Simple Machines // Intelligent Machines


A simple machine is a mechanical device that changes the direction or magnitude of a force. In general, a simple machine can be defined as one of the simplest mechanisms that provide mechanical advantage. Simple machines are considered to be the “building blocks” of more complicated machines.


So what is a Rube Goldberg Machine? 

A Rube Goldberg machine is a deliberately complex developed contraption in which a series of devices that perform simple tasks are linked together through chain reactions to produce a domino-effect in which activating one device triggers the next device in the sequence.

This work within DIGC335 will stem off a previous digital artefact I composed involving the Rube Goldberg Machine within the household. I created a Youtube/Blog series about the the machines, breaking down different components. This included showcasing the materials used in the development of my apparatus, the processes to which I successfully (and unsuccessfully) created these machines and of course the finished and polished results. Cybercultures will give me the opportunity to direct the focus of my research and machines through a cybernetic filter, showcasing the processes and science of communications and automatic control systems in living things and now the Rube Goldberg Machine.

[Previous DA ‘Global Networks’ by Sonny Nguyen]

” ‘CYBERNETICS’ typically denotes the interdisciplinary study and strategic deployment of communicative control processes in “complex systems” constituted by humans, other animals, machines, and the rest of living-nature. “ – (Pfohl, 1997)

Cybernetics as a process operating in nature has been around for a long time; actually, for as long as nature has been around. Through historical and contemporary settings this idea began to flourish,  Norbert Wiener coined the notion, inspiring a generation of scientists to think of computer technology as a means to extend human capabilities. He helped to create the first designs for self-guiding rockets, where through a series of feedback loops materials were programmed to respond to their external settings and conditions. Wiener wrote a book called “Cybernetics” in 1948 whereby the subtitle to this work emphasised “control and communication in the animal and machine”. This text is fundamental stepping stone to understanding techniques of securing efficient operation, the dynamics of observed systems and on the dynamics of the observer and ultimately the art of growing; both technologically and as humans. His proposed notions connect control (actions taken in hope of achieving goals) with communication (connection and information flow between the actor and the environment). So, Wiener is pointing out that effective action requires communication.


Norbert Wiener, Massachusetts Institute of Technology ]

My proposed Digital Artefact deals with these elements of Cybernetics and the impact it has on Machines and the human experience of these systems. Through exploration of new technologies and emerging technologies, I am determined to challenge and arouse the relationship human beings have with cyberspace, transforming a series of simple machines (The Rube Goldberg Machine) into that of artificial intelligence. Philosopher, artist and writer Manuel De Landa, talks about how artists/designers/architects can work in partnership with materials. That is to understand the physicality of the materials you are working with (size, mass, characteristics etc.). Shaping materials in accordance with their concept or, acknowledging their distinctive qualities and harness these in creating work (Curti, 2010). I believe this than too be adapted to technology, in a sense to understand the functions of each module, the behaviour of materials when combined with computing and the change of productivity when converged with human interaction.

I intend to work heavily with technologies such as the Arduino to shape my own understanding of the concepts listed above, to share with viewers not only my own learning experiences/results but in hope to influence those of the responder. “Arduino is an open-source electronics prototyping platform based on flexible, easy-to-use hardware and software. It’s intended for artists, designers, hobbyists, and anyone interested in creating interactive objects or environments.” (Bruce, 2011). Essentially, the Arduino is a Programmable Logic Controller, disregarding the physical interfaces from that of a PC. Through Arduino work I want to incorporate autonomous behaviours within the Rube Goldberg Machine, code and program sections of the contraption to be triggered through sensors (motion, light, sound), motors and perhaps even smart device apps utility (using Siri to perform physical tasks). The simple machines listed above will now be shifted electronically behaving with itself in a different context rather than that of physics (using electronics to change the motion of the Rube Goldberg Machine in unconventional ways and directions).


This project will challenge the relationship between human and machine and work towards highlighting the electrical impulses that machines have just like the human body in order to function. This includes computational processes and technologies such as virtual reality which activate the incredibly complex networked ecosystem of ‘The Internet Of Things’, turning viewer into producers, systems into interactive channels of information (Bishop, 2006). Though obviously the chemical and hormonal elements cannot be replicated by machines (yet), I aim to blur the binary and establish utopian and dystopian worlds through research and practice.

[DIGC202 Digital Artefect // 360-degree applied to the RGM]

Machines are now relentlessly transmitting data to the Internet which deal with the triad of identity, location and state, resulting in a continuous collection of ‘who I am, where I am and what is happening within my environment’. (Mitew, 2014). Cybernetics takes as its domain the design or discovery and application of principles of regulation and communication which I find will foster great application within the Rube Goldberg Machine. Rather than documenting machines as they are, their physical characteristics and uses, this work  aims to treat not things but ways of behaving.


Bishop, C 2006 ,‘Participation‘. 1st ed, Cambridge: Whitechapel Ventures Ltd, pp.1-10, date accessed: 22 March 2017, < >

Bruce, J 2011,  ‘What Is Arduino & What Can You Do With It? [Technology Explained]. MakeUseOf, date accessed: 22 Mar. 2017, < >

Curti, C 2010, ‘Material(ism) for Architects: a Conversation with Manuel DeLanda’,, date accessed: 21 March 2017, < >

Pfohl, S. 1997,  ‘The Cybernetic Delirium of Norbert Wiener’ | CTheory., date accessed: 21 March 2017, <>


2 thoughts on “Simple Machines // Intelligent Machines

  1. Hey Sonny! I love that you’re iterating on the Rube Goldberg DA you did least semester! I came across this video on Facebook yesterday and I thought it was great in demonstrating the link between human experience and the idea of simple/intelligent machines.
    With this new iteration with arduinos and sensors, I found a great example where people are documented their experience and process of combining the Rube Goldgerg Machine with senors ect. Check it out here: This could help with your process or with thinking of ideas of how to integrate digital and analogue.


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