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When art met science + tech...

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  • When art met science + tech...

    The guys behind Mindshare: Innovators '09
    02:45 PM PT, Jun 16 2009
    In an empty loft space, somewhere deep in the bowels of the Brewery Arts District, Eric Gradman, Brent Bushnell and Doug Campbell are plotting the future of Los Angeles night life. These tech- and culture-savvy guys are thoroughly bored with L.A.’s bar scene, and they are scheming to bring interactive art, real-time games and dynamic technology to your next xxxxtail hour, where new ideas flow as liberally as the alcohol. They are, in fact, already manifesting this future social scene -- and they call it Mindshare.

    Every third Thursday of the month, Gradman, Bushnell and Campbell play host to a forward-thinking cultural salon that’s part tech-geek meet-and-greet and part playground of cutting-edge interactive art -- all with an open bar. Started in 2006 by Doug Campbell and Adam Medford, the idea of Mindshare came out of their shared experience at the annual TED Conference. “We came back totally inspired,” says Campbell. “At the same time, we were really unimpressed with the typical bar-and-club-related social scene, and we thought, we’ve got a great network of people involved in science, technology, arts -- let’s bring them together.”

    But Mindshare is not just a boozed-up networking event. The evening starts out with a series of presentations that cover social robotics, apocalyptic survival cognitive neuroscience and even pole dancing. After all guests are thoroughly overstimulated, Mindsharians are let loose to mingle, drink and play with the "toys" made by the Mindshare Labs collective, a recently formed right arm to the Mindshare event. Gradman and Bushnell (among others) head up Mindshare Labs, and have been coming out with creations almost each month since last November. Somewhere between game, gadget and art installation, these innovative, cheeky inventions encourage people to lower their social inhibitions. Because, while we give a lot of credence to social networking on the Internet, geeks want to be social creatures in real life too.

    After the jump: some of Mindshare’s latest inventions.

    Laser Maze: Want to add some "Mission: Impossible" to your mixer? Bushnell's game challenges partygoers to jump and duck through a room filled with angled laser beams. Using 3A lasers, Arduino circuits, Python and Linux programming plus a 1,200-watt fog machine, the Laser Maze is soon to be part of a multi-person game.

    Cloud Mirror: Step in front of Gradman’s specially programmed video camera and projector at your own risk. Thanks to facial-recognition technology and what he calls “gentle data scraping” from social networking sites, tidbits of personal information appear above the projected person’s face in a cartoon-like "thought cloud." Didn’t want the whole room to know your Facebook relationship status? Surprise! Too late.

    ShadowSmoke: Imagine visuals that look like a digitally produced lava lamp projected on an entire wall of a club. Add Gradman’s computer-programming magic and suddenly whoever sashays in front of the screen can manipulate the swirls of colorful, virtual liquid-smoke with the movement of shadows. Wallflowers, beware: This project is meant to lure the dance-bashful out into the limelight.

    Game Table: Bushnell has turned an ordinary dining table into a six-person video game platform that can play a number of classic games like Tron and Pong. Why six? Bushnell explains, "I think six is kind of an unstable number. People usually socialize in groups of two or four, so the Game Table encourages you to go invite others -- maybe people you don’t know -- into your circle to play. It’s a way less awkward way to flirt than the whole ‘Can I buy you a drink?’ thing."

    -- Ramie Becker

    Top photo: Eric Gradman stands before his interactive fluid simulation, "ShadowSmoke." Credit: Josh Reiss
    Between childhood, boyhood,
    & manhood (maturity) there
    should be sharp lines drawn w/
    Tests, deaths, feats, rites
    stories, songs & judgements

    - Morrison, Jim. Wilderness, vol. 1, p. 22