A couple of weeks ago when AlphaGo beat a human opponent at Go, Jason Kottke noted

“Generally speaking, until recently machines were predictable and more or less easily understood. That’s central to the definition of a machine, you might say. You build them to do X, Y, & Z and that’s what they do. A car built to do 0-60 in 4.2 seconds isn’t suddenly going to do it in 3.6 seconds under the same conditions.

Now machines are starting to be built to think for themselves, creatively and unpredictably. Some emergent, non-linear shit is going on. And humans are having a hard time figuring out not only what the machine is up to but how it’s even thinking about it, which strikes me as a relatively new development in our relationship. It is not all that hard to imagine, in time, an even smarter AlphaGo that can do more things — paint a picture, write a poem, prove a difficult mathematical conjecture, negotiate peace — and do those things creatively and better than people.”

A few months back I somewhat randomly (and somewhat at the behest of a friend) applied to run a program at MIT Media Lab.

It takes as inspiration the “Centaur” phenomenon from the world of competitive computer chess – and extends the pattern to creativity and design.

I’m personally much more interested in machine intelligence as human augmentation rather than the oft-hyped AI assistant as a separate embodiment.

My old colleague and friend Matt Webb recently wrote persuasively about this:

“…there’s a difference between doing stuff for me (while I lounge in my Axiom pod), and giving me superpowers to do more stuff for myself, an online Power Loader equivalent.

And with the re-emergence of artificial intelligence (only this time with a buddy-style user interface that actually works), this question of “doing something for me” vs “allowing me to do even more” is going to get even more pronounced. Both are effective, but the first sucks… or at least, it sucks according to my own personal politics, because I regard individual alienation from society and complex systems as one of the huge threats in the 21st century.”

I was rejected, but I thought it might be interesting to repost my ‘personal statement’ here as a curiosity, as it’s a decent reflection of some of my recent preoccupations about the relationship of design and machine intelligence.

I’d also hope that some people, somewhere are actively thinking about this.

Let me know if you are!

I should be clear that it’s not at the centre of my work within Google Research & Machine Intelligence but certainly part of the conversation from my point of view, and has a clear relationship to what we’re investigating within our Art & Machine Intelligence program.



Tenure-Track Junior Faculty Position in Media Arts and Sciences

MIT Media Lab, Cambridge, MA

David Matthew Jones, B.Sc., B.Arch (Wales)

Personal Statement

We are moving into a period where design will become more ‘non-deterministic’ and non-human.

Products, environments, services and media will be shaped by machine intelligences – throughout the design and manufacturing process – and, increasingly, they will adapt and improve ‘at runtime’, in the world.

Designers working with machine intelligences both as part of their toolkit (team?) and material will have to learn to be shepherds and gardeners as much as they are now delineators/specifiers/sculptors/builders.

I wish to create a research group that investigates how human designers will create in a near-future of burgeoning machine intelligence.  

Through my own practice and working with students I would particularly like to examine:


  • Legible Machine Intelligence
    • How might we make the processes and outcomes of machine intelligences more obvious to a general populace through design?
    • How might we build and popularize a critical language for the design of machine intelligence systems?



  • Co-designing with Machine Intelligence
    • “Centaur Designers”
      • In competitive chess, teams of human and non-human intelligences are referred to as ‘Centaurs’
      • How might we create teams of human and non-human intelligences in the service of better designed systems, products, environments?
      • What new outcomes and impacts might ‘centaur designers’ be able to create?
      • Design Superpowers for Non-Designers {aka “I know Design Kung-Fu”}
        • How might design (and particularly non-intuitive expertise) be democratised through the application of machine intelligence to design problem solving?



  • Machine Intelligence as Companion Species
    • The accessibility of powerful mobile devices points to the democratisation of the centaur pattern to of all sorts of problem-spaces in all walks of life, globally
    • Social robotics and affective computing have sought to create better interfaces between autonomous software and hardware agents and their users – but there is still an assumption of ‘user’ in the the relationship
    • How might we take a different starting reference point – that of Donna Haraway’s “Companion Species Manifesto” to improve the working relationship between humans and machine intelligences



  • Machine Intelligence in Physical Products
    • How might the design of physical products both benefit from and incorporate machine intelligence, and what benefits would come of this?



  • Machine Intelligence in Physical Environments
    • How might the design of physical environments both benefit from and incorporate machine intelligence, and what benefits would come of this?




