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SXSW Interactive 2014

Entropy and the Internet of Useful Things

The 'Internet of Things' is finally here. Every week a new 'connected device' appears with a slick video and a remarkably trivial application. Why are these devices so consistently failing to fit into our lives in meaningful ways? Where should we look for the inspiration to create the devices and systems that are truly important?

Remarkably, thermodynamics can help us. Specifically an understanding of the how the forces of order and disorder work in nature - and their analogues in our physical environments.

Thermodynamics says that everything tends to mess, and yet nature is able to consistently deliver order from this chaos - from crystals to self-replicating organisms. This is possible because of the intimacy with which nature binds information to matter.

Humans have historically been unable to do this. So we've had to tidy up. The Internet of Things is our first opportunity to challenge this, to make messy situations workable when tidying up is undesirable.

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  1. How can understanding the science of mess help us find inspiration to create meaningful connected devices?
  2. What is the science of mess, what's it got to do with thermodynamics, crystals and the emergence of life?
  3. How is this relevant to the way we design and manage our physical environments, and what is the potential for the Internet of Things to affect this?
  4. How can we use this understanding to identify places and situations where connected devices can be useful and important? What are these messy situations and why wouldn't we want to tidy up?
  5. How and where has this kind of thinking been applied? What's out there that's working in this way? What's in the pipeline?



Ross Atkin, Research Associate, Royal College of Art, Helen Hamlyn Centre for Design

Meta Information:

  • Tags: internet of things
  • Event: Interactive
  • Format: Solo
  • Track: Art and Inspiration
  • Level: Intermediate
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