Ars Electronica has followed, anticipated and analyzed the digital revolution and its origins, its successes, even its follies. As a festival for art, technology and society, the cultural and social significance of new technical and scientific developments has always been at its forefront. This year, Ars Electronica celebrates its 40th anniversary and as always turns its gaze forward, in an artistic and scientific survey of digital reality, its future prospects and our options for action.
In keeping with its title “Out of the Box – the Midlife Crisis of the Digital Revolution,” we embark on an expedition to artistically and scientifically survey our modern world and its techno-economic influences, its future prospects and our options for action.
“Out of the Box means for us all: get out of our comfort zones! In order for humanity to maintain its capacity to act in the face of burning issues such as artificial intelligence, the melding of genetics and bioengineering and the ecological destruction of our planet, we must venture into the unknown territory of the digital systems we humans created, using art to look past our own garden walls in order to determine what is possible and exceed it.”
Art as a critical thinker’s “second opinion” on the digital revolution.
Being a festival for art, technology and society means using the methods of art and the sensorium of artists to observe and analyze possible future transformations as well as those currently happening, and to come to conclusions about their cultural and social dimensions and their consequences.
The time-honored principle of artistic thought and action “making the invisible visible,” the curiosity to look at what’s behind the scenes and the impulse to make something better, dissatisfaction with simple answers, skepticism toward default solutions, an unflagging creativity in the search for new ways and means – all these are factors, originating in the artistic ecosystem, that are perfectly suited to help formulate the enlightened, critical and qualified perspectives that we urgently need on our path into the future. A path that must take into account the problems of the present no less than it needs visions of a better future.
The history of Ars Electronica and its multitude of visionary artistic projects, whose future scenarios, both positive and negative, are increasingly coming true, serve to prove the effectiveness of collaboration among art, technology and society. All the more remarkable is the visionary power of those who founded Ars Electronica 40 years ago.
Human Limitations – Limited Humanity
The exhibition “Human Limitations – Limited Humanity” revolves around the relationship between humanity and the environment, and our limitations therein. What socio-ethical obligations arise from our present technologies and our ever-increasing interaction with nature?
It is perhaps one of the most inherent traits of humanity to strive after more, to explore the unexplored, to push our own limitations over and over again – as individuals, and as society. Early on we created tools and technologies to survive and facilitate our daily life, and we have always used them to form the world we live in, sometimes with unforeseen impacts. With the powerful technologies at hand today – from bioengineering to artificial intelligence – it is more important than ever to reflect on the way we want to use them collectively. At its core, the exhibition “Human Limitations – Limited Humanity” revolves around the relationship between humanity and the environment, and our limitations therein. What socio-ethical obligations arise from our present technologies and our ever-increasing interaction with nature?
The first part, “Human Limitations,” addresses the topic on an individual level. With today’s body extensions, microchip implants or genetic editing methods like CRISPR-Cas9, we have reached a point where we can deeply adapt and alter the human body, which leaves us with the question: To what extent will we be dependent on our body enhancements in the future?
“Limited Humanity” approaches the question of societal limitations, which have been – among others – clearly exposed in light of recent issues like the debates on refugees, global warming, mass surveillance or big data: rather than challenging our sense of community, discussions on sociopolitical problems should strengthen it. Cooperation is key when tackling the complex challenges of our time, for no individual being can see all their far-reaching implications alone. Technology is, taken by itself, neither a friend nor an enemy in this world: it is what we make of it.