WRHI releases new STADHI video

The World Research Hub Initiative at Tokyo Tech (WRHI) have released a new set of videos outlining the work of its Satellite Labs. A complete English transcript and more info can be found below the video.


STADHI is a transdisciplinary research group based at the Tokyo Institute of Technology (Japan) in close collaboration with Central Saint Martins, University of the Arts London (UK). Activities are funded by WRHI, the World Research Hub Initiative, an innovative research platform at Tokyo Tech. A number of renowned natural and social scientists, engineers, world famous designers and artists are actively involved in the collaborative research activities.

STADHI stands for Science and Technology and Art and Design Hybrid Innovation. This laboratory aims to pursue a space for academic fusion that reconsiders the conceptual mindsets that we researchers have unconsciously come to accept. We are working on a theoretical model of the processes that promote the integration of science technology art and design so that it can be applied to transdisciplinary research education and human resource development. We also accommodate subject-specific research projects, including speculative arts and design activities using the framework of “scientists in residence”, and research on craft and sustainability, olfactory devices and service development.

My specialisation is in translation studies and semiotics. The role of translation in this research project is immense. Translation is transferring meaning from one language or semiotic system to another. It is all about making a new otherwise difficult communication possible as it connects the people and discussions between very different cultures and disciplines. We utilize a variety of scientific and art strategies to observe and analyse the emerging integration of science and art, as well as translation strategies and other analytical tools.

We publish academic articles on specialist transdisciplinary subjects and on the hybrid research methodologies employed. We issue videos on our findings and also create original artwork and multimedia material from the fusion of art and design with science and technology, and we disseminate processes and findings through events and blog posts. In our research we work very closely with a small team of researchers and professors from Central Saint Martins in London. In particular, Betti Marenko who is a philosopher and design theorist, Heather Barnett who is an artist and teaches art and science at Central Saint Martins, and Nathan Cohen who is doing research on olfactory art.

STADHI has built the future-building hybrid innovation programme, comprising STEAM-type development modules for education and human resources based on the outcomes of the studies we have produced. We are now working with those new collaborators from the industries to achieve further insights through tackling complex social issues with a hybrid innovation model.

Thank you for your interest in our research.

未来を創る“Hybrid Innovation” セッション3

東京工業大学とロンドン芸術大学セントラル・セント・マーティンズ校(以下CSM)とのコラボレーションプログラム 未来を創る“Hybrid Innovation”の セッション3が2021年11月16日(火)に開催されました。



Hybrid Innovationプログラムでは、翻訳学に基づいたコミュニケーション方法を用いて、未知の領域へアプローチし、単一の視点からは見えない新しい可能性を見つけていきます。

本プログラムでは、企業の皆様に、“Hybrid Innovation”へのプロセス、即ち“マルチコミュニケーション“を体現していただきき、それぞれの境界を超え、「知の融合」と「発想転換」を体得していただききます。そして、本プログラムへの参画が各企業様のイノベーション創出に繋がっていくことを目指しています。






Session 1Session 2

E-mail : tokyotechxcsm@tse.ens.titech.ac.jp

The new collaboration programme between Tokyo Institute of Technology and London University of the Arts Central Saint Martins (CSM) continued with the third session of our “Hybrid Innovation” programme for selected members of participating companies on Tuesday, 16th November, 2021.

In Session 3, we held a group discussion on NFT art. We considered the various possibilities of the unexplored NFT art market and asked the groups to give a presentation. The activities employed the team building methodologies explored in Session 2, covering how to come up with ideas for unexplored areas that the new team will challenge. The exercise focused on using translation strategies to not only bring together but also grow different opinions across different industries.

The Hybrid Innovation program uses translation-based communication methods to explore approaches to unknown areas to find new possibilities that can be hard to develop within a single industry.

In this program, companies embody the process to Hybrid Innovation. This merges “multi-communication” to transcend disciplinary boundary, promote the fusion of knowledge and change mindsets. The programme also aims stimulate innovative strategies in each participating company.

