[Osekovo_17_02_23]
same as it ever was

Design+Science Summer School: Paraintelligence (Academy of Fine Arts and Design, Ljubljana, July 2023)

* An updated and edited version of this text has been published in the book “Designing in Coexistence – Reflections on Systemic Change”.

The Brief

The goals of the Design+Science summer school, which include the development of skills for effective collaboration in interdisciplinary teams, understanding the role of design and science in a social context, and gaining insight into the synergy of collaboration between interdisciplinary fields have been challenged by this year’s topic of “paraintelligence”. Here, the term “para”, which means “beyond” or “beside”, in the context of intelligence refers to a type of intelligence that exists beyond what is traditionally recognised as intelligence, including notions such as intuition, creativity, and emotional intelligence that are often overlooked in traditional definitions of intelligence. Artificial intelligence, on the other hand, refers to the intelligence displayed by machines that have been programmed to simulate human cognitive functions such as learning, reasoning, and problem-solving. When we think of intelligence, we usually think of anthropocentric cognitive abilities such as problem-solving, logic, and reasoning. However, intelligence is actually a complex and multifaceted concept that goes beyond these cognitive abilities. For example, fungi, such as the slime mould (Physarum polycephalum), also exhibit intelligent behaviours such as navigation, memory, and adaptation. Through a combination of lectures, discussions, and hands-on activities, the summer school aimed to redefine the definition of intelligence in order to understand and predict how it will evolve and what the consequences will be for human and non-human beings on this planet.

Process

The school included 19 participants, from BA and MA students and researchers to young professionals, from 8 countries and from various backgrounds (design, education, science and humanities). The five-day workshop included morning lectures, and inputs from experts from diverse fields from design and art to IT and material science, including a one-day field trip to the Divača Cave. The school was not based on a fixed design methodology, rather it was flexible and allowed groups to develop their own path during the process, based on an interdisciplinary connection between participants in the arts, humanities and sciences. 

The school was divided into four stages. (1) Input – lectures and workshops by international experts that gave participants an insight into the specific field they were addressing. (2) Output – group work in small groups, led by mentors, with the goal of developing concepts that address the detected challenge. (3) Presentation – group presentation with external evaluators’ feedbacks. (4) Reflection – participants’ reflections on the educational process and their own work. 

The internal process was conducted in five phases. (a) Understand – sharing experiences, building a mutual understanding of the topic and language and finding the specific domains of the general topic. (b) Define – investigating problems and challenges in the domain. (c) Ideate – developing concepts as reflections to the challenges, building scenarios. (d) Prototype – designing concept presentations in any format that fits. (e) Present – final presentation, discussion, evaluations, reflections.

Reflections

Looking into the challenging topics of intelligence for a brief, as a hot topic today, we wanted to avoid ending in various critical or affirmative concepts around the omnipresent AI hype. The open concept of “para-intelligence” provided great inspiration and  generated intensive discussions about the term intelligence, with a criticism of the human-centred connotation of this term, looking at what is “intelligent”, “non-intelligent” and “para-intelligent”. All developed projects looked beyond the human and rational definition of intelligence, observing intelligence from a more-than-human, holistic perspective. Re-thinking this concept, projects speculated about various future paths, using concepts of a fictional corporation, live-action role-playing game, TV show or artistic multisensorial performance, as case studies of changing this human-centred perception of intelligence. 

The gut feeling training centre

In the post-digital era, people are becoming increasingly disconnected from their bodies and surroundings, relying heavily on technology, which leads to a collapse of self-awareness and strained relationships. The aim of the project is to recognize the importance of the very individual para-intelligent intuition – the connection between our brain, gut and the microbiota living there. This system that is inherent in human bodies and helps us guide emotions and decision-making processes.

GRIT (Gut Response Intuition Training) is an intermedial and physical space that invites individuals to reconnect with their inner selves and strengthen their intuition. It offers a modular and flexible space, where individuals engage in diverse exercises that stimulate their intuition and gut feelings as well as enhance their emotional intelligence. The training inspires collaboration, enabling a better understanding and acceptance of different species.

“Let your gut guide you through an unconventional environment of decision-making exercises at GRIT. Challenge yourself, raise self-awareness, and build connections. 

