Design in the Age of Artificial Intelligence

The Faculty of Industrial Design Engineering is holding a symposium, Design in the Age of Artificial Intelligence, on March 12, 2018. The preamble:

The rapid rise of Artificial Intelligence (AI) poses fundamental challenges for the creative industry. Although AI technologies are being adopted at an ever faster pace, Design as an academic discipline has so far failed to provide a convincing answer to the opportunities and challenges of AI.

This one-day symposium brings together design researchers and educators from the TU Delft Faculty of Industrial Design Engineering with the aim of sharing experiences and shaping future activities at the intersection of Design and AI.

IBM worked with Rio to design a command center that integrates over 30 city departments to improve emergency response management and collaboration across the city. Weather forecasting and predictive analytics capabilities use information to decide how to best react to current events and how to best plan for what is likely to happen in the future in order to minimize impact on citizens.

My own contribution focuses on the social consequences of AI in the context of smart city design. Here’s the abstract:

From opacity to legibility: AI in the smart city

In this short talk I discuss design responses to the potential implications of AI – an integral element of the smart city suite of technologies – for public involvement in urban design. My concern, as implied in the title, is that AI constitutes a ‘black box’ whose opacity may prevent the public from taking a more informed and active role in city-making.

I will first situate AI in relation to two important orientations, directions or ‘pulls’ in smart city design: the first is the imperative to design flexible, multi-stakeholder, open-ended platforms (“infrastructuring” in Ezio Manzini’s terms), and the second is the growing shift in ownership of urban infrastructure from public to private actors (what Keller Easterling calls “extrastatecraft”). I will suggest that it is becoming difficult for the public to identify the presence of AI and intervene in its development given the way much of the former takes place ‘under the hood’, so to speak, and much of the latter takes place in exclusive commercial settings. I will then illustrate two design responses to these developments. The first, Smart City Panorama by Studio Richard Vijgen, is an art-design installation that was part of the Data Embassy exhibition during Dutch Design Week, 2017. The second is the AI Mayor, a speculative design created by students during last year’s edition of the DfI masters class, Interactive Technology Design (ITD).


Speculative Design for students

Interactive Technology Design (ITD) is a masters-level course that is offered as part of the DfI (design for interactions) MSc program at Delft University of Technology‘s Department of Industrial Design. The course introduces students to explorative prototyping as a “make first” approach to design, promoting the use of prototyping not just as a way to evaluate final concepts but as a way to come up with and flesh out those concepts.

In 2017 the course was dedicated to critical, speculative futures. Students were assigned one of seven themes (each conveying a societal issue with important future consequences), and were asked to design an interactive experience that communicates critically a possible future based on those themes. Instead of solving a problem, students were asked to communicate the problem. In the course syllabus we write:

Good prototypes will both be recognizable as belonging to these speculative worlds, and be capable of communicating elements of that world in a critical manner – using future developments as a way to problematize the present.

Themes included extended lifespan, immigration and refugees, urban development, hackable emotions, data and surveillance, labour, and information overload. The course’s coaching team was made of Aadjan van der Helm, Tomasz Jaskiewicz, Wouter van der Hoog, and me.

The design process combined futuring techniques with rapid prototyping, providing students with a playful, experimental environment in which they could be both creative and critical. In each class day (~9 hrs) student groups were asked to complete a full prototyping cycle: develop a future scenario, design and materialize an interactive prototype that communicates the scenario, and test the prototype with ‘real’ users.

The overall process included several steps:

  1. Developing familiarity with the theme/brief, including desk research and guest lectures from within and outside the department.
  2. Creating a two-driver scenario (resulting in a 2×2 scenario space) that takes place in the near(ish) future (20-30 years ahead).
  3. Developing a narrative that conveys one of the four scenario possibilities as an everyday situation, and identifying an interactive object within that story.
  4. Designing, building, and testing the interactive object.
  5. Reflecting on the day’s process in a short report.

The courses’s final exhibition featured 20 group projects. Each group was given a dedicated space, where students and visitors role-played the future situation using costumes, props, and additional media such as videos and music. Vice’s Motherboard reported on the exhibition here (in Dutch).

The top-five projects were invited to present demos in DeSForM 2017.

