Public Research at a crossroads

Author
Chris Julien

'Technology is not neutral. We're inside of what we make, and it's inside of us. We're living in a world of connections — and it matters which ones get made and unmade.'
— Donna Haraway, Cyborg Manifesto (1984)

In 2019, it will be 25 years since the launch of 'The Digital City' (DDS) in Amsterdam, closely followed by the founding of Waag (at the time subtitled 'Society for Old and New Media'). In that time, Waag has weathered storms that engulfed many media labs founded on the wave of emerging internet technologies in the mid 90s. Not only did Waag survive; it has grown into a leading European research institution for technology and society, championing the agency of citizens in a world ever-more determined by its technologies.

Twenty-five years since the rise of the internet, we find ourselves again at a crossroads. As ICT technologies have matured, they have become entangled with almost every aspect of our lives, causing major corporations and states to seek their capture as platforms of influence and control. Beyond the world wide web, a new ecological horizon has appeared, confronting us with strange and urgent questions at a planetary scale.

We are entering a new geological era called the Anthropocene, in which stable distinctions between nature and culture have dissolved. Not only is this a conceptual 'turn' away from modern ways of thinking. More importantly, the anthropocene intrudes on our lives in very material ways; hurricanes, fires, floods and ecosystem collapse threaten our very existence on this planet.

As a species, we’re facing degrees of systemic complexity unimaginable a century ago, extending our agency to genetic and quantum levels while we peer into the mirror of artificial intelligence. The shock and triumph of the new that characterised modernity have been replaced by the pleasure and trauma that 'the different' confronts us with today.

In this age, Waag’s mission to contribute to a more open, fair and inclusive society is more relevant than ever, with high public and political interest for ethical and cultural perspectives on technology and innovation. The question is no longer whether technology has a political dimension, but rather how to influence the power dynamics of technology.

Over the years, Waag has developed an internationally recognised body of interdisciplinary work in civic tech, open innovation and art-science, which addresses this question with a 'do it together' attitude. Since 2018, we refer to this work as Public Research.

Waag believes the public interest should be at the heart of innovation, and therefore society is the optimal research community. Public Research finds particular resonance with the policy goals of the municipality of Amsterdam, the Digital Society Agenda of the Netherlands and with the mission-based Horizon Europe framework post-2020.

At this critical juncture, Waag looks forward to the opportunity to fundamentally influence the future of our city, and to play a leading role in the technological, societal and ecological transformation of Europe - urgently necessary to secure our collective future. This time around, the pace of change has accelerated, affording us not 25 years, but less than a decade to make a difference.

Over de auteur

  • Chris Julien werkt als research director bij Waag.