Artificial Intelligence has the potential to upend and rewrite so many industries and aspects of our daily lives. Wunderman Thompson Intelligence reached out to Marcel van Brakel, founder of the interdisciplinary Dutch experience design collective called Polymorf, for his expert insight into what this evolving tool means for technology, for entertainment and experiences, and for the future human perspective.
Marcel van Brakel, Founder and Lead Designer at Polymorf
Apr 24, 2023
“[AI] has a huge implication on almost everything.”
Tell us a little more about Polymorf.
We're a Dutch art collective and design studio, and we create immersive experiences and speculative designs of all kinds. We like to work with new technologies: sometimes we build our own technology. A lot of our work is centered around the human body or the body itself, and raises questions about the consciousness of a multi-sensory system.
We started off as a theatre group reading operas, and now we’re into this kind of cross section between our technology, design, and science.
How is AI used in your work currently?
I really like it as a sketching tool. So we look work a lot with stable diffusion and mid journey just to make visualizations or prototypes or test that kind of stuff, and we're preparing more projects that involve artificial intelligence.
Our first project is Future Botanica, and that's kind of a spinoff project of Symbiosis in which people experience the world not as a human, but as opposed to human, and we think about how a non human-centric new world will change perspectives and change society.
In Future Botanica, we are not the main artist; the audience will be the artist to create these narratives and to create these worlds by making gardens that we're going to plant in real gardens. [The project directs a] discussion between the possible future nature and ecosystems and the current nature and ecosystems, and the audience will work with AI to create these narratives and 3D models that we can plant in this world.
In another project, called AIIA, we speculate on the future city and ecology. We're trying to design an AI for world governance in a sense that is more inclusive and not human centric at all. [This AI functions] as something that can negotiate power and politics between humans and non-humans. The aim for that project is to create an AI system that is as free of the human bias as possible.
We previously did a project with Polymorf called Algorithmic Perfumery created together with lead designer Frederik Duerinck, formerly of Polymorf, and Mark Meeuwenoord. We worked with Florian Hecker, a musician who works with algorithms and generative music patterns. It was an art piece shown in New York that created perfumes in collaboration with a perfumer from IFF (International Flavors and Fragrances). We created a space where visitors could hear samples of music from Hecker. At any moment, if you think well, this is a very interesting piece, I kind of like it, you could push a button and we would have a machine learning system create a perfume based on your musical choice. In the end, we would create the perfume on the spot [for the visitor to bring home].
What do you believe is the future of AI and its applications compared to how it's being used today?
I cannot imagine a field where it's not applied. It's already almost everywhere. I think we will use this for world governance.
In the art community right now, there's still a lot of friction [introducing it]. It challenges [us to consider] what it means to be human and to be creative: what is creativity and what is intelligence? AI is a very powerful tool to take over or optimize our processes, but I think AI can still step into fields where there's a lot of uncertainty, too.
I don't see a future without it.
How will AI impact humanity?
I think it's almost impossible to predict. It's a bit like predicting: what is the impact of the Internet? It has a huge implication on almost everything. And I think, like a lot of technologies, it's neutral. So in a sense that it can be both good and bad, we can transform it to help us to solve problems or make processes more efficient, and even to make [a stronger] connection to nature or to other people by translating what we don't understand.
But I think the most interesting thing about AI is that it introduces a fundamentally different consciousness. Maybe it's not at the level that it is self-conscious of course, but at this moment, most of the AI is a collection of the human thinking. It's a human product and is human biased, but as soon as we step away and can make more neutral AI systems or systems that are trained on different datasets and on different rules, it will introduce another perspective.
I think that's huge: to encounter another consciousness that will see reality in a completely and fundamentally different way that gives us an opening to understand [the world] in a different manner. At the current moment, of course, we see each other as the most important measurement of everything, and as the most important reference in understanding reality because of our sensory system that gives us access to reality. But having a system that is completely Interested in other stuff? It sees things fundamentally differently, and in that sense, I'm quite optimistic that it could be a huge, beautiful opportunity if we can surrender to the idea that we have to be more humble as a species.
Main image of Marcel van Brakel, courtesy of POLYMORF.