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About Claytronics

The Appearance of Thought in the Behavior of Machines 

Today, computing engages a user's senses of sight and hearing through video and audio devices whose effects the user must integrate in his or her mind.  Suppose that electronic media could offer users an active form of original information that would fully integrate sight and sound and add the sense of touch for the user experience.  Suppose that the person using information could interact physically with it.  This is the concept of claytronics, which is also known as programmable matter.  Through this medium, users would engage with information in realistic, 3-dimensional forms -- represented in the immediacy of the user's personal space.   

Emsemble Canvas

Creation of claytronics technology is the bold objective of collaborative research between Carnegie Mellon and Intel, which combines nano-robotics and large-scale computing to create synthetic reality, a revolutionary, 3-dimensional display of information.  The vision behind this research is to provide users with tangible forms of electronic information that express the appearance and actions of original sources. 

The objects created from programmable matter will be scalable to life size or larger.  They will be likewise reducible in scale. Such objects will be capable of continuous, 3-D motion.  Representations in programmable matter will offer to the end-user an experience that is indistinguishable from reality.  Claytronic representations will seem so real that users will experience the impression that they are dealing with the original object.

Claytronic emulation of the function, behavior and appearance of individuals, organisms and objects will fully mimic reality - and fulfill a well-known criterion for artificial intelligence formulated by the visionary mathematician and computer science pioneer Alan Turing. 

A Representation of Reality That Passes the 'Turing Test'

In 1950, in a groundbreaking article, Turing asked "Can Machines Think?"  and offered a criterion to "refute anyone who doubts that a computer can really think."  His proposal was that "if an observer cannot distinguish the responses of a programmed machine from those of a human being, the machine is said to have passed the Turing Test."

Although the Turing Test remains a robust source of discussion among those who devote their lives to artificial intelligence, philosophy and cognitive science, claytronics conceives of a technology that will surpass the Turing Test for the appearance of thought in the behaviors of a machine.

The seemingly magical quality of this media is suggested by the Greek word, pario (paree-oh), which means "to make" or "to bring forth," a transformation of data into delightful forms that will echo the mythical power of the ancient artist Pygmalion whose command brought to life the statue Galatea.

By enabling the representation of tangible, realistic three-dimensional objects across networks, claytronic media -- or programmable matter -- promise to provide users of digital information with a transforming experience.  To learn more, read this article on programmable matter published in Computer, the IEEE Computer Society Magazine.  Then review the following slides that present the vision of claytronics as this dynamic technology is evolving in the Carnegie Mellon-Intel Claytronics Research Project.