Day 2: Berggruen Institute

What Will Life Become?

Thursday, April 21 @ USC // Friday, April 22 @ Berggruen Institute // #WWLB


This invite-only workshop at the Berggruen Institute Headquarters features a day of creating Embodied Futures. A three-panel salon, followed by the world premieres of art commissioned by the Institute, will provide provocations for the Possible Worlds exercises. Participants will imagine and design Future Relics and write letters to 2049. WWLB findings will be available online following the workshop.

8:30 am – 9:00 am: Coffee & Check-in

Provocations: Panels and Art Premieres 

9:00 am – 9:45 am: Futures of Life

10:00 am – 10: 45 am: Futures of Mind

11:00 am – 11:45 am: Futures in Outer Space

12:00 pm – 1:00 pm: Lunch

1:00 pm – 3:30 pm: Embodied Futures 

3:30 – 4:30: Possible Worlds

In small breakout groups, Facilitators will lead you through an exercise to imagine futures of life, mind, and outer space that might emerge in the mid-21st century.

4:30 – 5:00: Future Relics

We invite you to imagine the lively entities that might dwell in the future.

5:00 pm: Cocktails + DJ Set by ARSWAIN at Neue House Bradbury

Futures of Life

Elaine Gan

Director, Multispecies Worldbuilding Lab at NYU

Elaine Gan is an artist-scholar who teaches at XE: Experimental Humanities & Social Engagement at New York University, where she directs the Multispecies Worldbuilding Lab. Her work engages with feminist science & technology studies, digital/environmental arts and humanities, environmental anthropology, and media/cultural studies. Gan is co-editor of Arts of Living on a Damaged Planet: Ghosts and Monsters of the Anthropocene and is writing a monograph about more-than-human assemblages in sites of rice cultivation. Her creative projects have exhibited internationally with grants from the University of Southern California, Aarhus University Research on the Anthropocene, and New York Foundation for the Arts.

Joanna Radin

Associate Professor of History of Medicine and History, Yale University

Dr. Joanna Radin is a historian of biomedical futures focusing on how people imagined that science, technology and medicine would change their lives. Other interests include history and anthropology of life and death; biomedical technology and computing; feminist, Indigenous, and queer STS; and science fiction. Her current book reconsiders the history of science through the career of Michael Crichton. She wrote Life on Ice: A History of New Uses for Cold Blood, the first history of low-temperature biobanks, and co-edited Cyropolitics: Frozen Life in a Melting World, which considers the technics and ethics of freezing.

Lynn Rothschild

Senior Research Scientist, NASA

Dr. Lynn Rothschild is a senior scientist at NASA’s Ames Research Center and Bio and Bio-Inspired Technologies and Research and Technology Lead for NASA Headquarters Space Technology Mission Directorate. Her research focuses on how life evolved in the context of the physical environment, both on earth and potentially elsewhere. She founded the Astrobiology Science Conference and directed the NASA Astrobiology Strategic Analysis and Support Office. She is faculty advisor to the Stanford-Brown iGEM team, which pioneered the use of synthetic biology for NASA’s missions. She is a Linnean Society of London fellow and three-time NASA Innovative Advanced Concepts (NIAC) fellow.

Luisa Reis Castro

Postdoctoral Fellow, USC Society of Fellows in the Humanities

Luísa Reis-Castro, Ph.D. in History, Anthropology, and Science, Technology, and Society from MIT, is a postdoctoral fellow in USC’s Society of Fellows in the Humanities. She examines relations between health, science, and the environment in an interdependent, unequal world increasingly affected by human activity. Her project, Vectors of Health: Epidemic Futures, Racialized Ecologies, and the Reinvention of Mosquito Science in Brazil, investigates how national ideologies of belonging intertwine with modes of knowledge and power that shape relations between humans, mosquitoes, and microbes. Her work has received funding from the National Science Foundation and awards from the American Anthropological, among others.

