Vox Machines

This research program aims to explore the possibilities and limits offered by voice synthesis in the field of experimental design, both from the point of view of software and hardware prototyping and from the point of view of digital humanities.

With the democratization of rapid prototyping techniques, of which fablabs (manufacturing laboratories) have been the most publicized emblem for the past ten years, the do it yourself is experiencing a resurgence of interest (Golsenne Thomas, Patricia Ribault). While these techniques and principles of co-construction, through the sharing of knowledge, have found their first applications in object design, few initiatives are emerging in the field of graphic design. In addition to its rapprochement with interaction and interface design, these design methods nevertheless allow the practice of graphic design (Andrew Blauvelt, Ellen Lupton) to be opened up to other audiences, other forms, other situations than those authorised by the media on which it is usually deployed (paper or screen) – and thus invite the creation of communities of knowledge and citizen practices.

However, on a day-to-day basis, we perceive the « technical push » (Pierre-Damien Huyghe) of digital technology only as standardized pseudo forms covering the proprietary algorithms dictated by the major groups in the computer industry (Evgeny Morozov, Benjamin Bratton). Thus, in the field of service design, personal voice assistants (Amazon Alexa, Apple Siri, Microsoft Cortana, Google Home, etc.) developed commercially over the last ten years have recently been incorporated into autonomous « black box » objects (Amazon Echo, Google Now speakers, etc.). These embody a possible development of the ways in which we interact with objects connected to the network (clothes, vehicles, screens, home automation, etc.), for better or for worse (Jehanne Dautrey, Emanuele Quinz).

Beyond a possible loss of control over our technical environments (Anthony Masure), this movement can be understood as a sign of a possible disappearance of graphic interfaces, invented in the early 1970s and strongly linked to the success of personal computing (Alexander R. Galloway). At the same time, the intense use of mobile digital terminals has led to changes in the relationship to the written word. Beyond the debates linked to a possible withdrawal of handwriting, we can observe new practices (emojis, conversational images, etc.) that bring writing and image closer to the performativity of speech (Jack Goody, André Gunthert).

So how is the role of graphic designers redefined by the development of these voices made images, and the vocal « commands » that are by definition invisible? What alternatives can be envisaged to this cybernetic paradigm of global steering (Giorgio Agamben, Norbert Wiener)? What new sensitive and formal possibilities, between locution and visualization (Walter J. Ong, John Hartley, Jean Lassègue), do these techniques allow? What more « open » proposals (Gilbert Simondon) exist to develop, around voice and digital technology, objects intended for research and education in the fields of art and design?

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