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On the Way to "Smart" Materials?

Freie Universität Berlin and Academy of Media Arts Cologne Explore Technological Paradigm Shift

№ 251/2009 from Sep 28, 2009

Microchips control muscles, cars independently inform the repair shop of errors, and biomolecules implanted in the body function as an "implanted physician" to provide medication as needed: in the everyday technology of tomorrow, the boundaries between matter and living organisms are blurred. Researchers from the Institute of Philosophy of Freie Universität Berlin and the Academy of Media Arts Cologne (KHM) are exploring this technological paradigm shift in a collaborative research project called "Embodied Information: 'Lifelike' Algorithms and Cellular 'Machines.'" The research group is funded by BMBF, the German Ministry of Education and Research.

The research group explores the converging technologies paradigm advocated since 2002 that explains the convergence of nanotechnology, biotechnology, information technology, and neurotechnology. The question is whether the respective basic elements – atoms, genes, bits, and nerve cells – are compatible with each other and can be used to develop new technologies. The natural and engineering scientists have in mind applications such as nanometer-sized bioprocessors, intelligent materials, and self-organizing sensor networks.

"Matter incorporates information in new ways, forming new behaviors virtually independent of external control," is how the heads of the research group, Dr. Gabriele Gramelsberger of Freie Universität Berlin and Prof. Dr. Peter Bexte of the Academy of Media Arts Cologne, describe the phenomenon. "We want to examine the changing patterns of technology making such behavior possible, as well as what these new developments mean for people."

The group is part of the BMBF program "The Translation Function of the Humanities" that aims to explore in what ways the humanities function as a kind of seismograph of new developments.

Further Information

  • Dr. Gabriele Gramelsberger, Institute of Philosophy, Freie Universität Berlin
    Tel.: +49 (0)30 83854509, Email:
  • Prof. Dr. Peter Bexte, Academy of Media Arts Cologne, Peter-Welter-Platz 2,
    50676 Cologne, Tel.: +49 (0)221 20189-355, Email: