Reflections on Future Worlds Exhibit Field-trip

The Future Worlds exhibit is an ongoing affair at the ArtScience Museum, located within Singapore’s world famous Marina Bay Sands.

The exhibit is thematically separated into 3 main parts, namely City in A Garden, Park and Space. These are all loosely linked to the tiny nation’s goal of building a first-world ‘garden’ city, integrating nature and concrete in a seamless, harmonious manner. Space can be interpreted as the nation’s aspirations to be on the forefront of technology and progress, on a continuous and relentless march towards the space-age of tomorrow.

Here is a selection of notable installations within the exhibit.

 

City in A Garden

 A Table Where Little People Live

This is a cute little piece where participants get to interact with the projected elements shown on the round table. The little people interact by walking on the contour of the provided props or your hands. The rain gets occluded as well in the same manner. There are little design details that I have observed within this simple yet fun installation. The objects are only ‘considered’ for interaction if they are sufficiently close to the table. My guess is that it is to avoid the problem of participants reaching over the table while playing, thereby affecting the interactions. A Kinect is most probably utilised to provide a depth map to enable such a consideration.

Suspected Kinect in operation!

 

Inverted Globe, Giant Connecting Block Town

This section was great fun for the kids, as they move blocks around and see the projections change accordingly; roadways shifting positions and traffic getting redirected. I feel the success of this installation lies with its use of physical space and big objects! We, adults might not feel it. But picture yourself as a four-year old kid, carrying a ‘house’ around and deciding whether to place it. It’s pure fun with maximum physical exertion. Its equivalent to an avid sportsman having a great workout! And not to mention the crazy placement of some of those blocks on the walls… (see above image, top left)

 

Sketch Aquarium

Shark i have never seen before

This was a good one! Basically participants draw their renditions of a predefined sea creature, shark in this case, and place it into a custom scanner. And their artwork gets added to the digital aquarium.

Scanning station

Aquatic life galore!

There were additional little details that pushed the interactivity further. There were food bags periodically placed in the bottom middle of the screen, and anyone who touched it will ‘open’ the bag, resulting in all the fishes swarming towards the food bag. And tapping on any creature makes it wiggle.. 🙂

 

Park

Create! Hopscotch for Geniuses

Create your hopscotch!

I enjoyed this the most, as hopscotch IS equally fun for adults as it is for kids… You are given an interface to create a sequence with different shapes. Being me, I created one where I placed each shape on opposite ends for every consecutive row. I didn’t take a picture, but you can see me playing below! Awesome childlike fun!

(thanks to Man Wei for videographing!)

Sketch Town

Conceptually identical to Sketch Aquarium above, just in 3d I guess.. Perhaps an excuse to include a Merlion somewhere… 🙂

 

Space

Crystal Universe

Definitely one of the visual highlights of the whole exhibit. Thousands of LED strips, combined with clever placement of mirrors, create infinite planes of countless LEDs. The software that controls the LEDs are definitely non-trivial, as these lights display images and patterns that require a great deal of synchrony. They are more than your typical blend of chasing lights or flashing patterns commonly seen on christmas trees. As an added bonus, at the end of the exhibit, you get to access a webpage that allows you to control the image or animation that is projected onto the LEDs. A very satisfying end to a pretty impressive exhibition!

 

Final thoughts

In essence, as interactive students, we can tell that a lot of the installations were basically a bunch of projectors, motion sensors, meticulously-written software and a generous serving of lights. Thereby, the main takeaway for me was that with simple ingredients, an infinite amount of results can be achieved. And not to mention that the element of play is critical/integral for exhibitions designed to engage younger audiences!

Reflections on Vannevar Bush’s “As We May Think”

 

Now, says Dr. Bush, instruments are at hand which, if properly developed, will give man access to and command over the inherited knowledge of the ages.

 

At the dawn of early 20th century, the World Wide Web slowly became adopted round the globe. Fast forward two decades, today, we depend heavily on social media, video sharing and countless other applications that are deeply rooted in our daily working/personal lives. It seems probable that the Internet has grown into a knowledge nexus of sorts, containing traces of almost every single discovery that mankind has ever conceived. Is the Internet the answer to Dr. Bush’s aforementioned vision?

There are apparent inefficiencies in the areas of knowledge storage, transfer and distribution. Great scientists and discoveries come from every corner of the planet, thereby dissertations tend to be written in a multitude of languages. Intuitively, intricacies inevitably get lost in translation. The lack of a truly agnostic, universal language that can be understood innately by any human in any part of the world does pose significant challenges in many forms than one.

For the aspiring scientist or learned man, the obstacle of being highly proficient in a specific domain before delving much deeper to explore and synthesise new territory, requires significant time and resources to overcome. There is possibly a threshold to the human mind(one that we might reach within the next few decades), where the amount of prerequisite knowledge is overwhelmingly substantial for any one human to internalise in his/her lifetime. A methodology to supercharge this impossible learning curve could be as critical as the quest for new discovery itself. As such, specialisation can be dubbed as a form of coping mechanism for the finite abilities of the human brain; until mankind is able to produce the Darwins and Da Vincis of the next millenia.

Within the realms of the information superhighway, there is the closed, regulated world of academia, and the open, democratised world of Youtube, Reddit, Instructables, Medium. There is no doubt an abundance of information for all classes of modern society, but context is ultimately dependent on user-intervention(deliberate sorting and linking, tagging, etc). Another major flaw present in most forms of non-textual media is a lack of meaningful metadata available to describe intuitively what an audio, image or video is about and its exact contents.

Youtube is undisputedly the world’s largest video sharing site, but is ambiguous in critical areas like archival or availability. Infrastructure is financially supported, understandably, through short-mid term profitability. It may very well contain the best instructional content on any number of topics that mankind has ever seen. Yet our best teachers and their content may one day disappear for good, just like how Gregor Mendel’s breakthroughs missed an entire generation.

Technological advances have been largely surmounted; storage, networks, displays and computing power. Ironically, the universal problem of aggregating knowledge and creating meaningful connections intelligently without human intervention is still in its nascent stages. This information trove is present and growing day by day at an exponential rate. Mankind would need to dream of radical new ways to coalesce the wisdom of an entire race soon, or the next generation might very well lose a few centuries of progress.

References

As We May Think – The Atlantic