Interview

Grasping the World with Computers

Akira Wakita

Programming of Raw Materials

In the past few years, I have been researching various raw materials that it might be possible to program. While considering what it would take to “debug” or “undo” any issues with these materials, I’ve developed products such as fabric that changes with input, or gels that change shape or pattern. It’s possible to control these changes to a certain extent, but complete comprehension of the mechanics involved in said changes is not yet possible. My current concern is where to go from here.

Thinking back on it, I have had my share of problems since beginning research. But new research topics and methods are sometimes the product of constantly thinking about what exactly it is that you want to accomplish. I don’t research for the sake of creating easily understandable solutions, I research to better comprehend the world around me. Why do earthquakes happen? Why does curry udon taste so good? The world is full of innumerable things, big and small, that we don’t understand. But there is usually a formula or some sort of logic behind everything. I strive to understand that.

Wakita lab
Wakita lab
SMAAD Surface
A kinetic free-form surface made of fabric. The device realize the interlocking with 3D CAD.
CAADRIA 2011, Best Paper Award.

Expressing Various Types of “Flow” Via Computer

From my research into raw materials, I’ve now turned to researching “flow”. Even laptop computers - incredibly faster now than they were in my student days - take two to three hours to calculate the changes in the pattern on the top of a cafe latte after one sip has been taken. That’s how numerous and unpredictable the phenomenons of this world are.

Electronic computers were actually created for the purpose of computing fluid dynamics. Computers are designed to analyze, comprehend, and reapply data regarding the flow of various phenomena. The father of computing, John Von Neumann, is mostly known for his research regarding the shock waves of atomic blasts, but he is also responsible for the application of computer architecture towards the understanding of climate prediction and many other phenomena. I view my own research as and extension of these experiments in calculating “flow.”

I left on sabbatical last year as a recharge period, but having returned, I intend to start my research off with computers, focused on graphics programming.This year, I plan to continue programming fluid dynamics and surface curves with students.

From Design to Fundraising

The new Wakita Laboratories should train its staff well in programming skills. Whether the objects used are raw materials or graphics, I hope to see intense care taken to the tiniest detail, and efforts made toward process acceleration and putting things into feel-good classifications.

This all starts with finding example cases from previous products or web creations and creating something identical. The next step is to brush up and polish these creations, and then present them at academic conferences, exhibitions, or other large gatherings. By refraining from enrolling in student contests, they will be forced to go head-to-head with other working adults. The results born of this will carry over into their next endeavor, and even into getting them to do their own fundraising. There are graduate students right now who are covering their lab costs in this way. One student even took the gold in an international interactive art competition with their display of programmable paper.

Within the world of design education, SFC is the most business-minded. Finding a good balance between creativity and profit margin is just one of the skills Wakita Labs has to offer. This is something I’ve personally experienced in my own forays into the venture business.

Wakita lab
Anabiosis - A Life on Paper
An interactive paper which detects the touch of a finger tip and changes its colors.
ACE 2011, Interactive Art, Gold Award.
Wakita lab
Blob Motility
Gels that change shapes and motions.
A permanent exhibition at ARS Electronica Center (2011-2012).

An Education that Ingrains Knowledge, Skills, Ideas, and Culture

To be honest, I’m just as concerned for education as I am for research. From the moment knowledge is taught from a blackboard, it starts be forgotten. So how do we create a foundation that enables reflexive action even when the base principles are forgotten? Perhaps more apt terms than eduction would be training, practice, and priming. I personally prefer the “Teacher-Student Method” of teaching, and i feel that rather than jumping headlong into society after four years of university, it’s better to spend some focused time doing work in a laboratory. That’s the best way to make use of and ingrain the skills that you paid good money to learn.

The things that you ingrain in this period are not just knowledge and skills, but ideas and culture as well. For example, what makes something interesting, or cool, or beautiful. Hearing the same conversations, reading the same materials from the bookshelf - these common experiences from the laboratory become the basis of each person’s perception and judgement. The same can be said of their perpetually searching frame of mind.

At Wakita Laboratires we help to foster a spirit of discovery that keeps people opening up new frontiers even after leaving the company. We keep turning out vast numbers of front-runners capable of taking the Internet or products and connecting them to design and engineering.

Welcoming in the Intellectually Mature 40-Somethings

The generation I’d like to see start entering Wakita Laboratories is actually the forty-somethings. By this age, they will have reached intellectual maturity, and as they are able to handle a greater share of the work than younger employees, they will be capable of more in-depth research. I’m certain that rather than being taught, they will have plenty to teach.

While the state of universities and society itself changes with the times, I believe that the era of only those around 20 enrolling in college and the recruitment of only new graduates is coming to an end. Working adults will start going back to school and re-entering the work force with new knowledge and skills. Once this practice becomes commonplace, the productivity and creativity of both the individual and society as a whole will increase.