From Theory to Practice: Ars Electronica Research Institutes

48689492616_9a8f9e1daa_k, Talk: Ars Electronica Partners Network /Horst Hörtner Credit: Vanessa Graf

“For us, it’s an opportunity to fulfil our function as a platform in the research sector as well,” explains Gerfried Stocker, artistic director of Ars Electronica. He’s talking about the two new Ars Electronica Research Institutes – and their role within the ecosystem of Ars Electronica.

Anchored in Ars Electronica Futurelab, the new Research Institutes aim above all to close the gap between theoretical, academic research and prototypical, application-based research in the Ars Electronica lab and studio. The goal: to effect a knowledge transfer between the research partners and business, industry, and society; in short, democratized innovation that extends from private citizens to decision makers.

The Research Partners involved are Eveline Wandl-Vogt, multidisciplinary researcher at the Austrian Academy of Sciences, and Werner Jauk, psychologist, music scholar and media artist. Here, Stocker, Wandl-Vogt and Jauk tell us what exactly is studied at their Research Institutes – “Knowledge for Humanity” (Wandl-Vogt) and “Auditory Cultures” (Jauk) – and why the new initiative is an important bridge-builder.

Why were the new Ars Electronica Research Institutes initiated?

Gerfried Stocker:  The new Ars Electronica Research Institutes are about bringing basic research, which primarily happens in the academic sector, into application-oriented fields through the partnership with Ars Electronica. The Research Institutes are anchored in the Ars Electronica Futurelab. The plan is for knowledge transfer to take place between our research partners and businesses, industry, and society. We are building a bridge between academic basic research and application scenarios – in the precise context Ars Electronica is known for.

Testing or demonstrating research approaches in settings like the Ars Electronica Festival or the Ars Electronica Center are an essential support for the research process. In both cases, with both Werner Jauk and Eveline Wandl-Vogt, it is ultimately a matter of research that is meant to be user-oriented. The need to encounter people, exchange ideas with them, and get feedback. For us, this is a possibility for realizing our function as a platform in the research sector as well.

Ars Electronica already has a research lab and studio in Ars Electronica Futurelab. So why is there a need for the Ars Electronica Research Institutes?

Gerfried Stocker: Simply in order to expand our knowledge base. I think that is a very decisive point in our modern knowledge society – a point that Ars Electronica is always postulating. It’s about interdisciplinarity, and that doesn’t always mean that a technician collaborates with a designer or a sociologist with a computer scientist. Here we’re also talking about different modalities of research. Academic research is a very different area from application-oriented research of the kind that happens here in Futurelab. But the challenges that we have to overcome in this time of digital transformation are larger and more multifaceted than the expertise of individual groups of experts. Working with a great variety of people and institutions has always been a strength of Ars Electronica, and that is exactly what we are pursuing here. I think the basic research Werner and Eveline are doing can offer mutual inspiration with the prototype development at the Ars Electronica Futurelab. It’s not just a typical platform situation – it’s a win-win-win-situation.

Eveline, you are head of the Ars Electronica Research Institute “Knowledge for Humanity”. Would you like to introduce yourself?

Eveline Wandl-Vogt: Happy to. I’ve been working at the Austrian Academy of Sciences for 30 years. I started in lexicography and I’m currently at the Austrian Centre for Digital Humanities. I have a multidisciplinary background – I studied German and geography and some computer science as well, but I started out in theater studies. Then I studied social innovation and did a Lab for Open Innovation in Science. From time to time I do courses in topics that enrich my understanding, take my questions further, and develop myself and my work. I am relatively quick to learn things, adapt, and try them out in my work.

How can we imagine “Knowledge for Humanity”?

Eveline Wandl-Vogt: In the long period I’ve spent working in academia, I’ve had to conclude that academic research is just very far removed from the realities of life. That doesn’t mean it’s not important – I just find that there’s a big gap between the two. In order to bridge that gap, I look at where there are problems and where there is knowledge and how do I bring knowledgeable individuals together. Hence the title, “Knowledge for Humanity.” When I say for humanity, it goes back to Federico Donelli who developed the term “humanity-centered design,” which we are adapting for our work. For one thing, “human” here indicates that the innovation goal is social innovation. Furthermore, the focus here is on humans – but not as individuals, but rather as a whole, as a society. Here we are of course also talking about the relationship between human and machine, and we quickly get into human-machine interaction or artificial intelligence.

Finally, I’m also trying to apply the methods and practices of open innovation in science. How can open innovation be used to act in a socially innovative way? How can I use innovation networks and ultimately also technologies and develop them to achieve added value for society? The approach per se is metadisciplinary or even antidisciplinary and that’s why being part of Ars Electronica is so helpful and also really nice. Knowledgeable people really work at the intersection of technology, science, and society – Ars Electronica works in a completely different way from what I can do otherwise in my academic context. It offers totally different interactions and possibilities than a purely academic setting.

Gerfried Stocker: Eveline’s issues are also our big issues: using the coming developments of knowledge technologies, tools, and media for processing, exchange, and interpretation of knowledge and information. For one thing, it’s about methodically investigating how you deal with large, heterogenous data sets in the first place. But what’s often missing in information technology and computer science is the contextualization of data. Looking at data merely as material is one of the things that has gotten us into the difficulties we have now. To start here and approach the problem with a cultural-studies background – that’s exciting. Data are not a neutral material. They contain values that must be contextualized. We have to discuss the development of data and knowledge-processing methods, tools, and media on a broad, societal and culturally informed level.

In our conversations, bias research emerged as a focus point; it’s a big issue in artificial intelligence. It will be an almost intractable problem to find broad societal compromises to determine the rules that are used to define equity. It’s very easy to say that a system has to be trained with balanced data that should be fair and equitable – as long as it’s my version of equity, as long as it’s my idea of fairness and balance. Here we get into areas where the technical and scientific engagement is falling far short. Areas where we need a societal perspective on these developments, informed by cultural studies.

Werner, your Research Institute focuses on “Auditory Cultures”. Could you also introduce yourself briefly?

Werner Jauk: I usually introduce myself in three parts: living in an interdisciplinary way and educated that way, a Doctor of psychology, a qualified lecturer in musicology and practicing media artist. Most people don’t totally understand the connection, but if you understand aesthetics as aísthēsis, as perception, and perception as body-environment interaction that is extended through media, then the relationship to psychology and media art as a scientific, epistemological art becomes clear. And what is musicology doing in between them? Musicology is about auditory media, auditory perception, and this perception in particular seems – not only to me but to a few people since McLuhan – to be the dominant and suitable form of perception of the mediatized world. Although it appears to us as a visual world.

That’s exactly what the “Auditory Cultures” Research Institute, which you are in charge of, is all about. Can you tell us more about that?

Werner Jauk: I see the change from a visual to an auditory culture being brought about by dynamization and digitalization. Dynamization means an acceleration of the world, in which the body no longer moves to events, but they instead move to it, or are available all around the body in a kind of “all-at-onceness.” Digitalization means (in the extreme), that analog processes not only become easier through coding, but also become intentionally feasible and ultimately, freed from their physical limitations, become immaterial virtualities. As a game with hearing, music is always a dynamic temporal form of sounds around the body. Its coding has led to deliberate design, although with a strong connection to the body  – the meaning of sound for the body. The concept of “sound gesture” describes this listening form of interaction; we engage in scientific-artistic research into it.

We always hear sound as a temporal form, we perceive changes in sound as movements around the body, apart from the movement of its sound source. As a mediator of movement, sound stimulates the body and induces it to act. This is the intentionality of sound, the placing of the body “in tension,” before it consciously acts. This stimulation-based body/sound link is an intentional interface that determines emotional interaction with environments, with physical and virtual ones, with “converged realities” that integrate the body.

At the Ars Electronica Research Institute we do basic research but also applied research in order to be able to apprehend the sound gesture paradigm so precisely that we can apply it in many different areas. That a computer could notice from the way I’m sitting in front of it that I’m not satisfied with what it did. I don’t have to tell it right, wrong, yes, no, in other words I don’t have to give it any concrete information, it notices based on my physical interaction – which, after all, is what happens in human communication every day. I would like to transfer this interaction to every form of human-machine /- environment interaction, bring it into a world of artificial intelligence expanded by “emotion.”

Gerfried Stocker: It is a research approach very deeply rooted in artistic experience and practice; with his research into sound gestures, Werner is creating a body language between the human body and the acoustic environment. That has enormous potential for communication strategies that we will all need in the future. We are always talking about smart, independent, or partially autonomous technology – in reality, we are facing the great challenge in the next decades in which we will still be dealing with completely unintelligent systems. If they ever become truly intelligent, communication will be much easier! But now it’s a huge struggle, we need lots of ideas for new cultural technology, for new interface technologies, and that’s where Werner’s research is particularly interesting. The knowledge he generates can be really valuable sustenance for everyone who is thinking about application scenarios in communication between humans and autonomous machines.

Werner is interested in the tools we will use to develop exchange and coexistence with autonomous systems, while Eveline is focusing on societal rules. Both are areas that are seriously underrepresented. We’re always just talking about technological development, application orientation, business cases, even in Europe. But with regard to the issue of humanizing technology, of what digital humanism could be, these research institutes are making a very promising contribution.

Gerfried Stocker is a media artist and engineer of messaging technology. Since 1995, Gerfried Stocker has been artistic director of Ars Electronica. In 1995/96 he and a small team of artists and technicians came up with the new exhibition strategy guidelines for the Ars Electronica Center and established Ars Electronica‘s own research and development department, the Ars Electronica Futurelab. Under his leadership, the program for international Ars Electronica exhibitions was developed starting in 2004, and the planning and repositioning of content for the new, expanded Ars Electronica Center was initiated and implemented starting in 2005. Stocker is a guest speaker at numerous international conferences and a guest professor of Deusto University Bilbao, and advises many companies on creativity and innovation management.

Werner Jauk studied psychology, wrote a dissertation in music information theory (AI) and new experimental aesthetics, did post-doc studies at IRCAM and an international habilitation in systematic musicology, “Pop / Musik und Medien / Kunst – das musikalisierte Leben in der digitalen Kultur,” ultimately creating an MA course in these subjects at the University of Graz. Back in the early 80s, he founded “grelle music” (“harsh music”) – to study and produce “sound in the intermedia.” A member of the Ars Electronica Prix Jury for digital music since the beginning, he has been present as a theoretician and media artist with many sound environments, sometimes in collaboration with Heimo Ranzenbacher, who contrasts tonal performance and the semiological approach to media art; this year, “AI-Pop: walking sound – knowledge base” is focusing on sound gesture and emotional artificial intelligence.

Eveline Wandl-Vogt is an experimentalist, founder and coordinator of the exploration space at the Austrian Academy of Sciences, Austrian Centre for Digital Humanities. The exploration space is an open space for innovation and experimentation for the networked humanities, and designated a best practice example for open innovation by the government of Austria.
She is a Research Affiliate at metaLab (at) Harvard. Eveline has a multidisciplinary university background in German, geography, computer science, theater studies, and education. She studied social innovation and was selected for the world’s first Lab Open Innovation in Science. Eveline has profound knowledge and advanced training in archival science, digital infrastructures and knowledge, and innovation management. Eveline works as a research manager and initiator on various international boards. She is active as an expert in various global initiatives, especially regarding technological and social infrastructures, such as ADHO, ALLEA, COST Aktionen, DARIAH, ECSA, and standardization committees. Based on the mission knowledg4development and against the backdrop of an RRI  Mission Statement, Eveline applies open innovation methods and practices that contribute to the implementation of Agenda2030 and the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals, building a bridge between basic research and real-world challenges. Eveline’s current work is in the field of knowledge science and urban humanities. In her work as a knowledge designer and network facilitator, she stimulates, creates, and analyzes cross-sector, cross-organizational value-based innovation networks.

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