Instrumentation and Instrumentality

Text of a lecture by Ted Krueger for the Data Wolk Hoeksche Waard workshop at DEAF98.

Herbert Simon writing in Sciences of the Artificial posits two kinds of science the 'natural' and the 'artificial'. Natural sciences, such as physics, chemistry and biology endeavor to understand the world 'as it is'. The task is fundamentally descriptive and analytical. It concerns itself with thinking. Sciences of the artificial - business, engineering, and all of design, for examples, give primary consideration to the world 'as it should be'. The task is propositional and synthetic. Its primary concern is with doing, with intentionality.

These inherent differences require different accoutrements. Instrumentation attaches to observation and description -these are recording devices - and instrumentality to action and intention - tools. Categories such as the 'natural' and the 'artificial' belong to a world view that is difficult to sustain in contemporary culture. Their use here is not an endorsement of that understanding, rather it is a framework by which one can understand the way in which certain attitudes towards information use have developed and the kinds of expectations that may be brought to the Data Cloud.

The objective is to observe and to understand 'what is'. Typically the observations are recorded for later use in analysis. Recording has an important cultural function in that the data may be made available in the social realm at remote locations and times. Recording allows for the direct comparison between distant elements and distant times. Instrumentation is therefore fundamental to both history and analysis.

Often instruments are used to visualize the invisible. Scientific instruments are often of this type, but so are maps where a level of abstraction and a shift in scale allows previously unrecognized relationships to appear.

Instrumentation holds out the promise of objectivity -"we are only trying to collect and compile some information...". Rodney Brooks, a researcher in artificial intelligence, asserts that 'the world is its own best model'. This is an obvious tautology. Borges tells of a detailed map the size of the kingdom. This is ridiculous. Together they point to the fact that recording must involve a selection process, an editing or simplification. This raises the issues: What is to be recorded by the instrument? and more importantly, underlying this activity: For what purpose is the data collected? Why make this selection and not another?

Here it becomes clear that the process of removal from the world cannot be neutral but is always interwoven with intent.
Instrumentation seeks to form an image or concept and so anticipates in that forming the intent and potential utility of the record. Further, the process of selection becomes embedded in the resulting artifact. In effect, the recording is a record of the process of recording. It documents the phenomena in interaction with the priorities and thought processes that went into its making. This is not necessarily a bad thing and is, in any case, inevitable. Consider that some significant portion of the art of photography has to do with this issue of selection and less so with the process of recording as a neutral act.

The artifact or concept that results from the recording exists simultaneously as an autonomous entity but also exists in relationship to all that that was not chosen, and the 'not chosen' is information that is embedded in the data collected. The 'selected' and the 'not selected' coexist within the data object, though the presence of the chosen manifests itself most prominently. The possibility for the 'not chosen' to speak develops first out of our attention to its existence and second out of our knowledge of available alternatives. This aspect of data is given by its relationship to other data that has been collected by alternative processes of editing and recording as well as by its relation to the set of possible data.

Recording in Relationship to Design
It should be noted here, that Simon's two worlds of the natural and the artificial are involved in an interaction - this of course Simon recognizes and indeed promotes. The availability of information is critical to the act of design. That is a common aspect of contemporary practice. As a part of their professional duties, architects and planners are skilled in obtaining the kinds of information that is typically required during the design process. Useful information may include patterns of development and infrastructure, such as transportation and communications networks, utilities and energy distribution. The locations of public buildings, offices, industrial and commercial facilities, schools, hospitals and the like, cultural and religious facilities would be noted. Building codes, zoning restrictions and other regulatory concerns, as well as information about the physical properties and relationships of the site, its soils and climate among many other details are also important. The list is extensive. This kind of information could become part of the Data Cloud. From the standpoint of the professional, its availability could be considered a convenience, but I believe that it would not materially alter the design process. It may be an efficient means of distribution for data that would have been available by some other means.

This kind of information may be much less available to the general public, however, and in its availability there may be significant benefit for others less skilled in seeking it out.

On the other hand, there are whole classes of information that are typically unavailable to the design community - detailed information about the lives of the residents and their perceptions about what is important. This information may be diffuse and its collection would place an unreasonable burden on the planner or architect. Here it is reasonable to ask how is it that the collection of information that is useful, perhaps critical to design places and unreasonable burden on the professional responsible for the undertaking of the design?

The answer lies in the basic conflicts that are built into the design process as it is commonly implemented. Who is the client? It has been my experience - and I believe it to be common and global -that the developer of a project - private, corporate or governmental and institutional will be the holder of a contract for services. The ultimate users and inhabitant as well as the community at large may have no other representation other than the design professionals themselves. While this is consistent with the definition of professionalism, within a project such as the development of a district this notion of the client is both vast, varied and dispersed. The information that may become available in the Data Cloud will be of great value and impossible to obtain, in a pragmatic sense, in any other way.

So there may be a mutually beneficial and reciprocal exchange of information enacted with this project.

Tools suffer from many of the same conditions as instrumentation. They are in principle objects of intention. In fact, the more perfected they are in relation to intent, they more extravagantly they are regarded as tools. The highest complement that one can pay to a tool is that it becomes transparent perhaps even invisible relative to the process and its intent.

