The COVID pandemic continues to disrupt almost everything that enables us to learn, work, play, and thrive. It also magnifies numerous vulnerabilities and deficiencies that affected governments, economies, and societies well before its onset. As we envision and, eventually, forge together our lives after the pandemic, we do ourselves a lasting disservice by returning to the pre-pandemic status quo. Instead, we can move toward a new political economic framework that serves a more prosperous, equitable, and human-centered society. A good way to start is through exploring lessons we already have learned and ideas we have generated during the pandemic.
That is the core concept motivating Fairer Tomorrow: Solutions to the Issues Highlighted by COVID, an interactive multimedia website presented by the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences (CASBS) at Stanford University. Specifically, it is a product of the Center’s flagship program, “Creating a New Moral Political Economy,” led by CASBS director Margaret Levi.
Fairer Tomorrow, designed and produced in partnership with artist Şerife Wong and in collaboration with creative studio Lusion, features more than 100 specific ideas, observations, recommendations, and solutions advanced by members of the moral political economy program network. Upon entering the site, visitors encounter a space where they can drag and move their cursors through an animated field containing points of light. Each point, seemingly living and breathing, represents one of the ideas. Clicking a point of light reveals a text quote, the name of the network member who composed it, and a hyperlink to the source publication in which the quote appears.
And site visitors should make sure their devices’ sound is on. They will hear each selected quote spoken aloud, often by the authors themselves. In between point selections, visitors hear a gentle, entrancing soundscape conducive to an immersive, contemplative experience. Here is a preview:
Visitors then click back to the field of light points to further explore, read, and listen to new ideas, recommendations, and solutions. Points previously selected remain more brightly illuminated, allowing quick and easy identification of points, and ideas, yet unexplored.
Fairer Tomorrow also includes a database containing all the quotes, always one click away. Site visitors easily can sort the list by author, source (with links), publication date, or along eight substantive themes: climate, corporations, equity, human flourishing, labor, markets, recovery, and technology.
The Center’s “Creating a New Moral Political Economy” program – including its network of scholars, technologists, journalists, and civil society activists concerned with the future of capitalist democracies – provides the ideal intellectual foundation for the content that populates the Fairer Tomorrow site. The program launched in 2018 from recognition – and ample evidence – that the prevailing political economic system and its supporting institutions are fraying, benefit too few, and require a fundamental rethinking. The program leverages the network’s diverse perspectives and approaches and draws upon the best social scientific knowledge about humans and their behavior, thereby enhancing the prospects for producing collective knowledge and breakthroughs that none could produce independently.
Both the “Creating a New Moral Political Economy” program and Fairer Tomorrow are supported by the Hewlett Foundation, the Ford Foundation, the Berggruen Institute, Reid Hoffman, and an anonymous donor.
The genesis of Fairer Tomorrow traces to early spring 2020, when ongoing conversations within the moral political economy program network accelerated in the face of pandemic lockdowns and early debates about the wisdom and efficacy of stimulus packages and potential policy responses. Many network members, already well attuned to the underlying fissures in political, economic, and social infrastructures exposed or intensified by COVID, began writing sharp, concise opinion pieces and essays in response.
Sensing opportunity, Federica Carugati, the CASBS program director overseeing the “Creating a New Moral Political Economy” program at the time, put out a call to the network, soliciting their diagnoses, solutions, and visions for the future that, according to her call, “help structure the policy debate to respond to the needs of the real world, not a world that no longer exists.” She sought to compile network members’ submissions and feature them in some publicly presentable way.
Carugati left CASBS in late summer 2020 to start a faculty position at King’s College London, though she continues to play a leadership role in the moral political economy program. She and her successor as CASBS program director overseeing the program, Zachary Ugolnik, collaborated for weeks, allowing Ugolnik to really run with Carugati’s initiative. He ultimately proposed a website featuring specific quotes, drawn from an impressive outpouring of submissions, that link to source publications.
From there, it was a no-brainer to reunite with artist Şerife (Sherry) Wong, with whom Carugati and CASBS partnered in 2019 to create an innovative interactive map characterizing the AI ethics and governance landscape.
“We asked Sherry to help us visually convey the overall concept,” said Ugolnik. “But her vision took it to an entirely new level – one we couldn’t have imagined on our own.”
Wong, in turn, brought in Lusion for its expertise in aesthetics and design implementation. It was Lusion that suggested the audio component of the project.
The result is a remarkable blending of thought leadership with design, enveloping visitors who engage with it in the art and (social) science of the possible.
“Sherry’s design and Lusion’s execution help communicate a core concept of our program – that our futures are connected and that we must recognize what Margaret [Levi] and her coauthor John Ahlquist have called our shared and expanding ‘community of fate,’ said Ugolnik. “The design, intertwined and in dialogue with the underlying material, helped inspire the name Fairer Tomorrow.”
To be sure, Fairer Tomorrow’s constellation of points of light, in concert with the constellation of ideas, recommendations, and solutions that correspond with them, serves as a unique instrument for disseminating the work of the Center’s “Creating a New Moral Political Economy” program and its network of participants.
In the broader scheme, though, Fairer Tomorrow aims to assist, if not provoke, all of us as we struggle to make better sense and meaning of the human beliefs, behaviors, and institutions that affect and shape our daily lives. It serves as a guide for advancing our thinking as we and our leaders choose whether we pursue the change needed to create a new political economic system that better serves the needs of individuals, society, and the environment.
Şerife (Sherry) Wong is a Bay Area artist and founder of Icarus Salon, an art and research organization exploring the societal implications of emerging technology. She previously partnered with CASBS to create Fluxus Landscape, a map of 500 actors in AI ethics and governance. In 2019, she was a resident fellow on artificial intelligence at the Rockefeller Foundation Bellagio Center. She was also an Artist in Residence and creator of the Impact Program at Autodesk Pier 9, and has worked at the Electronic Frontier Foundation and Artnet Magazine. She has had solo art exhibits in New York, Vienna, and Mexico City, and has exhibited at Art Basel Miami, Shanghai Art Fair, FIAC Paris, ARCO Madrid, and Art Cologne. She currently is a researcher in the Transformations of the Human program at The Berggruen Institute and serves on the board of directors for Digital Peace Now. Şerife advocates for justice in AI and pushes for more active roles for artists in policymaking. icarussalon.com
Lusion is an award winning multidisciplinary production studio. From creative to production, it collaborates with creative agencies and design studios to deliver compelling, real-time experiences, which go far beyond expectations. Lusion was founded by creative technologist Edan Kwan in 2017. Edan believes technology can empower people to realize their ideas and bring imaginations to life. His vision for Lusion is to bridge the gap between abstract concept and immersive experience by using the right technology. lusion.co
Founded in 1954, the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences (CASBS) at Stanford University is renowned as a place where deep thinkers from diverse disciplines and communities come together to confront critical issues of our time. At CASBS, boundaries and assumptions are challenged and cross-disciplinary thinking is the norm. The Center has hosted generations of distinguished scholars and scientists who, in the spirit of collaboration, form an enduring community that advances our understanding of the full range of human beliefs, behaviors, interactions, and institutions. casbs.stanford.edu
Contact: Zachary Ugolnik, CASBS Program Director (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Image: Lusion/Paola Dios
Video courtesy of Lusion
Written by Mike Gaetani