This network of organic and synthetic information systems allows us to examine the relationship between a fish, a robot and some plants, and how a collaborative relationship between the robot and fish might improve or interfere with the development of the plants. An elephant nose fish gnanothemus petersii is used to teach the robot navigational and behavioural skills. The fish explores its environment via weak electrical pulses in a similar manner to the sonar system employed by bats. The more data it requires from the environment, such as when searching for food, evading a predator or exploring a new environment, the more rapidly it sends out its pulses. These pulses can be simply picked up as an audio signal by means of placing electrodes in the water.
Using the artificial intelligence system DharmAi, the robot listens to the audible incoming stream of pulses from the fish and interprets emerging patterns and densities of clicks as parameters for actions. Gradually building up a more and more comprehensive understanding of the hidden language within these signals the robot is able to go about its tasks in a way that is increasingly dictated by the fish. The robot is also free to express its “feelings” about the conditions of the plants and its relationship with the fish through a series of sound and light signals and motions configured to convey excitement, awe, anxiety and disappointment. The robot also employs this range of emotive gestures and sounds in an attempt to stimulate the plants whilst constantly filming them. These video images are displayed on a miniature LCD screen next to the aquarium with the intention that the fish will include the images of the plants from the robot’s point of view in its own navigational environment and thus adapt its behaviour to the changing nature of the whole. In this way a looping feedback system is created where each element of this “bio-artificial ecosystem” becomes influenced by another and the piece begins to display the emergent behaviours of a complex interrelated whole.
The open question posed by the installation is whether the fish will understand any effect it’s having on the plants and if so whether it would have the capacity to be able to modify its actions accordingly. The work also explores the theories of Umwelt - the ways in which an organism subjectively perceives the signs and information in its environment - developed by Jakob von Uexküll and engages with the discussion about the possibilities of robots being able to have or to share an Umwelt. In a situation that accommodates three different forms of intelligence, what might evolve when each is being shared or exchanged with the others?