Illinois Tech, Chicago Humanities Examine How Technology Is Impacting Our Lives



By Tad Vezner
Illinois Tech Institute of Design Dean Anijo Mathew speaks with John Maeda

A slate of renowned designers, artists, architects, media personalities, and artificial intelligence pioneers converged on the Illinois Institute of Technology campus on May 18 to participate in a series of lively discussions exploring the symbiosis of technology and humanity in the years to come.

Among the topics highlighted during the day-long experience, hosted in coordination with Chicago Humanities, included exploring the humanistic need to directly interact with art and entertainment and the need for thought leaders to explore solutions to social problems with the same fervor that they pursue technological innovations. More than 15 events took place at the Ed Kaplan Family Institute for Innovation and Tech Entrepreneurship, home of Illinois Tech’s Institute of Design.

“In an era where the rapid advancement of technologies like AI is reshaping our world, the need for design has never been more critical,” said ID Dean Anijo Mathew, who hosted a conversation with John Maeda, vice president of design and AI at Microsoft. Mathew added that the day-long series of conversations “provides an invaluable platform for these interdisciplinary exchanges, enriching our collective understanding of humanity's role in a technologically driven world.”

Caro Murphy, a live-action game designer and co-founder of Incantrix Productions, discussed “immersive” interactive experiences and gaming. Murphy’s conversation was facilitated by Illinois Tech Professor of Digital Humanities and Media Studies Carly Kocurek, who specializes in the study of new media technologies and video gaming.

Murphy, who served as the immersive experience director on the Walt Disney World Resort’s Star Wars: Galactic Starcruiser attraction, highlighted a “movement toward agency” in the games ecosystem and the increasing use of immersive experiences in the realms of art, entertainment, and commercial enterprises, such as interactive theme parks and escape rooms.

“This is convergence of storytelling, theater, art, game, movement, roleplay, technology, environment. I think it speaks to a need that we have as human beings and as a society. I think that what we really want is meaningful agency. We want connection, and we want to feel as though our impact on the world has meaning,” Murphy said.

Ruha Benjamin, a professor of African American studies at Princeton University, highlighted why there is a need to ensure that there are no limitations on anyone’s imagination about technological advances—but also making sure that way of thinking extends to progressive social advances, too.

Her talk was facilitated by Alicia Bunton, assistant vice president of community affairs at Illinois Tech.

“Dreaming is a social practice,” Benjamin said during the conversation with Bunton. “Boldness is rationed, while realism is mass-produced. We are in many ways trapped inside the lopsided imagination of those who monopolize power and resources to benefit the few at the expense of the many.”

Associate Professor Maria Villalobos Hernandez, who is also the director of the College of Architecture’s Landscape Architecture and Urbanism program, moderated a conversation with Walter Hood, the founder of Hood Design Studio and the winner of The Architect’s Newspaper’s 2023 Project of the Year Award for the International African American Museum. Hood spoke about incorporating his concepts of design into art, landscape, architecture, and urbanism, and of the need to desegregate the individual disciplines.

“To me, it’s the collision of these different disciplines that allow for that richness to come out. It’s that space in between,” Hood said. “For housing, it is the site plan. But now with housing, there is no site plan—they’re all the same. They’re all on top of a parking garage, and there’s a courtyard in the middle.”

Hood also spoke of the need to apply equal effort to every project, no matter the client or neighborhood.

“A lot of people I know don’t do public work because they don’t want to deal with people, and the issues that come along with it—like poverty,” he said. “I want there to be equity in those ideas.”

Visitors to the day-long festivities could examine interactive experiences on Illinois Tech’s campus and watch other moderated conversations and lectures from notable leaders in a variety of industries, including Jen Psaki, an MSNBC host who served as the press secretary for the Biden administration; George Stephanapoloulos, a Good Morning America co-anchor who was White House communications director in the Clinton administration; filmmaker, author, and visual artist Miranda July; trailblazing feminist and musician Kathleen Hanna; performance artist Marina Abramović; and many others. 

Photo: Institute of Design Dean Anijo Mathew [right] speaks with John Maeda, vice president of design and AI at Microsoft, during the Chicago Humanities Festival at Illinois Tech.