TED Radio Hour
10:10 am
Fri December 6, 2013

Can Anyone Become A Hacker?

Originally published on Thu December 26, 2013 1:44 pm

Part 4 of the TED Radio Hour episode The Hackers.

About Jay Silver's TEDTalk

Why can't two slices of pizza be used as a slide clicker? Why shouldn't you make music with ketchup? Inventor Jay Silver talks about the urge to play with the world around you and demos MaKey MaKey, a kit for hacking everyday objects.

About Jay Silver

Jay Silver is the founder and director of JoyLabz and a Maker Research Scientist at Intel Labs. He also runs digital prototyping workshops for many companies such as IDEO and youth centers such as Computer Clubhouses.

Silver studied electrical engineering at Georgia Tech, where he was named Engineer of the Year. He was awarded a Gates Scholarship to earn a master's in Internet Technology from Cambridge University. He also holds a master's in Media Arts and Sciences from MIT Media Lab where he was an NSF Fellow.

Copyright 2013 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

GUY RAZ, HOST:

It's the TED Radio Hour from NPR. I'm Guy Raz. So our show today, the hackers.

JAY SILVER: Being a hacker is definitely important to me because a hacker is somebody who doesn't ask how something works, they just see what works.

RAZ: Jay Silver is maybe the most literal hacker on today's show. He does hack into computers, but he's also an inventor, and what he invented is a hack everything machine.

(SOUNDBITE OF MAKEY MAKEY DEMONSTRATION)

SILVER: And so you have four bananas here, and each banana will make your Pac-Man move in the direction in which...

UNIDENTIFIED STUDIO ENGINEER #1: It looks like a cursor key.

SILVER: Like a cursor key, right.

RAZ: And so, with some people we gathered from around the office, we hacked into those bananas to help us play Pac-Man...

(SOUNDBITE OF MAKEY MAKEY DEMONSTRATION)

RAZ: ...With Jay's invention. It is called a MaKey MaKey, and it's a little circuit board. It's about the size of a credit card, and it looks...

SILVER: ...Like an old-school Nintendo GamePad or basically, a videogame controller. It's actually a circuit board, but it doesn't look like a circuit board. It just looks like a game controller, and you can hook up alligator clips to it.

RAZ: And then you hook up those alligator clips to whatever you have lying around...

(SOUNDBITE OF MAKEY MAKEY DEMONSTRATION)

UNIDENTIFIED STUDIO ENGINEER #2: These bananas are going to get mushy.

SILVER: Humans, plants, grandmas, kitty cats, water, graphite.

RAZ: ...Which then send signals back through the MaKey MaKey to your computer.

SILVER: Just like if you hooked up a regular USB keyboard to your computer, and you push the space bar, and the computer's like, oh, space bar is pushed. So you hook up the MaKey MaKey, and when you touch the object, that pushes the space bar.

(SOUNDBITE OF MAKEY MAKEY DEMONSTRATION)

UNIDENTIFIED STUDIO ENGINEER #3: Down, left, down. I am touching bananas and losing.

SILVER: One thing you can't do with a normal joystick that you can do here is you can play collaborative Pac-Man.

RAZ: Oh, that's a good idea, let's play collaborative Pac-Man.

STUDIO ENGINEER #3: How do we play?

SILVER: Just let one person hold the other one, and everyone else can hold hands or ear lobes.

STUDIO ENGINEER #3: And then everybody...

STUDIO ENGINEER #2: Oh, come on.

UNIDENTIFIED STUDIO ENGINEER #4: Like, a circuit - a human circuit.

UNIDENTIFIED STUDIO ENGINEER #5: Oh, that's awesome.

RAZ: And at the end, Brent...

BRENT BAUGHMAN, BYLINE: Yeah.

RAZ: ...You're going to tap...

BAUGHMAN: The bananas.

RAZ: ...The bananas.

STUDIO ENGINEER #2: We're all going to get the charge.

SILVER: Yeah.

BAUGHMAN: Yeah.

STUDIO ENGINEER #2: OK.

RAZ: And Jay Silver's hope...

