Enactive Design: Creative Applications through Concurrent Human-Machine Interaction

Enactive Design is an advanced research seminar on human-machine interaction. We will explore the role of real-time, bidirectional communication between human and digital agents in a design context, and leverage the potentials of this interactive relationship to establish new creative domains. 

Digital interfaces provide computational frameworks for creative exploration in disciplines such as architecture, design and art. However, in many instances, such as traditional 3D modelling environments or numerically-controlled machines, the machine is subservient to the orders of its human counterpart. While this model might be a convenient human-machine relationship for production-oriented scenarios, in the case of design environments, a higher degree of machine agency could generate new models of creative exploration and design through human-machine collaboration. Our investigation is structured around the concept of enactivism, a philosophy which argues that cognition arises from the interactions of an agent and its environment. Rather than an abstract intangible, knowledge and learning are derived from situated, embodied interaction. 

To fully harness the potential of computational design and robotic fabrication, we must fundamentally rethink how we design – and how our designs are realized – with the help of these technologies. Collapsing the distinction between the typically disparate, unidirectional processes of designing, creating and executing a program can create new design opportunities, and generate questions about the nature of the design and fabrication process. What kind of outcomes would an interactive 3D printer yield, one that allows modification of its toolpaths in real time? How can the power and precision of industrial robots be amplified by the decision-making capacity of humans-on-the-loop? How might technologies such as augmented reality supplement human capacity for creative making and fabrication? What are the potentials of mixed and virtual reality environments as mediators between humans and machines? Can design be conceived as the human curation of the suggestions of an artificial intelligence? Is this a new form of collaborative art?

We will address these questions, and many others, through the design of concurrent human-machine interactive platforms, with a particular focus on the computational aspects of the system. Exercises will experiment with real-time robotically-controlled fabrication techniques, interactive installations and/or artistic interventions, and the course will integrate empirical studies with digital modeling and simulation techniques. The creative outcomes of these new platforms for collaboration may reach much farther than the combination of its separate participants.

Offered as a single weekly 3-hour session of literature review, lectures, discussions and hands-on workshops, the course will address the content described above through a combination of hands-on assignments and a semester-long final project. This advanced research seminar will support a high degree of student independence and autonomy. Students are encouraged and expected to pursue their independent interests within the pedagogical framework established in the class, with close guidance from the instructors.  

For the final project, participants will leverage the workflows presented in class to develop a complete design project which addresses the topics described above, as well as the particular interests of the project team.  The results of each project will be documented in the form of an academic research paper.

Demonstrated experience in computer programming via GSD6338, CS50 or similar. Students should have reasonable proficiency with Rhinoceros/Grasshopper. Experience in numerically-controlled fabrication, microelectronics, and robotics is encouraged though not required.