Amputees often report feeling like a missing limb is still attached to their body. What if those sensations could be harnessed and used at will? Israeli-born designer Revital Cohen --whom we covered here -- imagines a conceptual interface that would link the part of the brain controlling the limb to electrodes in a neural-implant device that could record or cause sensations in the body part. Have trouble following that? Then just think on this: what if we could use technology to record illusions in our minds? In other words, what if we could capture imagination through our nerves?

prettymaps, Manhattan

Prettymaps is an example of Stamen’s gorgeous visualizations of urban data. The Bay Area firm came to prominence with "Crimespotting," an Oakland-based application that turned crime reports into information residents could use to lobby for better police services.

Animal Superpowers. 2008

Want to see the world through an ant’s eyes? That’s the invitation behind these child-sized helmets and gloves by Chris Woebken and Kenichi Okada, which let kids experience the "superpowers" that birds, dogs, bugs, and other animals possess.

Lucy from Back, Herebelow, Formidable (the rebirth of prehistoric creatures).

In November 1974, Donald Johanson discovered the skeleton of a 3 million year old hominid in a gully in Ethiopia. He named her Lucy, after the archeological team spent the night playing "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds" in celebration of the find. Lucy’s remains were only bones. French designer Marguerite Humeau, in this object, uses an air compressor and a 3-D replica of her voice box to imagine what Lucy might have sounded like if her soft tissues had survived. (Click here for more of her work.)

Hello World!

Forget crop circles! Travelers flying over this wheat field in Germany can look down to find a giant Semacode, mowed into the landscape by Bernhard Hopfengartner. The installation is now captured in Google Earth’s global database.

Touch Hear (concept, 2008)

It’s annoying to be reading and stumble on an unfamiliar word that interrupts the narrative flow. Instead of reaching for a dictionary, the designers at the National University of Singapore imagine a finger implant with optical character recognition linked to a text-to-speech system that would whisper the definition in your ear. The perfect tool for reading "Foucault’s Pendulum!"

Wifi Dowsing Rod (2007)

Six hundred years after diviners first used hazel twigs to find water, British designer Mike Thompson envisioned a similar tool for finding the unseen wireless signals that are all around us. Green for free, red for secure?

Communication Prosthesis Portrait Series

Warring parties in Washington should be equipped with these rigid prostheses that designer Sascha Nordmeyer conceived for people "who are insecure about their appearance and their social skills and feel compelled to seem excessively smart and communicative." Not sure it would help, but it would surely be a conversation stopper. And that, actually, might be plus.

Avatar Machine

Imagine if you could be your favorite avatar in real life? This apparatus, with its spiky helmet, padded torso, and armored gloves, lets you do just that. Designer Marc Owens noticed that when users donned the gear, they started mimicking avatar behaviors, with big steps and swinging arms. A future path for gaming?

Suwappu. 2011

Suwappu (which is Japanese for 'swap’) is a series of 8 toy characters that frolic through an accompanying app that reveals their augmented reality world. Their heads control their personalities, their lower halves determine position. Designers at Dentsu London and BERG see them as a kind of content platform with potential for lives on Twitter and Facebook.

Short++. 2010

Those of us who are height-challenged would kill for this app during the Macy’s Parade. Designer Adi Marom’s robotic footwear can extend or contract via an iPhone app. Get taller when you want to reach a high shelf, shorter when you want to sneak under a velvet rope. Height thereby becomes an "interactive variable." Love it.

Brushing Teeth

In the 1920s, Arthur Murray re-invented dance instruction by teaching dance steps with footprint diagrams supplied by mail. Now, designer Benjamin Dennel has done the same for tooth-brushing, with a poster for optimal tooth-cleaning choreography. Every dentist’s office should have one on the wall.

Co.Design

MoMA Preview: 12 Brilliant Projects That Explore How Tech Helps Us Talk

"I try to collect interesting and inspirational case studies of a particular moment in time," says Paola Antonelli, curator of Talk to Me, at MoMA.

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If you listen carefully, deep inside MOMA's remarkable new show, "Talk to Me: Design and Communication Between People and Objects," you can hear the sound of a mournful howl. A wounded baboon? A lonely chimpanzee yearning for its mate?

Turns out it's Lucy, better known by her family name, Australopithecus Afarensis, the Ethiopian hominid generally considered to be the mother of humanity. Or rather, it's what she might have sounded like, if her vocal organs had been preserved along with her skeleton. Designer Marguerite Humeau, from London's Royal College of Art, took the skull of a chimp (close to Lucy's size and shape), replicated what her soft tissues might have looked like, printed them in 3-D, and hooked them up to an air compressor. Turn the switch and bingo! A 3 million year old voice from the grave.

"Talk to Me" is like that — a dazzling exhibition of 200 surprising gadgets, videos, apps and games, both serious and playful, that illuminate our increasingly intimate relationship with objects. MoMA design curator Paola Antonelli whipped up a Tweet storm last month at the Aspen Ideas Festival when she suggested that we 'start treating museums as the R&D departments of society.' This show, she says, is an example of just that: "I try to collect interesting and inspirational case studies of a particular moment in time, that together can be a baseline for where design can go in the future," she says.

Antonelli suggests we "start treating museums as society's R&D departments."