(SOUNDBITE OF MAKEY MAKEY DEMONSTRATION)

BAUGHMAN: You're holding that.

STUDIO ENGINEER #2: I'm holding it.

RAZ: ...For the MaKey MaKey to turn...

(SOUNDBITE OF MAKEY MAKEY DEMONSTRATION)

STUDIO ENGINEER #2: Wait, wait.

RAZ: ...Anyone...

(SOUNDBITE OF MAKEY MAKEY DEMONSTRATION)

BAUGHMAN: It's working. Oh, my, God.

STUDIO ENGINEER #2: OK.

RAZ: ...Into a hacker.

SILVER: I think everyone starts out thinking about the world with what I call a beginner's mind, which is just a mind that's not trained - doesn't know how it's supposed to think. I think we all start out that way. I think children are like that.

(SOUNDBITE OF MAKEY MAKEY DEMONSTRATION)

SILVER: Don't know what they are supposed to think when they look at snow or when they look at a TV channel changer or any of these things.

(SOUNDBITE OF MAKEY MAKEY DEMONSTRATION)

STUDIO ENGINEER #4: This feels kind of spiritual.

STUDIO ENGINEER #5: I know. It does, doesn't it?

STUDIO ENGINEER #2: It does.

SILVER: And over time, we're told what to think and that's useful. We just need to be able to put that aside when we want to.

(SOUNDBITE OF MAKEY MAKEY DEMONSTRATION)

STUDIO ENGINEER #3: You can let go now.

STUDIO ENGINEER #4: My, gosh. Yeah.

STUDIO ENGINEER #3: Thanks, everybody.

BAUGHMAN: All right.

STUDIO ENGINEER #1: OK. You can all go back to work now.

STUDIO ENGINEER #2: Oh, I don't want to.

BAUGHMAN: That was cool.

STUDIO ENGINEER #4: That was super fun.

RAZ: Yeah.

STUDIO ENGINEER #2: Do you eat the bananas now?

STUDIO ENGINEER #3: You can eat - we can eat the bananas.

STUDIO ENGINEER #2: OK.

SILVER: I think that's what hacking is. It's asking, what happens if I do this, and then doing that over and over again. A kid will try something a hundred times, and you're like, why are they trying that? But in trying it over and over again, they're actually exploring the possibilities - and that we would kind of cut out of our minds because we think, oh, we already know how this works.

RAZ: Now believe me when I say you have to see the video of how the MaKey MaKey works to understand how cool it actually is. And for a very good reason, as Jay explained in his TED Talk, the MaKey MaKey actually comes with a warning label.

(SOUNDBITE OF TED TALK)

SILVER: Because, otherwise, people are going to be getting this, and they're going to be turning into agents of creative change and governments will be crumbling. And I wouldn't have told people, so I thought I better warn them. And I also put this little surprise, when you open the lid of the box, it says, the world is a construction kit. And as you start to kind of mess around this way, I think that in some small ways, you do start to see the landscape of your everyday life a little bit more like something you could express yourself with, and a little bit more like you could participate in designing the future of the way the world works. And so, like, you know, next time you're on an escalator and you drop an M&M by accident, you know, maybe that's a M&M surfboard, not an escalator.

So don't pick it up right away. Maybe take some more stuff out of your pockets, throw it down and - maybe some Chapstick, whatever, and - you know, I used to want to design, like, a utopic society, or a perfect world or something like that. But as I'm kind of getting older and I'm kind of messing with all of this stuff, I'm realizing that my idea of a perfect world really can't be designed by one person or even by a million experts. It's really going to be 7 billion pairs of hands, each following their own passions, and each kind of like a mosaic, coming up and creating this world in their backyards and in their kitchens. And that's a world I really want to live in. Thank you.

(APPLAUSE)

RAZ: Jay Silver, his full TED Talk is a really, really great - very visual. You should check it out. It's called, "Hack a banana, make a keyboard." And you can find it at TED.NPR.org.

(SOUNDBITE OF MAKEY MAKEY DEMONSTRATION) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Related program: