Darwin: This week's podcast is with Ali Momeni - I'm sure many of you have interacted with them in some way, whether it was during this time at Summit in Paris, maybe at University of Minnesota, or maybe currently at Carnegie Mellon. He's a incredible educator and he gets involved in many, many things. We dive into a lot of that in this podcast. I hope you enjoy. I first met Ali via email. He was part of the early Max discussion mail lists and has always been active in that community and active in a lot of other communities as well. I first met him face to face, when he was working up in Minneapolis and his involvement with the Spark Festival there when I was invited to do some performances, he is just one of these tireless inventors and creators. I did an interview with him in 2010 for the Cycling '74 website but I really wanted a chance to interview him for this podcast. Hi, Ali, how are you? I like to start these discussions, these conversations with having you share a little bit about your background. Why don't you tell us, how you got to where you are today?
Ali Momeni: Sure. Well, I'm actually an Iranian citizen as well as an American citizen so my story starts in different continents and I found my way into the creative practices through what might seem like a very indirect route, but finally as inspiration for many first-generation immigrant who may have had various societal pressures to become one thing or another as adults, I'll say that I was not intended to be an artist as an occupation. I found myself in the States at the age of 12 and I studied physics in undergraduate because I was a pre-med students. You know, I had some ideas that I was going to be a doctor, like many other Iranians that moved to the States in their teens. I had a really, really critical person in my life, a piano teacher by the name of Marcantonio Barone in the Philadelphia area whose relationship I really owe to my mother, like many other things.
I owe to my mother, but he's the person that really allowed me to take the arts more seriously than I'd ever considered. And Ironically he offered to help me become a music major late in the game. So I finished the physics major in the first two years and I realized I had two more years and I could do something else. Tony really generously offered to bring me up to date on all that was taught in the first two years of undergraduate music theory, harmony, counterpoint, all that stuff in a matter months under one condition, and the condition was that I wouldn't make music my livelihood. Which was a very interesting condition to impose. I'm glad to say that after all the years I've actually now met that condition because I'm firmly grounded in the visual arts. I still have a lot of musical interests obviously, but I work more and more with things, objects, structures in the direction of sculpture and architecture and all that is the augmented, expanded versions of that.
I came out of the music world. I went to UC Berkeley, and was a researcher and a composer at the center for new music and audio technology. So people like David Wessel and Edmund Campion, and many others, like Adrian Freed, these people were really, really critical to my development, and I still consider them very important mentors. After graduate school with my composition degree, I took some time and lived abroad in Paris for a while and really tried the life of a musical maker. It was a difficult one for a number of reasons that are, you know, kind of in the old times now and maybe not even so much so interesting to get into anymore but, what became possible around the time I got out of grad school, 2005, 2006 was that many university programs were beginning interdisciplinary arts programs.
I landed a very, very, very, what turned out to be a productive position for me at the university of Minnesota. Since my background was in music, my degree was in music, but the things that I was making at that time were more sculptures. They gave me the choice of whether I wanted to be in music or in art. I chose art because there was so much more that came with it in terms of facilities and spaces and resources and new things to learn for me. Which has always been a motivation for me, I'm a lifelong students and constantly looking for, I dunno, maybe even going back to school at some point. It seems ridiculous since I have a PhD but, I can imagine three, four other things I'd like to get a PhD in but, we're only going to live to be 80.
And then I have to pick my battles. And, after Minnesota ended up at Carnegie Mellon University, firmly in sculpture in the school of arts where I've done a lot of works that are really about the extensions of the arts outside of the gallery and the museum. While I'm interested in those venues still, I'm increasingly interested in how art thinking and humanities thinking can affect a whole host of other fields from the obvious ones like design, architecture, industrial design, and product design to the now obvious ones like social media and physical computing and all that. But also to governance and public policy and urban planning and all the other places where artists have now started to find a place for themselves where they can express their superpowers, but also make important contributions to larger communities than the museum goers and gallery goers.
Darwin: Well, that's really interesting you've opened the door forA lot of things I'd like to talk to about because there's a lot there, but I am fascinated by this idea that your music mentor wanted to divert your attention from trying to make a living at it. Did he ever say why he made that stipulation?
