2021 – Physical und Virtual Spaces

The history of mankind and technology has been interwoven since their first beginnings. Long before the invention of the wheel for a better transporting of things, the net for catching fish, or the writing for conveying information, prehistoric hand exes served as stone tools. Until today, our understanding of technology is mostly shaped by the industrialisation as a progress that facilitates our everyday life, making it more interesting and diverse too. This development of the 19th century was accompanied and also partly reinforced by a multitude of cultural imaginaries. Who does not know the novels by Jules Verne, i.e. 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea or From the Earth to the Moon? These books made many readers dream, and inspired generations of scientists and engineers to invent and build technical devices and systems.

Of course, the cultural imaginaries of science fiction literature also covered the realm of communication and information. Take Frank Baum’s The Master Key, for example. As early as 1900, he dreamed of a small, flat metal box that could automatically record events and play them back at any time. Or, quite more ambivalent, he envisioned glasses that allowed to recognise and characterise a person as good, clever or wise or as bad, cruel or foolish. Accordingly, he wrote: “With these gifts you are now equipped to astound the world and awaken mankind to a realisation of the wonders that may be accomplished by natural forces. See that you employ these powers wisely, in the interests of science, and do not forget your promise to exhibit your electrical marvels only to those who are most capable of comprehending them.”

Almost fifty years later, in his article As We May Think, Vannevar Bush designed his well known “Memory Expander” Memex as a system for improving scientific thinking based on the principles:

  • Thinking as an associative process,
  • Nonlinear structure,
  • Personal association paths,
  • Fast information access and
  • Voice-based recording options.

Many later implementations followed these ideas, such as the Sensorama from Morton Heilig, the Xanadu System from Ted Nelson, the Sword of Damocles from Ivan Sutherland or the iPhone. In recent years, with increasing digitalisation, the development of physical and virtual systems are getting more and more inseparable. Ideas for new products and systems are often conceived, implemented and tested in digital and real environments at the same time. This is especially true for extended reality applications in which code and materiality, virtuality and reality form a unit.

Today, and especially with the background of the Covid 19 pandemic, digital formats such as streaming, virtual and mixed reality and apps were increasingly developed, tested and used in order to compensate
the closure of educational and cultural institutions. Some examples include: the virtual tours through the Pergamon Museum Berlin, the #konzertZUhaus stream of the Konzerthaus Berlin, the Virtual Visit of the Hermitage in Sankt Petersburg, discover the history of London through Toto’s eyes of the London museum, the digital school programme of the Salzburg Museum, the 720° VR tour of the National Palace Museum in Taipai, the SFMOMA Audio App in San Francisco or the Tata Madiba Virtual Exhibition of the Iziko Museum of South Africa. These actual developments bring new challenges and opportunities for scientists, artists and employees of cultural institutions and, of course too, many ideas and solutions that are to be presented and discussed at the this year’s Culture and Computer Science conference in Berlin.

The newly developed applications and systems not only require new processes, technologies, hardware, software and algorithms, but also theoretical concepts. The development of these theoretical concepts play an important role at the Cluster of Excellence Matters of Activity at the Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin. Within the experimental setting Filtering, the interaction of code and materiality is being investigated on a molecular, digital, and cultural level. The underlying techniques of creating physical and virtual environments through filtering processes on these different layers seem to be universal and scale invariant. Hence, every environment consists of materiality and environmental knowledge, i.e. it includes physical reality of the environment and virtual reality in the form of corresponding knowledge of the environment. Physical and virtual reality thus form a unit and cannot be viewed separately from one another.

A new materiality in art and culture as well as in computer science is made possible by connecting physical realities with programmed reality. The creation of new works of art and of computer systems becomes a process that often takes place alternately in physical and virtual reality. Software and computer programs are increasingly becoming tools with which material can be processed. Not only products could be created here, but also works of art. Extended reality applications are an excellent example of this.

Extended Reality combines physical and virtual environments, and human-machine-interfaces such as wearables. It unfolds in a highly interactive, parallel and multimodal manner. As a rapidly expanding area of Computer Science, research in Extended Reality is characterised by a large degree of interdisciplinarity. The entanglement between the physical world and computer-generated data cuts across and expands far beyond disciplines such as human-computer interaction, machine-to-machine communication, computer graphics, sensor systems, but also humanities and artistic sciences such as sound, visual, culture and design studies.

With our 19th International Conference on Culture and Computer Science – Physical and Virtual Spaces, we want to address the multifaced bridges between physicality and virtuality.