Hiroshi Ishii (US)

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Communication with those no longer with us through Tangible Memories

Hiroshi Ishii presents a lecture on TeleAbsence. Presence and Absence are fundamental states of being for mortal humans; being present or close, and being absent, far away, or lost [Ishii 2020]. We propose TeleAbsence as a counter concept to Telepresence. The purpose of Telepresence is to connect people who are alive. TeleAbsence aims to create illusionary communication channels with those no longer with us to soothe the pain of bereavement. TeleAbsence is designed around tangible objects, such as old typewriters, telephones, brushes, and pianos that were once touched and marked by the hand of a loved one.

Due to the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic in December 2019, Telepresence has become the lifeline for our everyday life and work, connecting people separated spatially and temporally. Telepresence technologies such as video conferencing and groupware support digital communication and collaboration across both space and time, combining real-time and asynchronous communication tools.

Telepresence is for connecting people who are separated but still reachable via technological means. The main premise of this modality is that a message’s recipient is alive and conscious in order to respond to a sender’s message. TeleAbsence, our speculative design project, addresses the issue of the vast, emotional distance caused by bereavement and the inability to receive a response from a loved one. We are very excited to present our vision for TeleAbsence and share the design of the proof-of- concept prototypes to demonstrate the potential of tangible memories.

Hiroshi Ishii (US): Hiroshi Ishii is Jerome B. Wiesner Professor of Media Arts and Sciences at the MIT Media Lab, where he is the Director of the Tangible Media Group, and the Associate Director of the Media Lab. The Tangible Media Group explores the Tangible Bits & Radical Atoms visions to seamlessly couple the dual world of bits and atoms by giving dynamic physical form to digital information and computation. The goal is to go beyond the current mainstream of Painted Bits (pixels) to enrich human interactions and to take advantage of the multimodal human senses and dexterous skills developed through a lifetime of interaction with the physical world. Ishii and his team have presented the Tangible Bits and Radical Atoms visions at a variety of academic, design, and artistic venues such as ACM SIGCHI and SIGGRAPH, Industrial Design Society of America (IDSA), AIGA, Ars Electronica, ICC, Centre Pompidou, and the Victoria and Albert Museum. A display of many of the group’s projects took place at the \“Tangible Bits\“ exhibition (2000) at the NTT InterCommunication Center (ICC), at the \“Get in Touch\“ exhibition (2001-2004) and at the \“Radical Atoms\“ exhibition (2016-2018) at the Ars Electronica Center in Linz, Austria. Prior to joining the Media Lab in 1995, Ishii led a CSCW (Computer-Supported Cooperative Work) research group at NTT Human Interface Laboratories, where he and his team invented TeamWorkStation and ClearBoard. He was a visiting assistant professor at the University of Toronto in 1993 and 1994. Ishii received his BE in Electronic Engineering, as well as his ME and PhD in Computer Engineering from Hokkaido University, Japan, in 1978, 1980, and 1992, respectively.


Hiroshi Ishii and Tangible Media Group, MIT Media Lab