Born to Adorn? Desire, Display and Design

The always interesting experience design blog Putting People First today highlights the "Premsela Lecture," in which Harvard Psychologist Nancy Etcoff connects fashion to her particular expertise, the nexus between neuroscience and psychology.

One attention grabbing quote from the lecture, available online:

Dress informs and misinforms, reveals and conceals. Our unclothed and unadorned bodies speak plainly, but once dressed, they are vivid and vociferous, varied and variable, clever and persuasive. Dress turns our attention to what is desirable, and flaunts it, fakes it or overstates it.

Or, how about this one from Karl Lagerfeld:

If you want social justice, be a civil servant. Fashion is ephemeral, dangerous and unfair.

"Born to Adorn: Why We Desire, Display and Design" concludes "with a call to designers to use science to push fashion further in its enhancement of human well-being," according to the blog.

Geoff Oliver Bugbee shot this image of fashion designer Karen Walker making similar connections at the 2007 IdeaFestival. "Insider Passes" to see this year's thought leaders are now on sale


Does "Watson" meet the Nelson Mandela test?

When can machines be said to think?

Could IBM's "Watson," featured in this weekend's New York Times Magazine, finish what Alan Turing started and profitably build on Google's breakthrough? Could it offer answers, not simply by pointing to a raft of web pages where an answer might be found, but by understanding the allusive meaning in the question itself?

As IBM is no doubt aware, there are real world needs that might be addressed by a machine capable of true thought:

In the last decade, question-answering systems have become increasingly important for firms dealing with mountains of documents. Legal firms, for example, need to quickly sift through case law to find a useful precedent or citation; help-desk workers often have to negotiate enormous databases of product information to find an answer for an agitated customer on the line. In situations like these, speed can often be of the essence; in the case of help desks, labor is billed by the minute, so high-tech firms with slender margins often lose their profits providing telephone support. How could I.B.M. push question-answering technology further?

In an effort to popularize the technology, the company is working with “Jeopardy!”, which will have Watson square off against some of the game’s best former players, perhaps as early as this fall.

I might just watch.

In the meantime, I've got some ideas about when human-built hardware might match our wetware.

The hallmark of intelligent thought is not just an ability to pick out the answer, but to fashion meaningful questions. Though caricatured on the show, it's one basis, I think, for the enduring popularity of Jeopardy!

Thought is also about creativity. Daniel Tammet, who will be at the 2010 IdeaFestival, has been said to be among the brightest people now on the planet, despite the fact that he is autistic. He has argued that his particular and highly regarded intelligence has biological roots. His senses are cross-wired. As he has explained in this brief interview with the IdeaFestival, numbers are colorful shapes that merge into landscapes that he can manipulate to find the answers. Incredibly, his biology - and his ability to describe what how his mind works - might hold important clues for all of us about the creative process in general.

But even more importantly, true thought has an important relational dimension. We constantly seek understanding of one thing in terms of another. Should Watson encounter a certain clue about a figure of incredible importance to a country now in the news because of the World Cup, I expect it to answer in true Jeopardy-style: "'Who is Nelson Mandela?', Alex." But a truly intelligent question, and the one was so graciously answered in history was this:

Can I ever really forgive them?


"Mammoth Time Lapse" one wooly trip

Cleverly titled "Mammoth Time Lapse," check out this reverse history of a cityscape from The Long Now Foundation.

Given the participation of theoretical physicist and author of "From Eternity to Here" at this year's IdeaFestival, Sean Carroll, I've become interested in visual descriptions of time. This one lends perspective to our presence.


Mammoth Time Lapse from bryan campen on Vimeo.

A.J. Jacobs - "There is no useless knowledge"

Author of "The Year of Living Biblically," "The Know-It-All" and "The Guinea Pigs Diary," as well as among many other books that explore his life-as-experiment, A.J. Jacobs, who appeared at the 2009 IdeaFestival, responds to the question: "Is there useless knowledge?"

Watch many more conversations at "IFTV."

For a limited time only, the lowest priced all-access passes for the 2010 IdeaFestival are now on sale.


Edenic mariner returns to Earth

Following an asteroid landing in 2005 and a lengthy delay in guiding the craft home, the seven year mission of Hayabusa culminated in this fiery reentry shot from an airborne observatory and posted to YouTube. Shortly before being vaporized by the intense from the shallow reentry the spacecraft deposited cargo - clearly seen on the video - that scientists hope will shed more light on origins of our solar system.

Linked by Paul Gilster at Centauri Dreams, this description from Life, Unbounded of the returning vessel paints an emotional picture.

There's another aspect to Hayabusa that is perhaps even grander. The image of this cleverly fabricated robot burning up across the night sky evokes some powerful emotions. Here is one of our pioneer voyagers of the deeper universe that lies all about us. A persistent machine, nurtured and nursed through a variety of problems by its smart operators. Seven years on it returns, carrying - we hope - a precious sample that will expand our view of nature. Seven years is a long time these days, Hayabusa has come back to a different world. This is a glimpse of our future in the solar system. The meteor-like streaks of returning probes, and eventually astronauts, lighting our skies. New mariners, returning to harbor, bringing exotica that change everything, just as they find a world changed by time.


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