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Saul Griffith’s Self-Assembled Talk

Saul Griffith creates amazing things. He’s the thinker behind Instructables, How-toons and an amazing system to make low-cost eye glasses.

Saul tells us he recently told a venture capitalist that he “did hardware”, to which the VC replied “how quaint”. But hardware isn’t quaint – the hard problems we’re considering at this conference, like access to water, clean energy – are hardware problems.

We’re told that form follows function. But information defines both form and function. Saul is interested in ways of programming the physical world, using the universe as a compiler. This means building physical systems that can self-assemble – shapes that bounce around on an air hockey table, bonding and rebonding to “reproduce”, or two dimensional systems that fold into 3D objects.

It’s not entirely clear how this fits with some of Saul’s more practical inventions. He explains his low-cost eyeglasses system – by controlling two membranes, applying pressure to it, you can add a polymer, bake with UV light and produce an arbitrary corrective lens. He shows us enormous, house-sizes sails that can help power boats with wind power. It’s clear that Saul’s playing with complex technology that has important real world implications, but not entirely clear to me how this connects to his current interest in self-assembly.