Today's Google Doodle is dedicated to American mathematician, engineer and information theorist Claude Shannon who would have turned 100th today had he been alive. In the doodle his profession is mixed with his passion for juggling, unicycling, and chess (in his life he even built a unicycle with an off-center wheel to keep the rider steady while juggling...).
Shannon is better known for founding both the digital computer and digital circuit design theory in 1937. As a master's degree student at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), he wrote "A Symbolic Analysis of Relay and Switching Circuits" (Download ClaudeShannon_ASymbolicAnalysis) a thesis demonstrating that electrical applications of George Boole's logical algebra could construct any logical, numerical relationship.
Boolean values 1 and 0 (1 means "on" when the switch is closed and the power is on; 0 means "off" when the switch is open and power is off) are binary digits, a phrase that can be shortened to "bits." The unit of information is therefore the bit; a more complicated information can be viewed as built up out of combinations of bits. In the last chapter of the thesis Shannon diagrammed several circuits, including a 4-bit full adder, that became the central circuit in all digital computers.
Even though Shannon's fascinating studies may be entering in our lives via today's Google Doodle, some of us may still be considering circuits as geeky and incomprehensible things. Fear not, though, as there are simple ways to understand how circuits work. Engineer Star Simpson recently launched Circuit Classics, a crowdfunding project revolving around producing a series of highly detailed boards inspired by the hand-drawn circuit diagrams of Forrest M. Mims III. These pieces - the Dual-LED Flasher, the Stepped Tone Generator, and the Bargraph Voltage Indicator - are easy to assemble and ideal for first-time learners, expert tinkerers, or even just as fun conversation pieces.
Designing circuits is just another way of being creative and therefore it is not so different from fashion design (a circuit only works after you have made all the correct connections, but you could say the same thing about a garment...). Besides, in the last few years we have seen quite a few experiments integrating circuits or sensors in garments and accessories (that turned into highly responsive devices) or less complicated projects made by recycling bits and pieces of circuits to create pieces of jewellery.
Alexander McQueen sent out on the Givenchy's Autumn 1999 runway models clad in rigidly cut suits that made them look a bit like Rachael out of Blade Runner or wearing sharply tailored jackets and bodysuits covered in circuit board patterns.
In some cases the prints and embrodieries glowed in the dark, though the final bodices - the result of a collaboration with Studio van der Graaf - were made of molded clear plastic with integrated battery-powered programmed flashing LEDs, and they were matched with glowing leggings patterned like computer chips.
The models looked as if Thierry Mugler's gynoids had shed their mechanical skins to reveal their electronic veins, but this radically different interpretation of Givenchy's style was McQueen's answer to the fears and anxieties of Y2K, though we could now read these designs as McQueen's attempt at cracking the code of the future of fashion anticipating the "wearables" trend that has currently inspired multiple exhibitions about fashion and technology..
The fashion and technology link is indeed developing in unexpected ways: IBM has just announced that its Watson cognitive system has "worked" with Marchesa designers Georgina Chapman and Keren Craig to create a dress that a yet unnamed celebrity will wear at Monday's Met Gala, that will officially launch the new Costume Institute exhibition, "Manus x Machina". The dress will be revealed only on Monday, but there are plenty of information regarding it on the IBM site.
The Marchesa duo actually worked on the dress silhouette, but quite a few details depended on Watson. The IBM Watson Personality Insights API analysed indeed Marchesa's social channels (Twitter and Instagram), determining fan sentiment towards the brand and what it stands for.
In return Marchesa selected five key human emotions - joy, passion, excitement, encouragement, curiosity - that they wanted the dress to convey. IBM Research then fed this data into the cognitive colour design tool that understands the psychological effects of colours, the interrelationships between emotions, and image aesthetics.
Watson was fed hundreds of images associated with Marchesa dresses in order to understand and learn the brand's palette, and eventually the system came up with a set of colours in line with Marchesa's brand and the identified emotions.
Once the colours were finalised, Marchesa turned to IBM partner Inno360 to source a fabric for their creation: over 40,000 sources were analysed for fabric information, narrowing down to 150 sources of the most useful options to consider for the dress.
From this selection, Inno360 worked in partnership with IBM Research-Almaden to identify printed and woven textiles that would respond well to the LED technology needed to execute the final part of the collaboration. Inno360 then delivered 35 fabric recommendations based on a variety of criteria important to Marchesa, including weight, luminosity, and flexibility.
The final cognitive thread? Met Gala enthusiasts will be able to join the cognitive conversation on the red carpet: using Watson Tone Analyzer, the dress will tap into social sentiment from Twitter users on the cognitive dress, extracting context around the tone of their messages. The dress, embedded with LED lights, will change colours in real-time as the public conversations around the Met Gala unfold online.
At this stage we don't know yet if, despite all the technology employed to make it, the IBM Watson/Marchesa dress will suffer from the dreaded curse of the LED dress, but we will soon discover it.
In the meantime, reading about visionary pioneers such as Claude Shannon (who is also the co-inventor of the first "wearable" computer along with Edward O. Thorp - the device was used to improve the odds when playing roulette...) may be inspiring not just for tech heads but for all the creative minds out there.
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