Acoustic Guardians

Chris Harris

Chris Harris / February 09, 2022

10 min read

Web3 for 'Sovereign Nature'

The following summary describes concepts we explored while responding to SNI's Winter Hackathon brief.

We explored an Acoustic Ecology Creative Data-DAO to create a regenerative economic flywheel between data of place and spirit of place.

In order to:

  • Represent non-human life.
  • Redefine ecological value.
  • Empower ecosystems to produce and capture value
  • Break the cycle of human domination over 'nature'.

Through a pop-up team dubbed Biocenosis Labs, contributed to in major parts by both Myself and Sarah Friend, with contributions to concept and 3D art by M_PF, and feedback & advice from the SNI community.


Background

Nature's Favour

'How to act in nature's favour?' is a hard question to answer, not least because we have to disentangle what we mean by nature. Focusing on more-than-humans for a change we started to ask

  • How to design an interface for non-human users? How to discover what they would want to do with it?

  • How to design an interface for other, non-human beings to teach us humans lessons?

These hard and playful questions yielded some fun internal ideas but ultimately we let lay plans for Inter-species Instagram, animals teaching humans tricks, and plant's receiving proof of song, in order to take one foot out of artistic provocation and into utility.

Generalizing our coherence, we agreed that Nature already has her own interdependent sovereignties, but we're mostly at a cultural loss on how to respect and enable them. So questions turned to

  • How do we learn the existing governing rules of ecosystems ?

  • How do we represent and engage with a mutalistic sovereignty ?

  • How do we represent a compounding sense-of and participation-in a connected ecosystem?

Background of acoustic ecology

Acoustic Ecology for Ecosystem Health

While researching these questions, I serendipitously discovered the richness of 'acoustic ecology' (thanks the nature connection work of Carolin Goethel )

Gorden Hempton debunks an old assumption that 'human hearing is evolved to best hear human speaking'

if that were true, we’d be the first species on planet Earth to have evolved so separate and protected from the rest of nature.

He offers a fascinating provocation on where we might turn our ears

We have a very discrete bandwidth of super-sensitive hearing. And that’s between 2.5 and 5 kilohertz, in the resonant frequencies of the auditory canal.

Is there something in our ancestors’ environment that matches our peak hearing human sensitivity? Because most of what I’m saying right now, except for the “s” sounds and the high-pitched sounds, falls well below that range. And indeed, there’s a perfect match: Birdsong.

Why would it have any benefit to our ancestors to be able to hear faint birdsong? Why would our ears possibly have evolved so that we could walk in the direction of faint birdsong? Birdsong is the primary indicator of habitats prosperous to humans. Isn’t that amazing?

An ambassador of De Ceuvel, serving as our bio-local case study, also mentioned words to effect of "once the plants came back, so did the birds and other animals". Indeed focus on Re-birding has a rich history of being mutual mechanisms for re-wilding and reforestation.

Turning our ears and our smartphones towards sound as an ecosystem health indicator has some interesting advantages over taking soil samples.

Over Soil

Formally assessing the health of a land, either for carbon credits or phytoremediation is commonly done through independent lab verified soil samples - a expensive and discrete procedure that can be prohibitively expensive to scale universally.

Thinking:

good soil -> good bugs -> good birds -> Healthy Ecosystem

We ran with avian acoustics as a good medium for both assessing ecosystem health, snapshot of biodiversity, and representing the fluid boundaries of inter-dependent species.

We began to converge on the the untapped richness of participatory acoustic ecology for ecosystem health, something that could be used by both toddlers and hodlers.

Problem Summary

We specifically sought to address that:

  • Monitoring ecosystem health via soil samples sent to a lab is costly , hard to scale, and removes us from the situation.
  • Out of sight, out if mind, many urban dwellers lack participation with wider nature and this this makes it hard to intrinsically serve the ecosystem.
  • Continuous sensing of nature is a precursor for effective design of regenerative feedback loops.
  • Economic incentives often take the place of other activity and dissuade our natural curiosities to discover nature.
  • Place based indicators of biodiversity are not well considered or represented, or rewarded, despite the insane daily loss.
  • Ecosystem boundaries that don't follow human legal and national boundaries are poorly understood.

Solution

We presented an ecosystem of software & experiences forming an Acoustic Ecology, Creative-Data-DAO.

With special focus on inter-being, the representation of more-than-human territories, and creating virtuous feedback loops for re-wilding.

I'll describe the solution on 4 levels: The direct encounter app, Data ecosystem, Data insights, and Regenerative economics.

App; Direct Encounter

Genius Loci

The human-facing web app, is purposefully minimal, ideally meditative.

You ‘play’ as an Acoustic Guardian with your smartphone. You go out of your home, away from other screens, and visit somewhere likely to have a moment of more bird sounds than industrial noise.

After enabling location and audio recording permissions while web app in use, and in an area of acoustic ecology.

