Artful Design with Ge Wang


I want to tell you a story about music,
computer science, and design. This is where I work. Now, I don’t just mean Stanford, I work underneath those chimneys
way in the back, behind MemChu.>>[LAUGH]
>>That’s the Nor and that is Stanford’s Center for Computer Research
in Music and Acoustics, CCRMA, CCRMA. And that’s me in my office. I’ve been here for about 12 years,
and, well, what is it that I do? I build things, I make things, I design. I design programming languages, software,
tools, musical instruments, toys, games, and social experiments on the surface
of music and music making. And I do this by writing a lot of code,
I love writing code. Code is my craft, I consider it my art and
it’s really my tool. And one of my ongoing research project
is a programming language called Chuck which can be used to synthesize sound but
also to generate music. As Dan mentioned,
I direct the Stanford Laptop Orchestra or also Mobile Phone Orchestra. We are MoPhO, Mobile Phone Orchestra.>>[LAUGH]
>>I also work on music making on mobile devices. As well as more recently
virtual reality from music, asking what does it mean
to play music in VR? What are musical instruments? What would they be like in VR and
what are the artistic, humanistic, and social implications of
the medium of virtual reality. Those are the kind of research
questions that drive this and all of these takes design, which is
something I want to note first of all. And it’s something that
every one of us do. It’s just something we humans do,
it’s also something that is all around us. I wanna give you an example of
something I designed when I first got here at Stanford. This is an app for your phone. It’s called Ocarina, [SOUND] and
you play it like this. [MUSIC] I could keep going, thank you very much.>>[APPLAUSE]
>>How does Ocarina work? Well, it works by blowing into
the microphone located at the bottom of the phone. For example, [SOUND] Pitch is
controlled by the multi-touch screen, [SOUND] And vibrato is controlled
by the tilting the phone. For example, [SOUND]. So this is the design of Ocarina and
if you look at the design, it’s actually not complex. It’s made to be simple. You don’t actually see an Ocarina on the
screen, you just see the functional parts, the buttons and
also the visualizations of your breath. And there’s a very specific reason for that is that well, I don’t want you to
feel like your phone is emulating Ocarina. I want you to feel that your phone
has become and is the Ocarina, right? I wanted to make the argument that what
you’re doing is a physical act and this is a physical artifact. This is Ocarina in game play mode. [MUSIC] You can see all the different elements
on screen respond to your interactions. It’s a way to make this feel furthermore
physical, it’s an organic thing. The circles of fall down the middle of
your screen prompts here’s how to play the next note,
this is kind of like Ocarina hero. But unlike Guitar Hero and Rock Band, the
sound is generated right on the device, actually in the app I mentioned
Chuck programming language. And that means every time
you play a song Ocarina, you get to shape it to be your own. It’s a little different every time. So it’s both kind of a toy and
a instrument but there’s another dimension to Ocarina and
that is a social dimension. In the same app, there is a visualization
of a globe on which you can listen to other people around the world,
blowing through their phones. [SOUND] from the East Coast,
who are these people?>>[LAUGH]
>>Well, in this case, it’s anonymous, and that’s actually part of the magic, right? This is an app that’s designed to not
tell you who’s on the other side. And that’s what makes you wonder. This is an anonymous social
network based on music. It can makes you say hey who’s that
playing Legend of Zelda theme song from Indonesia? I think that question is actually more
interesting when you don’t answer it and you can just think about it. Now, if there’s an underlying
philosophy in the Ocarina, it might be this,
technology should create calm. Let’s think about this for
a moment, right?>>[LAUGH]
>>This isn’t the statement that technology
will solve all our problems or technology is gonna create wealth,
it might do both of those things. Well, I don’t know if it’ll solve all our
problems but this is an aesthetic ideal, it’s that technology might bring
us some kind of inner peace. Example, this is a review left in
the App Store for Ocarina ten years ago. This is my peace on Earth,
I am currently deployed in Iraq, and hell on Earth is an everyday occurrence. The few nights I may have off, I am deeply
engaged in this app, The Globe Feature, that lets you hear everybody else
in the world playing is the most calming art I have ever
been introduced to. It brings the entire world
together without politics or war. It is the exact opposite of my life.>>[APPLAUSE]
>>Deployed US Soldier. Now, I can tell you that it feels
really freaking good when anyone use something that you’ve made. But this was on a different level. Something we made brought a moment
of peace to another human being. And there’s something intrinsically
valuable and good in that. And this is to say that
good design enables us, but maybe, just maybe great design is designed that seeks to understand
something about who we are like art. If you think about your favorite song,
your favorite movie, your favorite anything, right? I don’t think these things are great
because you’ve understood how great they are. Because I think you feel like they’ve
understood you as the person. And can the things we make with technology
try to understand who we are as humans, as a society. And this is what I really
mean by artful design, it’s something we strive
to do in everything we do. For example, in building instruments for
the laptop orchestra which consists of humans, a lot of laptops sitting on
audio interfaces, on a breakfast tray. We sit on meditation mats and pillows and we have special speakers that we’ve
fashioned out of IKEA salad bowls.>>[LAUGH]
>>Why do we do that? Well, we did that to make the sound
emanate locally from the instrument, from the computer that’s
