[Technology Exploration] Breaking down the boundaries of the mind


People communicate their hearts through a certain tool. People write a letter with a pen and send a message with a smartphone. If you believe that tools contain the mind, aren’t tools used just like parts of a body also an extension of the mind? An artist, Keunwook Kim, rethinks the scope of the mind at this moment.


Are only humanoids considered to be robots?
Is it because of the desire to be the creator? Robots resemble humans. Humanoids that act like humans without having to remind of ‘Mazinger’ have become a symbol of robots. However, Keunwook Kim says that robots do not have to resemble humans. Robots can be made in many different forms, and the mere belief in humanoids (stereotypes) limits their possibilities. Keunwook Kim proposes a new communication method for robots. The project <Post Plant> announced in 2020 is a simple but ingenious plant robot. it responds to touch. Several strands resembling a stem rotate and repeat twisting and unwinding. A twisted robot sometimes makes people a little uncomfortable. At this time, if you pat the robot one time as if you are trying to give comfort, it will untangle the twisted string on its own. Of course, it is difficult to expect complex interactions with <Post Plant>. However, you can feel the power of simple communication. At least, it works better than a smart speaker that causes frustration.


Expanded mind
It is often said that math problems are solved by hand, right? In reality, people easily forget that it is the result of the total activity of the brain, nervous system, senses, and motor organs. The American philosopher, Mark Rowlands, for example, viewed the tools a person uses including physical activity as a part of the mind when a person perceives situations and expresses emotions. So, even the pen that writes letters is an extension of the mind. Rowlands calls this concept ‘ the extended mind ‘. Based on the concept of ‘the extended mind’, Keunwook Kim started the project of <Objectification of robots, robotization of objects: Robots as extended mind tools>. It aims to see the robots as tools that extend the human mind, not just tools to help humans.


Tools to create new grammars
Keunwook Kim’s project begins with the idea that the body is not just a vessel to contain the mind. This is because the body and mind are inseparable and even organically connected with the surrounding environment. Besides, the human body has limitations. People cannot hear small sounds and see well at night. People who are not good at expressing their emotions may not be able to express their feelings properly. If people can borrow the power of the extended mind tool, it is a different story. Keunwook Kim can express emotions more actively and remember many things through the ‘ Extended Mind Tool ‘.


The first extended mind tool for a showcase is a wearable device in the form of headgear. It allows people to express emotions in new behaviors or signals other than speech or facial expressions. It may feel like this tool is acting as another organ of the body. If everyone wears Keunwook Kim’s extended mind tool all the time, the expression of ‘I’m not good at expressing my emotions’ may disappear. The extended mind tool in the form of headgear is also equipped with a camera. It reminds me of an episode in the drama <Black Mirror> depicting a future society where all memories can be permanently stored and retrieved. Every move is recorded and stored for 24 hours. At that time, the act of ‘seeing’ will be used as a synonym for ‘remembering and storing’. The form of social media will also change. Keunwook Kim’s project makes us rethink our daily activities. And it makes people be skeptical.


The form of the second ‘extended mind tool’ has not been decided yet. It can be an object that interacts with a robot (like a traditional Post Plant) or teleports to give people the experience (Telepresence) of communicating with someone on the other side of the world.


Changing the attitude: Note
Keunwook Kim has been using notes a lot lately. He used to carry a bunch of A4 papers. Of course, there is no functional difference between a sheet and a notebook. However, it affects the attitude of the artist. For some reason, using notes can be a help by having a positive compulsive feeling to work hard on something. Keunwook Kim majored in design. Of course, he also does programming and writing. Notes and pens are also tools that allow you to implement a variety of expressive methods without limitations. So, the notes stay together throughout the project.


For something with a physical property: Vernier Calipers
Humans react to movements. We have evolved to catch and prepare for movements to survive. Keunwook Kim pays attention to things that move by themselves and have their physical properties. A typical example is a robot. For something with its physical properties to move, it must be precisely made. That is why every Maker needs Vernier Calipers. A tool that can measure the smallest units among any non-digital analog instruments.


For natural perception, not to perceive: Insta 360 GO & Insta 360 ONE X2
Keunwook Kim believes that the tool mankind will use the longest is the camera. To use the camera, it involves the movements of lifting the camera and pointing it at the subject. Keunwook Kim omits the movements so that it is naturally recognized and stored. To do that, the camera needs to be light enough to fit on a neck. That is the way that everything can be fully captured.


About the artist
Keunwook Kim discovers new interactions with physical properties through observation and releases them in everyday life or exhibition hall. He has been working on projects with NAVER Labs, Hyundai Robotics, Nissan, and BMW, exploring various fields such as industrial/interaction design, interactive art, and human-computer-interaction research (HCI). He studied design and HCI at Hongik University and Seoul National University, and also studied at the University of Arts London. The works of Keunwook Kim was introduced at conferences such as ACM CHI, DIS, IEEE HRI, and Core77 Design Award. He also participated in interactive art exhibitions in London, Tehran, and Seoul.