The Caroline Werner Gannett Project 2007-08
Hiroshi Ishii

Hiroshi Ishii

Muriel R. Cooper Professor of Media Arts and Sciences at MIT; Co-director of the MIT Media Lab, Things That Think Consortium, and head of the Tangible Media Group


“The Art of Tangible Bits ”

When: Monday, March 29, 2010 at 8:00PM
Where: Webb Auditorium (James E. Booth Memorial Building 7A)

Talk Description:

Hiroshi Ishii portrait by Webb Chappell

Where the sea meets the land, life has blossomed into a myriad of unique forms in the turbulence of water, sand, and wind. At another seashore between the land of atoms and the sea of bits, we are now facing the challenge of reconciling our dual citizenships in the physical and digital worlds. Windows to the digital world are confined to flat square ubiquitous screens filled with pixels, or "painted bits." Unfortunately, one can not feel and confirm the virtual existence of this digital information through one's body.

Our vision of Tangible Bits is carried out through an artistic approach. Whereas today's mainstream Human Computer Interaction (HCI) and Design research address functional concerns – the needs of users, practical applications, and usability evaluation – Tangible Bits is a vision driven by concepts. This is because today's technologies will become obsolete in one year, and today's applications will be replaced in 10 years, but true visions – we believe – can last longer than 100 years.

Tangible Bits seeks to realize seamless interfaces between humans, digital information, and the physical environment by giving physical form to digital information, making bits directly manipulable and perceptible. Our goal is to invent new design media for artistic expression as well as for scientific analysis, taking advantage of the richness of human senses and skills – as developed through our lifetime of interaction with the physical world – as well as the computational reflection enabled by real-time sensing and digital feedback.

Tangible Bits is an artistic vision that seeks to transform the way we see and interact with the world. I will present examples of Tangible Bits projects that were at once inspired by Art and are inspiring artists. They were presented and exhibited in Media Arts, Design, and Science communities including ICC, Ars Electronica, Centre Pompidou, Victoria and Albert Museum, Venice Biennale, ArtFutula, IDSA, ICSID, AIGA, ACM CHI, SIGGRAPH, UIST, CSCW.

Hiroshi Ishii is a tenured Professor of Media Arts and Sciences, at the MIT Media Lab. He was named Associate Director at the Media Lab in May 2008; founded and directs Tangible Media Group; and co-directs Things That Think (TTT) Consortium. At the MIT Media Lab, the Tangible Media Group is pursuing 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.

Ishii and his team have presented their vision of "Tangible Bits" at a variety of academic, industrial design, and artistic venues (including ACM SIGCHI, ACM SIGGRAPH, Industrial Design Society of America, AIGA, Ars Electronica, Centre Pompidou, and Victoria and Albert Museum). They emphasize that the development of tangible interfaces requires the rigor of both scientific and artistic review. A display of many of the group's projects took place at the NTT InterCommunication Center (ICC) in Tokyo in summer 2000. A three-year-long exhibition "Get in Touch" featured the Tangible Media group's work at Ars Electronica Center (Linz, Austria) from September 2001 through August 2004. Professor Ishii was elected to CHI Academy by ACM SIGCHI, and it was announced in CHI 2006 in Montreal.

Prior to MIT, from 1988-1994, he led a CSCW research group at the NTT Human Interface Laboratories, where his team invented TeamWorkStation and ClearBoard. In 1993 and 1994, he was a visiting assistant professor at the University of Toronto, Canada. He received B. E. degree in electronic engineering, M. E. and Ph. D. degrees in computer engineering from Hokkaido University, Japan, in 1978, 1980 and 1992, respectively.

Photo by Donna Coveney