An interdisciplinary approach to the spatial dimension of Ambient Intelligence: Symmetries and asymmetries in the interaction between humans and objects.


The DOC-team project Thinking Space – An interdisciplinary approach to the spatial dimension of Ambient Intelligence: Symmetries and asymmetries in the interaction between humans and objects, scheduled for three years, starting in October 2012, consists of three interlinked dissertation theses with the boundary object of Ambient Intelligence. This term implies a vision of humans surrounded by a multitude of intelligent and autonomous devices, thus an embedding of everyday life in an intelligent landscape. This new technological paradigm summarizes an essential change in the relation between technological artifacts and humans.

Ambient Intelligence emerged in the 1990s as a subject of industrial research, and was as such of main influence on the Sixth EU Framework Programme of Research, as it is still an issue in various European projects. However, it remains relatively unexplored within the disciplines involved of philosophy of technology, sociology of space and quantum physics. As it tackles fundamental questions of these disciplines, it is the demarcation line for this interdisciplinary research project. 


The interlinked project tasks will investigate the dichotomy between object and subject and to what extent it is replaced by a dynamic relationship towards symmetry of humans and non-humans with Ambient Intelligence. The exploration will take place within selected philosophical and sociological space concepts and theories, as well as physical space concepts dealing with the ongoing discourse about the unification of quantum mechanics and general relativity. 


Quantum physical concepts redefine the relationship between actors and objects, which make them most accessible for theories that question and postulate an interaction field between humans and non-humans. Thus, the project will inquire as to how physical concepts contribute to theories about being-embedded in an intelligent landscape, such as the sociology of things or contemporary philosophy of nature. Within an understanding of space as socially constructed and relative, the fundamental impacts of Ambient Intelligence on society will be studied. 


From a philosophical perspective, persuasive technologies imply an essential change for theaesthetics of the everyday and the perception of space as being embedded. Thus, the philosophical term world is questioned. Further the related impacts on social structures and new forms of solidarity will be investigated, as described in French philosophical anthropology. From a sociological perspective, converging technologies of Ambient Intelligence will be empirically studied with a focus on the reproduction and reinforcement of societal inequalities within public and private spaces. 


A mixture of qualitative methodological approaches is necessary to reach the interdisciplinary objectives of the project. On the one hand, literature will be explored and evaluated systematically; on the other hand, analytical-philosophical methods will be employed, such as thegedankenexperiment. This will allow for the cross-examination of space concepts. These analyses will form the basis for phenomenological inquiries as well as the empirical research into Ambient Intelligence technologies’ implementation in public and private spaces. 


Technology assessment will be carried out within the tradition of a practical philosophy of technology with a post phenomenological perspective as well as with a sociological inquiry based on expert interviews and a literature survey of the trajectories of persuasive technologies. The symmetry between humans and technologies will be empirically studied for Ambient Assisted Living technologies. The close interaction between these disciplinary pathways to the topic of Ambient Intelligence within this DOC-team project, will guarantee a benefit going beyond isolated dissertations. 


The impact of this research project will be twofold. First, by bridging the gap between disciplines, the extent and consequences of the delegation of functions and responsibilities to non-human actors will be explored. Thus, the project will contribute to the current discourse of the spatial and thingly turn and to research on socially constructed space. Second, the impacts of the project will be the relevance of their results for policy-making, as the use of Ambient Intelligence and its impact on society is a key question of our time.