Talking to tech designer Carla Diana – Part I

I’ve mentioned a few times that I don’t really get GoldieBlox CEO Debbie Sterling’s motivation in allowing herself and her brand to become the face of what may be a years-long copyright battle with the Beastie Boys, but these are strange and volatile times.  Still, the controversial story has brought the subject of women in engineering and technology design into the foreground, and it occurred to me that I know a really cool woman engineer/designer, who has smart things to say on that subject as well as the future of technology itself — especially robotics.  This is one of my favorite conversations I’ve had to date.

In Part I, we talk about design, smart objects, and the responsibility of designers to consider the social implications of their products.  In Part II, we talk a bit about GoldieBlox and about 3D printing.

Carla Diana originally studied mechanical engineering, but early in her career, she shifted her focus to industrial design, which demands a broad set of disciplines that sound more sociological than technological.  In January of 2013, Diana wrote an article for The New York Times about how we interact with robotic machines, how that interaction is anticipated by designers in the early stages of development.  Most recently, Diana published a book called LEO the Maker Prince, a children’s story meant to spark interest in the possibilities of 3D printing and that works in conjunction with projects kids can do using a consumer-grade 3D printer. Diana also teaches at the University of Pennsylvania and School of Visual Arts in New York City. She spoke to me via Skype from her home in Manhattan. (Apologies for the couple of Skype dropouts, but the context is still clear).

To learn more about Carla Diana or LEO the Maker Prince, go to:

Listen to Part II here.

© 2014, David Newhoff. All rights reserved.

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  • Thanks for the Interview, Carla.

    Random thought not aimed at anyone in particular: People talk about the future (like ‘M’ here in the comments), and while i don’t disagree with certain possibilities it’s important to remember that we are at the helm, and can steer where we want designs to go. A single word to describe this would be: priorities.
    Thanks for touching on this in the podcast.

    Sadly there has been too much focus and weight put on quick profits that we turn our backs on the results/consequences of our decisions. Yes, as you say, someone else will jump in and do the work… so maybe it’s the heads of up-starts and CEO’s that need to have their eyes opened (good luck with the latter) or just considering consequences. If everyone throws up their hands and says ‘it’s inevitable’ they -right there- give up any power they would have to change the course of history.

  • I definitely agree with her that children are the barometer of future directions in technology. They have a much more complex and mature imagination (ironically?) then adults. And because they haven’t been completely assimilated into our economy and society, they do not have the biases gained by being an collaborator of the status quo. In many ways, we are born as futurists and we tend to lose ability over time.

    • Though it may seem contrary to some of my comments here, i have a very vivid imagination.
      My problem with some of your posts in particular, M, are not to do with what you see as the outcome of some future event– it’s that you insist on destroying things for others in the meantime. Your argument to me seems to be that the ‘singularity’ will make property rights unnecessary. My contention is that we’re not there yet. (and it’s quite grating that you ‘volunteer’ other people to ‘go first’, even though it is YOUR utopian vision of the future… one that other people may not see as a desirable outcome. If you have such faith in this, you should be the one foregoing your income and property. If it will be as you say, we’ll all fall in line eventually…)

      • Different things James_J. The singularity is a singular event. That is, the creation of a general AI that is able to improve itself. It might come 1 year from now, or 20 years, or never. It’s hard to predict because it’s not like the singularity has a potpourri of technological dependencies. Going by the assumption that a general AI must model a human brain, hardware might be one. But we aren’t even sure of that. Perhaps someone invents a general AI algorithm, and it’s game over.

        But the general progression of technology is a continuous event, it doesn’t result in one giant macroeconomic change across the board. Camera manufacturers can basically have their business taken out from under them in a course of months, but the next month it might be warehouse pickers who find themselves out of a job. This has been going on for maybe 10,000+ years, although it’s always been accelerating (see the law of accelerating returns).

      • It’s certainly possible to see a utopian future where property, money etc. have been abolished. However, unless we’re in or even approaching that world, we need to live in reality. Art can’t be free until food, shelter etc. are. Until that point, artists need to pay the bills like anyone else.

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