Science and Technology 

The Second Digital Turn

Design Beyond Intelligence

Mario Carpo 

Christian Kerez, Incidental Space, Venice (2016)

Twenty to thirty years is a long time in the annals of information technology – long enough to allow us to discern a fundamental rift between the inner workings of yesterday’s and today’s computational tools. At the beginning, in the 1990s, we used our brand new digital machines to implement the old science we knew – in a sense, we carried all the science we had over to the new computational platforms we were then just discovering. Now, on the contrary, we are learning that computers can work better and faster when we let them follow a different, nonhuman, postscientific method; and we increasingly find it easier to let computers solve problems in their own way – even when we do not understand what they do or how they do it. In a metaphorical sense, computers are now developing their ‘own science,’ a new kind of science. Thus, just as the digital revolution of the 1990s (new machines, same old science) begot a new way of making, today’s computational revolution (same machines, but a brand new science) is begetting a new way of thinking.

Evidently the idea that inorganic machines may nurture their own scientific method – their own intelligence, some would say – lends itself to various apocalyptic or animistic prophecies. This book follows a different, more arduous path. Designers are neither philosophers nor theologians. They may be prey to beliefs or ideologies, but no more and no less than in most other professions. By definition, designers make real stuff, hence they are bound to some degree of philistinism: they are paid only when the stuff they make works – or when they can persuade their clients that at some point it will. And based on the immediate feedback we get in the ordinary practice of our trade, it already appears that, to chart the hitherto untrodden wilds of posthuman intelligence, some strategies work better than others. Having humans imitate computers does not seem any smarter than having computers imitate humans. Á chacun son métier: to each its trade.

Ultimately, the task of the design professions is to give shape to the objects we make and to the environment we inhabit. In the 1990s we invented and interpreted a new cultural and technical paradigm; we were also remarkably successful in creating a visual style that defined an epoch and shaped technological change. It is too soon to tell if we will carry it off again this time around; the second digital turn has just started, and the second digital style is still in the air.Yet it seems to me that digitally intelligent designers are finding and testing capital new ideas right now: just like in the 1990s, well ahead of anyone else.

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