Ali: He did and he didn't. He and I were very close and we had a lot of conversations that had a lot of unspoken moments with plenty of understanding flowing underneath. In retrospect, I think there were two reasons why he said that, one is the obvious one that if you have a passion, the recipe for ruining that passion is to rely on it for your livelihood. Which will surely force you to exploit your passion and however many ways people make known to you or the world makes available to you, and I understand what he meant by that. In some ways for me prioritizing teaching, luckily because I love it so much, but teaching has been the way that I've been able to monetize my interest in the arts. At the same time there was another current under his comment that was more about my mother. I think somewhere along the line he knew that my mother was interested in me having a safe career and music is not, you know, a known safe career in the world. So in some ways out of his respect for my mother he laid that commission down and implicitly gave me the permission to break it, obviously since he was allowing me to now officially pursue a major that could lead to other things.
Darwin: That's really interesting, because there is this fabric of art or music is not being a very satisfying career thing. I know certainly when my mother tries to explain to people what it is that I do, she never talks about me being a creative or me being involved even in software development. What she always talks about is the fact that I teach there's something about teaching that has a respect level for our parents that sort of helps them cope with the idea that we've taken on this creative life. That's very interesting. So let's talk a little bit about your decision to focus on art when your education would have implied music, even teaching music. I mean certainly having gone through the program at Berkeley you were put in a position where you could have pursued a music education opportunity. But that program is kind of interesting because it also does have this embrace of a multidisplinary life. Certainly their use of coding, their use of sort of like inventing things within the program is pretty well known. For a while you were a star of that program wouldn't you say? I mean, it's probably hard for you to say that.
Ali: That place is really important to me. I learned so much from that place, not just about techniques and repertoire and all that stuff, but also about how to deal with collaboration and how to look for exciting opportunities between the arts and the sciences. So, yeah, very formative for me. As for how it is that I'm now in a school of art as opposed to a school of music I can relate it to how my mentors would respond to this, and again I very quickly concretely think of four or five mentors that are all based in California, who are in some ways connected to music. So starting with my dissertation advisor, David Wessel, he's someone who is so committed to music and, what I loved about David in terms of his witnessing my transition to the arts was that he just expressed that ultimately nonjudgmental quality that he has towards everything and everyone.
And he knew that if I were to enter the arts I would be one of the artists who was more aware of musical sensibility than the others, and I wouldn't lose my footing in music. As for Adman, who was also the co-signer of my dissertation, he actually recognized very early on that there is an incredible opportunity for musicians, for sound artists within the world of contemporary art. He thought that actually that particular aspect of contemporary art at that time, this was in the nineties, was quite impoverished. In comparison to the level of rigor that you see in electroacoustic music at places like IRCAM or whatever. So that seemed like a positive even in terms of a career choiceto him. I had another mentor in California is a really, really important person to me.
He is Adrian Freed the research director at CNMAT and he was someone though, again, his personal interest had always been in music and a very deep emotional connection to music that drove him to find out about the music of many parts of the world. What I learned from him was that musicians and musical thinking has so much to teach so many other people. So the way that he started, for instance, that whole movement of working on Open Sound Control. And now we just see the irony of how open sound control is more often than not used to control, not sound but other things. So I think Adrian was one to realize early on that the kind of demands that musicians have for accuracy, for precision, for timing, for control, for real time, for intuitive interaction, these things are going to very important for a lot of people.
And, you know, lo and behold, 10 years later we see that more and more, of these requirements are important for people working with Arduinos and the fiscal computing world and all of that. Another really important California mentor for me is a fellow by the name of Jay Butler. He is in some ways an informal, self-selected godfather of mine. And he too spent a lot of time in the music business as a road manager and he traveled with big acts all over the world in the seventies and eighties. He's someone who, again, every time I showed him something that I'd done, the first thing that he would respond with was, wow, you could take this and take it to some other place that was so far away from this concert stage. I remember early on, you know, 15 years ago thinking, wow, Jay really sees something in this that I should be seeing also.
And then maybe finally my other favorite California, I'll mention them even as a pair of Leticia Sonami and Paul de Merinos who are, again, really, really formative for me and they've been very helpful to me in sorting out what I do with sound and music. And both of them, if you look at their trajectory, they started with a very explicit interest in music and improvisation and building instruments and, and all those hacky things that led to the world of Max and pure data and whatnot. But then to have realized that musicians can show so much to non-musical audiences outside of musical venues. So both of them have had careers that have evolved fairly far and deep into the galleries and museums and public works. Really concentrating on the making aspect of musicianship as well as the sound making aspect of it.
