STEAM dissolves information privilege barrier between tech and arts

16 Sep 2016

From left: Nora O’Murchú, Prof Linda Doyle, Noel Murphy, and Zoe Philpott. Image: Conor McCabe Photography

It can be common for groups like engineers and artists to think of themselves as purveyors of privileged information, but STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts and maths) is helping dissolve these barriers.

With internet of things (IoT) dresses and art projects that meld the latest technology with creativity, STEAM is gradually replacing the older STEM term as the one the next generation of young creators and engineers should aspire to.

Rather than just focusing on excelling at a particular type of STEM subject, the additional ‘A’ encourages those with a creative flair to think outside of current conventions and find new avenues technology can travel down.

Full steam ahead

While art projects are certainly one way STEAM is being applied to in the modern world, increasingly companies are realising that, with some creative outside of the box thinking, a new STEAM technology can flourish greater than a STEM-only product could ever achieve.

Education, too, is also a place where STEAM can thrive as Inspirefest 2015 speaker Lauren Boyle quite rightly pointed out with her own project, Cool STEAM Kids.

Using her app, kids aged 10 to 15 can develop an interest in STEAM and find a way to bridge the world of tech and arts.

At Inspirefest 2016, this bridging of two supposedly very different fields of work was the focus of the panel called ‘STEAM: The Convergence of Tech and the Arts’, chaired by the director of the Connect Centre, Prof Linda Doyle.

Having also spoken at last year’s Inspirefest about the benefits of STEAM, Doyle this year spoke about how there is a commonly held misbelief when it comes to engineers and artists, where each thinks of themselves as exclusively owning knowledge to their respective fields.

Information privilege is an ‘injustice’

“What I notice an awful lot of the time is that there is a privileging of one form of knowledge over the other,” Doyle said.

“We as engineers and scientists tend to think our knowledge outweighs your knowledge as an artist. I see that as an injustice.”

Intel’s IoT and wearable design leader, Noel Murphy, however, sees it being up to artists to take greater control over how they use technology in their work.

“We’re at a waypoint right now where technology is over-riding the artistic creativity,” he said.

“Really where the artist needs to push now is to take control of that technology such that it responds to them and they control it, versus what is there now.”

However, interactive storyteller Zoe Philpott, who performed her one-woman show Ada.Ada.Ada at Inspirefest Fringe, described it in a more communal way.

“It’s not like the engineer needs to be a really creative person, it’s about mixing them with someone who is an amazing person,” she said.

A good example of the former, however, is the third panel speaker, Nora O’Murchú who transitioned from a software and computer engineer to a curator, a process she described as “literally putting the arts in STEM”.

Inspirefest is Silicon Republic’s international event connecting sci-tech professionals passionate about the future of STEM.

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic