About James

Bio

James Patten is an interaction designer, inventor and visual artist working at the intersection of the physical and digital worlds. Patten is a TED fellow and the founder and principal of the design and engineering firm Patten Studio, where his clients have included Björk, Barneys New York, General Electric, Steelcase and Autodesk.

TED Conferences

TED2015, TEDGlobal 2014, TED2014, TEDActive 2013, TEDActive 2012, TED2011, TEDActive 2010

Areas of Expertise

interaction design, Electrical Engineering, Software Development, Graphic Design

I'm passionate about

finding new ways to adapt computers to serve human needs (rather than vice versa). In particular, the sense of touch is often neglected in modern computer interfaces. I'm trying to help change that.

Universities

MIT, University of Virginia

Talk to me about

interaction design, robotics, tabletop interfaces, financial visualization, interactive museum exhibits, new musical instruments

Favorite talks

Comments & conversations

205835
James Patten
Posted over 3 years ago
Can we ever know how another person "senses" the world?
An interesting facet of this question is the role that emotions play in our perception of the world. Scientific understanding of how this works is still at a basic level, but experiments are showing that a change in emotional state can often affect one's perception. And of course the sense data we receive from the world has to pass through the filter of our attention as well, and this filter is highly sensitive to emotional context. All of this explains why, if we have a strong emotional association with a particular color, taste, smell, sound or texture, we start to observe it more often (and possibly differently) in the world. So, while I think it's reasonable to argue that our biological apparatus for sensing the world is fairly similar from person to person, that sensing process cannot in practice be decoupled from the processes of attentional filtering and emotional interpretation, which are likely to vary widely between people.
205835
James Patten
Posted over 3 years ago
How can computer models help us build intuition?
A challenge inherent in using computer models to build intuition is that often the computer models themselves can be built on faulty intuition. For example, a simulation like SimCity is based on a set of assumptions about what motivates people and makes them happy. It's difficult to build a successful city in that game without embracing and internalizing those underlying assumptions. This can be dangerous because of the power of these interactive computer models as learning tools. While computer models can be a powerful way to build intuition, there are generally no safeguards to ensure that the intuition they help build is actually valid.
205835
James Patten
Posted over 3 years ago
How can computer models help us build intuition?
When it comes to using computers to build intuition and learn about our world, I completely agree that the key factor is interactivity. The young child who learns about gravity by knocking a vase off of a table is essentially performing a science experiment. She has a feeling that maybe something interesting will happen if she hits the vase, and then gives it a try and observes the results. The key thing that makes this type of experiment so effective is the continuous, immediate sensory feedback we get from our environment. One of the most powerful things about interactive computational simulation is the ability to perform these same sorts of experiments on all kinds of systems that we can't normally directly manipulate with our hands. But for this type of interactivity to be most successful as a learning tool, its feedback has to be immediate and engage the senses in a rich way. WIthout this rich, immediate feedback, people have a much harder time understanding and internalizing causal relationships. Here's something I built to explore how these ideas could be used to teach kids about chemistry: http://pattenstudio.com/projects/chem
205835
James Patten
Posted over 3 years ago
If you could give computers one magical power, what would it be and why?
Thank you to everyone for sharing some great ideas! One theme that I was really struck by was the extent to which people wanted their computers to have human qualities. Also there were some great suggestions about new types of input and output, ways of processing information and many others. I think that within the next several decades many of the things mentioned here will some to pass (some much sooner than that). Ultimately what we think of as a "computer" will change drastically in the next several years, as things adapt to better suit human abilities. Thank you everyone for participating!
205835
James Patten
Posted over 3 years ago
If you could give computers one magical power, what would it be and why?
Hi Daniel, this does exist, but traditionally has been very expensive. There is at least one effort to make it easier though. Check out this project by Zach Lieberman: http://www.eyewriter.org/ At its current state it's mainly targeted at people with ALS and other handicaps. I don't think you would find it faster or easier in its current form. One issue is that the movement of the human eye is actually very jumpy compared to what one might expect.
205835
James Patten
Posted over 3 years ago
If you could give computers one magical power, what would it be and why?
Hi Jofree, one of the capabilities I've been excited about for a long time is the ability for the computer to track the positions of arbitrary objects in 3D space. It seems like this would open up a lot of different kinds of applications, including finding lost objects and turning walls and tables in your home into interactive surfaces. finding lost things would be really helpful!