Disruption through a different lens

Futurist Dhairya Dand talks disruptive technology and gives his own spin on how it can be organically imaginative

Published - September 11, 2017 04:35 pm IST

Associations we naturally make with the word ‘disruptive’ often involve a parade of innovation that shakes up our linear lives. The introduction of 3D printing, Elon Musk’s Hyperloop and blockchain as a distributed ledger technology for cryptocurrency have made considerable social impact to our status quo. Given Artificial Intelligence is likely the most disruptive of all, New York-based innovator Dhairya Dand continues to investigate the human body as a medium for computation, new materials as a tool to embody interactions and design as a vehicle for mindfulness.

The Victoria Jubilee Technological Institute alumnus and MIT graduate, who runs urban lab and factory ODD Industries in New York City, explains the role of disruptive technology as a messenger or means of change, adding, “Disruptive technology throws typical parameters out the window. Disruption starts in the fringes, in unexpected corners, in the intermingling of divergent fields and ideas. Such technology does not concern itself with solving a specific problem; it does away with the problem-solution mentality. It rather takes refuge in a free-form exercise of changing the perspective with which we look at things.”

Dand has dabbled in various subcultures, having created emotionally intelligent algorithms, robots and flowers in Singapore; sensorial devices in Tokyo; accessibility devices and political software in India; bio-reactive architecture in Seattle; programmable hair, synthetic muscles… it’s an ever-growing list, and indicative of why the 28 year-old’s been featured in Forbes’ ‘30 Under 30.’ “On the face of it, they all look like disconnected fields, but they really aren’t. I use my tools — which are science, technology and design.” He adds that the learning need not be linear either, “If you think of it as an actual path or road where everyone is expected to walk, that conjures up a dystopian Orwellian world.”

Noteworthy inventions

Perusing Dand’s archives, there’s a spectrum of creations which catch the eye and baffle the mind.

Lovotics is a life-form that develops emotional intelligence with increased human interaction. Dand’s thinking behind that is oriented around relationships. “At that time, I was single. I didn’t want another human relationship, but as a human, one still longs for platonic love. All the ‘love robots’ I’d seen addressed the physical part of love, so I wanted to make a ‘love robot’ that addressed the soul,” he explains.

A more well-known one is ThinkerToys, a series of educational toys made from a Phnom Penh landfill of e-waste, specifically tiny precious metal pieces from discarded circuits. The creation of ThinkerToys propelled a conversation around the global mounds of e-waste, extending the longevity of certain hardware, especially due to the rapid increase in the speed and quantity with which parts are discarded, redefining how we see ‘junk’.



FlipIt is a tablet which, upon changing its orientation, will provide dual perspectives — social media and broadcast media — on a single news story. This is bound to change how news will be consumed in a time of information overflow, allowing people to judge which views they trust.

Currently, Dand is creating a wristwatch that runs on bacteria, which involves a DNA computer, and is a personal investigation on time and mortality. While it’s still in the works, it’s pretty much on the cusp of the most consequential kind of disruption: the kind that affects the way we biologically function as humans. Seeing such inventions come to fruition will further impact how much we rely on technology and Artificial Intelligence to keep ourselves healthy.

At the heart of it all

Dand explains that encouraging the relevance of disruptive technology for the wider masses is a challenge, describing it as being sold as ‘the next big thing’, or the ‘saviour of humanity’. While all that’s inherently cool and riveting, the everyday man may not give it a second look. He adds, “What helps here, is presenting disruptive inventions with the lens of everyday experiences or tapping into common human emotions and desires, or even making the common man, not the disruptive technology, the centre of the conversation. To a ‘purist’, this might sound like selling out, but I disagree — if you have invented something, you sort of owe it to everyone who came before you and shared their inventions, which you built upon and created something new. You owe it to them if not the world, to showcase and share your invention in a way that it reaches as many minds as it can.”

Urban lab and factory ODD Industries, New York

Urban lab and factory ODD Industries, New York

With anything disruptive comes the naturally imbibed notion of idealism. He’s quick to cut this out, stating that everything at some point was idealistic, and things that seem idealistic today will be tomorrow’s normal. He explains that while not all innovations are successful at living up to disruptive standards, that’s where the fun lies, adding, “I’ll also leave people with something one of my mentors, Hiroshi Ishii, once told me: ‘Quantum leaps have rarely resulted from studies on users’ needs or market research; they have come from the passions and dreams of visionaries.’”

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