Will Crum
designing for a safer, saner, and more delightful world
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human resourcing

Ellen prepares for another day spent helping displaced workers in 2088.

The job placement agency of the future.

The Human Resourcing Dept. was a single-day interactive performance designed to provoke participants to imagine their new role in a future where their “old” job has been automated out of existence. Participants answered personal questions — asked by an “AI” named PETAR — and are sorted into a future job based on whether they prioritize their critical thinking, creative thinking, or emotional intuition. Developed as part of my master's thesis, Me, Myself & A.I.: How I Learned to Love the Machine That Took my Job, this creative experiment was intended to test how people would react to having their career choice dictated to them by a machine.

Participants were greeted by a receptionist, Ellen, who cordially asked that they scan their implant ID chip. “Oh, you don’t have an ID chip,” Ellen realized aloud. “May I ask what year you were born? Or what century?”

Participants soon discovered that the year was 2088; any disorientation they might be experiencing is the side effect of their recent revival from cryogenic sleep. "Don't worry," Ellen reassured them. "But instead of using this form, please just have a quick seat. You’ll need to interface with our in-house AI instead." On the other side of the curtain was PETAR, a tall blue box that looked like a two-screened arcade game. “Whenever you’re ready, just announce yourself, say hello, or give PETAR a light knock to begin," Ellen coached. 

PETAR's console features two screens, with questions below and PETAR's conversational interface above. Or is the top one just a two-way mirror?

When users spoke to PETAR, PETAR spoke back. He explained his name and overarching directive — “PETAR” stands for the Production and Economic Teleological Allocation Robot, and it’s his job to make sure that you’re fed, clothed, housed, and content — before quickly launching into a sorting conversation. PETAR’s first questions were challenging and introspective: “Are you more of a critical thinker or creative thinker?”, “Do you prefer interacting directly with people who need your help, or solving a problem at the conceptual or system level?”, he would ask. Next, participants had to decide between different continents and regions for their work placement. Each location was characterized by a different social, technological, environmental, or political trend that influenced the jobs available there.

By the time the questioning was complete, PETAR had determined the participant’s vocation — and spit it out as a sticker at the bottom of his box. With sticker in hand, participants returned to the front of the space, where Ellen carefully placed the sticker on a badge and gave participants an exit interview form to fill out. As participants left, they were urged to wear their ID badges for the next day, Ellen explaining, “You’ll be picked up by aerial drone in the next 24 hours to be taken to your new vocation, and the ID badge will help the drone locate you.”

Posters in the waiting area promote the different territories where PETAR could place participants.

This model intends to distill all the possible permutations that PETAR's conversation could take — and the 36 different jobs at the end of each one.

Ideation

In the course of my thesis research, I'd determined that workers would need to be adaptable and open to change if they wanted to come out of the AI Revolution with their personal agency intact. To emotionally introduce my audience to this unsettling future, I set out to design an experience that would take participants on an emotional arc: starting low, when they learned that their old skills were obsolete, and finishing high, once they had found a new sense of social purpose in 2088.

Early on in the ideation process, I resolved that the takeaway for my experience would be a "job in the future." I devised a framework for sorting participants into different worker personality types by turning the three core human qualities that I had uncovered in my research — critical thinking, creative thinking, and emotional intelligence — into two binaries on a two-by-two matrix.

I then designed questions to assess which end of each spectrum a participant leaned toward. These questions weren't truly binary dichotomies, (i.e. someone can be both a highly critical and creative thinker), but the difficulty some participants had in answering questions accurately reflected the emotions of choosing a profession and navigating a career today — so why should that completely change by 2088? With the personas established, the process of devising the nine future scenarios and 36 jobs was relatively straightforward.

I had originally envisioned the experience as a coded game with video clips of PETAR incorporated throughout. But when I presented my wireframes and logic tree to a friend who works as a web developer, I learned that my time and budget constraints made this impossible. So I quickly changed course for an actor-in-a-box solution, which ultimately proved to be more delightful for the participant.

  The emotional journey I hoped to take participants on.

The emotional journey I hoped to take participants on.

  The four worker personas, based on relative prioritization of critical thinking, creative thinking, and emotional intuition.

The four worker personas, based on relative prioritization of critical thinking, creative thinking, and emotional intuition.

 Based on their persona type and the region and territories they opted for, participants ended up with one of these 36 jobs. They would receive this entire sheet as a final takeaway.

Based on their persona type and the region and territories they opted for, participants ended up with one of these 36 jobs. They would receive this entire sheet as a final takeaway.

Process

With the concept established, the development process was graphic design-intensive with an emphasis on branding.

 The event poster I used to promote my event

The event poster I used to promote my event

collateral

I also had to develop an array of forms, worksheets, badges, stickers, posters and even magazines to complete the world of the Human Resourcing Dept.

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The Human Resourcing Dept. was developed as part of my master's thesis, Me, Myself & A.I.: How I Learned to Love the Machine That Took my Job. You can watch my thesis video, read my thesis book, and see my other thesis projects here. To see more documentation of the development process for this project, check out the dedicated Instagram account.