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Code, Hardware, and Hannah Montana: Inside the World of Tigris Li, Creative Technologist
NCO 017

Creative technologist Tigris Li, has been making waves on TikTok and Twitter for her innovative work in Web3 and hardware engineering. In this interview, Tigris discusses her unique experience on TikTok and how its algorithm has democratized content and allowed her to share her niche passion with a wider audience. She also shares her excitement for AI and its potential to revolutionize the creative process. Finally, Tigris emphasizes the importance of understanding the impact of technology on our daily lives and the potential it has to augment human capabilities rather than replace them. In the future, she plans to continue exploring hardware as an intimate art installation and experience and hopes to create an Experimental Dating Lab.

N: Hi Tigris, how are you? I feel like I know you in two separate capacities: technology trendsetter on TikTok and undercover Web3 innovator on Twitter. What does a day in your life look like?

T: Hi, I'm good, thanks! Ha! You caught me. I'm living my own Hannah Montana dream—I'm getting the best of both worlds!

A day in my life really varies, depending on what project I'm working on, whether it's geared more towards my own practice, a content-forward project, or building Lychee, Inc—a cultural technology company I co-founded with Eugene Angelo in 2022.

Some days I'm just glued to my computer screen, either researching and conceptualizing new ideas, or I'm coding and developing some kind of firmware. Then there are days where I'm physically building and prototyping hardware, where I'm surrounded by clumps of wires, microchips, and specs of solder flying all over my desk! And with that usually means I'm filming and documenting every step, so when a project is finished, I'll be editing and condensing down footage into a TikTok/Reel. I always end up losing my voice after countless hours recording a voiceover, but I can say that those are the days I'm the most hydrated. Haha!

N: TikTok's optimal matching algorithms have given rise to numerous micro-influencers and subcultures formed around super-niche passions. What are your thoughts on the way the platform somehow managed to diversify the range of talents that get the spotlight? I think the rise of an hardware it-girl would have been difficult on Instagram, am I wrong?

T: You're absolutely right. Gaining traction on Instagram is a lot harder, and if it weren't for my collaborations with Arduino, who have a very large following of hardware enthusiasts, I wouldn't have had the same exposure or access to an audience. I think it's largely because the algorithm favors content from an account that users have previously engaged with and/or follow, and considering that Instagram has this unspoken expectation of curated and polished content, there are a lot more hurdles you have to jump over.

Whereas with TikTok, one of its best features is its ability to expose you to all these super-niche subcultures, essentially democratising content by exposing users to a wide range of creators and communities. In the past, discovering niche interests like creative engineering would typically require a lot of effort and research, but with TikTok, it’s all about discoverability!

And now, with the app's algorithm, not only can creators like me be exposed to a larger audience, but it can source an audience that shares their same interests and create a more vibrant and dynamic cultural landscape, regardless of their location or background. I've been really lucky to be able to find people who share my interest in design through the lens of creative computing and engineering, and to be able to share work and receive instant feedback—it's really exciting and empowering!

N: We appear to be in the midst of a technological renaissance, with advancements in areas like blockchain and AI. Which aspects of these emerging technologies are you most excited about in terms of their potential to transform people's lives?

T: I've been feeling really excited about AI recently! This largely stemmed from ChatGPT. I absolutely love using it because it's made me so much more efficient in coding, especially as I have no formal education in computer science. I was just a really great Googler and dedicated to watching YouTube tutorials, which has formed my basic knowledge in creative/firmware coding.

But what's so great about ChatGPT is that I now don't have to worry so much about the technical execution of my code, but rather I can spend more time thinking about the conceptual ideas and contextual meaning to my art pieces, and developing that even further, so my work can reach its highest potential and leave an even greater impact on people.

It kind of feels like the closet door to Narnia has opened and there's this new world with even more endless possibilities, which is a bit scary, but all the more exciting because there's no longer this grey cloud of the technical nitty-gritty that could start raining on my ideas.

And with this, I've been thinking a lot about AI in relation to my own practice, and I really want to explore how we can make AI more tactile and tangible, especially since the AI we currently know is largely digital and accessible primarily through digital interactions/interfaces.

I want to build ideas that use AI in tangible formats where it can help us foster and cultivate our emotional intelligence, and really embrace AI through co-creation. I believe that AI can be designed as a co-creative tool that works alongside humans and enhances our capabilities, creating new forms of tactile and intuitive human-to-machine interactions. That's my design challenge right now, and I've got a few things in the works—just you wait!

N: As society becomes more technology-oriented, I think your presence on the internet offers an interesting message. How important do you think it is for people to have at least a basic knowledge of the technology they use on a daily basis?

T: Nowadays, it's really hard to ignore how much technology is truly ingrained in our lives, from our smartphones, laptops, to social media platforms—they have all become integral parts of our daily routine. I think it's important to be aware of what we're consuming and the medium through which we're consuming it from, whether it's digital or physical. Understanding the impact it has on us and what we extract from it is crucial.

In Donna Haraway's theory about "prostheses," she writes about how technology can be used to create extensions of the self to explore new forms of expression and identity. I really believe in this because I think we should focus on how technology can assist us and be used as tools to operate as extensions of ourselves.

Not by replacing us, but as tools that are separate to us and can augment our human capabilities. I see it as an optimistic view that we should embrace technology as part of our humanity so it can allow us to transcend the limitations of our physical bodies and discover these new forms of expression and achieve greater heights of creativity and innovation.

N: As we conclude our conversation, what can we expect from Tigris in the future? What exciting projects or ideas do you have on the horizon?

T: Lots of hardware and more installations! Well, actually, hardware as an intimate art installation and experience at the palm of your hands—that's what I've got my eyes on right now! And maybe one day, an Experimental Dating Lab I've been dreaming about since I was at university...

All images courtesy of Tigris Li.
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