A new approach
to tackle challenges
in the era of Industry 4.0:
in Art and Science
A new approach to tackle challenges in the era of Industry 4.0:
in Art and Science
The NTU Global Digital Art Prize (NTU GDAP) is jointly organised by the NTU Institute of Science and Technology for Humanity (NISTH) and the School of Art, Design and Media (ADM) with the intention to nurture and catalyse the vast potential of creativity in digital art, the synergy of art and science, and the betterment of the human condition in the age of the Fourth Industrial Revolution. Taking the form of a biennial competition, it recognises global artists and technologists with extraordinary creativity in digitally mediated art, design and cultural heritage. The theme of the inaugural NTU GDAP is therefore simply the Fourth Industrial Revolution.
Scientific discoveries and engineering innovation accelerate the convergence of the physical, digital and biological worlds and new technological advances are poised to disrupt and transform the daily lives of ordinary citizens at an ever-increasing pace. This ongoing transformation has been commonly referred to as the Fourth Industrial Revolution or Industry 4.0.
The key components driving Industry 4.0 include big data, robotics, Artificial Intelligence (AI), data analytics, 3D printing, personalised health care, advanced genomics and cyber security. Their effectiveness in shaping the human condition in the 21st century will inevitably require a new and integrative approach towards scientific discovery and technological innovation. The challenges that comes with Industry 4.0 are not just engineering or technology-based issues but are also strongly predicated on human behaviour. We must first consider how human psychology, culture, values, aspirations and limitations will intersect with emerging technologies and the anticipated massive disruptions arising from Industry 4.0. They must include concerns about climate change, sustainability of natural and renewable resources, concentration of as much as 70% of the world population in urban areas and megacities, as well as growing inequality in income, wealth and opportunities within and among populations.
The NTU GDAP stems from the premise, that in order to tackle fundamental issues and challenges for humanity that Industry 4.0 poses, beautiful connections must be made between Science and Art. All 14 shortlisted artworks showcased in this exhibition seek to imagine solutions to the world’s most thorny questions, in the hope that the integration of Art and Science will allow us to gain deep insight into what it means to be human, what it means for nature, and the intersections of human-nature in the era of Industry 4.0.
Being human 4.0
As digital technology enters all aspects of our lives, humankind experiences a convergence of the physical, digital and biological worlds. This series of works reflects on the human condition with our “enhanced abilities” and the opportunities and challenges that Industry 4.0 brings to our daily lives, societal structures and the natural planet.
While big data, social media, machine learning and AI are bound to influence, determine and control a vast spectrum of human endeavours and activities, distinct differences will also arise from cultural, social, national and family circumstances. Individual life experiences uniquely shape each human being and lead to distinctly human characteristics influenced by personal values such as dignity, ethics, empathy, compassion, sympathy, pride and honour.
With decisions made via the agglomeration of massive amounts of data, will machine decisions begin to influence human activities in a manner that distorts innate individual characteristics and values and the ensuing behaviour patterns? Whose algorithms and perspectives will determine values that are important to an individual? What kind of data are we relying on and under what basis? In other words, in the era of Industry 4.0, which human actions and activities are expected to be increasingly influenced by machine intelligence and decisions, and in short, what will it mean “to be human”?
Most technological advances ultimately led to the betterment of human condition. However, many have also created unintended consequences that have deleterious effects on humans and society.
In 2000, at the dawn of the new century and the new millennium, the National Academy of Engineering (NAE) of the United States released a list of 20 greatest engineering achievements of the 20th century. This list includes impressive accomplishments such as: electrification, automobile, airplane, computers, internet, and nuclear technologies. Several years later, the NAE also released a report on 14 global challenges of the 21st century such as restoring and improving urban infrastructure, securing cyberspace, providing access to clean water, preventing nuclear terror, and developing carbon sequestration methods. When we examine the two lists side by side, the greatest engineering achievements no doubt led to enormous benefits to humankind and elevated quality of life around the globe. However, we can’t help but wonder if certain achievements of the 20th century played a pivotal role in creating some of the toughest challenges in the 21st century.
