Parallel Minds, 47–51


Under the Skin


When attributed to materials, the term ‘intelligent’ normally describes a set of behaviours including the ability to respond to certain stimuli, without implying that a material is intelligent in the same way as a person or animal. Most of the research in the field of intelligent materials focuses on very particular application-oriented materials, since the possibility of using a material capable of ‘feeling’ its surroundings is potentially useful in many different contexts, from engineering to medicine. Usually an intelligent material is designed to be sensitive to one or two stimuli at a time, whereas a living body, however simple, is capable of perceiving a vast number of different signals from its environment. In the context of materials science, no concerted effort has been made toward the construction of increasingly sentient automata; rather, efforts go toward designing materials that are capable of performing certain determinate functions more and more efficiently. In this sense, the intelligence of materials is better understood as a side effect of the need to optimise the functionality of our technologies, rather than as a specific project to ‘animate’ non-living matter. And yet, nothing prevents us from imagining the construction of a arbitrarily complex material capable of responding to many stimuli simultaneously.…