the tour! | Narrative Overview | Make Contact
| back to Sheldon Brown's site | back to exorarium.com
|People tend to be fascinated by the other
– by the stranger on some far horizon, whose differences (and
eerie similarities) may conjure threat or opportunity, friendship
In these late-modern times, as all peoples on Earth
start to share a common culture, is it any surprise that our sense
of otherness has started shifting toward new vistas? If
this planet swarms with people very much like ourselves,
there remains a vast cosmos out there to ponder. No wonder the
notion of alien, or extraterrestrial life grabs the public imagination.
Science fiction authors have long plumbed an ocean of concepts
about alien life, ranging from humanoid to bizarre, from friendly
to malign. Now comes an exciting opportunity for anyone
to share the adventure, in an experience that’s guaranteed to be
both exciting and educational, by generating their own alien
species and characters.
Combining state-of-the-art simulation and visualization systems,
modern design, plus the very best ideas from astronomy, physics,
chemistry, ecology and other sciences, this innovative exhibit will
let visitors create vividly plausible extraterrestrials
and then test them in a realistic first contact scenario.
At the Exorarium, visitors will get a chance to mix and
match the same ingredients that brought about human life, shaping
their own unique intelligent life forms. For example, you might
start with a hot or cool star, a heavy or light planet, one with
lots of water or a desert world, and so on – till a unique ecosystem
takes shape before your eyes… a family tree leading to the ultimate
outcome, a species of intelligent life.
Perhaps it will be a squidlike being, pondering deep thoughts
in a watery realm. Or a slender, forest-dweller with large, nocturnal
eyes. Or a ponderous dinosaurean creature, who communicates with
her fellows by radio waves. Even personality traits can
emerge, for example depending on whether a species descends from
carnivores or herbivores.
Games like The Sims and Sim City show that this
general type of experience can be wildly popular. Yet there is
nothing – on the market or in a museum environment – that applies
genuine science, letting users simulate whole worlds, ecologies,
alien cultures. The Exorarium will do all this, then help visitors
live and learn through a vivid first contact experience.
The Exorarium combines two
One is a scientifically well-grounded system for generating alien
species that was developed by astronomer and science fiction author
David Brin, refined by years of play-testing worldwide. Enhanced
with new modeling software, the system should produce a vast array
of wondrously varied creatures, depending on visitor choices ranging
from sun to planet, to ecosystem.
Bringing all of this to life will be a startlingly vivid presentation
conceived by renowned tech-artist Sheldon Brown, whose audio-visual
exhibits can be found in locales such as the Seattle Center and
the San Diego Science Museum. The very latest optical and digital
methods will make stars, worlds – and the aliens themselves – seem
to come alive.
And there’s more. It’s one thing to generate a new and never-before-seen
extraterrestrial species of your very own. But can it survive…
and even thrive… in the rough and tumble place that is our galaxy?
During Phase Two, a user or visitor may take his or her
creation to the Contact Arena – a special environment erected
at the galactic core – where bright new aliens may test their mettle,
or make contact with others, even with humanity itself!
One: Making your alien.
Any visitor, or group of visitors,
may build a new species at the Creation Station,
developing physical traits, gross morphology, intelligence, social
tendencies, etc. Results may be not at all what you had in mind
-- tweaking the conditions of evolution can involve many factors,
including chance! One designer may seek a species with 12 legs,
only to get snakelike creatures, or spiders, or rolling balls that
are adapted to tumbling across vast, flat plains.
First, a user is asked to set initial conditions.
A cool star lasts longer, for example, and has a more stable
life zone where planets can have liquid water. But small
stars may tug nearby planets with strong tides, locking one side
of a world in perpetual daylight and the other in endless night!
These factors can be cleverly conveyed, playing themselves out amid
a brief tour of the many sciences involved in intelligent life,
from astronomy and geology to chemistry and biology. A truly educational
experience, with a flavor of hands-on experimentation as a whole
ecosystem unfolds, climaxing in the ultimate fruit – a unique alien
species and civilization.
Of course, not every visitor will have time or patience for such
detail. Children, especially, like to roam quickly among exhibits,
getting the gist while punching big buttons, seeking quick
and exaggerated effects. Creation Station will accommodate
the full range, from thoughtful students who wish to explore detailed
scenarios at leisure (when the museum is uncrowded), all the way
to large buttons that quickly cut to the chase – giving rapid satisfaction
– producing sample aliens on quick-demand for children, or when
the museum is crowded.
One option will be to offer visitors – for the cost of a quarter
– a printout of their created creature or species. Each may also
get a unique online address, so users might continue the
experiment, fiddling with their creation at home, or in an online
The real prize is a ticket to convey your alien onward,
to phase two. Invitations may be easy to come by online,
or when the museum is uncrowded, or precious and selective on busy
Two: The testing ground.
For many people – especially on crowded
days – Creation Station will suffice. They’ll depart
knowing more about the factors that came together to bring about
us. (Well, after all, the study of aliens has always boiled
down to a discussion of ourselves.)