, originally uploaded by moleitau.

Thanks to Justin McGuirk for the invitation to

Below, my (very) raw unedited, incomplete notes from the morning session on ‘Ornament’ – Charles Jencks was most enjoyable, must admit I tuned out as the morning went on…:

icon minds event

the return of ornament: intro by Justin McGuirk

100 yrs since ‘ornament and crime’ aldolf loos- amazing that that is still so potent. digital tech in architecture schools is driving this – in icon office they joke about ‘return of victoriana’ – but then it was incredibly theorised where as no it is not…

charles jencks
farshi mousavi (check) foriegn office architects
marjan colleti, bartlett school of architecture

Charles Jencks
(shows front page of the FT, picture of hank paulson)
book ‘sense of order’
3 depths of ornament
‘all arts aspire to the condition of music’
rhythms that control and affect / effect us without us having to know to much about them
from simple to complex / abstract to meaningful
distinction between decoration and ornament
in the last ten year, ornament has been ornament as eye candy
paulson’s frown is a piece of decoration rather than ornament
i’m defining decoration as something you wear as a sign as a way to communicate in code to a group.
‘the blush on the face of a virgin in every novel is completely conventional’
(now frowns on the faces of capitalists is ‘the blush of the virgin’)
shows koolhaas morphing into zidane
(angry passionate reluctant – architect and designer’s ‘blush of the virgin’)
morphing is… one of the strongest influences on ornament today… morphing is somehow ‘musical’ – from Koolhaas to crescendo… of Zidane..
the construction / structural elements, repeated in a kind of ‘symphonic’ way in each fact of the OMA’s seattle library… organisational diagram informs the ornament – intersection, interlocking, ornamental use of colour for ciruclation to take you through a grey abstract concrete space… ornament is being used to underscore organisation
shows prada building in tokyo (?) herzog de merreon
rem: “dubai is vernacular zaha” – everyone is doing the same tricks with form – in adevrtising and magazines and academia… cliched images, rather than reality
venturi’s ‘dumb box’ / ‘decorated shed’ – done by FOA in spain… hexagonal tiles… that wobble nicely – ‘i call it the hexiwobble’
eberswalde library by H&dM – ornament not guaranteed to last 8-10 years by concrete manufrs
‘age of mechanical reproduction’ -photograph, but double – the facade is mechinaical reproduction
birds next stadium by h&dm – getting closer to mimicking nature
FOA work – pleats and plates of folded.
the 19th criticised construction – they said ‘don;t construct you ornament, instead decorate your construction’ – then poiret (?) teacher of corb said don’t do that… decoration always hides fault, and so the truth.
argument: philospophical/’moral’ – don’t think it is moral… we all ornament, we all decorate
transformational ornament is the 3rd degree
my own work based on fractals (cosmic garden in N. England?)
ornament should tell a story, should be narrative
shouldn’t stop at the level of semantics
the two great theories underlying nature:
plato – behind nature the underlying forms are regular solids (modernism) unbroken plato -> classical -> cezanne -> corbusier
based on the metaphysics of getting to the underlying forms of nature, the organisation of matter – self organisating relationships between them
1977: benoit mandelbrot: the fractal geometry of nature
things are more or less platonic when viewed from our scale, but in reality – mostly crinkly, self-similar, scale-free, always changing.
a symphonic scaling, between scales… recent work of FOA
gaudi – still the master of doing this… mediating between scale with ornament and structure.
the 4th degree of ornament is where there is an overall story that is seen in every element that the architect/designer/client has worked out whih gives it greater resonance.

Farshid Moussavi / FOA

book: ‘the function of ornament’

how do we define and construct ornament today?

it is part of how they ‘perform’ (structurally, environmentally) – they have a function
architecture has a very outmoded and narrow concept of function
sensorially roles should be part of function
opposition of function to ornament is representative of our dualist thinking between matter and mind
natural / symbolic
structural / symbols
louis sullivan was the last architect of ornament before modernism?
‘form follows function’ dictum reduced function to utility
related forms to culutre – often added inbetween structure and function – not considered together
but now they are – and start transforming each other
it’s no longer possible to isolate forces in the environment: cultural, societal, structural
cities are spaces where multiplicity rules, novelity emerges
materials are now joined by what she calls ‘supermaterials’ – economics, virology, systems, information
spinoza: affect / affectation

(I have to admit I tuned out at this point…)

In the corner at Icon Minds

Which is a pun headline that will only work for a very few people.

