BUFFALO, N.Y. -- The way in which the electronic voices that
answer our phones, help us make plane reservations and take our
fast-food orders might be put to new, extremely useful and
fascinating uses in the future will be the subject of a
presentation on Sept. 26 at the University at Buffalo.
Marc Böhlen, associate professor in the UB Department of
Media Study and a 2006-07 fellow of the UB Humanities Institute,
will present his fellowship project, "Make Language," at 5:15 p.m.
in the Screening Room in the Center for the Arts on UB's North
The free, public presentation will be sponsored by the UB
Humanities Institute, which promotes innovative cross-disciplinary
research, teaching, and community programs in the humanities.
An artist-engineer, Böhlen teaches and publishes in the
areas of digital arts and robotics. He currently is visiting
professor at the Artificial Intelligence Lab, University of
Zürich and visiting professor in the Faculty of Architecture,
Landscape and Design at the University of Toronto. He holds three
master's degrees from major institutions and is an international
figure in his field.
"Make Language," which represents Bohlen's ongoing attempt to
diversify machine culture, is an exploration of intriguing new uses
for what he calls "the infinitely patient synthetic characters who
make our plane reservations, guide us through the options offered
by telephone answering systems, offer computer support, give us
stock quotes and take our fast food orders."
"The synthetic language systems 'they' use replicate features of
human speech to the extent that they sound more and more like we
do," he says, "and permit these synthetic characters to understand
and respond to us on our terms." But, he says, these characters
could perform extremely useful functions beyond the mundane
activities to which they are currently assigned.
To demonstrate their potential uses, in "Make Language"
Böhlen introduces us to synthetic-voice English-speaking
characters Amy, German-accented Klara and Spanish-accented Maria
and assigns them new language tasks, with provocative and witty
They demonstrate their synthetic bad accents and foul
language, conduct synthetic hissy fits and demonstrate synthetic
patience, awe and kitsch. Böhlen proposes, however, that that
they and their artificial friends might someday talk us to sleep as
a lover might or help us keep exotic human dialects from becoming
"Maybe they will archive endangered phonemes in elaborate
databases or invent new figures of speech particular to being
machines," he says, "but first, they will have to prove their
Explore "Make Language" and other Böhlen IT art projects,
including "The Universal Whistling Machine," at http://www.realtechsupport.org/new_works/ml.html.