"Things That Think" From Prof. Neil Gershenfeld

Neil Gershenfeld [1], an MIT Professor, published a book “When Things Start to Think” [2] back in 1999. 

Here are some of his “things that think”:

  • Books that can change into other books 
  • Musical instruments that help beginners engage and virtuosi do more 
  • Shoes that communicate through body networks 
  • Printers that output working things instead of static objects 
  • Money that contains behavior as well as value 

A Note On “Revolutionary”, as opposed to “Evolutionary”, Innovations

For truly original innovations (new paths, etc.) you have to combine two or more separate fields. (If the invention or idea was already somewhere else in your chosen field, then it’s not considered “revolutionary”; rather just “evolutionary”.) That amounts to saying that for truly creative innovations, you have to master (or at least have an overview of) more than one field. 

  • Neil Gershenfeld combining Physics and Computer Science 
  • Ed Boyden [3] applying Physics and EE to Neuroscience (his work on Optogenetics [4]) 

stand out.

Among research institutes, MIT Media Lab [5] provides the kind of environment where faculties and students across different disciplines work together and share the same space which leads to more cross-pollination of ideas. It’s no surprise that both Prof. Neil and Ed work at the Media Lab!