My first ever EyeO! I heard a lot about it before. From excited designers and tech artists. They all agreed that this festival has blown their minds, has made them question their career, has given them fuel to dash towards their next exhilarating projects. So there was some kind of mystery around this. And lucky enough, I was let go to find out myself!
What is this conference-festival anyway?
It is about tech, but also art, but also design and community and inclusion and making the world a better place — with art, and tech, and inclusive communities. So many different topics, one as fascinating as the other. I was eagerly taking notes during all the sessions but did not once manage to finish putting together a tweet, so I eventually gave up trying and postponed the recap to later. So, here:
It, in fact was a very wonderful experience, no matter who you sat down next to, everybody was open and friendly. And working on something cool and having interesting things to tell. All the venues were amazing, too! All over Minneapolis — which also by itself is a wonderful city!
The venues for the evening activities were also chosen so well!
What was it actually all about now? Here’s my buzzfeedy list with my
Top 7 Takeaways
1. “Please care a little less about Machine Learning”
Said Hannah Davis in her talk — and it was a recurring topic: Our relationship with ML and AI. How we nowadays question algorithms a bit too little, how we even trust them more than humans. Sarah GHP for example mentioned a case in Chicago where investigations were only reopened after an algorithm highlighted it, not when individuals were reporting it to the police. There were many stories about how Amazon’s recruiting algorithms were biased. And there are probably many more subtle cases where we haven’t quite grasped the implications yet.
We all should probably stop being that excited about ML and start being a bit more careful there. When starting to work on something hot with ML — at least ask those 2 questions (as outlined by Hannah Davis)
- Am I using ML to better the quality of people’s lives, or am I extracting time/resources/energy from them?
- Am I able to refuse? Can I say no to projects that are clearly endangering some part of our world or population?
Also, when it comes to art that is created by (or with the help of) algorithms we tend to be willing to excuse weirdness with tech excitement. We sometimes even forget that it is actually not the intelligent machine that is creating art — it is merely reproducing something that somebody has taught it to be art.
(Also an interesting Guardian podcast on that topic here: Can a computer be creative? Chips with Everything)
But then there are of course also some quite rad things that you can do with ML. Check this out: Kyle McDonald’s Whale Songs Pattern Radio (Medium article about the process: Data of the Humpback Whale); or the Super Sad Googles by Emily Saltz.
2. We need new colors and symbols for climate change
Moritz Stefaner’s talk “dataviz : ecologies ” unveils that we are running out of language, colors and symbols when talking and informing about climate change. We need new ways of thinking and new ways of reasoning. It turned out that the picture of the starving polar bear, and the charts where the temperature curve goes up and the size of the poles goes down don’t do the trick. We don’t have an information problem, but an action problem.
How can we call to action? How can we make things more tangible? Moritz showed a few of his students’ projects — for example this Apple blossom sonification project, which is so cool! But is it not just preaching to the choir? Which brings me to the next one…
3. Science, Tech, and Art have to become more accessible
The Science Train
Lucianne Walkowicz’s opening keynote was about that. Science should not be intimidating and it should first and foremost be inclusive. But how to bring science out of the lofty classroom to the everyday people? Lucianne started a guerrilla astronomy project: The “Science Train”, where she and some of her colleagues were riding public transit to answer questions everyday commuters might have — about astronomy, and then also other scientists started doing this and it became a thing! #ScienceTrain
Internet for everybody
The very last keynote was given by Diana Nucera, aka Mother Cyborg. She is an artist, an educator, and cares a lot about communities that are impacted by the digital divide. That’s communities that have poor to no internet access —which nowadays is a real problem and often prevents people from being able to do simple bureaucratic tasks or to contribute to their community. Starting in Detroit she founded several initiatives to bring internet in areas that were simply omitted by the Internet provider companies. And she wrote a Teaching Community Technology Handbook to make learning technology accessible and relevant to everybody. She also DJs, wrote A People’s Guide to AI, and does tons of other things.
