Technological humanism

Performance “Speculative Intimacy. Afectes i tecnologia digital”, dins la Biennal de Pensament del 2019. Moment de l'actuació amb una dona estirada al llit comandant un petit dron. © Xavier Torrent

Barcelona is furnished with the conditions and the talents to become a benchmark for technological humanism. At a time when the European model for the ethics of algorithms, citizens’ digital rights and data privacy are being defined, it is clear that technology is not neutral and that we need to equip ourselves with human intervention mechanisms that guide us when it comes to bringing about a technological revolution that we experience in real time and rectify as we go along. The confluence between the arts and technology becomes an essential meeting point in this recasting.

This September, the Ars Electronica Garden Show was held in Barcelona, a festival that originated in Linz, focused on the intersection between technology, culture and the arts, which is proposed by the New Digital Deal, an invitation to rethink digital technologies in relation to all the transformations that we have experienced in recent times with an increasingly broader scope.

Furthermore, nine university and cultural institutions in the city have promoted the Barcelona Hub of Art, Science and Technology (Hac Te), a cross-disciplinary initiative for research, training, dissemination, transfer and production that aims to foster the intersection between the fields of art, technology and science.

The objective of this hub is to bring technological humanism to fruition through projects and programmes that develop and speed up the relationship between the arts and technology. There will be a two-way work process between artists and scientists in a programme called HT, which corresponds both to the Spanish initials of technological humanism and to the terms hybridisation/transformation. In Barcelona, many agents are already working around these intersections from different standpoints. Universities and cultural centres must be facilitators of a multidisciplinary exchange and an urgent debate, which helps us to empower ourselves in the face of the emerging techno-power. This article presents a mosaic of visions that brings together university professors, researchers, cultural managers and digital artists who work at the crossroads of technological humanism.

Retrat de Pau Alsina

Pau Alsina

Director of the Art, Science and Technology programme at the Open University of Catalonia (UOC). Hac Te Hub Coordinator.

Science and technology are an inherent part of our culture. Knowledge must be integrated in an interdisciplinary way to build a cultural approach to science. The term “technological humanism” is supposedly new, but in actual fact it has been practised for decades by technocultural thinkers who have incorporated the humanistic view of technology. The pandemic has now stepped up awareness of the need for technological humanism. If we call it that, it is because sometimes you have to rename things to reintroduce them.

Hac Te, Hub of Art, Science and Technology, seeks to set up a hybrid knowledge space, not only in the university arena but also in cultural and research centres, which in English has been brought together under the acronym GLAM: Galleries, Libraries, Archives and Museums. We must have specific devices to put technological humanism to work.

It is not only about holding major international events but also about creating a structural foundation that remains in the city, forming the backbone of an area that is very cross-sector and inter-institutional, and that should facilitate production, research, training, documentation, dissemination and transfer.

It is important to start a relationship process between an artist and a laboratory, which results in a product that can later be shown in an exhibition and that generates documentation of the process and eventually a transfer in the form of a prototype, for example, that can work in the field of creative industries or artificial intelligence.

Carles Sora

Academic director, researcher and professor at the Image Processing and Multimedia Technology Centre (CTIM) at the Universitat Politècnica de Catalunya (UPC)

Digital humanism must seek a critical vision of technology. We must know how to identify the innate biases of technology, which is still a cultural product, made by people who work within a specific society. Behind the lines of code that will shape our future are engineers and computer scientists who meet a professional and human profile in which the upper-middle-class white man prevails. It is worth asking ourselves who generates this technology and what are the consequences of the biases that are portrayed. Evidence shows, for example, that large music platforms tend to recommend more male musicians than female musicians, or that facial recognition cameras do not work as effectively when it comes to identifying the black population. In artificial intelligence programming, a diversity of perspectives must be guaranteed, including a gender perspective, respect for minorities, etc.

Plurality needs to be incorporated into the university training of future engineers, we must start with the roots. The humanities must be integrated into these students’ curricula so that they programme technologies that are not innocuous and that are intended for a social context and specific people. Hybrid training must be promoted and spaces created for applied research that act as a bridge between scientists and artists. This hybrid area between art and technology must be explored, mixing views and methodologies. It is not about the scientist becoming an artist, but rather about learning perspectives and processes from one another.

Carme Fenoll

Director of the Department of Culture, Innovation and Community at the Universitat Politècnica de Catalunya (UPC)

Technology cuts across all fields of knowledge, including culture. The UPCArts programme began in 2019 with three objectives. Firstly, to provide the university with a strong cultural agenda, taking advantage of the pairing of culture and technology. Secondly, to promote research in the field of cultural industries and technology, creating research groups to develop projects. And, finally, to get out of the campus bubble and give the UPC a place in society.

Students must see culture as a possible workspace; the hybridisation between culture and technology undergoes interuniversity agreements. The UPC offers engineers and industrialists the possibility of taking an optional module within the master’s degree in Contemporary Philosophy at the UOC [Open University of Catalonia]. Cultural institutions will also need the competition of engineers to improve their digital strategy.

The UPC has set up an ethics committee to assess the repercussions of artificial intelligence, robotics, patents and algorithms in our lives. In reviewing the uses of technology, it is becoming increasingly clear that technologists should take a Hippocratic oath. More damage can be done these days with a mobile phone than with a gun.

Retrat d'Antonio Hernández-Fernández

Antoni Hernández-Fernández

Professor of Technology at the Terrassa School of Art and Design and Assistant Professor at the Universitat Politècnica de Catalunya (UPC)

Technology has never been removed from art. In fact, technology makes us human, it is inherent to our species and dates back more than two million years. The dichotomy between art and technology has never existed. When the first human artistic expressions emerged, technological elements were already palpable. If humans started to grind pigments, it was because there was a technical capacity to make art. The idea that technology was born with the Industrial Revolution must be dropped. Without going any further, the Antikythera mechanism, which has existed for about two thousand years, was already a sophisticated device, a very precise astronomical calendar, configured with toothed wheels and mechanical elements of a precision that we would not see again until Swiss watches emerged. A wonderful confluence of science, technology and art.

