Said Arthur Clarke: “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” And today we will talk about things that could be part of any movie of Harry Potter: what if the future simply consists in a world where the division between online and offline not exist?
It’s easy to say but not so easy to do. In fact, it is not so simple even thinking: the analog world is frozen, dead, passive while the digital world is’ dynamic, fast, live. “How could they stop being two different worlds? For 20 years the Tangible Media Group of MIT has been dedicated to answer this question.
Hiroshi Ishii, a demiurge 2.0
20 years ago, in 1995, horishi Ishii was a Japanese computer scientist at MIT newcomer who already swam to that question. In just two years it would become the major reference in their field. A field which he would have to create: the Tangible User Interfaces.
An interface is something that connects two systems and allows communication between them. In this case, if we talk of human-computer interaction, we usually think of a screen and a keyboard. But Ishii published an article in 1997 in which raised the possibility of going beyond: to play the information. Time has proved them right, the even touch screens are small we are, we want more. In a way, Ishii has managed to give real entity to the old idea of Heraclitus that not only matter, but the soul is made of bricks. For what is the information but the soul of the modern world?
“The key idea is to make computerized information tangible, physical, which can be handled with bare hands,” says Professor Ishii in the video that we have shown previously. As mentioned earlier, information and matter are things that do not get along. On a screen, we can see extraordinary objects, get definitions of myocardial and experience incredible effects, but we cannot touch, we cannot use, we cannot handle.
In its mission to ensure that these two experiences are unified, to “take tangible experience to pixels” (or vice versa) the Tangible Media Group entity has given those ideas that makes us explode the head biological tissues using bacteria to control temperature or humidity, which change shape at will objects; garments totally adapted and enriched; which you can cut electricity wires making knotsas if it were hoses; or ‘social’ fabric designed to facilitate interpersonal relationships.
The Tangible Media Group is one of the most innovative centers in the world, especially for its insistence on using ‘tactile’ to cross computer, design and art. But he’s not the only one. Initiatives such as jive or topobo go along the same lines although far behind the development of MIT.
A world of possibilities
Some technologies are already at an advanced stage. One of the most striking is Inform while a sensor and a tactile display consisting of nine hundred units or ‘pin’ which, driven by linear actuators enable precise control which must pin up or down as height.
This technology not only serves to shape the information, but let things move in space or design furniture to suit our needs: Countertops that change shape to create bowls, steps or boxes; or, Ishii told us in the video “a larger and very high resolution inform would be the perfect bed because it adapts to the body and eliminates any friction.” Not only that. Right now they are developing ‘Zeron’, ‘a system where the material antigravity coat”. Actually, it is an electromagnetic system to control the location of an object moving it in three dimensions.”
The mere combination of these two technologies also suggests a whole new concept of the space .If you think about it, there is no object or a standard floor structure that cannot be replicated almost immediately with the addition of Inform and Zeron. With the bonus that the computer just to completely change the entire house.
On a large scale, these ideas also allow to turn around the idea of ‘smart city’ to really make them ‘smart’ : adapt the roads instant or infrastructure to traffic density or emerging needs is a total revolution in the way we design and thought the city. And this is just the beginning.
Radical atoms: The next frontier
While much remains to reach that future we talked about at the beginning but the team Ishii follow it and are beginning to work in so-called ‘radical atoms’. So far, the “tangible bits’ were nothing more than ‘vitamin-bits’ but were still clumsy and lacking vividness structures.
The next frontier is to create a system in which each digital information has a physical manifestation. A system that allows direct interaction with reality and transform it. A system capable of modifying their structures, functions, relationships to achieve full unity between form and substance, matter and information. Radical atoms Ishii story are but the technological promise of a world in which there is no difference between digital and analog: the closest thing there today to magic.