Museums for everybody
Have we all heard about this ice cream museum that draws millions of people every year and is solely made for the ‘grams? The NYT headlined once: The Existential Void of the Pop-Up ‘Experience’. Is it cool to call it a “museum”? If no, who are we to judge people that actually have the time of their lives in there? Chris Barr who manages Arts + Tech at the Knight Foundation is jointly responsible for distributing money for culture and art every year and since he wants to keep up with the times he’s wondering “what’s happening in the world”? What is it with those pop-up experiences and why is it that traditional museums don’t draw as many people? Those are the 4 points he figured:
- Escapism: There’s a lot going on in the world that you might wanna escape from
- Embodiment: We are physical beings, yet we’re spending a lot of time in the digital world. Now in our leisure time we might wanna use some more of those senses that we got. Touch, smell, taste. In traditional museums we’re often told to not touch. The kids wanna touch though.
- No prerequisites: and this is about the accessibility! It is a problem that science and art are often seen as exclusive and intimidating. They should totally be accessible to everybody and invite everybody in.
- Socialization: Museums and galleries are traditionally quiet places where you better not talk too much and stand quietly in awe in front of the masterpieces — but people now wanna share their experiences with the world. Ideally instantaneously.
If you’re curious about what else people are looking for in cultural experiences CultureTrack has done some research. But the gist of it is: we want a variety of experiences. And Chris Barr also tells us that you can get those in places that are not the Ice Cream Museum. For example Meow Wolf’s House of Eternal Return in Santa Fe — which looks stunning and has quite the interesting story!
4. Social relationships in the midst of surveillance
I only knew Lauren McCarthy from being the inventor of P5.js — which is amazing — but dang, did she do some cool and deep and socio-critical and question raising projects! You gotta check them all out — if you got no time for that, start from the top:
- Follower: a service that grants you a real life Follower for a day
- Lauren: a human intelligence smart home
- Social Turkers: real-time real-people feedback for blind dates
5. Don’t miss the Coding Train
How did I not know about Daniel Shiffman’s Coding train? What a way to learn coding! He got so much energy and excitement! Here he did a live coding session where he set up a game that is controlled by image and audio recognition. Using P5’s Web Editor and Google’s teachable machine— and despite a few little stressful moments due to sneaky bugs, it did work in the end, as proven by this rainbow Twitter bot which created rainbow images trained by ml5js, your friendly machine learning for the web.
6. Art projects!
Over those 4 days you got to see so many different and cool projects. This is my tiny selection of some favorites:
Sarah Groff Hennigh-Palermo is makin’ art
Besides being a very entertaining presenter I really liked her style. Also how she approaches things, how she works with errors and restrictions, how she sometimes consciously chooses the technology that actually maybe is not the most fitting one — but enjoys the artifacts it creates.
Mohit Bhoite’s Free-Formed Circuit Sculptures
Mohit works as a hardware engineer at Particle and in his leisure time he builds free-formed electronic sculptures out of brass. They look. so. cool. And he showed how he made them.
Such precious little objects!
They usually don’t take (him) very long to build. Because: It is all about the instant gratification he says. They all live, guess where, on Instagram.
Magic Leap Studios
Mike Tucker, Interactive Director at Magic Leap presented their “interactive audio-visual exploration of the sounds and spirit of Sigur Rós”, which of course is not like a personal little side hustle, but a rather commercial project. So amazing though! We got to actually try it out afterwards and it’s pretty amazing — how you can seemingly touch sound and interact with this “mixed” reality. Pretty sweet!
7. Lovely Minneapolis
After all the hustling and bustling of the festival I had a bit more time to get around Minneapolis, which turns out to be a super bikable and green city, with friendly people, great architecture, design and murals everywhere.
Many many kudos to all the EyeO organizers. What an amazing job! Hoping to get to come back next year!