Futures of Mind

Benjamin Bratton

Professor of Visual Arts, University of California, San Diego

Benjamin Bratton is Professor of Visual Arts at UC San Diego and Program Director of the Terraforming program at the Strelka Institute. He wrote The Revenge of The Real: Politics for a Post-Pandemic World, which sees the COVID-19 pandemic as a crisis of political imagination and capacity in the West, arguing instead for a positive biopolitics. His current project, Theory and Design in the Age of Machine Intelligence, concerns the unexpected and uncomfortable design challenges posed by A.I., from machine vision to synthetic cognition and sensation, and the macroeconomics of robotics to everyday geoengineering.

Meredith Whittaker

Minderoo Research Professor, New York University

Meredith Whittaker is the Minderoo Research Professor at NYU and founder of Google’s Open Research group and co-founder of the AI Now Institute. Her research and advocacy concern the social implications of AI and the tech industry, particularly power and the political economy driving commercial. She led product and engineering teams at Google and co-founded M-Lab, which provides the world’s largest source of open data on internet performance. She has advised the White House, the FCC, the European Parliament, and many other governments and civil society organizations on AI, internet policy, privacy, and security.

Nils Gilman

Vice President of Programs, Berggruen Institute.

Nils Gilman is VP of Programs at the Berggruen Institute. His book with Berggruen Fellow Jon Blake will be out this summer. Children of a Modest Star: Governance in a Planetary Age explores how new understandings of the interconnectedness of human and non-human life on Earth require that we reconfigure existing governance institutions beyond the nation state. 

Futures in Outer Space

Lisa Messeri

Assistant Professor of Anthropology, Yale University

Dr. Lisa Messeri studies the practices, imaginaries, and influences of contemporary science and technology. She wrote Placing Outer Space: An Earthly Ethnography of Other Worlds, which explores on how scientists transform planets from scientific objects into worlds and destinations. She is interested in how planetary imagination developed by scientists looking outward might be turned inward to comprehend Earth on a planetary scale to confront environmental and political crises. Dr. Messeri’s current research, supported by a NSF Scholars Award, investigates re-emerging virtual reality technology, and the way Los Angeles’ mix of entertainment, academic research, and industry shape VR and its community.

DeoNdre Smiles

Assistant Professor of Geography, University of Victoria

Dr. Deondre Smiles is an Indigenous geographer whose research interests include Indigenous geographies/epistemologies, science and technology studies, and tribal cultural resource preservation/protection. A citizen of the Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe, he is Chair of the Indigenous Peoples Specialty Group of the American Association of Geographers (AAG) and a member of the Native American and Indigenous Studies Association (NAISA), and the Canadian Association of Geographers (CAG). Dr. Smiles is also an affiliated faculty member in the CLEAR Lab (P.I. Dr. Max Liboiron) and editorial board of the journal Native American and Indigenous Studies.

Claire Isabel Webb

Berggruen Fellow

Claire Isabel Webb (Ph.D. History, Anthropology, and Science, Technology, and Society, MIT) is a 2022 Berggruen Fellow. An internship at the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI) Institute in 2008 sparked the topic of Webb’s dissertation: Technologies of Perception: Searches for Life Beyond Earth. Informed by her ongoing work with the SETI group Breakthrough Listen at U.C. Berkeley, Webb’s book project historically and ethnographically tracks how scientists have investigated extraterrestrial life forms—both microbes and beings—since the Space Age. She used feminist and decolonize frameworks of analysis to theorize historical and current scientific imaginations of alien life.

David Delgado

David Delgado, Cultural Strategist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory

David draws from his background in anthropology, advertising, and art/science learning to create experiences that activate our imagination and invite us to think about the questions that drive science and technology forward. A central theme to his work is the relationship between imagination and the desire to explore. 