Darwin: Right that's absolutely true. I'm constantly reminded of that. I have a small teaching practice in an art school. And one of the things that I'm constantly seeing is sort of parallels between what we might've done as musicians and composers and what the art world is moving to. To the point where concepts with sequencing concepts with, harmonization and stuff like that, all those sort of conceptual tools that musicians have dealt with for years and years are starting to be understood as having a place within the broader art world. And it's really interesting to see that embrace taking place. Now, I have a question for you, many of, or all of the mentors really that you just described, save for this first music teacher, have been Californians, but you are very specifically not a California based guy. You were at university of Minnesota for awhile. Now you're at Carnegie Mellon down in, Pittsburgh. How do you keep in contact with them and keep that sort of creative flow going with your mentors when there's that physical distance? Do you travel out there a lot or do you keep in contact or is it more kind of a psychic connection?
Ali: There's definitely a psychic connection. I find that as I get older and they get older and our schedules become more complex, that psychic connection finally becomes more and more important. And at some point when one of us passes that is the connection that lives on. I took pleasure in hearing you say that I'm distinctly, so categorically, not a California guy. It's actually, oddly enough, whenever I've lived outside of California and that's been most of my life, I was only in California for about four years during the Berkeley years. Everyone that I'm around has tended to think that I'm kind of a California guy. So in Pittsburgh I'm probably as California as it gets. But, I have to say that at least looking back at my last 20 years or so, I tend to move every four years or so, and I tend not to go back to places. California is not going anywhere and my love affair with California is certainly not going anywhere.
So I would be reluctant to say that I'm never going to live there again. I'd be happy to find another opportunity and try a different part of the world, but I've really followed my nose on places that I've moved to. So when I moved to France after Berkeley was really to see how composition and electric mystic music can really function within a society when there is actually a state structure, governance structure that supports it. That clearly isn't in place in America, whereas it's clearly in place in France, and that was important for me. Then the next shift going to university of Minnesota that was distinctly a decision to start learning how to make things. When they gaveme that opportunity to be in the school of art that was really a no brainer.
I stepped into a scenario where I had access to every piece of machine fabrication that you could dream of and all these big studios and a lot of people who are really craftsmen and thinkers and doers and makers. So it happened to be Minnesota, but I loved Minnesota. I had my hard times with the winter and the distance among people and all that, but I could not be more grateful for everything that community taught me in those years really brought me a lot of the works that I made. All of the works that I made that got me the job at Carnegie Mellon were made during that time with the help of that whole world. And then for Carnegie Mellon, I really wanted to be in a scenario where I can start to apply the work that I'm doing in the arts to areas outside of the arts in a very direct and distinct way.
And that was harder at a giant public research, like the big 10 university, whereas that Carnegie Mellon is smaller, it's more intimate, there's a long history of interdisciplinary working and thinking. It's a kind of money talks and BS walks sort of place to be. So you've really done a lot of stuff and you're ready to put in energy people recognize that energy and support your venture. So yeah, I mean, going along this way I'm not quite sure what the next stage might be, but who knows maybe I'll be living in Shenzen for a couple of years learning some other technique. Mostly I probably practicing my backhand cause I'm also a ping-pong addict and be great to do that.
Darwin: Well, we're going to have to meet up at a ping pong table at some point I used to be a pretty serious ping-ponger at one time. It's been a while, so I'm probably a little rusty, but it's like riding a bike. Well, one of the things I would say is that in the places that you've been you certainly left your Mark. And not all necessarily just in the artistic community, although you've often used artistic community, sort of as a lever. I know, certainly in Minnesota, you know, you really helped expand what Doug had done with the spark festival into, I would say, being a bigger or a more expansive festival and you had that street art project with the bikes. I can't remember the name of it right off the top of my head.
And that was kind of interesting because I noticed that if you go and do Google searches or documents searches on it, that was a project that really caught the interest of the community at large. It was something that at least seemed like you had to have some level of interaction with local government in order to be able to pull that off. And it certainly left a Mark on the community, which I think is a tenant for great locational art. Now you are in Pittsburgh, which is actually a smaller town. And I would assume that CMU probably, represents a pretty influential existence in the in the city. Do you think that opens more doors to do doing things like this? Where you are sort of like igniting the interest of the community?
