Designer Role in Imaginaries of futures
The concept of envisioning futures serves as a means through which individuals can construct alternative possibilities by bridging the past, present, and future. (“Special relativity theory expands the Futures Cone’s conceptualisation of the futures and The Pasts,” 2023, Fig 1) While the overarching objective is to embrace the potential of what lies ahead, it is crucial to recognize that comprehending the future necessitates exploring a spectrum of possibilities rather than relying solely on groundbreaking projects for insight, which is a framework proposed by Guin with four levels of future possibilities: projected, plausible, possible, and preposterous. (“Special relativity theory expands the Futures Cone’s conceptualisation of the futures and The Pasts,” 2023)
Fig 1. The future cone
Various professions, including sci-fi directors, writers, technologists, and design researchers, approach envisioning the future in their own distinct ways. Design researchers, in particular, possess a natural inclination and unique capacity to create futuristic worlds compared to other disciplines. Leveraging various methods such as critical and non-linear approaches, design researchers engage in scientific examinations that triangulate the relationships between the past, present, and future. Additionally, their proficiency in worldbuilding skills allows them to draw upon science fiction’s diverse applications within society, thereby gaining new insights for designing emotionally impactful futures that motivate real-world action. (Zaidi, 2019)
The Agency of Smart Systems: User Impact and Ethical Considerations
In the theme “Meet the Predictables”, the agency of smart systems is a popular issue discussed by a variety of sci-fi movies such as Wall E. After several rounds of discussion, we came to the overarching research topic for our project:
When we consciously or unconsciously grant greater control to smart systems, how does it impact our behavior? Will users accommodate the system, or will the system adapt itself to meet user needs? Enabling agency in smart systems brings convenience and optimized solutions. However, due to the distinct cognitive processes employed by smart systems compared to humans, conflicts and unexpected outcomes may arise, despite humans’ inherent unpredictability. Therefore, the question arises: Should users heed AI suggestions and allow smart systems to alter their behavior? Is this rational and ethical?
The Impact of Granting Control to Smart Systems and the Ethical Implications in Children-Raising
An emerging concern relates to learning activities, where individuals rely heavily on AI for self-teaching. For instance, the utilization of ChatGPT for language learning. (Baskara & Mukarto, 2023) This issue has garnered our attention, leading to a critical inquiry: Are we shifting our learning agency from human teachers to AI? Is it ethically justifiable to delegate the role of educators to AI, and what are the long-term implications? While the current focus of AI is predominantly on addressing low-level skills like language translation, as AI rapidly progresses, studies demonstrate its potential to handle high-level skills such as emotion recognition and empathy (Huang et al., 2023). This raises the possibility of smart systems completely supplanting teaching roles, even in complex and nuanced contexts.
To explore this issue, our group chose a critical design approach in our design-oriented project. Critical design serves as a catalyst for sparking discussions about potential future scenarios (Bardzell, Bardzell, Forlizzi, Zimmerman, & Antanitis, 2012). By adopting this methodology, we aimed to challenge assumptions, question norms, and prompt critical thinking. Our goal was to go beyond surface-level exploration and delve into the socio-cultural, ethical, and philosophical dimensions.
In the brainstorming process (Fig 2), we tended to build up a scenario at an extreme to accentuate the controversial topics in AI having full agency towards humans. The scenario that we proposed is “What if the future parents transfer their agency of raising the children to an AI housekeeper?” Here is a narrative to illustrate the idea:
Fig 2. Mind flow in brainstorming.
” In the year 2060, a new norm emerges: parents entrust their children’s upbringing to an exclusive software called “Child Raising.” This groundbreaking technology, embedded within their smart home systems, grants the software complete control over their children’s care. With an unwavering commitment to their well-being, the system operates ceaselessly, surpassing parental intuition by understanding their needs better than any mortal ever could. Though some may question this relinquishment of parental agency, it is believed that this harmonious fusion of human affection and technological precision creates an unparalleled environment, nurturing the next generation towards an extraordinary future.”
For our further plan, we have chosen to utilize the showroom as our research methodology. According to Koskinen, Zimmerman, Binder, Redström, and Wensveen (2011), unlike traditional laboratory experiments or field studies, the showroom approach emphasizes debate rather than relying solely on statistics or precedents. It challenges conventional perspectives and aims to reshape people’s perception and interaction with the material world through discourse.
The unique nature of the showroom approach allows participants to immerse themselves in and critically reflect upon the proposed design and scenario. The specific format of the experiment or exhibit is currently being discussed. One potential approach involves creating an interactive video showcasing artifacts that explain the concept of worldbuilding, inviting the audience to share their thoughts on the transfer of parenting agency from parents to a smart home system.
- Bardzell, S., Bardzell, J., Forlizzi, J., Zimmerman, J., & Antanitis, J. (2012, June). Critical design and critical theory: the challenge of designing for provocation. In Proceedings of the designing interactive systems conference (pp. 288-297).
- Baskara, F. R., & Mukarto, F. X. (2023). Exploring the Implications of ChatGPT for Language Learning in Higher Education. IJELTAL (Indonesian Journal of English Language Teaching and Applied Linguistics), 7(2), 343-358.
- Huang, C. W., Wu, B. C., Nguyen, P. A., Wang, H. H., Kao, C. C., Lee, P. C., … & Li, Y. C. J. (2023). Emotion recognition in doctor-patient interactions from real-world clinical video database: Initial development of artificial empathy. Computer Methods and Programs in Biomedicine, 233, 107480.
- Koskinen, I. K., Zimmerman, J., Binder, T., Redström, J., & Wensveen, S. A. G. (2011). Design research through practice: from the lab, field, and showroom. Morgan Kaufmann Publishers, Inc. [https://doi.org/10.1016/B978-0-12-385502-2.00015-8](https://doi.org/10.1016/B978-0-12-385502-2.00015-8)
- Special relativity theory expands the Futures Cone’s conceptualisation of the futures and The Pasts * Journal of Futures Studies. Journal of Futures Studies. (2023, May 23). Retrieved from [https://jfsdigital.org/articles-and-essays/vol-26-no-1-september-2021/special-relativity-theory-expands-the-futures-cones-conceptualisation-of-the-futures-and-the-pasts/](https://jfsdigital.org/articles-and-essays/vol-26-no-1-september-2021/special-relativity-theory-expands-the-futures-cones-conceptualisation-of-the-futures-and-the-pasts/)
- Zaidi, L. (2019). Worldbuilding in science fiction, foresight and design. Journal of Futures Studies, 23(4), 15-26.