A very important thing

A very important thing

In Report — By Mirko Balducci — 10.07.2017

Report on the Nefula participation at the STARTS program pavilion in NET FUTURES 2017.

Between the 28th and the 29th of June, in Brussels, took place NET FUTURES, an important annual event around the future of Internet, co-organized by the European Commission.
We were there host by one of the most interesting initiative that I have seen recently: the STARTS – Science, Technology, and the ARTS pavilion.

Let’s start from STARTS

STARTS program born from a specific belief: that the Arts today is a catalyst for science, technology and innovation. Born just few years ago as an Horizon 2020 project (the biggest and most important EU founding program about Research and Innovation) STARTS is growing up following its goal: fostering connections between scientists, technologies and artists to drive innovation processes in society.
This is not totally new if we put things in perspectives, as Nefula co-founders Salvatore Iaconesi and Oriana Persico frame in a recent article published by Motherboard Italia, describing the crucial role of this collaboration in the contemporary.


A closer look to the pavilion, curated by Martine-Nicole Rojina (artist, teacher founder of the MPATHY studio), is perhaps the best way to address such a complex issue.

STARTS 2017 trailer reporting all the project involved in the 2 days exhibition
Nefula, The Futures of Work and the STARTS Pavilion at NetFutures 2017

Inside NET FUTURES, STARTS organized one of its first collective exhibitions. We showcase there our last work, the Futures of Work.


The exhibit is the result of a Near Future Design process, the output of the Transmedia Design course held by Salvatore and Oriana at ISIA Firenze, where Nefula had a tutoring role for the entire duration of the semester.
The research started from a large scale data harvesting process, performed by our partner HER and accompanied by a qualitative research performed by students through books, articles, projects, videos, movies. Following the Near Future Design methodology, the final output of the research phase consists in a series of visualizations highlighting the CURI (Curious Rituals), the State of the Arts and Technologies and the most relevant evolutive tensions in the domain of “work”, to describe the Strange Now.

Example of visualization realized by students using the database created during the research phase.

Students spent days exploring and stressing data, finding questions that they used has a starting point in their word-building process:


– What skills does a human being need to compete with an AI in the job market?
– And what if you could be replaced by robots?
– What happens when platforms transform human beings into replaceable commodities?
– How does computationally calculated social ranking in influence work, careers and professional relationships?
– What is the future of leisure in the rise of 24/7 culture?


Organized in six group, they worked together to develop six thematic projects, realized under the form of complex transmedia narratives.


For the exhibit at the STARTS Pavilion each group designed:
– an interactive prototype, which physically materializes the scenario giving the audience the possibility to experience and interact with it;
– a six minutes video, to fully describe the complexity and the different elements of each scenario from different points of views.

One of the episodes of WTF (Work the Future) talking about sexbots and sexworkers.

Each video was developed as a thematic episode of WTF – Work the Future, a fictional documentary TV show created to investigate and expose each future scenarios through interviews, reportage, data viz, spots.
A logo and a visual identity were designed for the TV show, and used by each group to ensure a conceptual and formal continuity among the different videos.

SnifferCase – DataSniffer
Are you sure you know why you got fired? When Artificial Intelligences and algorithms start evaluating and ranking your work, you may start having surprises. In the image, the SnifferCase device allows employees to immediately understand if your data profile matches their expectations.

DataSniffer is a project by Andrea Biggio, Alessia D'Anastasio, Sara D'Angelo, Federico De Luca, Marcello Massidda, Selene Mattei

Switch Anklet – Switch
What happens when workers become completely replaceable thanks to their data-profiles? What happens to trust, relationships and human rights in this scenario?
Switch is a wearable device which vigorously vibrates when the work you are performing does not match the one of the person you are replacing. In case of serious mismatch with desired performance levels, the anklet generates low voltage electric shocks.

Switch is a project by Camilla Bati, Michele Corcella, Irene Giusti, Alessia Izzo, Francesco Maria Lamonaca, Erminia Aurora Rizzacasa, Virginia Viapiano

Hand Motion Scanner – MetaSex
When robots and artificial intelligences enter the workplace, the role of human beings changes dramatically.
In this scenario, sexworkers are replaced by robots, generating new markets, new opportunities and freeing human beings from labour.
In the image, the device is used to capture the motion of human hands in order to train the movements of robots using machine learning.

MetaSex is a project by Francesca Cellini, Antonio Conticello, Serena Morandi, Daniela Olivieri, Sara Velenik

24/7 Kit – 24/7
In our 24/7 culture, work and free time are not separate concepts anymore. The data people produce during their daily routine constantly generates value. The result is that they always work, even when they don’t realize it. In the image: a special kit helps people to fulfill different tasks, maximizing profit of each moment of their daily lives, including sleep and dreams.

