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Students Combine Arts and Science While Exploring "Transhumanism" [Slide Show]

Over the course of four weeks students developed prototypes of devices meant to bridge the gap between human and machine



Image courtesy Cynthia Xin Liu

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The so-called “STEM” fields—science, technology, engineering and mathematics—are often grouped together in discussions of education policy or curriculum. But a group of students and faculty at Brown University, the Rhode Island School of Design (R.I.S.D.) and Massachusetts Institute of Technology believe that another letter should be added: “A,” for “arts.” “We think that STEM is an incomplete picture,” says Ryan Mather, a student at R.I.S.D. and a member of the group, dubbed STEAM. “The ‘A’ is kind of a stand-in for creativity and creative problem-solving,” he says.

Mather recently helped organize a four-week-long workshop, called HUMAN+COMPUTER, focused on transhumanism, which the workshop Web site defines as “the belief that the human race can evolve beyond its current limitations through the use of science and technology.” Students from the three schools combined scientific and technical know-how with more artistic and aesthetic concepts to make prototypes of devices that bridged the gap between human and technology.

>> View a slide show of the exhibits

The results of the workshop are now on display at Exposé, a gallery in Providence, R.I. They include a model that displays active areas of the brain in real-time and a device that wirelessly transmits the rhythm of one person’s heartbeat to another person, who feels it via a small earpiece.

Ian Gonsher, professor of design and engineering at Brown and a faculty advisor to STEAM, says the workshop helps address fundamental questions about the role of technology in our lives. When it comes to new technologies like smartphones or wearable technologies like Google Glass, “these different devices are sucking our lives away or are affording opportunities [for us] to really make eager connections with one another,” he says.

Gonsher also thinks that the workshop demonstrates the power of the “maker” movement, which encourages people to design and make their own objects and electronics. Participants used the open-source electronics platform Arduino as well as 3-D printing to make their prototypes. “People are becoming more empowered to make objects and write code,” Gonsher says. Now that learning code and making electronics is so much more accessible, he says, people can start making personalized electronics “on their own bodies and their own spaces.”

The prototypes will be on display at Exposé through Sunday, February 23.

>> View a slide show of the exhibits

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