bits to atoms and atoms to bits



We are cyborgs! From the earliest tools to enhance our bodily function to the body extensions that transport us in space and time into cyberspace. What performance artist Stelarc envisioned with his third ear, Ear on Arm – an ear that hears, grown on his arm, connected to other places through the Internet – is now no longer a reality of the arts but actualized through 3D printing. With the right blend of biology and materials science, the 3D printed bionic ear brings together electronic matter and biological tissue. A reality being worked on an Australian girl born bereft of one ear.

What Lipson and Kurman (2013) refer to as “modest manufacturing miracles” (p.7) are the 3D printed objects that range from “3D print living tissue” to “nutritionally calibrated food” complete with “electronic components” (p.7). This technology gives humans full control of the physical world as a digital ‘design file’ makes manifest its physical object. The boundaries between the virtual and the physical are once again blurred and questioned as 3D printing brings “the virtual world into close alignment with the physical one” (Lipson and Kurman, 2013, p.13). One can almost imagine a digital animated character leaving the screen and being embodied in physical space functioning as it would in its animated capacity.

Physical things are composed of shape, material and behavior. 3D printing will allow control over all three abovementioned components. A voxel, “the physical equivalent of a pixel” (Lipson and Kurman, 2013, p.16) is to the physical object world what the latter is to the digital image. Physical objects made up of voxels “would create intelligent, three-dimensional active physical objects”(Lipson and Kurman, 2013, p.17) thus transferring data from the computer into physical matter.

Telepresence is a reality in our living in the digital city as we are transported in space and time and constantly shift between the physical and the virtual world through our digital body mobile extensions. Taking this a step further, 3D printing will allow us to “fax things from place to place” as “physical objects smoothly transition from bits to atoms and atoms to bits” (Lipson and Kurman, 2013, p.17).





Euronews. Hi-tech. Girl to be fitted with 3D printed ear in Australia [online] Available at: <> [Accessed 7 May 2016].

Lipson, H. & Kurman, M., 2013. Fabricated. The New World of 3D Printing [pdf] Available at: <> [Accessed 7 May 2016].

MIT Technology Review. Cyborg Parts [online] Available at: <> [Accessed 7 May 2016].

Stelarc. Ear on Arm [online] Available at: <> [Accessed 7 May 2016].

Stelarc and Sondergaard, M., Conversations with Stelarc’s Internet Ear [pdf] Available at: <> [Accessed 7 May 2016].




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