Predicting the Future

At Brooklyn’s A/D/O, a recent conference focused on utopian (and dystopian) design.

A/D/O, a new coworking space in Brooklyn, kicked off its Design Academy’s first season this weekend with Utopia vs. Dystopia, a three-day conference of talks, films, and interactive programming. Discussing everything from artificial intelligence to handicrafts, design heavyweights predicted the rapid technological changes to come.

Dr. Kate Darling (Photo: Gary He)

“We’re entering an era of human-robot interaction which will bring interesting opportunities and challenges,” said Dr. Kate Darling of the MIT Media Lab. She then demonstrated how her animatronic dinosaur, “Pleo,” cried when it was held by the tail, prompting the question: Will such inventions amplify empathy, or simply desensitize us to violence?

Yves Béhar (Photo: Gary He)

For his part, keynote speaker Yves Béhar gave a manifesto-like speech, outlining a set of principles for responsible design in the age of artificial intelligence. “You don’t want to replace human behavior, you just want to add functionality to annoying tasks,” he said. “Technology is about efficiency, and design is about the human experience. They can’t exist without each other. It’s time design becomes the true driver of technology.” New York Times design critic Alice Rawsthorn expressed similar sentiments, saying, “Design is an agent of change. It can help make sense of what is happening and show us how to turn it to our advantage.

David Byrne (Photo: Gary He)

In the program’s closing talk, award-winning musician, visual artist, and writer David Byrne outlined his version of utopia and dystopia through ideas of urban development, a theme which he previously explored in his 2010 book, Bicycle Diaries. Presenting images of cities from the past and present, as well as depictions found in sci-fi films and architects’ renderings of future environments, he urged the audience to consider the importance of sustainability, waste management, and human interaction. Near the end of his audience Q&A session, Byrne highlighted the importance of community collaboration—a fitting way to cap off an event in a creative coworking space. “We need to support local, community organizations,” he said. It’s a proposal for a utopia that—at least at A/D/O—is already underway.

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