Tech Refactored

S2E27 - Flyover Fictions Part 1: Codex Nebolusian

February 10, 2022 Nebraska Governance and Technology Center Season 2 Episode 27
S2E27 - Flyover Fictions Part 1: Codex Nebolusian
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Tech Refactored
S2E27 - Flyover Fictions Part 1: Codex Nebolusian
Feb 10, 2022 Season 2 Episode 27
Nebraska Governance and Technology Center

Ash Eliza Smith is one our center fellows, a professor in emerging media arts, a speculative artist, a designer, and a researcher. She is leading a project called, “Flyover Fictions” that pairs scientists with artists to create digital books.

On this episode we speak with Ash and interview one of these pairs, Santosh Pitla and Parrr Geng, whose digital project is titled, “Codex Nebolusian.” This is the first episode in a series of 3 that will explore the digital books in the Flyover research platform.

Show Notes:
Read Codex Nebolusian:

View and explore the Flyover Fiction books:

Santosh Pitla is an Associate Professor in the Department of Biological Systems Engineering at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Santosh’s research is in the area of agricultural robotics, control architectures for safe and secure operation of autonomous equipment, and tractor power characterization for multiple field operations.

Parrr Geng grew up in the Yangtze River Delta and now lives in Berlin, Germany. She currently works as an artist who builds conceptual worlds, designs characters and creates immersive environments through video games and illustrated stories.

Show Notes Transcript

Ash Eliza Smith is one our center fellows, a professor in emerging media arts, a speculative artist, a designer, and a researcher. She is leading a project called, “Flyover Fictions” that pairs scientists with artists to create digital books.

On this episode we speak with Ash and interview one of these pairs, Santosh Pitla and Parrr Geng, whose digital project is titled, “Codex Nebolusian.” This is the first episode in a series of 3 that will explore the digital books in the Flyover research platform.

Show Notes:
Read Codex Nebolusian:

View and explore the Flyover Fiction books:

Santosh Pitla is an Associate Professor in the Department of Biological Systems Engineering at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Santosh’s research is in the area of agricultural robotics, control architectures for safe and secure operation of autonomous equipment, and tractor power characterization for multiple field operations.

Parrr Geng grew up in the Yangtze River Delta and now lives in Berlin, Germany. She currently works as an artist who builds conceptual worlds, designs characters and creates immersive environments through video games and illustrated stories.

Disclaimer: This transcript is auto-generated and has not been thoroughly reviewed for completeness or accuracy.

[00:00:00] Gus Herwitz: This is Tech Refactored. I'm your host, Gus Herwitz, the Menard Director of the Nebraska Governance and Technology Center at the University of Nebraska. Ash Eliza Smith is a speculative artist, designer, and researcher who creates stories for film stage and immersive play. She is also a professor at the Johnny Carson Center for Emerging Media Arts at the University of Nebraska.

This past fall, she launched an initiative called Flyover Fictions, in which she pairs designers, architects, and artists with scientists and engineers to develop short visual digital books that speculate about the nature of their work. This is the first of three discussions that we're having with Ash and [00:01:00] some of the artists, scientists, and engineers who have been involved with this project.

We start our discussion today with Ash to discuss the Flyover Fictions project and to introduce a pairing of artists and scientists. Ash, thanks for joining us. Happy to be here. So can you tell us a little bit about the flyover summit and the initial grant that you got to bring scientists and artists together?

[00:01:24] Ash Eliza Smith: Yeah, and actually if I can just like back up, even before that, I was new to the campus here at University of Nebraska Lincoln, and I wanted to sit down with scientists, engineers, researchers across the campus and ask them, I called them speculative interviews, but really kind of pushing, uh, the boundaries of their research, asking what if questions, and, and starting to think about what if research on the campus at un l across the arts and sciences.

Was formed speculatively. This was in part because I thought, could we create these new kinds of [00:02:00] configurations for innovation and imagination? To think both locally but also globally, and also just asking questions like, could engineers and scientists ask these what if questions, so to speak, to start to visualize what preferable futures might look like and to build projects that could fit those needs.