Activity period: October 2021 to April 2022

PROGRAMME CONTENT: Seminars, workshops, manufacturing, experiments, creative community activities, etc. that flexibly use face-to-face and online. A final symposium – open to participating companies and the public – is scheduled for April 2022.


Links to the previous sessions below:

Session 1Session 2

E-mail : tokyotechxcsm@tse.ens.titech.ac.jp

未来を創る“Hybrid Innovation” セッション2

東京工業大学とロンドン芸術大学セントラル・セント・マーティンズ校(以下CSM)のコラボレーションプログラム 未来を創る“Hybrid Innovation”の セッション2が、2021年10月26日(火)に開催されました。


セッション2では前回セッションに引き続き、ハイブリッド・イノベーションの方法論として学際性と開放性の必要性について議論しました。今回はCSMからMA Innovation Managementのコースリーダー、トゥーッカ・トイボネンを迎え、Hybrid Innovationを可能にしアイディアが育つためのチーム作りのエクササイズを行いました。


東工大野原研究室のSTADHIサテライトラボにて開催。対面とオンラインのハイフレックス方式です。Miro board を使用し、セッションすべての情報を集約することで、交流を促進していきました。コミュニケーションのハイブリッド化・思考のハイブリット化を目指し、実戦に役立つツールの開発を参加企業の方々と共に行っていきます。

本プログラムでは、企業の皆様に、“Hybrid Innovation”へのプロセス、即ち“マルチコミュニケーション”を体現していただき、それぞれの境界を超え、「知の融合」と「発想転換」を体得していただききます。そして、本プログラムへの参画が各企業様のイノベーション創出に繋がっていくことを目指しています。


デザイナー、エンジニアを含めた運営陣が、総勢20名を超える参加者と協力しHybrid Innovationの方法論の確立を目指します。本プログラムを通して、科学的思考だけでは見えなかった新しいイノベーションの可能性を東京工業大学、CSM、各参加企業の方々とともに構築し、産業および社会発展の糧となる研究を続けていきます。

活動期間:    2021年10月~2022年4月

STADHI 事務局 E-mail : tokyotechxcsm@tse.ens.titech.ac.jp

プログラム内容:   対面/オンラインを柔軟に用いたセミナー、ワークショップ、ものづくり、実験、クリエイティブコミュニティ活動など。成果発表の場として最終シンポジウムも開催します。



Session 1

Creating the Future “Hybrid Innovation”, Session 2

The second session of our Hybrid Innovation programme for industry was attended on Tuesday 26th October 2021 by selected members of the participating companies. This series of events led by scholars from Tokyo Tech and Central Saint Martins (University of the Arts London, UK) explore a new approach to business innovation, developed by the two institutions to respond to complex challenges faced by 21st c. society. Following an introduction session on the need for methodological transdisciplinarity and openness, the second event covered the need to build teams and organisational cultures that can enable Hybrid Innovation. Dr Tuukka Toivonen, Course Leader of MA Innovation Management at CSM, gave an inspiring talk and led a team-building exercise to develop ideas and assimilate key concepts.

The social, environmental and economic problems facing contemporary society require new approaches built on the power of transdisciplinarity. In this context, companies can increase resilience and creativity by constructing diverse teams and using communication strategies to turn ideas into reality. An interactive exercise based on real-case scenarios provided the context for simulation and discussion between lecturers and participants.  

The session was held at the STADHI office at Nohara Lab, Tokyo Tech, with participants joining both in person and online. In line with all events in the programme, a Miro board was used to facilitate interactions and collate all information related to the session.

By inviting experts in their respective fields – engineers and scientists from Tokyo Institute of Technology, artists and designers from CSM – the programme offers participating companies a broader perspective to discuss ways to integrate different fields. Future events will continue continue the exchange between Tokyo Tech, CSM and the participating companies to develop new possibilities for innovation that are not achievable through scientific thinking alone, and to continue research that will feed future industrial and social development.

Read more on the programme in general here.

