Whistleblowers, virtual reality, robotics and the future of culture at European Lab 2016

The Arty Farty team (Nuits Sonores) has achieved a superb European Lab Forum centred on attentively and proactively involving the youth of Europe in terms of cultural policy against a European backdrop under strain. Is culture a factor for democracy? This is no longer an issue for the organisers of the biannual event (winter edition in Paris), leading by example at the heart of a definitively political and connected forum.

Culture, exchange and openness are of course factors for democracy, also thanks to new communications technology that helped (and still help) for example, Arab Spring participants to speak freely. However, use of this technology is predominantly developed by huge economic consortiums (the renowned GAFAM, for Google, Amazon, Facebook, Apple and Microsoft) requires vigilance by public authorities as well as civil society. Themes such as global monitoring, privacy protection, understanding alternative technologies and activism (but also opening up borders, European support for creation, cultural development) were at the forefront of European Lab Forum 2016. Many subjects revolving around high-tech ‘enhanced’ this Lab, with round tables, workshops, a Hackathon and conferences based on virtual reality, the robotics revolution, the action of whistleblowers and big data.

Sarah Harrison ©Marion Bornaz 

Monitoring and digital vigilance in public

Whistleblowers and big data formed a constituent part of the meetings and conferences spanning three days at European Lab held at the Musée des Confluences. For this, three specialists were amongst the wide panel of guests: the Belorusian researcher Evgeny Morozov, who discussed ‘the digital mirage’ (the title of his eponymous book) and the need for a policy on big data; Sarah Harrison, the spokesperson for WikiLeaks, a journalist and a researcher in law, also came and spoke about the ‘danger of big data’ as well as about protection for whistleblowers, such as Julian Assange, Edward Snowden and Edward Manning (now Chelsea Manning) going with a round table alluding to the deviation of states and big companies in general; amongst the ‘positive’ opinions (still very vigilant), Dominique Cardon, a sociologist and author of the excellent publication A quoi rêvent les algorithmes ?, presented a more nuanced view of the problem. Cartes Blanches, forums for reflection on sensitive and/or artistic and political subjects on these themes, were also available to the public, such as “Personal data, our smartphones are spying on us”, or the broadcast of a Tracks/Arte programme on Pussy Riot and whistleblowers. To ground all these discussions, workshops were also available, like Freedom Box, survival kit for the Internet, co-scheduled with Elevate - Discourse & Activism.

Back to the Future

Revolutions like robotics and virtual reality are amongst future upheavals to bring about an unprecedented transformation of our society. These two areas are indeed addressed by speakers at European Lab 2016, with the participation of many specialists, researchers and philosophers, as well as writers (like Alain Damasio, Catherine Dufour, David Calvo and Norbert Merjagnan from the Zanzibar group), entrepreneurs and artists. Therefore, for the discussion Robolution between Seoul and Lyon we listened to the famous entrepreneur, campaigning for the introduction of service robotics in Europe, Bruno Bonnell (Robopolis) expand upon his vision of a future where robots will serve humanity.

Interactive Room © Gaetan Clement

Virtual reality had its rightful place at the heart of the forum in the encounter between Tyrone Rubin from SenseVirtual, Antoine Cayrol co-founder of the French Okio-Studio, a leader in the production of virtual reality content and Alain Damasio, accompanied by artists Adrien M / Claire B (Pixel…) for a discussion based on the theme “Can virtual reality enhance cultural experience?” A subject also addressed in the workshop “Virtual reality: new forms of writing” also led by Antoine Cayrol.

I, Philip is a short film of 14 minutes which offers viewers an immersive 360 ° virtual reality inspired by the science fiction writer Philip K. Dick.

Notes of Blindness, une expérience immersive sensorielle et mentale dans la vie d’un homme confronté à la cécité.

Visitors wishing to try the experience following the theory session have an opportunity to test several virtual reality programmes, including the renowned I, Philip where we enter the mind of the science-fiction writer Philip K. Dick, or the poignant Notes on Blindness, where the reality of blindness is experienced (a scenario inspired by the life of the writer John Hull). A futurist panel would not be complete without addressing transhumanism. This subject is tackled with the screening of a film about Ray Kurzweil as part of the Carte Blanche awarded to Tracks/Arte.

Culture comes to the aid of Europe and politics

Europe, and the lack of confidence it faces today, was also a pervasive theme at the heart of this particular European Lab. The forum also examined cultural policy and emancipation in Maghreb countries and the democratic and reactive approach of a much more distant country, Korea (guest of honour at Nuits Sonores this year).

On the European side, many interventions focused on the future of the European Community, as well as on resources implemented as part of its numerous programmes to help culture, education, developing smart cities and establishing digital strategies (Culture, a new Eldorado for urban strategies, for example). Politics in the digital age was also addressed: from the Pirate Party (credited with 25% of votes in Iceland) to members of the French group  Mavoix  (proposing to hack the National Assembly in 2017), including militants in Syriza (dismissed by Europe in 2015) and representatives of Diem 25 (party made up of artists, philosophers and activists, including Julian Assange), many reflected on this sensitive area during the round table: Civil Society to the Aid of Politics and Europe.

video explanation of MaVoix approach based on a text written collectively and read by volunteers at the meeting in July 2015 in preparation for a conference.

Raphael Glucksmann was of the same mind, presenting a summary of his book Génération Gueule de Bois, both a call for a crucial awakening and an admission of failure of a now obsolete policy. 

In short, this European Lab counts. It counts as a pivotal moment for brainstorming and exchange, but above all as a time for reflection encouraging involvement. Access for a whole new generation to all digital tools enabling traditional divides to be surpassed and clichés and traps to be avoided, underpinned by new technology developed by GAFAM, is clearly advantageous in moving goalposts and regaining control in the political as well as cultural domains. Many areas for real and virtual reflection!

www.europeanlab.com | Facebook page

Maxence Grugier

Translated from french by Louise Jablonowska


Green fingers: digital and botanical art (1/2)

Artistic practices involving video, robotics and biotechnology have complete