Your creative future starts here:
How UAL is driving change through computing and immersive tech
- Written byKat Smith and Alexandra Rodriguez-Cifre
- Published date 28 March 2022
University of the Arts London (UAL) is a pioneer in the crossover between technology and the creative arts, with the UAL Creative Computing Institute exploring this intersection and training a new generation of talent to shape it.
Many of the research and Knowledge Exchange (KE) projects UAL leads or is involved with, also examine how technology can drive social and climate justice, improve inclusivity and change the way we think.
Here is a round-up of the projects making a difference, showing how creativity and technology can collide to effect change.
Tech Yard is a free, online creative computing club for young people in Southwark, founded and led by Jazmin Morris and funded by UAL Creative Computing Institute. Tech Yard provides free introductory sessions to a broad range of creative technologies – all hosted by a mix of industry professionals, higher education students and recent graduates.
“We empower young people to think: ‘I can make this’ rather than ‘this has been made for me’,” says Jazmin. Her practice and research explore representation and inclusivity within technology. “I hope this has a knock-on effect for future generations, building more accessible and diverse platforms.”
Tech Yard was part of Peckham Digital last summer, where a drop-in format allowed young people to come and experiment across 2 stations featuring different elements of creative computing - 3D modelling and creative coding – in an accessible and playful environment.
CCI x Power to Connect
Power to Connect (P2C) addresses the two issues of unequal access to equipment and digital waste. Set up as a partnership between Wandsworth Council and Battersea Power Station, P2C collect used laptops, tablets and computers and hand them over to schools and families in Wandsworth.
This is one of the projects awarded funding by AHRC and the Design Museum as part of Future Observatory and the goal is to stop replacing parts and prolong the use of each device, as well as providing access to equipment.
CCI’s Irtiza Nasar has leveraged human-centred design and service design methodologies to develop an open-source data wiping tool to ensure that second-hand devices can be safely repurposed and handed over to young people.
Speaking about the project, Irti said “It has so many different purposes – e-waste is one part of it but it’s also giving everyone a chance and giving them a platform to engage – that is, in itself, a very powerful thing.”
TaNC Discovery Project: Transforming Collections
Transforming Collections is an interdisciplinary collaboration with colleagues from UAL’s Decolonising Arts and Creative Computing Institutes, working closely with the Tate. It is motivated by the belief that a national collection cannot be imagined without addressing structural inequalities in the arts.
The project will combine critical art historical and museological research with participatory machine learning design – to surface bias and change how we engage with art.
InteractML is a software tool creating new forms of embodied tech, led by Dr Rebecca Fiebrink and Phoenix Perry. It's about making VR more accessible and comfortable for everyone. Using the power of Interactive Machine Learning, InteractML lets you control what interfaces you use as inputs and what the gestures look and feel like in your game.
Ready-made examples using different input devices are provided, including the likes of a mouse/keyboard or an Arduino to modern VR systems with motion tracking.
CCI’s Professor Rebecca Fiebrink is advising a project by Goldsmith’s Postdoctoral Research Fellow vigliensoni aka Gabriel Vigliensoni - a Montréal-based electronic music producer, performer, and researcher whose work interrogates the different stages of contemporary music production’s workflow. He focuses on exploring different AI tools and techniques in the context of music composition and making it more inclusive.
“I have identified biases towards different music, cultures, and groups of people introduced not only by the datasets used to train machine learning systems, but also by the network architectures and the data representations chosen to model the music,” he says of his research.
“For example, I observed that all currently available datasets, data structures, and network architectures for training models of rhythms were not designed to encode compound or mixed meter, which are common in contemporary music genres such as trap, dubstep, footwork, 2-step, and dembow, as well as in many traditional rhythms from Latin America and Africa. This omission introduces biases in the types of music that can be modelled with neural networks.”
Gabriel and Rebecca’s research is identifying ways to overcome these constraints, by implementing musical data representations capable of encoding compound and mixed meter, and by modifying neural network architectures so that useful models can be trained with very small datasets.
Find out more on vigliensoni’s website.
A team of UAL academics and researchers are exploring the use of Extended Reality (XR) in arts education as part of Accelerate, jointly led by Chris Follows, Emerging Technologies Manager, and Mick Grierson, Professor and Research Leader at Creative Computing Institute (CCI).
This Erasmus+ Strategic Partnership, led by Bath Spa University in collaboration with 4 other European arts institutions, is part of Partnerships for Digital Education Readiness, a funded programme launched by the European Commission for initiatives responding to the digital challenges raised by the Covid-19 pandemic. UAL’s involvement is underpinned by years of R&D and practice on emerging technologies carried out by our Colleges and CCI, exploring the boundaries of immersive tech and how they can be applied to teach creative disciplines.
The democratisation of emerging technologies is also at the core of Accelerate. Researchers will be working closely with a cohort of Accessible Learning Student Ambassadors to understand how VR tools can be made more accessible and how to incorporate inclusive practices when teaching creative disciplines virtually.
Sheena Calvert, Contextual Studies Tutor at Camberwell College of Arts, is leading on a collaborative project alongside University College London (UCL) and the Royal Academy of Art, The Hague (KABK). In Who Speaks?, academics and students are working with the Dutch Parliament to understand the relationship between language, artificial intelligence and democracy.
"We’ve been exploring the philosophical and creative questions around the use of language in AI in a political context. For example, we’re looking at how artificial speech and writing could enable or disable freedom of speech and critical debate, and the role that artificially produced language might play in shaping political discourse. We're trying to find an answer to the question: what is language when made by machines?” explains Sheena.