Computational Design Lab

Paul Pangaro lectures at Code Lab

Paul Pangaro
Computing Conversation – When, Why, How, Who?

Tuesday, April 9, 5:30 PM MMCH 103

When Gordon Pask created his immersive gallery installation “Colloquy of Mobiles” in 1968, he gave us a vision of a future that we have thus far refused. Unlike our merely-responsive devices of today, Pask’s mobiles from 50 years ago are organic and analog in appearance and behavior, a gaggle of autonomous machines at human scale. And they are capable of conversation. But Pask never built a chatbot. Neither did his mobiles partake in the messy, contorted exchanges that humans get into, but still – they exchanged messages and decided whether to engage or not, and whether to cooperate or not, all in service of their individual (and oftenshared) goals. They had a conversation.The pinnacle of Pask’s conversational designs is an “architecture machine”, the enabling of a human-machine conversation that evolves not just the means of building a design (CAD renderings, engineering specifications) but also evolves the goals and values behind a design (reasons for why the design is what it is). Reviewing Pask’s career yields rich desiderata for human-machine interaction that we can use to reframe our human relationship to machines, if we wish to. Today we have extraordinary work from architects, artists, and technologists, striving for organic and analog environments, even creating a responsive fabric for “smart cities” and IoT. But where is the actuality of conversation, the dance of intention and action?

In this talk, Colloquy of Mobiles and its full-scale replication in 2018 are used to revisit Pask’s journey from building conversational machines to building a theory of conversations. An invaluable concept emerging from conversational machines is the definition of an “ethical interface” that offers reliable transparency of action & intent – the what and the why – such that trust may arise. Yet the ultimate provocation of conversational machines is imperative for all who design: to enable others to converse. Thus we increase the number of choices for all.

Paul Pangaro studied theatre, film criticism, and computer science while an undergraduate at MIT, spending the remainder of his time acting in plays and writing software for interactive graphics and computer-generated film. On graduating Pangaro worked on neural simulations and then joined The Architecture Machine Group, Nicholas Negroponte’s research lab founded 15 years before the MIT Media Lab. At ArchMach Pangaro met Gordon Pask and pursued a PhD with Pask at Brunel University (UK), applying Pask’s conversation theory framework to software systems for learning. Over his career in startups and consulting, he has built systems for interacting with content, proposed methods of organizational transformation and “innovation”, and designed the process of design, all based on conversation models. From 2015 he chaired the MFA Interaction Design program at the College for Creative Studies in Detroit and in January 2019 he joined Carnegie Mellon as Professor of the Practice in the Human-Computer Interaction Institute. His work can be found at

Author: Yixiao Fu
Category: News