‘Bit’ Installation Combines Art, Markov Chains

A Markov chain is a mathematical concept of a sequence of events, in which each future event depends only on the state of the previous events. Like most mathematical concepts, it has wide-ranging applications from gambling to the stock market, but in this case, [Jonghong Park] has applied it to art.

The installation, known simply as ‘bit’, consists of four machines. Each machine has two microswitches, which are moved around two wooden discs by a stepper motor. The microswitches read bumps on the surface of the disc as either a 0 or 1, and the two bits from the microswitches represent the machine’s “state”.

When a machine is called, the stepper motor rotates 1/240th of a revolution, and then the microswitches read the machine’s current state. Based on this state and the Markov Chain algorithm coded into the machines, a machine with the corresponding state is then called, which in turn moves, continuing the chain.

The piece is intended to reflect the idea of a deterministic universe, one in which the current state can be used to predict all future states. As an art piece, it combines its message with a visually attractive presentation of understated black metal and neatly finished wood.

We love a good art installation here at Hackaday – like this amazing snowflake install from a couple years back. Video after the break.


7 thoughts on “‘Bit’ Installation Combines Art, Markov Chains

  1. Just to be a little more precise, and at the risk of sounding pretentious, markov models predict the future state using only the current state, i.e. with no dependence on previous states. for that reason markov processes are considered memoryless.

      1. How is a Markov Chain deterministic? Markov processes are processes where the next state can be predicted based on the current state. Predicted is the key word because there are probabilities and randomness associated with the predictions. In contrast, determinism is a system in which no randomness is involved. Chutes and ladders can be modeled as a Markov process, but I doubt anyone can show that the results of the game can be “determined” from the starting state of the game.

    1. If I’m following the idea expressed here correctly then there would be memory if the machine responded to a state of the system that existed prior to the current state but not in the present. (action at a distance…in time) Sounds just a spooky as plain ordinary “action at a distance” or even the more bizarre “action from a future state”. I’m sorry, but this system doesn’t seem that profound to me. The current state causes current action that leads to new future state that becomes the new current state as time passes. The memory of the system is the combined values of the two switches at the time of observation. It can be considered to be memory because the switches’ states are a causal result of previous states and actions.

      This unit does seem to be a rather interesting state-machine with the two micro-switches together stepping out a sequence that always advances. Each combination of switch states causes the motor coils to apply force in the correct direction to further advance the assembly on to the next system state. There are four states which cycle round and round, a similar process to what is used in $12 calipers and linear and rotational position sensors.

  2. Art is meant to trigger both an intellectual and emotional reaction within the viewer. By that criteria this construct is a true win. In fact I’d call it a home-run.

    Determinism as classically presented is false. This is not a purely clockwork universe. But to deny cause-and-effect at any point in time and space would also be false. If we allowed any exception we undermine a critical “faith” of science and open the door to mysticism and we may as well know nothing. I personally prefer to think of history in time and space as being like a verbally described book. Level headed people do not ask what happened before “Once upon a time” or after “And they lived happily ever after” The universe starts out formless, then the Author simply starts defining what and who exists and some relationships between them. He then follows the course of logic driving cause-and-effect in the spirit of continuity within the story. Often details about the story have to be introduced to keep the story going and to compensate for the tendency for the story line to destroy form. Continuity is not normally violated because form is normally not injected into systems that would otherwise still have form. Only in chaotic systems where the needed output complexity exceeds the systemic input complexity can one inject new form into the story without disrupting it. The story rattles along mostly automatically and logically with occasional nudges added to guide things but not at the expense of continuity, up to the point where the story reaches it intended conclusion, after which things fall into ambiguity and formlessness, just like it started out. There is no reason to feel sad about the ending of the book because all the things and characters still reside within the pages of that book, exactly where they belong. That’s how I view the universe.

    There likely would be a multitude of story lines all running parallel for the most part. The beginning of the story might also be it’s end with no points of total formlessness but I don’t right now see the necessity of that being true.

    Form in the universe is often destroyed like when intricate metal works of art are melted down and cast into a cube shape. Detail and form are destroyed and only through the Author’s creation does more form come into being. It reminds me of when you square a real number in mathematics. If you square x and end up with four you loose some form. You now no longer know if the original root was -2 or +2 and the only way to get that form back is to define it as the author of that system and declare it equal to one or the other. Of course a brilliant author might choose steps so as to avoid such a loss, but mathematics is super-simple compared to reality. Reality requires the destruction of form and its creation too.

    Form is created when a system demands definition because it is going to interact with the rest of the story. Looking in to see Schrodinger’s cat forces the hand of the Author to define whether the cat has died or still lives. If you don’t look in on the cat, it doesn’t become part of the story and so its state does not need defining and “exists” in what some call a state of superposition, although it is simply devoid of form with regard to that detail and stays that way unless it needs to be defined in the main story. Is Charlie Brown’s mother a red-head or a brunette? That is in a state of superposition because the author (Charles Schultz) never defined it and it never was relevant in the story line so it stays unknown and fuzzy and that’s OK because the story still rolls along anyway. The fact that Charlie Brown’s father was a Barber does get defined because it becomes part of the story and then falls into obscurity as the plot moves on to other things. The universe works that way too. Want to hear cause and effect working beautifully. Listen to a clock tick or a Bach composition. Want to hear the Author of the universe speak? Listen to radio static, a Geiger counter, or the quiet whisper of a breeze.

  3. Some processes appear to be random, but they are not. It simply means that what we are observing is uncorrellated with anything we are observing or control. I think this work of art is supposed to cause us to reflect on such thoughts.

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