Intelligent crowds

The third dialogue deals with the collective processes, mechanical turk and the intelligence of the crowd.

AZ: There is an interesting friction between the idea of design and the input from outside. Design is about creativity, but it is also about control. Why do you choose not putting the stickers yourself on the floor? You would have much more control then.

LM: I could not care less to stick stickers on the floor. The joy is to see what happens when you create a setting where a lot of people - that don't even know each other - become part of the same system, use the same tool or material. I look for situations that one person couldn't have made. But I am also interested in the dynamics. It is so overwhelming to see these big pieces of fungus, that spread, with no logic or with a lot of logic - that is to the viewer to decide.

AZ: And how do make people your allies?

LM: As I said before: limitations stimulate people. They try to create a message within the little freedom they have. If the visitors get to much freedom, they would do completely non-related things. But if you have too little freedom it gets boring as well. It was interesting to hear the remarks from people at the project in Flux-S from 'Tape on floor 4': We drew big circles on the floor following certain rules. The visitors had their own round stickers and could stick them on the circle lines to make one big snake. Only on junctions someone could decide in what direction to go. Quite quickly it became clear that there is too little freedom for decision making. That lead to little engagement.

AZ: Do you think that the presence of the inventor of the Red Fungus influenced people, so that they did not think so much what they want to do, but what they thought was 'meant' to do and that they could develop their ideas more freely, when nobody was around?

LM: Exactly. People think - what did the artist expect me to do. A system works best, once people take it over and think of it as their own tool or system. Maybe Facebook is an example. Nobody thinks of the inventor of Facebook when using it. Instead it evolves into dimensions no one foresees. People have to embrace it.

AZ: But nowadays people are asked to participate everywhere. Caroline Nevejans claims that participation almost became meaningless these days; there is a participation overload.
This has to do with the democratization of our societies. A few centuries back only a tiny elite was meant to reflect about the world, to say things with authority, or to represent it in pieces of art. Nowadays everybody can say something about the world or make representations about the world. The arrival of the internet promotes this development massively.

LM: I find it fantastic. The only dilemma is the question, whether there isn’t the need of some direction or guidance. So in fact, that means, that the designer of the system has responsibility of designing systems of such a sort, that it stimulates creativity and intelligence in people.

AZ: You talk about guidance. Do you actually want everybody to become an artist or are you just able to collaborate with crowds, because people are used to produce little public statements all the time?

LM: I like it, when people are stimulated to ask themselves questions, to reflect upon our society and not just adapt pre-existing ideas. Participation is sometimes the method to achieve this goal. I don’t want to emphasize my personal message. Instead I find it fascinating to see what emerges when a crowd takes part. A lot of tiny elements creating a formation together is more interesting than one fix shape. Everybody delivers a bit of intelligence and together the whole is something else.
Mechanical Turk of Amazon is a good practical example for that. This is a crowd sourcing tool: people act together as one big machine with everyone as a small intelligent part. Maybe this isn’t the sort of participation which we are talking about. Which has more to do with engagement, and that you make the tools your own and you are able to create with intelligence.

AZ: Now the concept of intelligence is interesting. Are the people using the tool intelligent or does the tool have to be intelligent in order that people actually use it?

LM: Maybe both have to be intelligent: the people use it, use their creativity to work with it and the tool itself has to be simple yet intelligent. This is maybe comparable to the aesthetic concepts of simplicity in science. Although it is very simple to use, it is possible to gain a big variety of results and it leaves space for personal expression.
Simple rules, complex outcome, that’s the ultimate goal.

Luna Maurer , Andreas Zangger