It’s time to reconnect with your inner self and embark on this transformative journey.”

Team: Nia Gombac, Jaka Oman, Kristina Selinski, Alexandra Kraler, Katarina Babic Derenda, Arthur de Liz Sperb (mentor: Sigrid Buerstmayr).

Supreme species simulator

We live in a time where our connection to ourselves and our own emotions has waned, resulting in a loss of bonds with other beings. The prevailing notion of intelligence often prioritizes rationality and efficiency, overshadowing the significance of emotional intelligence and empathy. However, it is through emotional intelligence and the ability to imagine the experiences of other beings that we can foster social functioning and meaningful connections.

The project idea originated from the concept of educational LARP (Live Action Role Playing) and aims to inspire hope, empathy, and understanding of the interrelations between species – such as Mycelium, Japanese knotweed, and Tesla – through first-person experiences. The exercise of embodying the other, the beings we disregard and often objectify, can bring us closer to imagining their complexities and different forms of intelligence.

Supreme Species Simulator is an immersive game experience for the future where empathy is a commodified form of intelligence. The characters in our game are the ghosts of an ecological future – not the modern heroes that compete and surpass others but collaborate. They are writing the silent stories of our existence. Their interconnectedness and collective intelligence often seem inconsequential in the present time, but that may not be so in the future.

Team: Team: Jaanika Malla, Bianca Bauer, Ana Laura Richter, Sofia Gonzalez Villalobos, Alexandra Samandarova and Larissa Rodiga (mentor: Emil Kozole).

Interspecies Podcast

We imagined a scenario in which communication between different forms of life becomes possible. It was shown through a two-part presentation, where the first part was a sketch about a podcast hosting various forms of life and the second part was a discussion about the idea of interspecies communication. We focused on the possible consequences of this technology, rather than aspects of how the translation technology could work. The Interspecies Podcast was hosted by a human. The guests included a bee (air), an octopus (sea) and the mycelia (earth). 

In the scenario, we have discussed and presented different aspects, such as naive attempts of harmonic relationships, utopian ideas of human-nature bonding experience, a human-centric view of everything, and other ways where this technology would only help humans and potentially further enhance the human domination of the planet. The main question still remains – are other species willing to communicate with humans and are there any benefits for them in doing so?

Team: Eva Popit, Nadja Reifer, Eva Smigoc, Riccardo Samsa, Gabriela Semanová and Niko Fernandez (mentor: Nejc Prah).

The Ghosts in the Divača Cave – Resonance Revealed

The Ghosts in the Divača Cave – Resonance Revealed is an artistic project that combines imaginative and audio manifestations with Biodata-Sonification and feministic approaches to delve into the mystical realm of the Divača Cave, using rocks carefully collected from its ancient depths as a source of inspiration. 

The primary goal of the project is to explore the contrasting perceptions of AI and humans. It aims to examine how these two entities perceive, specifically focusing on the mystical creatures that can be imagined within the natural formations of the cave. The project utilizes Biodata-Sonification – a technique that converts biological data into sound – to create an audio representation of the imagined creatures. By employing this method, we aim to establish an interspecies collaboration between humans and AI, allowing for another artistic approach to imaginative and narrative processes.

In addition to exploring the imaginative aspects, the project also addresses critical aspects of AI. It aims to investigate the transparency of the source of power behind AI systems and raises questions about the carbon footprint associated with the learning process of these systems.

Team: Alexandra Kraler and Nadja Reifer.

The summer school was organized by the University of Ljubljana (Boštjan Botas Kenda, Emil Kozole, Jernej Kejžar and Marina Klemenčič), the University of Split (Ivica Mitrović), the FH Joanneum, Graz (Birgit Bachler, Sigrid Bürstmayr and Daniel Fabry) and PiNA, Koper (Borut Jerman, Maja Drobne and Ana Markežič).

Experts: Stuart Walker, Eray Sertaç Ersayin, Laura Tripaldi, Eva Fischer, Danica Sretenović, Gaja Mežnarić Osole, Saša Spačal, Matevž Pogačnik, Uroš Krčadinac, Francesco Ermanno Guida, Mia Roth-Čerina and Karl Stocker.

Workshop photos: Tine Lisjak.