Synthesis Thinkpiece

tl;dr: Reflect on the past investigations, and surface a question or concept around the spooky technology and smart spaces/objects that you would like to spend more time exploring i.e. share the ideas you found compelling and you would like to pursue as part of the final project.

Due: Tuesday, Apr 6

Submit : Submit your thinkpiece as a Post in the #think-pieces channel. Add your slides to the deck provided


We’ve covered quite a bit of ground in the course already. We’ve surveyed readings relating to explainability, perceptions of everyday technology, myths, magic and monsters, hauntology and media theory, and networked objects. We’ve surfaced many examples of how otherworldly effects and smart devices are colliding; and we’ve speculated on alternative possibilities for the smart home too. We’ve looked at breakdowns, glitches, hacks and hoaxes as as resource to explore interpretabiility of the effects that systems produce. We’ve delved into the ways in which beliefs, rituals and practices might be encoded into objects to produce critical designs. We’ve uncovered how enchantment and animism might be resources for design. As we prepare for our final project, let’s take a moment to revisit, reflect on and remind ourselves of the ideas that we’ve encountered.

Learning Objectives

As part of the exercise, students will:

  • self-select a concept for further and shared exploration as part of the final project;
  • identify and review concepts that relate to the course and that can inform our work;
  • helped co-create a body of knowledge on spooky tech to draw on as part of their final explorations; and
  • reflect on how technology and the otherworldly overlap and the issues and questions we should consider.


As part of this thinking piece, you are asked to reflect on the course topics and develop a statement of interest ahead of the final project. As part of this statement, you should surface a clear question, concept or idea you would like to explore.

Note Avoid the specificity of an implementation. Don’t design at this point. Formulate a question or address an area for inquiry but don’t specify an outcome. Why? Because the final project can be collaborative and you should leave room for contribution and inquiry.

First, let’s revisit the goals of this course:

We often hear that the technologies in our everyday lives would appear to be ‘magic’ and potentially terrifying to people in the past—instantaneous communication with people all over the world, access to a vast, ever-growing resource of human knowledge right there in the palm of our hand, objects with ‘intelligence’ that can sense and talk to us (and each other). But rarely are these ‘otherworldly’ dimensions of technologies explored in more detail. There is an often-unspoken presumption that the march of progress will inevitably mean we all adopt new practices and incorporate new products and new ways of doing things into our lives—all cities will become smart cities; all homes will become smart homes. But these systems have become omnipresent without our necessarily understanding them.

They are not just black boxes, but invisible: entities in our homes and everyday lives which work through hidden flows of data, unknown agendas, imaginary clouds, mysterious sets of rules which we perhaps dismiss as ‘algorithms’ or even ‘AI’ without really understanding what that means. On some level, the superstitions and sense of wonder, and ways of relating to the unknown and the supernatural (deities, spirits, ghosts) which humanity has felt in every culture throughout history have not gone away. Instead, they have transferred and transmuted into new forms.

This course is part of an on-going design-research project, led by Dan Lockton and Daragh Byrne, that has already created an inventory of ‘spooky technologies’. Continuing this inquiry, we will examine people’s understanding of systems in their homes, such as connected devices, information flows, voice assistants, and highlight beliefs and superstitions that emerge around them. What are unsettling moments in the smart home—what do people assume when things breaks down? In tandem, we’ll examine work across art, design, and human-computer interaction, explore the history of the supernatural, myths, and superstitions, and extract possibilities, insights, and opportunities.

From this, we will prototype and experiment with working examples of spooky technologies. What happens when Alexa speaks in tongues? Can computer vision read your tea leaves? What would a haunted smart home be like to live in? Can we create new superstitions—or technologies to counter them?

Having refreshed your memory on our shared objectives, reflect on what aspects of this proposition you find compelling.


Research and prepare a report that can be shared with the group. Add your Thinking Piece to the #think-pieces as a new post on slack (see below). This post should contain a essay (approx 500 words) on a topic of your choosing. The thinking piece should include appropriate citations, link referenced texts and works and acknowledge authors appropriately. You’re welcome to include illustrations and images as needed too.

For this exercise, students will identify an open question or challenge posed in developing responsive technologies for the above context and that they are personally interested in. This should include a clear description of your area of interest as well as supporting research, examples, precedents, and other sources that provide context to your ideas and argumentation.

Reflect on the ideas you’ve encountered as part of the course and select one you’d like to explore more. You’re welcome to go beyond the three investigations to other ideas you’ve encountered too.

In your statement do three things:

  1. Start from a problem, open challenge or area of interest i.e. give a little explanation what you chose the area/idea/question you did and why its interesting and relevant;
  2. Formalize a question or statement which expresses that interest effectively and narrowly i.e. distill it down to something quick, easy and clear to communicate
  3. Develop a statement of how it relates to ideas and outcomes which precede it i.e. support it with references and research; tell us why this is important; how does it advance or extend prior work; etc.

For part 3, don’t rely only on things introduced or surfaced as part of the course materials or discussions. You’re expect to go beyond the course materials and readings and bring in new literature, projects, exemplars, and ideas.

Research Talk

Based on your research report, each student will give a five-minute research talk on a topic of their choosing. This is an opportunity for you to share your ideas with the rest of the group and get them as excited about the exploration as you are.

The length of the talk is a challenge - so think carefully about how to communicate your ideas succinctly and clearly.

To help with quick transitions between speakers, students will be asked to contribute their slides to a single Google Slides presentation ahead of time.