Open Data as Culture: science, arts and technologies to co-create possible futures

How can Sciences, Arts and Technologies collaborate together with Societies, Communities, Administrations and Businesses to foster a culture of Openness, Transparency, Freedom and Empowerment?

We will find out in Trento, at the ICT Days event, together with Trento rise, the Bruno Kessler Foundation and the Department of Engineering and Information Science of the University of Trento.

The event will be on April 2, 3 and 4, 2014, in several locations across Trento (see http://2014.ictdays.it/en for info and program).

Our intervention will be on April 2nd, 2014, at 3:15pm, at the University of Trento, in the “Polo Scientifico e Tecnologico” in room B107.

We will use some of our projects such as VersuS, ConnectiCity, Human Ecosystems, and also Enlarge Your Consciousness and Incautious Porn, to highlight and reflect on how a radical transformation is needed about what we imagine citizenship to be.

It is a transformation which is linguistic and of the imaginary. It is about the shift of what we perceive as possible, to understand and embrace new ways of working together, of relating, communicating, making decisions and getting things done.

From our point of view, in the era of knowledge and information, we have all the tools we need (more are, of course, welcome, as long as they are open, accessible and usable).

What is missing is not found at the level of technologies, methodologies and techniques.

It is at the level of desire, expectation, emotion.

We find ourselves at the edge of a scenario in which we can reasonably transform what we expect economy, knowledge, public space and governance to be.

We call this possibility Ubiquitous Commons: the possibility to create a number of knowledge-based, recombinant Commons which radically augment the well-being of our ecosystems (human, relational, economic, social, political, natural…).

Our work is dedicated to enacting global states of performance, in which everyone is engaged into embracing this possibility in constructive ways, using arts and creativity to interweave scientific, technical and technological possibilities with our imaginaries: a linguistic virus which shifts our perception of what is possible.

La Cura, after the presentation at Transmediale 2014: Afterglow

So, we gave a presentation about La Cura at yesterday’s panel at Transmediale 2014 Festival: Afterglow:

here are the slides for the presentation:

At the end of the slide, a visualization of the activity of La Cura, and of the enormous amounts of relations which have been created in the project was shown:

We wanted to focus on a few of the slides we presented yesterday, as we feel it is very important to highlight their meaning in the overall scheme of the La Cura performance.

The first concept we wish to address is the idea of Disappearance: when you become diseased with cancer, the first thing that happens is that you disappear.

You disappear as a human being, and are replaced by an encoded, simplified, medicalized version of yourself. You are literally replaced by your data. Doctors, people, nurses do not look at you, but at your medical data, at your images, the results of your exams.

This is a great loss, because, obviously, people are much more than data. They are emotions, relationships, cultures, beliefs, communities, philosophies, subjectivities, desires, expectations. This distinction has great political and social implications.

During the presentation, while highlighting the impossibility of obtaining an image of my cancer while I was in the hospital, we pointed out the radical difference which runs between the concepts of availability, accessibility and freedom (or, even, with autonomy).

They represent different levels of the way in which it is possible to determine one’s life, amidst a society, communities and within a network of relationships.

In these times, we have become prone to falling into the trap of mistaking the concepts of availability (even abundance) and accessibility with the ones of freedom and autonomy.

Of course this equivalence is obviously not valid, with the main differences lying in the domains of the imaginaries, of desire and of opportunity. We can have all the abundance in the world, but it is nothing unless we have the possibility to develop the imaginaries to construct visions about the world which we want to enact, the desire to form such imaginaries and, then, to enact the visions, and the opportunities, as subjects and members of communities and societies, to share and enact our visions.

Current times are not times of financial crisis: they are the times of the crisis of imagination, of desire and of the capacity to create shared opportunities as societies.

This scenario is closely connected with the progressive processes of encoding that are characterising our societies. Things such as relations, health, environment and social participation are progressively becoming things you buy (in the many senses according to which things can be “bought” in the digital era, as social networks have shown), rather than things you do as a society.

