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Durham University

Institute of Advanced Study

Dr Laura Forlano

IAS Fellow at St Aidan'sCollege, Durham University (January - March 2020)


Laura Forlano (BA Skidmore College 1995, MIA Columbia University 2001, PhD Columbia University 2008) is Associate Professor of Design at the Institute of Design and Affiliated Faculty in the College of Architecture at Illinois Institute of Technology where she is director of the Critical Futures Lab. A Fulbright award-winning and National Science Foundation funded scholar, Dr Forlano is a writer, social scientist and design researcher that has been studying the intersection of design, emerging technologies and futures for over 10 years in the US, Canada, Hungary, Germany, Spain, Australia and Japan. In 2018-2019, she was a Visiting Research Fellow at the Digital Life Initiative at Cornell Tech and a Faculty Associate at the Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society at Harvard University. She has also held visiting positions at the University of Bremen (December 2018), Leuphana University (December 2016), Massachusetts Institute of Technology (2012-2013) and has been an Affiliated and Visiting Fellow at the Information Society Project (ISP) at Yale Law School since 2007.

Over the past ten years, she has studied the materialities and futures of socio-technical systems such as autonomous vehicles and smart cities; 3D printing, local manufacturing and innovation ecosystems; automation, distributed labor practices and the future of work; and, computational fashion, smart textiles and wearable medical technologies. Dr Forlano is co-editor of three books: Bauhaus Futures (forthcoming 2019, MIT Press), digitalSTS Handbook (forthcoming 2019, Princeton University Press) and From Social Butterfly to Engaged Citizen (2011, MIT Press). Dr Forlano’s research and writing has been published in peer-reviewed journals including the Journal of Business Anthropology, She Ji, Catalyst, Demonstrations, Spheres, Design Issues, the Journal of Peer Production, Fibreculture, Digital Culture & Society, ADA, Journal of Urban Technology, First Monday, The Information Society, Journal of Community Informatics, IEEE Pervasive Computing and Science and Public Policy. She has published chapters for books including Zizi Papacharissi’s A Networked Self and Human Augmentics, Artificial Intelligence, Sentience and Mark Shepard’s Sentient City: Ubiquitous Computing, Architecture, and the Future of Urban Space (MIT Press 2011) and The Architecture League of New York’s Situated Technologies pamphlet series.

While at Durham, she will be working on a book manuscript and collaborating on the IAS sponsored project, “Material Imagination,” with Professor Tiago Moreira (Sociology) and Dr Margarita Staykova (Physics). The project focuses on open innovation through the co-production of smart materials, which describes materials and systems that change properties and functions in response to environmental factors. This interdisciplinary project engages research, art and design -- using a participatory design approach in order to engage stakeholders and drawing on art as a mode of public engagement – in order to establish a new approach to smart material development.

IAS Fellow's Public Lecture - Improbable Futures: Automation and Imagination

9th March 2020, 17:30 to 18:30, Lindisfarne Centre, St Aidan’s College


This talk introduces a critical approach to studying and designing futures by foregrounding the improbability of the many claims about emerging technologies — and, in particular, automated and algorithmic systems — as we experience them in everyday life. In contrast to the modernist project of prediction and control by nearly perfect machines, this talk argues that emerging technologies, like fallible humans, should be understood through their flaws and failures, gaps and glitches, seams and symptoms, errors and omissions, bugs and biases, and, importantly, the implications of these breakdowns on larger complex socio-technical systems. By integrating a deeper understanding of the myriad of ways in which emerging technologies malfunction — whether these are technical, social, cultural, political, economic or environmental failures — it is possible to destabilize the claims around these technologies for the purpose of re-imagining our future more than human worlds in line with the inventive turn. Through participation and becoming, it is possible to go beyond hybrid, situated knowledges and practices that move from the experiment (in the scientific sense) to the experimental (in the artistic sense), from optimization to imagination, from prediction to possibility, and from persuasion to speculation.

Please listen to the lecture in full.

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