Magic & Technology Workshop

The most recent issue of Nature contains a short article about a workshop that happened last month in Lima, Peru, hosted by Medialab Prado. "Interactivos? Lima '09" brought together engineers and artists with the hope of generating new illusions based on the most modern technologies, and the finished products did not disappoint. The installations produced during the meeting included a magic wand that could change the shape of a person's shadow, a box that transformed a person's arm into the leg of a lion, and a telekinetic spoon that was moved by a hidden theremin (fast-forward to the 3:50 mark in the following video to see a demo of the spoon in action).

This conference was appropriate, as magicians have always been among the first to learn about and exploit new technologies. Famously, Robert-Houdin, the oft-labeled "father of modern magic," used electromagnetism even before scientists had developed applications for it. He used it in an illusion called the "Light and Heavy Chest." From
He invited a spectator on stage to lift the small wooden box he said he kept to store his money. His volunteer always did this easily. Then the magician commanded the box to stay where it was, so it could not be stolen. No matter how hard the volunteer tried after that, he couldn't move it.

Hidden inside the wooden chest was a metal plate, and an electromagnet sat under the stage. When his assistant turned on the magnet, the strong attraction made it impossible to move the chest. Robert-Houdin wrote in his autobiography that at this time "the phenomena of electromagnetism were wholly unknown to the general public. I took very good care not to enlighten my audience as to this marvel of science."

It's even
rumored that Robert-Houdin used this effect to prevent a war in Algeria.


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