Risk Science Unplugged

James King in conversation with Andrew Maynard on his risk project A World Of Surprises. Filmed Wednesday March 14 2012. More details at sph.umich.edu/riskcenter/unplugged/awos/index.htm

What if we have to accept a higher level of risk in order to benefit from technology? When the unexpected does happen, what will it look like and how will communities respond? How will we live well in a world that is increasingly complex and interconnected?

Speculative designer James King collaborates with scientists to design potential applications for their research, imagining the possible outcomes if technologies developed in the lab were adopted by people in their everyday lives. The results are objects, films and images intended to spark debate on the desirable and undesirable qualities of future technology.

This year, James is the Witt Artist in Residence at the University of Michigan School of Art and design, and has been working with public health, science and arts students to explore what happens when the science doesn’t work the way you’re expecting it to.

James' project during his Witt Residency is A Wold Of Surprises - a design and science collaboration imagining what it will be like to live with the risks created by developing technologies. Working with University of Michigan students and faculty, and the Ann Arbor community, King will stage a series of temporary installations and happenings in and around Ann Arbor that tell the story of a fictional technological accident and its ramifications.

The project will be documented as a film, and the film will be shown in as part of a seminar held at the end of the project bringing together experts to discuss the intersection between risk, science and art / design.

According to James, "The project is really about what happens when biotechnology doesn’t do what we want it to do. What if there is an accident, or something unexpected happens, or what if we don’t have the amount of control we hope for? A lot of my work over the past 2 years has been about proposing applications for biotechnology. It assumes that science will give us answers we need and that we’ll gain enough control. To balance this, I thought it would be good to do a project about the flip side of new scientific research. What happens when the science doesn’t work the way you’re expecting it to? I want to go beyond conversations about biological disasters, or the threat of something escaping from a lab. This discussion polarizes people and you are left with a dialogue about biotechnology that happens at the extremes. On the pro side, we have cheap and plentiful engineered foods and fuels, and new medications to extend our lives, and countering this is all of the negative stuff like superbugs, smallpox, pandemics, and bioterrorism. Instead, I’m really interested in what happens in the middle, as biology becomes a technology. I’m interested in the unexpected."

As part of the project, James has been working with a talented group of science and public health students to look how they can incorporate art and design into their understanding of technology, as they explore its broader potential impacts.

To find out more about James and his work, please visit his website james-king.net/, or check out this interview umrscblogs.org/2011/06/20/an-interview-with-designer-james-king/ on the Risk Science Blog

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Risk Science Unplugged

UM Risk Science Center

Hosted by the University of Michigan Risk Science Center, Risk Science Unplugged engages leading experts in conversation on key issues at the intersection between risk and human health. Combining live discussion with on-line resources, the series presents a candid and informed exploration of contemporary issues in risk science. No PowerPoint, no script: just stimulating conversation.

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