Ali: Yeah, there are a lot of opportunities like that here. You're right, Pittsburgh is a little bit smaller than Minneapolis, but while some of the things about these are quite different, the demographics are quite different, the culture is quite different. There are a lot of things about the two places that are also very close and similar. They're both very ambitious cities right now that are turning over a certain period in their life and becoming very attractive to other people that are looking for new American cities that offer a lot of affordances that the big cities don't offer. So there is a kind of buzz around that can be muted at times, but there's a buzz about what we can get started there. Very similar opportunities in support for the arts. I have to say the state of Minnesota, you know, it beats every other state in the country in terms of what it provides for its artists.
So that level of, the foundations and the old families, and that kind of activity that I was able to get started in Minnesota maybe a bit harder to get started in Pittsburgh, not to mention that it's really hilly here and it rains a lot, so that project would have to change if it were to get started here. But, what I am more and more involved in now, which is also in many ways a community driven and a kind of meta project, is that I've become a lot more interested in the pedagogy of this very complex medium of ours that in my case, and in your case, and many others also have started in music, but now it's coming into the visual arts through physical computing. But now it's also coming into product design and cultural innovation and all those things. CMU and Pittsburgh are definitely good places to be for those kinds of activities.
I've been able to gain access to both, colleagues outside of my area and the engineering's, but also communities way outside of Pittsburgh that are aware of and interested in working with us because it is Carnegie Mellon and it does have a long history of bringing different disciplines together. So, yeah, I am starting a bunch of things up, but I'm leaving the Mall Project in Minneapolis. I think that was a thing that's bigger than me now in some ways, it's kind of gone and, you know, I'm one of the admins on the website and I rarely make changes. So I'm really delighted to see that, that a project like that lives on and hopefully whatever I get started here will live beyond my years also.
Darwin: Right well, let's talk about some of the things you're doing at Carnegie Mellon. One of the things I know is that you're involved in a project called Art Fab. When I dig into what it is that Art Fab's doing it looks like the maker world on steroids. My father was a co-owner of a manufacturing company, but it was a small manufacturing company, so I grew around walking, you know, into welder shops or the big lathe shops and stuff like this. I got to see things being made. And there's a part of my DNA that's wired to be and into sort of the actual creation of physical objects. I look at what art fab is doing and it looks like you are exploring every possibility for sort of that maker thing, but in a very creative way. Can you explain a little bit, first of all, what the art fab is and then what it is that your doing in conjunction with it?
Ali: Sure. So art fab is a facility within the school of art at Carnegie Mellon university, and the school of art divides very neatly, more or less into 2d, 3d, and 4d. 2d being drawing, painting, print making, and photography. 3d being site-specific and installation sound, which is my area. And 4d being new media video, performance, animation, everything was a timeline. Normally if someone had looked at my CV five years ago they would have thought that I would fit into the 4d area. Whereas Carnegie Mellon, I owe it to my colleagues, they decided to make a very decisive and strategic hire in choosing me to be in sculpture. So obviously me being in sculpture at a school that was decked out with a traditional wood shop, and traditional metal shop, and even a small Foundry in addition to all the other things like ceramics. And of course, painting, drawing, all that stuff.
That was a decision they made. They wanted to see what would happen if someone with a background like mine were to start rethinking and reorganizing and advancing what they do with making objects. So when I came to CMU and the CMU style, there is a certain part of the building that is essentially my domain, and that area was comprised of the wood shop, a small assembly room for woodworking, and then the metal area with welding and also a fairly out of sorts, out of date, retired, foundry for metal casting work. When I arrived here they really gave me a lot of support and I kind of kept on deciding what to do with these facilities. And the direction that I've been trying to push things is first, to build an arsenal of sophisticated machine fabrication tools. Second, to build a whole scaffolding of software and resources and tutorials and courses that help people use those things.
And third, to try to connect to all of that to the real world. For me that connection is one in combining digital fabrication with traditional fabrication. So that's something that Art Fab is very interested in. We have all the typical things like the CNC routers and 3d printers and laser cutters, but we're more and more building, let's say, traditional fabrication tools like vacuum forming and steam bending and whatnot, which pair really nicely with digital fabrication. So we're making sure that while our students get exposed to CAD and CAM and their first year as student, as a freshman here they also learn how to make molds and use plastics and weld and use their hands and how to hold the hammer and all that stuff. So Art Fab is, in that way, it's a bit different than your usual tinkering studio or your usual maker-space or hackerspace.
I did actually make a physical computing lab for CMU for the first time in a long time. Surprising Carnegie Mellon school of art didn't have something like that, but now we have Art Fab Blue we call it, is a very comfortable and very well-stocked and decked out space for doing all that is, you know, in between the digital and the physical. So the Arduino world, the wireless world, we're doing a lot of work with robotics and off the shelf robotics, and quad-copters, and all that stuff. But geographically in the building that space is right next to a traditional wood shop, right above a welding shop, and also right above the big assembly space with the routers and the vacuum formers and whatnot. So a lot of what we're doing is trying to bring all of those different media to an equal footing without privileging that digital over the analog or the other way. Making all those things available to students. More and more what I see, students that really don't care if it's digital or analog or whatever, you know, they grew up with all of it as one. So, I'm trying to build a facility where we teach all of it as not really different from another. Just different choices of how you make things.
Darwin: Right. That's really interesting because this sort of like meshing of analog and digital processing, first of all I think it's brilliant because, if for no other reason just from a practical standpoint. The practicalities of saying, I'm a digital artist that works in 3d space so everything I do has to be formed by either a CNC router or a a 3d printer, is really limiting given the deep history that there is in some of these other making systems. I mean, you talk about things like steam bending or mold making. I mean, mold making is fascinating. What you can get from a created mold is much different than what a 3d printer is going to create. So I think it's really awesome that you're introducing people not only to the most current digital form of making, but also to some really deep historical methods as well.
I think that's fabulous. But the other thing that I would say about that is that you must end up with really interesting sort of cross cultural decisions being made. You know for example, getting who primarily work on a screen to t find ways to take that screen-based information and turn it into something physical. It's one thing when you have like 3d printer or a router, it's another thing when you have a complete workshop, a wood woodworking shop or complete metalworking shop. what are some of the more adventurous ways that you see people jumping the shark from one discipline to another?
Ali: Yeah, good question. I have to say that I really owe it to our students here, our undergraduates, and our graduate students, but the undergrads you really noticed because they haven't been exposed to a lot when they come in. So they're just picking things up without any judgment. We are very fortunate here, I mean, we really have some super, super superstar wonder grads that come in. I mean I can't even imagine this, I was born in 1975, but they come in as a freshmen and they've already, you know, been exposed to openFrameworks and Processing and they did an Arduino project in 11th grade. And now they're ready to put on their fourth website on the internet. We're getting these students coming in, but at the same time, you know, you can't kid yourself. Some of these students actually don't know how to hold a hammer, right?
Literally. So the first day when you have an assignment for them, where after they become familiar with rhino and they built this thing that they're going to cut on the router. They cut the thing, and then you have these pieces of materials and there we have this amazing circus of, you know, people trying to handle materials in the real world and use sandpaper and, you know, none of that stuff is really obvious. So you have to be taught. And there's a lot of scaffolding that goes into that. But what I do see that's positive is that when you introduce something to someone that's a complete workflow, and because of this cultural awareness they have of, data being transportable data from one place can just go into another place and become some other thing.
Then you can actually get through fairly complex processes with people in short amounts of time. So for instance, I have a deep interest in folding and origami and just as a means of fabrication, the economy that produces and the portability. So I do a project with the students where they find something and they make a model of it. And with the, you know, fairly approachable off the shelf workflow that's available, they unfold these structures, and then they cut them out and put them back together and then somehow make them presentable. So that really, you know, five, ten years ago that kind of workflow is not accessible to a lot of people. Whereas now, I see that students within a week, within two weeks, they can turn around projects that bring in a lot of different work processes together. The same with the whole world of printmaking that you know, is very active at CMU.
So we have a big print shop with silkscreens and, you know, big presses and everything. And a student comes and they've made an image that actually started as an analog photograph, but then they scanned it and vectorized it and moved it around. And now they're going to cut it on the router on a woodblock, but then they're going to take it back and print on paper with it. So that whole process is really very exciting for me. When someone is finding the right tools for the right stages of a process so that you don't get too far from your concept because of the tools. So it seems like an ironic solution to a problem that tools can cause, but when these workflows are arranged for people and all of it is in the same space, I think really magical things can happen, you know.
