Professor R. Luke DuBois Meets TED

The theme for the 2016 TED Talks was an ambitious one: Dream! It was chosen because, as the organizers assert, "dreams matter more than ever." Their premise: "Humanity has more capability, connection and possibility than ever in history. And yet too often we waste these powers. We get bogged down in the mundane. Confused by the complexity. Or exhausted by the naysayers. [So] it’s time to resurrect the spirit of John Kennedy’s great moonshot challenge of the 1960s. This will be a conference dedicated to great feats of imagineering, invention, innovation . . . and the courageous dreamers who can bring us with them on their journey.”

Invention, innovation . . . pretty familiar concepts for anyone at NYU Tandon, so it’s no surprise that on February 17, one of the featured speakers was Co-Director and Associate Professor of Integrated Digital Media R. Luke DuBois, who participated in a series of talks on the subject of “Code Power.

DuBois pointed out that while he doesn’t draw or paint, and a shop teacher in high school once called him a menace, he can still create because he knows how to code. The medium may be new, he explained, but like much art, it is aimed at evoking emotion.

Among the projects he showcased were a visual representation of music that appears plant-like (no surprise, he asserts, because “the underlying algorithmic biology of the plant is what informed the musical structure in the first place”); “a real-time portrait” that involved configuring a gun that had been used in a murder in New Orleans to fire a blank every time a shooting was reported in that city, with the exhibit case dramatically filling with empty shells; and a word portrait generated using data from 19,000,000 online dating profiles.

Despite the disparate nature of those works, they are all portraits, he said, drawn from data rather than oils or water colors. “When you do it right, it’s illuminating. When you do it wrong it’s anesthetizing,” he cautioned. “It reduces people to numbers [and] we’re more than numbers. We have dreams and ideas and reducing us to statistics is something that is done at our peril.”

Watch DuBois' complete TED Talk below: