2018 STARTS Prize jury and trends

In June 2018 we will announce the recipients of the STARTS Prize 2018. Recently the jury of international experts convened for an entire weekend at the Ars Electronica Center. Their mission: to recognize outstanding work at the interface of science, technology and art. Ars Electronica interviewed this years jurors Francesca Bria and Seiichi Saito on trends among this year’s entries. 

This is the third consecutive year that Ars Electronica, Waag and BOZAR have staged the competition to select the STARTS Prize recipients on behalf of the European Commission. STARTS singles out for recognition for exciting, innovative projects at the nexus of Science, Technology and the Arts. Prizes are awarded in two categories: Artistic Exploration and Innovative Collaboration; both winners receive € 20,000.

Whose works ultimately made the most favorable impression on the jury will remain a secret until June 4th. Ars Electronica spoke with two of the jurors, Francesca Bria and Seiichi Saito, to talk about their intensive weekend of deliberations, trends amongst the 2018 applications and the role of art and technology in society. Below you can find part of this interview written by Vanessa Graf from Ars Electronica:

You are looking at projects right at the intersection of science, technology, and the arts. What’s so interesting about this particular intersection?

Francesca Bria: "For me, there is an absolute need to think of this intersection. A Commissioner of Digital Technology and Innovation in Barcelona, I am in charge of the topic of smart city, which is the future of cities. It is absolutely crucial to shape the future of cities not from a technology standpoint, by introducing first the technology that is going to change everything, like sensor network, data connectivity, or AI, but to actually to do the reverse. Before introducing the technologies, it is important to understand the citizen’s needs, the needs of the society, and to introduce a different perspective and this multidisciplinarity that is at the intersection of the arts, technology, and science.

Another thing that artists do is to open a space for the audience, for citizens, for people, to open a public debate around ethics, around the environmental impact, around the gender impact, around the societal benefit, and the economic model. We need this space to be very central in the way we make decisions, and we need to have the right approach and right stakeholders on board. We are at a critical point where we need to do this science, technology and art collaboration, and we need to do it in a way where we as policy makers understand it."

Seiichi Saito: "Maybe ten years ago, technology, science, and art were totally separate. But as Francesca said, now we have to get together really tight to think about how we can make the world better. It is not like back in the day, where one industry tries to do things and another industry tries to do other things. We have to do it synched and execute it together. We need collaboration between different experts and field people, they need to swarm together, because everything, product design, city design, architecture, everything, becomes more and more complicated. Not only architects can talk about architecture, but also industry leaders or scientists can start talking about architecture." 

Francesca Bria: "And why should Europe not give an example of the potential of this collaboration? And also create a global platform? We saw many applications from all around the world, and I think it is very good that the European Commission is fostering this, but also integrating projects that other places in the world are doing and then creating a global platform, where we can democratize technology and give a future direction to technological change."

You have looked over many a few submissions for the STARTS Prize 2018. Can you identify any trends?

Francesca Bria: "I think that although we are seeing a lot of emerging technologies like artificial intelligence, big data, techniques of future manufacturing, or VR, the most important is what kind of direction we are giving this technological change. The intersection between the industry, science, and the arts really is important because we cannot shape the technological direction if we don’t work in this interdisciplinary way.

That being said, there is a big trend around sustainability, how we think about life, how we use bio-design, and in particular how to question some of the trends in mass industry and mass production. It’s a way of looking at the production cycle and the supply chain in a different way. We saw trends around surveillance, a new dimension to privacy and the data economy. Artists are thinking about how we can protect people, but also how to give us tools that help us understand a fair economy, where citizens and users are more in charge of the data and understand the wider implication of technology in society. Then we saw trends around the use of materials, new constructions, flexible construction methods, faster prototyping, or 3D-printing in a new way. And of course, the entire debate around AI is a trend, human-machine interaction, and the question of how we can interpret AI. Artists are not only thinking of AI as the new hegemony, which is very much where I come from, a technology, industry, or government perspective, but also about how AI can open up a new space for dialogue between people. How can AI help us to interpret things in a new way?"

Seiichi Saito: "I thought back to what the other juries picked before in 2016 and 2017, and there were so many trends like bio-art or AI or robotics. I think that this time it was more experimental. This year, many ideas entered a practical phase, which means that technologies like AI or robotics or open data are executed at a certain level in the society. Artists start producing products, putting ideas into action. I think at the moment it is all about the execution, putting the technology into practice that we have been talking about for the last five years, which means that technology is going to change somebody’s life or entire countries or cultures soon."

Read the complete interview by Vanessa Graf from Ars Electronica here.

Find a introduction of the STARTS Prize 2018 Jurors here.