A side effect of the process, she says, is that people working in disparate disciplines, in far flung corners of the globe, often find each other through these shows. As with Antonelli's previous exhibition, "Design and the Elastic Mind," the simple validation of having a piece in a MOMA show gives them confidence in their work, and many end up collaborating on projects in the future.

A year and a half in the making, "Talk to Me" began as a blog on the MoMA site that asked visitors to nominate objects. It was not only a way to create community around the idea (and thus be true to the show), but to keep curators from missing innovative but less well-known projects in a rapidly evolving field. 'From very start, we put everything we were seeing and reading up on the blog,' says Antonelli. "When somebody would submit an idea, we'd post a link to a thank you page with their name and a link to their blog. We even had a ?Tasty Morsels" button with the weirdo stuff.?

The blog became more than just a way to organize curators? thoughts; it eventually changed the very nature of the categories themselves. Originally, Antonelli and her curatorial assistant, Kate Carmody, envisioned a sort of instinctual grouping " interfaces, games, etc. 'But we discovered it didn't work,' says Antonelli. ?Instead we realized the logical order was by who's doing the talking."

The exhibit, distilled from some 1500 nominees, is organized into six sections.

"Objects" features physical objects that aren't just communicative, but often interactive, among them a Bug Plug that monitors a user's energy usage; a wifi dousing rod; and a lamp that let's you "strangle" it to alleviate aggression that may have built up from watching violent media.

"I?m Talking to You" is a group of objects that range from the practical to the lyrical: a range of interfaces that help the socially awkward, a pair of eyeglasses that allowed a paralyzed graffiti artist to keep tagging, and shoe extenders that make everyone 6 ½ feet tall.

"Life" investigates the meaning of, well, life, through projects that are both mundane —- a chart showing how to brush one's teeth ? to transcendental: a prayer rug equipped with a GPS that lights up when it's aligned with Mecca, and a news scroll that alerts nuns in an English convent which world issues need their prayers.

"City" aggregates a variety of interesting projects that have arisen from designers attempting to get a better handle on how technology can improve the urban experience, from Stamen's gorgeous, data-driven "Prettymaps," to a German ticket kiosk that lets users report problems at the same time they pay for parking.

"Worlds' explores not just the shrunken globe brought about by new technology, but virtual worlds that have sprung up with their own civilizations. BBC Dimensions allows viewers to transpose data from landmark events ' the Apollo 11 Moon Landing, the pyramids of Giza " over one's own city, as a way of gauging their scale. 'Hello, World!' is a large scale Semacode mowed into a wheat field in Germany. Fly over, and you can "read" its message on your smartphone.

"Double Entendre' is the most meta of the categories, explaining the need and desire to understand one other. Sort of like what would happen if Martin Buber's ?I and Thou' were an iPhone app. ?It's the beautiful essence of being human," says Antonelli. Designers in this section wrestle with communication issues our advanced technologies have spawned: privacy and ubiquity; violence stemming from false identities; the hazards of unregulated expression. The objects in this section are sometimes unsettling, always engaging. There's Aruliden's sex toy chess set, a set of digitally generated dog masks that mimic Cerberus, the gatekeeper of the underworld, and Sputniko!'s Menstruation Machine, a metal device that simulates a woman's monthly period (the single most controversial piece in the show, says Antonelli.)

This is not an exhibition that you can cruise through, looking at beautiful pictures, occasionally reading a wall plaque, and moving on. Many of the objects reward interaction, whether it be organizing a game of Tentacles that begins on the ground floor, tickling and chatting with the "Talking Carl" iphone app (and exhibit mascot) as you stand on line, or purchasing a special custom-designed "Talk to Me" MetroCard, created by Antenna Design's Masamichi Udagawa and Sigi Moeslinger. Keep an eye out for Kacie Kinzer's Tweenbots as you stroll around the galleries: these little cardboard robots, armed with flags, will be roaming the museum, asking for directions. And, if you're hungry, be sure to watch the Poke-designed BakerTweet, which will announce when something yummy is popping out of the MOMA café's oven (follow it yourself on @MoMABakerTweet).

Each object in the show will have its own hashtag and QR code, allowing visitors to bookmark the object and get more information on it on the exhibition's website, www.moma.org/talktome, in the galleries, or at home.

"There's a density to a lot of these objects, a lot of layers," says Antonelli. "You can spend 5 minutes " or 5 hours.?

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2 Comments

  • RitaSue Siegel

    I went to the opening of the show and it is indeed dazzling. There are some old favorites like Masamichi and Sigi's MetroCard machine, but the greatness of the show how it combines the not so old with even recent student work. Give yourself at least 3 hours if you go once, but it will get even better if one keeps going back. Probably lots to discover each time. Lots to take in.

    Museum curators might add Paola's thought that we “start treating museums as the R&D departments of society,” to their responsibilities. But, collecting the past is somehow safer, and this exhibit is not concerned with safe.

    Thanks, Paola and Kate. Your hard work was worth it.

  • auriville faubert

    I have watched this program and verily it does sounds weirdo but cant be good sometimes i.e once you have developed the interest in it and you know how careful you can be with the subject i.e MOMMA. It has much knowledge included in it.

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