This component mimics a type of optica analog circuit board in which laser beams are controlled by mirrors and diffracted by glass, with different paths through the system giving different results. The resultant beams are then recorded with Photo Resistors that determine the result of the operation.
Phosphorescent Random Access Memory (PHOSRAM) - Phosphorescent plastic, iodine infused liquid, RGB Laser, Etherdream Laser controller, photoreactive sensors. In this module a laser records information onto phosphorecent material on the bottom of the tank that slowly disapates this light. The dissapation is recorded by photoresistors underneath of the tank.