Social Object | Research Series 2

Public engagement is part of my research, influencing me to think about design as communication, and what it might mean to create artifacts for a much broader audience. Our field of research is on existing examples that are using objects and trying to make them more and more social and expand the outcome of these experiments. My concern is to make something for the public environment that involves a broad variety of cultures and subcultures and respects the anonymity and the hidden identity of the passenger. The example that follows “The 5th Dimensional Camera” is a fictional device, a metaphorical representation of quantum computation and an exploration of the impact this field may have on the daily lives of random users that they personally use it and capture glimpses of parallel universes.

5th Dimensional Camera

“With their evocative multidimensional camera, the designers have attempted to embody Hugh Everett’s many-worlds theory in an object that adds to the cinematic tradition of The Matrix(1999), Lost (2004-10), Fringe (2008-ongoing), and Source Code (2011), to name just a few.”

— Paola Antonelli, ‘Talk to Me‘, MoMA 2011


Dr. Simon Benjamin, one of our collaborating scientists from QIPIRC, explains the concept behind the 5th Dimensional Camera:

In the heart of this device (image below) is placed a prototype quantum computer. It could be a machine that could solve really hard computational problems beyond what any conventional machine could hope to achieve and if we could crack those problems then we could have huge consequences ranging through health care to security and into the development of new drugs and materials. So how does it work? The science behind it is complicated but in essence it relies on the fact that within the quantum computer we can do many calculations at the same time.

This relies on a deep principle of quantum mechanics called “Superposition”. Quantum superposition is the ability for several very small objects to be on two or more states at the same time. As an object becomes bigger it is getting more difficult to maintain the superposition. The principles of quantum mechanics suggest that these possibilities give rise to other worlds in which the different scenarios continue to play out even though we can never perceive them. Science can be thought of as an instrument to see what cannot be seen. The makers were able to deduce the existence of atoms long before we eventually had the technology to see them.

Illustration of Hugh Everett’s Many Worlds Theory

He continues saying that the theory of quantum mechanics helps us deduce the possibility of many worlds even though we cannot actually see those other realities. The 5th Dimensional Camera is a fictional device that allows us to think about what it would be like to live in a world where some of these possibilities move from the laboratory to start influence our every daily lives. The 5DC is both a metaphor for scientific investigation in the field of quantum computation and also an exploration of the impact this field may have on our daily lives.

Screen Shot 2015-03-09 at 15.22.06

3 Experiments

1. One in Six

Benedict is a scientist and mathematician. He was closely involved in making of the 5th Dimensional Camera. It was during the testing phase of the Camera project that Benedict’s relationship with the device – and the worlds it revealed  began to take an unhealthy twist.

Initial experiments with dice, designed to test the range of possible outcomes captured by the camera, soon led to ‘testing’ horse racing results. But when it became clear that one could find evidence of a world where any bet was a winner, his experiments slid into obsession.

He raised the stakes by betting large amounts of money on small odds, then searching through images to find the world where he had just won a fortune. Soon, the vicarious thrill of benevolence to his other parallel selves turns to bitterness. Despair and jealousy leads him to experiment with games that aim to end the lives of these other selves… and ultimately his own?

2. A Day in the Life

Molly is 27. She works as an administrator for the Housing Department. Most of her days are spent sitting behind a desk answering calls from angry citizens, thinking about her boyfriend, and planning for the weekend.

When a colleague tells her about the 5th Dimensional Camera and the possibility of being photographed as part of a study, she decides to participate “for a laugh”. The scientists bring the camera and place it in her bedroom. They set the timer for seven thirty the next evening and instruct her to write down the most memorable event of her day on the board provided. She must sit facing the camera when it fires. 

Acting more out of curiosity than cooperation, she follows the strange instructions, and waits.

3. Saturday Night In: 

Nolan is 70. He lives in a small flat by himself in north-west London. He spends his time reading, reflecting on the world outside his window and solving crosswords in the evening paper. 

One evening a small advert in the corner of the newspaper catches his attention. A group of scientists were looking for participants to live with a ‘5th Dimensional Camera’ for a few months. He reaches for his phone and soon the camera is standing awkwardly in his living room. 

Nolan starts by taking photographs of the empty corridor outside his flat. Over time, his attention turns from reflecting on the world outside his window to a fascination with the images of the many worlds revealed outside his front door.

MoMA’s interaction design exhibition, ‘Talk to Me‘.

5D CAMERA_1                 5th-Dimensional Camera at MoMA, as spied by Scott Smith


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