Really. How do we imagine new kinds of worlds? That by using this kind of thinking and questioning, could you 

[00:02:26] Gus Herwitz: give an example or, uh, help us understand what you mean by think about projects speculatively? Yeah, 

[00:02:33] Ash Eliza Smith: so, so asking what if questions and just pushing a little bit into the future helps us think about, um, what could be, what's possible.

and really start to put our brains together in a creative and innovative way about how we can shape the future, which is shaping the present. An example of that is, I think Santosha and I, when we sat down, started talking about are there any kind of science [00:03:00] fiction films that have ever influenced your research or your kinds of questions that you're asking in the laboratory?

And, and that was really fun because, uh, a lot of, uh, the saying, Sometimes science influences science fiction and sometimes science fiction influences the science, right? And so these are kinds of things that, uh, make me really excited about how story can shape reality. Uh, 

[00:03:26] Gus Herwitz: I, I love that. My favorite film, or one of my favorite films has to be alien.

And it, it's just amazing to go back and think, I guess it was 1978 Alien comes out and it influences and shapes so much of modern science fiction, but also how we think of what science is and what spaces and what space exploration is. So, uh, uh, fascinating way to conceptualize this relationship between past and present fiction and future.


[00:03:53] Ash Eliza Smith: And lots of times, movies like Minority Report get referenced, I think in that movie alone. There. Something [00:04:00] like I'm, I'm making this number up, but close to a hundred patents that came out of that and that are still technology that's still getting developed based on a lot of the designs that happen in that film, and a lot of that came out of the script coming out.

Of a room of scientists, engineers, and technologists, being together with designers, world builders and artists, and creating this world in which the story sprung. And so there's actual innovation and real products in in a lot of that. And so that kind of ethos is really what spawned this project. 

[00:04:37] Gus Herwitz: So, uh, taking our present back to the past, you were, uh, starting to talk about you arrived at the campus here and wanted to bring, uh, scientists and artists together, and let's pick up where that left us off.

[00:04:52] Ash Eliza Smith: Yeah. And so the Office of Research and Economic Development on the Nebraska campus funded a project, environmental futures [00:05:00] platform, uh, which would give seed funding to help kick off my lab. And in that, uh, it was really trying to think about how I can ask these kinds of questions, how we can reach across the sciences and arts to.

In new audacious, speculative ways. And so from that, I started with interviews and quickly. Had a list of people I wanted to work with and produce projects with right here at at unl and also was thinking, how can we make some of this research, this, you know, awesome research happening here on campus. How can we make some of that?

Communicate globally. And so I started thinking internationally about artists and designers that I know from around the world, or I'm familiar with their work. And so that was an important component of it. I know there is amazing talent artistic wise here in Lincoln, but I wanted to really [00:06:00] kind of think about how could we take the science that's happening here locally, but then push out and and take advantage.

Of what Zoom and the pandemic was giving us, and we could collaborate more internationally. And so that is what was part of what was also going on with some of the pairings. 

[00:06:19] Gus Herwitz: So you, you had a lot of scientists and artists that you want to work together. The governance and technology center here that I direct, it's an interdisciplinary joint.

It's challenging, it's, uh, fascinating. It's hard. You always learn by bringing different perspectives together. How did you approach these interviews trying to foster these discussions? And I guess I should ask first, did you initially approach individuals one on one, or did you start by pairing people up and to start a discussion that way?

[00:06:48] Ash Eliza Smith: I started with a co-conspirator, Stephanie Sherman, um, who is at, uh, Central St. Martin's and London. We started together, we had both worked at the University of California [00:07:00] San Diego together, and so had been in design labs, familiar with each other's work, and so we started hosting these interviews together one on one with different scientists and engineers, and then separately with the artists and designers, so, It was really a kind of interviewing both sides and kind of finding, um, what we thought were, were really great interdependent fits.

Another limitation we had was obviously covid 19 and the distance with the funding. in a different time scale. I could have actually gotten the pair together, right? Mm-hmm. flown par here, had par, actually spent time around Santo's lab. And, uh, I think that could be a future iteration and is really exciting to think about.

But for this also, we gave a very, uh, the scope of the deliverable was also, you know, I, I guess, conceived. Thinking about the [00:08:00] limitations of Covid 19. So really we just said we're pairing you and your, your charge is that you need to create a short visual digital book that will develop these kinds of fictions and futures that speculate on existing science re research.

