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Aesthetics of Intelligence
Stephan Wensveen - Eindhoven University of Technology
About author
Editions 2020Hybrids

A former colleague once described her experience of Dutch and Italian traffic, and made the cultural comparison between a hoempapa band and a symphonic orchestra.

I was reminded of this comparison when learning about Roboats, the autonomous boats that could motor through the Amsterdam canals using smart algorithms. I wondered, would the future Roboats in the canals of Venizia behave the same as the Amsterdam boats? Or would they listen to a different type of music, a different type of algorithmic orchestration? This orchestration, would it be autonomously shaped in the context of local Venizian data? Or does it implicitly emerge out of the dominant culture of the engineers? Or can the behaviour of such a system be explicitly designed?

“…aesthetics is the language that can translate technology into values, and values into technology.”
Stephan Wensveen

With this example I don’t want to make a nationalistic point of categorisation, but a point of designing for a cultural diversification. Aesthetics has always been the social-cultural language of industrial designers to shape beauty and meaning, and to allow for a cultural diversification of products when the functionality became uniform. For designers, aesthetics is the language that can translate technology into values, and values into technology.

Take the example of Push-one, a hybrid between a toy product and a smart robot to teach children the values of pro-social behaviour. This hybrid has the physical form and colours to express the toy aspects. But how does the smart technology inside express the helpful behaviour? And are the decisions based on a universal idea of pro-social behaviour, or will the social-cultural backgrounds of the design team shape that decision? 

How can designers prototype the smart behaviours of these hybrids? This is what Bart Bolluijt tries to do using film in ‘Prototyping the Cultural Diversity of Intelligent Agents’. Each of his six films shows an intelligent agent with a different socio-cultural character. Which one fits you best? 

Other designers look for inspiration in the aesthetics of non-humans, whether this is in flowers that inspired the designer of the Bloomm Steering wheel or the pet like behaviour of Fizzy, the Robotic Ball. Is it inspired by dogs or cats, and why?

“How can designers prototype the smart behaviours of these hybrids?”
Stephan Wensveen

In the past, product designers used shape, dimension, colour and texture. Current day interaction designers add dynamic form to interactions and use temporality, transitions and multi-modalities to find the right fit with personal values, needs and desires. But how will future designers give form, beauty and meaning to this new class of hybrid products, with their underlying algorithms and their expressive behaviour. Can the future designers design with and for an ‘aesthetics of intelligence’?

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