For those who receive an invitation, however, this is just the
beginning. Creatures that seem like suitable candidates are then
sent into the exorarium proper – a virtual extraterrestrial
terrarium -- where species may compete or cooperate with each
other under simulated conditions that bring their particular traits
into stark contrast!
In a simulated voyage, the visitor carries a sample group of his
or her creatures from the planet and star where they emerged, conveying
them toward the grand testing arena. In the full scale
Version A of the Exorarium, this journey is physical
as the visitor descends down a spiral ramp resembling arms of a
galaxy. In the more compact Version B, this voyage is
virtual, consisting of a rapid swoop of onscreen images. (See descriptions
of Version A and Version B, below.)
Whether the journey is physical or virtual, a voice intones along
“Down, deep within the galactic core, there awaits the testing ground,
where candidate species come to see what they are made of. Do yours
have what it takes? (and so on…)”As we approach the star-filled galactic
center, a gigantic virtual space station appears in view, featuring
dozens of domes, each one containing a separate environment. (Envision
the domed habitats of the film Silent Running, only vastly larger,
some featuring chlorine atmospheres or filled with water.) Depending
on the nature of the arriving species, one habitat rotates into view
– soon filling the screen of Version B, or the entire dome of Version
Virtual creatures from the new species are set loose in this new
environment, to play with (or possibly against) either house-generated
denizens or other visitor-generated candidates!
Yes, this will have many aspects of an online game. Indeed, commercial
possibilities for home and online versions are riveting! But there
can be much more. Ideally, the Exorarium will have its own simulated,
homeostatic ecosystem. (This is in reach of current technology.)
Creatures who enter will take from or add to the system. They may
form a new balance … or else force it out of whack, to a premature
end. The prize sought by each species may be something crude –
such as victory in combat…
… or it may keep with the theme of the earlier stages – learning
and intellectual adventure – as the species unveils its own nature
in a process of self-discovery that reveals even more about science.
Of course, among these species may be included variations on
The Exorarium can take different physical forms. In “Version
A” - a large scale implementation - visitors who have aliens
in play will sit around the edge of a dome-like terrarium, looking
into the simulated world. The Terrarium itself consists of a large
rear projection onto a domed screen inside a clear hemispherical
container. The curvature of the screen both gives a sense of dimensionality
and allows for multiple perspective views – each a ‘godlike’ viewpoint
onto a created world. Observers overlook from behind or above.
The global view of the terrarium can be controlled by the whole
group of users, possibly zooming in to different parts of the globe,
“checking up” on the creatures that have been set loose in this
arena, selecting particular creations, learning their history or
following their development. One option is that the process of
controlling the overall view depends on consensus choices of the
total group. If they all are trying to look at different things,
the view is from quite far away – a planetary view. A more sophisticated
alternative would allow each user to access small areas independently,
by calling up sub- projections, that is, magnifications viewable
only from their stations.
What sorts of interactions are possible in the arena? Simple competition,
even combat, may arise under certain scenarios. Or species might
be encouraged to find common ground, understand each others’ diverse
natures, or achieve cooperative success by forming a ‘federation’.
Often, the focus will be on a classic “contact” scenario, using
some of the wonderful techniques developed over the years by groups
such as CONTACT.
In a Contact Scenario, several species – including perhaps
one or more human cultures– will be thrown into an encounter in
which all they know about the other species are outward appearances,
as they come into view. Will this be a peaceful episode of mutual
discovery and understanding? Or one fraught with errors, like so
many in our own age of exploration?
What better way to go through a myriad thought experiments
about first contact, before we ever have the real thing?
Isn’t this what science fiction is all about?
Another option is to allow continuing evolution within
the Exorarium… perhaps even cross-fertilization and hybridization!
Creatures may come equipped with a genome that can mate with some
others to produce offspring, allowing genetic combination of traits.
These creatures will be more or less successful in the environment
and evolve accordingly.
Each created species or creature may have a unique name or code,
letting them be sorted and inspected. Changes will be limited to
creators while others can just look, see their stories, traits,
whether they were successful, what their offspring may become.
All of this information can be shown on your local - and possibly
your home - display.
Version A – The Full-Scale Exorarium.
Figure 1 portrays a potential full-scale
implementation. Visitors stand at Creation Stations where
they build their aliens in a guided process that is either lengthy
and educational – building it brick by scientific brick – or else
abbreviated and quick, depending on visitor preference and museum
crowding. Fat buttons let children – or the impatient – ‘cut to
the chase’ and roll up bizarre extraterrestrials completely at random.
Otherwise, the process starts with picking a home star and planet
where the new creatures can evolve.
In full Version A, the Creation Station is placed so that visitors
can also look down upon the Exorarium proper, the virtual realm
where their creatures may go next, if they dare! Journeying to the
testing ground takes a spiral ramp that simulates a voyage from
the galaxy’s periphery down to its star-filled core. Optical effects
give the feeling of galactic vistas, even novas and supernovas,
while starships flit past and a narration accompanies them along
While awaiting a seat at the Exorarium dome, visitors may view
exhibits that are arrayed along the walls that lie underneath
the creation stations, thus maximizing use of space.
At the Exorarium dome, each visitor feeds in a code or ticket in
order to insert his or her alien samples into the appropriate environment
and begin the contact scenario. The fun begins.
