Anneke Smelik, Joost Raessens and Eric Postma speak at Tezign x The Nurturing House: Fashion, Gaming and Artificial Intelligence. The event was presented by the Netherlands Embassy. Photo taken October 9, 2015. [Photo: CRIENGLISH.COM/William Wang]
Beijing Design Week may be over, but its traces can still be found in pockets of the city. On October 9th, the Netherlands Embassy presented an evening of lectures on the potentially disparate topics of fashion, gaming and artificial intelligence. The event was held by Tezign (technology and design) and The Nurturing House (an exhibition and presentation space that was put together expressly for Design Week).
Professor of Visual Culture Anneke Smelik discussed fashion, but it was hardly just about the latest fall collections. Her focus was wearable technology: solar powered fabrics which can emit light or power your cell phone, and 3D printed clothing which may be a game changer for haute couture.
Although some ¡°intelligent¡± (as in digitally aware) fashion has made inroads with military or sports wear, Smelik noted that there is still a considerable gap between everyday wearables and technology: solar fabrics are difficult to wash, and for the foreseeable near future 3D printed fashion will remain in the realm of haute couture due to its high cost.
Smelik elaborated about how clothes can affect our identities beyond just expressing our tates. ¡°The difference with wearable technology is that the clothes send signals, whether you want them to or not, so the clothes get agency by themselves... there's an intimacy with clothes and the technology is now more and more intimate.¡±
Joost Raessens holds the chair of media theory at Utrecht University. He threw his audience a curveball early on, suggesting that perhaps today's population should be playing more games instead of less. But Raessens discerns between games like Angry Birds and games that have more of an educational slant.
For example, he mentioned a game about genocide in Rwanda. A community needs water, and players must choose who should to obtain it. A young woman may have the agility and strength to get it, but if she is caught by the militia she would likely be raped or killed. An old man may escape the militia's attention, but may not have the strength to complete the task in time. ¡°So you had to make all kinds of decisions, and you had to imagine how it is for those people who had to make those kinds of decisions, and what are the consequences of those decisions.¡±
Empathy is a key concept that Raessens believes can arise from well-designed games. He also discussed the game Cascade which explores Alzheimer's, its causes and how it progresses. The game itself employs a spaceship flying around and protecting neurons (in ways that employ actual Alzheimer's prevention strategies).
Some games educate more, some less. Entertainment is obviously a key concept to engage players, and some games strike the balance between fun and content better than others.
Raessens affirmed that when a group of people was intended to learn certain concepts about a topic, in some cases those concepts could be learned more quickly and with more retainment than by watching a documentary which covered the same topics. He mentioned the website gamesforchange.org which offers hundreds of free game; topics range from teen dating to Syrian rebels.
Eric Postma is a professor in Artificial Intelligence, and he discussed the strides that artificial intelligence has made. Postma discussed at length the tonality of the human voice, examining an interaction between Obama and presidential hopeful Mitt Romney. A digital analysis of their voice tonality betrayed their spoken content of their dialogue. And computers that can detect such patterns, certainly have the ability to reproduce them.
When computers know how to read and mimic emotions, they have the potential to become a much friendlier and welcoming means to technological ends. Thus the boundary between artificial intelligence and human intelligence may soon become blurry. Of course, artificial intelligence also has capacities far exceeding that of the human brain, and if the input of data being mined every second from the likes of Google, Facebook and Baidu is used inappropriately, it obviously poses huge risk. When asked what's preventing that blurring moment from arriving, Postma's answer was unequivocal: nothing. ¡°There is no obstacle,¡± he stated bluntly. ¡°So that's very exciting, but at the same time it's also frightening. Because we have to regulate this new technology, and so many of these projects require legal and ethical support.¡±
Each of the event's speakers was engaging, as was the content of their lectures. It may have been unintentional, but their different foci all seemed to play off each other very naturally. Underlying each speaker's monologue was an idea that yes we create technology, but that technology also creates us. So perhaps now our job is to find a way to move forwards with that technology, hand in robotic hand.