Project Description

What’s to come next?

New technologies are emerging by the hour and are set to alter everyday life at a yet unknown speed. Today paradigmatic changes in communication technologies occur within decades or even a few years. Before that we are talking of hundreds if not thousands of years from the invention of symbols to books to telephones. Such inventions profoundly shape how humans think, act and perceive. It is thus a philosophical task to understand human-machine relations. What is called human has never been pure human. Starting from the colonies of bacteria in our bodies until digital technologies that alter our perception of time and the forms we communicate: We always have already been somewhat posthuman. With technologies growing closer to the body this becomes more and more visible.

In my research, I follow the evolution of human self-understanding from neuroscience through technology design to cinematic and artistic narratives. My research is foregrounded by phenomenological thought, especially Edmund Husserl, Maurice Merleau-Ponty, and contemporary thinkers such as Evan Thompson. Observing a tendency to construe intelligence both human and artificial as disembodied and calculating my aim is give a critique of this reductive move. Philosophy currently answers these questions from a poststructuralist perspective (as in Katherine N. Hayles, Brian Massumi or Mark B.N. Hansen). My aim is to introduce a concept of embodied experience into the discussion, which does not affirm a strong human subject or falls into the dualistic traps of traditional humanism. To do so I combine conceptual analyses of neuroscientific images, developments in AI and Robotics as well as phenomenological analyses of cinematic narratives and the experiences engineered in performance and digital art.

research field emergent technologies

Ongoing research:

My research provides a new framework to discuss the impact of emergent technologies on human embodied intelligence and its embeddedness in changing lifeworlds. My aim is to bring art, aesthetics, and theories of embodiment to bear on questions in the philosophy of technology.

My primary research program is dedicated to investigating human self-understanding in cinema and digital art. It draws on interdisciplinary work that I was able to carry out in two previous fellowships at the Institute for Advanced Studies Media Cultures of Computer Simulation (Leuphana University) and at the Institute for Advanced Studies in Cultural Sciences (University of Konstanz). Having worked closely with artists from digital art, performance art, and sound art, I have developed a topology of human images in relation with technology and read them against the backdrop of cinematic narratives developed in the science-fiction genre. My hypothesis is that the reductive image of humans as brains, as communicated through neuroscience and larger parts of the cognitive sciences, informs artistic practices as well as imaginations of future lifeworlds. I combine a post-phenomenological approach with theories of embodied cognition. The qualitative experience with concrete technologies (as enabled through art settings), along with the focus on the materiality of the given and envisaged technologies, are central to my approach. Combining these two strands I am currently developing a bigger picture of how human embodied experience and hence human self-understanding changes through the use of technologies. I will investigate images of humans and machines that inform future-oriented narratives of technological environments and the interaction of human and artificial intelligences. The upshot of this project is to facilitate a dialogue between philosophy and art on the future of societies, and human-machine interactions. I argue that this dialogue should play a vital role in ethical considerations with regard to the use of robots and AI. I have already published a series of articles on this topic and am currently working on completing a monograph within the next two years on it; I have also been a co-editor of a published volume on the related topic of values and perception of values (Förster, Gilland, Mühling 2019).

My second research area is dedicated to the relation of fashion and technology. In this project, I follow the question of how fashion has the potential to voice artistic and productive critique of contemporary and future technologies. Drawing on phenomenological theories of the lifeworld, I conduct research on how fashion incorporates technologies in production as well as in design (smart fabrics, wearables). It is crucial to this project to look at the aesthetic aspects of technology in general and as it is used in fashion in particular. I narrow my research here to fashion as an economic and artistic field because fashion appears a mediator of technologies in close proximity to the body. The tendency of technology to disappear into everyday objects or become integrated into the human body (in the form of sensors, implants or prostheses) is a tendency that presents ethical challenges. It calls forth discussions transcending human nature toward post- or transhuman stages, rewriting the story of the anthropocene in posthuman terms. Fashion is itself a technology of engineering social relations. My aim is to understand the critical potential of experimental fashion (such as Iris van Herpen’s work) and its impact on body images and cultural practices of engaging with emergent technologies. My aim is to give a systematic account of fashion practices (in relation to science and art) and bring them into a dialogue with the conceptual frameworks developed in philosophical analysis. This project has a strong potential to generate a broader audience and impact curatorial work. So far, a series of articles has been published and an edited volume on the relation of fashion and scientific practices is out (Busche, Förster 2019).

A recent research program focuses on human and machine intelligence. I have designed an interdisciplinary project that involves social robotics and interactive technologies. My aim is to understand what concepts of human and artificial intelligence in general, and emotional intelligence in particular, are involved in human-machines interactions. Drawing from my work on embodied and extended cognition, I plan to co-operate with robotic labs and colleagues in order to understand how human-robot interactions develop over purely functional aspects to emotional situations and attachments. This is important because I plan on focusing on cultural differences and similarities in the usage of social technologies in order to develop a more comprehensive picture of possible human-machine relations. The project will develop a novel approach of combining philosophical theories of intelligence, the aesthetics of interface design, and the perceptual qualities of working and living with robots and responsive devices.