Mind in the Machine

Psyche in the Age of Mechanical Production

Role: Concept design, textile programming, textile production, photography

Sponsor: This project generously funded by: Hacking Manufacturing Grant from MIT, The Design Trust in Hong Kong, and The Design Society in Shenzhen

Press & Links: 
Design News: ‘Hacking Manufacturing’ MIT Course Opens Manufacturing Techniques
Adafruit: On the Road in Shenzhen with MIT
Plow.IO: Media Lab Hacking Manufacturing
Creative Applications Network: Hacking Manufacturing
Trust Feature Grant: Hacking Manufacturing
MIT Media Lab: Hacking Manufacturing: research on the factory floor


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Knitting is a technology that is thousands of years old, imbued with tradition, myth, and storytelling- to knit is to embody the work of our ancestors.

I spent a month working in a factory in China to learn about manufacturing and labor. 

Between rows of automated machines, there still exists the need for humans labor- bodies hurrying around to fix jammed needles, trim loose threads, stack and transport finished pieces.  I was struck by how these workers live in service of machines,  their labor and sweat as ghosts within the identical and perfect end products.   

This project attempts to reintegrate emotional mark of a worker back into the process of automated production, telling the story of an individual in a landscape of anonymous, mechanized labor.


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The fabric I have programed creates a portrait of the factory worker through EEG brainwave signals.  Throughout the day, fluctuating mental states were recorded, capturing moments of frustration, focus, and meditative work flow.  The resulting fabrics tell a story, and each one is unique to the worker and particular moment in time.

Automation has many functions, and plays a critical role in our technological advancement, but is it possible to embed automation with gestures as intimate as the mark of a brushstroke in a painting?  Taking the cognitive signatures of a human via their EEG signals, I translated these brain activities back into the knitting process.  Depending on the EEG signal- the tensility of the weaving was programmed to vary, reflecting the mark of the worker's “cognitive” hand.  Depending on the mental stress levels over a day of work, the tensility varies and the fabric ripples in empathy.  


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When a worker experienced stress, the knit was programmed to be tighter.  During moments of relaxation, the knit itself was programmed to be looser.  The resulting knit ripples with an empathy for the worker that cared for that particular machine.

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Data was captured from a period of work in the factory.   From the spectrogram you can see going from top to bottom the changes of brain activity over time, and from left to right, the range of frequencies captured, from Theta to Gamma.  Red indicates high activity, green medium, blue, lowest.  Delta and Theta waves towards the left are associated with sleeping, dreaming, and meditative states.  Alpha in the 7-15 Hz range is associated with relaxed states. Beta in the 13-30 Hz range is associated with Attention, and focus.  Gamma- 30 and above, are associated with hyper Alertness.

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After taking the EEG samples from a day of working at the factory, the data is translated through the knitting software

Depending on the EEG signal- the tensility of the weaving with vary reflecting the mark of the “cognitive” hand.  Depending on the cognitive stress levels over a day of work, the tensility varies and the fabric ripples in empathy.



There are many ways humans express themselves- what does this expression look like in the age of mechanical production?  Is there a way to insert the mark of being human into the process?   This project offers a moment of reflection- for both the consumer and the worker- to reflect on the labor, both mechanical and human, that is involved in our economy.


This is a video about our trip: