Cybernetic jewels

From the first seashells strung by our Paleolithic ancestors, to the most conceptually advanced contemporary art jewelry of the 20th century, all personal ornament and jewelry had, until 1985, been a product of some configuration of hardware—whether gold and precious stones, plastic, grass and flowers, or electronic displays. None of it contained anything even remotely resembling computer intelligence; it was "dumb as a rock."

Having created time-based, moving graphics jewels since 1975, utilizing LCD technology, I set as my next goal to create truly cybernetic jewelry. This meant a significant portion of the esthetic entity comprising the jewel would reside in a software program, executing in real time on a microcumputer residing in the jewel and contolling an output device—in this case an LCD panel with custom graphics. The patterns in this LCD would move and change under software control. Importantly, this meant that competely different looks could be obtained without changing the hardware in any way, something never before possible. Additionally the software could make decisions about how to control its output, based on internal and external monitoring of its environment, adding a component of "intelligence" not to be found without using computers. For the first time ever, jewelry objects could be endowed with simple, but real, aspects of awareness and volition- the first seeds of AI jewlery.

Below are representative examples of the kinds of cybernetic jewels I produced betwen 1985and 1990. Please note that the LCD panels are in constant flux and motion, sometimes very fast, and that is impossible to capture in still images. The colored metal is anodized titanium, which is treated in its own section of this site.

The notion of self-aware ornament proved to be a tough concept to sell to my peers in the art jewelry world. They mostly did not get it then—and still do not get it decades later—that this was a revolutionary break with previous paradigms. I found much more acceptance and understanding from the computer art community, which in retrospect probably began my ultimate drift away from jewelry and art.

Although my original ideas from the early 70s involved using computers to drive my LCDs, it simply was not possible, because no such low power, single chip computers existed for quite some time. The first to arrive, in 1985, was the Motorola 1468705, a CMOS, single chip computer with 2016 bytes of programmable memory. While not much, it was still enough memory to program interesting graphics with a 16-segment LCD. All prgrams were of necessity written in assembly language. It is important to note that these jewels were not "ROM-readers", wherein patterns were simply stored in read only memory (ROM) and then extracted—the patterns in my jewels were actually computed. My reason for using a CMOS microcomputer was for its inherently low power consumption. Indeed, by judiciously controlling the computer's clock speed, I was able to get one year of continuous sevice fom two "button" batteries.

Here is the work station I used for programming the internal microcomputers.

These are some published papers describing my cybernetic jewels:

"Jewelry for a Brave New World", Ornament magazine, 1987

"Algortihmic Ornament", Visual Computer magazine, 1988