The AI Mayor
What if decisions about urban development were made by Artificial Intelligence?
The interactive experience played out as a faux public consultation: participant were asked to help the ‘mayor’ make a decision, only to find that the ‘mayor’ went ahead and made whatever decision he desired. The “blackbox” of urban design was seen for all of its opacity.

Photo by Guus Schoonewille

Group members included Tomo Kihara, Zoe Vos, Martijn Weber, Ziyi Zhang.

Lonely Astronaut Training
What if astronauts going on long solo missions had to receive special training for the loneliness such missions imply?
The experience included proximity detractors, sound and vibration messaging that went off whenever the astronaut/participant came into close contact with others. Loneliness became a teachable emotion.

Photo by Guus Schoonewille

Group members included Mina Boogaard, Claudia De León Castro, Tanja van der Heide, Anna Koolen, Michael Speek, Freek Trimbach.

The Datactor
What if it became practically impossible to assert the authenticity of consumer products?
Participants wore special gloves that upon contact with a product showed some relevant information about it. When several participants look at the same product the glove shows different, contrasting information. ‘Fake’ product information became a reality.

Photo by Guus Schoonewille

Group members included Renan Jordano de Barros, Irene van Houten, Jen Liu, Tamara Monster, Celeste Volpi.

The Republic of Tirania
What if refugees seeking asylum had to undergo genetic modification as a condition for being granted entrance?
Participants underwent scanning and simulated genetic modification in a small booth, after which they were given a fake passport in which white skin was turned dark and vice versa.

Photo by Guus Schoonewille

Group members included Wikke Alphenaar, Wies van Lieshout, Gijs Louwers, Guillermo Meza Perez, Yong Park.

Data Afterlife
What if our data became a living epitaph after our death?
By using a special device, participants could listen to the data traces of the dead. The device triggered voice playback once it came into proximity with a burial wall. Participants were also asked whether they would be willing to leave, posthumously, their data memories behind.

Photo by Guus Schoonewille

Group members included Thomas van Arkel, Mengyin Dai, Min Huang, Marije Schokkin, Elise Wabeke.

Next year’s iteration will be dedicated to speculative urban futures.

New publication(s)

After almost a year in the pipeline, the article that summarizes the installation’s pilot run was finally published in Ecology & Society. Here’s the abstract:

The imaginary worlds of sustainability: observations from an interactive art installation
By: Roy Bendor, David Maggs, Rachel Peake, John Robinson, Steve Williams

We report on preliminary results from a public engagement project based on a procedural approach to sustainability. The project centered on an interactive art installation that comprised a live actor, an immersive soundscape featuring a handful of different characters, an interactive touch-table, and four interactive rooms within which participants wandered, partially guided by a narrative through-line, yet at the same time left to make sense of any larger meanings on their own. The installation was designed to experiment with two propositions: (1) that there is value in public engagement with sustainability based on the exploration and articulation of deeply held beliefs about the world—the worldviews, values, and presuppositions that mediate perception and action; (2) that there is value in replacing the infocentric tendency of most public engagement on sustainability with an approach premised in aesthetics and experiential resonance. Following the installation’s two-week pilot run, our preliminary results indicated that the majority of participants found the experience both resonant and thought provoking, and were mostly willing to critically engage with their pre- existing notions of sustainability.

The full article is available online here. You can find a list of my publications here.

It took much longer, but the lecture I’ve given at SFU’s Institute for the Humanities (in Nov.2014!) now appears as a chapter in the anthology, Conditions of Mediation: Phenomenological Perspectives on Media, edited by Tim Markham and Scott Rodgers, and published by Peter Lang (there’s an accompanying website too).

The essay presents a Heideggerian perspective on art videogames from which I develop what I call ‘Interactive World Disclosure‘. Here’s a scanned pdf of the chapter.

CFP for ICT4S 2018

After skipping 2017, the next iteration of the ICT4S conference will take place in just under a year in Toronto.

The keynote speakers – Bill Rees, Lisa Nathan and John Robinson – are fantastic, and I have the pleasure of serving on the organizing committee (poster co-chair).

Here’s the call for papers (it never hurts to plan ahead ;-)

Call for Papers, Workshops and Posters

The ICT4S conferences bring together leading researchers in ICT for Sustainability with government and industry representatives, including decision-makers with an interest in using ICT for sustainability, researchers focusing on ICT effects on sustainability and developers of sustainable ICT systems or applications.

