A grand Experiment Begins

In 2012 Peter Lucas, Joe Ballay, and Mickey McManus released a primer for a trillion-node world called, Trillions. In 2015 Mickey, as an Autodesk fellow, seeded a research initiative at Autodesk’s Office of the CTO that today would be considered in the realm of embodied & collective cognition but at the time we basically wondered, “What would happen if things and places woke up and became active team mates in the design, build, test and learn cycle over their entire lives?” Put another way, what if our places and things joined our design and learning team through generative/goal directed design and learning?

There were two parts to the experiment.

MX3D and artist Joris Laarman dreamed up an initial idea for how to manufacture a new kind of bridge and walked in to Autodesk’s Pier 9 with a crazy napkin sketch that inspired our Autodesk team to support the audacious plan.

Meanwhile Mickey McManus, Lisa Rotzinger, Alec Shuldiner and the Primordial research team at Autodesk’s Office of the CTO teamed up with Guinness record winning racers and dreamers Mouse McCoy and Felix Holst to explore what would happen if commoditized sensors, data logging tools, and an emerging goal directed/generative design initiative called “Dreamcatcher” could be combined to create a high performance off-road vehicle that could “dream about it’s future self” and shape evolving structures driven by the idea that “form follows forces.” Code named: Hackrod.

When the bridge looked like it might become a reality, some of the Primordial research team’s focus shifted to wondering, “If a complex product could join the design team and help dream and shape its future, what if an architectural piece of infrastructure could wake up too?”

This week that pilot experiment in networked matter–the MX3D bridge with a sensing and dreaming cognitive component built in–is live and waking up in Amsterdam’s red light district.

We don’t know how it will shape its own, the community’s or the city’s future or how the community will shape the future of embodied and collective infrastructure, ethics, trust or citizen science. All of the contributors signed on to the TADA.city framework for how social infrastructure might be a good “citizen.”

You can read more about it here on Autodesk Researcher Kean Walmsley’s blog and if you’re in Amsterdam walk across it and learn more about the principles and possibilities as social infrastructure begins to wake up. For more information about the implications, check out this excerpt from Mickey McManus’s forthcoming book, Primordial, when things and places wake up.

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