The critical writing that has gathered around my “city as battlesuit” post has gathered something like critical mass – and it’s way more interesting and better written than what I dashed out for io9.

Go read:

As for the ‘testosterone-fuelled technoptimism‘ aspects of my writing, well – it’s a fair cop. In my defense I was writing with limited time in a busy week for a science-fiction site, rather than for my critical theory phd advisor, so y’know.

Which is not to say that phds in critical theory are bad things either.


So I guess what I’m trying to say is, I’m sorry if using the term ‘battlesuit’ seemed to trivialise war, the military, weaponry etc. all things I have no direct experience of – and hope never to experience.

This was not my intention. I was simply trying to use an attractive metaphor to grab people’s attention on a science fiction site trafficked by people as adolescent as me and get them interested in the critical discourse of clever people, like you.

The most important part of the sentence for me was ‘surviving the future’ – for which I still believe cities are the key.

This is why I stopped blogging, isn’t it.

And this is why Russell ends his posts with “anyway“.


Scrambled Hertzian Tales. Apt!

From Tony’s preface to the 2005 edition:

“The ideas in Hertzian Tales were developed between 1994 and 1997 while I was completing my Ph.D. thesis in the Computer Related Design department at the Royal College of Art in London. The first edition was publisjed through the Royal College of Art in 1999.

It is interesting to look back and think about the technological developments made since then. Bluetooth, 3G phones, and wi-fi are all now part of everyday life. The dot-com boom has come and gone. And in the United Kingdom, large parts of the electromagnetic spectrum are about to be deregulated.

Yet very little has changed in the world of design.”

I requested a copy of Hertzian Tales from MIT Press as ‘payment’ for reviewing a draft of an about-to-be-published interaction design book. I was familiar the the work, but had never read the whole thing.

I was very glad I did.

Tony’s ideas from 1999 held up incredibly strongly in terms of the practice of interaction design and design in 2009 I thought.

It seems to me that his 2005 fear – that very little has changed in design since he first wrote the book – might now be dispelled by the breaking down of silos between digital and physical designers, and the advanced towards the mainstream of ‘the internet of things’.

Jack of course studied at the RCA and I’ve taught there a few times, and I like to count Tony as a friend, but despite those influences, it really does seem like a key text to return to if you are working in the emerging field of digital/physical interaction, product or service design.

Tony’s wonderful line “All electronics products are hybrids of radiation and matter” alone has enough pertinence, poetry and punch to fuel a revolution in design!

Here’s a few quotes from the ‘dog-eared’ pages that stood out for me:


“Another form of dematerialisation is defined by electronic objects’ role as interfaces. With these objects the interface is everything. The behaviour of video recorders, televisions, telephones and faxes is more important than their appearance and physical form. Here design centres on the dialogue between people and machines. The object is experienced as an interface, a zone of transaction.”


“The material culture of non-electronic objects is a useful measure of what the electronic object must achieve to be worthwhile but it is important to avoid merely superimposing the familiar physical world onto a new electronic situation, delaying the possibility of new culture through a desperate desire to make it comprehensible”

“How can we discover analogue complexity in digital phenomena without abandoning the rich culture of the physical, or superimposing the known and comfortable onto the new and alien?


“No effort need be made to reconcile the different scales of the electronic and the material. They can simply coexist in one object. They can grow obsolete at different rates as well. Robert Rauschenberg’s Oracle has had its technology updated three times over thirty years, but it’s materiality and cultural meaning remain unchanged. Cultural obsolescence need not occur at the same rate as technological obsolescence.

Perhaps the “object” can locate the electronic in the social and cultural context of everyday life. It could link the richness of material culture with the new functional; and expressive qualities of electronic technology.”


“A range of possibility exists between the ideas of the “pet” and the “alien”. While the pet offers familiarity, affection, submission and intimacy, the alien is the pet’s opposite, misunderstood and ostracised”


“In the case of electronic products, hte “unique qualities” of the object of interaction is their potential as an electronic product to persuade the users as protagonists, through the user’s use of the object, to generate a narrative space where the understanding of the experience is changed or enlarged. By using the object, the protagonist enters a space between desire and determinism, a bizarre world of the “infra-ordinary” where strange stories show that truth is indeed stranger than fiction, and that our conventional experience of everyday life through electronic products is aesthetically impoverished.”


