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Colloquium - Buechley

High-Low Tech: Rethinking Cultural and Material Contexts for Computation
Massachusetts Institute of Technology Media Lab

People generally build low-tech things through low-tech processes in their homes. They knit scarves, build furniture, sew clothing, and cook meals. In contrast, companies produce high-tech things by high-tech processes. It takes a company's resources -- including lots of people and sophisticated machinery -- to build cell phones, pharmaceutical drugs, and cars, or to mass-produce toys, clothing, and Twinkies. However, a host of new tools is beginning to make many of the resources previously available only to companies accessible to individuals, empowering people to design, engineer, and build tangible devices that integrate high and low technology in novel and beautiful ways.

The internet has ushered in a new age of democracy by giving individuals unprecedented access to information, publishing, and communication tools. It has democratized important facets of computer science, journalism, medicine, economics, and sociology. A new chapter in this history is opening; democratization is creeping off of the computer screen and into the 3D realm. Sophisticated, computationally controlled manufacturing tools -- like 3D printers and laser cutters -- are becoming more and more accessible, decreasing rapidly in size and cost. Electronic components like microcontrollers and sensors are also becoming smaller, cheaper, and easier to use. Meanwhile, online communities devoted to sharing designs and construction techniques are growing and commercial venues for selling hand made artifacts are becoming popular.

This talk envisions a near future in which individuals integrate all of these developments and employ programming, engineering, craft, and web-honed business skills to build and distribute new "high-low tech" devices. The presentation will discuss burgeoning high-low tech communities and novel high-low tech artifacts, focusing on ways that professional designers and engineers can support and encourage this new creative movement. It will present examples of high-low tech artifacts -- including embroidered circuits and paper computers -- as well as tools that empower others to construct high-low tech devices -- including the LilyPad Arduino, a construction kit that enables novices to build fabric-based wearable computers.

Hosted by Michael Eisenberg.

Department of Computer Science
University of Colorado Boulder
Boulder, CO 80309-0430 USA
May 5, 2012 (14:13)