Links to the previous sessions below:

Session 1


離れていても鉄道を楽しめますか?360度動画で鉄道乗車体験 ~QWSアカデミア(東京工業大学)~

[Please see below for information in English]

東京工業大学環境・社会理工学院融合理工学系ではロンドン芸術大学 セントラル・セント・マーチンズ校との共催、いすみ鉄道株式会社協力のもと360度動画で鉄道乗車体験イベントを行います。




渋谷区渋谷2-24-12 渋谷スクランブルスクエア15階 SHIBUYA QWS内 PLAY GROUND



Can I enjoy the train even if I’m away? Train ride experience with 360-degree video

Rail operators are facing difficult working conditions as the number of passengers using the railways has decreased due to people refraining from going out due to the spread of the new coronavirus infection. In response, this event will carry out a satellite experiment on railways to examine the possibility of a service that would allow people to enjoy railways even when they are away from the train without boarding. In the experiment, participants will watch a 360-degree video showing a train window view of the Isumi Railway running on the Boso Peninsula in Chiba Prefecture, and we will analyse the effects of the presence and combination of scents and sounds on their emotional state and willingness to pay.

Nov 8 – Nov 12, 2021
11:00 AM – 6:00 PM JST
SHIBUYA QWS (渋谷キューズ)

For more information and tickets visit: https://20211108academia.peatix.com/

未来を創る“Hybrid Innovation” セッション1

東京工業大学とロンドン芸術大学セントラル・セント・マーティンズ校(以下CSM)の新しいコラボレーションプログラム 未来を創る“Hybrid Innovation”の セッション1が2021年10月12日(火)に開催されました。

本プログラムでは、企業の皆様に、“Hybrid Innovation”へのプロセス、即ち“マルチコミュニケーション”を体現していただき、それぞれの境界を超え、「知の融合」と「発想転換」を体得していただききます。そして、本プログラムへの参画が各企業様のイノベーション創出に繋がっていくことを目指しています。


デザイナーやエンジニアを含めた運営陣が、総勢20名を超える参加者と、Hybrid Innovationに役立つ方法論の確立を目指しています。本プログラムを通して、科学的思考だけでは見えなかった新しいイノベーションの可能性を、東京工業大学×CSMが各参加企業の方々とともに構築し、産業および社会発展の糧となる研究を続けていきます。

活動期間:    2021年10月~2022年4月

プログラム内容:   対面/オンラインを柔軟に用いたセミナー、ワークショップ、ものづくり、実験、クリエイティブコミュニティ活動など。成果発表の場として最終シンポジウムも開催します。




E-mail : tokyotechxcsm@tse.ens.titech.ac.jp

The Tokyo Institute of Technology (Tokyo Tech) and Central Saint Martins, University of the Arts London (CSM) held the first session of the new collaborative programme Creating the Future “Hybrid Innovation” on Tuesday 12 October 2021.

In this program, we invite companies to embody the process of “Hybrid Innovation”, i.e. multi-communication, to transcend the boundaries of each company and to learn how to “fuse knowledge” and change ideas. We hope that the participation in this programme will lead to the promotion of innovative practices in the companies.

By inviting experts in their fields – engineers and scientists from Tokyo Institute of Technology, artists and designers from CSM – we give participating companies a broader perspective and advocate a methodology of interdisciplinary fusion. We are also building new ways of collaboration, such as interactive discussions that can be joined online or face-to-face, in order to respond to post-Covid working conditions.

The program is organized by 5 members of Nohara Lab at Tokyo Tech including designers and engineers, and aims to establish a uniform methodology that can be used in future Hybrid Innovation with more than 20 participants. Through this program, the Tokyo Institute of Technology, CSM and the participating companies work together to develop new possibilities for innovation that have not been seen with scientific thinking alone, and to continue research that will feed future industrial and social development.

Period of activity:   October 2021 – April 2022

Content of the programme: seminars, workshops, making, experiments and creative community activities using flexible face-to-face and online formats. There will also be a final symposium (open to participating companies and the public).

PROGRAMME CONTENT: Seminars, workshops, manufacturing, experiments, creative community activities, etc. that flexibly use face-to-face and online. A final symposium – open to participating companies and the public – is scheduled for April 2022.


