Harnessing digital technologies in all areas of our lives
There are lots of different ways to work with tech that might not be obvious at first glance.
For one, digital placemaking reframes brick-and-mortar stores and online marketplaces not as competitors but as synergised commerce. The Internet of Things allows us to build smart cities with a mindset for sustainability. Immersive tech like AR and VR, meanwhile, can make interacting with art and history an engaging multi-sensory experience.
This is only the tip of the iceberg. In this article, I want to highlight seven projects that I think are utilising tech to enrich, accelerate, and unite humanity.
From the invention of the photograph to modern-day mixed reality installations, advancements in art have always been tied to advancements in technology. Two artists who I think are pushing the boundaries of using technology in art are Marcus Lyon and Sarah Rosalina Brady, who continue this tradition with their work in sound in portraiture and computerised visualisations, respectively.
Marcus Lyon is a British photographer known for his art tackling dance, identity, and globalisation. His pieces have been featured in prestigious institutions, such as the Arts Council Collection of Great Britain and the Smithsonian Air & Space Museum.
Marcus’ work explores globalisation and the issues that lie at the heart of this. Calvium have had the honour of working with this prestigious artist on some of his projects, such as Somos Brasil, an interactive exhibition & book which explored the diversity of Brazilian identity of the 21st century. Marcus, along with a producer and sound recordist, explored all the corners of Brazil over a six month period, and together they mapped the ancestral DNA, personal stories and visual identity of over one hundred remarkable Brazilians.
For the exhibition and supporting book, Calvium created a new audio guide that adds an interactive dimension to the way audiences experience this work. The Somos Brazil app allows audiences to experience the portraits beyond the flat surface image and listen to personal stories from those who Marcus photographed, bringing a new, unique way for audiences to interact with the works.
Calvium has since continued to work with Marcus, and this year will see the launch of our second collaboration: i.Detroit —a human atlas of an American city; a research-based exploration of over 100 individuals from Detroit, America, which has seen Calvium create an app for the interactive exhibition & book, which is being published in summer 2020.
Sarah Rosalena Brady
Sarah Rosalena Brady is an LA-based, interdisciplinary media artist, and in her work she focuses on creating hybrid works from binaries and power structures as a multiracial First Nations and Mexican American. She has earned the LACMA Art + Tech Lab Grant and the Steve Wilson Award from Leonardo, the International Society for Art, Sciences, and Technology.
Her work involves the use of material processes, using machine learning, robotics, creative code, ceramics, textile, digital fabrication, and aerospace technologies to visualise biological forms and systems.
Exit Points is one of her latest in-progress projects for LACMA. For this project, she employs generative systems and the loom to produce woven forms that envision possible narratives from human and machine memory guided by feminist and decolonial principles. Using this framework, her work demonstrates her research of an indeginous design called a ‘spirit line’ – a pathway designed to materialize and release weavers from the objects they create.
Efforts toward integrating technology with sustainable living are welcomed now more than ever as the planet faces a climate crisis. Looking at two projects from two slightly different sectors; architect Elizabeth de Portzamparc and home furniture company IKEA, both promote digital tech in facilitating eco-friendly communities.
Elizabeth de Portzamparc
French-Brazilian architect Elizabeth de Portzamparc is a firm advocate for eco-living. She works to realise this green lifestyle through her building designs that enable a symbiotic relationship between architecture, society, and nature. Her accomplishments include the Musée de la Romanité (a museum of Roman history in Nîmes) and the Le Bourget RER station (a transport hub in the Seine-Saint-Denis département of France).
Back in February I attended the Designing Digital Cities talk, at Bristol’s Arnolfini, where Elizabeth was one of the key speakers of the evening. In the talk she spoke about her integration of AI technology with architecture. Her latest project that symbolises the marriage of digital tech and eco-friendly living is the Taichung Intelligence Operation Center (TIOC). Set for completion in 2021, this urban development in Taiwan’s second-largest city melds avant-garde aesthetics with functional green spaces and high-tech facilities. The TIOC feels like a natural extension of its neighbouring park, as the public and private seamlessly flow into each other.
IKEA’s SPACE10 Lab
IKEA has partnered with Copenhagen innovation lab SPACE10 to pursue original methods of attaining sustainable living in everyday life. SPACE10 is supported by and entirely dedicated to IKEA, bringing new design solutions and original perspectives to enable IKEA to live up to their promise of creating a better everyday life for the many people.
SPACE10 believes that digital technologies are key to shared housing models taking off. One such example would be their SolarVille project—a miniature wooden village powered by solar panels with a platform that runs on blockchain technology. The blockchain lets households trade energy on a peer-to-peer basis, and a ledger that records transactions and the flow of electricity ensures transparency throughout the process. This can serve as a basis for future communities empowered to control their own supply of sustainable energy.
Whether it’s new technology speeding up the process of research or deeper insights from extensive research leading to technological advancements, technology and research go hand-in-hand.
The key driving force behind project Háblame Bebé was research. Working with linguistics, psychology, and child developmental expert Dr. Melissa Baralt, we developed the app that was born out of her work and research within the Hispanic community in the Florida area. From her findings, Melissa had discovered that many mothers were choosing not to speak to their baby in their native Spanish language. “I heard story after story of mothers feeling threatened when speaking Spanish, and believing that to succeed in the United States, you have to abandon your heritage language and switch to English,” says Melissa.
The app’s goal is for low-income Hispanic mothers living in the US to value the importance of teaching their infants Spanish. With funding from the US government, the team set to address the Word Gap issue children from low-income families face.
Their work started purely from a science and evidence-based approach, but further research exposed the ideological problem of linguistic racism that held back the app. By shifting towards instilling sociolinguistic pride with the app, the initiative achieved much greater success, which has led to more funding for further research, and hopefully future iterations of the app.
As the world comes to grips with the socio-economic impact of COVID-19, research into the novel coronavirus has rapidly accelerated. From understanding how the virus works to discovering potential treatments, the global scientific community has published thousands of research papers on the different facets of the pandemic. Keeping track of every vital piece of information has also become a challenge.
One of the leading initiatives is the US government’s collaboration with tech companies and academics to let AI researchers use their algorithms to study the staggering amount of coronavirus research. The idea is that machine learning will help find patterns in the papers that could lead to positive outcomes, such as identifying more risk factors and developing vaccines.
Technology in the Community
Technology can be used in a variety of ways to bring communities together and bring positive impact.
Knowle West Media Centre (KWMC) is a Bristol-based, non-profit organisation that supports people to make positive changes in their lives and communities, using technology and the arts to come up with creative solutions to problems and explore innovative ways of doing things.
I recently got in touch with KWMC’s Community Engagement Officer Zoe Banks Gross, to ask her more about the initiatives of the organisation. She told me it aims to “work with people to increase their skills and understanding of technology, which can help raise often unheard voices and give citizens more agency.”
She also highlighted current KWMC projects that look at “how people engage with local blue spaces, carrying out digital storytelling training to help people share their stories about their local environments and inspirational social action happening throughout Bristol.”
These initiatives ultimately spark confidence in communities through digital and social inclusion, showing locals the agency they have had all along to engage in democracy.
Technology continues to be transformative. While there are still many ethical decisions that need to be made regarding tech’s role in social development, it’s promising to see how different sectors innovatively implement it with clear goals of improving society. From art to architecture, to fighting the current coronavirus pandemic, technology can be harnessed in ways that are both surprising and inspiring.