At the same time, in the course of solving some of the hardest technological problems to produce innovative products that led to many tangible benefits to society, we created some of the most difficult challenges and unintended consequences for succeeding generations. In this instance, how likely will our even greater technological accomplishments of the 21st century driving Industry 4.0 not lead to even grander challenges for the 22nd century? What was missing in our collective thinking in the last century that needs to be addressed now so that we do not repeat our past mistakes in this century?
Human nature 4.0
While humans are social beings who perceive the world and operate through social and cultural lenses, technology has advanced to a level of sophistication whereby Global Positioning System (GPS) can pinpoint a location with real-time kinematic positioning and centimetre-level Precise Point Positioning (PPP). Atomic clocks routinely monitor time to a level of temporal accuracy whose error rate is better than a billionth of a second per day. Transmission electron microscopes now routinely provide clear images of individual atoms in materials with spatial resolution on the order of 0.1 nanometre. Personalised and individualised genetic testing of DNA from a saliva sample and associated data analysis can provide ancestry estimates down to 0.1% of global population and gene pool. Technological advances place increasingly greater emphasis on precision, perfection and prompt action in many human activities where they are deployed and adopted on a massive global scale. This trend has nurtured a relentless and ever-accelerating pace of work that encroaches on personal time and space, driving ever-greater precision, perfection and immediacy of action.
However, truth and beauty associated with imperfection and imprecision, deliberate allocation of sufficient time for relaxation, meandering, exploration and reflection, and the notion that failure and imperfection are necessary in the learning process and are also known to be essential ingredients for nurturing artistic creativity and scientific discovery. As technology forces individuals and professions towards greater degrees of precision and perfection in Industry 4.0, what will be the consequences for human behaviour in an intrinsically imprecise and imperfect world?
Human nurture 4.0
A high school or university graduate today is expected to continually learn to adapt to the transformative changes created by technology. Today’s graduate is also expected to change jobs and even professions many times over the course of a long career. In order to succeed in the increasingly competitive global marketplace driven by greater efficiency, what is the “minimum body of knowledge” a university graduate is supposed to acquire during formal education so as to be prepared to acquire new skills over a life time of rapid changes in workforce needs? What are the roles and responsibilities of educators, employers and governments in providing these basic skills not only during the early years of formal learning and employment, but also for continual “re-skilling” and “upskilling” for “life-long learning” throughout one’s career and life? What does it mean to be “an educated person” in the 21st century?
Scientific discoveries and technological advances are creating unprecedented opportunities for society to elevate living standards and quality of life, and to eliminate disparities. At the same time, history has shown repeatedly that intended benefits of technologies are inevitably accompanied by unintended consequences. Whether Industry 4.0 turns out to be a net positive or net negative outcome for the world, will critically depend on how technology and innovation as well as the role of machines in society are closely integrated with human behaviour and humanity. The NTU GDAP, by allowing rich cultural insights into the future of humanity by combining art, science and technology, will spur us to continuously question and explore the important questions for humanity.
Professor Subra Suresh
Nanyang Technological University
The NTU GDAP Symposium 2019 is designed to discuss the evolution of digital art in the age of the Fourth Industrial Revolution. The vast transformation led by the advent of the digital age has changed art: how it is made, where it is shown and who can see it. Through presentations by professional artists, curators and academics, the symposium seeks to explore how the key components driving the Fourth Industrial Revolution could be effective in shaping the human condition in the 21st century and how that, in turn, could not only impact the way artists create, but also how we look at digital art.
9 October 2019 (Wed), 6pm
NTU Centre of Contemporary Art Singapore
Malan Rd, Gillman Barracks, Block 43, Singapore 109443
The exhibition will be opened by NTU President Professor Subra Suresh. Winners of the NTU Global Digital Art Prize 2019 will also be announced at the opening and prize presentation. The NTU GDAP comprises a total of S$50,000 in prize money. Each category will award a top prize and commendation awards for excellence, creativity and innovation. The top prize is S$25,000 for International Professionals and S$10,000 for Local Students.
11 Oct 2019 (Fri), 6:00pm
NTU School of Art, Design and Media
81 Nanyang Dr, Singapore 637458