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A three day event on integrative sciences-arts solutions to complex problems.


The IGERT and the School of Arts, Media and Engineering that the IGERT helped found used their experience with curricula and research that spans arts, sciences and engineering for developing and hosting a large national event entitled Emerge. The 3-day Emerge event took place at Arizona State University on March 1 – 3, 2012. The event brought together leading luminaries from the arts, engineering, sciences and humanities to investigate how the integration of science and engineering perspectives with arts and design knowledge can help promote effective solutions to complex human problems. The majority of our IGERT faculty and trainees participated in the event and provided crucial integrative perspectives. Overall 250 ASU students, faculty and guest researchers participated in the research activities of Emerge and over 1000 people attended the public portions of the event.

Emerge comprised introductory future-focused remarks from eight prominent ASU research groups focused on complex problems, nine hands-on Design Fiction workshops, and a daylong celebratory festival. In addition, participants were treated to world-class keynote closing speeches from celebrated writers, designers and futurists Stewart Brand (The Whole Earth Discipline), Bruce Sterling (The Difference Engine), Sherry Turkle (Alone Together: Why We Expect More from Technology and Less from Each Other), Bruce Mau (Incomplete Manifesto for Growth), and Neal Stephenson (Snow Crash).

Emerge kicked off in provocative fashion with a diversity of perspectives on the role of science and engineering research in crafting our collective future. The first speaker, Nobel Laureate Lee Hartwell, posed questions about determining ‘what is interesting’, followed by several speakers from ASU’s Global Institute of Sustainability and the Biodesign Institute examining medical innovations that help create smarter bodies. Faculty members from the ASU Fulton School of Engineering also provided both grounded and visionary remarks about advanced sensor networks, social networks for sustainability and military human enhancements.

A central focus of Emerge was not just on discussing the future, but also on rapidly making and building physical and digital representations that served as direct commentaries on the diverse perspectives of participants. Nine workshops with a strong design fiction focus tackled the creation of future-focused artifacts, videos and performances over the course of 48 hours. Led by scientists, artists, theorists and inventors, the workshop participants designed and fabricated a variety of artifacts and installations for presentation at a public event on the final day of the symposium. For example, Intel futurist Brian David Johnson worked with his team in a sci-fi prototyping exercise that explored a future hospital experience from a (robotic) nursing perspective. Julian Bleecker’s Literally Designing the Future workshop considered the experience at the convenience store of the future. In a nod to traditional analog frameworks for considering the future, artist Julie Anand and scholar Edgar Cardenas worked with handwritten letters and printed photographs to produce a book addressing their workshop title of Seeing Beyond Ourselves: Present as Past, Speaking to the Future.

The Emerge event culminated in a daylong festival featuring interactive installations, musical and dance performances, art exhibitions, panel and keynote presentations, and an extravagant 1 hour dynamic performance entitled Immerge. Interactive installations included four hybrid mini-golf holes where players needed to guide robotic helicopters, solve puzzles and manipulate Wii controllers in order to score points. The ‘Sensory Meadow’ permanent installation is a lighted sculptural passageway that responds in real time to environmental sensors visualizing a range of metro factors such as air quality, water usage, and traffic levels. The sensory environment also reacts dramatically to people passing under it through responsive sound and quickening light pulses. Festival participants were also invited to explore the Powered by Fiction gallery exhibit, sponsored by Intel Labs, where fictional worlds were made tangible and real through the creation of costumes, props, gadgets and environments that proposed, ‘A past that never was; a future that may never be; a present day made strange.’ At nightfall, a fantastical immersive performative world appeared, where improvising actors moved through the swelling crowd enticing them to drive interactive sculptures and animations. The audience – based on their interactions with the actors and machines and their patterns of movement – drove real-time graphics and sound engines. These engines produced three-dimensional visual displays on the building and created surround-sound displays in the plaza.

