Report on the workshop by Nefula at Interakcije 2017, Split.
The latest edition of Interakcjie, which was recently concluded, was devoted to Speculative Design.
Interakcjie is an informal educational platform at the Department of Visual Communicational Design at the Arts Academy in Split, connected with its Interactive media program module. Its main activities are the organization of workshops, publishing and exhibitions. After attending the last edition as public discussion participant, this year, Nefula was invited to lead the week’s core workshop on the Near Future of Automation.
Speculations about Automation
As with any Near Future Design workshop, there were two main goals: to open a reflection on the multiplicity of possible futures and to provide methods and tools for developing and communicating future scenarios. And as with any Near Future Design workshop, this has been the starting point and the core of the whole design process. By preparing the workshop on the subject of automation, and considering it in all its facets, implications, sub-theatrics, we almost wanted an automated system of suggestion and organized management of the topics as for their complexity and variety.
Speaking of complex themes, engaging in discussions that generate great reflections, is always an exciting challenge that is worth dealing with. What we have been doing this time is especially interesting to me for the multitude of aspects and manifestations that revolve around the theme. Some of these aspects are more visible, as in a city we can observe the facade of a building, others in the shade that can only be seen by turning around the corner and overlooking a few and many, many others still hidden in internal courtyards accessible only to a few people. True niches and places where perhaps the most significant changes occur.
Automation, according to Oxford dictionary is:
The use or introduction of automatic equipment in a manufacturing or other process or facility.
This definition tells us the process from a technical, partial point of view, and only captures the core of a phenomenon that is far more articulate and is increasingly influencing aspects of human life. Almost as if technology, besides creating the tools and mechanisms we use, creates and define the environments in which we move and live.
In these new landscapes, the “automated” component is no longer merely the mechanical/technological sphere, (which follows its “natural” path of evolution), but any person, object, process is related to it.
When we talk about automation, we are not talking about organization, management and personal/professional efficiency, but we talk about domotics in our homes, driverless cars, artificial intelligence, neural networks or robots, and we also talk about its positive and negative effects. Talking about automation today means talking about basic income, free time, reorganizing the workforce, how and where to find new jobs for potential new unemployed (now more than ever in the spotlight) and perhaps above all this, man-machine empathy, ethics, and much more. It means analyzing and sometimes expelling possible ghosts and fears that cyclically, in complex situations that strongly affect the personal sphere (relational or working), appears. Technological evolution and its presence in everyday life has always accompanied man, both with strong reactions (and movements that called for his elimination) as with others that led her as the only example to follow. The 19th-century British luddistes mobilized to dismantle the new machines, responsible for them stealing work and causing wage declines, the Futurist movement in Italy almost a century later saw technological evolution in an extremely positive way, where speed and efficiency were at the basis of the evolution of the new modern society.
These two spheres, Man and Machine, have been approaching more and more over the years, coming to the touch and joining, beginning to share, step by step, a common path leading to an inevitable confrontation.
Working on these aspects in a stimulating context and for a considerable period of time (5 days) has been very useful to understand and analyze the various implications that may arise.
The workshop took place during the week of October 16th-22nd, 2017 at the Academy of Fine Arts in Split and involved 17 students from different training courses and universities (Design, Informatics, Sociology, etc …) scattered all over Europe. Opening the week was first an introductory lecture on Speculative Design by Ivica Mitrovic, the curator of the event, and then my second intervention to first introduce the methodology of Near Future Design, the process that would be dealt with during the days of the workshop, and finally present the theme and its complexity.
On this occasion, for the first time, we also tested a new tool designed to help and guide students through the research and design path with the Near Future Design methodology. The guide tool, made up of a board and playing cards, goes through research and methodology in its entirety. It goes from the study of consensual reality, to the curious rituals to define the scenario of the future on which the real project will be realized.
The five days of workshops were divided between research and practical design work.
