The History of Magic and Technology


“Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.”

As Arthur C. Clarke alludes, magicians and scientists often play on the same borders of the unknown. Magicians, however, do not have to kowtow to the constraints of reality as technologists do. For centuries, magicians have both used cutting edge technology and developed it in their search to present a compelling vision of what life might be like.

Magicians mastered electricity before their audiences had heard of it, helped invent cinema, and created a chess-playing machine to rival Deep Blue centuries before IBM existed. If technology is man’s search to express control over his environment, scientists should look to magicians for inspiration and guidance as to what has engaged people for millennia. As science rapidly progresses, it becomes more difficult for the magician to compete with technology and stay abreast of new developments. Indeed, the perception that “anything is possible with technology” has made it harder on some levels for magicians to sell their acts. Yet, they continue to be successful by adapting their techniques and presentations in order to affect people profoundly.

Seth Raphael will present a brief overview of magicians’ historical use of, and involvement with, new technology. He will explain how, as technology rapidly approaches what was hitherto the domain of magic, designers can use the techniques of magicians to improve their technology, and will reveal the current adaptations of novel technology for use in the field of magic.

Seth Raphael


With a Bachelors in Magic and Technology and a Masters in Wonder from MIT, Seth Raphael is doing what he loves, and blowing people’s minds.

His childhood passion of magic had to compete with his love of computers. At times one threatened to eclipse the other as he alternatively wrote off magic as foolish, and technology as soul-less.

At last he reconciled his two obsessions, creating a cutting-edge form of entertainment.

He studied technology and magic at Hampshire College, and the emotion of Wonder at the MIT Media Lab.

Now he travels the world teaching organizations how to achieve things they never thought possible.