E-mail : tokyotechxcsm@tse.ens.titech.ac.jp

STEAM INC workshop on 16th June


A free STEAM education workshop will be held online on 16th June 2021 by staff and students from MA Art and Science (Central Saint Martins, University of the Arts London), and led by WRHI Visiting Professors Nathan Cohen and Heather Barnett. The event will examine new STEAM methods developed as part of the Erasmus+ STEAM INC project examining higher education, engagement and policy.

The workshop is part of a large educational programme on the integration of arts and science funded by the European Union and run by six European universities and one cultural organisation who have pioneered STEAM approaches and methods.

The STEAM Inc Sites of Practice event will be of particular interest to educators, curriculum designers, pedagogy students and researchers and we hope that participants bring a broad range of disciplinary specialisms across the arts and sciences. Whether you are already working with STEAM education or are curious to find out more about how interdisciplinary methods could apply to your context, we look forward to interesting exploration and discussion. 

Sites of Practice: new interdisciplinary methods of investigation

Wednesday 16 June 2021

Japan time (JST): 5:00-8:00 pm & 10:00-12:00 pm

[equivalent to UK time (BST) 9.00-12.00 & 14.00-16.00]

FREE event. Online on Zoom, hosted by Central Saint Martins (University of the Arts London)


What you can gain from attending Sites of Practice? 

  • Greater understanding of interdisciplinary STEAM practices
  • Examination of the potential of ‘site’ as a tool for interdisciplinary investigation
  • Insights into methods for developing interdisciplinary curriculum for HE
  • Tools for developing innovative methods for combining digital and situated learning
  • Connecting with others working in and developing STEAM educational tools and methods.

Keywords: art and science, interdisciplinary, transdisciplinary, STEAM, Higher Education, methodology, new methods, investigations, site work, Site-specificity, hybrid practices, pedagogy. 

Schedule (PM, this is an evening event due to time difference with the UK):

  • 5.00     Introduction to the day (including STEAM Inc context)
  • 5.30     Modelling Methods (workshop)
  • 6.30   Break
  • 7.00   Sites of Practice (case study & discussion)
  • 8.00   Extended lunch (including site-responsive activity)
  • 10.00   Hacking STEAM methods (workshop)
  • 11.30   Discussion on implications and potential applications of methods
  • 12.00   Evaluation & close


2021年6月16日に無料のSTEAM教育ワークショップがMA Art and Science(セントラル・セント・マーティンズ、ロンドン芸術大学)のスタッフと学生によってオンラインで開催されます。WRHIの客員教授であるネイサン・コーエン(https://www.wrhi.iir.titech.ac.jp/en/people/nathan-cohen/)とヘザー・バーネット(https://www.wrhi.iir.titech.ac.jp/en/people/heather-barnett/)が主導します。このイベントでは、高等教育、エンゲージメント、ポリシーについて検討する、Erasmus + STEAM INCプロジェクトの一環として開発される新しいSTEAM手法を検討します。

Sites of Practice: new interdisciplinary methods of investigation(新しい学際的な調査方法)


日本時間(JST): 5:00-8:00 pm & 10:00-12:00 pm [英国時間(BST)9.00-12.00 & 14.00-16.00]

無料イベント。 セントラル・セント・マーティンズ(ロンドン芸術大学)主催、Zoomにてオンライン。


未来を創る“Hybrid Innovation” 

This article introduces the programme “Hybrid Innovation” Creating the Future: Transcending Boundaries through Multi-Communication, a new collaboration between Tokyo Tech and Central Saint Martins, University of the Arts London (scroll down for English text).