And that was part of what we decided on. But also that, that there would be a talk at the flyover summit that we had in the fall of 2021. And I could imagine also future iterations of this really pushing out those digital books into something that's like an emerging media asset. I mean, Par and I talked about, Oh, could this be a game?

You know, how can you push out into other kinds of media deliverables? That communicates the science beyond just a digital book. But I'm very happy with the first round that we're going to publish because a digital book is great and it's very accessible for lots of different kinds of audiences, and that was our [00:09:00] goal.

We also really wanted to create something that communicates these ideas, just like how we love science fiction because it's in the popular imagination. We wanted to create something. Can connect with people, um, who are not experts or don't consider themselves necessarily, you know, scientists. So we wanted to really speak to a range of audiences.

[00:09:22] Gus Herwitz: So you have, uh, mentioned, uh, Sento sh Par, that sent Hola and Par gang, who will be, uh, uh, joining us in conversation in a couple of moments. You also, uh, mentioned, uh, the flyover summit, which was the, the summit that brought, uh, these pairs together this past fall. Can you tell us a little bit about that event and the different pairings, um, and how, how it went.

[00:09:45] Ash Eliza Smith: Yeah, the event was supported by the, another entity on UNL campus, the Global Experiences Innovation Fund. They funded what ended up being a two day convening where we explored rural urban [00:10:00] systems design and environmental futures from the Nebraska countryside and out into outer space. We were really thinking about what does rural actually mean and really kind of obviously calling into question a lot.

How it gets framed sometimes. But to really start to think about is outer space rural? Are we talking about population density and really bringing into focus a lot of questions around resources and materials and systems. And so we had, you know, people from U n L campus, like Fran v Dunk who spoke on alien lands space mining and law.

But then we also had filmmaker Alex Rivera who. Directed Sleep Dealer, uh, which was a science fiction film, uh, that took place in Tijuana, San Diego that was about the future of labor. And he actually, right before he, he spoke, [00:11:00] had just received the MacArthur, um, Genius Award, which was pretty exciting to have him speak.

Mm-hmm. and a lot of other really amazing people From Benjamin Bratton to Amelia Wininger Bearskin. . And then the second day was a world building workshop to think about the future with people from all over the globe. I will say that we launched the flyover fictions at the Flyover Summit, and so it was really great to see both PA and Santo speak about their projects, see the visuals, which were amazing, and uh, to kind of hear just about the process.

I think that that's one of the most interesting parts about this kind of, Collaboration is that scientists are oftentimes asking really big questions and interesting questions and are, uh, following these paths and, uh, what is creativity in a science lab? What is creativity to an artist? I thought that that was really interesting to see the different kinds of methods and methodologies of- of [00:12:00] questioning and researching, uh, that both do, but maybe in different kinds of ways.

[00:12:04] Gus Herwitz:  So before we turn to as Santosh and Parrr, can you preview for us, uh, what their collaboration was and perhaps what you envisioned when you brought them together? 

[00:12:15] Ash Eliza Smith: Sure. The interview that I did with Santosh, uh, was really fantastic when Stephanie and I spoke with him just kind of thinking about robotics automation, there was one visual that really stuck with me, which was the visual of the flat apple.

And so Santo's speaking about how. Oftentimes it's really hard to, uh, pick, uh, apples, uh, bec with, with automated robotics. And so there, there is some thinking now that what if we grow them differently and immediately when this kind of visual of like, what does that look like? What does a flat apple look like?

What does it look like to have a. A robot picked this flat apple. I started thinking about visual artists [00:13:00] bringing this to life. I started thinking about Par, who I know works with human and non-human interspecies entanglements. Uh, really thinking about, and par also is a really interesting, I'm excited for you to meet both of them, but par comes from a science background and so that, that kind of, how can we start to draw out what the future of the farm might look?

And so that was, that was one thing also, um, I thought Santosh, our conversations around thinking about, I guess, affordances that you have with farming in a place like Nebraska where we have really big land and robotics, but then some of the concerns we talked about, which was how do we feed the planet, the planet's starving or there's so much food that goes to waste that can't be picked and is is literally rocks.

And how do we take some of the, what's being learned right here in Nebraska, but how do we translate that to a place like India or Africa, which [00:14:00] has much different population densities and land. The land use is, uh, very different. So I thought that those kind of questions, how they're reverberated out, uh, from here, uh, link, uh, from Nebraska, locally reverberating out globally, I thought were really fantastic as.

