Why Rube Goldberg machines still matter in 2012
May 7th, 2012
06:48 PM ET

Why Rube Goldberg machines still matter in 2012

By John D. Sutter, CNN

(CNN) - Rube Goldberg machines - those contraptions that, like the board game Mouse Trap, aim to accomplish a simple task in a needlessly complex way - don't really fit in an age obsessed with efficiency and perfection.

Yet, online, these fun-to-watch systems do seem to have incredible currency. Think OK Go music videos, for starters.

The machine below, called Mini-Melvin, caught my eye this week. Housed inside two suitcases, Mini-Melvin employs an alarm clock, a smartphone, a child's xylophone, a toy train and many other trinkets - all to stamp a short message on a postcard.

Check out the video below:

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Filed under: Art • Culture • Design • Tech
May 7th, 2012
03:23 PM ET

Quirky.com: where inventions go public

Americans are known for being a nation of tinkerers –  inventors with imagination, creativity and pluck. But despite that legacy, and the largest consumer market in the world, it’s nearly impossible for an average inventor to see their idea actually make it to store shelves.

Ben Kaufman is determined to change that. He is the 25-year-old founder and CEO of Quirky.com, an innovative startup that is turning ideas into real-life products.

Kaufman, subject of last Sunday's "The Next List" on CNN, says his mission is “to make it possible for all people to execute on their great ideas, regardless of their luck, their circumstance or their pedigree. To give everyone a chance.”

The Quirky process leverages the power of thousands of community members and the experience of top-notch designers to take an idea from the “what if” stage all the way to the marketplace. Members not only vote on the products they’d like to see, they double as built-in buyers. And everybody who influences the final product gets a cut.

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Filed under: Innovation • Internet • Tech • The Next List • Video
Swapping dog poop for free Wi-Fi
May 7th, 2012
12:12 PM ET

Swapping dog poop for free Wi-Fi

By John D. Sutter, CNN

(CNN) - OK, I know this sounds ridiculous. But hear me out. An Internet company in Mexico City recently tested the idea of giving responsible pet owners a treat for picking up after their dogs in public parks.

People put their dogs' droppings in a special container which measured the weight of the poop. The container, which doubled as a router, then emitted a set number of minutes of free Wi-Fi for every pound of feces it collected.

Yeah, that's kind of gross. And no, there apparently was nothing stopping Wi-Fi cheaters from putting rocks or other heavy objects in the bins instead of dog poop. But it's yet another example of game mechanics getting tacked on top of the real world we live in - trying to influence our behavior, for better or worse, with rewards. The same kind we give to our pets. FULL POST

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Filed under: Environment • Gaming • Innovation • Internet • Tech
May 4th, 2012
03:11 PM ET

Ben Kaufman: Innovation happens outside the boardroom these days

Editor's note: Ben Kaufman is the CEO of Quirky.com, which helps inventors bring their ideas to the market. Kaufman is the subject of Sunday's episode of "The Next List," on CNN at 2 p.m. ET.

By Ben Kaufman, Special to CNN

(CNN) - Ninety-nine percent of consumer product companies are incredibly disconnected from the people that they serve. The process of trying to learn about what those people want only creates more distance.

We used to live in a world in which Big Companies made things, and people bought them, sometimes because they were the right things, sometimes because they were the only things. Before the Internet came along, this kind of worked. Before the Web, people’s expectations of how, where and to whom they could express themselves were very low. FULL POST

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Filed under: Crowdsourcing • Culture • Design • Internet • Tech • The Next List
Intel: Smartphones will plug into your brain
May 3rd, 2012
02:34 PM ET

Intel: Smartphones will plug into your brain

By John D. Sutter, CNN

(CNN) - This almost doesn't require comment. Check out David Goldman's CNNMoney story about a new white paper commissioned by Intel, in which researchers say it is inevitable - inevitable! - that smarpthones will plug into brains.

Here's Goldman's explanation of what could happen:

... Step one: a lag-free operating system that anyone can use intuitively to perform any computing task.

Step two: Interfacing with the body. These kinds of interfaces are already operating in a relatively rudimentary way, with implants and pacemakers. But in its paper, Intel suggests that the link-up will be much more robust.

How robust? Well, have you seen "The Matrix?" FULL POST

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Filed under: Future • Innovation • Smartphones • Tech
May 2nd, 2012
02:12 PM ET

This week on 'The Next List': Quirky.com brings invention to the masses

By The Next List staff, CNN

(CNN) - How many times have you been in the middle of a routine day then - BAM! - a great idea pops into your head. Maybe it's a way to solve some annoying problem or to make a household chore easier. But for almost everyone, the next thought is this: "Never going to happen.”

