Tuesday, 7 February 2012

dexterity or hand-jive

Yesterday on the news, I learned about a project and an exhibition that is coming to an end that illustrated the nuanced relationship among humans and machines through one purpose-built scribe. For several months, a robotic-arm from a research laboratory in Karlsruhe has been reproducing the Luther Bible in an early Renaissance hand on a very long, continuous scroll of parchment. Visitors to the exhibition were able to watch the robot in action, and this is not the first time that the research company has offered man-machine engagements meant to spur the imagination and blur preconceptions about interaction, including several parties hosted by robotic disc-jockeys.

I am not sure what the difference is between the written word and the printing-press in terms of (faithful) reproduction, but there is something about the technical acumen and tirelessness that's very alien to the dedication and errata of monks in a scriptorium. Coincidentally, after learning of this robotic feat Atlas Obscura featured in some of newly added destinations a related project from human-hands. Britain's Royal Calligrapher is determined to produce the first complete illuminated manuscript of the Bible since the invention of the printed word. Not being an automaton, the endeavour is taking some time and is yet incomplete, though one can marvel at the heft and artistry of the progress. The calligrapher designed a unique font and has illustrated hundreds of capitals and margins for the undertaking as well, and without volition, this is something a machine could never do. I wonder, however, if one could tell the difference between human creativity and a machine survey of the history of human art and orthography for an approximation of imagination, and notwithstanding technical perfection and fatigue, would we be able to tell the difference and what would that mean. I guess those are the kinds of questions such spectacles ask.