Video: Dr. Hiroshi Ishii on “Tangible Bits” @ NUS

Seen that ever famous I/O brush video? That’s one of the projects by the Tangible Media Group of the MIT Media Lab.

Lead by Japanese visionary, Dr. Hiroshi Ishii, the group pursues a new vision of Human Computer Interaction (HCI): “Tangible Bits.” His team seeks to change the “painted bits” of GUIs to “tangible bits” by giving physical form to digital information.

Taken at the National University of Singapore (NUS) on 10th January 2007, Hiroshi Ishii was the first distinguished speaker for the new Mixed Reality Lab @ NUS.

This is an awesome presentation for engineers, artists and anyone who involves information and people in their work (i.e. anyone can appreciate this!). I wouldn’t have been introduced to this famous personality in the HCI world if not for Jude Yew (nick of time some more!) and Adrian David Cheok of the Mixed Reality Lab for organizing Hiroshi’s talk.

Hiroshi Ishii spoke about the importance of how a good vision can persist for hundreds of years, while applications (killer or not) come and go. If you’re a pragmatic person, the downside is that most of such conceptual inventions would not have immediate applications in the real world, so it won’t work with anyone expects a constant return of investment (ROI) for doing such research.

This apparently doesn’t work well for Singaporean students, as seen in toward the end of the talk where students participate in a Q&A (there was even a subtle light bulb joke by Hiroshi to one of the first students). They have a hard time grasping the idea of coming up with an innovation when there is no apparent need (i.e. it’s not how they are taught to think). Hiroshi argues that thinking ahead is about being daring, and as with other conceptual media thinkers I’ve met in the past, viable applications will naturally follow in due time.

As proof, I think this research video from New York University demonstrated multitouch technology last year. This year the Apple iPhone came out with the ability for you to use two fingers to resize photos easily. Coincidence? That’s conceptual innovation given practical application.

Note: I had to quickly swap batteries for my Sony M2 mid-way, so just a minute was missing in the middle of Dr. Hiroshi’s talk. Here’s the direct Google Video link.

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