Embodied Futures

Sougwen Chung

Artist & Researcher, Founder of Studio Scilicet

Sougwen愫君Chung is a Chinese-Canadian artist and (re)searcher based in London. Chung’s work explores the mark-made-by-hand and the mark-made-by-machine as an approach to understanding the dynamics of humans and systems. Chung is a former research fellow at MIT’s Media Lab and a pioneer in the field of human-machine collaboration. 

nancy baker cahill

New Media Artist & alumna Berggruen Institute Fellow

Nancy Baker Cahill is a new media artist examining power, selfhood, and embodied consciousness through drawing and shared immersive space. Founder and Artistic Director of 4th Wall, a free Augmented Reality (AR) art platform exploring resistance and inclusive creative expression, her geolocated AR installations earned profiles in the New York Times and Frieze Magazine. Her work has internationally exhibited at museums and galleries, including The Hermitage, The Buk-Seoul Museum of Art (SEMA), and Honor Fraser Gallery. She received the 2021 Williams College Bicentennial Medal of Honor and a 2022 C.O.L.A. Master Artist Fellowship.

Brian Cantrell

Media designer, researcher, and creative technologist

Brian Cantrell (Ph.D. Media Arts and Practice, USC School of Cinematic Arts) is a designer, researcher, and technologist working in sound design and interactive audio, as well as design research and visual development. His work explores the role of the experiential in science communication, particularly experimental arts approaches to data visualization and sonification, as well as worldbuilding and systems-oriented design methodologies, computational aesthetics, and phenomenology of perception. Cantrell works with USC’s Worldbuilding Media Lab on interdisciplinary projects including World in a Cell, which seeks to build a data-driven, immersive model of the structure and function of the pancreatic beta cell.


Composer and Musician for Film and Media

ARSWAIN aka Freddy Avis is a composer and musician based in Los Angeles. He worked under Emmy-nominated composer James S. Levine (Glee, American Horror Story, Nip Tuck) at Hans Zimmer’s Remote Control Productions. Avis is credited on Why Women Kill, Tiger King, Shark Tank, and Dateline, among others. He contributed synth & percussion work on 8-time Oscar-nominated composer James Newton Howard’s score for Disney’s Jungle Cruise. Freddy earned his BA in Music and Political Science at Stanford University, where he pitched for the baseball team. In 2012 he was drafted by the Washington Nationals.


Artist, Founder, and Technologist

REEPS100 aka Harry Yeff is a London Born artist, founder and technologist, utilizing an almost inhuman vocal range to drive his performative digital and physical artworks. In 2018 Yeff completed his third artist residency and guest lecturer role at Harvard University and is currently part of the Experiments in Art and Technology program at Bell Labs. Yeff produces work as a response to an ongoing investigation into the evolution of the human voice, art, and science. He has exhibited internationally, including the Museum of Art and Design in New York, the Tate Britain, SXSW, Miami Art Basel, and Sundance film festival.

composed by Arswain
machine learning consultation by Anna Tskhovrebov
commissioned by the Berggruen Institute
premiered at the Bradbury Building
downtown Los Angeles
april 22, 2022

Human perception of what sounds “beautiful” is necessarily biased and exclusive. If we are to truly expand our hearing apparatus, and thus our notion of beauty, we must not only shed preconceived sonic associations but also invite creative participation from beings non-human and non-living. We must also begin to cede creative control away from ourselves and toward such beings by encouraging them to exercise their own standards of beauty and collaborate with each other.

Movement I: Alarm Call
‘Alarm Call’ is a long-form composition and sound collage that juxtaposes, combines, and manipulates alarm calls from various human, non-human, and non-living beings. Evolutionary biologists understand the alarm call to be an altruistic behavior between species, who, by warning others of danger, place themselves by instinct in a broader system of belonging. The piece poses the question: how might we hear better to broaden and enhance our sense of belonging in the universe? Might we behave more altruistically if we better heed the calls of – and call out to – non-human beings?

Using granular synthesis, biofeedback, and algorithmic modulation, I fold the human alarm call – the siren – into non-human alarm calls, generating novel “inter-being” sonic collaborations with increasing sophistication and complexity. 

Movement II: A.I.-Truism
A synthesizer piece co-written with an AI in the style of Vangelis’s Blade Runner score, to pay homage to the space of the Bradbury Building.

Movement III: Alarmism
A machine learning model “learns” A.I.Truism and recreates Alarm Call, generating an original fusion of the two.

Movement IV: A.I. Call
A machine learning model “learns” Alarm Call and recreates A.I.Truism, generating an original fusion of the two.