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.

The Mirror and The Source @ Penny W. Stamps Speaker Series


AOS in Detroit

AOS in Detroit

AOS will be in Ann Arbor (Detroit) on October 17, 2013, for the Penny W. Stamps Speaker Series at the Michigan Theater with “The Mirror and the Source“, a talk/performance exploring the transformation of human beings, and the new rituals, emotions, new intimacies and public spaces of our augmented lives in the digital era.

“The Mirror and the Source” will be an exploration of contemporary life with Art is Open Source, an international network of artists, researchers, technologists, architects, designers and activists interweaving disciplines and practices to understand the current mutation of human societies through the wide availability and accessibility of ubiquitous technologies.

A visual, sonic journey through the new rituals and emergent ways in which we have radically changed the ways in which we work, relate, consume, feel emotions, have sex and entertain ourselves.

The first Open Source Cure for Cancer, the real-time digital life of cities, the story of a baby artificial intelligence called Angel_F going to the United Nations to defend its digital rights, a very dangerous videogame, human tamagotchis and a fictional company using a very naughty business model will be among the many performances, artworks and researches which we will encounter along the journey.

Come and meet us here:

Art is Open Source and the Penny W. Stamps Speaker Series
“The Mirror and the Source”
Thursday October 17th 2013
at 5:10pm at the historic Michigan Theater
603 E. Liberty Street in downtown Ann Arbor,
(free of charge and open to the public)

more info:

Art, Future and Technologies at Provocazioni Festival, Acrobax

provocazioni festival

provocazioni festival

Saturday Sept. 28th we will be at Provocazioni Festival, at Acrobax (via della Vasca Navale 6, Rome, Italy) to talk about Art, the Future and the role of Technologies in the transformation of our societies.

Here is the Facebook Event for the Provocazioni Festival, where you can join in.

We will be there right after the morning event in which we will present the Cultural Ecosystem of the City of Rome, together with the City Administration.

Together with us will be:

Carlo Infante: Professor, Journalist and Performing Media expert

Pietro Montani: Professor in Aesthetics at the “La Sapienza” University of Rome

Dario Cecchi: Researcher in Aesthetics at the “La Sapienza” University of Rome

Maia Borelli: Researcher in Performative Arts  at the “La Sapienza” University of Rome

The Pilss_youtubers e videomakers.

Incautious Porn: a voyage into privacy

Incautious Porn

Incautious Porn

We searched for Porn.
We found you.

We captured more than 100,000 public comments on porn and sexually oriented websites in which users left their mobile phone number to male/female/transgender performers, where everyone could see it, and we turned them into a series of paintings which you can purchase.”

Incautious Porn

We access social networking websites every day.

We think they’re free, but what we really are doing is accessing services which we pay by granting access to our personal data to companies, organizations, institutions, aggregators, marketing firms etcetera.

And there’s more.

While we navigate these websites we tend to radically transform our perception of what is public and what is private.

We often engage messaging, chats, comments and content production without realizing that we’re saying and posting things in public, where anyone can see them, and use them.

Incautious Porn is about this.

It is about the transformation of the ways in which we perceive private and public spaces.

It is about being sold hundreds of times each day: our data, information, emotions, relations.

How is it done?

We harvested the content found on hundreds of thousands of porn or sexually oriented websites using freely accessible tools such as Google, various Web Scraping APIs, and the APIs which are made accessible by popular social networks service operators (such as Facebook and Twitter), to get as many naughty comments coming from all you boys and girls.

We searched among the comments to find the ones in which users left clear indication of their phone/mobile number to the sensual performer, and we put them in a database, along with a screensot of the page, its link and the date/time in which it was recorded.

incautious porn how-to

incautious porn how-to

We developed a little software which takes one random comment/link out of the database and uses it to create a beautiful generative painting and originality certificate.

We set up this website to put the paintings on sale.

Note: all the content used in the process is freely available online, in public forums/blogs/webcam-shows/social networks/etc.

More info coming soon

VivaCosenza: how to transform a city event into a real-time participatory performance

Realtime VivaCosenza

Realtime VivaCosenza

VivaCosenza Performance Lab is an international event about art and performance that will be held on December 8th and 9th, 2012 in the city of Cosenza, an ancient and beautiful site of the south of Italy.

