tinder (concept project) (2012)


MIT Media Lab, Tangible Interfaces


Presentation Slides:

tinder is a cognitive prosthetic to address long term ideation.

  • capturing ideas, instantly
  • marinating ideas, perpetually
  • igniting ideas, magically

Capture – available, simple accessories

The capturing interface for tinder is deceptively simple and is an attempt to remove friction from long term idea generation. Often, we are reluctant to capture new ideas as they appear in our heads because our “inboxes” are clumsy, unavailable, or too complex. When we write down ideas in sketchbooks or on backs of napkins they often end up in a jumbled pile of notes, or filed away forever in a dusty file cabinet, or simply discarded after their usefulness has expired. Digital tools exacerbate the problem because they make capturing ideas as easy as bookmarking a web page. We suddenly have an overwhelming backlog of digital detritus, all at one point representing interesting ideas but now stifling our creativity. Indeed, by the time we pull our cell phones to tap out an idea, the initial spark of joy has already left the thought.

tinder provides a very simple capturing interface (i.e. the tinder, itself) – cheap, disposable scraps of magic paper that are always available on our desks or in our pocket; an ordinary pen or pencil is more than adequate to mark these pieces of tinder. Our minds are calmed because we can externalize ideas until we’re ready to deal with them.

Marinate – processing, powerful tinderbox

It is good to have holding places for ideas. By putting our thoughts in external holding bins, the ideas have a chance to marinate over the long term. Indeed, this is the heart of long term creative sparks. The longer ideas remain in a holding pattern, the more chance they have to connect in new and beautiful patterns. We grow in wisdom and can apply new contexts and perspective to these ideas. In fact, in early childhood development, the ability to make semantic connections between ideas is critical to normal cognitive growth [Beckage, Smith & Hills, 2011]

The tinderbox is a computationally powerful device disguised as an elegant wooden box. The box is wirelessly connected to cloud-based APIs that provide access to handwriting recognition, machine learning, and semantic network modeling algorithms. It detects and processes the content of every idea placed inside; the system organizes, optimizes, and reshuffles ideas in the semantic map based on everything from what is in current news headlines to the mood of the user. We feel a quiet confidence when we can find our ideas marinating as long as necessary in a brine of computational augmentation.

Ignite – revealing, magic tinder

When we are ready to address our long-term ideas, we simply remove the pieces of tinder from the tinderbox and begin to play. We notice that one of the pieces is glowing. We don’t need to know why, but tinder wants us to notice this spark. (In reality, the system’s algorithms have predicted that this piece of tinder contains a particularly relevant idea).

The heart of tinder is a new material called papyro. This paper-like material has sensor and computational matrices woven among its pulp fibers. Each piece of tinder, made of papyro, has a unique signature and fine-grained proprioception (a sense of position and motion), so it can compute its location relative to other pieces of tinder. Because papyro contains smart ink and luminescent tint, as we spread and shuffle the scraps on our desk, the luminescence spreads across the tinder and is constantly shifting as we reposition and decontextualize these ideas.

Finally, when we have a pile of tinder glowing brightly, we can “ignite” the stack by drawing a matchstick and making a striking gesture. Something amazing happens when a pile of tinder ignites. The nanobots that make up the papyro start to self-assemble into one, larger piece of tinder… a bigger idea that is the synthesis of the others. papyro is paper-like, so I can simply tear off pieces of the idea I don’t like or fold the paper to see multiple sides of an argument. If I want to add another idea, I can push one piece of tinder into the other and the papyro will melt together. If this new idea goes back into the tinderbox, the semantic network model will update, as well.