Driving the Human: 21 Visions for Eco-Social Renewal, a conference hosted by Forecast, took place at Radialsystem in Berlin during October of this year. These twenty-one concepts took various forms within the venue as installations, performances, workshops and panel discussions. In addition to being in-person, much of the program was simultaneously broadcast online. At the conclusion of this three-day event, seven concepts were selected to continue onto the mentorship program in order to further their research with the aim of developing prototypes.

The original twenty-one visions came out of an open call, which asked applicants to consider sustainable and collective futures for our planet. The following is an introduction to each of these seven approaches, which reflect on how we currently inhabit the world in order to better envision our future. Two of the selected projects, Sedekah Benih and Virtual Sanctuary for Fertilizing Mourning, stem from the indigenous people’s knowledge of their originating countries. Both projects highlight indigenous practices not as belonging to the past, as forgotten traditions, but as ways of living from now on.

Collaborators Vincent Rumahloine and Mang Dian live in Indonesia, their project began in 2015 when the rising price of store bought chilies prompted them to share chili seeds in their community of Bandung. The project title, Sedekah Benih, explains itself… 'Sedekah' is a term derived from the Arabic word sadakah, an act of voluntary giving without limitations and 'Benih' meaning seeds. They hope to encourage tiis leungeun, 'green thumb,' someone who has a talent for working with plants. The project seeks to engage with the traditional ecological knowledge of Indonesia.

Vincent Rumahloine watering plants as part of his project Sedekah Benih during Driving The Human: 21 Visions for Eco-Social Renewal at Radialsystem, Berlin, October 15, 2021, Photo by Camille Blake © Camille Blake

Eliana Otta is a Peruvian artist living in Europe where she often encounters misconceptions about the Amazon as an uninhabited environment. Otta’s artistic practice has long engaged with conflicts in Peru arising from unregulated extracting activities. Virtual Sanctuary for Fertilizing Mourning specifically collaborates with the community of Nuevo Amanecer Hawaii, which is inhabited by the Ashaninka people, the largest indigenous Amazonian group in Peru. Otta hopes to create a virtual experience of video documentation and one-on-one interviews. Providing a platform for Amazonian people to share the violence they have experienced while protecting their environment and way of life.

Many of the proposals are interested in empathetic approaches to understanding the climate crisis. How interdependence can be strengthened not only between humans, but all forms of life on our planet. Otta hopes to provide others access to the Amazon, a part of the world that is difficult to reach and understand while another pair of collaborators aim to do the same in another remote region. Monsters and Ghosts from the Far Away North: Towards an Inclusive Cartography is a video game, created by Andra Pop-Jurj and Lena Geerts Danau, set in the Arctic. The two graduates from the Royal College of Art, London identified a need for a more dynamic and interactive representation of data relating to both the geopolitics of land ownership in the region, as well as the effects of global warming. There are no humans in the game, only the suggestion of human activity such as cargo ships. Instead, users take on either the third or first person perspective of non-human agents like the Arctic Tern and Methanobacteria.

Monsters and Ghosts from the Far Away North: Towards an Inclusive Cartography by Andra Pop-Jurj and Lena Geerts Danau

Ghanian artist Akwasi Bediako Afrane further explores the humanizing effects of perspective in his project Trons’R’Us. Afrane seeks to personify technology as he creates sculptures from discarded technology. He points out that all of the gadgets in his works are still very much useable, their owners have chosen to throw them away. Hoping to provoke viewers to consider their own wastefulness.

The project group behind Human-Bacteria Interfaces also wants to provoke a reconsideration of how we coexist with the non-human. Anne-Sofie Belling, Bea Delgado Corrales, Romy Kaiser and Paula Nerlich will be working to realize a product prototype, ALI (Ambient Living Intelligence). ALI, among other things, is made up of SCOBY (a symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast) which will detect stimuli from its surrounding such as heat, and will respond by activating fluorescent proteins creating a glow. The group wants to make visible our human-microbial interactions for which we depend on.

Hyeseon Jeong and Seongmin Yuk also seek to highlight our entangled relationship with the natural world in their speculative film, The Backpack of Wings: Modern Mythology. Inspired by the ICARUS initiative, which began in 2020 to track the migratory patterns of small flying animals. Jeong and Yuk propose a future in which tracking certain animal’s movements will be used to predict natural disasters, which in turn will be commercialized.

Do AIs Dream of Climate Chaos by Iris Qu

Iris Qu, a programmer working in the tech industry, also questions our reliance on technology in the future. Her digital work, Do AIs Dream of Climate Chaos, is created with machine learning in which she trained text and image generation models with climate related data. She imagines a future in which AIs must weigh the interests of human and non-human in order to determine the most optimal solutions for climate problems, regardless of human input.

In one form or another, all of these concepts reject hierarchies and aim to promote collaboration and interdependency. After a year of guided work, the seven resulting prototypes will be presented in November of 2022.

AI and Computation Otherwise panel discussion with Iris Qu, James Bridle, Matthew C. Wilson and Akwasi Bediako Afrane moderated by Kay Meseberg during Driving The Human: 21 Visions for Eco-Social Renewal at Radialsystem, Berlin, October 16, 2021, Photo by Camille Blake © Camille Blake