[00:14:16] Gus Herwitz: So one, one last sci-fi film, uh, reference before we take a brief break and, uh, bring Santos and par into the discussion. A as you were describing that Santos was explaining how we would reshape fruit to make it, uh, uh, easier for machinery to pick, and you started visualizing it. How would we draw that?

And I just think Joe Doras doune images and, uh, visualizations of what would this future look like? And, uh, of course, uh, we, we now have. Third Doune movie that's, uh, recently been in the cinema. And the amazing thing about all three of them is the similarities in the visualization and the conceptualization, and how much of that came from [00:15:00] Herbert versus Jetskis artistry around it.

And how much is actually derived from, uh, science fact. So all of these imaginings and, uh, conceptualizations really play into, uh, as, as you say, the past, present, and future. But we, uh, should take a brief break and we will be back in a moment bringing, uh, Santosha and par into the discussion.

[00:15:28] Lysandra Marquez: Hi there. This is Lysandra Marquez. I'm one of the producers of this show. I'm so glad you're enjoying this episode. If you're interested in learning more about the Flyover summits, Flyover fictions, I invite you to keep an ear out for two more upcoming episodes where we'll feature two more pairs of scientists and artists interpreting and speculating on interesting topics.

And now back to this episode of Tech Refactored. [00:16:00] 

[00:16:02] Gus Herwitz: Okay, welcome back. Uh, we are going to continue our discussion now about, uh, the, um, flyover Summit with two of the participants in it. Reference them several times in our discussion so far. Um, please to welcome Santosh Pitla and Parrr Geng to the show. Santosh is an associate professor in the Department of Biological Systems engineer.

Here at the University of Nebraska and his research is in the area of agricultural robotics control architectures for safe and secure operation of autonomous equipment and tractor power characterization for multiple field operations. And Parrr, uh, Parrr gang drew up in the Yangtze River Delta and now lives in Berlin, Germany.

She currently works as an artist who builds conceptual worlds designs, characters, and creates immersive environments through video games and illustrated stories. So, of course this is a perfect pair that Youma, uh, immediately think are [00:17:00] going to come together and work on collaborations. Santo, welcome to the discussion.

[00:17:05] Santosh Pitla: Yeah, thank you for having us. 

[00:17:06] Parrr Geng: Thank you. Yeah, Yeah. Thank you. Happy to be here. 

[00:17:11] Gus Herwitz: Santosh, if you could just give us, uh, a couple of sentences about what it is that you do and then Par will ask the same. Yeah, so 

[00:17:20] Santosh Pitla: I'm an associate professor in the biological systems engineering. I teach in agriculture engineering department, and my research is in, uh, agricultural robotics. So looking at how can we produce, uh, more food, fiber and fuel. The same amount of land that we have while reducing impacts on negative impacts on the environment. So using robotics for that. 

[00:17:43] Parrr Geng: I'm Parrr and based in Berlin, I, um, during the recent years, I've been creating, um, characters or building words for video games and, and because I'm very interested in using those new media format or experiences to bring [00:18:00] story to people.

[00:18:01] Gus Herwitz: What did you all think when, uh, you were initially approached for this project? 

[00:18:08] Parrr Geng: So when I was invited by Ash and Stephanie, I was super excited because Ash just mentioned I had some science background. I used to work as a researcher in a biochem lab, but then before I changed my path to art and after working in both fields, somehow I just realized I have a very consistent and strong wish or interest of myself, which is to.

Transform abstract or complex things into a more accessible or tangible format for others, and I find it very meaningful to hopefully introduce what's going on in the lab, For example, like incentive lab or his field to a wider audience perhaps when people understand or discuss. This kind of frontier research earlier then, um, maybe would been benefits for policy makers or for other like social thinkings and, um, I'm not so sure how to evaluate the impact from my work at the moment, but I was really excited by [00:19:00] Ash and staff's fly over plan, which will have a collection of such pairs and push the stories like and further so, and then this is one reason, another reason.

And is also, I grew up in a small town in China, which which had lots of farmland. I had classmates whose parents were farmers and they were had, they had concerns about things like weapons or fertilizers or like final outcomes. It is all real life problems and I know how hard farming is, and so I just find it such a.

