The inventor of products of the future who taught a river to write poetry
On a cold September morning in 2017, a red buoy floated through the waters of the Somerset Coal Canal as it passed through Bath, England. A handful of environmental sensors were traveling in its guts, thanks to which we know it was 8:25, there was a 10% luminosity, the thermometer read 9 degrees and we have the exact coordinates of the small ship (N 51º 21 ′ 35,744 ′ ‘and Or 2º 18 ′ 45.086 ′ ‘). That day, the channel wrote its first verses:
The misty river full of leaves,
beat the Somerset Coal Canal,
frozen travelers washing their
necks and disappearing in
the morning walk …
This aquatic and unexpected literary contribution was part of the London Design Festival that year, and it was produced through the mediation of a neural network that was processing sensor data to generate poems from a large sample of 20th century poetry. Hence the mist, the place, the frozen travelers and the morning walk. “If it was dark, the network generated a poem about the dark, if it was cold, it spoke of freezing. Basically he gave the channel a voice to express his feelings ”, explains Matteo Loglio, architect of the project, baptized as Natural Networks —Natural networks-, together with the agency six: thirty. The Italian designer, founder of the creative studio Oio, which has collaborated with Google, Arduino and Logitech among others, was inspired by a phrase by Wittgenstein: “If a lion could speak, we would not understand him.” So different would their perception of the world be that it would create a totally different language. What if the speaker was a river?
That was his first job with artificial intelligence. Before I had created Primo toys, a line of toys to teach programming to children. “It is a language for children three years and older, which does not require screens or know how to read,” he says. The launch of that project on Kickstarter became one of the most successful on the platform, within the educational technology category: it raised $ 1.6 million in one month, $ 1.5 million more than the $ 100,000 it had. as a goal. He then went through the Google Creative Lab as an interaction designer. And during the summer of 2019 he founded Oio, his London-based factory of products of the future. “We work with emerging technologies, such as artificial intelligence, augmented reality or blockchain, but what we try is to make them accessible so that they form part of our daily life ”, he sums up.
Long before putting the channels to write poetry, Loglio spent his childhood between computers and video games. “I think curiosity played a very important role. I wanted to take it all apart and dive down the hole in how things are done. Ask questions”. As he spent pandering among electronic components, his industrial design studios in Italy were later added. “You have the traditional imprint of Italian design, very democratic, accessible and even humble, but elegant in its simplicity,” explains Loglio, convinced that his muse lives at the intersection between design and passion for technology.
In Oio’s physical office, designers and technologists coexist, in the digital realm, the Roby team completes, an artificial intelligence that acts as creative director, expresses his opinions through Discord and manages his own Instagram account, in which it autonomously generates publications and comments. “It is something very experimental. We are not trying to create great artificial intelligence in one day. Our plan is to make it contribute more to our workflows little by little, ”says Loglio. For now, Roby has already designed a bookcase.
Among the creations that Loglio has contributed to are a calculator to implement a fairer distribution of taxes, a musical synthesizer that anyone can use and even build, a digital cryptocurrency money box for children, a search engine for works of art that is consulted drawing with the finger or a robot that learns to recognize the objects that surround it. What happens if the products designed in Oio or in collaborations with Google do not end up catching on with the general public? “We are not trying to save the world with our projects or radically change the way people think or work. Mainly we want to add a bit of enjoyment and fun to the day to day ”. They measure success based on small achievements: imagining a product, making it real, managing to carry out a small production. “In big technology there is a very marked Silicon Valley footprint. Your goal is to change the world from above. Tell you how to use technology. But I think there are more and more small companies with a more organic approach ”.
For Loglio, the next revolution in our technological uses and customs will occur little by little: “There is a great opportunity to propose alternative visions that are not necessarily those of Silicon Valley or those financed by venture capital funds. We want to create a more humane approach that presents technology in a way that is understandable to the people who actually consume it. “
The children’s book just published by the Italian designer fits into this goal: Many Intelligences it is a journey through the intelligences that surround us. From that of a starfish to that of a virtual assistant, through ours. “Taking complexity and turning it into something simple, beautiful and enjoyable is a good part of my job and what we do at Oio. And kids are the perfect testing ground, because if they get it, anybody will. There is definitely a great need for education, not just to familiarize ourselves with the way technology works, but with its implications in our daily lives. There are many questions for which we have no answer, but talking about it is the first step ”.