Darwin: Well, in a situation like that where someone, you know, goes through this process, and I think most people in the digital world have followed you in that workflow right up to the point where the CNC router created a woodblock. And then all of a sudden it's like, Oh, and somehow ink gets applied to that and it gets put on paper, which has to be handled in some sort of way. And I think people just, all of a sudden sort of conceptually for people coming from a digitally focused world, well, magic happened, right? How do you manage that? Do you work with other instructors at CMU and sorta like pass the students off or do you personally embrace the technology so that you can work with them throughout the entire workflow
Ali: Yeah. Very good question. I'll tell you exactly what I do. I learn all of the technologies first time myself. It's I find it very difficult for these kinds of things, especially when you're in the shop with students and responsible for their safety and interested in their success. It's really hard to delegate, the basic knowledge of how things work. So my workflow at CMU has been to, you know, find a set of things that we need to do a large number of things. So again, an economy of tools applied in very different ways to very different workflows. And then I design a course around it. So a good example is a course that I started to teach last year as a first semester freshmen course, the course is called, "Hey robot, let's make something". And this course is a mini, so it's only seven weeks.
And this is really a testament to the level of energy that the students bring to it. In the seven weeks the students learn how to use rhino 3d quite well, and they get introduced to a laser cutter and then a CNC router, and then a 3d printer if they want, or some kind of mold making scheme. So, you know, the way it goes is I show up the first day and I have a series of things to teach them. And then they have 10 hours of homework to do in one week, which is legit at CMU and the second week they show up and they have to pass a test. And the test is that I bring six small objects, five calipers, and a ruler, and they all trade and 15 minutes per object, you make a model of it. And you'd just be amazed at how rapidly that can go.
If you just try to employ some of the teaching techniques that I think our friends in computer science and engineering, especially at CMU have been very aware of for a long time. You can actually get people to, you know, in a very accelerated way, become comfortable with complex workflows. But now to really address your question, I'll just tell you the evolution of this course. My goal, my dream really at CMU is to find these opportunities like teaching a course for freshmen called Hey robot, Let's make something" that shows them the ropes for how to use the basic machine fabrication schemes that are everywhere. So the 3d printer, the laser cutter, and the CNC router. And then, I try to find people that can teach these courses instead of me. Ideally even better than me and I pass off the courses to them and I pick a new battle.
So what we've done now is this course is going to become a staple in the school of art. It will be offered every semester for freshmen and it will be taught by, you know, for the first time, I'm very lucky to have one of our very talented superstar MFA alumni, Steve Gersh, who's going to teach it for me. And we talked a lot about how the course should change. And we made a very critical decision. "Hey robot, let's make something" is now going to become a course where you use a robot to make something that is going to help you make something else with your hands. So this is like the school of art way of thinking about these kinds of things. So that right away means the thing that the machine spews out is not done. That is not the end. So there'll be a whole section on jigs and dyes. There'll be a whole section on making mold negatives. There'll be a whole section on stencil. So all these ways of working with machine fabrication that just gives you a very, very accurate, effective, precise tool for doing something that finally is with your hands. I'm pretty confident that that course is going to be a lot richer that way, and I'm really glad to have Steve's help. And I'm looking forward to seeing what the students do with that.
Darwin: That's a real interesting evolution to consider going from, having the goal be to create something, changing it to where the goal is to create tools to make even more complex futures. That's pretty amazing. That's a great twist. But I would also say that that probably is kind of another hallmark of your work over the years. I would say that you have been, you yourself have been a toolmaker of some sort for as long as I've known of you. Going back to different libraries that you made and shared for the Max community, your work on the maxuiino project to introduce the Arduino into the visual programming world. Some of the early things you were doing with conectivity between devices. I know right now you're very active in working in some other microprocessor systems. You actually are part of this UDOO world that I'm currently obsessed with. What is it about toolmaking that you personally find satisfying? Because it seems like it's been something that has kind of been a thread throughout your entire career.
Ali: Yeah, I absolutely do. Maybe it's just my sign, you know, I'm a Sagittarius and I'm a knowledge seeker and system builder and looking up 45 degrees the whole time. So kind of looking over the hill at what might come of what I do as opposed to, you know, what will I do. In the music community, again, I owe it to Max and Wessel and Adrian and all those people that made so many wonderful things. Matt Wright is someone I should mention, also. I should have mentioned him earlier. He is so critical to me just learning how to deal with complicated problems and complicated environments, but you're right in the last year or so I've become very interested in this whole embedded platform world, starting with the Raspberry PI and now the UDOO that we're involved with CMU and the University of Sienna, right.