For me was generally a very perfect opportunity for me to learn about, um, what farmers are concerned nowadays and what, like, what they, how they carry out their day to day tasks and how centers research could, like on precision agriculture could perform or shape the future of farming technology. So, and food production.

[00:19:52] Santosh Pitla: Yeah, so when Ash, uh, got in touch with me, I was really not sure because I never worked in any this type of project before. [00:20:00] So however, I was very excited, you know, to. To talk to Ash and Stephanie and then Par, You know, to me the biggest challenge was how do I explain my research to artists, You know, So that really pushed me to think about, you know, what are the big outcomes of my research, right?

So what is the end game for me with robotics? So I, I was really looking into, you know, what the future in agriculture is and how my research program care could impact, and again, the speculative futures, that sounded very exciting to me because in some ways we. Look into how agricultural production systems are going to be, let's say 10 to 15 years from now.

And you design systems, you, you take a backward approach. You start like 15 years from now how things look like and you envision and try to make those ideas into a reality, right? So, so that, it was really exciting. So 

[00:20:53] Ash Eliza Smith: you were kind of already doing this in a way in your lab, correct. The, you know, [00:21:00] thinking, pushing out into the future to design uh, for the present.

[00:21:03] Gus Herwitz: Mm-hmm. And as Parr you were describing your approach, something just really struck me, that's always, uh, struck me when looking at, especially science fiction related art, the level of detail that artists need to bring to their imagery. I, I am not an artist. I think spaceship, it's a thing that has some engines and it flies through space and it has volume.

But if, if you look at, I'll again go back to, uh, the Naro from Alien. If you look at that, every single square inch is covered with stuff and. That stuff is being put there by someone thinking, Okay, what would go on the surface of this spaceship? Well, there's gonna be some antennas and what do they do?

What function do they serve? So there's a a lot of detail there, which in many ways seems very engineering. And scientific [00:22:00] focused in the level of detail. Uh, I, I wonder both, uh, par if you have any thoughts on that and, uh, as if that's something that you had in mind or you were thinking about in bringing folks together.

[00:22:13] Parrr Geng: Um, exactly. I think that's also what the research stage was for. So I took a very long research stage and really like helped me to have lots of rules, what I wanted to have for characters, both humans and non humans. So, for example, maybe my design of the flex chapter in the 2050s doesn't really look.

Exact the outlook of centers model, but it does have some key features. For example, the legs can be extended, so to go through some high field like crop field and or it's very attachable with sprayers or stuff. So, and also I imagine this kind of. I imagine a design of a model or model could, would evolve as the years go by.

So I somehow choose this simplistic [00:23:00] look for this one, and all the others also have some intention embedded in those designs and. It all comes from those research I did. 

[00:23:11] Ash Eliza Smith: Okay. I'll just add quickly that I think that for me, what I call what you're, uh, talking about Gus, that detail is really good world building.

Um, and I think part did such a good job at building out that detail, giving us characters and giving us. Visuals to look at in this book that feel not just, you know, a Hollywood cliche. I said to par when I first saw the first draft, I said, You've made farm like Par has created a farming family, a farming unit of people and community and technology and human and non-human animals.

That I was like, It, it looks so cool. You know, I think I was like, It people are gonna want, it's to be a farmer from looking at this book, which is I think really [00:24:00] cool because I think food growing, food and food production is really, was the underlying, you know, tenant of this project to, to really think through that.

[00:24:12] Gus Herwitz: So I, a building on that part. Could you describe a little bit about the world that you have built? 

[00:24:17] Parrr Geng: Um, yes. So the world has a family of four. Um, Father Ra, grandma go, and older Sister Ann, and younger sister Key. They come arrive at like a farming unit. Um, Neal Field. And so for bian is a made up word, which, um, I kind of is taken from those common word building practice.

Sometimes people build a whole language, but I just make a make up word, which sounds like a landscape or region. And then regarding the characters, I just mentioned that it's all coming from the research because by talking to centers, centers mentioned different attitudes from a family, family, how grandson and grand dad, they think about those new tractors.

Then that's why I [00:25:00] wanna have, um, multiple generations in this family. That's why there is a grandma. That's three generations in this one. And also always wish to have some, like a brave, young female character in any story that I wanna create. Especially also pair of color, because I also worked on children's picture book before.