Upon departure, you are invited to revisit the aliens later, to
participate in an online game, or to buy souvenirs portraying the
unique beings you created.
Version B – The Compact Exhibit.
|Obviously, full implementation takes a
lot of floor space and a heavy investment. Hence, before committing
all the way, it might make sense to begin with a version that can
fit into a small corner of a museum, offering a more compact version
of experience described above, substituting virtual space for real
space. Figure 2 suggests ways that the Creation Station and Exorarium
might be implemented, using behind-the-wall space such as might exist
between the inner walls of a museum’s exhibit area and the building’s
Online, commercial and collaborative versions.
We have already discussed the entrancing
possibility of combining the hands-on Exorarium with a virtual-online
experience. A potential for profit is quite real, while creating
a game that has actual educational – and even moral – value as people
take responsibility for situations of inter-species and intercultural
Another possibility - the Exorarium may have ‘branches” in several
locales. Say, other science museums across the country and around
the world. If it proves popular in one locale, it might be in another.
With high-speed e-links, it would be possible for visitors at one
center to ‘make contact’ with those generated at another.
issues. Technical and cost considerations.
|(Sheldon Brown will provide in a later
The notions described here are based
on universals, such as a yearning to reach outward toward the other.
Toward the strange, be it frightening or friendly, cooperative or
Exploring this periphery is the business of imagination and science
fiction – supplemented by vigorous and interesting science. Few
other activities so distill the expansive and eager traits of our
The Exorarium promises a way to combine vivid exposure to scientific
concepts – ranging from astronomy and geology to biology and culture
– with a fascinating and fun adventure in imagining the alien.
is an artist, technology developer and Professor of Computing
in the Arts at the University of California, San Diego (UCSD),
where he directs the Center for Research in Computing and
the Arts and is the head of New Media Arts for the California
Institute of Telecommunications and Information Technologies
(Cal-IT2). His artwork examines relationships between information
and space which manifest as public projects and installations
that combine architectural settings with mediated and computer
His large scale public works include: Smoke and Mirrors,
a large-scale virtual reality display at the Fleet Science
Center in San Diego; Mi
Casa Es Tu Casa/My House Is Your House, a networked
virtual reality installation for the National Center for the
Arts in Mexico City and the Children's Museum of San Diego;
the Event, at the Seattle Center Key Arena, Seattle;
The Video Wind Chimes
at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, San Francisco; and
Apparitions, a virtual
reality environment, at the University Art Gallery at UCSD.
Brown has received awards and fellowships from the National
Endowment for the Arts, The Rockefeller Foundation, the Seattle
Arts Commission, the Hellman Foundation, the Asian Cultural
Council and others. He has previously been on the faculty
of the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and the Kansas
City Art Institute.
He has consulted diverse technology, art, academic and entertainment
entities such as: the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, PersonaLogic
Inc., Praja Inc., The Wonderful World of Oz Inc., LegoLand,
Decor Magic, Electronic Arts, Positive Video, and others.
David Brin is
a scientist, public speaker, and author. Several of his novels
have been New York Times Bestsellers, winning multiple Hugo,
Nebula and other awards. His 1989 ecological thriller,
Earth, foreshadowed global warming, cyberwarfare and
near-future trends such as the World Wide Web. A 1998 movie,
directed by Kevin Costner, was loosely based on The Postman.
His fifteen novels have been translated into more than twenty
Brin’s 1998 non-fiction book -- The Transparent Society:
Will Technology Force Us to Choose Between Freedom and Privacy?
-- deals with a wide range of threats and opportunities facing
our wired society during the information age. His chief
argument, that openness is more effective than secrecy at
fostering freedom, sparked controversy and garnered the prestigious
Freedom of Speech Prize from the American Library Association.
David Brin's papers in scientific journals cover an eclectic
range of topics from astronautics, astronomy, and optics to
alternative dispute resolution and the role of neoteny in
human evolution. His Ph.D in Space Physics from the University
of California at San Diego followed a masters in optics and
an undergraduate degree in astrophysics from Caltech. He
was a postdoctoral fellow at the California Space Institute
and the Jet Propulsion Laboratory.
David's science fictional Uplift Universe explores
a future when humans genetically engineer higher animals like
dolphins to become equal members of our civilization. He
also recently tied up the loose ends left behind by the late
Isaac Asimov, bringing to a grand finale Asimov's famed Foundation
Universe. Kiln People is a
fast-moving and fun noir detective story, set in a future
when new technology enables people to physically be in more
than two places at once. A 144 page hardcover "The Life
Eaters" is "the most exciting graphic novel since
Watchmen." Reaching to a new generation, Brin developed
the Out Of Time series of novels for young adults.
His "Webs of Wonder" Contest offered cash
prizes to promote web sites that help teachers convey difficult
subjects with exciting stories.
As a speaker, David Brin shares unique insights -- serious
and humorous -- about ways that changing technology may affect
our future lives. Brin lives in San Diego County with his
wife, three children, and a hundred very demanding trees.
the tour! | Narrative Overview | Make Contact
| back to Sheldon Brown's site | back to exorarium.com