Can IoT influence the Creative world? – London Design for Business Week

I gave the following interview to London’s new Catapult Centre, kicking off activities for London Design for Business week. In the interview we discuss how businesses and creatives can work together for mutual benefit in an IoT reality

The original interview can be read via the digital catapult website : 

Design for Business Week kicks off with a discussion on how the Internet of Things can influence the creative worlds. Justin McKeown, Head of Computer Science and former Senior Lecturer in Fine Art at York St John University, shares his thoughts with us.

Why is it important to integrate the IoT and art together?
The art making process is a material means of thinking about the conditions of the world around you. As computational devices become part of the fabric of society, naturally computation and computational devices will become part of the world that artists work with and manipulate, developing and adopting IoT technologies. The IoT is not distinct from the art world, it is a new layer of social infrastructure, and as social beings, we will interact, explore and question it.

How can the IoT support/enhance the art world (and vice versa)?
It will enhance and support the art world both implicatively and explicitly. Big data should make flows of information more useful, helping us to find new artists, exhibition spaces and events. In turn it should help event organisers, curators and institutions to understand, quantify and communicate with their audiences.

How the art world could help the IoT is a much more fascinating question. I believe that artists are being used very badly in the IoT revolution. I have something of a unique view, as I’m a practising artist and also head of a university Computer Science programme. Computer scientists and artists are trained to solve problems very differently; the way in which artists are trained to think has massive value when applied to solving challenges using technology. This is not to suggest that their thinking is superior to that of computer scientists; rather it’s simply different, which brings something new to the table that I feel is currently lacking.

What have students at York St John University been doing to support this?
I introduced Computer Programming as a core mandatory skill in Fine Artover four years ago. Students learned basic programming skills alongside sculpture, photography, painting, drawing, video and all the other core practices associated with Fine Art. Some loved it. Some hated it. It doesn’t matter how they felt about it, what was important was that they understood it and could appraise its usefulness and integrate with other media.

The university then started a BSc Computer Science Programme. I led its development, and the university placed it within the Faculty of Arts alongside art and design. Computer scientists, artists and designers can now work collaboratively on joined projects.
Being in the same department means they see the types of work the others are engaged in everyday, fostering a better understanding between the three disciplines. We’ve had cross-programme collaboration on several projects and we’re seeing a very interesting work dynamic develop. This will hopefully pay dividends for the students, as they can think outside the confines of their own subject area.

Are there any products, apps or services that you find particularly inspiring in the way they have used IoT and art? 
The way IoT technology was applied by artists and makers to track clouds of radioactivity travelling over Japan after Fukushima was an incredibly inspiring example of how people can create and apply technology collaboratively, as a means of facing commonly shared real world challenges.

What do you think are the main hurdles we need to overcome to fully integrate these industries? 
From my perspective the main hurdle to overcome is the misunderstanding of each others’ disciplines. Artists need to understand the value of their training when applied to non-arts challenges. Similarly, computer scientists need to appreciate the value of creative approaches to problem solving. To integrate the industries, everyone needs to be open to investing time in seeking out a fertile middle ground.

Finally, what are your predictions for the future?
Our economies, political systems, environment and resources are all under significant strain at the moment. We’re smart enough to solve these problems but only if we work together. The IoT offers a massive technological key applicable to all these problems.

I feel the more people who become involved in the debate, who are code/hardware literate and offer solutions to real world problems, the more likely we are to build an inclusive IoT, to serve the interests of everyone and make a positive effect on our environment.

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