Placeholder Image

Subtitles section Play video

  • On simplicity. What a great way to start.

  • First of all, I've been watching this trend

  • where we have these books like such and such "For Dummies."

  • Do you know these books, these such and such "For Dummies?"

  • My daughters pointed out that I'm very similar looking, so this is a bit of a problem.

  • (Laughter)

  • But I was looking online at Amazon.com for other books like this.

  • You know, there's also something called the "Complete Idiot's Guide?"

  • There's a sort of business model around being stupid in some sense.

  • We like to have technology make us feel bad, for some strange reason.

  • But I really like that, so I wrote a book called "The Laws of Simplicity."

  • I was in Milan last week, for the Italian launch.

  • It's kind of a book about questions, questions about simplicity.

  • Very few answers. I'm also wondering myself, what is simplicity?

  • Is it good? Is it bad? Is complexity better? I'm not sure.

  • After I wrote "The Laws of Simplicity,"

  • I was very tired of simplicity, as you can imagine.

  • And so in my life, I've discovered that

  • vacation is the most important skill for any kind of over-achiever.

  • Because your companies will always take away your life,

  • but they can never take away your vacation -- in theory.

  • (Laughter)

  • So, I went to the Cape last summer to hide from simplicity,

  • and I went to the Gap, because I only have black pants.

  • So I went and bought khaki shorts or whatever,

  • and unfortunately, their branding was all about "Keep It Simple."

  • (Laughter)

  • I opened up a magazine, and Visa's branding was,

  • "Business Takes Simplicity."

  • I develop photographs, and Kodak said, "Keep It Simple."

  • So, I felt kind of weird that simplicity was sort of following me around.

  • So, I turned on the TV, and I don't watch TV very much,

  • but you know this person? This is Paris Hilton, apparently.

  • And she has this show, "The Simple Life."

  • So I watched this. It's not very simple, a little bit confusing.

  • (Laughter)

  • So, I looked for a different show to watch.

  • So, I opened up this TV Guide thing,

  • and on the E! channel, this "Simple Life" show is very popular.

  • They'll play it over, and over, and over.

  • (Laughter)

  • So it was traumatizing, actually.

  • So, I wanted to escape again, so I went out to my car.

  • And Cape Cod, there are idyllic roads, and all of us can drive in this room.

  • And when you drive, these signs are very important.

  • It's a very simple sign, it says, "road" and "road approaching."

  • So I'm mostly driving along, okay, and then I saw this sign.

  • (Laughter)

  • So, I thought complexity was attacking me suddenly,

  • so I thought, "Ah, simplicity. Very important."

  • But then I thought, "Oh, simplicity. What would that be like on a beach?

  • What if the sky was 41 percent gray? Wouldn't that be the perfect sky?"

  • I mean that simplicity sky.

  • But in reality, the sky looked like this. It was a beautiful, complex sky.

  • You know, with the pinks and blues. We can't help but love complexity.

  • We're human beings: we love complex things.

  • We love relationships -- very complex. So we love this kind of stuff.

  • I'm at this place called the Media Lab.

  • Maybe some of you guys have heard of this place.

  • It's designed by I. M. Pei, one of the premier modernist architects.

  • Modernism means white box, and it's a perfect white box.

  • (Laughter)

  • And some of you guys are entrepreneurs, etc., whatever.

  • Last month, I was at Google, and, boy, that cafeteria, man.

  • You guys have things here in Silicon Valley like stock options.

  • See, in academia, we get titles, lots of titles.

  • Last year at TED, these were all my titles. I had a lot of titles.

  • I have a default title as a father of a bunch of daughters.

  • This year at TED, I'm happy to report that I have new titles,

  • in addition to my previous titles.

  • Another "Associate Director of Research."

  • And this also happened, so I have five daughters now.

  • (Laughter)

  • That's my baby Reina. (Applause) Thank you.

  • And so, my life is much more complex because of the baby, actually,

  • but that's okay. We will still stay married, I think.

