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'Emerge' event attracts industry leaders, changemakers in redesigning futures

February 23, 2012

Singular questions about what it means to be human in the face of emerging technologies will be explored March 1-3 when Arizona State University hosts "Emerge."

An unparalleled campus-wide collaboration, "Emerge" unites artists, engineers, bio scientists, social scientists, storytellers and designers to build, draw, write and rethink the future of the human species and the environments that we share.

Industry leaders and prominent authors and futurists will join ASU faculty and selected students for an intense exploration of emerging technology and the implications of those breakthroughs for people and environments.

“This is a time for humanists, artists and designers to leave their ivory tower and seek to integrate their knowledge in interdisciplinary teams that design the future,’’ said Thanassis Rikakis, a professor and director of the ASU School of Arts, Media and Engineering in the Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts, and one of the principal organizers of the event.

The three-day conference has attracted such internationally prominent changemakers and futurists as author Bruce Sterling ("Beyond the Beyond"), Sherry Turkle ("Alone Together: Why We Expect More from Technology and Less from Each Other"), Bruce Mau ("Incomplete Manifesto for Growth," "Massive Change Network"), Neal Stephenson ("Snow Crash," "The Diamond Age," "Reamde") and Stewart Brand ("The Whole Earth Discipline").

“I’m amazed at the nerve we seem to have hit with 'Emerge.' We have people flying in from all over the world and the country – on their own nickel – just to be part of it,’’ said Joel Garreau, a key conference organizer and Lincoln Professor of Law, Culture and Values at the Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law. “We have a Nobel Prize winner who’s happy to be a participant in a workshop – not even its leader. And there he’ll be right next to extraordinarily talented students, faculty, and people from the community,” Garreau said. 

"Emerge" is built around eight areas where ASU research is breaking new ground from disease destroyers to human enhancement. These Futures@ASU presentations will lead into interdisciplinary workshops where one of the most exciting results of the conference is expected to happen.

Much of the excitement generated is the anticipation of the intense, highly interactive workshop format that allows artists and scientists such freedom to collaborate, experiment and explore future possibilities together.

“A storyteller is as insightful to a sustainability team as a climatologist," said Rikakis. "The biodesign lab is as creative as the sculpture studio, a musician is as important to an educational technology team as a programmer, and an engineer is as crucial to an immersive theater play as the director.”

Cynthia Selin, an assistant professor in ASU's School of Sustainability and the Center for Nanotechnology in Society, and one of the conference’s three principal organizers, agrees. “'Emerge' is a chance to rehearse, play with, articulate, and build out alternative futures,” she said. “It will spark new ideas for how to thrive amidst uncertainty and the escalating complexities of modern times. We are not searching for utopias but a measure of moxie in charting sustainable pathways.”

Leaders in the “Design Fiction’’ movement, including Sterling; Julian Bleecker, co-founder of Near Future Laboratory; and Stuart Candy, a senior foresight and innovation specialist at Arup, a global design firm, are among the workshop leaders. The products of these workshops – provocative and evocative stories, games, performances and objects from which a vision of the future develops – will be shared with the public beginning at 9:30 a.m., March 3, when ASU President Michael Crow will be joined in Neeb Hall by authors Sterling, Stephenson, Mau, Turkle and Brand in a series of keynote talks and panel discussions inspired by the workshop explorations. 

Throughout the three-day conference, the Digital Culture Festival celebrates the collaboration of artists, engineers and scientists with a series of installations and interactive happenings on public display. Among the exhibits will be a lighted sculptural passageway of Plexiglas “blossoms’’ that pulse with sound and light in reaction to movement passing underneath; educational mixed-reality games and a miniature golf game that responds to player’s successes and failures. These creations fill indoor and outdoor spaces spanning the design and arts buildings at the west end of the Tempe campus.

"Emerge" culminates in a Saturday evening interactive media show at the Nelson Fine Arts Plaza on the Tempe campus. Here, buildings surrounding the plaza become the canvas for a movement, image and sound show that engages and immerses the audience in the futuristic themes explored throughout the three-day conference.

The audience will interact with mediated sculptures and installations. Actors will move throughout the audience encouraging the interaction. The audience will drive real-time graphics and sound engines to produce three-dimensional visual displays on the building and surround sound displays in the plaza. The cutting-edge show is being developed by a diverse group of faculty and students from the arts, design and engineering units at ASU.

"Emerge" is sponsored at ASU by the Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts, the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering, the Office of the President, the Prevail Project of the Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law, the School of Sustainability, LightWorks, the Center for Nanotechnology and by Intel.

For more information, including times and locations, visit