Production in the 21st century works with distributed authorship and identities. Our projects are collective inquiries formed by distributing agency between humans, machines, and programs.
RIAT is a research institute about “research, development, communication and education in the fields of cryptography, privacy technologies and the future of decentralization”. We have an office and lab in Austria, we have a few different groups which work across Europe, one smaller group in the US.
RIAT educates people around the topics of privacy and decentralization. RIAT aims to improve the discourse about decentralization because with ‘trendy’ topics such as blockchain – there are hype times (cf. the ICO hype) in which there is only shallow and uncritical discussion about the tech. There would be more to gain from a technology if it is understood better (creation of technological literacy). RIAT exist since 2012 and has integrated different groups: “Artistic Bokeh” which was investigating different camera hacks and advancing camera technologies (DSLR hacks) and later worked together with Apertus AXIOM. The group “5uper.net” was existing since early 2003 and running a large exhibition space in Vienna. We also started the “Coded Cultures” initiative around 2004-2005. This all got merged into RIAT INSTITUTE.
Here you see an image of our labs and our offices (how they look when they are empty). This is in Austria, Vienna. Here you see an exhibition featuring a DAO punching machine where you could punch the creators of ‘The DAO‘ on a modded boxing machine. Here is a snapshot of one of our workshop areas. Here is the RIAT Open Hardware Lab. Here is a map of what was achieved by RIAT from an Austrian perspective.
We went through all different types of technological hypes in cryptocurrency and the decentralization space: in the beginning, crypto was a very much DIY and community-led culture, run by individuals or small groups – people that really wanted to change something. This changed a lot in 2016-2017 when we saw commercialization and a strong hype of blockchain. Crypto lost its ‘revolutionary moment’ (or: the crypto dream). This period was fueled by a promise of tangible change, a vision that our collective efforts in analyzing and experimenting with these technologies could lead to meaningful societal shifts.
At RIAT, this ethos is mirrored in our approach. We emphasize the importance of physical meetups and knowledge-sharing forums. These gatherings are not just events; they are the embodiment of our foundational belief in the power of community engagement and learning. Through these interactions, we not only delve into the nuances of various technologies but also, in a broader sense, continue to nurture the very principles that initially defined the cryptocurrency and decentralization space. In this way, RIAT’s programs and initiatives are deeply interwoven with our core philosophy and the original spirit of this technological revolution.
RIAT works in the fields: (1) open hardware, (2) privacy & anonymity and (3) coded cultures which is a term with that we created with this other art groups back in 2009 when we had a festival with the name CODED CULTURES which attempted to bring hacker culture and technological culture closer together.
Labs at RIAT
- RIAT Open Hardware Lab
- Research Cultures Lab (formerly: Artistic Technology Lab)
- Future Cryptoeconomics Lab
Activities archive (2003 – 2018)
RIAT Open Hardware Lab
The RIAT Open Hardware Lab works with Open Source Hardware and Open Design projects such as the Apertus open source cinema camera. The talk from 2015 outlines challenges in open hardware project development, and discusses how documentation becomes a necessary element that is often overlooked – and what are elements that make up a successful open hardware project. An often discussed field are open source hardware business models – there is a lot to learn from existing Open Source Hardware projects about novel and sustainable business models in technology.
One of the publications of RIAT is called Openism: Conversations in Open Hardware. It is a book that was published in 2016, and it is a qualitative investigation of different open hardware projects. We wanted to lear what these projects understand as ‘open hardware’. How open and libre can hardware be?
Thematized in the publication is for example the Arduino project – how the project was able to grow and become a success. Another text in the book is from Joshua Pearce who is a professor at Michigan Tech, and he is talking about the ROI – return of investment in open hardware projects. Please get in contact with us if you want to have one of these books – they are on the info table, and you can also download them for free online on the RIAT website.
In the context of the RIAT Open Hardware Lab we will run one workshop tomorrow: we investigate the Trezor Crypto Lib and see how it works internally. Trezor Crypto Lib important in terms of open hardware, because the Trezor Wallet is an outstanding open hardware device and project. Trezor Crypto Lib has great documentation, and you can run it on your own device if you are paranoid. We investigate Trezor Crypto Lib, how good is a document that what kind of different crypto workflows can we get with simple devices that are not that fastest, usual crypto accelerated devices, and we investigate what we can learn about the implementation of Monero in Trezor, Ledger and Hardware Wallets in general. This is a workshop that will happen tomorrow at 2pm in the cluster.
Research Cultures Lab
The Research Cultures Lab (former Artistic Technology Lab) started with the Coded Cultures festival that we organized from 2004 until 2011. CODED CULTURES in 2015 brought hackers and digital art communities together in a large exhibition space. It included workshops which took place all over the year, and there is an in-depth book ‘Coded Cultures New Creative Practices out of Diversity’ where we analyzed Japanese hacker culture, like Japanese device culture (Chindōgu) and their approach to openness, but also their artistic methods. Chindōgu translates to ‘Unuseless’ and refers to anti-consumerist devices in open hardware – which became commodified themselves and are even subject to copy culture. Another output from the Lab (called ‘Artistic Bokeh’ back then) is the ‘Bitcoincloud‘ which was the very first Bitcoin related art piece. It is the most inefficient mining rig ever built because it would only mine Bitcoins if the arpiece is observed by visitors. We put custom sensors in there, and designed eight versions of the art piece. We have shown it internationally. It is a very nice piece, and it is also a very nice example of how we try to bring together art and technology. We are not only interested in the technology, but also in the artistic and cultural implications of technology. We are interested in the social and political implications of technology, and we try to bring this together in our work.
Throughout the years, we have collected different artifacts in open source, technology, and the arts. Starting from the Bitcoincloud we collected different pieces from larger cryptosphere: we collected a lot of early prototypes from hardware devices, as you can see here (one of the switch ports of the BitcoinCloud were hand etched). Another example are device-mods in the domains of cryptography and arts. The collection is titled Decentral Archive of Process Artifacts. We have a very large archive, and there is a publication coming out in February of a tiny fragment of the archive (Data Loam). Last year at 35C3 we brought a few of the devices from the archive to the cluster.
Another thing produced by the Artistic Technology Lab is the Journal for Research Cultures (JRC) which is a peer-reviewed publication.
Future Cryptoeconomics Lab
The Future Cryptoeconomics Lab , established in 2016, began its journey with the publication “Future Cryptoeconomics“. This publication exemplifies the foundational approach to inquiry at RIAT, which is characterized by rigorous analysis, continuous learning, and in-depth discussions. Our objective is to delve into the complexities and boundaries of cryptoeconomics. In this context, we critically examine concepts like ‘immutable code’ and ‘unstoppable codes’, recognizing that terms like decentralization often represent more of an aspirational promise rather than a realized fact. A critical aspect of our investigation also involves scrutinizing the actual locations and control points of our data, thereby revealing the current state and distance from true decentralization.