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Imagining Our Future Interactions With Technology As An Ongoing Dialogue [PSFK London]

Artist Katrin Baumgarten talks to PSFK about how the technology we use daily may someday communicate its needs back to its user.

Timothy Ryan, PSFK Labs
Timothy Ryan, PSFK Labs on September 8, 2012. @timjamesryan

We are excited to have artist and designer Katrin Baumgarten as a speaker at PSFK CONFERENCE LONDON 2012. Katrin is internationally recognized for her work exploring the evolution of our relationship with technology as we become so accustomed to using it, with projects like The Disgusted Object featured at the MoMA. On 13th September, Katrin will discuss how technology may someday communicate its needs back to its users.

What has been the focus of your recent work?

I am something in between a technology artist and a technical designer. I am interested in our relationship with technology and exploring what it means to live so close with technology. Our daily lives are influenced by having it in the background, but we don’t actually perceive it anymore. It’s disappearing in ‘smart boxes.’

I would like to bring people back in touch with technology while also questioning their relationship with it. Currently our relationship is one-dimensional because we are not having a dialogue with it; it is responding, but it’s not asking us questions.

How is that exploration manifested in some of your recent works?

I recently made a chair called the ‘denebula’ that looks like it has robot arms attached to it. I attached these robot arms to it, which would react. If I turn in the chair that will create pressure. That pressure makes the chair start to stroke you, and it’s a little bit like a human washing machine. What I found interesting was the contact that you had with a machine; it’s a quite close, intimate interaction. The perception is that a robot is cold; it has metallic arms, but it’s not as cold in this case. Its sensors give it some living features.

denebula-katrin-baumgarten

In other words, it’s a focus on the familiarity that we’re becoming accustomed to when it comes to interacting with technology.

Yes. I’m interested in the physical rather than just the digital, because everything is becoming screen-based. I think that in a couple of years that will turn around again because we are losing all of our other senses in the interactions of technology at the moment.

If you were to take that a little bit further in terms of how you see us interacting with technology in years to come, what would that look like?

For me, it’s going to be much more subconscious because we respond in so many different ways. A few years ago at a conference, I was speaking about disgust and how it is one of our basic emotions. It reacts with your brain much earlier than any other information, like text or tone. You can feel this emotion much earlier and it triggers different responses. I don’t think we’re going to interact with technology and use an on and off switch in the future, rather, technology will respond to us and we will respond to technology. It’s a mutual relationship in a way.

Technology is more like a whole organism, where it’s grown on its own. It’s nothing we should actually be scared of. It’s more something that we should admit that we are dependent on.

In some ways, technology is programmed to be predictive. How that might play out in terms of a futuristic scenario?

I think that technology will do more than just respond to you – it will transmit its needs to you too. A piece of technology has power, but it’s not just about function and what it can do. It’s also about communication and creating a more interesting and versatile communication, not simply replacing our friends.

In terms of your exploration of the subconscious, you’ve also investigated some of the paradoxes within that. What can you tell us about that?

Paradoxical emotions are one of my on-going research topics at the moment. I’m very interested in those emotions where we can be repulsed but also fascinated at the same time: anger, rage, disgust and shame. It’s interesting to me that these emotions are so much a part of our human nature, but are not really talked about. Designers don’t actually concentrate on negative or paradoxical emotions, but I find that it’s a much more poetic and inspiring way to interact with technology.

If you think about it, it is much more human to have those emotions because we are not happy every day, and we are not all about only seeing the good stuff. We are intrigued by something that may not necessarily be perfect. If we try to keep this clean, clear and good conscience, we neglect our true identity. I’m trying to explore this through interaction and through fascinating objects. Machines, for example, have the same issues in a way. They have their own happy or sad time.

Thanks Katrin!

Katrin Baumgarten

Come see Katrin discuss the future of our relationship with technology on 13th September.

Thinking...