In a high-tech world where brighter and flashier is often mistaken for superior, there were four refreshing days in June when folks said exactly what they meant. Digital innovation was for real at the second annual Interactive Media Festival in Los Angeles: Cyberpioneers deserted garages and grad schools to showcase projects that ranged from VRML (virtual reality on the Internet) to an M16 whose scope displayed disturbing reminders of the effects of guns in society. With life rapidly imitating cyberart (at last year's festival, a little-known Web browser called Mosaic was among the exhibits today, Net surfers won't leave their home pages without it), here's a sampling of pieces that might well outlast the festival and arrive on your doorstep one day in some digital form or another.
A-Volve enables users to draw an image on a touch screen, then watch it come alive in a digital swimming hole in the next room. Several inches of water over a flattop monitor create the illusion of depth, and the frisky digital creatures can even reproduce. But don't draw just one, because if it can't interact with other denizens of the deep, it will fade away.
At the Bar Code Hotel residents swipe pen-size scanners across myriad UPC labels to control everything from earthquakes to Elvis tunes in a computer-rendered 3-D environment projected onto a 10-foot screen. Scan the word aggressive and watch a bowling pin chase a pair of sunglasses.
Now you can plant seeds and water sprouts without ever leaving the confines of the Internet, thanks to Tele-Garden. Buzz into the website and direct a robotic arm to plant tomatoes, spritz a particular patch with water, or view the 30-foot-square garden, which is in a lab at USC.
Choose one of 16 screens featuring randomly generated abstract art, and Genetic Images will mate that form with each of the other screens. After several rounds of selecting and mating, each screen is related but has its own unique mutations. It's art, says project designer Karl Sims, that could not be created any other way.