Text by Fiammetta Cesana

In 2019, the first chair designed by artificial intelligence was presented at the Salone del Mobile in Milan. Created by Kartell, this object symbol of a design’s exponential digital evolution – which from support to human skills in creating becomes creator itself – was born from the collaboration between the French designer Philippe Starck and the American software company Autodesk.

“It took me forty years to learn how to make design objects. But technology only took two!” Starck stated.

A.I. Impetus_Kartell A.I. chair_Philippe Starck_Autodesk_artificial intelligence_Salone del Mobile 2019_what's next

And indeed, the fast pace with which advanced technologies and artificial intelligence are taking over our lives is as much impressive as frightening. We were talking about it with Maria Teresa Venturini Fendi, on the occasion of “Ecce Robot” during the Festival dei 2Mondi in Spoleto, an event held by the Carla Fendi Foundation that awarded two women excellences of Italian robotics. Science is coming on leaps and bounds in this field, from home automation it is rapidly moving on to humanoid and plantoid robots, which, as Fendi pointed out, lead to enormous privileges as well as fears, especially because there are still not many rules regulating this ultra-rapid progress. “One thing needs to be clear: we won’t have privacy anymore. We need to know that, and it will positive for our safety for sure, but it could be harmful too. Any revolution brings to both good and bad effects. This one in particular will radically transform our and next generations’ way of thinking. There will be Before A.I. and After A.I.”, said Venturini a year ago.
With 2020, a new year zero has been marked on the calendar, from Before Coronavirus to After Coronavirus, hence what will this entail in the matter of technological development?

Music video performance by Nigel Stanford_Ecce Robot_Festival dei 2Mondi_Carla Fendi Foundation_2019
Music video performance by Nigel Stanford_Ecce Robot_Festival dei 2Mondi_Carla Fendi Foundation_2019

One year later the presentation of the A.I. Kartell chair and Carla Fendi Foundation’s initiatives investigating the human-machine relationship, things have changed again (and much more drastically than we expected). The Salone del Mobile has been canceled, the Festival dei 2Mondi is still on the program but it won’t definitely be like other years. An invisible enemy has suddenly broken our certainties and stopped our lives. Yet, in this climate of health insecurity and unpredictable economic and social implications, there is something that, instead of being locked, is further accelerated, becoming our salvation and also the biggest question mark. Digitization keeps us close as we are apart, it buys groceries for us, regulates our bank accounts, makes us go to school, and updates on worldwide news 24 hours a day. An enormous power that reinforced in a period of confusion and panic by turning itself into the only “certain” resource. 

This can only push us to manifold questions… first of all, what’s going to happen to our freedom? About privacy, as Venturini predicted well, we must resign to having lost it.

On the other hand, the endless possibilities of technological and scientific progress are of fundamental aid in the battle to save us and our planet. From the raise of zero-waste brands that “consume” only data for the production of digital clothes, to the encouragement of daily meetings and social events through screens reducing the impacts of displacements, to the adoption of robots for medical and surgical improvement and of plantoid robots for environmental monitoring and sustainable agriculture… advanced digital systems are giving solutions to devastating global issues, embracing every aspect of our life in an increasingly totalizing way.

A.I. Impetus_The Fabricant_digital dress_digital couture

But if it brought to a no longer exciting privacy, what about creativity?

Every job needs intuition, as we discussed with Venturini. Ecce Robot explored A.I. applications, from smartphones, domotics, to music and art created by algorithms, till medical support, and for each of these fields the creative contribution is necessary, even for science, she said, which is yes rigorous and mathematical, but is also has a wonderful humanistic and creative dimension. Vice versa, artistic subjects need mathematical structures to be properly realized. So how does artificial intelligence fit into this synthesis of opposite and complementary forces? Does its use risk tipping the balance too much in the favor of the scientific component and therefore sacrificing the more human and imaginative aspect?

For Philippe Starck, by working on the Kartell chair, was not so. On the contrary, artificial intelligence has proved to be a revolutionary trigger of creative novelty, which for an expert who spent years shaping a well-defined style of chair design was likely to not happen again. “After all these years of work I look at my creations and tell myself that, in the end, they are always the same. Of course, it is not possible to ask for anything else, considering that these are my chairs, elaborated by my memory and my mind, the same as always. No matter how original you try to be, the truth is that there are always limits. For this reason, this time we have tried to go beyond…” Starck confessed at the presentation of the A.I. chair.

Being the furniture fair cancelled this year for reasons of force majeure, architects and designers are going to work behind the scenes for a year before showing us which technological innovations will be the protagonists of the next salone. Given the digital impetus activated due to the lockdown’s physical restrictions, we are pretty sure that the coming show won’t let us down.