Theme and Topics

The theme of the 2018 conference is “Thriving Communities”. The transformational power of ICT is essential to put our society on the path to sustainability. This potential could embrace all levels, from individuals to communities, from public sector to all industry sectors, from business goals to social aspirations and environmental objectives. ICT can bring people together to build thriving, resilient communities. Papers relating to ICT for sustainability in a broad sense and papers developing this year’s theme (and beyond) are welcome. Instructions for all types of submissions can also be found at the conference website.

Conference topics include (but are not limited to) the following:

  • Sustainable community building via ICT
  • Grassroots movements facilitated by ICT
  • Resilience by ICT
  • Social sustainability implications, contributions and limitations of ICT
  • Enabling and systemic effects of ICT on society and/or the environment
  • Smart cities, homes and offices
  • Intelligent energy management in buildings
  • Smart grids
  • Sustainability in data centers and high-performance computing
  • Intelligent transportation and logistics
  • Green networking, monitoring and adaptation of software-intensive systems and services
  • ICT-induced behavioral and societal change
  • Design principles for sustainable ICT
  • Energy-efficient and energy-aware software engineering
  • Sustainability of technical infrastructures
  • Software for environmental sustainable ICT
  • Software for sustainable business governance
  • Reduced hardware obsolescence
  • E-waste and closed material cycles
  • Incentives for more sustainable ICT
  • Tools supporting green decision making and development
  • Challenges for an environmentally sustainable ICT industry
  • Education in ICT for sustainability
  • Systematic interdisciplinary efforts in ICT for sustainability


We invite workshop proposals of traditional or unconventional formats for half-day or full-day workshops. Workshops will be held on Monday, May 14, and Friday, May 18, 2018.

ICT4S’18 workshops will facilitate the exchange of new ideas in all areas related to sustainability and technology research and practice. A variety of formats can be considered, ranging from traditional research paper presentations to extremely interactive and participatory sessions. We particularly invite proposals that cover controversial viewpoints, emerging technology drivers or transformative ideas aimed at changing basic assumptions.

Details of what should be addressed in the proposal and a more detailed description of the submission process will be posted on the website soon.


We welcome original papers and posters reporting on research, development, case studies, and experience reports in the field of ICT4S.

All papers must conform, at time of submission, to the IEEE Formatting Guidelines, and limited to at most 6,500 words, and 10 pages including text, appendices, figures and references. The current Word template and LaTeX files will be linked on the website soon.

Submission will be via EasyChair at

There will be an open access publication for the conference indexed by all major data bases.

Journals First Track

We invite authors of recently published journals papers to present their work at ICT4S. Journals First papers should relate to ICT4S and describe original and previously unpublished results that significantly extend (or were not previously reported in) prior work. Papers that are extensions of previous conference papers, or which are minor enhancements or variants of the results presented in the prior work are not eligible.

For a journal paper to be eligible to participate, the paper must be:

  • In scope of the conference, see above for possible topics;
  • Accepted in one of the journals listed on this page;
  • Accepted for publication after May 15, 2016 and before November 15, 2017.

If you would like us to consider a paper published in another journal of equal reputation to those presented in the list on our website, please contact the Program Chair.


We invite submissions of high-quality extended abstracts for posters. Posters may present late-breaking research or work in progress. A poster can help attract interest and give a rapid overview of what your research is all about. At the conference, the work described in the extended abstract will be presented as a poster, ideally in interactive discussion with the audience. We especially welcome posters that describe proposed empirical studies. An attachment with a maximum of 2 additional pages must be included in the submission. The attachment must clearly state how the work described in the extended abstract is to be presented at the conference, emphasizing interaction potential and explaining how an engaging participant experience will be achieved. More details will be available on the website soon.

Important Dates

Workshop proposals
Proposal submission deadline: Oct 15 2017
Proposal acceptance notification: Oct 22 2017

Paper & Journals First submissions
Abstracts deadline: Nov 7 2017
Full papers deadline: Nov 15 2017
Paper acceptance notification: Feb 1 2018
Camera-ready deadline: Mar 1 2018

Submission deadline: Feb 15 2018
Poster acceptance notification: Mar 15 2018