Tamara Gupper

PhD Researcher in Social and Cultural Anthropology | Computer Scientist in the making | Humanoid Robotics and AI | she/her


Website Relaunch!

Apr 2, 2024

I relaunched my website! Here are some of the changes I am particularly excited about.

I now use Jekyll to compile my website locally. It was a bit of a hustle to get it all set up on Windows, which I am (still) using as my main operating system, but it works now! It updates automatically as I make changes, which is excellent for seeing issues in formatting, as well as typos, which I easily overlook in Visual Studio Code. This makes editing the website a lot more convenient and will hopefully lead to fewer commit messages in the style of “typo,” “another typo,” “formatting,” “more formatting,” and “small change” in the new repository. No promises, though!

I also changed a few things about the website’s design that were bugging me. The website now looks better on mobile devices, headings with hyperlinks are now recognizable as such, and the hover effect when hovering over links makes the text darker and not bold. All text is justified except the short info below my picture.

And my favorite: Each blog post now has its own link, and I can add individual open-graph images to each. In this way, in case I have an image that fits the content of the post, I can use that in the card usually generated by social media when you add a link to a post. Visitors now also don’t have to scroll through my entire blog if they look for one particular blog post, as I can share individual links – and you can do that, too!

Alright, enough with the website. Now, I’m back to working on some content for my publications page!

How the Writing is Going

Mar 7, 2024

Oh well, the writing. It is not going as planned.

When I started my PhD, I was sure I would write my dissertation in a much more linear and structured way than I had written my Master’s thesis. My Master’s thesis is structured into three main chapters, and I had planned to start with Chapter 1 and then write Chapters 2 and 3, the introduction and the conclusion consecutively. What actually happened, though, was that I started with Chapter 1, but as I read aspects in my fieldnotes or literature that I found interesting for one of the other chapters, I would just continue writing there. In the end, I had a Master’s thesis of around 100 pages consisting of rather disconnected pieces of text, which I needed to revise extensively. I thus finished all chapters at about the same time – a few days before the submission deadline, until which I reread and edited them numerous times in a panicked frenzy.

While time has made me remember this process as quite fun after all, especially knowing in hindsight that everything worked out fine, I decided then and there that I would write my dissertation less chaotically. One of the things I wanted to do differently was how I organized the analysis of my empirical insights and my reading of relevant literature. When I started writing, I already had a clear structure for my Master’s thesis based on the main theoretical concept I used, and this fixed outer structure helped me a lot. However, I had neither systematically analyzed my empirical insights according to this structure, nor had I organized the relevant literature accordingly. And while I enjoyed writing and reading and going back to my fieldnotes at the same time a lot, I think it significantly contributed to my chaotic writing process. After all, neither my fieldnotes nor the relevant literature would adhere to the structure of my thesis, and thus neither did my writing.

So, this time, the plan was to have my empirical insights and relevant text passages from the literature sorted according to the structure of my chapters beforehand, in order to stick to the same old plan of starting with Chapter 1 and writing everything else in consecutive order. I hoped to get several advantages out of that. First, that I would not have to rewrite so much in the end. If I could only finish one chapter after the other and revise and edit it directly, that would help me avoid most of the stress in the final phase of writing. Secondly, finishing chapters one after the other would also make it much easier to ask other people to proofread them. Proofreading a few dozen pages every other month and, on my part, working on the feedback, is definitely more manageable than doing this for the entire dissertation all at once.

But then – all those connections are just so fascinating! I developed the chapter structure for my dissertation based on my empirical material, and it follows a logical order that will (hopefully) allow me to present my most important findings in a clear way. At the same time, it is something that I impose on my material, which in itself just doesn’t follow the linear structure of my planned chapters. The aspects I plan to write about in Chapter 7 and those in Chapter 3 are not disparate in the field; they go hand in hand. It is my structure that separates them by four chapters. I discover so many interesting facets of my ethnographic insights in the writing process, which often reach across chapters rather than fit into the conceptual framework of the one I am currently writing.

So, how has my plan to write strictly from beginning to end been going so far? Let me answer with the example of Chapter 7, which I have not started writing yet but which has a dedicated text document of 23 pages. Will I end up with at least 250 pages of text that I have to proofread and edit all at once? I try not to let it come this far, and have not given up hope just yet. Keep your fingers crossed for me.

Apollo Kithara

Nov 2, 2023

Jeff Koons‘ “Apollo Kithara” (2023) was one of my highlights of the exhibition “Machine Room of the Gods” at Liebieghaus Skulpturensammlung in Frankfurt am Main. This colorful and more than two meters tall statue depicts Apollo playing the kithara with an animatronic snake right next to him. The snake moves to the simultaneously playing sounds of a kithara and modern pop songs. I already wrote about some aspects of the exhibition in my last blog post and will focus on one – the interrelatedness between technology and art – here.

I personally like art that combines seemingly conflicting elements, and Apollo Kithara does so in several ways. Despite knowing that most Ancient Greek statues were probably painted, I found it somewhat surprising to see such a statue in vibrant colors. The sounds of the kithara in the background, which fit with the instrument Apollo is holding, simultaneously harmonize and clash with the pop songs. I also found it thrilling to see the tension between the replica of an ancient statue which I connect with millennia-long immobility and the mesmerizing movements of the animatronic snake.

The conceptual separation of technology from art we know today has only been made in the 20th century (Brinkmann 2023, 15), and the exhibition clearly demonstrates that the technological ingenuity of certain objects has astonished people throughout time. Insights from my research project on humanoid robots show that this astonishment remains a crucial aspect of currently used technologies. The fascination these objects evoke can be incredibly productive when it serves as a source of inspiration for artistic engagement or further technological development. At the same time, I argue that it is important not to confuse our imaginations with the material reality of these objects. Demystifying technological objects that astonish people is an important goal of my work on robotics and AI, and it often surprises people to hear that it is not a particularly new one. One of my predecessors, so to speak, was Henri Decremps who described the functioning of several well-known automata of his days in the book “The Conjurer Unmasked” in 1788.

I could, unfortunately, not find any information on how the movements of Apollo Kithara’s snake are technically implemented, which I would have found very interesting to know. Personally, I would also have loved an element of interaction with the snake – maybe based on sensors that measure the visitors’ movements or other aspects of the environment, similar to, for example, bleeptrack’s “Plant Human Interface” project. At the same time, it was a great experience to just stand there and watch the snake’s majestic movements, to be an unseen and unnoticed visitor to this statue as it simultaneously danced and stood immobile.

Brinkmann, Vinzenz. 2023. “Wie unsere Zukunft erfunden wurde: Eine Einführung in die Frankfurter Ausstellung Maschinenraum der Götter.” In Maschinenraum der Götter - Wie unsere Zukunft erfunden wurde: Eine Ausstellung der Liebieghaus Skulpturensammlung, Frankfurt am Main, 8. März bis 10. September 2023, edited by Vinzenz Brinkmann, 14–23. Berlin, München: Deutscher Kunstverlag.