That’s because bringing a product to market takes so much more than having a great idea. Invention, it sometimes seems, is largely the domain of large corporations, people with access to big time cash or big-time connections.

And that’s where Ben Kaufman comes in. He’s the 25-year-old founder and CEO of Quirky.com, a start-up website that gives would-be inventors a place to go with their ideas.

The CNN show "The Next List" will feature Kaufman on Sunday at 2 p.m. ET. Check out the preview video above. FULL POST

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Filed under: Innovation • Internet • Tech • The Next List • Thinkers • Video
The Big Idea: Robots should take our jobs
May 2nd, 2012
09:38 AM ET

The Big Idea: Robots should take our jobs

By John D. Sutter, CNN

(CNN) - At a time when computer programs are threatening to become competent journalists, capable of spitting out clear-headed reports on financial earnings reports and the like, this could get a little personal. But I thought I would draw your attention to a provocative statement posted on Wednesday by Kevin Kelly, the Wired magazine co-founder and author of "What Technology Wants."

Here's what Kelly has to say about robots stealing our jobs:

The fact that a task is routine enough to be measured suggests that it is routine enough to go to the robots. In my opinion, many of the jobs that are being fought over by unions today are jobs that will be outlawed within several generations as inhumane.

If a job is so routine that it could be done by robots - usually robots that can't really think but are really good at doing mechanical tasks over and over - will it be seen as "inhumane" by future generations? And - gasp! - are today's punch-out-the-facts journalism jobs going to be seen by our future selves as harmfully routine and monotonous? This takes the idea of a "paragraph factory" to a whole new level.

This is obviously not an endorsement, just a conversation starter.

Feel free to debate in the comments section below.

Update: Some of your comments were aggregated by CNN's news blog, This Just In. Check it out. As always, thanks for participating in the conversation.

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Filed under: Innovation • Robots • Tech
May 1st, 2012
02:59 PM ET

The Big Idea: Banjo music connects America and China

By John D. Sutter, CNN

Over in our opinion section, Abigail Washburn writes thoughtfully about the power of music to connect people from different cultures. She has a unique persective from which to make this claim, since she's a banjo-playing bluegrass musician - with curly blonde hair - who sometimes sings in Chinese.

Here's what she has to say about music's cross-cultural powers:

Music is a powerful way to connect cultures. I see it when I'm on a stage at a bluegrass festival in Virginia. When I look out at the sea of people in lawn chairs and bust into a song in Chinese, everybody's eyes pop wide open and they nudge their neighbor: "Is that girl singing in Chinese?" After a show, people would come up to me; everyone seems to have a story about their connection to China. And I see the power of music when I'm on stage in China: I start a Chinese song and the audience roars with delight that the blond, curly-haired girl with the banjo can sing their music.

More importantly, I see how music directly connects people's hearts. Like the time a little Chinese girl came up to me after I performed at a relocation school in Sichuan's earthquake disaster zone and asked: "Big Sister Wang, can I sing you a song that my mom sang before she was swallowed in the earthquake...?" She sat on my lap and I could feel the warmth of her body. She sang me the song, and tears started rolling down her cheeks and tears started rolling down mine. The light shining from her eyes felt like a place I could stay forever.

Check out the full post on CNN Opinion, and watch a video interview above.

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Filed under: Art • Culture • Innovation • Music
May 1st, 2012
02:36 PM ET

How computer code could better our cities

Check out this CNN video. Code for America's Jennifer Pahlka explains.

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Filed under: Design • Innovation • Internet • Social change
5 extra-creative Webby Award winners
May 1st, 2012
02:29 PM ET

5 extra-creative Webby Award winners

By Doug Gross, CNN

(CNN) - The winners of the 2012 Webby Awards were announced on Tuesday.

Established in 1996, the Webby Awards are arguably the Internet's best-known honors.

After starting small, the Webbys now hand out more than 100 awards each year.

Many of each year's honorees tend to be celebrities, big companies or well-known online entities. Among this year's big winners are Pinterest (best social media app), photo-sharing app Instagram (breakout of the year), and the comedian Louis C.K., honored by the Webbys for creating "a new precedent for distribution" by releasing his comedy special through his own website.

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Filed under: Culture • Innovation • Internet • Tech
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