When Traditions Become Trends

I was looking for some resources on cultural inspirations. We have students who are looking to their cultures for inspiration and translating to a range of material samples and artifacts. This is a thought provoking conversation with some excellent questions and ideas around the topic “Where do you draw the line between appreciation and appropriation? and ” When is borrowing designs disrespectful? “

Johanna Blakley

Yesterday, I joined “Project Runway” finalist Korto Momolu on an episode of “The Stream,” an innovative multimedia show on al Jazeera English. The topic? Cultural appropriation. Turns out that Momolu has gotten a lot of heat for incorporating African designs and textiles into her work . . . despite the fact that she’s from Liberia. I was part of the mix in order to clarify some of the ownership rules around cultural remix practices in fashion.

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Conversation Theory in One Hour

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Gordon Pask at his desk in the late 1980s. Photograph (c) Paul Pangaro.

I was invited to give a presentation about Gordon Pask and his Conversation Theory at the annual conference of the American Society for Cybernetics in June 2016. My great friend and colleague, Jude Lombardi, has kindly produced and edited a video of my hour talk, which begins with an introduction to Pask as an experimentalist and “maker”. From this foundation Pask built a scientific theory of how conversation works, including a detailed formal “calculus of cognition.” He also offers the principle that consciousness is conserved in the same sense that physics says that matter and energy are conserved. Read more…

What’s in Your Bot?

There’s been a huge rush toward using AI (artificial intelligence) to build “conversational UIs“—user interfaces that allow us to type or speak to computers in natural language. Sorta. It’s the latest interaction mode and it comes after people interacting with machines, then talking to each other through machines, then talking to machines. Kindah like a conversation (but not really). Here’s a diagram of that progression:

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Cover of the proposal to NSF, “Graphical Conversation Theory”, written by the MIT Architecture Machine Group, 1977

Today, when you hear about all that, “AI” means a specialized kind of AI that’s hugely popular called machine learning. (Yeah, I didn’t make that a link, you can just google it. We all know that we all know how. You’ll find some OK stuff about it. )

So when Siri or Cortana, Amazon or Google, Apple or Facebook, IBM or GE—all of  whom are infected with the AI meme—deploys the machine-learning brand of artificial intelligence, it might be good for you to think about it. (But then, that’s up to you.)

I think about machine learning being everywhere in the virtual world whenever I make a typo on my mobile and my text gets snatched away from me and turned into drivel. (Or every time I ask my intelligent assistant two related questions in a row and it behaves as if I’m the schizophrenic in the chat.)

And here’s how I think about it: Read more…

Happy 105th Birthday, Heinz!

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Mai and Heinz von Foerster in Pangaro’s 1970 Citroën DS21 in Pescadero, California, in the early 2000s (Photograph: Paul Pangaro)

Heinz von Foerster was born 105 years ago today. He was a major figure in the beginnings of cybernetics from the middle of the 20th century, and through to its flowering as second-order cybernetics. His ideas can be magical and one of his papers is still a favorite and voted the favorite of students in cybernetics + design courses year upon year.  His wife, Mai, also magical in her clarity as well as succinctness (a trait not shared by Heinz), once said to me, “Heinz has a mind like a crystal.” He demonstrates this so well in his “Ethical Imperative”, a cybernetic koan worthy of contemplation and action: Read more…

Anatomy of a Startup #Fail

The NY Times has published a smart and useful article on the anatomy of the failure of a startup. Any product manager, or anyone working in a startup, can learn from the detailed sequence of steps that it took to kill Vine (that link will not work once they take the site down for good).

Vine is/was a well-executed app that was early in the game with video sharing, had clever ideas that suited the market, had good backing, had been acquired by a powerful player—and yet it died an unfair death, at least in startup terms. There were many moments of #fail that occurred, not in product design but in lots of other ways, except bad timing. Think of them as checklist for what to watch out for. The article offers a real example of how tenuous a startup can be, and how a cascade of errors can kill even a healthy tech company.

Lost History of Cybernetics

sidebarnwmp_portraitNorbert Wiener is the centerpoint of a new project to raise awareness about the history of cybernetics.

There are quite a few videos, including a 16-minute trailer about the proposed full-length documentary (full disclosure: I’m advisor to the project and appear on-screen). The site also offers a wonderful talk by Andy Pickering, proposing a new synthesis and New Macy Meetings. (Andy started using the term “antidisciplinarity” in reference to cybernetics, which brought cybernetics to the attention of Joi Ito, director of the MIT Media Lab, as described in his piece in the Design + Science Journal.)

Programming And Animating On The Same Screen At The Same Time

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The relationship between a piece of code and the result of that code is nearly always a distant one. “Code” means a long string of text, written in an arcane logic. It takes months or more likely years to acquire coding skills. But the result of that code — a calculation, a screen display, user controls on an interface — must be approachable, transparent, and require only seconds or minutes to understand.

Read more…

Color & Materials Design student Shabnam Hosseini installs her work at ArtPrize Eight

One of our first year students Shabnam Hosseini installs her work for ArtPrize Eight in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Her sculpture  standing over six feet tall and made from paper and gold thread hangs in the cavernous  Calvin College Gallery  from September 21 – October 9 .

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One Can Be Constant. Paper and gold thread. 2015, 9″x9″x74″

ArtPrize is recognized as the most-attended public art event on the planet according to The Art Newspaper, and was recently highlighted in The New York Times’ 52 Places To Go in 2016.

For 19 days in the early fall, around 400,000 attendees descend upon three square miles of downtown Grand Rapids, Michigan where anyone can find a voice in the conversation about what is art and why it matters. Art from around the world pops up in every inch of downtown in over 160 venues—museums, galleries, bars, restaurants, theaters, hotels, public parks, lobbies, buildings, walls, bridges, laundromats, and auto body shops—and it’s all free and open to the public.
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