15.33, Sunday 16 Jan 2011

3D facemaking machine for dolls. It prints photographs onto tiny moulded doll faces. As Alice says, Beautifully specific and weird. Brilliant pictures.

It comes from (where else?) Zhejiang, China's captured warp core of industrial capitalism.

Bruce Sterling, in Taklamakan, has a vision of how products could be not invented but generated. Why not evolve them in virtual worlds then print them out: you could just set up a giant high-powered virtuality with a bunch of virtual cans inside it. Then you make some can-opener simulations, that are basically blobs of goo. They're simulated goo, but they're also programs, and those programs trade data and evolve. Whenever they pierce a can, you reward them by making more copies of them. You're running, like, a million generations of a million different possible can-openers, all day every day, in a simulated space. [...]

Finally, you evolve this super weird, super can-opener that no human being could ever have invented. Something that no human being could even imagine. Because it grew like a mushroom in an entire alternate physics. But you have all the specs for its shape and proportions, right there in the supercomputer. So to make one inside the real world, you just print it out like a photograph. And it works! It runs! See? Instant cheap consumer goods.

And then you see the 3D doll face machine, and browse Alibaba, where everything's cheap so long as you buy a thousand of it, and think maybe our way of inventing things isn't that different.