For the past several years, the School has chosen an annual social justice-focused topic. Each topic focuses on issues of inequity and environmental justice, asking our faculty and students to reimagine alternate futures of practice in which these topics are central to the work of architects, designers, artists, and technologists. Two years ago, our theme was Housing. Last year, we investigated the theme of Climate Justice. This year, our theme is ‘Intelligence’.
Through a year-long program of public lectures, exhibitions, and workshops, we will focus on a topic that is relevant to transformations taking place in Woodbury School of Architecture. Intelligence refers to the increased presence of Artificial Intelligence in the design industries and our daily lives. It is both a recognition and provocation to question how we might leverage this new “intelligence” for social and environmental change. Over the past decade, intelligence has become synonymous with data, and so any investigation of intelligence today implies also an inquiry into the sources, forms, and ownership of the data that shapes our lives.
Our hope is that students and faculty will use this year’s theme as an opportunity to question how technology impacts design agency.
Our hope is that students and faculty will use this year’s theme as an opportunity to question how technology impacts design agency: Who develops the technological tools we use? What is the ethical impact of digital systems on users and on our physical and digital environments? What are the emerging philosophies of generative design and AI and what does this mean for education and practice models? How might these systems integrate with critical thinking skills and interdisciplinarity to enable public leadership and entrepreneurial success? How can these systems measure the impact of our work, of civic engagement and designs for diverse communities, on social justice, and on the environments we inhabit?
‘Intelligence’ serves each of us and has the potential to help us achieve larger goals of equity, inclusion and diversity, as well as ethical and sustainable design. Today’s AI crisis is the most recent and acute manifestation of the call to reform the [architecture and design] profession that started in the 1960s and culminated in the disciplinary self-questioning of the early 1970s. We have two viable options: learn how AI and associated techniques are working in other fields, and/or re-examine the traditional objects of our domain — buildings, cities, landscape, interior environments — from the perspective of these new paradigms so that we might identify new opportunities inherent in them: new modes of design activity, new value systems, new ways of procuring projects, new types of clients operating in ways that we don’t recognize.
The development of computational tools and data systems, digital and virtual media, AI and machine learning, have historically been in the hands of the very few which has made access to them egregiously inequitable.
The development of computational tools and data systems, digital and virtual media, AI and machine learning, have historically been in the hands of the very few which has made access to them egregiously inequitable. These systems affect each one of us whether we choose to engage or not. Each of us has a role to play in understanding these tools and systems and we must question how and when they are used. In the film Coded Bias by Shalini Kantayya, MIT Media Lab researcher Joy Buolamwini notes that the tools of ‘Intelligence’ and data intersect with every right that we enjoy as a democracy. She believes that it is people outside of the discourse that have the most to teach the world about the way forward. Let us use this year as an opportunity to develop a critical understanding of ‘Intelligence’ as a means of empowerment and justice.
The 2020-21 School of Architecture Lecture Series will be devoted to the topic of ‘Intelligence’. We invite faculty and students to send us recommendations for speakers before 1 August.