Image: Conrad Shawcross, In Light of the Machine, (Barican, 2017)
Unit 3 will continue its fascination of exquisite making and the craft of drawings with a focus on what this means in a future dominated by artificial intelligence. We will explore the aspiration behind craftsmanship and understand the evolution of techniques based on material and geometric constraints. We will ask what is ‘craftsmanship’ to the ‘Digital Age’ where tools such as artificial intelligence, digital fabrication and robotic modelling are stretching the boundaries of the design and production process.
Artificial Intelligence (AI)
Professor Stephen Hawking has warned that the creation of powerful artificial intelligence will be “either the best, or the worst thing, ever to happen to humanity”. He was joined by Tesla founder Elon Musk and Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak in signing an open letter that pleaded for artificial intelligence to be used for benevolent ends.
The recent victory of DeepMind’s Alpha Go over legendary Go player Le Sedol suggests that Artificial Intelligence has reached a new level of sophistication. It is clear that, for good or bad, artificial intelligence is likely to have a huge impact on our future. Algorithms no longer outperform us in purely physical tasks but also increasingly in cognitive ones such as remembering, analysing and recognising patterns. They are now frequently used to influence the way we make our daily decisions, affecting the way we live, the way we work and the way we play.
Conrad Shawcross, In Light of the Machine, (Barican, 2017)
As Architects, we understand that architecture is not a purely technical discipline. We must combine efficiency, logic and order with beauty, pleasure and experience. We now commonly use CAD, algorithms, and BIM but we also use experience, emotion, intuition and empathy. Errors, human desires, imagination, and illogical and subjective decision-making processes are often part of our creative methodology that can lead to an unexpected but delightful outcome.
This year Unit 3 will ask how artificial intelligence will affect the process of designing and creating architecture. We will question if artificial intelligence can complement or incorporate the human design process. What will happen once the algorithm outperforms the human’s cognitive patterns? Could there be such a thing as an intuitive, irrational or emotional AI? Is it possible for an AI to experience space, light, materiality or the passing of time?
In response to these questions we will speculate on a future dominated by artificial intelligence and the impact that this has on the buildings that we design, live and work in. In a society in which the majority of jobs are undertaken by artificially intelligent technology will humanity have more time for recreation and leisure? How will humans expand their imagination and pursue desire, find purpose and happiness in their lives? Will our cities become luxurious hotel resorts with our every whim attended to by highly integrated artificial intelligence? Or will we instead create a displaced generation of highly skilled workers without employment or income, in need of housing, food and purpose?
Wherever your response to the brief draws its inspirations from, it challenges you to use your imagination to speculate about an unknown future, to anticipate the social and political impact and identify the main driver for humanity in this Artificial Future.
Point of Departure
In the first week students will begin by creating a short trailer which describes the Artificial Future that their world will be set within. Students will create their own video footage and combine it with clips taken from a wide range of sources including news, advertisement, animation, science fiction and documentaries to create a film that sets out the laws, characters and plot of their future scenario.
As an initial departure point to examine their future world students will then be asked to create a simple but unique object, devices or mechanism that exists within it. This could be an object created by a human or by artificial intelligence or by both. The object that students produce should be a gateway to their version of the Artificial Future.
Our main project will be to design a work place of the future. This work place could be a space dominated by artificial intelligence involved in tasks traditionally performed by humans. Or it could be a space for humans who have been displaced and are learning new skills where emotion, imperfections and intuition are valued over precision and efficiency. It could be a space where humans and highly evolved technology live and work side by side in a mutually beneficial symbiotic relationship. To inform our projects we will question the type of spaces that humans and AI operate in as well as the wider environmental, technological, political and cultural context in which they exist.
Our projects will be located at the soon to be vacated Museum of London site. The museum is located on London Wall, close to the Barbican Centre overlooking the remains of the Roman city wall and on the edge of the oldest part of London, now its main financial district.