UN 2050: Proposing a more-than-human parliament for post-anthropocene politics
“The Utopia Compass” — a Speculative Design film by Viraj Joshi and Nadia Piet in response to the UN & Design Futures open call on Futuring Peace
In August 2020, the United Nations Department of Political and Peacebuilding Affairs and Design Futures Initiative partnered on an open call inviting (speculative) visions for future peacebuilding. Having just finished our collaborative Postcard from the Future, Viraj and I took this opportunity to turn our thoughts and criticisms of the world into something constructive.
We feel excited and honored to be recognized amongst the Honourable / Noteworthy Mentions for the open call. In this article, we want to share our speculative artefacts, and a bit of the process and principles underlying them.
Artefacts: “The Utopia Compass”
Nadia Piet and Viraj Joshi present to you: “The Utopia Compass”. Done in two narrative parts, “A Parliament Beyond Nations”, brings sorely missing voices of the strongest forces driving change into discussion, and “Listen to Yourself” is a case for including strong ethics, values, and principles in all kinds of discourse. Besides the film, the ideas and design principles presented in the story are also captured in the series of posters below.
Read more about the open call and other entries here.
Principles & Projections: Imagining UN 2050
Global > National interests
The most pressing challenges of our time are global and multilateral in nature. The role of the UN must shift accordingly; moving from negotiating peace between nations, to fostering collaboration beyond nations. In a structure built to protect one’s own national interests, who represents and lobbies for the global goals? How might we explicitly give voice to SDGs in the negotiations? How might global driving forces be given their due “place at the table”?
Non-governmental driving forces
Driving Forces that are large enough to shift our global futures towards something that is (un)favourable, are represented in the D5 or the Driving Forces. We propose representatives for the D5s in negotiations and grant them equal status to permanent member states. The 5 drivers, today, are: Technology/AI, Climate Change, Xenophobia, Human Rights, and Global Health (with COVID-19 enjoying a special temporary place). The D5 can command voluntary restraint on the permanent member’s veto rights when their vote is in direct opposition of the global goals. The Driving Forces can be reviewed yearly, deciding on a selection of pertinent drivers at the time.
Artificially embodied multilateralism
While nations assign people as their representatives, that doesn’t assure their command over a topic like climate change. To present entities that can serve as global representatives, can process lots of (complex) information, and is unselfish, AI can provide the content and audio of the D5 voices.
Political entanglements and culture that surround negotiations are quick to subdue the initial values of the noblest diplomats. Pitched against one another to defend their nation’s needs, they get little space to critically and collectively reflect on their negotiations without ‘losing ground’. They need spaces of reflection and accountability to act in alignment with their own values and global goals.
Analyzing all viewpoints and how they relate or oppose one another is so vast, it’s close to impossible for any human to process. How might we then find directions to the “true north”? Here we can harness machine learning capabilities and game theory to train an AI in defining the trade-offs, common ground, and most efficient deal.
We noticed recurring themes in our criticism of contemporary methods of peacebuilding and our hopes for its future directions. Our intentions are encapsulated in the following four design principles.
Process: How does one go about futuring peace?
Investigations of alternate futures allow us to compare our situations with those that could be, and to think of things in a plural, intersectional sense. Speculation is a provocative medium that allows us to start crucial conversations without explicitly referring to sensitive anecdotes. In an increasingly polarised and fragmented world, a well made speculative piece of work can spark empathy, and promote an intersectional, considerate discourse. Moreover, doing that for an avenue proposed by an organisation as significant as the UN was a stimulating prospect for us.
Between the two of us, we have done creative work that spans science fiction, design research, emerging technology strategy and prototyping, and new media interactions. When we came together for this project, it was a melting pot of all our influences, methods, techniques, and frameworks.
We worked with a dynamic design process that went from critical and strategic exercises of benchmarking, secondary research, anecdotes, and finding weak signals around us; to more creative ones like brainstorming, ideation, and creation of new interactions and artefacts for a near-future fiction narrative.
Dialogue: Tell us about your vision
While the complexities of global politics transcend any speculative artefacts, we really enjoyed activating our imagination and articulating our political visions to question what future peacebuilding may look like, and hope our ponderings continue to spark inspiration within the UN and beyond.
Speculation work is meant to be provocative enough to start a discussion. We would love to hear your thoughts and responses to our work!