That's statistically there are always more boy characters than girl characters. So that's also something else. And then about the details, I just really wanna try my best. Bring the characters alive. Hope, I hope people can, when they read about it, or if in the future if becomes a game, when people play as this character, they can feel it's someone they might know.

Because the style, for example, the painting style of it is kind of in, um, between the realism in, uh, farming simulated simulator. If you know this game, it's a really realistic about the current farm in farmland. And the games such as League Legends, because I don't want things to look too fantastical, too far in the future.

I really wish this story [00:26:00] is something happening in the future, but in the near future, it's easy, easier for people to imagine they might reach that stage. And then that's the. Visual style and then the character. For example, the older sister Anne, she went through loss of her mother and went through some global farming.

And those reasons also come from my research because of this population growth and climate change that would be food shortage possibly in this world happening. So I imagine like a global famine happened. During the process of her growth, and so she has a per like quiet personality and focus on tasks, outdoors and mechanics.

Perhaps it's her way to process those traumatic. Loss and also maybe because she went through this loss or hardships, she treasures what she has even more. So she's overprotective the family members. So this are, I just imagined a character and how they behave, how their personality is always come from some past experience and maybe I take.

[00:27:00] Some, uh, inspiration from people around me. For example, my mom actually was born right after the great Chinese farming, so , maybe that's some kind of characteristics in Anne, which is inspired by my mom. But yeah, so that's like, and also those tools, those player, uh, those um, characters use in the farmland.

When I was studying in Russian, Iraq in London, I learned some. Tricks or techniques, which is if you wanna design a digestive for a speculative um, situation, it would be nicer to borrow what it already existing and tweak a little bit. So to make it more con convincing, so for example, the boots and, and users might just look like the usual boots we wear in the farmland.

But um, in the story, the boots has certain, like a floating ability or camera ability. And also for the, uh, the animals, robotic animals. And Santo also told me [00:28:00] about how when you introduce or integrate robots in between, among animals, that would be different emotions triggered from the animals. They might be like, feel fear, or they might feel like curious.

So I would imagine in this one, if they really, this artificial intelligence or these robots, Integrated so well in this farm. I hope it's like a, just a normal coexisting situation. So I, that's why I visualize those robotic animals looking exactly the same as how those real life, like the real animals look like.

And so that's also my intentional choice. For, 

[00:28:41] Gus Herwitz: Yeah, there's something subtle, but I think really deep in several things that you said there about the importance of having the familiar mixed in with the different, In order for us to conceptualize and understand the different, and perhaps fundamentally our [00:29:00] inability then to truly conceptualize the different I I that that's just.

A really powerful point there. And I, I think, echoes and demonstrates the, the importance of, uh, the, the artist's role in pushing how we are thinking about things that are other than us. The Santosh. I'd like to return to something that you had said before. Uh, you said that one of the first questions that, uh, you struggled with or thought about was how you explain your research to artists.

And I'm just gonna use that as a question for you. Um, what, what was your answer to that? Uh, h how did you process through explaining, uh, your research? 

[00:29:40] Santosh Pitla: Yeah, so there are, uh, so many details, right when it comes to engineering recess. So, so my goal was to give the bigger picture of if you have highly automated systems, how can they help the agriculture food systems?

You know, that's where I started is give this bigger idea. So if you have a high tech farm [00:30:00] helper, Yeah. Farm hand, you know, so we call farm hands, right? Like for labor. But then if you have a high tech, uh, farm hand that can do a lot of different things in the most efficient way possible. How can we, how can it help our production system and how can it help with minimizing the environmental impact?

So that's kind of, uh, how I started 

[00:30:20] Gus Herwitz: it. Did you have any challenges or lessons learned as you went through this process? Well, I think 

[00:30:28] Santosh Pitla: part did such a great job. I mean, she, with her background a little bit in agriculture, you know, that helped a lot in explaining things and she was very meticulous in doing her research.

She was, you know, look what she was looking through. What is out there? What are the current trends in agricultural technologies or robotic technologies? So, so that made it very easy for me to, you know, communicate with, with her as we, we had like multiple meetings and, uh, sessions just going back and forth.