The entire project and global performance of La Cura is, possibly, all dedicated to breaking the code of this approach. In La Cura the medical data serves as a metaphor for this precise objective: reclaiming humanity going beyond its encoding through data. In La Cura, data is reappropriated and transformed into desire, through a global, shared performance.

In this way, we have tried to describe the emergence of a peer-2-peer welfare model, in which entire communities (potentially global) participate in a sense or reciprocity, of mutual support: the sense of a society whose well-being depends on the well-being and freedoms of all of its members.

This concept allows to research on the possibilities to enact practices in which the money and financial based economy to which we are used to is transferred into another domain, to a different set of economical systems. A transfer from one economy to a multiplicity of other ones, based on emotions, desires, emergent voices and perspectives.

In these kinds of transfer we see many of the possibilities which will fuel our opportunities in the near future.

Design, philosophy art and business

What do arts, design and philosophy have to do with business?

[ this is the english version of our article which appeared on the SIMI Newsletter, in Portuguese. SIMI is Brazil's Open Innovation System]

Let’s start from art.

The arts have a crucial role in society.

They are sensors and suggesters of new imaginaries.

According to Marshall McLuhan, “the artist is the person who invents the means to bridge between biological inheritance and the environments created by technological innovation”.

According to Derrick de Kerckhove, one of McLuhan’s most successful alumni, “few people apart from artists are capable of predicting the present. [...] The role of the artist today, as always, is to recover for the general public the larger context that has been lost by science’s exclusive investigations of text”.

Roy Ascott, one of the world’s best known artists and researchers to have adopted technologies in syncretic ways, describe the role of the artist as the figure which is able to confront with a world which increasingly sees its content and meaning as created out of people’s interaction and negotiation. A world which is unstable, shifting and in flux; which parallels life, not through representation or narrative, but in its processes of emergence, uncertainty and transformation.

Gregory Bateson, the anthropologist, social scientist, semiotician and cyberneticist who helped extend system theory and cybernetics to social and behavioural sciences, and who developed the science of epistemology to bring together the various early forms of systems theory developing in various fields of science, thought that art was the only possible way to satisfy the need of finding solutions through radical changes in our way of thinking, or even to our way of knowing: a new (or ancient) mindset in which conscious purpose would be viewed as only a minor and rather suspect part of mental life.

The job of the artist is to not to praise or condemn technology, but to bridge the gap between technology and psychology.

Arts are about possibility, and opportunity. About sensing the present (the contemporary) and exposing it, in ways that suggest reflection, and the insurgence of imagination. About the opportunity – through artworks and performance – to shift what is perceived as “possible”, as “imaginable”.

And, in this, to promote people’s activation, in a continuous virtuous loop in which, once the boundary between impossible and possible, fake and real, prohibited and allowed is shifted, nothing is the same anymore. Because perception has changed.

Art is also the opportunity to let new imaginaries emerge directly from people.

For example, imagine a writer, in his novel, writing: “I was alone at sea.”

Some readers will imagine a stranded castaway, desperately balancing on a wooden log. Some will imagine a beautiful yacht, and the main character sunbathing on its deck. Some will imagine something else. All of them will produce their own mental model of the scene. For some the main character’s hair will be blond. For some others it will be black.

They will participate in creating the world which the writer is describing. They will become active, engaged by the narrative. They will become performative creators of their own version of the world.

This is a very interesting modality, especially if one is able to “listen” to these different world being built in people’s minds. Comparing them, evaluating them, understanding what is desired, envisioned, preferred.

All this, through art. Art as a sensor and as the enabler of the participatory performance which activates people to (re)imagine their present and, thus, their future.

Design starts from where art left off.

Design is about, literally, designing. Imagining that which is not yet there. Interweaving anthropology, ethnography, economy, engineering, technology, communication to create the future.

The future does not exist. It is a performance. It assumes forms as we build it, as we create it, as we take the next decision.

When a designer begins designing a chair, the chair does not yet exist. Not even the concept exists yet. To create the chair’s concept the designer needs to gain understandings about what people think a chair is, what is it for, how much they are willing to pay for it, what material could it be made of, and so on. Learning not only to give answers, but, most importantly, how to find the really important questions to ask.