東京工業大学とロンドン芸術大学セントラル・セント・マーティンズ校(以下CSM)の新しいコラボレーションが始まっています。科学とアートの融合により、研究・教育を超えて社会・産業界にも大きなイノベーションのうねりを作る、それを実現すべくユニークな活動に取り組んでいます。 → 東洋経済ONLINE 2021.1.16「技術革新を”翻訳”で促す」東工大の意外な研究:科学とアートの融合を可能にする新しい学問

私たちは2009年よりサイエンス&アート研究教育ラボCreative Flowを開始し、武蔵野美術大学やフィルムアート社/コンセントなどのクリエイティブな盟友たちと合同ワークショップ「コンセプトデザイニング」を立ち上げて運営し、またCreative Caféシリーズで科学とアート間の対話を推進してきました。両分野の学生や研究者が協働することで、創造性、チームマネジメント、コミュニケーション、課題解決力が変化しソフトスキルが上がることが確認されています。

2017年にはCSMともタッグを組み、両分野の知の統合をさらに推進しています。シンポジウム「the Experiment 科学・アート・デザインの実験」 (2017)、研究プロジェクト「Existential Wearables: What are we going to wear in Tokyo in 10 years’ time? 実存ウェアラブル:10年後の東京、ひとは何を着ているか?」(2018) 、合同ワークショップ 「Becoming Hybrid 生まれゆく混成」 (2019) 、心臓をテーマとしたデザインワークショップ” Hacking Hearts” (2019) など思索的・学際的研究活動を積み上げてきました。このコラボレーションは、東工大WRHIサテライトラボとして公認され、科学とアートの学際的研究+クリエイティブな実践活動の拠点となっています。



VUCA (Volatility (不安定); Uncertainty (不確実); Complexity (複雑); Ambiguity (曖昧) と言われる今、既存の分野に安住し定型的思考のみに頼っていては、新しい視点で未来に挑むことはできません。イノベーションは技術革新でなく、社会革新でなくてはならない。そのためには思考の革新が必要です。課題は、「知の分断」をのりこえ柔軟に発想すること、それを可能にする「道筋」です。

本プログラムでは、イノベーションの創出と発想転換の文化・手法を確立するための“Hybrid Innovation”プロセスを体現します。参加企業様が、科学者、技術者、アーティスト、デザイナー、哲学者を含む、東工大とCSMの多彩なスタッフとともに、科学技術とアートをつなぐ様々なダイナミックな活動を提供いたします。既存の枠にとらわれない価値・感覚・心理をアイデアに反映させるマルチコミュニケーションの場と議論を体験し、各企業におけるイノベーション創出に向けた戦略立案と実行に向けた知見を得ることができます。

活動期間:    2022年10月~2023年4月(8, 9月にプレシーズンイベント)

募集期間:         2022年6月1日~2022年9月15日 

プログラム内容:   対面/オンラインを柔軟に用いたセミナー、ワークショップ、ものづくり、実験、クリエイティブコミュニティ活動など。最終シンポジウム(参加企業限定と一般公開の両方)も開催します。


 未来を創る“Hybrid Innovation”:    



詳しい情報:プログラムご案内 (PDF)


東京工業大学 環境・社会理工学院URA(リサーチ・アドミニストレーター)                                 米山 晋  E-mail : yoneyama.s.aa@m.titech.ac.jp – TEL : 03-5734-2260

東京工業大学 社会連携課 シニアマネージャー                                              百瀬 洋  E-mail : shiwatanabe@jim.titech.ac.jp – TEL : 03-5734-7619

STADHI 事務局 E-mail : tokyotechxcsm@tse.ens.titech.ac.jp

Creating the Future through “Hybrid Innovation”

A new collaboration was launched between the Tokyo Institute of Technology, a leading science and technology university, and Central Saint Martins (CSM), University of the Arts London, a world leader in art and design. The fusion of science and art can create a great wave of innovation in society and industry, beyond research and education. Following this approach, we have been engaging in various unique activities. → READ Prof. Nohara’s interview “Encouraging technological innovation through ‘translation'”: Tokyo Tech’s surprising research: a new discipline that enables the fusion of science and art, on Toyo Keizai ONLINE 2021.1.16 (in Japanese).

Our Science & Art Lab “Creative Flow” started in 2009. We have been running joint workshops on “Concept Designing” in collaboration with Musashino Art University and promoted dialogue between science and art in the Creative Café series. Collaboration between students and researchers from both disciplines has been shown to improve soft skills such as creativity, team management, communication, and problem-solving.

