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August 20, 2004

arm wrestling


Telephonic Arm Wrestling


The setting was a bar-room. Two Canadian artists—Doug Back and Norman White -- were talking about the arms race.

"Wouldn't it be great," Back said, "if [the arms race] could be resolved by arm wrestling?"

And so the idea grew, “to allow contestants in two different cities to arm wrestle, using motorized force-transmitting systems interconnected by a telephone data link." Information would flow bi-directionally -- between identical robotic arms controlled by active agents at each of two sites.

After engineers at the University of Toronto estimated a cost of $75,000, the artists decided to try to build it themselves, and did. in two months for approximately $500 by throwing together “a bunch of junk" along with some homemade custom electronics.

The first successful implementation of the work took place between the Canadian Cultural Centre in Paris and the Artculture Resource Centre in Toronto.

Telephonic Arm Wrestling wryly established a low-tech system for resolving competitive, if not antagonistic relations. It was remarkably sensitive. "You could almost feel the pulse of the other person,” White said, “... it was uncannily human-like--the sensation of sinews and muscle--not at all like feeling a machine."

Because of the time-delays in the telephone link, the system could not support standard rules of engagement. It was impossible for the competitors to really have much of a fight. Under certain circumstances, both sides could win simultaneously, fundamentally undermining the competitive model of win-lose. In this case, there was no victor, only local perceptions, a telling commentary on the arms race and the opposition of capitalism and communism.

from looksmart "Tele-Agency: Telematics, Telerobotics, and the Art of Meaning" by Edward A. Shanken.

Other works (1969-1996) by Norman White

Posted by newradio at August 20, 2004 05:46 PM