  • But looking way back, when I was a child --

  • you see, I grew up in a tofu factory in Seattle.

  • Many of you may not like tofu because you haven't had good tofu,

  • but tofu's a good food. It's a very simple kind of food.

  • It's very hard work to make tofu.

  • As a child, we used to wake up at 1 a.m. and work till 6 p.m., six days a week.

  • My father was kind of like Andy Grove, paranoid of the competition.

  • So often, seven days a week. Family business equals child labor.

  • We were a great model. So, I loved going to school.

  • School was great, and maybe going to school

  • helped me get to this Media Lab place, I'm not sure.

  • (Laughter)

  • Thank you.

  • But the Media Lab is an interesting place, and it's important to me

  • because as a student, I was a computer science undergrad,

  • and I discovered design later on in my life.

  • And there was this person, Muriel Cooper.

  • Who knows Muriel Cooper? Muriel Cooper?

  • Wasn't she amazing? Muriel Cooper. She was wacky.

  • And she was a TEDster, exactly, and she showed us,

  • she showed the world how to make the computer beautiful again.

  • And she's very important in my life,

  • because she's the one that told me to leave MIT and go to art school.

  • It was the best advice I ever got. So I went to art school, because of her.

  • She passed away in 1994,

  • and I was hired back to MIT to try to fill her shoes, but it's so hard.

  • This amazing person, Muriel Cooper.

  • When I was in Japan -- I went to an art school in Japan --

  • I had a nice sort of situation, because somehow I was connected to Paul Rand.

  • Some of you guys know Paul Rand,

  • the greatest graphic designer -- I'm sorry -- out there.

  • The great graphic designer Paul Rand

  • designed the IBM logo, the Westinghouse logo.

  • He basically said, "I've designed everything."

  • And also Ikko Tanaka was a very important mentor in my life --

  • the Paul Rand of Japan. He designed most of the major icons of Japan,

  • like Issey Miyake's brand and also Muji.

  • When you have mentors -- and yesterday,

  • Kareem Abdul-Jabbar talked about mentors,

  • these people in your life -- the problem with mentors is that they all die.

  • This is a sad thing, but it's actually a happy thing in a way,

  • because you can remember them in their pure form.

  • I think that the mentors that we all meet sort of humanize us.

  • When you get older, and you're all freaked out, whatever,

  • the mentors calm us down.

  • And I'm grateful for my mentors, and I'm sure all of you are too.

  • Because the human thing is very hard when you're at MIT.

  • The T doesn't stand for "human," it stands for "technology."

  • And because of that, I always wondered about this human thing.

  • So, I've always been Googling this word, "human,"

  • to find out how many hits I get.

  • And in 2001, I had 26 million hits, and for "computer,"

  • because computers are against humans a bit,

  • I have 42 million hits. Let me do an Al Gore here.

  • So, if you sort of compare that, like this,

  • you'll see that computer versus human --

  • I've been tracking this for the last year --

  • computer versus human over the last year has changed.

  • It used to be kind of two to one. Now, humans are catching up.

  • Very good, us humans! We're catching up with the computers.

  • In the simplicity realm, it's also interesting.

  • So if you compare complexities to simplicity,

  • it's also catching up in a way, too.

  • So, somehow humans and simplicity are intertwined, I think.

  • I have a confession: I'm not a man of simplicity.

  • I spent my entire early career making complex stuff.

  • Lots of complex stuff.

  • I wrote computer programs to make complex graphics like this.

  • I had clients in Japan to make really complex stuff like this.

  • And I've always felt bad about it, in a sense.

  • So, I hid in a time dimension.

  • I built things in a time-graphics dimension.

  • I did this series of calendars for Shiseido.

  • This is a floral theme calendar in 1997,

  • and this is a firework calendar. So, you launch the number into space,

  • because the Japanese believe that when you see fireworks,

  • you're cooler for some reason.

  • This is why they have fireworks in the summer.

  • A very extreme culture.

  • Lastly, this is a fall-based calendar,

  • because I have so many leaves in my yard.