  • Press record on the app
  • Do not look at your phone, the detection of human eyes will cancel the recording.
  • Enjoy the natural noise around you while the app records 1 minute of audio.
  • If the audio contains no intelligible human words (via on-device machine-learning for privacy and anti-abuse), the recording is uploaded.
  • If the recording passes the ecological quality filter - there being more natural noise than industrial noise, your recording is minted in the dataset.
  • Later: You are notified and thanked on behalf of the more-than-human beings if your recording contributes a novel ecological sample (time of day or year, species identified) or contributes to an increase in a specific dataset (place, species).
  • Later: You can listen to your past recordings and see the identified species.

Inviting other species into your directly felt sense, of a spirit of a place.

Data Ecosystem; Collectively Yours

For digital ownership of collective sensory data we rely on a few pillars of cooperative data.

  • Data Ownership: All your recordings are belong to you, revoke access at any time.
  • Accessible Privacy: Login with wallet, no email required.
  • Seamless Rewards: Login with wallet for monetary compensation address.
  • Data Trust: You license the use of your recordings to the data ecosystem.
  • Data DAO: You vote in a data DAO to decide on how data can and should be used.

Ocean Protocol provides some interesting inspiration for a Web3 enabled data economy that we use to suggest three levels of data sharing users may consent to:

  • Anonymized, aggregated data, provided on a public marketplace, distributing a small reward, proportionally capped, for every sample of yours included.
  • Additional subsets of this general dataset, e.g. songbirds across Germany, tree crawlers across the world for the last two years, and high fidelity sound library, etc.
  • Also, creative and scientific processing can be offered over the whole dataset without it leaving the value network of users, by allowing data processing scripts to be run on the server via Ocean's Compute-To-Data platform: allow subscription access to the data, without giving it away.

Owning your own data and licencing it's use via blockchain tech creates a pipeline for rewarding value. More on that in the later section on Data; Earth-Positive Economics.

Data Insights; Genii Loci

The Genii Data Loci, 'Spirits of the place data', or just Data Loci for short, is a term Sarah and I coined to speak to exploring and representing the liveliness in and of ecological datasets. Whether for generative digital art, scientific simulation, or anything more animated(bestowing of life) than bar charts and graphs. With a rich dataset of participatory ecosystem observations, we explored representations of the spirits in place data via

  • Deploying neural networks to create ambient music tracks from ecological sounds.
  • Generating evolving 3D art from acoustic parameters, personifying aggregate life in sounds.
  • Interactive digital twins of the extrapolated spacial territories of other ecosystem inhabitants.

The hope is that this creates more of a feedback loop between our daily digital lives and our natural observations. Acknowledging our penchant for both meta physical representation and direct physical encounter, these digital representations are driven by participation, evolving from the continued contribution of encounter data.

As well as this artistic extra-sensory feedback, the acoustic data could be of highly useful utility for:

  • Scientific & Civic: Monitoring biodiversity, identifying species, tracking seasonal patterns over time, informing city planning of the urban and suburban territories of birds to consider.

  • Economic: The analysis of increased of levels of biodiversity could trigger new generative collectables with proceeds going to acoustic guardians and ecosystem regenerators.

Feedback; for Earth-Positive Economics

Economic Interfaces for Programmable Conservation

The great thing about a network of crowd sensing acoustic ecologists on a web3 framework with programmable money is that we can start to approach Programmable Conservation, a potential subset of ReFi Regenerative Finance.

We omit the implementation or definition of hard-coded regenerative tokenomics from this initial exploration. Creating incentive mechanisms without negative 2nd order effects or gamifiable mechanisms are outside of the scope of a weekend.

Still, we offer some initial provocations including:

  • Generating limited edition audio/visual collectibles from local traits and global traits in acoustic data and selling these as NFTs.
  • Generating and Curating audio tracks à la Cosmo Sheldrake's Wake Up Calls, and automatically uploading them to Spotify with royalties for those who's samples were used.
  • Generating meditative soundscapes and licencing them to apps that use them.
  • Radio-station with purchasable add-ons to listen to acoustic data far away from your current location.
  • General dateset licencing for scientific use by institutions and government entities with public funding.
  • Monthly subscription for accessing data processing that can be run on premise without the data leaving our user's control via ocean server.

Especially powerful if linked to normalized measures of increases in biodiversity, e.g.

  • Some profits from data-uses above are held in escrow and only released to the guardians that repeatedly frequent place, where biodiversity is be sensed to have increased over time.

Specifically biasing pay-outs to regenerative land stewards who are both sensing and working with land in groups to improve it's health and therefore it's biodiversity.

Biodiversity seems an obvious thing to reward for, but it too needs further exploration. Leaving the rest to the data dao and welcoming the innovation of the commons to add to lucrative acoustic data uses.

We focus on rewarding the listening, only after we're all sensing nature more, will we be able to act systematically on her behalf.

In Closing

This creatively constrained thought experiment exercised a lot of deep questions about working with 'nature', and working with Web3. It's worth adding the disclaimer these concepts are far from, battle tested or without 2nd order effects, there is much more diligence that from real systems design than can be put into a weekend hackathon :) but still some novel invention occurred and I really welcome all critique and feedback.

Many thanks to SNI for creating a hackathon call that was too difficult to miss out on. and Many thanks to all the other teams sharing and developing their insights on technology for integrating nature into our systems.


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Originally posted at hellokozmo & on Mirror:

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