Hybrid Futures was an event series and symposium curated by Dr Betti Marenko as part of the Digital Innovation Season. It gathered together a constellation of voices and perspectives on the contested relationship between humans and machines. Here, Marenko – Reader in Design and Techno-Digital Futures – shares her reflections on the series and wider season.
The Digital Innovation Season – enabled through Central Saint Martins’ partnership with Three – was conceived as an extracurricular, interdisciplinary series of events and workshops. Across 23 events for students and six public Hybrid Futures talks, it successfully built a community across different disciplines and courses.
The concept of “hybrid” was a leitmotif throughout. Not only did it illuminate the human-machine encounter; it also underscored the great variety of formats offered, each with its own mode of producing knowledge: technical skill-building workshops, hands-on demonstrations, artists’ talks, theoretical lectures, brainstorming sessions, facilitated peer-to-peer events, mentorship opportunities, informal crits and social networking.
This variety perfectly embodied the season’s rationale: to create a platform where critical thinking and creative expression around human-machine encounters is woven with the application of emerging skills and software. The season therefore tried to both provide practical and technical instruction in areas such as machine learning and data visualisation, while exploring the theory around how they interact with, and change, the human condition.
Central to this ethos was the intention to trouble conventional distinctions between theories and practices, speculation and practice, discourses and experiments, as well as, more broadly, between the human and the artificial. Instead, the Digital Innovation Season proposed a bold vision that questioned the received notion of “technology” as a rationalist instrumental enterprise, and instead emphasised the interdisciplinary (and messy) plurality of practices, thoughts and responses.
The concluding Hybrid Futures symposium experimented with a less hierarchical format, with brief interventions and provocations by Tobias Rees, Maggie Roberts, Memo Akten, Adam Nocek, and Nye Thompson built around a central showcase of students’ work.
The Hackathon, facilitated by BA Product Design alum Kaye Toland and Joana Chicau, called on students to imagine human-machine encounters in 2050. Not only did it mobilise their creativity in response to the season’s themes but it offered cross-disciplinary community-building in a time of dislocation enforced by the global pandemic.
The four shortlisted works, shared below, provided yet more remarkable proof of the communal creativity, fierce intelligence, tremendous ingenuity and resilience of our students.
The Digital Innovation Season presented a promising model for how staff, students and a wider network can explore technology and its meanings. This work is now being synthesised through a programme evaluation and further research by myself, Dr Betti Marenko, and the DIS team through a KE Impact Fund grant.
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