Consider a simple hammer - not one for stonework or jewelry - but a common hammer. You will find the same one in Lisbon or Los Angeles. There is a selection process that has occurred, a perfecting and an optimizing. There is a legibility of intent.

Maslow said, "When the only tool you own is a hammer, every problem begins to resemble a nail."

Intention flows into the hammer but also an intent emanates out of it to infect our perception of our surroundings. The potential of the tool distorts its environment with those intentions. Tools are technological and determinate. They are implicated in our whole way of being. Tools both extend our capabilities and expose our capabilities to us as we operate within the world. They are a powerful aspect of our own definition. Elements of being develop out of our world and become available to us by virtue of our technologies. Tools both enable and constrain.

I started with Herbert Simon who has a particular world view and from him derived the notions of instrumentation and instrumentality. The assumptions that underlie this perspective might in turn be called into question. In an effort to make sense and practical use of the issues raised.

While we cannot admit of any data free of impurities, bias and corruption, this should not prevent us from making use of them. Rather it suggests instead that we make use of them precisely because they are so corrupted. The notion of a distortion introduced into the data is itself based on the assumption that there is an objective and verifiable world or an ideal prior condition that exists independently of our tools and methods and that we exist within that ideal world. Schroedinger and his unfortunate cat existing in the world of hard science would insist that this is not the case. But if it is admitted that our tools and instruments create disturbances, then how could we come to know the objective and the ideal? We may have to put aside the fantasy of a single verifiable condition, but retain our understanding of the interactions between objects or events and creators, instruments and instrumentality and to appreciate what that can tell us.

The objects in the Data Cloud do not gain significance by being considered objective descriptions of the conditions in the Hoeksche Waard, rather their significance lies in their potential attachment to a multiplicity of subjective experiences. Traces of trajectories through the data field record a multiplicity of relationships within which certain objects, individuals or events are implicated.

One of the prime utilities of such a project is that it allows for the simultaneous presencing of these polyvalent relationships in a raw aggregation available in all their interconnectedness and discontinuities. These traces will not have been subjected to statistical aggregations that erase difference. Statistical metrification collapses into categories - urban, suburban or rural, residential, agricultural or industrial, natural or artificial. While these categories allow for a convenient interpretation proceeding in terms of what is already known, they are much less capable of identifying the nascent development. For example, de Haan has identified the trans-categorical redefinition that is taking place within the youth culture of the district, the coming into being of a new awareness. In time, perhaps, this development may solidify into a new type, but for now it is important simply for what it is and for its suggestion that the Waard may be understood as a crucible in which new cultural alloys may be smelted. On the one hand, notions of 'copper' and 'tin' have utility in the analysis, on the other hand, there is a point where what you have is 'bronze'.

It is critical that one does not interpret the tendencies and potentials of the Hoeksche Waard in light of preexisting taxonomies, particularly as these categories develop out of differing conditions and from different times. Neither is it sufficient to understand its potential development as a collage or mosaic of known types because the reuse of these cliches only fosters a further clinging to current perceptual patterns. This project allows for the recognition of new emergent forms and patterns as well as the proposition of new strategies of development and new possibilities of habitation.

Rajchman describes the virtual house as " The one which through its plan, space, construction and intelligence generates the most new connections. The one so arranged or disposed as to permit the greatest power for unforeseen relations." This is what one should expect, as well, from the virtual space of the Data Cloud.

The Hoeksche Waard Data Cloud may be interpreted an instrument for recording the manifold relationships and experiences resident in the Waard and as well it's projected future as understood by artists, planners and designers. These projects will be informative not only in what they indicate, but as noted above, suggest, as well, the alternatives not selected. Together they manifest the operation of the design process as a social act and illuminate the forces that are acting upon it. This has the potential to be not only informative but catalytic.

Kirsch and Maglio distinguish between pragmatic and epistemic activities. The pragmatic seeks to effect changes of state within the world while the epistemic are undertaken in an effort to change the cognitive state of the individual. If one considers the Hoeksche Waard Data Cloud as a tool it may not be a pragmatic one, except as a second-order effect of its primary function which is to alter perceptions, classifications, and understandings. It is an epistemic tool meant to allow the cognitive preconceptions to become adjusted to the fertile conjunctions that it manifests.

In Second Self, Turkle observes that "Technology catalyzes changes not only in what we do but in how we think. It changes peoples awareness of themselves, of one another, of the relationship with the world."

In the design of an epistemic tool, one needs to be concerned with the location of the design activity. Here, of course, location does not refer to a physical localization. Especially with electronic media, this notion is irrelevant if not absurd. Instead it refers to the place within the problem structure where the design effort is focused. Here one cannot be concerned with the specification and composition of content - with the explicit form. Rather one must remove oneself to work with the parameters that govern the behavior patterning of the system. The Data Cloud opens up, enables and implements a space of cultural discourse. Its purpose must be to recognize difference and distances - distinctions, but just as strongly, to make available that which is common shared and agreed upon. As a culture and community, it is the recognition of similarity and distinction that forms the basis for discourse and action.

The success of the project will, I believe, depend upon the breadth and depth of engagement that can be developed within the various constituencies coupled with the ability to dynamically refine structure of this epistemic tool.

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