This PhD position at TU Eindhoven focuses on exploring how the kinds of AI-based generative creativity tools which have emerged in recent years—and are rapidly developing—could contribute to 'from the ground-up' participatory futuring for communities, in an age of climate crisis. It is about investigating, via a designerly approach, the possibilities and potential of these technologies in use, as part of creative societal applications, rather than necessarily design or development of the technologies themselves, but depending on the PhD researcher's interests, could combine these approaches.
The urgent need for just societal transitions towards more sustainable ways of living, both environmentally and socially, is inspiring increasing interest from both academic researchers and social design practitioners in developing the idea of 'imagination infrastructures'. Informed by considerations of adaptation to climate change, alternative economic models, social justice and societal change, these are initiatives and schemes to enable and support members of the public, including marginalised communities and neighbourhoods, to create and share actionable (or more broadly inspirational) visions and prototypes of alternative futures for everyday living.
The explosion in AI generative creativity support tools (e.g. at present, Midjourney, ChatGPT, etc—but with many more on the horizon) has, amidst all the hype, a potential to contribute here by enabling much greater democratisation and pluralisation of 'professional' image-making and presentation of ideas. On a practical level, for example, a community could produce its own highly plausible visualisations of alternative futures for its neighbourhood, perhaps to counter proposals from developers, or to offer visions of how a neighbourhood could adapt to climate change. Or, on a more broadly inspirational level, alternative imaginaries of future living, with new or culturally distinct aesthetics—including by community-trained or fine-tuned models—could be more easily brought into public discourse. Nevertheless, the ethical issues surrounding AI, from the biases and assumptions encoded in models and reproduced in their outputs, the potential effects on skilled jobs, entrenching further dominance of large tech companies, and intellectual property issues around creative work cannot be ignored.
Within this space, the PhD researcher, in agreement with their supervisors, will have the opportunity to choose which directions to explore and address with their research. The topic draws from work on imaginaries, futuring (including experiential futuring), transformative practices, transition design, pluriversal design, participatory design and co-creation processes (including neighbourhood planning), design justice, research through design, speculative and critical design (and design fiction), and a growing literature in design and human-computer interaction (HCI) on (participatory) creativity methods and the use of AI-based generative creativity tools in practice. Depending on the focus of the project, domain knowledge on specific areas of sustainability will also be relevant, from climate adaptation to energy and mobility transitions (and the political and societal dimensions of these) to alternative economic models. Other creative practices, from illustration to storytelling, theatre, music, and facilitation, are also welcomed as relevant elements.
Research questions and methods:
The main initial research question to be explored by the PhD researcher is:
- What could be the roles for AI generative creativity tools in participatory futuring, climate crisis, and/or societal transitions?
The question will lead to further sub-questions depending on how the focus of the project develops, for example around how these roles can be materialised in particular contexts or with particular groups or communities, or with identified outcomes in mind.
Over the course of the 4-year PhD programme, the researcher will engage in theory and practice, including writing up and disseminating insights in academic publication venues. The final year is expected to include the compilation of a thesis. It is assumed that a research-through-design methodology is most appropriate, including prototyping, iteration, and largely qualitative insights, but different approaches are welcome, as appropriate to the project. As initially framed, the project is not linked to specific societal partners or geographical contexts, but these may be involved as the project progresses, including linking to the emerging 'imagination infrastructuring' practitioner community internationally. The PhD may be structured as a series of smaller projects. Societal impact and knowledge exchange, for example through the development of a method or format for communities' use of the tools, and/or public engagement through events, exhibitions, workshops, or short courses, could be a relevant element of the overall methodology.
The PhD will be linked to the new 'Making With…' research cluster at TU/e Industrial Design, is funded by EAISI, the Eindhoven Artificial Intelligence Systems Institute, which brings together AI activities from across TU/e.