Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Dressed to feel

Scramble suit or bio-adapter, that's the question. Concerning the former, one will notice in the the picture above the character putting on a curious piece of "wearable computing", a kind of suit that give a perfectly anonymous appearance to undercover police detectives working for a highly dystopian DEA idealized by Philip K. Dick in the novel A Scanner Darkly (1977). Quoting the author, the suit is:

an invention of the Bell laboratories, conjured up by accident by an employee named S. A. Powers... Basically, his design consisted of a multifaceted quartz lens hooked up to a million and a half physiognomic fraction-representations of various people: men and women, children, with every variant encoded and then projected outward in all directions equally onto a superthin shroudlike membrane large enough to fit around an average human. As the computer looped through its banks, it projected every conceivable eye color, hair color, shape and type of nose, formation of teeth, configuration of facial bone structure - the entire shroudlike membrane took on whatever physical characteristics were projected at any nanosecond, then switched to the next...

Certainly a superficial device, nothing more than a walking screen. By the other hand, Oswald Wiener, an author yet to be valued (and, as a result, translated to English!!), imagined a completely different wearable in the novel Die verbesserung von mitteleuropa, roman (1969/1985). At the end of the book, included in an appendix, the author introduces the bio-adapter:

it knows from its sensors when a human being is inside preparing for a journey. Immediately after activating the start lever (which thereby becomes non-functional, it is just as quickly dismantled and added to the material reserves) the adapter begins to work. It closes by itself and makes air available for breathing. The air-conditioning unit provides ideal "external" conditions. Steered by a number of sensors which are located along the contours of the human body, the adapter fits closely to the latter on all sides, without however coming into contact with it, except in those places which are necessarily affected by gravity. By means of these sensors the adapter perceives each movement of the human body, anticipating it at a particular spot by buckling ahead.

But more importantly:

the bio-adapter can be compared to a selectively bred uterus ("joy suit") which, as a result of continual adaptation, is able to meet the most varied requirements of highly organised living creatures. It can be interpreted both as the hypertrophy of the modules of organs, a process which at first extends into the area of "physically external," and as the nervous structural complex of its owner, and from this point of view it is a converter of the pleasure impulses which human beings project onto their environment (servo-narcissus).

The complete English excerpt is here. One certainly would agree that Wiener's device is in fact an observable equipped with an algedonics counter. I've doodle what would be its working schemata: