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Ph.D dissertation: “H+design: Time, Space, Human, Machine”

Abstract

We are kept, unconsciously, captive by the sequence Past, Present, and Future. However, if we look at these concepts and make a deeper analysis, consciously, we know that the Past, Present and Future concepts of time all exist at one point. Thus, time is “now”. Since space depends on our perception of things, the definition of space is different for each one of us, relative to each one’s experiences and the point of view that is used. Hence, space is “here”. With computers and portable devices becoming smaller and more powerful, with the ability to access information at any time and from everywhere, we will be looking through a new spatiotemporal perspective, “now”here.

However, our perception of reality is at stake with these devices. As Baudrillard’s theory of simulation states, there is a point where it might be no clear distinction between where physical reality ends and simulation begins. At that point, what can we evoke as reality? Everybody observes the world differently, therefore each person’s sense experience is ultimately subjective (Teng, 2013). We were designed to be empathic, to connect with others and the sharing the affection of other individuals is deeply grounded in our human nature (Keysers, 2011). Sharing makes us feel like a part of a group and linked together. Social interaction is, therefore, very important. Different cultures have different perspectives of the world, and its problems, presenting, therefore different solutions.

With Ubiquitous technologies (computer characteristics blended with the environment), our needs can be fulfilled more easily, and for the most part without explicit interaction from us. Smart objects, connected with each other, will understand and infer our needs from our actions, events planned, among others. This kind of devices, are an open possibility to interact with other people, to share information, knowledge, to be seamlessly connected with others.This ubiquity is moving us towards a technological singularity, where humans and machines are becoming blended and that is creating changes and questions on what it means to be human and our humanity. As creators, we should be aware of the long-term consequences of our creations in our lives, our values. We have to consider how our creations, probably only created to fulfil a basic need, might affect the world, or even if it can affect, and how, our true nature. And by considering the long-term consequences, we should think longer than two or three years, we should think in a time frame longer than we would eventually have replaced our creation by another one. We need to consider how that creation will eventually change the world in a decade or more. When considering our creations in that way, we are creating better products because we are preserving our nature, our humanity, what it means to be human, by considering the consequences that creation will have in the future.

This research proposes an innovative design approach supported by literature reviews and a cultural probe pilot test. This approach will be an augmentative factor for social innovation towards a new human-machine civilization in a new nature. Since natural and artificial similarities are growing every day, we should consider which characteristics of these artificial products have human traits already associated with them, to understand what makes these products partly human. These characteristics should be taken into consideration more than others because they are the ones that create the bridge between human and machine and therefore, the ones that will define in a way what it means to be human. Characteristics that transform the human body can be seen as an example, being it only to correct a deficiency or just as an enhancement of a specific human ability. However, while augmenting human’s abilities, we should be aware that emotional and moral values must also evolve, to embrace this new human-machine nature. This evolution will come gradually by the presence of new products designed to share knowledge, emotions and experiences through social oriented platforms (e.g., open source design, hackerspaces) supporting social co-operation and social augmentation, engaging people in this way at perceptual, emotional, social and intellectual levels.

As technology advances, from different fields, do we truly take a moment to reflect on how that technology might change us? Or are we only fueled by the passion to create new things, fulfil needs or the desire to change the world, with no regard to what that might do to us? As creators, we have the power to change the lives of thousands, if not millions. That, in a way, obligates us to thoroughly think about the possible outcomes of our creations. Those creations should not only be created to fulfil some immediate need but also thought in terms of the long-term effects that they might have in our lives, our society and us, as humans. We should strive to become better, to improve ourselves, without losing track of what it means to be human, without losing our humanity.

The “What If…” design manifesto presented in the final part of this thesis presents an intermediate view between humanists and transhumanists, where the acceptance of technological change is embraced as long as our values as human beings are not forgotten. It is also presented a possibility of how we can achieve that, which should be part of the normal design process.

Keywords:

Human-machine hybridity, near future products, cross-cultural evaluation, manifesto, innovative approach to design.