Meet the Makers: Ruairi Glynn and Jamie Paik
What is the difference between real and mediated touch? Is it possible or even desirable to develop robotics that can imitate or evoke human touch and emotions? What does it mean when we speak of “soft” or “smart” electronics?
In this Meet the Makers session, we met with Jamie Paik and Ruairi Glynn to discuss the connection between art and science, examining the ways in which objects or architectural environments can (re)shape human-technology-relations. The session was moderated by Paulien Dresscher (NFF/MCW) and Lianne Toussaint (MCW).
Both speakers have their own unique connection with robotics. Jamie Paik is the founder and director of the Reconfigurable Robotics Lab of the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology. She defines robots as mechanisms that can be controlled to do certain tasks. How do we reconfigure robots to do tasks they were not designed for? Paik stresses that this requires changes to be made in the software, as well as in the hardware. She mentions the example of a doctor who requests a specific type of robot and describes the look and feel of this robot as follows: “a tiny floating hand inside a cavity”. Evidently, this is not feasible. Paik tries to find a middle ground for talking about robotics. This requires a certain quantification of feeling: when is something “soft enough”? When is it “real enough”?
Ruairi Glynn is an interdisciplinary installation artist and director of the Interactive Architecture Lab at the Bartlett School of Architecture, University College London. He is interested in robotics from an artistic perspective and wonders how non-living things seem alive to us. Ruairi speaks of the degrees of liveliness that we can discern in non-living objects. Humans have the capacity to see patterns that are not there, expressions or movements that seem “alive”. How can we understand these degrees of liveliness to create a meaningful encounter between humans and robots?
Glynn and Paik connect in their attentiveness to material properties. They play and test materials to understand how the material itself performs, and this guides their design. During the session, Ruairi picks up his scarf and sculpts it. He concludes it must be a sad scarf because of the way its weight drags it down. For Paik, the material is not only relevant because of certain emotional values but also because it can ensure the safety of human-robot encounters. Yet even if the material ‘fails’ it can inspire both makers; breaking things or tossing them out is part of their inspectorial process.
For more information about the activities of Paik and Glynn, check out their lab websites!