actually generating it. Why do we do that? Well, because we value something still about how traditional acoustic
instruments make sound, they’re physical. If I were to play a violin in front of
you on the stage, with amplification, it would come from the artifact and
not from the PA system. There’s something, well, valuable in that,
and we want to kind of combine this thing that we value with, of course,
the new possibilities of the computer to generate sound and make fantastical
automation and new interactions. This is just one of 200 pieces
in the Laptop Orchestra that has been performed to date. This is a slot in concert hall,
[INAUDIBLE] [MUSIC] This particular of our hand. And when metaphorically pulling
us down out of the ground. [MUSIC] And on the VR front, this is a musical city designed
by my PhD student Kung Woo Kim. In this musical city well,
dusk becomes night as the stars come out, within the buildings come alive. Like with music,
every building can be controlled to affect musical parameters and
they all kind of vibe together [MUSIC] Now the Ferris wheel controls the tempo. So now things are really
starting to pick up. [MUSIC] And kinda see everything moves
at their own musical pace. Hey there’s a plane in the background and
there’s gonna be car and vehicles. [MUSIC] And things really start livening up,
and at some point, we go to the moon. And on the moon, there are two rabbits. Why are there rabbits on the moon? I can’t tell you, I don’t think Kung Woo
can tell you, but there they are, making kind of a musical stew. And from there a railroad
track emerges and on this railroad track track trains
carrying musical chords start to flow. [MUSIC] I don’t know about you,
but this puts me at peace. It brings a kind of calm,
it makes me think you know what? I wouldn’t mind living this city. I wouldn’t mind living in a world that
would have this kind of city, right? And even UFOs come out of the sky and
join in the chorus and they play little marimbas. [MUSIC] And then in the night,
everything peacefully turns off and the next day is ready to begin. Design is all about choices, right? All of these things went through
countless choices to be made and I think what I wanna say is that,
that means that actually we cannot help, but really tackle this question. How do we design ethically? What does it even mean
to design ethically? When I think of ethics and technology as well we don’t wanna do harm,
that’s certainly necessary. But do not evil actually seems like a really low bar if
that’s your only bar, right? Can we shape technology
to proactively do good? And what does good mean in that case? For us we try to use this
as a guiding question. How do we want to live
with our technologies? How do we wanna live, period? And how can we shape technology
in ways that support this kind of aesthetic vision, for
the way things ought to be, and just get a little bit
closer to that ideal. In this view, tomorrow’s designers, well, they have to be much
more than a specialist. But a kind of technological artist,
a moral-ethical inventor. And a system designer who
not only builds the thing, but really builds the thing
with the understanding of how that thing might fit into a greater
system, into society, into our world. In higher ed, you have the notion
of an I-shaped student. This is a student who specializes
in just one discipline, we’re like, well, we don’t want that. So then, we’re like,
we should maybe like T-shape students. You have some depth,
you have some breadth. I would like to talk about
the Pi shaped student. The Pi shaped student on one leg
is a disciplinary expertise. For example, computer science,
on the other leg is a kind of domain expertise something
you apply your discipline to. For me it was music, for
someone it could be public health. But this bar on top is what I
would call the aesthetic lens, is a philosophical, artistic moral
lens that gives broader meaning and context in bridging these two legs. Is this not the kind of student we
might wanna educate here at Stanford? Is this not the kind of person we
ourselves maybe wanna strive to be, right? In a way, that is,
I think, for me, kind of, part of our educational mission is
to really educate the full person. The full citizens by giving them the tools
with which to fashion themselves. And we’re doing this in
a number of classes. I teach this under a graduate class called
Designs that Understands Us, right? And by the way,
I put all this into a comic book.>>[LAUGH]
>>Which starts in my office, takes us to Bing and to various designs. And by the way, this too is research. The design of buildings, everyday
things like pencil bags, visual design. Instrument and interface design
from the theremin to artificial intelligence systems with
humans designed into the loop. Games is more than entertainment but
a mode of expression in mode of reflection to social design, design that connect us
and the think about what are the values? What do we really want
from our social tools. Just one final music example,
this is a social karaoke app. The was called karaoke and
like Ocarina you could listen to other people sing around the world but
anyone who hears this can add their voice in a plus one kind of way
into this world anonymous chorus. Now a woman reached out in
the wake of the 2011 tsunami and earthquake disaster and she, from Tokyo,
sang a rendition of Lean On Me. And she invited the world to join in song. And in a matter of weeks, 4,000 people
join in from all over the globe. This is what it sounds like
when it’s about 1,000 people. [MUSIC]>>[APPLAUSE]
>>So what does this all mean, right? I think what it means is that the thinks
we make today will come back to make us. The things we design and shape technology,
and how we do it will boomerang back and shape us as individuals and as societies. What we make, makes us. And so,
this in a nutshell is what I work on. It’s a kind of design for human
flourishing, asking what it means for us to flourish as individuals and
as a society. And this is artful design,
thank you very much.>>[APPLAUSE]

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