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User Preferences: Tech Q&A With Jinha Lee

Each week we chat about the tools of the trade with one outstanding creative to find out exactly how they do what they do.

Each week we chat about the tools of the trade with one outstanding creative to find out exactly how they do what they do. The questions are always the same, the answers, not so much. This week: Jinha Lee. Click here for more User Preferences Tech Q&As.

The Creators Project: Who are you and what do you do?
Jinha Lee: I am doing research on human-computer interaction. I am currently a PhD student at the MIT Media Lab. My research explores interactions between humans, physical objects, space, and digital information. One of my goals is to go beyond familiar or natural interfaces, and think of what ideal interactions humans may dream of (even though it may have a form that humans have never experienced). To understand the dream and the makeup of humanity, I try to expose myself to mythologies and tales from the old days. Levitated interfaces, a pen that penetrates the computer screen, and the first spatial 3D desktop computer are the results of such thinking.



What hardware do you use?
As I start drawing the first stroke of my idea in sketches, I start planning the software/hardware implementation and physical fabrication in parallel. They are completely interwoven and recursive processes. Tools make me think, and thoughts make me find new tools.

Machine: Macbook Pro
Sensor: Kinects, Hackable Webcams, Analog Sensors
Displays: new displays from industries (OLED, LCDs, etc.)
Fabrication: 3D printer/laser cutter.

What software do you use?
I use C++, C#, opengl, XNA on the visual studio. OpenFrameworks is useful to sketch out interaction ideas quickly. Kinect SDK also provides very useful features these days, which made me work on Windows over Linux/Mac.

See-Through 3D Desktop

If money were no object, how would you change your current setup?
Screen space is the most scarce resource. I would love to work with about 15 big screens that are surrounding me in a circle. Lots of 3D printers with variable materials/resolution would be also great to have. More ambitiously, it would be great if I could work with people who can replicate or scale up the prototypes that I create.

What fantasy piece of technology would you like to see invented?
Interfaces/networks between people and plants or other biological systems. The plants sense and speak very slowly, but they can see many important things that humans cannot about the environment. Such interfaces will allow us to reflect on our lives more deeply and to realize that we are a part of a bigger system, which I think will bring harmony to earth.


Is there any piece of technology that inspired you to take the path you did?
Rather than technologies, I am more inspired by mythologies. Learning what people have dreamed of and desired gives me more inspiration than technologies that are currently available. For example, ZeroN was inspired by tales about liberating physical matter from gravity and enabling control: golems, alchemists, and so on.

What’s your favorite piece of technology from your childhood?
Legos and the "science box" (mechanical construction kits for kids in Korea) were my favorite relic pieces. I used to know how to build almost anything with these kits at the time, ranging from a trebuchet for driving crows away from our dining table to a space shuttle.