Earth calling planet B

What if we could do it all again – but better? What if there was a new planet, much like Earth, but untainted by humanity’s many wrong decisions? That’s the thought experiment behind planet B, the interdisciplinary home to new ideas at Amsterdam Science Park.

Planet B invites researchers, artists and all other members of the public to look at various developments – the increasingly important role of AI within society, say, or the ethical implications of biodesign – in a new way. At its heart are a multidisciplinary approach and an open, democratic spirit – everyone is welcome. “On the one hand there’s research of societal questions on a fundamental level,” says Chris Julien, planet B’s lead project manager and research director at Waag, Amsterdam’s open institute for technology and society that has initiated planet B alongside Amsterdam Science Park. “Which is all a bit high-end, maybe, and abstract. But we are translating that into something that’s highly accessible.”

Planet B will start out in 2019 with an AI lab, hosting workshops and various other projects, and a Maker Space, a ‘co-creation and tinkering facility for students, researchers, entrepreneurs, artists, scholars and citizen scientists’. A Bio Lab and an Open Space Lab are planned for the following year; further stages of the project are an art-science festival and, eventually, a museum-lab hybrid. 

The Bio Lab, which is set to launch in around a year, will see scientists, students and hackers wrestle with contemporary questions around urban ecology and biodesign. A previous Waag endeavour might give you an idea of what’s to be expected here: an art project taking the guise of a pet microbe shop. “You could buy all these different types of microbes and little fungi and weird little organisms, some visible, some invisible,” says Julien. “As pets. Just to make people think about different kinds of life.”

But it’s not all fun and games and microbe-shopping. For example, the AI Lab will explore how AI can have an immense impact on society, with matters such as predictive policing, microtargeting ads and urban surveillance. All are areas where civic participation is much needed, yet where many of the decisions lie in the hands of powerful technology businesses. One of the aims, then, is to restore some agency to the public, and Julien hopes some of the insights of planet B’s denizens will influence new policies, like Waag does. 

 “All the results we produce are put in the public domain. We work with a European network of organisations focusing on ethical and cultural questions of technology, and we’re going to share our insights regarding AI with them. It’s also going to be part of the debate for the City of Amsterdam, for the national government and for European policymakers.” This means that the AI Lab’s experiments might be playful – examples include a robot painting self-portraits and a mansplaining warning mechanism – but they are aimed at having real impact. 

And everybody can take part. So come and live on planet B for a little while! Who knows, you might make planet A a better place in the process. 

Contact

Do you want to contribute to the development of the AI ​​lab and planet B? Please contact planetb@remove-this.waag.org

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