The German government has decided to offer a 4,000-euro cash incentive for new car buyers who choose electric. This comes after its 2009 incentive scheme for car buyers scrapping an older vehicle and represents another major coup for the car lobby. After all, what might appear to be a policy conceived with the environment in mind is, in fact, chiefly a case of those involved acting in self-interest. Were buyers to be offered an e-bike or a railcard, for instance, instead of a subsidy, it might be easier to believe that this is about a fundamental change in direction rather than about a change of mind that generates positive PR. But then, the car scrappage scheme was not primarily about reducing CO2 emissions, the car sharing initiatives promoted by the industry and the political establishment are not about genuine sharing, and the new incentive is not about electric vehicles per se. It is about protecting vested interests, about ensuring consumers respectively voters don’t even begin to think about alternative ideas – such as how we might actually reduce CO2 emissions or what qualitative improvements genuine sharing strategies and non-car-centred (battery-based) transport policies might bring.
The attitude of the politicians and industry representatives concerned stands in contrast to that of design, a profession whose one core premise is to encourage consideration of alternative ideas and thus help to ensure progress. That’s something practitioners can do via small-scale projects that reinterpret things we are already familiar with – such as the geometry of kites, jewellery, foams, and flooring; via the medium of podcasts, an unusual, non-visual means of looking at design; or via large-scale changes such as those being wrought by the rise of 3D printing. And when it comes to contextualising change, we view reflections on figures from the past, be they Peter Behrens, Saša J. Mächtig or Alexander Girard, and profiles of contemporary design businesses to be of equal relevance. Our latest contributions to the latter category include a look at São Paulo-based studio Barca and an introduction to Irradié, the brothers Laurent and Alain Vonck, who have designed this issue’s Carte Blanche.
The need for an alternative, creative way of thinking is also central to this issue’s Focus topic: Man and Machine. We thank Grégoire A. Meyer for supplying the cover visual. It may no longer seem particularly surprising to see intelligent systems trouncing human opponents at chess or Go, but when, as of late, the dangers of artificial intelligence – of autonomous weapons systems, for instance – are being flagged up even by artificial intelligence researchers, we would be well advised to apply our own rational faculties.
That’s something we should also be ready to do if, for instance, some lobbyist group attempts to force through a cash handout for those who would rather follow the dubious rules of a specific community than contribute to the vitality of a democratic system.
Stephan Ott, Editor-in-Chief