Hillary explains that emergence can mean many things: “capturing the creation of galaxies, intelligent behavior in ant colonies, the economy, ecosystems and conscious brains”. Its use in this context is quite new.
How do you create such a system? “Functionally, the system would extract position and motion information, feed it into the emergence algorithm, and then create a visual feedback loop to signal how close participants were to the goal of the game,” Hillary explains. “The system had to run the emergence criterion in real time and provide feedback to players’ hats. The hats had to be able to ‘blink’ in perfect sync, like fireflies do in the wild. They had to be safe and comfortable; flexible to enable intricate patterns and artistic expression, and accurate and reliable for the results of the scientific part of Synch.Live to be valid.
Building the system wasn’t that easy, and the team also wanted to make the code easy to use. “We wanted to create a system that was easy to replicate and use for other artists, scientists, and enthusiasts,” says Hillary. “Scalability was also an important requirement: while we are currently running small pilots with just a few players (ten), we envision a future for Synch.Live where dozens of players come together to create large, compelling displays of coordination emerging.
“With these requirements in mind, we designed the software to be highly modular and extensible. Accurate clock synchronization and scalable deployment were difficult problems to solve; we solved them with RTC and Ansible modules. We were fortunate to have a network of very supportive friends and collaborators, including professional software engineers and computer vision researchers, who helped us make this project a reality. The project was developed entirely in open source, and our in-house software engineer Madalina carefully documented the build process in his blog.”
If you’re like us, it all sounds very fascinating, and also a fun experience to take part in.
“People are incredibly excited about the work and its potential applications,” says Hillary. “As one participant wrote after one of our presentations: ‘The vision is powerful, the implications and potential are clearly articulated and beautifully expressed, and the need for this work is deep and significant.'”
The project is currently undergoing further refinements as pilots are run to test the system, and Synch.Live will perform June 18-19 at Imperial College London.
“Once we have the data to demonstrate collective emergence, we want to increase the size of the group, design the wearable, develop new scenarios and rule sets, and explore applications such as conflict resolution and team building. ‘teams.’ Hillary concludes, “Ultimately, we want to make the Synch.Live experience accessible to communities around the world and make a film that celebrates our collective humanity.”