So that really helped me to explain [00:31:00] things. You know, it was not at the beginning, it was, but later it, it went really well. 

[00:31:05] Gus Herwitz: A and for both of you, a, as you approached this project, Did you have any, uh, I'll use my academic term then. Uh, uh, take that head off for a moment. Any, uh, normative goals in how you were approaching this project?

That is, were, were there values that you were trying to communicate through it? Was this an optimistic view of the world? A pessimistic or a dystopian or cautionary view of the world, or where you just trying to paint, uh, the speculative, This is one possibility amongst. I think 

[00:31:37] Parrr Geng: Cent described a possible future that he saw.

He would elaborate a bit further, but I think kind of align with what I hope to portray as well, which is I think with the current news, with all those uncertain times and with so many dystopic dystopian scenarios, I wish to create a more optimistic vibe or feeling [00:32:00] from this world. Mm-hmm. . Yeah, 

[00:32:03] Santosh Pitla: I, I, I 

[00:32:04] Ash Eliza Smith: think your friends called you solar pumps,

[00:32:08] Santosh Pitla: Yeah. I was taking a more optimistic approach to, because, uh, the advances in technology and, um, Introducing the right kind of technology in the right scenarios could, will lead to very optimistic, you know, uh, a positive change in the world. So that's, that's kind of what I was looking for. I, you know, it's something I was telling them is like, I want to go back to old McDonald's farm.

That that's how I, I would like to see the farm except that old McDonald's will, Old McDonald will have all the high tech tools. To do the best job on the farm to produce the food in the best way possible without any negative impacts to the environment. So that's the visual I had. So, uh, we can go back to the old ways, but at the same time, we would use all the high tech tools 

[00:32:53] Gus Herwitz: available.

Now I'm just going through all, all the best sci-fi films from the 1970s, which really are just [00:33:00] the best sci-fi films. And thinking Luke Skywalker back on the farm on Taine with all the, the droids and the, uh, high tech stuff living. Kind of the old McDonald farmer life on, uh, TAing that immediately resonates with, with my soul there.

Mm-hmm. Um, Ash, I wonder, uh, if you have any reflections on the values built into the stories that, uh, these collaborations were generating? 

[00:33:27] Ash Eliza Smith: Yeah. One of the things I was most excited about coming to, uh, work at University of Nebraska Lincoln, Precision agriculture and so much work being done around food, water, and energy here on campus.

And I was really excited when I talked to Santos because I don't think a, a big part for me was also about communicating. This emerging technology that is happening that many people don't realize that the, that the kind of cutting edge is happening [00:34:00] here in the center of the country in terms of technology and innovation.

So part of it was wanting to communicate that, but also through a way, I think many people have a lot of fears about automation, um, and robots and robotics. And so I think to kind of reiterate what Par said, I. That intention of kind of coexist existence and, um, thinking about a kind of human in the loop nest, which is better for many more humans, uh, is, was a kind of goal to kind of maybe dispel a lot of the anxieties that a lot of, uh, people have around precision, uh, kinds of technology.

So that, I think that was a part of it. And, and, and so I do think that we went into the project thinking about it in those kinds of ways and had really great questions. Even, there's still so many like projects that could come out of this, just this topic alone. But I remember Santos just talking [00:35:00] about.

You know, how do, again, how do you translate some of this kind of precision agriculture to smaller scale? What about cities? What about how do you do urban farming? You know, in ways that can feed more people and have less food waste and thinking about supply chains, et cetera. So I think there's a lot of really interesting questions out there that are ripe for some artistic, uh, imagination.

[00:35:26] Gus Herwitz: So we are starting to move to, to the end of our discussion, But, uh, Santo and Par, I I need to ask both of you, one of the, the goals of this project is to affect how we think about our present work and the future and the relationship between the two. So I'll ask you that as a question. How has this collaboration, how has this project changed your own thinking about what it is that, uh, you are doing?

[00:35:53] Santosh Pitla: I'm just fascinated by the. The different viewpoints about this topic of automation and [00:36:00] robotics. You know, getting the artistic view, which, uh, to me wa was very valuable because I've not, uh, discussed my research before with artists, you know, so that the, the viewpoints provided added a lot of value to me.

