AI as imagination infrastructure

A year later, I’m back in Utrecht to speak at the Transforming Cities debate series, this time about AI as imagination infrastructure. From the event’s description:

Faced with climate change and other interconnected existential crises in the twenty-first century, it is quickly becoming a cliché to say that there is a strong need to “imagine better futures.” But such a statement hides many questions and challenges. Who gets to imagine these futures? Who feels safe and supported enough, economically, politically and socially, to be involved? Who gets excluded from imaginative processes? How do or will they impact daily life, policies, and action in the present? What about the futures of non-human species? For those not part of small privileged groups, possibilities for participating in truly powerful and impactful imagination seem so limited. As a result, feelings of powerlessness in the face of global catastrophe are common.

My participation is part of an ongoing engagement with imagination infrastructures in collaboration with Joost Vervoort, but also an opportunity to reflect on the Dream Sequencer – an interactive installation produced as part of last year’s Dutch Design Week.

The Dream Sequencer was a playful attempt to evoke reflection on past and future aspirations and how they may, or may have not become reality. The idea was to use generative AI to make abstract ideas concrete, and by doing so to create connections between (and pluralize) pasts, presents and futures. The installation was designed for the futures theme in the 4TU’s ‘transitions’ program for Dutch Design Week, and was later picked up and exhibited in the Highlight Delft festival. The idea was developed in collaboration with Dan Lockton, Julieta Matos-Castaño, Ioana Mereuta, and Jamila Blockzjil, and the design of the installation was done by Yeun Kim.

In the aftermath of the installation I have been thinking about whether the installation was merely a form of ‘futuretainment’, and whether the significant investment in energy (generative AI’s footprint is considerable) was worth it. I’ll be sharing some terse conclusions in the event in Utrecht, and in a co-authored paper (with Julieta Matos-Castaño) in a forthcoming special issue of the Journal of Futures Studies dedicated to AI and the future of futures.

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