In 2017, the Tokyo Institute of Technology and CSM teamed up again to further promote the integration of knowledge across disciplines through speculative and interdisciplinary research activities such as: “the Experiment” Symposium (2017), the research project “Existential Wearables: what are we going to wear in Tokyo in 10 years’ time?” (2018), the joint workshop “Becoming Hybrid” (2019), and the design workshop “Hacking Hearts” (2019) about biotechnological research on the heart. This collaboration is recognized as a WRHI Satellite Lab at the Tokyo Institute of Technology, a centre for interdisciplinary research and creative practice between science and art.

At the point of contact between science & technology and art/design, we find ourselves bound by assumptions and habits as we encounter “others” who are different from us. We recognize alternative language cultures, ways of thinking and values. By leaving a comfort zone that is protected by homogeneous culture and placing ourselves in an interdisciplinary space, we can translate ourselves and embody a shift in thinking. Against this backdrop, we are implementing a program for companies that integrates human resources and information from different fields.

In a time of VUCA (Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity, and Ambiguity), we cannot face future challenges with a fresh perspective if we remain complacent in existing fields and rely only on formulaic, conventional thinking. Innovation must be implemented in a social sense, not only in a technological sense. This requires innovation in our way of thinking. What is needed is a roadmap to think flexibly and overcome the segmentation of knowledge.

In this program, participating companies will experience a “Hybrid Innovation” process to establish a culture and methodology for creating innovation and transforming ideas. They will work with a diverse range of staff from Tokyo Tech and CSM, including scientists, engineers, artists, designers and philosophers, to provide a range of dynamic activities that connect science, technology and art. The participants will experience a multi-communication space and discussion where ideas reflect values, feelings and psychology without being bound by existing frameworks, and will gain insights for planning and executing strategies for creating unique innovation in their companies.

Program period:            October 2022 – April 2023 (pre-season event in August/September 2022)

Application period:       June 1, 2022 – September 15, 2022

Program contents: Seminars, workshops, manufacturing, experiments, and creative community activities that will be carried out flexibly face-to-face and/or online. The program will be concluded with a final symposium (limited to participating companies and open to the public).

Industry-University Collaborative Programme

 “Hybrid Innovation”    

Crossing boundaries through multi-communication

Can we generate innovation?

For further information, please contact:

School of Environment and Society, Tokyo Institute of Technology

Research Administrator, Shin Yoneyama  (E-mail: yoneyama.s.aa@m.titech.ac.jp)

W9-83  2-12-1 Ookayama, Meguro-ku, Tokyo 152-8550 – TEL : 03-5734-2260

Public Engagement Office, Tokyo Institute of Technology

Senior Manager, Hiroshi Momose (E-mail: shiwatanabe@jim.titech.ac.jp)

T-2 2-12-1 Ookayama, Meguro-ku, Tokyo 152-8550 – TEL : 03-5734-7619

STADHI Office (E-mail : tokyotechxcsm@tse.ens.titech.ac.jp )

Jan 7th – Feb 5th 2021: “Technology and Product in Context” course by Dr Betti Marenko


This article introduces the “Technology and Product in Context” course by Dr Betti Marenko held in the 2020/21 autumn term for GSEC, the Global Scientists and Engineers Course. The classes included a series of 6 lectures and a workshop with the students on the third week. Design theorist Dr Marenko is WRHI Specially Appointed Professor at Tokyo Tech and Reader in Design and Techno-Digital Futures at Central Saint Martins (CSM), University of the Arts London, UK.

What does it mean to be human in a world designed to be smart? How well can we get along with machines that are unpredictable and inscrutable? How do we think about ‘hybrid futures’? These were some of the questions raised in the Technology and Product in Context lecture series by design theorist, academic and educator Dr Betti Marenko. The course – ended in February 2021 – was attended by about 15 students from various branches of engineering, social and life sciences, who share an interest in the future of technology, philosophical issues around design and making, design theory and science communication. The sessions were conducted entirely in English and online, using Zoom, PowerPoint and Miro boards. This article follows the structure of the course and outlines some of the key topics, references and examples discussed each week.