“The space of the model lies on the border between representation and actuality. Like the frame of a painting, it demarcates a limit between the work and what lies beyond. And like the frame, the model is neither wholly inside or wholly outside, neither pure representation nor transcendent object. It claims a certain autonomous objecthood, yet this condition is always incomplete. The model is always a model of. The desire of the model is to act as a simulacrum of another object, as a surrogate which allows for imaginative occupation. (Hubert, `1981)”


“From a product design point of view these models lack industrial realism; they look like craft objects, hand-made and probably one-off. But an expanded view of the conceptual design model might regard it as embodying the essence of the design idea, a “genotype” rather than a prototype, constructed from the materials at hand. If taken up for mass manufacture its construction and structure would undoubtedly change. The object’s “content” or “genes” are important, not it’s appearance. In the context of design, the conceptual model as genotype rather than prototype could allow it to function more abstractly by deflecting attention from an aesthetics of construction to an aesthetics of use.”


“It might seem strange to write about radio, a long-established medium, when discussion today centres on cyberspace, virtual reality, networks, smart materials and other electronic tehcnologies. But radio, meaning part of the electromagnetic spectrum is fundamental to electronics. Objects not only “dematerialise” into software in response to minituarisation and replacement by services but literally dematerialise into radiation. All electronic products are hybrids of radiation and matter. This chapter does not discuss making the invisible visible or visualising radio, but explores the links between the material and the immaterial that lead to new aesthetic possibilities for life in an electromagnetic environment. Whereas cyberspace is a metaphor that spatialises what happens in computers distributed around the world, radio space is actual and physical, even though our senses detect only a tiny part of it.”


“Objects designed to straddle both material and immaterial domains arouse curiosity about the fit between these worlds. Many military aircraft are now “teledynamic”, designed to fly undetected through fields of radar-frequency radiation. But teledynamic forms are not aerodynamic and to remain airborne their outline needs to be constantly adjusted by a computer. These aircraft fly through fusions of abstract digital, hertzian and atmospheric spaces.

Objects that I call “radiogenic” function as unwitting interfaces between the abstract space of eletomagnetism and the material cutlures of everyday life revealing unexpected points of contact between them.”


“Aerialness” is a quality of an object considered in relation to the electromagneic environment. Even the human body is a crude monopole aerial. Although in theory precise laws govern the geometry of aerials, in reality it is a black art, a fusion of the macro world of perception and the imperceptible world of micro-electronics.”

Science & Science Fiction at the Royal Institution

A funny, interesting but sometimes scatter-gun talk at the Royal Institution by two engaging academics in the field of science communication.

My favourite quote is above in the title of this post, which they take from Prof Mark Rose: “Science Fiction is the fantastic that denies it’s fantastic”.

Rough notes follow.

Science & science-ficiton / RI
Introduced: Jenny rowan , lablit magazine
Prof Mark Brake / Rev Neil Hook (uni of glamorgan)
Their book: “Difference engines: how science drives fiction and fiction drives science”

“I like to think of the earth as an alien planet” (this reminds me of BLDGBLOG/Geoff Manuagh’s contention that “the earth is becoming unearthly“)

copernican revolution made it that way

infinite, inhuman universe as opposed to earth-centric Aristotelean cosmos (earth myths populated heaven)

“if copernicus wasn’t enough, then came Darwinism”

“a series of demotions”

“SF is a response to the cultural shock of discovering our marginal place in an alien universe”

“an attempt put the stamp of humanity back on the universe”

we can identify 4 themes (based on prof mark rose)

1. space
2. time
3. machine
4. monster


something to be conquered, part of dominion over nature


flux, change, process, revealed over time
contradiction, paradoxes

computers atom bombs, robots, but also 1984, Brave New World: social machines

about us, the monster within.
remaking of human.
super heroes = upbeat monsters


copernican rev:
if the earth is a planet, then the planets can be earths
Galileo gave this evidence: mountains, craters, features on moons
sudden decentralisation, diversity, possibility
Kepler: 1st book of sci-fi 1630s “Somnium”
Bishop Godwin: 1st alien contact story

new discoveries, mediated by SF: the play between: alienation / sensawunda

kepler to gallileo: “there will certainly be no lack of human pioneers when we have mastered flight…” look up