The first day was devoted to the division of the working groups, (four in total), which developed a project each, and began work on the definition of Consensual Reality. The groups also started using the tool that guided them to describe every aspect of the Consensual Reality: from people involved, to places, from events to objects that represent them, to the possible services in place.
All the CR elements produced by the different workgroups were presented, discussed and identified as patterns to create categories around which it would be interesting to work. Starting from the reflection and selection of some of these words, the groups described the CR’s first scenario in which to broadly frame the theme they wanted to discuss.
On the second day, research on the subject of automation was extended to the Curious Rituals and the State of the Arts and Technology. This allowed us to include in the reflection also the behaviors and practices considered unusual around the theme. Each group had some examples of CURI (related to the theme) and some empty cards to be filled with the CURIs they would find during the search. To help them begin the search, on the Curiouspedia page examples were given to look at the different facets of the theme.
The groups produced a first future scenario that took elements from the CURIs and the SATs in play, and moved their initial scenario into a future context through speculation on the possibilities that were opening up.
An important contribution to the development phase was the exploration and comparison of the scenarios in progress, in order to address and ask questions that would help build narrative scenarios during the third day. At the end of the day a Future Map was produced to describe the scenario, both from a structural and relational point of view, of the various elements in the game.
The projects have therefore been the subject of an open discussion with the public, coming from the Academy, to highlight possible issues and contribute to the speculation about the possible directions to undertake, to highlight the major points of interest and the most critical issues.
DAY #4 &5
The last two days have focused on the production of transmedial narratives and the construction of the storytelling of the project. The groups have used Science Fiction techniques to build the world and the manifestations around their project. At this stage, it was crucial to focus on the focal point of each project in order to tell it clearly. Around this central focus they were able to tell and imagine all the different narratives that contributed to making the actual project moving forward the perception of the possible.
The evening of Thursday 19th Georgina Voss, anthropologist, artist and writer based in London, held a lecture at the Galerija Umjetnina in Split. Georgina’s work focuses on the politics and culture surrounding the development and use of hardware, electronics, and large or complex technological artefacts and systems. She is also one of the founder and co-director of the international studio of speculative design Strange Telemetry.
Georgina Voss held for the occasion a lecture on the subject of large automations, contributing to clarifying the vastness and possibilities of intervention that the theme has today in this area.
The workshop was of great interest to us and highlighted, as we were hoping for, different axes of change, both technological and social, through which the projects have been subdivided. The four working groups have explored different themes:
- Personal management – what kind of consequences, the pursuit of constant personal improvement and the attempt to achieve perfect efficiency, in work and leisure, through a balance between mind and technology has on people?
- Virtual assistant and empathy – the evolution of man-machine relationships through AI can lead to the development of strong empathy and possible isolation from other people?
- Technology and medicine – the evolution of medicine with intelligent machinery that replace the human figure in its relationship with the citizen can respond efficiently to the private needs of the person?
- Algorithms and Politics – The organization of a society and politics around fully automated scenarios can be a solution to actively bring politics back to people’s lives?
Each project has produced complex and interesting narratives that will be collected and displayed within a specially created site. We would like to thank Ivica Mitrovic and the Academy of Fine Arts in Split for inviting us to hold this year’s workshop, Oleg Suran for the support given during the works, Georgina Voss for her contribution and active participation in the discussions around the projects and all the students for having been actively interested in the workshop.
We are delighted to have been able to run a Near Future Design workshop on such an issue as automation. It was an opportunity to prove, in practice, that often dealing with such complex issues in dualistic terms is unattractive.
It is not about whether or not to accept automation in our lives, we are aware that it is a determining factor and will be more and more in the near future, but rather understanding its complexity, trying to guide it in a process of affiliation with our lives to make us more aware of it as a society.
Here is the strength of Near Future Design, and speculative design: it gives us the opportunity to observe great themes and big changes in the perspective of possibilities and to act collectively to understand how to make such big changes a power and a personal and collective support, rather than a wall that divides us from one another or a chimera to follow without asking questions.
Photos by Ivica Mitrovic and Segor Garber