Natural Intelligences of a Biophilic Internet

FIBER
6 min readNov 4, 2022

Cristina Napoleone

As part of FIBER’s Natural Intelligence Lab 2021, the emerging multi-disciplinary artist-curator and researcher Cristina Napoleone held a webinar on “Natural Intelligences of a Biophilic Internet”. Her talk connected to “Fossil-Free Imaginaries”, one of the four research pillars of the lab. This track was inspired by speculative design and worldbuilding to imagine an alternative society based on natural cycles and renewable energy, and thus a non-extractive economy and regenerative internet.

Credit: Cristina Napoleone

My name is Cristina and I’m a transdisciplinary artist-curator and researcher living and working in Melbourne/Naarm on Woiworung and Boonwurrung country, with a background in integrative geography from The University of Melbourne and The University of California, Berkeley with emphases in ecological ethics, more-than-humanism and climate communication. In January 2020 I created TERRAIN as a socio-ecological response to the climate crisis. TERRAIN is an initiative that creates playful physical and digital spaces to remind humans that they are embedded in a more-than-human world. Through creative applications, education and community building, TERRAIN offers an immersive portal back to nature as an invitation to preserve, prioritise and recalibrate ourselves to the more-than-human world.

Credit: Cristina Napoleone

During FIBER’s Natural Intelligence Lab, I conducted speculative research on the foundations that could take shape to inform TERRAIN’s digital spaces as part of a biophilic internet, specifically around our website currently in development. The project takes a critical position on the responsibilities of website owners, designers and developers as a response to our present internet infrastructures characterised by increasing energy and material intensity alongside algorithmic violences and an unrelenting data economy facilitated by big tech.

The project was framed by firstly asking if we can playfully adjust the ways in which our digital networks are able to exist, then in the words of Mark Weiser (1990), what would it take to make ‘using a computer as refreshing as taking a walk in the woods’? With this in mind, we unravelled some of the ecological ethics and regenerative principles found in living systems thinking that calibrate as natural intelligences when applied to technology. Asking further, what can we learn from bioinformed design (natural intelligences) that have otherwise been neglected as we move toward a regenerative internet? What would it take to get us there?

Like life itself, this website and the emergent natural intelligences behind it are an ongoing work in progress and subject to change as they take form.

Credit: Cristina Napoleone

The following resources were mentioned and explored in the webinar, “Natural Intelligences Toward a Biophilic Internet”. Make sure to approach this material with a playful and open mind!

Key Summary Points

Differentiating between ecological mechanisms/biomimicries and bio-informed design was a turning point in our research to understanding how it might be possible to practically make using a machine as refreshing as taking a walk in the woods. To take natural intelligences into play means taking a more holistic approach to natural systems rather than individual mechanisms found in nature.

Take a critical stance at the technologies emerging; especially with the hype-cultures that surround the NFT/crypto space that seem to be springing up at a concerningly rapid rate nowadays. It’s important to question exactly how much careful and critical thought has really informed their creation if they emerge from such a frenzy.

We must become the systems we need, and so part of that requires actually learning about the systems we use. But doing so requires some kind of re-writing or unravelling of the gatekeeping and public increase in digital literacy.

Live ASAP (as slow as possible), slow down because we need to heal our relationship with time; and zoom out by getting onto new areas of the internet that feel better with new internet browsers, peer-to-peer networks and creative projects.

For too long we’ve mostly allowed human intelligence to guide, inform and make decisions for us; most of which have led us to this current situation. We envision that a certain robustness will emerge when naturally intelligent infrastructure acts as a larger container to what can be held within and emerge from. Consult with the more-than-human world first, ask and listen for its wisdom and guidance for the decisions we are to enact — rather than it being slapped on at the end as an afterthought.

Credit: Cristina Napoleone

Take-Home Exercise

Exercise: Be playful in selecting natural entities and unravelling their mechanisms in a creative and playful manner, to encourage and train this way of thinking. These mechanisms would be nice to unravel relevant to technology given the context of this talk/workshop, but if you are compelled elsewhere then totally roll with that and see where it leads.

Reflection: Once you finish this exercise ask yourself what came easily, and what was challenging?

Analysis: Some of the challenges that may have arisen could come from differentiating between two subcategories: systems mechanisms (i.e. decay) or individual mechanisms (i.e. dragonfly wing). Just because something was inspired by nature doesn’t necessarily mean it was spawned by it — meaning, we can take the design but without the context it’s not complete. When we take a look around at modern built environments so much of it was designed first by nature but we focused on individuals rather than communities — meaning how these things relate to one another. Much of the flaws of our infrastructure today are the direct result of parts that don’t properly fit and flow together, as unrelated or fractured parts.

References to Articles, Books and Websites In Order of Appearance

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