Bishop Godwin of Llandaff: “man in the moon” – kept it secret, published posthumously
shipwrecked Spanish buccaneer trains flock of 40 geese in an apparatus, geese fly to the moon in winter, moon white because covered in geese, so travels to the moon.
meets king of moon
moon = utopia, earth is the dumping ground for the moon’s rejects.

robert goddard wrote to h.g. wells to tell him how he was inspired by ‘wotw’

rocket launch countdown was invented by fritz lang as a cinematic shortcut, and then adopted by science.


industrial revolution, earth working, fossil record: the long now evident, species that walked the earth

time was something to be mastered (baconian/enlightment science: nature to be mastered)

mechanised time travel = industrialised britain

kronos/ charios – Greek words for time

kronos – more concerned with measurement and mastery of time
industrialised time

HGWells: 4th dimension, to be measured, managed and mastered

1894 The Time Machine / 1905 special relativity

space-time is born. a revolution in time.

the time machine – double meaning to the title.
time traveller sets out to master time, but finds time is the master.
we are all trapped in the time machine.

Ballard, Drowned World: (not mentioning his fixation race-memory, mitochondrial time?)


Carel Kapek Rossums Universal Robots
Asimov’s 3 laws (+ zeroth law) – based on Hippocratic oath
now enshrined in s. Korean laws!
machine takes human form (stamping humanity on the unknown)
martin rees – industrialisation might be a mass-extinction event (a 400 year ELE)

atom bomb imagined by hg wells in ;the world set free 1914 (cf. de groot)
influenced leo szilard, initiated/lobbied roosevelt to create manhattan project

red alert peter george 1956, adapted by kubrick to strangelove


Godzilla: a proxy for dealing with the consequences of the WW2 atomic warfare
took a machine and turned it into a monster (with two legs and two arms – again the stamp of the human on the new)

Most monsters and aliens are proxies or cyphers for ourselves
(only unknowable alien in SF is Lem’s Solaris)

Giger’s Alien and Hannibal Lecter are the same? Monsters and aliens – we are in the middle, examining ourselves through these characters.

closing remarks from prof. brake.
we’re the first generation living in a science-ficitonal world, sf is hardcore reality, not escapism…


aldiss: SF is ‘hubris clobbered by nemesis’
prof mark rose: SF is: ‘the fantastic that denies it’s fantastic’

questioner mentions: greg egan short story (wang’s carpets? may have misheard) sea of carbohydrates performing computation.

question (from a biologist): the attitude to progress and evolution in much of SF
is not very sophisticated in it’s understanding of biology. eg. 2001.

Brake: much of SF is very physically determinist, hierarchical in its view and many of the 20th’s spokespersons about biology thought there was not life other than on earth. interesting to see what astrobiology brings to it.


I got invited to northern Sweden by the lovely folks at Umeå Institute of Design and Tellart.

Umeå Design School

It was a fantastic couple of days, where ideas were swapped, things were made and fine fun was had late into the sub-artic evening…


It was their first (and hopefully not the last) Spring Summit at the Umeå Institute of Design, entitled “Sensing and sensuality”.

Umeå Institute of Design Spring Summit, "Sensing and Sensuality"

I tried to come up with something on that theme, mainly of half-formed thoughts that I hope I can explore some more here and elsewhere in the coming months.

It’s called “Data as seductive material” and the presentation with notes is on slideshare, although I’ve been told that there will be video available of the entire day here with great talks from friends old and new.

Thank you so much to the faculty and students of Umeå Institute of Design, and mighty Matt Cottam of Tellart for the invitation to a wonderful event.

Momus has found a book with passages by Brian Eno’s tutors on the young man’s working style while at art school:

“October 13th, 1967. Brian laid his radio-lightwave machine out along the studio. Everyone who walked in front of it interrupted transmission. Philip became interested, helped him fiddle about with the equipment. It reminded me of boys playing with electric trains.”

And, this one made me smile:

“February 15th, 1968. Watson, Dyer and Brian had a long discussion about Brian’s electronic machine. Watson had got Brian a grant of £17 towards building the machine. Brian had come up with some snags and intended to present his work in the form of a written report. Watson argued that this was not good enough; he would learn something by not only producing the machine, but in assessing the effects of its operation. Dyer said now that Brian had proved that the machine was operational there was no point in actually making it. Watson said to me afterwards that Dyer was basically an engineer and that Brian had to decide if he was an engineer or an “artist”. Brian had finally accepted his point of view that the machine would have to be finished and operated.”

Go read the lot of it.

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]