Tamiko Thiel:

The Connection Machine

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MIT Center for Advanced Visual Studies (CAVS)
MIT Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Lab (CSAIL)

Finding Form for an Electronic Brain: the Connection Machines CM-1/CM-2

(Or: "How the Connection Machine Got Its Blinking Red Lights")

A talk by Tamiko Thiel, CAVS Research Fellow

Monday, November 15, 2004
Stata Center, Rm 32-D463 (4th floor, Star Room)
Massachusetts Institute of Technology
32 Vassar Street, Cambridge, MA 02139
http://whereis.mit.edu/map-jpg (search for Stata Center)

In 1983 Tamiko Thiel joined the start-up Thinking Machines Corporation to direct the packaging design of the Connection Machine CM-1 / CM-2. The doctoral thesis of W. Daniel Hillis, then PhD. candidate under Marvin Minsky at the MIT AI Lab, the Connection Machine was the first commercially available massively parallel supercomputer and in its time one of the fastest computers in the world. Thiel’s design challenge was to find a form for its 12-dimensional network of 65,536 processors that was not only buildable, but also communicated the passion and conviction of its makers that this was indeed the first of a new generation of machines.

She will talk about the images from history and science fiction that influenced the design, and how her desire to use physical form in a symbolic manner led her to – as she thought – depart from the modernist dogma “Form Follows Function.” In reality, she was rediscovering the original meaning intended by architect Louis Sullivan, who considered “function” to include “the aspirations, values, ideals and spiritual needs of human beings.”


Tamiko Thiel has a B.S. in Product Design Engineering from Stanford University, an M.S. in Mechanical Engineering from MIT, and a Diploma in Applied Graphics from the Academy of Fine Arts in Munich. She considers the Connection Machine to have been her first artwork and has gone on since then to develop an international reputation in the media arts. Currently she is a Research Fellow at the MIT Center for Advanced Visual Studies, where she is developing the narrative potential of interactive virtual reality as an artistic medium for addressing cultural and social issues.