Enactive Design: Creative Applications through Concurrent Human-Machine Interaction

Enactive Design is an advanced research seminar on human-computer interaction. We will explore the role of real-time, bidirectional communication between human and digital agents in a design context, and leverage the potentials of this interactive relationship to establish new creative domains.

Digital interfaces provide computational frameworks for creative exploration in disciplines such as architecture, design and art. However, in many instances, such as traditional computer-aided design (CAD) software or numerically-controlled (CNC) machines, the computer is subservient to the orders of its human counterpart. While this model might be a convenient human-machine relationship for production-oriented scenarios, in the case of design environments, a higher degree of machine agency could be desired, as it may generate new models of creative exploration and design through human-computer collaboration.

Our investigation is inspired by the concept of Enactivism, a philosophy which argues that cognition arises from the interactions of an agent and its context. Rather than an abstract intangible, knowledge and learning on an agent are created from purposeful, situated and embodied interaction with its context. Translated to design environments, what would it mean to create with tools that have a certain degree of agency of their own? How would that inform and expand our creativity? What kind of opportunities may arise from designing as a conversation rather than an imposition? Can design be conceived as the human curation of the suggestions of an artificial intelligence? How can the power and precision of fabrication machines be amplified by the decision-making capacity of humans-on-the-loop? Are these new forms of collaborative art?

We will address these questions, and many others, through the design of concurrent human-machine interactive platforms, with a particular focus on the computational aspects of the system. The course will be conducted through a series of lectures, readings, discussions and hands-on workshops. Participants will learn techniques such as applied machine learning, robotic control, physical sensing, network communication, interactive fabrication and asynchronous programming. Exercises will experiment with real-time communication between human and digital agents, leading to a semester-long personal project.

The course will be taught as a combination of lectures and hands-on workshops. Participants should anticipate spending around $200 in prototyping material and digital subscriptions.

Prerequisites: Demonstrated experience in computer programming via SCI-6338, SCI-6365, CS50 or similar. Students should also have reasonable proficiency with Rhinoceros/Grasshopper. If you are not sure if you satisfy these requirements, please contact the instructor directly.

This course is the last installment of a three-part course series on Computational Design preceded by SCI-6338: Introduction to Computational Design (Fall), and SCI-6365: Artifacts as Media: Signals, Data, Information and Design (Spring), taught by the same instructor.