Nagy Zsolt 2021. október 21. 21:08
We should start asking how we want to live in the future
Ottonie von Roeder is a contemporary artist from Germany. She creates robots that can create and teach other robots. And she has a point to make with it.

This is the 21st century. We do work a lot. Our first thing in the morning is to check our phones. Most of us see a little envelope icon on the top, indicating we got mail - from work. After a long day, before we fall asleep, we check our phone, just to make sure there is nothing going on that requires our attention. And the time in between? Yes, we work. Could this be different? Probably. Ottonie von Roeder from Germany is a widely awarded contemporary artist, her latest project is called Post-Labouratory - she tries to find out how society could use the technology to be a better one- not a more effective one. We took a walk with Ottonie while she was staying in Budapest, to talk about the possibilities of the future. 

- What is post labouratory? 
The concept is a mixture of evidence and theory. One aspect is based on my research on technological development, the other is a rather philosophical one. I was studying capitalism critique and read more into Hannah Arend’s work, who made a distinction between work and labour. In my own interpretation - because i think her definition is much more complex - the definition of labour is something you do out of eccentric motivation, for example: to have an income, to be able to pay your bills, meanwhile work is something you do for incentric motivation, like creativity, collaboration, or to create something for the community. My aim with this project was to use the technological development to get rid of the labour aspect to have more time for work.  What I realised during the process is that we do not know what labour means to us, it is not fixed to certain activities. It is about working conditions, payment, and other variants. I wanted to create a place where people can make this transition from labour to work. 

Fotó: SZTAKI / Sebestyén László

- Do you have any background in robotics or engineering?
I have no educational background in robotics, i had help from an engineering student, and created the first series of robots on a self-taught basis. These robots are very low-tech, they are based on Arduino, and honestly, they are built crappily. But that was the concept of the project, to let people with no engineering background create an actual working robot, to show people that this is possible today.

- How did you end up in Budapest?  
By the Goethe Institute. The different local institutes of the Goethe Institute offered an open call for residency on artificial intelligence and robotics, it's quite inspiring, the connection between my artistic and philosophical background and the engineering perspective of SZTAKI is already showing. SZTAKI is interested in the solution, I'm interested in the progress, this is a really nice combination. 

-How you are going to create robots that are creating robots? 
We are still figuring that out! Honestly, it’s more like the image of a robot that creates robots, and those robots can create and also train new robots. Of course, this project has its own limits, but the goal is to let our imagination go further, to what could be possible in the future.

Fotó: SZTAKI / Sebestyén László

- In your point of view, how does the future look like? If all the hard labour, including cleaning, painting is done by robots, and people can freely do whatever they want - what will they do? 

 - I don’t think painting or cleaning is something that everybody hates to do. As I mentioned before, it's less about the activity, and more about the societal image, the payment, the working conditions that make an activity attractive or less attractive. Cleaning can be an enjoyable activity, it depends on the context.
It can go either way. One way is the pessimistic one, where humans become sort-of machines who serve a system which is getting more and more efficient. The other way is that we start to influence this transition, and include ourselves into this process as active citizens and ask the questions like how we want to live in the future, what opportunities could this technological development give us - it's a utopian one, but I like this one better. 

- Since the industrial revolution, we keep getting more and more efficient at work, yet we still work 5 days a week. 

- Yes, I think this utopia of not having to work at all, or working less, exists since the first industrial revolution. And it hasn’t really changed. The difference now is that the speed of automatisation is so fast, that people cannot keep up with it. So, researchers say this is the time when we have to deal with the change, and not just become more efficient. Rethinking our economy and our way of working. We are living in times of unprecedented crisis, the pandemic, the climate crises, this is a good time to reconsider how we work.   

Fotó: SZTAKI / Sebestyén László

- Does society ready to start that change? 

- This is why I came up with this project. You cannot expect people to change things, to include themselves in processes that they have no clue about. It would be really nice to figure out at least some aspects of this transition.