Igniting an embodied learning experience for responsible AI

For the last new moon of 2023, we partnered with Salesforce’s strategic innovation team, Ignite, for an in-person event Igniting a Humane AI Business Culture. Culminating a series of unique events we ran for Australia’s AI Month. 

But instead of experts-talking-at-people, we brought together a diverse group of humans: from executives and researchers, to policy makers and entrepreneurs. The intention was to design the event experience to be immersive and participatory, helping attendees to leave with new mental models and ways of seeing the role of AI in business differently.

During the gathering, the participants had rotating sessions across three thematically curated rooms, named after national parks in Australia and Aotearoa New Zealand. All set on the 50th floor of the Salesforce tower, with a breathtaking view of the city. 

In each of the rooms, a guest provided a brief spark talk to ignite discussion and challenge the participants’ existing mental models.

In the Great Barrier Reef National Park room guided by the water element we had a spark on the mental models of responsible AI, with the sounds of the ocean and the soft scent of ylang ylang, lime and sea salt stimulating pause and reflection. This spark by Ruth Marshall, encouraged participants to reflect on questions of data provenance and fitness, ownership, legitimacy and what it means to monitor and regulate a resource that is constantly moving and changing.

In the Kakadu National Park Room, guided by the air element, Lorenn Ruster brought in the human dignity perspective. Amidst the subtle airy aroma of lemongrass and eucalyptus Lorenn invited participants to more deeply consider the dignity of people and all the areas of our life these emerging technologies are and will continue to shape. 

In the Fiordland National Park room, guided by the earth element we had Nathan and I adapt to changing circumstances with the planned spark speaker unfortunately having to pull out hours before the event. This was embraced and participants were invited to examine the deep narratives of the paradigm in which these technologies are created. As the Alpine bird songs played and the scent of red cedar and manuka honey permeated the space, the story of separation that was core to the spark brought forth nuanced discussion of our inter-being and connection to the natural world. 

After each brief spark talk, each group carried the elements, shared meaning and the spirit of the national park, continuing to ignite diverse discussions about cultural change as they rotated each session. Participants noted the soundscapes that made it feel like nature was there with us, be that the birdsongs of Australian bushland and New Zealand alpine regions, or the ocean life of the Great Barrier Reef. All helping to stimulate a contemplative and reflective atmosphere and reinforcing our place as part of the natural world. 

But there was something else wafting amidst the thematic aromas that was noted by many attendees.  Here we were, in this exuberant space on the 50th floor of the newly constructed Salesforce tower talking about topics of humane AI and aligning AI tech development and use to what matters to people and our planet. A subtle irony and point of creative tension that influenced discussions throughout the event experience. 

Importantly, the sensory layers of the event was not a gimmick: we are embodied and social beings and auditory and olfactory stimuli help in creating a more immersive and engaging environment, facilitating deeper learning and interaction. Whether we’re designing software or learning experiences, our team is always mindful of our biophilic nature and our innate tendency to seek connections with nature and other forms of life. Research tells us that even digital representations of natural landscapes can foster people’s sense of connectedness to nature. 

Even though we always try to bring nature into the experiences we design, we do it as an invitation and reminder about how beneficial it is for humans to actually go outside and connect with nature. Screens are not a source of vitamin D, regardless of how impressive their resolution is. So, here’s your daily reminder to go out on a walk, rest your eyes on the horizon and soak in that vitamin D – if your latitude and season allows it –, and reconnect to your place. 

Sadly, technology doesn’t yet make it possible for us to share the aromas we curated for the event with you. But you can get a little taste of the event by printing out, folding, and playing with the paper sparks from the event.

We invite you to use them with your team when discussing your responsible AI strategy and culture.

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