Augmented Fish Reality

The Augmented Fish Reality 2004. It is comprised of 5 rolling, robotic fish-bowl sculptures, (3 for this exhibition) designed to explore interspecies and transpecies communication. In these robotic sculptures, Siamese fighting fish use intelligent hardware and software to move their robotic fish bowls anywhere that they desire in order to interact with their environment. Siamese fighting fish can see clearly beyond their glass bowls. They can see color and seem to be attracted to the color yellow. They also have the ability to mentally map their environments in order to find food and avoid predators. In an article entitled Learning in Fishes (Fish and Fisheries, 2003, vol. 4), editors Kevin N. Laland, Culum Brown, and Jens Krause discuss revisions in thinking about fish intelligence, which seems much greater than was formerly imagined. It is now believed that fish are “steeped in social intelligence.” The article reports that fish pursue “Machiavellian strategies of manipulation, punishment and reconciliation” while also displaying “cultural” traditions and cooperation to elude predators and obtain food. It is said that fish track the relationships of other fish in their environment and even monitor the social prestige of other fish. It is now widely supported that fish build nests (such as the Siamese fighting fishes’ bubble nests) as well as exhibit “impressive long-term memories.” Each robotic fish bowl in Augmented Fish Reality is equipped with four accurate infrared sensors. As each fish swims, it activates the motorized wheels in its own personal vehicle. The sensors allow the fish to move the robot forward and backward and to turn it left or right. Humans interact with the work simply by entering the environment, but these robots are under fish control, and the fish will choose to approach and/or move away from human participants whenever they wish. Siamese fighting fish are top breathers, so they are very comfortable in an oxygen-deficient environment. They take gulps of air from the surface in order to get enough oxygen, and a larger bowl, such as the ones used here, is great as a long-term habitat since there is a large area of water in contact with oxygen. This living environment also includes a peace lily plant that absorbs and prospers from the fish waste, and, in turn, provides oxygen to the fish. There are stones in each tank to make the fishes’ world more natural, friendly, and complex. There are both male and female fighting fish, and the robots are designed so that the fish can get within 1/4 inch of each other for visual communication. Additional elements to this interactive installation are small lipstick video cameras mounted on forty-five degree angles under one of the bowls that project images onto the gallery walls from the perspective of the fish. During presentations, many ask, “Do the fish discover the interface?” I respond that I have yet to be able to ask them, although the fish certainly do move the tanks around. I do believe that we will eventually better break down inter-animal barriers by doing a better job of analyzing animal behavior, motivations, and strategies of communication with computers and statistical probabilities. We will be able to decode their behaviors in relation to animal communication and environmental interaction. Letters from Dr. Culum Brown, a leading fish researcher, suggest that he is certainly convinced that if the fish were to grow up in this environment, they certainly would learn to use the interface if rewarded with food. Currently the only reward the fish have is the social interaction of meeting each other across the gap between the glass. Robots are very good at sensing and responding to both fish and human action.

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