The STATE Studio in Berlin, Germany, a newly opened science, art and innovation exhibition space, smartly timed just prior to the beginning of the Berlin Science Week, seeks to engage the public “to discover and explore the breakthrough developments that shape our future”. The concept is centered around the desire to have the greater public involved in the direction technological advances take as opposed to being dictated to by smaller groups of people working as scientists, innovators, entrepreneurs or within governments. That is not to say that these technological advances are necessarily good or bad in themselves. The central question, however, revolves around whether it would be better to have an informed society that has input, and even helps co-create, the innovations it prefers, ethically, culturally and technologically. Think about technologies that could someday fully automate our lives or biotechnologies that can create a sustainable future or genome editing that could help us live forever, concepts being exhibited at the STATE Studio presently.
There is a common belief that Technological Innovation is inevitable. Human nature often seeks out improvements in one’s quality of life. Technology, historically, has helped by reducing workloads, creating efficiencies, improving health, extending our knowledge through discovery or learning. It’s been happening from the earliest creation of basic tools, to the control of fire and the invention of the wheel. Fear of new technologies, however, is also strongly prevalent. Rapid advances in computers more recently has given rise to technophobia, an anxiety rooted in the feeling of a loss of control. Technology can even change the workings of the neural networks in the brain, affecting our behaviour and characteristics, sometimes blamed for an increase in violence, inactivity or addiction. This isn’t new, as external forces, regardless of the source, have always had an impact on the way human brains develop, adapt and change.
The STATE Studio, first founded in 2014, and having been part of several international projects, including a temporary gallery in Los Angeles in 2017, is bravely tackling this issue of societal awareness and participation in its first exhibition in its new Berlin location called Field Experiments. Curated by Dr. Christian Rauch, Johanna Teresa Wallenborn and Stefanie Geimal, Field Experiments is for the public to “play, explore and critically reflect upon” tomorrow’s technologies. Alongside the main exhibition is Farming the Uncanny Valley, a three year research project funded by the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research, exploring a combination of a sustainable bioeconomy and public participation to ease, and even assist in designing, the societal changes that inevitably will surface from the future challenges of food and energy security and safety.
Over the last several decades, museums, universities and democratic governments have increasing seen civic engagement as part of their mission. It is not an easy pursuit, as values and interests differ across society, and technological advances can often bring advantages to some, but disadvantages to others. I’ve been twice now to the STATE Studio and continue to hope it’s agenda of exhibitions, workshops, talks and experiments further the discussion on what society wants for its future. There is a growing list of global issues to tackle beyond technological innovation, as well, such as refugees and human migration, climate change, human impacts on biodiversity and the ecosystems, income inequality, all of which need public discourse and participation to resolve.
Featured Photos: Don Jurries; STATE Studio Media Images