I am very critical of the concept of technological humanism. Technology is embedded in humanism. Don’t we ever talk about linguistic humanism or literary humanism? Technology is part of the human being in the same way as language. I know that I am perhaps making a controversial statement if I say that technology precedes art, and that nothing can be created without technology. In this sense I am a materialist: art has a material component, since it is about creating objects that interact socially with others. Art is communication and technology.

Carlota Broggi

Head of Touring Exhibitions and Coordinator of some of the Beta projects at the Centre of Contemporary Culture of Barcelona (CCCB)

The need to incorporate science into the discourse of humanities has marked the programming of cultural institutions in the 21st century. The way in which the CCCB lands on this discussion is very particular due to the very nature of the institution it represents: a content producer that works to erase the boundaries between science and the humanities, or to stretch them.

While museums previously exhibited absolute truths or canonical works, now artists who work with technology, such as Monica Rikić, feed on current data, thus breaking down the wall that separated the museum from the outside world and connecting the time inside with the time outside. Before things happened first in the world and then the museum conserved the memory. Now it is the other way around. The museum becomes a laboratory where time speeds up.

Cultural centres are also incorporating new work methodologies typical of technology start-ups. Today exhibitions are not presented as a sealed thesis, but as a work platform to be discussed and even rejected in real time. Behind an exhibition there is no single curatorial authority, but rather a plurality of voices that engage in a conversation.

Retrat d'Andrés Neuman

Andrés Neuman


Poetry and science have more in common than meets the eye. They are two sources of wonder and knowledge of the world, which allow us to marvel at what is most obvious. Unfortunately, both educational programmes and our mental framework are weighed down by a false dichotomy that forces boys and girls to choose between science and humanities. The great scientists always had an aesthetic concept of science, they considered it a form of beauty. Science unfolds in metaphors that change over time. The scientist needs verbal awareness and imagination to be able to explain their discoveries. Mathematics is imaginative poetry, the mathematician invents possible worlds.

Art and poetry also have their logic and, in their own way, they reason. Poetic reason is another type of reason, but it is no less logical and it is relentless. In Ancient Greece, the beauty of nature and art were paired, but contemporary educational technocracy pretended that they were two different things. The harmonious vision between the arts and the sciences in Greece or in the Renaissance was wiser. Our scientific knowledge is superior today, but our vision of knowledge is poorer and more limited.

Remedios Zafra

Essayist and researcher in the Institute of Philosophy at the Spanish National Research Council (CSIC)

We have been educated on the assumption that science and art are separated by insurmountable walls, but in recent decades we have seen artists approach technology in an uninhibited manner. The contemporary artist is set apart by occupying the complexity of their time. One of the values of art for science and technology is its ability to tackle what is difficult to expound. There are things that cannot be easily explained by science and that art is not afraid to probe into.

Art occurs in a realm that welcomes contradictions, where error or ambiguity have added value. More than putting forward certain truths, the practice of contemporary art makes the building of these truths visible. Art allows us to see the same things in other ways, sometimes by taking a step back. This step is valuable, because it allows you to distance yourself from what you are doing. Whoever is investigating with a scientific tradition behind them has a lens that makes them look at things in a certain way and that can work as a bias. The scientist must challenge the perspectives with which they have been educated. The artist, on the other hand, is used to changing lenses to see things differently.

Joana Moll


The COVID-19 crisis has revealed a massive systematic social, environmental, political and economic failure. Although the causes and consequences of this crisis are very complex and serious, we have been repeatedly told that they could be solved with a state-of-the-art app. This technical problem-solving approach is called techno-solutionism and usually consists of simplifying and obscuring the problems it seeks to solve without actually addressing them. But who defines and applies these technological solutions? In my latest project, Ultimate Solvers, I made a compilation of slogans, brand identities and graphic materials used by big corporations that prescribe technology solutions to advertise their products. Interestingly, these companies employ a clear vocabulary to define what they do in a very unclear way. However, they fully understand how to benefit from the realities they generate and extract from their technologies. We cannot help wondering the long-term implications of solving complex systemic problems with reductionist technological solutions. The future does not look good.

Mónica Bello

Curator and Head of the CERN Arts Programme

I am an art historian, but in recent years I have worked at CERN, the European Laboratory for Particle Physics, the largest in population and extension. Since 2011, CERN has welcomed artists to its art programmes and has seen the participation of up to 80 countries. Science and art are opening up to society and there are things that can only be understood from the perspective of other disciplines.

At CERN, creativity is acknowledged as a key dimension of science, since it is not something exclusive to art, but is also seen in the laboratory’s dynamics. We generate awareness of other forms of creativity. When we identify a valuable idea that can take us to a place we do not know, we provide the artist with resources and tools so that they can go further and break the mould.

The most important thing is that we are able to equip artists with tools, structures, knowledge and skills, on the understanding that approaches are always based on a dialogue and unconventional ideas, and that we must be prepared to work on a scale that goes beyond the human...

We have to think that this hybridisation is our goal, but also a long-distance race. Peter Jenni, one of the founding fathers of the ATLAS experiment on the large LHC particle collider, says that interacting with artists nurtures and helps the scientist to have a broader awareness of what they do. I believe that the artists resident at CERN make scientists see what they are trying to do, in order to constantly reconstruct their endeavour and ascertain whether they have to go back on their research to revise the system in which they are working.

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