Dr Marenko’s publications focus on Design, Philosophy and Digital Futures (Credit: Marenko, 2021)

Dr Marenko has written extensively about technological futures and the role of design in the Post-Anthropocene, a future geological era that does not presuppose the presence of humans on Earth. Her “tools for thinking in the Post-Anthropocene” lie at the intersection of design, philosophy and technology. In her view, the development of future technologies needs to engage with complexity, and design can benefit from a shift “from problem solving to problem finding”. The first lecture explored the question of hybrid futures from a historical perspective, tracing the origins of the human-machine encounter back to the automata that emerged in Europe in the Renaissance period. 

Dr Marenko discussed the history of automata, including The boy writer by Jaquet Droz (1770s) (Credit: unknown; slide by Marenko, 2021)

Prompted by questions on their views on “technology” and “context” – two keywords in the course title – the students proposed ideas such as “the unknown”, “a more harmonious and convenient society”, abstract and changeable ideas of “hope”, “cooperation” and “unpredictability”. For Marenko, the context of design is not simply a background to a project, but “mutually constituted ecologies” of interactions that retain an ability to ask better questions. She highlights the undivided nature of theory and practice through the image of the Moebius strip, a continuous form that is both inside and outside. Similarly, the contrast between what is human and non-human, or post-human, is dissolved in philosopher Giorgio Agamben’s definition of the human as “the machine that produces the notion of the human”. For design theorists Colomina and Wigley, “being human means being able to design”, and design is about changing the world. For Marenko, the boundaries between human and non-human need constant reassessing, and technology is what we use to address this instability. The lecture included numerous examples of artworks and writings that illustrate or embody her philosophical narratives.

Dr Marenko’s slides included striking images from popular culture, advertising and art projects (Credits: Apple Inc., 2015, left; Andy Taylor, 2012, right)

The course continued with an exploration of the concept of future through three keywords: expectation, imagination and anticipation. Anticipation is the capacity to imagine the non-existent future in the present, leading to the idea of ‘future proofing’. However, as Marenko puts it, “the conditions for change do change”. The simplistic assumption that future proofing is possible, let alone desirable, underpins some of the failed philosophies of modern design: planned obsolescence (the design of failure to stimulate future sales), solutionism (the idea that design is all about finding solutions to existing problems) and linear progress (the vision of a world constantly improving thanks to science and technology). Design brings better solutions, but better for whom? And, better for what? Dr Marenko proposes a view based on French philosopher Gilles Deleuze’s idea that building the future is not about predicting but “being attentive to the unknown knocking at the door”.

This set the basis for a workshop conducted on Week 3 using a Miro board and a set of cards developed by Dr Marenko and colleagues at CSM. Working in four small groups, the students were asked to propose a scenario for 2050 that addressed one of four ‘pills’ provided: animism, counterfactuals, decolonization and post-Anthropocene. These were read through selected ‘affective mode cards’, which summarised the attitude performed in the discussion, i.e. the anxious, the optimist, the resilient, the survivalist, the nihilist and the Zen master. Guided by this participatory strategy, the groups offered their visions of the future in short presentations, anticipating a few aspects that would be analysed in the subsequent weeks.

A screenshot of the Miro board used by Marenko and her students (Credits: Marenko, 2021; Miro.com, 2021)

The course went on to question “received notions of technology” as having to do with the latest innovations, and stressed the continuity with historical developments. The term and notion of android, for instance, go back to Pierre Jaquet Droz’s writing automaton from the 1770s and its use of the power of technology to “enchant” its audience. Similarly, the term automaton today to some extent maintains the original meaning (from Diderot’s Encyclopaedia of 1751) of a machine that can move by itself, following a sequence of operations or responding to encoded instructions. The conversation continued on the topic of “digital enchantment” (based on texts by anthropologist Alfred Gell) and the relationship of technology with magic. The lecture material was grounded in historical and philosophical developments but made more accessible by recurrent references to well-known techno-gadgets, and visual and popular culture: from iPhones and Blade Runner, to Amazon and the latest Android firmware.

