Operators project and transform information within a site.
They come in countless arrangements – from an individual, to a pair, to a multitude of operators within an environment, all with the capacity to act on information. This position can be held by a simple function or computational process; a sophisticated model trained from data; a human expert; or a general user.
Operators can vary by abilities to process information:
to internalize fine-grained data and compress it into models; to abstract and translate it between different domains, creating a broader and more structural representation; and to interpolate, extrapolate, and generate new information and novel behaviour. The diversity of attributes across each operator sets up a space of possible interactions and functional outcomes.
Constraints are limits, applied to any type of information. To design the set of constraints is to design the interface between elements.
The set of constraints determines the way in which information flows back and forth between operators and in and out of the site. The question of what is hidden and what is revealed, sits at the core of constraint design.
The constraint space between operators determines how they are made visible to each other. The form that each operator takes on – and the degree to which that form is disclosed – determines how other operators interact with and account for it. This form is always active and always functional. A sequence of discrete actions, like the set of moves playing out across the board, might capture and render the presence of an operator.
The constraints on operations determine the valid action space for each operator. This set of constraints defines a rule-space over actions and sub-actions. This set of rules shapes the way in which operators can permissibly function relation to each other. While in Go, this rule-space is limited to the single act of placing a stone, in other domains such as chess, the rules vary according to the particular piece in play.
The constraints on the environment determines how it is made visible. The environment is comprised of any information that exists independently of the operators. Here, the set of constraints strategically scope, filter, and render the open world into a partial picture.
Again as in Go, the space of intersecting lines marking possible positions of play, and the rule set producing meaningful states of the board, offers the sort of productive specificity and resolution that engenders the possibility of design.
An operation is the active form, which determines the dynamics of information exchange. Operators, either as individuals or aggregate groupings, function in relation to each other as information moves across the site. It’s in these moments of reactive relation that the synthetic emerges. Additionally, it is through the lens of formalized operations that the behaviour of the site can be articulated and understood – an emphasis on process, rather than outcome. We can design a number of operations into the site at a time, layering them to produce a number of distinct dynamics.
Reflection is the process through which some property of an operator is made visible through its interaction and intersection with another.
Here, we might think about the way in which AlphaGo’s playing style revealed the convention in Lee Sedol’s, and vice versa. This disclosure is even more significant than the individual moves, sequences, and outcomes of the games themselves – producing insight and information beyond the scope of these individual instances.
Recursion is the process through which the behaviour of one operator is made contingent on the behaviour of another.
This implies a turn-based style of interaction and a high-fidelity accounting-for of the external; a looping process whereby each operator acts and is acted upon in iterative succession. The interplay between user and recommendation system, for example, invokes this sort of loop – as the system curates and conditions the user’s set of visible options, the user in turn makes a choice from among them that updates and tunes the system.
Composition is the process through which operators jointly produce new information or outcomes that would have been impossible alone. Co-authorship of a text, or co-design of a program, an image, a material mark a coming together of multiple sources operating in complementary ways.
Interpretation is the process through which one operator renders information otherwise inaccessible to the other, allowing for the possibility of a multi-layered view of an environment. The ability for certain operators to parse extremely fine-grained, nano-scale information might intersect with another’s ability to incorporate large-scale, long-range dependencies. Models operating on pixel-level information, for example, segment and identify otherwise indiscernible lesions and tumors, while medical doctors cross-check and validate the predictions against meta-data and patient histories.
Externalization is the process in which information is offloaded from one operator to another to optimize their joint performance. From distributing tasks, to externalizing memory and even experience – like a chess grandmaster, who seamlessly crunches centuries of expertise by training alongside algorithms.