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Baltan Laboratories harnesses Frankenstein metaphor as a reminder that our technological future requires responsible creativity

Baltan Laboratories, established ten years ago as a research pilot to investigate how the lab of the future should look, has since broadened its scope to connect art, technology and science in order to tackle societal issues. The Frankenstein Symposium, which it will co-present with Robot Love at this year’s Dutch Design Week, will be a fitting celebration of Baltan’s decade-long record of connecting the high-tech community with the creative community – in Eindhoven and internationally.

olga Mink, Baltan
Olga Mink

Olga Mink, director of Baltan Laboratories, expects that the next ten years of the organisation’s existence will reflect a new mode of societal thinking about technology. “Eindhoven is a maker city. There are many manufacturing companies, and the city has been thriving on this industry. However, we are becoming aware that the impact of technology is long-lasting and severe, and that we are not always prepared for the unexpected and unwanted side effects of these technological inventions.”

See also: Human rights for robots

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She cautions that the future world of innovation will require us to design technological tools differently, and will be an environment in which well-informed decisions are essential. “People are highly skilled and specialised in their fields, but we don’t know how to communicate with each other anymore. It is a dead end when there is no cross-pollination between different domains.”

Mink says that Baltan Laboratories aims to bridge the gap between domains, organisations and people by employing a human and artistic approach, using freedom of experimentation, to bring about needed systemic change. In this regard, Baltan’s research and development projects have touched on three overlapping themes: The first is social innovation, focused on developing new perspectives through cross-cultural cooperation; the second theme is Economia, which researches alternative economic and human transactions; and the third is the relationship between the body and (wearable) technology.

See also: Economia festival by Baltan: New views on old models

The Frankenstein Symposium, scheduled for 22 October 2018, will be a full-day programme of lectures, performances, debate and an expo, devoted to the theme of how humans and technology will co-exist in the future and will challenge participants to rethink the ethics of emerging technologies.

Mink says: “The story of Frankenstein, written 200 years ago, fittingly reflects the consequences of our lack of foresight and of not taking responsibility for our own creations – a topic that is also becoming relevant in times of rapid technological development in, for instance, AI, machine learning and biotechnology.”

Age of Wonderland, which was a four-year international exchange programme, and Economia, provocatively described as an economic festival without the economists, have been some of the previous projects produced by Baltan from its Natlab-based studios. Significantly, “Baltan” is an anagram of “Natlab”, which was the former physics laboratory of Philips and is emblematic of Eindhoven’s identity as a location of technology, design, exploration and making.