Moody Mushroom Floor (1996)

A smell/sound/light floor that develops and modulates 'moods' and 'goals' in response to the ways that people react to the invidual outputs.

Designed around second-order cybernetics principles, particularly Gordon Pask's, the "mushroom" actions are determined by their goals -- each mushroom sets its own particular goals at any particular moment. These goals are given anthropomorphic labels like "spoilt brat" or "alluring" or "capricious" and define what the mushroom hopes to achieve. For example, a "sullen" mushroom will try and keep people away from it.

However, it does not know how to do this -- it has to learn through trial and error which patterns of light, smell and sound are best for repelling people. If it is successful at being "sullen" it may well tend more often in the future to try to be "sullen". As a whole, the community of mushrooms begin to converge on particular behaviours after they have spent time in their environment.

The Moody Mushroom Floor is a system of 8 input-output devices which, through their programming and sensors, create an internal representation of their surrounding environment and which act upon the environment with the outputs they are provided with. Their actions are determined by their goals -- the important thing, however, is that each mushroom sets its own particular goals at any particular moment.

Moody Mushroom Floor inputs and outputs

The original intention was to make a behaviourally self-modifying device which would operate at an architectural, that is to say room-sized, scale. The devices might tend to modify their output based on their inputs in such a way that they would begin to appear to have a rudimentary "intelligence". The output would be simple - a combination of modifications to the attributes of spatial experience, in particular, the light level, the sound heard and the aromas smelt. The "intelligence" would manifest itself in the way these outputs were configured.

Moody Mushroom Floor inputs and outputs

Therein lay a problem - how to produce a device which would appear intelligent without telling it what to do (which would make it merely a very obedient slave). The device had to look at its inputs (the fact that these were determined by design notwithstanding), make up its own "connections" and "associations" gleaned from this information and decide on an output pattern. Thus, the fundamental step which moved the project away from typical directly responsive systems was that which introduced a subroutine which allowed it not only to determine what spatial attributes (light levels, sound frequencies and aromas) were enticing and which were repugnant (based on how people reacted to them), but also which allowed it to determine of its own accord whether or not the device in particular would tend to be either enticing or repugnant.

Moody Mushroom Floor inputs and outputs

This decision in particular was based on a several factors - how long people had been in the room, where they were in the room and the historic "success" at being attractive or repulsive (i.e. if it tends most often to be successful at being "attractive" then it will tend more often in the future to try to be attractive).

Moody Mushroom Floor inputs and outputs

The constructed project, the Moody Mushroom Floor, is a system of 8 input-output devices which are programmed by 48 concurrent genetic algorithms in such a way that the devices collectively seem to display intelligent behaviour. Each device forms an internal representation of its surrounding environment and outputs a sequence of light, smell and sound which will tend either to attract human beings or repel them (or neither). The devices fall somewhere between unintelligent 'nodes' and more sophisticated 'agents'.

The 'agents' form an internal representation of their surrounding environments from the following inputs:

  • sound as sampled by the Macintosh computer.
  • presence of other objects (human beings, dogs, cats, etc. i.e. anything that moves) through a combination of infrared motion detectors and pressure pads (which also give an indication of human beings' distances from each 'agent').

Output capabilities (as perceived by humans) include:

  • olfactory combinations of two smells in varying quantities (Royale Bain de Compagne and Mercaptopthene, though there are no instructions to indicate whether the former is generally favoured by human beings or the latter is generally disliked).
  • aural - sound of varying frequencies (depending on those encountered) and also human speech synthesis .
  • visual - various combinations of three pulsing 240 volt light bulbs in wattages of 25, 40 and 60.
  • information details of a particularly "successful" (in terms of ability to attract or repel a human being) output sequence may be relayed to another 'agent' .
Moody Mushroom Floor (1996)

The 'agents' emit output sequences which depend on the particular mode they happen to be in. They then check to see how successful that particular output sequence was (i.e. whether it attracted or repelled as intended) and a new output "strategy" is emitted, having undergone quasi-genetic operation to try and improve the output strategy for that particular mode, for that particular 'agent'. The output strategies are successively evolved genetically and will tend to converge on six individualised sequences for each 'agent' in its various modes.

Moody Mushroom Floor (1996)

In this way, each individual agent/mushroom begins to develop a "personality", or tendency towards certain behaviour. For example, each 'agent' will have its own tactics for keeping people out of the room (for one it may become the playing of very high pitched, very loud sounds; for another it may be the rapid pulsing of a bright light). An 'agent' which gets its way most often when it is in a "spoilt brat" mode, will tend to go into that mode more frequently, and will use appropriate output strategies, which have had a tendency to work, to ensure that its short term aims are achieved (i.e. to repel). At an intimate level, each 'agent' will develop a familiarity with the sorts of sounds that each one encounters and its sound output and smell output will tend to reflect this.

The Moody Mushroom Floor was Usman Haque's final postgraduate architecture project for Diploma Unit 14 at the Bartlett School of Architecture.