Your Vase Has Feelings Too, You Know?!

By Neil Bijlaney

“I call myself a technological philosopher”

Pip Mothersill is on an intricate journey, describing her research as the center of a pendulum that swings from engineering to design. A PhD student at MIT, where she works in the Object-Based Media group at the MIT Media Lab, Pip’s current focus revolves around implementing structured design processes to uncover the possibility of an algorithmic design process. She believes that creativity can be a computational concept by simply bridging the gap between the ‘abstract and poetic human’ and the ‘computational and concrete machine’.

One of her key projects, the ‘EmotiveModeler,’ was born from this very train of thought. Having gained product design experience whilst working at Gillette in London, Pip created a CAD tool to inject emotional depth into everyday objects. Now — before you start imagining your coffee mug smiling back at you for a literal wake up call — this isn’t exactly a back and forth form of communication. The EmotiveModeler is a plug-in for Computer Aided Design programs that accepts emotional adjectives and outputs models of objects that depict and communicate emotional character.

Pip described the output of her tool using two simple examples. The input of the word ‘Sumptuous’, which has a positive connotation to it, resulted in the creation of rounded, more positive-feeling objects. On the other hand, ‘Toxic’ (negative adjective) led to more angular and irregular creations. Seemingly simple, this tool is the result of years of research and allowed for Pip’s vision of inserting a ‘glitch’ in the machine to humanize its processes.

Digitally Enabled Creativity = Computational Logic + Human Intuition * The Glitch

This is an equation that perfectly describes the thought process behind her projects, so much so that it aided in the (figurative) mechanization of her inspiration. She also created Design Human Design (designhumandesign.media.mit.edu), which is a virtual set of prompts that randomize key elements of the design process. Pip created it with the intention of expediting that Eureka moment trapped behind a writer’s designer’s block.

At the very essence of it, she says, it is a give and take — “humans are smarter, more emotional, more irrational and more creative. We control machines as the idiosyncratic thinkers we are, and now we have much to learn from the way they respond”.

(The MIT Media Lab, founded in 1980, is an organization focused on developing technological solutions for human-centered problems. It aspires to meld design, technology, and human interaction to create a better future and enhance the human expression. Research conducted here ranges from cognition to electronic music and even holography. In its fourth decade of operation, The Media Lab is continuously pushing the boundaries of innovation by thinking outside the box, bringing together people from all disciplines to bridge the gap between human experience and technology.)

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