Between ethical and aesthetic transformations, increasingly pervasive technologies and environmental threats, we ask four experts what the future of our social relationship is, especially in the workplace.
We talk about it with the trend researcher Oona Horx Strathern, the philosopher of technology Cosimo Accoto, the designer of extreme virtual environments Alfredo Munoz and Ben van Berkel, architect of large international complexes
Alfredo Munoz, life on Mars as a model for Earth
Population growth - almost 10 billion people by mid-century -, extreme climate conditions and rapid social changes due to technology will be the cause, for many, of an inability to adapt , creating intense pressure on societies of the near future.
The Spanish architect Alfredo Munoz founded the studio Abiboo to explore, through “mixed reality” and blockchain, how society might manage these challenges in off-world settlements.
Onteco Mars by Aboboo is the first virtual reality metaverse on Mars. Such simulation through digital twins in possible extreme environments allows us to test new political and economic models that could also work on Earth.
“To survive in an extreme condition”, explains Munoz, “we must transcend individualism and personal interests, taking care of each other. Although the risk of our society imploding is real, the past failure of Malthusian theory demonstrates that human ingenuity and collaboration can overcome perceived limits. We need to change our lifestyle to adapt to the environment, rather than vice versa.
And the same extreme conditions that threaten us could be the catalysts that inspire us to grow and innovate. Working on Onteco required collaboration with global experts in deep-tech, sociology, blockchain, biology and the space industry: a fusion of ideas and skills that unlocked unexpected innovations and concrete lessons, such as the use of land in the production of food which here, thanks to hydroponic technologies, is grown in 100 square meters per person.
A lesson that, on Earth, could free up a large amount of land, mitigate CO2 emissions and improve agricultural technologies."
In an increasingly digital dimension, how will daily activities and interactions evolve?
“I foresee a future where the 'cross-pollination' of ideas and skills is exploited through artificial intelligence and where 'mixed reality' ' will add new dimensions to work environments.
At Abiboo we are developing a PropTech solution (PropAlchemy), which allows real estate owners to view and manage their assets in real time through virtual simulations, bringing the physical world into the ' digital twin'.
In the workplace, I believe remote meetings with AI-based digital avatars interacting with real people will become more common. In summary, the integration of virtual environments and technologies will offer immense possibilities, challenging us to preserve essential human connections."
Ben van Berkel, designing according to the activity gradient
UNStudio operates in thirty countries through its six offices around the world and the internal think tank on innovation (UNSx). Their architectural design implements relationship taxonomies that reflect ongoing social and technological changes.
Examples are the Fellenoord 15 or Booking.com offices, which expressed a re-signification of the workplace well before the new post-pandemic needs.
“Despite the shift towards remote working,” explains founder Ben van Berkel, “physical offices continue to serve as hubs for collaboration, innovation and team building. They also serve asplaces for workshops and eventsafter hours, expressing the need for non-work-related services and functions that improve the quality of life (gyms, bars, nurseries)”.
“Design is increasingly focused on the creation of spaces that intertwine work, life and leisure, with a wide variety of integrally organized and connected environments,” continues van Berkel.
“In them it is crucial to create 'a sense of place', through a physical, cultural and social identity that defines that particular building. Placemaking means inducing a deep emotional attachment, which gives users a reason to be and stay there.
It means resilient, accessible, dynamic and inclusive places in the long term. One tactic is to make the building available after hours for local community events, breaking down the psychological barrier to its inaccessibility. But it also involves mixed-use developments, where offices, apartments, shops, restaurants and leisure facilities are all housed in the same complex.”
A concept expressed in the Fellenoord 15 offices is the "activity gradient".
"It is necessary to design the programming of the building based on the intensity and type of use. In the case of Fellenoord 15 this meant that the restaurant, where most people gather and socialize, was placed in the central part of the interior, while along the facades on all floors quiet workstations.
The route of the floors is also dotted with small rest spaces for small-scale meetings and informal gatherings.
In any case, the growing hybrid dimension in working relationships requires the design of 'third spaces', i.e. easily adaptable to different teams and purposes, multifunctional and, as work becomes increasingly digital, grafted with infrastructures advanced technologies".
Oona Horx Strathern, the economy of kindness
The eeconomy of kindnessis, according to the futurologist and trend researcher, a new and powerful force for change in the business world and an attitude that will improve not only the way we work, but also the one in which we live and relate to others.
Author of the just released volume, The Kindness Economy, Horx Strathern explains: “Kindness economy means giving a twist to the traditional way of doing business. Instead of aiming first and foremost for profit, we could think first about the impact and effects of our actions on people, then about the environment and finally about profit.
It's about creating value with new values: how to treat our collaborators and our customers better and think about the possible effects of a product or service on the environment".
In the world of work we are witnessing a change: “Bad bosses are denounced and unacceptable conditions are revealed. The younger ones talk about 'silent abandonment', while we face resignation with no alternatives.
The kindness economy aims to create better conditions with more objectives and better spaces in which to spend our professional lives. Four elements (the four Cs) contribute to it: connections, or networks of people; comfort, i.e. better designed and more ecological work spaces; communication and, in full, meeting areas; assistance (care) as support in life-work".
The change is inspired by “the trend towards greater ecological awareness and action, but also the problems associated with a society with widespread loneliness and an aging population. The kindness economy can offer corporate management the path to a 'healthier' profit that addresses urgent environmental and social challenges.
In the field of technology we see a countertrend to digitalization that reaffirms the importance of everything that is analogue (man and nature, for example). This also means addressing the impact of technology on our society and our environment."
Cosimo Accoto, when AI reveals new spaces
Philosopher of technology, adjunct professor at the University of Modena and Reggio Emilia, affiliated researcher and fellow at MIT (Boston), Accoto grew up in the data industry analyzing the cultural and strategic impacts of evolving technological waves.
“Technological revolutions”, he explains, “earthquake the current conditions of existence and experience of the world, opening up new scenarios of life, work and social organisation. With opportunities and critical issues.
They are no longer just technological innovations but also institutional, because they produce structural changes in business.
The meaning and form of traditional business are undergoing a profound morphosis with data, programs, algorithms and protocols. Value co-creation ecosystems are born and innovative services enabled by artificial intelligence, virtual and augmented reality, intelligent objects and digital twins, decentralized networks.
We will need new skills, mindset and leadership. Let's abandon the idea that AI is just a set of techniques and understand that we are the ones who give it capabilities and manage its risks.
With AI we are dealing above all with 'intellectual provocations' to our idea of the human (who wants to be at the centre), of writing (which can only be human), of image (which must have a real reference).
With generative AI, these old models disappear. And we must produce new culture and meanings beyond prejudice." Speaking of a hybrid dimension between physical and digital, Accoto states: “The relationship between space and code is of a generative, non-destructive nature. The software code, in fact, designs and decides the ultimate nature of space, it does not cancel it or make it superfluous.
For example, if the checkout software in a store doesn't work, that same space loses its function and changes from a supermarket to a warehouse. Therefore, digital does not destroy spatiality, but reconfigures it functionally and experientially. In perspective, with the transition from pixels to voxels (volumetric internet, metaverse), surprising geographies and geometries will arise".