  • So this is the leaves in my yard, essentially.

  • And so I made a lot of these types of things.

  • I've been lucky to have been there before people made these kind of things,

  • and so I made all this kind of stuff that messes with your eyes.

  • I feel kind of bad about that.

  • Tomorrow, Paola Antonelli is speaking. I love Paola.

  • She has this show right now at MoMA,

  • where some of these early works are here on display at MoMA, on the walls.

  • If you're in New York, please go and see that.

  • But I've had a problem, because I make all this flying stuff

  • and people say, "Oh, I know your work.

  • You're the guy that makes eye candy."

  • And when you're told this, you feel kind of weird.

  • "Eye candy" -- sort of pejorative, don't you think?

  • So, I say, "No, I make eye meat," instead.

  • (Laughter)

  • And eye meat is something different, something more fibrous,

  • something more powerful, perhaps. But what could that be, eye meat?

  • I've been interested in computer programs all my life, actually.

  • Computer programs are essentially trees,

  • and when you make art with a computer program, there's kind of a problem.

  • Whenever you make art with a computer program,

  • you're always on the tree, and the paradox is that

  • for excellent art, you want to be off the tree.

  • So, this is sort of a complication I've found.

  • So, to get off the tree, I began to use my old computers.

  • I took these to Tokyo in 2001 to make computer objects.

  • This is a new way to type, on my old, color Classic.

  • You can't type very much on this.

  • I also discovered that an IR mouse responds to CRT emissions

  • and starts to move by itself, so this is a self-drawing machine.

  • And also, one year, the G3 Bondi Blue thing --

  • that caddy would come out, like, dangerous, like, "whack," like that.

  • But I thought, "This is very interesting. What if I make like a car crash test?"

  • So I have a crash test.

  • (Laughter)

  • And sort of measure the impact. Stuff like this are things I made,

  • just to sort of understand what these things are.

  • (Laughter)

  • Shortly after this, 9/11 happened, and I was very depressed.

  • I was concerned with contemporary art

  • that was all about piss, and sort of really sad things,

  • and so I wanted to think about something happy.

  • So I focused on food as my area --

  • these sort of clementine peel things.

  • In Japan, it's a wonderful thing to remove the clementine peel

  • just in one piece. Who's done that before? One-piece clementine?

  • Oh, you guys are missing out, if you haven't done it yet.

  • It was very good, and I discovered I can make sculptures out of this,

  • actually, in different forms.

  • If you dry them quick, you can make, like, elephants and steers and stuff,

  • and my wife didn't like these, because they mold, so I had to stop that.

  • So, I went back to the computer, and I bought five large fries,

  • and scanned them all. And I was looking for some kind of food theme,

  • and I wrote some software to automatically lay out french-fry images.

  • And as a child, I'd hear that song, you know,

  • "Oh, beautiful, for spacious skies, for amber waves of grain,"

  • so I made this amber waves image.

  • It's sort of a Midwest cornfield out of french fries.

  • And also, as a child, I was the fattest kid in class,

  • so I used to love Cheetos. Oh, I love Cheetos, yummy.

  • So, I wanted to play with Cheetos in some way.

  • I wasn't sure where to go with this. I invented Cheeto paint.

  • Cheeto paint is a very simple way to paint with Cheetos.

  • (Laughter)

  • I discovered that Cheetos are good, expressive material.

  • And with these Cheetos, I began to think,

  • "What can I make with these Cheetos?"

  • And so, I began to crinkle up potato chip flecks, and also pretzels.

  • I was looking for some kind of form,

  • and in the end, I made 100 butter-fries. Do you get it?

  • (Laughter)

  • And each butter-fry is composed of different pieces.

  • People ask me how they make the antenna.

  • Sometimes, they find a hair in the food. That's my hair.

  • My hair's clean -- it's okay.

  • I'm a tenured professor, which means, basically, I don't have to work anymore.

  • It's a strange business model. I can come into work everyday

  • and staple five pieces of paper and just stare at it with my latte.

  • End of story.