Space in the Adaptive Plastic

[Image: An otherwise irrelevant photo of early night-vision technology used during the Vietnam War; courtesy of the U.S. Army].

So where were we?

Just clearing out a few old links for a fresh start. Last spring, Danger Room reported that DARPA had been hoping to step into the world of “battlefield illusions,” developing “technologies that will ‘manage the adversary’s sensory perception’ in order to ‘confuse, delay, inhibit, or misdirect [his or her] actions.'” This includes “frontline illusions intended to disrupt enemy warfighters’ thought patterns.”

The program—a kind of military-sensory complex—is based on the belief that “if researchers can better understand ‘how humans use their brains to process sensory inputs,’ the military should be able to develop ‘auditory and visual’ hallucinations that will ‘provide tactical advantage for our forces.'”

But what might the architectural—or the more generally urban, the very broadly spatial—implications of such a technology be? Can managing or choreographing perception through shared hallucinations and techniques of sensory misdirection in the built environment be a tool increasingly useful for designers today? Even DARPA refers to this sub-class of programs as “Shaping the Environment“—so is there a civilian, or, more accurately, a deweaponized, version of these deployable “illusions” that could be used by architects or even by set & interior designers for real-time augmentations of everyday space? For “engineering ghosts” in the rooms around us, where the rooms themselves are sometimes ghosts?

After all, urban design as a hand-me-down technology from the military is nothing new, so adapting battlefield misperceptions to architectural use on the homefront would hardly be surprising.

Perhaps it’d be like Microsoft’s patented Immersive Display Experience, an architecture of overlapping stitched projections such that “the peripheral image appears as an extension of the primary image,” and, in the process, the room you’re standing in becomes a game display.

[Image: Microsoft’s Immersive Display Experience].

How could this be used by architects?

While we’re on the subject of DARPA, meanwhile, another even older piece of news from their designers’ desks was this 2011 announcement that they’d begun constructing “an entirely new class of electronic systems that can meet the demands of dynamic environments.” These would be called Systems of Neuromorphic Adaptive Plastic Scalable Electronics (or SyNAPSE), a “program [that] aims to fundamentally alter conventional designs by developing biological-scale neuromorphic electronic systems that mimic important functions of a human brain.” A strange future of neuromorphic plastic brains illusioneering streets into existence—invisible cities, flickering and disruptive—we humans will try and, haplessly, fail to navigate.

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