Following the steps of French philosopher F. Guattari, Dr Marenko discussed digital uncertainty in contemporary society, one that is seeing “a fundamental repositioning of human beings in relation to both their machinic and natural environments”. Information and computation are not simply mediating our lives, they constitute a large part of what we do every day. But the outcomes of these digital encounters are not fully predicted or programmed, hence the emergence of uncertainty. Examples include the algorithmic automation that drives financial services and much of our interaction online. These considerations are driving AI innovations and constitute a new “technological unconsciousness” that contrasts with 20th century views of technology. Marenko therefore asks, “Can AI get smarter by becoming more uncertain?”.

Dr Marenko reflected on the impact of planetary computation on contemporary and future societies (Credits: unknown, slide by Marenko, 2021)

Through old and new theories of cybernetics, uncertainty was explored both as an accident and as a glitch. A fundamental concept is von Foerster’s “non-trivial machines”, deterministic systems producing unpredictable outcomes. Digital models, for example, can work by iterations and design strategies can operate by a fast succession of trial and error, as described by historian and critic Mario Carpo (2013). This poses interesting questions on what constitutes digital craft and how it relates to the idea of “risk”, an essential aspect of handmade production.

The next lecture started by pointing out the paradox of innovation: any new products must retain familiarity, so people can comprehend and recognise them. For example, the first car in the 1870s was named “the horseless carriage” and very much looked like one. Design theorists D. Norman and R. Verganti discussed this issue in their 2014 paper on “incremental and radical innovation”, a critique of the same human-centred design (UCD) that Normal had helped developing in the 1980s and 90s. For them, UCD can provide incremental innovation to “users” but only focuses on things people already know. For Marenko, instead, design can assume a more rhizomatic nature and embrace its role as interface between the making of objects and that of concepts. According to this view, the design process is simultaneously thing-making, concept-making and future-building.

The discussion followed on the concept of future crafting and the role of fiction in producing reality. This was linked to other design strategies and methods of future crafting, such as cultural probes (embracing risk and uncertainty) and defamiliarization (embracing strangeness).

The horseless carriage, an early model of car (right), still closely resembled a horse-powered carriage (left). (Credit: unknown; slide by Marenko, 2021)

The series concluded with Dr Marenko’s original reflections on technology and animism. As surprising as it may sound, we already live in a world that has seen a shift from “talking about things to talking with things” (her italics). If from a technological perspective we are seeing the rise of the ‘internet of things’, theoretical developments also attempt to question outdated (Western) notions of animism for our new age. Following Bruno Latour’s thinking, the focus is not just on drawing parallels between consumerist and religious practices, but to rethink about the “agency” of objects as a relational property. Philosopher Jane Bennett has also discussed “thing-power”, the curious ability of inanimate things to produce effects. Referencing multiple recent studies on the subject, Dr Marenko discussed the role of animism in creativity and design. She provides a definition of “animistic design” as one that operates in a post-user (or post-UCD) scenario and maintains “mental elbowroom” to generate new, non-linear forms of knowledge. But why is uncertainty so important? Because it establishes perceptions, it shows what might happen and focuses on ranges of possibility, including those that were not thought of. It depends on elements that are not fully controllable, are random and not fully predicted. Uncertainty has to do with creativity.

Through her often surprising and always inspiring lectures, Dr Marenko opens new views on technology and its deployment in crafting humanity’s future. Her arguments on science and technology stand out as seamlessly built on a diverse range of references across disparate disciplines. The discussion was made more accurate and relevant by drawing from philosophy and design theory, but also science fiction, critical design, art practice, advertising and popular culture. The hope is that students’ accepted views of technology could be shaken by all this unorthodox transdisciplinarity, leading them to wider-open reflection, inspiration and future-shaping innovation.

Dr Betti Marenko’s forthcoming book, Designing Smart Objects in Everyday Life. Intelligences. Agencies. Ecologies (co-edited with Marco Rozendaal and Will Odom), is a collection of essays developing a new research framework for interaction design. For more information on this and other projects, visit bettimarenko.org





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