sensing needs

A robot designed for a single task has a fixed architecture and that robot will perform that single task well, but it will perform poorly on a different task on a different environment. If we do not know ahead of time what the robot will have to do and when it will have to do it, it’s better to consider making modular robots that can attain whatever shape is needed for the manipulation, navigation or sensing needs of the task. 

Daniela Rus

psychotic calculators

An electrical impulse, instead of going to its proper destination and quieting down dutifully, starts circulating lawlessly. It invades distant parts of the mechanism and sets the whole mass of electronic neurons moving in wild oscillations.

Norbert Wiener in Time Magazine, 1948

misfit variables

The basic principle of adaption depends on the simple fact that the process toward equilibrium is irreversible. Misfit provides an incentive to change; good fit provides none. In theory the process is eventually bound to reach the equilibrium of well-fitting forms.

Cristopher Alexander

immutable mobiles

A little lowland country becomes powerful by making a few crucial inventions which allow people to accelerate the mobility and to enhance the immutability of inscriptions: the world is thus gathered up in this tiny country.

Bruno Latour

the confederate effect

Where a human’s textual discourse is considered machine-like

The Confederate Effect became known in 1991 during Loebner’s very first realisation of a restricted form of the Turing Test. A hidden human’s (Confederate) discourse, limited to five minutes, displayed expertise on the topic of Shakespeare, and was thus considered too knowledgeable to be a human. 

Huma Shah & Odette Henry

narcissus narcosis

all media, from the phonetic alphabet to the computer, are extensions of man that cause deep and lasting changes in him and transform his environment. Such an extension is an intensification, an amplification of an organ, sense or function, and whenever it takes place, the central nervous system appears to institute a self-protective numbing of the affected area, insulating and anesthetizing it from conscious awareness of what’s happening to it. It’s a process rather like that which occurs to the body under shock or stress conditions, or to the mind in line with the Freudian concept of repression. I call this peculiar form of self-hypnosis Narcissus narcosis, a syndrome whereby man remains as unaware of the psychic and social effects of his new technology as a fish of the water it swims in. As a result, precisely at the point where a new media-induced environment becomes all pervasive and transmogrifies our sensory balance, it also becomes invisible.

Marshall McLuhan

personal informatics

a pretty fascinating emerging area - where ubiquitous technology is increasingly impacting our lives

Informatics design solutions in context, and takes into account social, cultural and organisational settings in which computing and information technology will be used

Matt Jones

machine synesthesia

“The best analogy I can use to explain it is a radio. My senses are my radio, picking up stimulus and playing it back in my brain. […] It’s as if the machine and I are connected, and I can feel what it feels through that lens without actually “becoming” it.”

Chris Ziegler

identity theater

From Martin Heidegger’s “they-self,” Charles Horton Cooley’s “looking glass self,” George Herbert Mead’s discussion of the “I” and the “me,”  Erving Goffman’s dramaturgical framework of self-presentation on the “front stage”, Michel Foucault’s “arts of existence” to Judith Butler’s discussion of identity “performativity,” theories of the self and identity have long recognized the tension between the real and the pose. 

Nathan Jurgenson

algorithmic accountability reporting

Algorithms are essentially black boxes, exposing an input and output without betraying any of their inner organs. You can’t see what’s going on inside directly, but if you vary the inputs in enough different ways and pay close attention to the outputs, you can start piecing together some likeness for how the algorithm transforms each input into an output. The black box starts to divulge some secrets.

Nichelas Diakopoulos


The digitarian society. This is based completely on digital technology, in a way implicit, totalitarianism: tagging, metrics, total surveillance, tracking, data logging and dreams of 100% transparency. So, organised entirely by market forces, so the citizen and consumer are essentially the same. Nature is there to be used up as necessary, it’s governed by technocrats or maybe an algorithm. 

Anthony Dune

human-machine synergy

The combination of human and machine provides a capacity to provide useful information that could not be obtained otherwise.  These systems provide more domain coverage, diversity of perspective, and sheer volume of information than could be achieved by searching “official” literature or talking to experts.

Tom Gruber

the influencing machine

The first person to examine the curiously symbiotic relationship between new technologies and the symptoms of psychosis was Victor Tausk, an early disciple of Sigmund Freud. In 1919, he published a paper on a phenomenon he called ‘the influencing machine’. Tausk had noticed that it was common for patients with the recently coined diagnosis of schizophrenia to be convinced that their minds and bodies were being controlled by advanced technologies invisible to everyone but them. These ‘influencing machines’ were often elaborately conceived and predicated on the new devices that were transforming modern life. 

In their instinctive grasp of technology’s implicit powers and threats, influencing machines can be convincingly futuristic and even astonishingly prescient.

Mike Jay

The design techniques for ushering users into the machine zone involve resolving the ambiguity, contingency, and complexity of action in everyday life, crystallizing ambient risk and dread into heightened moments that users can trigger and seem to control, whether it’s by spinning the reels or checking for likes or at-replies. 

Rob Horning

What is the machine zone? It’s a rhythm. It’s a response to a fine-tuned feedback loop. It’s a powerful space-time distortion. You hit a button. Something happens. You hit it again. Something similar, but not exactly the same happens. Maybe you win, maybe you don’t. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat. It’s the pleasure of the repeat, the security of the loop.

Alexis Madrigal


The cybernetic systems don’t make subjects into robotic seeming automatons in control societies; it makes subjects into “dividuals” whose every move is monitored in observatory networks to capture their “innovative” deviations. Control societies impose flexibility rather than conformity, and make creative adaptation on the part of the individual a mandatory requirement. (Be an entrepreneur! Yay!) You are still a cog in the machine, but a self-designed one.

Rob Horning