Annenberg welcomes Innovator-in-Residence

On Tuesday, the Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism hosted a forum led by this year’s Innovator-in-Residence, Aaron Koblin, an artist and designer specializing in data and digital technologies and the current leader of the Data Arts Team in Google’s Creative Lab.

Koblin was chosen to be this year’s Innovator-in-Residence by the research council of the Innovation Lab, a group of 14 professors from five schools at USC. As the Innovator-in-Residence, Koblin will give several public talks, co-teach classes, hold seminars with both researchers and students and have the Annenberg Innovation Lab focus its future research efforts.

“It’s refreshing and invigorating to come back to an academic environment and see what the students are working on,” Koblin said. “This is a nice opportunity to self-reflect and get different perspectives on things I’ve worked on from both faculty and students.”

Koblin’s work specifically takes real world and community-generated data and uses it to study and reflect on cultural trends and the changing relationship between humans and man-made systems.

“It was really interesting to learn about the intersections of communication and technology, and how crowd-sourcing is changing,” said David Tobia, a junior majoring in print and digital journalism.

During the seminar on Tuesday, Koblin presented various examples of his past real-world studies over the last several years, notably his collaborative drawing projects such as “The Sheep Market” and “Ten Thousand Cents” — both of which utilized the community, available technology and, in the end, human nature.

Koblin stressed that technology can enhance our humanity if used properly.

“I thought it was very interesting how a large part of all of his projects involved getting the community involved in a simple task, and then using his results to form a bigger picture [about the community],” said Runbo Chen, a first year graduate student studying public relations.

Koblin’s work is part of the permanent collection of the Museum of Modern Art in New York, the Victoria & Albert Museum in London and the Centre Pompidou in Paris. His projects have been shown at international festivals including TED and Ars Electronica. Koblin also received the National Science Foundation’s first place award for science visualization, and two of his music video collaborations have been Grammy nominated.

Koblin is no stranger to working at a university. In 2010, he was the Abramowitz Artist-in-Residence at MIT.  He hopes to use his position to  help both students and faculty.

“Through the observations I’ve made while building my projects and throughout my career, I hopefully will be able to help people in their own career and project pursuits,” Koblin said. “I think it’s important for the discussion to be a true dialogue so that I can connect with the faculty and the students and hear what they have to say as well.”

Many students said they enjoyed the way Koblin incorporated both technology and art into his talk.

“The presentation was really cool, and Aaron is very talented at what he does,” said Jiangwen Hui, a first year graduate student studying public relations. “I really enjoyed the motion pictures, and how he was able to convert various still images into a moving presentation.”

For every motion picture part of the presentation, Koblin also had a point to make about culture.

“It was very interesting how he was able to make art from data, and to talk about culture and human nature in terms of technology and art,” said Shrota Sharma, a graduate student in planning.

Koblin received his master of fine arts in design and media arts from UCLA. When asked about how he felt contributing to his crosstown rival’s communication program, Koblin laughed, admitting that he had never been very interested in the rivalry.

“Truthfully, I never really subscribed too much to [the rivalry]. However, I do believe that all collaboration is key to advancement,” Koblin said. “The best creativity is often a result of two different perspectives and experiences coming together and working out — even if they started in different places.”


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