The same kind of discourse could be done to design a new product, service or technology.

There is an interesting and valuable short-circuit to be made in this process, when we imagine interweaving the design process to the arts.

The emergence of Near Future Design (NFD).

To all effects, this process has revealed to be very valuable for multiple global companies.

It is safe to say, for example, that planetary relevant enterprises such as Google or Amazon today base their entire medium-term strategy on the idea of Near Future Design.

NFD is an interdisciplinary process which can be described in the following steps:

  • understand the consensus reality and the established narratives;
  • understand the “strange now”;
  • foresee the future possibilities and
  • design for the new normal.

In other words, it is an anthropology-based approach which starts off by observing and gaining understandings about the “consensus reality” and the “established narratives” (that which we all agree upon as possible, feasible, “normal”).

Then moves onto understanding the “strange now”, the composition of the rituals (new meaningful recurring patterns), gestures, practices and processes which are rising in importance, becoming more common, but are not yet generally accepted and understood.

For example a “strange now” of a few years ago was represented by people going to music concerts and video-recording them using their smartphones. It has now turned into a common practice, so much that there are images of numerous people at concerts all holding their smartphones up in the air: even a few years ago it would have been very strange, if not incomprehensible; now it is normal, so much that there are dedicated products and services which leverage this precise gesture and practice. This was a “strange now” just a few years ago.

In turn NFD explores the future opportunities, the state of the arts and technologies, to get a sense of what might be behind the corner, all the technical and technological possibilities which are young or even not yet in the market, and which have potential to becoming more important.

All this is added up in the design for the “new normal”, the “next thing”: the act of uncloaking, of using all this knowledge and understanding which was gained in the previous steps, to extrapolate and highlight current trends to present the sheer breadth, of, often unsettling, future possibilities that lie ahead of us. Using, for example, Superflux‘s wording for it: interrupting the Normality Field, and moving on.

This is exactly what enterprises such as Google or Amazon do, enacting powerful strategic cornerstones through these powerful actions.

For example Google’s Car, Balloon, Genetics projects are simulacra. There is research and experimentation behind it, but the most powerful part of their composition recipe is about NFD: an exploration in the “new normal”, describing “tomorrow’s normality field”.

This has tremendous effects: an organization is able to shift hundreds of millions of people’s perception of “what is possible” and of “what is normal”, and to start millions of conversations about it. The proposed vision obviously adopts a new normalcy field which is in perfect synch with the brand’s values and objectives. In this case: Google Inc. will be able to help mankind to solve some of its most pressing problems with the environment, energy and health, as long as human beings provide as much data about themselves as possible.

Or we can think about Amazon’s “delivery drones” recent example. It was a hoax, a fake: no-one at Amazon is currently working on delivery drones. But the “perception of the possible” has shifted for millions of people, and the discussion has started: people have joined into a global performance in which they are expressing their desired, preferred future of delivery services.

These and other examples, some of which are of the highest possible caliber, make this disruption clear.

It is an inversion of cause and effect. The effect comes before the cause. Causing people to take action and starting global conversations about their desired, preferred futures. And designers and entrepreneurs ready to listen to these expressions to, finally, design the causes.

It is the performance of the future: it is Near Future Design.

It is enacted through Transmedia Storytelling, through the creation of entire worlds, of simulacra (according to Baudrillard‘s definition) in which a suspension forms, on the possibility to discern what is “real” from what is “false”.

For what people know, Google Car’s project could even not exist at all: for all practical reasons it could be completely forged through computer graphics and condescending testimonies, to transform the sense of possible and to start the global conversation, to understand people’s desired and preferred futures, and to activate them. Of course we know that Google Cars exist, but to all practical purposes, they might as well not.

This modality is bringing enormous disruptions across sectors and domains.

For example in Energy.

