Autowow, 2007-2008

a robot in awe of the night sky

Autowow is a robotic telescope system that scans the sky for stars and counts them out loud.

Autowow is the third part of the MakeLanguage project, a free-from inquiry into the cultural consequences of synthetic speech. It is a critique of normative uses of human-like speech in machines and an attempt to propose what machines, now that they can sound like we do, could be telling us.

Autowow scans the sky for stars in an exploratory fashion, moving slowly where it finds stars and moving quickly where there is nothing to see. Light captured by the CCD camera and converted to an electric signal constitutes the elementary percept that drives the system to do the only thing it can do: count (a weak approximation of the idea of number). With this tallying system, a machinic proxy for attention, Autowow establishes a connection between a primitive percept and a primitive utterance prior to language as we know it.

Urbanites too busy and tired to be bothered with watching the skies at night can simply turn on AUTOWOW and go about their business knowing that something is looking out, and up, for them.