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Designing for Emerging Technologies by Jonathan Follett

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Chapter 2. Intelligent Materials: Designing Material Behavior

BROOK KENNEDY

Bits and Atoms

Will bits eventually control atoms? It is certainly tempting to think so—digital tools mediate ever-increasing parts of our physical environment. Walk down any urban street these days and you will see droves of people glued to their devices—checking their messages, posting photos, even turning their heat down at home, all digitally—while being completely oblivious to the world of atoms around them. And, this is only the beginning. Sure, the physical design of our gadgets might earn our admiration and devotion, but isn’t it what happens on the screen that really commands our attention? Just as the iPhone represents iconic industrial design now, it could just as easily be remembered one day as a milestone in the inevitable shift to bits from atoms. After all, who needs a wallet, a clock, a map or even a flashlight when “there’s an app for that”?

Science fiction films such as Minority Report present future visions of digital experiences integrated into our lives to such an extent that the physical object disappears altogether—from hardware-free interfaces that we control by waving our hands through the air to Google Glass. Pervasive computing of this kind will certainly continue to expand into all of the activities around us in the home, at the office and in the public domain. But what would happen if digital technology were to reenter the physical world at the most basic material level? What if ...

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