Collecting Data from One’s Own: an interview with Daito Manabe

After his enthralling speech at Sónar +D, we were eager to have the chance of speaking closely with internationally renowned artist Daito Manabe. A multi-faceted creator, so many are his specialties that it is difficult to name them all: programmer, designer, VJ, researcher, technologist … Seeing his cutting-edge projects succeeding one another, it seems that a perpetual storm must occur inside his head. Nevertheless, face to face and with the company of his translator, Daito Manabe was a calm and collected man, with warm manners and fresh thoughts.

P.N. With so many facets of your creativity running on your trajectory, which is the one that would define you better? An artist, an engineer, a researcher?

D.M. I really don’t mind, I tend not to label myself. Actually I spent most of my time programming…

P.N. Your researches and inventions involving motility are really a bright step forward. Are you planning to apply them in implementations for everyday life, for instance using them with therapeutic purposes?

D.M. I’m open to work for any purpose. I have not a license as a doctor, but I will be completely open to work with some. I’m doing anything that keeps me interested, and that would be interesting too: so if someone ask me, I will be glad to explore that practical application.

P.N. Your works are always filled with technical challenges. Which technical problems use to hinder your projects?

D.M. Usually most difficulties come from non-existing hardware, as software is easier for me to develop. Sometimes it is difficult to control: for instance, on the physical electrical stimulus you can’t see everything on the screen, as the real impact of the power you are administering, so these are really important issues.

P.N. Your body based projects show in some way the commanding impact that technology can have over our physical behavior. What is your reflexion about it?

D.M. I think we can go much further on this path. For instance, there are tech devices that we can insert in our bodies, let’s say a device to mesure heartbeats, and it is possible to connect them to the Internet. That’s a decision that we haven’t taken yet and that we would in the years to come: will we connect our bodies on-line? We could even hack them.

P.N. Are you working on this now? Would this be safe?

D.M. In a way it is what I’m doing now. I’m exploring how can someone control his own body. If it is correctly tested and used, there’s no danger at all in this.

Daito Manabe at Sónar +D

Daito Manabe at Sónar +D Barcelona

P.N. Which are your other research lines by now?

D.M. I’m looking for new ways of collecting and using Data. There are good departure points for this, for instance Nike+ FuelBand is an smart implementation of that. How can we collect Data from our own bodies, that’s something I’m interested in. I’m also working on some techniques of machine learning. Creating a love song from thousand of existing songs, that’s something curious to do.

P.N. Do you plan to do something as wearables shortly?

D.M. Wearables, like Google Glasses, are still on their design stage. The way they communicate data is still quite odd. I’m much more interested in finding modes of collecting data from oneself, specially the ones provided from the body when it sends out more information, for instance while we sleep at REM phase. EOG for recording and analyzing eye movement is a really engaging resource and I’m going in depth into it. The same goes for data coming from muscle movements, or the grinding of teeth… They give you a lot of information about your more “productive” moments, talking in bodily terms. But by now I’m just testing it on myself…

After this amazing conversation about the vast technical prospects on human body, we left the room nearly stunned. That was the moment to pick up one of the many beautiful works of Daito Manabe, a creator as wise as sensitive.

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