It's been a long time since humans regularly communicated with smoke signals, but Köln International School of Design students Niklas Ißelburg and Jakob Kilian are starting a revival—but with a healthy addition of lasers and binary code.
Their project, Binairy Talk, interprets typed sentences and jets the data from a sending module to a receiving module through puffs of smoke. The sending module uses a speaker and a sound generator to propel the smoke forward, and the receiving module uses array of lasers and a custom Arduino 'smoke ring interpreter' to read the puffs. Thus, a digital message (typed through a text input interface on one computer) can be read by a second computer. Imagine one computer taking a big drag on a cigar and smoothly blowing a ring at its friend to share a thought like, Yeah, I'm pretty cool.
This transformation gives a physical form to data—which is exactly the point that Isselburg and Kilian are trying to make. They wrote in the project description, "The hidden processes of the digital world are transfered into the analog world whereby the apparent immateriality and infallibility of the computer language is overcome." The smoke rings turn information into a more tangible (though still fleeting) format.
Perhaps one day we'll find modern computer communication as ineffective and unreliable as we now think of classic smoke signals—or maybe computers will frequently chat with one another through some Gandalf-like ring blowing magic.