Artificial: Light & Intellegence




Boston Lights

We humans like to make things. Over the eons, we’ve developed tools to craft our environment that range from the scythe to the Mars Rover. To develop a practice of making – performing a set of skills and quite literally practicing them over and over again, is at the core of the design process. Lighting Design, as a mode of design practice, is no different, employing a wide range of light sources to craft luminous environments.  

In the January 14, 2022 issue of the IES Standards Email newsletter, Technical Editor at the IES Dawn DeGrazio noted “just as natural light is redundant, artificial light is an oxymoron; it is self-contradictory, since all light is natural. Better to say electric light if that is the intended meaning.” Unfortunately this is not really the case – all visible light that we engage with in our daily lives is in some way produced or manipulated by humans, and therefore Artificial. There may be redundancy to the term, but avoidance of artificial does everyone a disservice. The term is both commonplace and passé; a standard colloquialism that causes significant discomfort as we tend to associate Artificial with things not real, fake, or forced. Further, the word has arguably become politicized, in dichotomy to ‘natural,’ in accentuating the negative impacts of artificial light at night, or loss of circadian stimulus indoors. Meanwhile, the term has taken on new significance in the rise of Artificial Intelligence, forcing humans to come to terms with our limits, and mortality, while also extending our capacities to dream, think, calculate, iterate, and (sort of) coherently verbalize our ideas. 

Artificial is at the core of what it means to be human – to create, to construct, to craft. Yet as a connotation for unnatural insincerity, we find a confounding double meaning. How does this word continue to influence our work in the design of lighting? What is its future in the Anthropocene? And most pressing to us now…what constitutes artificial light? How do Lighting Designers grapple with their primary tool – the artificial light source – as ‘artificial’? Through a deep etymological understanding of the term artificial, and its ramifications in 21st-century society, we’ll explore how our profession situates itself now and into the near future.