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A 3D-Printed Ear Explores What It Means to Be a Machine

Multimedia artist Saurabh Datta created a networked, 3D-printed ear that generates a portrait of its own beingness using sounds it picks up.
Images courtesy the artist

Networked with the internet, a 3D-printed ear appropriately titled, Ears After All, explores what it means to be a machine. Created by Saurabh Datta, a multimedia artist who incorporates science, technology and philosophy into his practice, the “hearing post” is fixed to a wall and listens to anything spoken in front of it.

Upon hearing phrases, the ear goes online and searches words related to itself like “hearing” and “sounds.” As this process unfolds, observers see this action on a side projection from what Datta calls the ear’s “backend terminal soul.” To represent the audience, Datta built a speaking post that recites poems filled with words related to sound (contributed by CyRus).


To wire up the 3D-printed ear, Datta combined a hacked TP link router running openWRT along with a USB sound card, microphone, ext root from a micro-SD card, range finder, Arduino Nano, and power module. The listening station is made of an Arduino nano, mp3 module, servo, and speaker.

“We are surrounded by technologies that the majority of us do not understand,” says Datta. “They have become a ubiquitous part of our lives intentionally or unintentionally, both by technocratic as well as marketing/consumerist decisions. We intend to use these technologies without understanding a basic brief of how they govern and impact our lives and opinions.”

“[Another] aspect it's trying to ascribe is how behaviors and underlying architecture can be deciphered with applying behavioral ascriptions—a.k.a., metaphorical representations—to working machines,” he adds. “The last ascription is about what it means to be a being as a machine. To really understand we have to detach ourselves from being a being of our definitions and [think] both aesthetically and action-wise as that of the subject, a.k.a., machine.”

So, while Datta’s Ears After All shows viewers how to understand the consumer technology that we use, not to mention how future AI may work, it also tells us something about being human. That is, how we think of the self, based not just on words from our mother tongues, but how input from our other senses impacts our brains and therefore our conscious realities. Watch it in action below:


EarsAfterAll from Saurabh on Vimeo.

Click here to see more work by Saurabh Datta.


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