24/7 is a project by Marina Ceccolini, Eleonora Cippitelli, Irene Coletto, Ilaria Lorusso, Simone Pannoni, Alessandra Perillo

NeuroThink Gun – NeuroThink
How can humans be competitive with Artificial Intelligences? Will we have to augment ourselves to remain on the market? In the image, the NeuroThink Gun allows injecting a subcutaneous microchip which merges with people’s central nervous system, enabling augmented performance, knowledge and information flow capabilities, sensorial processing, output reactivity, network relationships management.

NeuroThink is a project by Marco Bortolloni, Ilaria Capriati, Riccardo Conti, Marinella Fedele, Simona Mazara, Bronzetti Riccardo, Francesca Tumedei

What happens when my boss is an algorithm? In a world where work is increasingly managed by platforms, algorithms determine your salary day by day, minute by minute. Nothing is certain. With Karmachine you can press a button to know how much you will earn today.

Karmachine is a project by Elena Bellini, Ambra Bordacchini, Sergio Buonocore, Francesco Foto, Mariasole Rovati, Mouhannad Soulyman

Future Map
In Nefula we decided to highlight connections among differents concept, exploring how they interact each other. Those interactions are show up in our Future Map: a visualization of the Possible Futures designed by students.


The Future Map, exhibited together with the six Pre-totypes and videos, was distributed during the event to public.

The Future Map - design by Nefula

The experience of the pavilion included a series of different artworks and performances which curator Martine-Nicole Rojina describe all as future oriented and able to «materialize possible futures, transforming them into immersive experiences which anyone can touch, see, hear».

AL_CHE_ME is a performance from the collective PERMEABLE, an immersive experience intersecting music and visuals stimulations. Three musicians – Francesco Cigana on Percussions, Marcello Giannandrea on Bassoon, and Federico Bragetti on Cello – literally “play each other”, accompanied by the contemporary dancer Guida Inês Mauricio. Each musician wear a brain sensor, which translate brain activity into color pattern in a triangular light sculpture. The sculptures, each one placed in front of each musician, changes color according to the brain waves activity of other musician: a jam session driven by music and data.

AL_CHE_ME performance at NET FUTURES

Fashion on Brainwaves
Jasna Rok, a Belgian FashTech design studio, bring into the STARTS exhibition another interpretation of brain waves. Clothes come to life through a series of movements and lightings, giving a shape to the non-verbal communication, opens up new scenarios and ideas around IoT and fashion industry.

Some of the Jasna Rok dresses exposed at NET FUTURES

A collaboration between AOS, Francesca Fini, Neuromed Foundation, HER and Live Performers Meeting/AVNode, BodyQuake transforms data from epileptic seizures into visualizations and music. The screen is the body of the performer, where data are projected, while a wearable technology is used to make the audience experience the seizure: epilepsy becomes an inclusive experience, breaking the isolation of the condition.
BodyQuake helps everybody: scientist have the opportunity to see data from a differents point of view and explore new uses, interactions, and markets for the technologies, the public can finally differently empathize with the disease.


During the exhibition the performance was pretty effective, and able to dialogue with the musicians of AL_CHE_ME and the dresses of Jasna Rok, creating an unaspected and shared experience.

A moment from BodyQuake performance at NET FUTURES

In Brussels someone asked us why were we there, which was our relationship with the science, technologies, and arts.
Luckily, there are many.
The Near Future Design approach work specifically through these topics:


Science – quantitative and qualitative researches are at the basement of all of our works.
In our projects differents profiles are able to work together to provide a solid databases which become the starting point of our design practices. We collaborate with data scientists and researchers in social science.


Technologies – to make what I explained before we use specific technologies to analyse and interpret data, as Human Ecosystems.
But technologies also help us to vehiculate our visions: different kinds of sensors, programs languages, modality of production, etc… are combined together to build transmedia narratives -stories that take life crossing different media- able to show up like real, so pretty effective. Technologies help us to create worlds, and make them tangible.


Arts – this is what made up visible, understandable and emphatic what we do. The design part, what for us is the Pre-totype creation, is the way that we have to put out in the world our scenarios, and open a discussion with different publics.


The six Near Future Design concepts created by the students for the exhibition are a tangible example of what is meant by collaboration between arts, sciences and technologies: Big Data used to identify the evolutionary tensions in society; Transmedia design (which crosses videos, objects, online and urban presence) used in the world-building process, describing the analyzed scenarios in credible and immersive ways; the most advanced technologies used to communicate and measure the impacts of communication. With Near Future Design, artists and designers learn how to work at the intersection of different disciplines: they are new professionals able to collaborate with researchers and engineers, anthropologists and policy makers.
This is how we can deal with complex problems, get interesting results, engage people in the innovation processes and, from our point of view, in taking active part in defining their futures.
During the STARTS session, a final round table which wrapped up NET FUTURES 2017, we heard many and many times a simple and fundamental concept, told by different people about STARTS and its aims: It’s a very important thing.


And we strongly believe that it is.

All the photos are by Joery Erna

Mirko Balducci

Mirko is a designer interested on the connection among society, technology and media. Design coordinator of Nefula, sometimes he likes play with data.


Be lazy, subscribe to have an overview of the Journal.
Randomly in your inbox.