Uh, so I'm also starting to. Think a little bit about the bigger picture, you know, not just my own research, right, But how does it fit in the, in the bigger grander scheme of things, you know? So that, that's a lot of value to me. And the fly summit was amazing. There are, uh, people working in the automation area in agriculture, but completely different viewpoints.

So the diversity in the thought really helped me to where, where do I fit in the bigger grinder scheme of things. You know, that's kind of the 

[00:36:44] Gus Herwitz: bottom line. For 

[00:36:46] Parrr Geng: me, I think this collaboration for me was really, um, valuable. So first of all, I think Centage was, for example, Centage was very supportive and even excited when I wanna choose game as the format or game book [00:37:00] as the format.

And it gives me more confidence or like encouraged me to work with scientists in the future as well. And also, I just learned a lot from this project by doing, from doing research in this field. And I already know this whole flyover project is about complex things, but it was still more complex than I first expected.

The more. Dig into those read articles or watch YouTube videos about how a farmer live nowadays, I just get to know more and more so many things in this whole big picture. And so for what I wish to do further, I think yeah, somehow also comes from my own field of work. I just really wish to craft better and hope to have more skills and to develop this project.

Further because for example, what I created now, if I criticize myself, criticize myself, I kind of imagine as a tutorial stage in a game, you go to your, you [00:38:00] land in the village, you get to know your inventory list of what you have in the farm. But I think of story get exciting when there's tensions, when there conflicts, when things roll.

So if I. So I would like to learn more about, for example, those, um, coding or game engines to build some platform or learn some level design or find people to work with. If it's possible, then it creates a more, uh, immersive experience for people and maybe people can play with it instead of read the story.

So that's just, I think how to make it easier for people to, to access it.

[00:38:35] Gus Herwitz: And I, I just want to add my own reflection building, uh, a bit on what Santo said, and a, as an AC academic who tends to narrowly focus and specialize in specific areas, talking only to my own peers and folks who use my own language.

I, I, I talk to academics and really push colleagues a lot to break out of that bubble, and I tried to do it on my own [00:39:00] because it, it's, It's a two way street, and it's so important to communicate your ideas and your work with that broader audience, both so that, uh, that broader audience learns and understands what it is that you are doing as a researcher developing these new technologies or these new ideas.

And also so that you get the benefit of these external perspectives and the perspectives of frankly, society and the future users and those who will be affected by what it is that you're doing. And, uh, I don't know that that's, uh, the goal or a goal of, uh, this project, but I think for, uh, those on the, this science side, it's a huge benefit.

And, uh, with that ash, I'll turn to you for the, the last words and also a, a final question. What comes next? What's on the horizon? What will you speculate on? What's on the horizon? Hmm. 

[00:39:51] Ash Eliza Smith: So many things. As Par said, I'm really excited because, uh, we're gonna launch these first three on coming up in the next few months.[00:40:00] 

That will be on flyover, so you can access those there. But as Par said, I'm excited to think about what round two might look like and starting to think about do we work with the same pairings, but end, push it out into other kind of medium, Create a game that's interactive, something more immersive.

And what those might look like. And that's really exciting because that combines what I do with emerging media arts and you know, bottom line, this question of how can science fiction and drawing from actual scientists shape, reality shape, policy shape our present is just really exciting to me. So I hope to continue working with the community here locally in Lincoln and connecting people to artists and designers I know around the world.

[00:40:49] Gus Herwitz: Okay. Well, Ash, Santosh, Parrr, thank you all very much. This is a fascinating, uh, project. I, I, I just love every aspect about it and I, I'm really looking forward to [00:41:00] seeing what comes of it in the future. And thank you. To our listeners. I've been your host, Gus Herwitz. Thank you for joining us on this episode of Tech Refactored.

If you want to learn more about what we're doing here at the Nebraska Governance and Technology Center, or you want to submit an idea for a future episode, you can go to our website at, or you can follow us on Twitter at UNL underscore NGTC. 

If you enjoyed this show, please don't forget to leave us a rating and review wherever you listen to your podcasts. If you did not enjoy this episode, please do forget to do so. Our show is produced by Elsbeth Magilton and Lysandra Marquez and Colin McCarthy created and recorded our theme music. This podcast is part of the Menard Governance and Technology programing series. Until next time, I'll keep speculating about next time.[00:42:00]