More traditional Energy companies, like Chevron, Shell and the like, are suffering a forced transformation. Their most aggressive competitors are not other traditional energy companies. Not anymore. For example it is interesting to assume that Chevron’s biggest competitor today would not be British Petroleum, or PetroBras, but Google. Because Google, through perfectly executed Near Future Design has shifted the way in which hundreds of millions of people perceive an Energy Company to be. It has changed the rules of the game. It has transformed the “Energy Company” from a company which produces and distributes energy, to a company which deals with information which is used to coordinate and systematize the actions people who produce their own.

And this is just one of the examples.

We can now go back to the beginning, to the role of the arts: sensors of contemporary society and shifters of the “perception of the possible”, by creating worlds – transmedia narratives – which engage people in activating themselves into a global conversation about their desired, preferred future.

There is a lot of art – of poetics – in everything that we have discussed so far.

It is about opportunity through anthropological performance, through co-creating our futures, the “new normal”.

It is Near Future Design.

Open Innovation Week Brazil: Near Future Design and the Unknown Challenges of Innovation

Art is Open Source will be at the Open Innovation Week in Brazil for a workshop and a seminar about Near Future Design, and to speak about how to confront with unknown challenges in Innovation, for a more participatory, performative vision of the future, and about how the arts and design can collaborate with sciences to imagine, design and enact positive, sustainable futures.

Here is the link to the Open Innovation Week in S. Paulo, Brazil: http://www.openinnovationweek.com.br/

Our workshop on Near Future Design will be held on November 26th and will deal with the challenges which come by trying to engage society into searching and finding the forms and processes which will shape their (near) future.

This kind of activity bears a lot of potential for all types of subjects involved.

For governments and administrations, who can facilitate the emergence of such processes, and use them to activate citizens and operators to create positive, constructive futures in collaborative ways, and to observe and model the ways in which societies change in the process, to highlight anything from trends to people’s desires and expectations, to design new policies and best practices.

For operators – such as companies, foundations and associations – to engage citizens into designing their preferred, desired futures, through expression and communication, being able to invent new business models, new opportunities, new policies.

For citizens, to be able to push forward their perception of what is “possible”, to collaboratively search and find their preferred futures, and to enact them, with the collaboration of the whole society, including governments and organizations.

The most important product any company and organization can sell today is their vision on the future. In this scenario the ability to open up to a global conversation which confronts this vision to ethical, environmental, societal and political issues is a fundamental asset, as is the capacity to capture the results of these dialogues, and to integrate them into the vision itself.

This is the era of continuous disruption, in which game-changers – the organizations who are able to radically change the rules of business, governance, design and politics, and to re-frame problems and issues in new, unexpected ways – are the main actors and beneficiaries of innovation processes.

Through an intense, participatory set of activities we will try to give answers to questions such as:

  • What is Near-future design?
  • How is it different from Strategic Design?
  • What is a pre-totype and how does it compare to a prototype?
  • How can we use the methodologies of Anthropology and Ethnography to observe and sense the transformation of societies?
  • What are the Unknown Challenges, the ones which have been not yet identified bu operators and key players, but emerge from Anthropological observation and creativity?
  • How can we use these insights to create near-future designs (pre-totypes) which are able to disrupt markets, establish a global conversation involving key players, all while communicating the organization’s vision for the future and opening it up to a co-creative approach which will also benefit from the global discussion?
  • What are Transmedia Narratives and how can we use them to make all of this happen?

Additionally, during the Open Innovation Seminar, on November 25th, we will:

  • give a keynote speech about the idea of Unknown Challenges, according to which we will introduce the opportunities offered by forms of Ubiquitous Anthropology to discover unexpected, unforeseen challenges that constitute the cultural, performative, emergent creation of the communities and societies, and which are described by their own expression and communication, in emergent, polyphonic ways;
  • in the panel focusing on New Approaches for Innovation, we will present our work which interweaves arts, technology, design and sciences to form intersections in which new models can emerge by working along the dimensions of desire, imagination and the perception of the (im)possible.

We’ll be there with our Eisenhower Fellow Bruno Rondani, and Wenovate, the Open Innovation Center.

This is the Facebook Page for the Open Innovation Week in Brazil.

Open Innovation Week Brazil on Facebook

Open Innovation Week Brazil on Facebook