What I'm really interested in there is to see if we can do a redo to kind of start over and see what, after all that's been done since Arduino 0.9, 10 years ago. What can we do now with physical computing education that will really allow us to not start with a deficiency in some place or another. And I'll give you as an example, something that is anecdotally really dear to me. About, it must've been 10 years ago now, one day I was sitting at cinema at my desk and, you know, slaving away on some Max problem. And David Wessel comes into the room, freaking out about this thing called support vector machines. So he comes in and he says, Ali, I've been reading all night, the support vector machines, they're going to change the world.
This is 2003, right. And I say, okay David, that's cool. So, you know, what did they do? And he says, Oh, well, they let you map anything to anything. And they take something that's very complex and represent it internally in an even higher dimensionality. And then you can see all these things that you wouldn't see otherwise like, wow, that's amazing David. So now fast forward 10 years, what I see after six years of teaching is that 90% of interactive art that's made by students relies on the scale object or the map function in the Arduino world. So that very basic linear mapping of one thing to another is where we are now in this community about relating input to output. Which in some ways like, that's okay, I'm glad that we have that, but wow are we missing out! Wow, are we missing out on the kind of advances that have been made in machine learning.Specifically, you know, as long back as 10 years ago.
So I've become really keen on the whole You Do and Raspberry PI thing, because now we're starting to have these higher level environments where we can really have very sophisticated machine learning and machine listening and machine vision applied to all this stuff that we love. Which is making sound or making movement or making video. So all that world of real-time audio video. So specifically one thing that's taken a lot of my time right now is, I'm working on porting a series of machine learning algorithms together with Jimmy Bullock, who is a developer I'm very fortunate to work with in the UK. To port some of these really standard things that very few people got very excited about 10 years ago, but are now becoming increasingly relevant for us. So these things hopefully in the upcoming weeks or two, there'll be a release that will allow people with Max or Pure Data on Intel or ARM, use some of these very sophisticated and standardized machine learning techniques. And, yeah, I think very good things in very simple classroom settings can come out of that. I'm really looking forward to that.
Darwin: I think that's exciting because you're right. And in a way it's almost too bad that the name of these objects or functions are these super inclusive names, like map and scale, because it sort of implies this is how you map, this is how you scale. And it doesn't really open the door to some of the rich mapping options. Can you really quickly tell us what are some of the machine learning things that are going to be part of this library?
Ali: Yeah, absolutely. We really started with the most basic things that need to be available to people that are interested in mapping gesture to sound or sensors to movement or whatever. So specifically, it's, it's a package of stuff that you can actually find on GitHub, that's called ML lib for machine learning library. It's a port of a really beautiful library we found called the gesture recognition toolkit. Which itself is an amalgamation of many other places, but the algorithms specifically are support vector machines, support vector machines are used for when you have lots of inputs and you just need to classify certain arrangements of those inputs. Multilayer perceptrons, which are a subclass of artificial neural networks that help you do arbitrary end to end a mapping, so when you have seven inputs and four outputs and you don't really care how it gets done, but you want to have some known destinations. Linear regression and logical regression, again for classification of a large feature vectors. Hidden Markov models for decision making and categorization classification and dynamic time warping, which is again a kind of, gesture recognition tool where you can differentiate between complex streams of data without really having to get into the numbers, without having to do a lot of arithmetic or math that, you know, our students are never going to be able to do.
But what I see more and more is that actually a CS student who knows how to use SVMs also doesn't know what an SVM does inside. The point is to know that this black box has been standardized for 10 years. So I'm just hoping to bring some of these things into our world in ways that I find have been lacking and prohibited.
Darwin: I'm going to have to go and dive into that, because that actually sounds like something that solves some problems I've got right in my face right now. For the listeners, we will put a link up to that on the webpage. Ali I know that you have got to run off and do some more teaching and interaction with students. I want to thank you so much for the time that you spent with us today. I hope that listeners will take the time to go and take a look at not only the work you're doing, but the work that Art Fab's doing at CMU and the work that even the people at Berkeley continue to do. David Wessel remains to me a fascinating guy. He seems like he must never sleep, but thank you so much. And I appreciate your time and, have a great day.
Ali: Sure. Thank you. Thank you.
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