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Virtual Priest Offers Guidance on Web Browsing at Israeli Museum

February 21, 2012

(For more Bloomberg Muse, click on MUSE <GO>.)

Feb. 20 (Bloomberg) -- A virtual priest pops up in a confessional and offers spiritual guidance to computer users who routinely spill their guts through Google searches. A neon sign displays words eavesdropped from mobile-phone conversations.

The Israeli works in the “Decode: Digital Design Sensations” exhibition at the Design Museum Holon comment on digital traces left by everyday communications, and are especially poignant given escalating Mideast cyber-attacks.

“There is some kind of critical thinking, and at least in these installations a need to reveal the mechanism, to say: OK, this technology is great, but let’s look at it and how it works,” says Mushon Zer Aviv, who designed the priest-inspired browser plug-in “Good Listeners.”

The plug-in, which can be downloaded at home, opens up the confessional whenever a site is exposing a visitor’s data to a third-party service. The idea is to present a satirical visualization of the vast amount of data passively generated by Web surfers that is collected and mined by Internet forces.

Websites operated by the Tel Aviv Stock Exchange and El Al Israel Airlines Ltd. were attacked by hackers on Jan. 16 after a pro-Palestinian computer group, calling itself “Nightmare,” warned of imminent assault.

Hacker Assault

“Nightmare” first signaled its plan to attack the two corporate websites in an e-mail to the Ynet news service, which reported on its own site that the message was sent by a person identifying himself as a Saudi Arabian hacker. The same person had been exposing the numbers of thousands of Israeli credit cards lifted from locally operated sites.

“Much of Israeli design in the past was influenced by the military because of the need to find a solution to solve a problem,” says Eran Lederman, who teaches industrial design at Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design in Jerusalem.

“What is influencing Israeli design is the fact that in Israel there are few manufacturing, industrial companies,” he says. “Most of the production stems from startup companies where the purpose is to sell ideas. As a result, Israeli design stands out for its ideas.” Lederman is also partner and founder of the Tel Aviv-based Leor-Lederman Industrial Design Studio.

Israel, whose population of 7.8 million is similar in size to Switzerland’s, has about 60 companies traded on the Nasdaq Composite Index, the most of any country outside the U.S. after China.

Humanized Design

The exhibition, curated by London’s Victoria and Albert Museum in collaboration with onedotzero, explores developments in digital and interactive design. The Holon museum added three Israeli installations to the original show.

Electronic flowers light up and make music as they are touched by passersby, and a Fantasia-like electronic display features flower-like designs that open and shut based on trading data from a stock exchange.

“Cubes,” by the Interaction Lab at the Holon Institute of Technology, is a hands-on installation of clear cubes that reveal their inner mechanism as they respond to stimuli from the viewer, emitting sounds, traveling across an opaque table or revealing distances.

“The message is that technology design is becoming more and more humanized,” says Amnon Silber, director of the museum’s education department. “We don’t need to write a complicated line of code to operate a device. There are no manuals.”

Xbox Kinect

As an example, Silber points to Kinect, the Microsoft Corp. Xbox game that’s based on technology developed by Israel’s PrimeSense Inc. On Jan. 18, General Motors Co. said it was working with the Bezalel Academy on a project that will turn car windows into interactive displays.

Students have created applications that include an animated character projected on the window that responds to weather and landscape as well as a product that allows finger-drawing.

Israeli designers have a good chance of developing an idea that may be as unique as Apple Inc.’s iPhone, Lederman says.

“The Israeli eye hasn’t been made used to detail and design but the ear is sensitive to ideas in material and technology,” he says. “As such, Israeli designers have a big advantage in understanding technology and users’ needs.”

“Decode-Digital Design Sensations” runs through March 10 at Design Museum Holon, 8 Pinhas Eilan St., Holon. Information: www.dmh.org.il.

--Editors: Jim Ruane, Mark Beech.

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To contact the writer on the story: Gwen Ackerman in Jerusalem at gackerman@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Manuela Hoelterhoff at mhoelterhoff@bloomberg.net.


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