The entire Emerge event provided a rich opportunity for expanding our understanding of how to capture, analyze and summarize such a multifaceted collaborative experience. Using a combination of passive webcams, Sensecams, analog cultural probe kits and extensive video documentation by a 12-strong team, a rich archive of multimedia data was collected and supplemented by gathered social media artifacts and commentary on Flickr and Twitter. A curated version of this material, including edited videos, festival installations, costumes and novel presentations of workshop findings is currently displayed as part of a 3-month exhibit at the ASU Museum. In addition, an online archive of all material will be activated in August 2012 and available for viewing, reusing and re-appropriation under a Creative Commons license.

For the full schedule and highlights of event please see:

Address Goals

The Emerge event offered ASU students, faculty and the general public an unprecedented opportunity to learn from and work alongside interdisciplinary groups of leading scientists, artists and engineers in a focused and creative manner. While the workshops allowed for deep interdisciplinary engagement with future-related issues, the public keynote presentations, the festival, and the ensuing gallery exhibit provided the broader general public with an accessible framework for exploration. As plainly technocratic solutions to complex problems are showing their limitations, Emerge proposed in an intuitive manner that high dimensional problem spaces can be handled adequately by rich interdisciplinary teams that span the full scope of the human experience. IGERT trainees were catalysts for the workshops and the events as they brought integrative arts-sciences approaches to the complex problems tackled in the workshops and creative perspectives to rapid prototyping exploratory solutions.

The Reflective Living group of our IGERT took the lead in the documentation of this complex event. IGERT trainees and associates in the Reflective Living Group contributed to the development of the documentation capture, analysis and representation framework for the Emerge event. Led by IGERT senior personnel Dr. Aisling Kelliher, Dr. Daragh Byrne and IGERT co-PI Hari Sundaram the team designed and created multiple interactive installations, cultural probe kits and information visualizations.

For example, Your___here – a participatory digital augmentation system for the built environment – is currently deployed at the ASU Museum for the duration of the Emerge gallery show. Originally developed as a collaboration between IGERT trainee Ryan Spicer and IGERT associate Silvan Linn, the current version of the system created by student Spicer, promotes community engagement by projecting SMS messages submitted by the public in response to projected questions about the future. The system has been implemented in several site-specific locations, where the projections directly integrate with the architectural features and signage of the target buildings. Findings from this research were presented at the Large Urban Displays workshop at SIGCHI 2011. IGERT trainee Shawn Nikkila also collaborated with Dr. Daragh Bryne and Dr. Aisling Kelliher in creating the Probotron – an experience capture installation that is deployed during an event, conference or symposium. Appearing similar to a photo booth, the installation plays on the familiar to deepen engagement with the prescient topics of the forum. Each visitor to the booth is asked to choose one question from a larger set and record a short one-minute response. This offers participants an opportunity to record their account of the proceedings, or provide a reflection on significance of the event as whole. Deployed during the Emerge event, this installation collected over 65 video responses to a variety of questions. These included “What kind of future do you want to make?”, “What is going on in your workshop at the moment?” and “How can innovation be responsible?”. The Probotron is currently installed at ASU Art Museum where, to date, it has collected over 300 responses.

The Emerge event presented the Reflective Living group with a rich opportunity for expanding our understanding of how to capture, analyze and summarize a multifaceted collaborative experience. The three-day workshops took place in multiple locations and involved diverse groups of participants tackling complex societal problems in disparate ways. From the creation of futuristic artifacts and mediated narrative, to imaginary game-spaces and performative interventions, the event required a documentation and capture strategy that was non-traditional and expansive. A key concern was to ensure that ideas, processes and artifacts created during Emerge remain accessible, viewable and editable for continuing and future audiences. The documentation of the Emerge Festival incorporated passive (multiple web cams, Sensecams and audio mics), observational (documentation team with video and photo equipment) and interactive capture (Probotron experience and Your___Here SMS capture installations). The initial analysis and summarization of the data collected is currently presented at the participatory Emerge exhibit at the ASU Art Museum. The Reflective Living team is also currently developing a dynamic website for hosting mediated editorials, workshop summaries and the entire documentation database. We are creating custom-designed online tools to produce an intuitive interface for categorizing, viewing, accessing and composing rich-media artifacts from the data collection.