Artistic Research


Planet B


April 30, 2020

Wu-Tang Killa Beez, we on a swarm
Wu-Tang Killa Beez, we on a swarm
Wu-Tang Killa Beez, we on a swarm
Wu-Tang Killa Beez, we on a swarm


The premise of Planet B is deceptively simple: What would happen if we were to discover another habitable planet. How can we approach such a new beginning? What habits, ideas,and people do we leave behind on the old planet? What team of experts will we send out on a first expedition? What instruments will these pioneers need? The idea may be simple, but the questions and opportunities are literally endless.

When Chris Julien told me about his plans for an exploratory mission to Planet B, I was immediately sold. His team consisted of so-called 'artistic researchers': people who are operating on the verge of art and science. This made sense to me, designing a new world is not only a matter of knowledge and science, it is a creative projection on an unknown canvas. Something that requires both scientific knowledge and aesthetical sensibilities.

Given the fact that I am neither a scientist nor an artist, my assigned role would not involve any fieldwork. Instead, I was asked to fulfill a supporting task. As a basecamp manager, I am responsible for logistics and communication. Making sure that the expedition team has every that they need to make their mission into a success. But how to equip a team for a expedition into the complete unknown?

To complicate matters even further, the exact composition of the team itself was not known either. But it was clear from the beginning that the team would be physically and temporarily dispersed. Remote collaboration would have to be the rule not the exception.

But how to build a community when the people involved may never be in the same place at the same time?

Our solution: complement the human members of our team with a mob of bots.

Turing Test Redux

Set the phaser to face-plate-incinerate
Run the Jewels, run with the Borg, baby, assimilate


Bots are online 24/7. They can continue your work when you cannot. Give you a summary of the affairs that happened when you were absent for a while. Contact you, when an emergency happens or simply when your presence is requested. They will be the most loyal member of your team If you let them.

Bots With An Attitudes is an attempt to shift the balance in remote collaborative projecs from humanness to agency. Concretely, this means that a team member is defined as an actors that progresses the expedition’s goal and values. Whether this member is human or bot does not matter. The only thing that counts is whether an agent delivers: Turing Test Redux.

This shift from humanness to agency brings up a lot of theoretical and practical challenges:

  • Does it really matter if a coworker is not an actual person when its contributions are equally or potentially even more valuable?

  • Pushing this one step further, does a team member’s humanness matter when her contributions are endagering the expedition?

  • Do we allow bots to evolve? Are they allowed to pick up tasks that are beyond their original scope and purpose? Do we need a kill switch? And, who controls this switch? A human team member, another bot? Both of them? Neither?

  • Can bots also communicate with other bots? And, if so, what will prevent them from infinitely chattering with each other?

  • Since humans are no strangers to pointless chitchat either, will they be subjected to the same measures that keep the bots in check?

  • How do we govern such network of agents? Does it require moderation? Can this process be partially automated? And what are the values that underly this process of moderation?

The counterfactual/counterfictional premise of Planet B offers an excellent playground to explore these bigger philosophical questions and their practical ramifications in a safe space.

As the expedition progresses over the next few months, I will post periodic updates in which I will cover some of these questions in detail.

Photo by Drew Graham on Unsplash

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