The event will feature multiple international artists, a city-wide forum engaging the whole population in cultural design and activities dedicated to the creation of public strategies and policies, as well as a series of innovative scenarios dedicated to education, for high school and university students.

At AOS we have been invited to design the digital life of the festival. A first, early version of the website which will host all this part of the initiative can be seen here: 

We decided to create some tools which could be used by students and citizens to enact the real-time, participatory narratives of the event, as fundamental part of all of the education, communication and cultural formats which have been designed for the festival.

Using a series of open technologies which we had developed for the ConnectiCity and VersuS projects, we have setup a system which is able to capture in real-time all of the social network activity of citizens, students, visitors, organizations and institutions of the city of Cosenza and also of the people who will use social networks to communicate about the festival and the city from other locations.

A set of language-based technologies will then be used to classify all this information, in real time, being able to understand the themes, issues and subjects which all this information is talking about.

Special focus will be given to the projects created by high-school and university students, who have been asked to create communication formats for the festival, dealing with arts, food culture and new forms of journalism and storytelling. The contents created in these formats will be given special highlight and the best ones will be awarded a prize and be taken into consideration for further development for next year’s edition.

Even more, all of the emergent communication which will be generated in real-time during the festival will be captured from social networks, and visualized both online, on smartphone/tablet applications as well as using a projection mapping in a public space in the city, so that all citizens will be able to experience the digital life of the city directly from public space.

The objective of the platform is to understand the ways in which these kinds of technologies can be used to transform the life of the citizens of the city, to imagine, design and enact novel participatory approaches.

In this, we suggest a new role for institutions, who become promoters and maintainers of new forms of expression which are available and accessible to everyone.

Justas we used technology to create an infrastructure for expression to be used by students to create their own formats, we imagine a “city as a platform” (for example as we suggested in Trieste a few weeks ago), where ubiquitous infrastructure (both cultural and technological) is made accessible and usable through public policies, enabling citizens and city dwellers to basically have the tools to design and build their own digital, cultural, business, communication, storytelling, envisioning ecosystem.

We will start from scratch with the students and, thus, we have setup a basic set of technologies, for them to be used as building blocks for their communication and storytelling formats.

For example, we have setup a platform which will capture all city relevant public content generated on social networks (relevant either because it was generated in the city, or because it discusses on city-relevant issues).

Here below you can see a visualization of the data in the system being captured in realtime:

Data being captured and visualized in Cosenza in realtime

Data being captured and visualized in Cosenza in realtime

The green dots show topic clusters (larger means “more important”), while red dots show user clusters, being connected to the topics they are discussing.

Data can be analyzed according to time, using timelines such as the one below:

the Digital Days of the city of Cosenza

the Digital Days of the city of Cosenza

And users can be analyzed for their activity (how many contents they produce on social networks) and according to the topics they discuss, as seen in the two images below

Digital Citizens in Cosenza

Digital Citizens in Cosenza


What digital citizens discuss in Cosenza

What digital citizens discuss in Cosenza

For example, topic clusters can be organized into easy to access groups, thus establishing multiple possible participatory communication formats.

Here, for example, we have assembled some for the beginning of the festival (bars are almost empty for now, as the festival has not begun yet), and by simply clicking them people will access what students and city dwellers have produced, shared and communicated in the specific format, across social networks and sites.

some formats, dedicated to the festival

some formats, dedicated to the festival

It must be highlighted how these technologies allow capturing in real-time the public communications which citizens publish on social networks (for VivaCosenza we will be using Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Youtube). So we will capture all (and only) those messages which are intended as being public by their publishers (users/citizens).

Yet this is a delicate issue, as the definitions of privacy, public/private spaces are rapidly changing, and many times people have a hard time in understanding the reach and scope of visibility which the messages they post online have.

We will use this occasion to also explore these important issues: we do not wish to promote a novel form of Panopticon, but a cultural approach according to which individuals and groups can freely decide what and how to communicate, to whom it should be visible and accessible, and to use this information to create opportunities for collaboration, sustainable business, social innovation and art.

So heads up and come at VivaCosenza Performance Lab!