Spooky Technology

Daragh Byrne, Dan Lockton, et al. (2021)

Spooky Technology explores creative research opportunities around our understanding of the invisible technologies in our everyday lives, from objects with ‘intelligence’ to systems in our homes that talk to us (and each other). The project focuses on creating an inventory of spooky technologies, presented in the form of a print-on-demand book, from which we can extract possibilities, insights, and opportunities. To do this, we are reviewing work across art, design, HCI, psychology, human factors research, and other fields, that has been done in this field, or adjacent to it, both historically and more recently.

We often hear that the technologies in our everyday lives would appear to be ‘magic’ and potentially terrifying to people in the past—instantaneous communication with people all over the world, access to a vast, ever-growing resource of human knowledge right there in the palm of our hand, objects with ‘intelligence’ that can sense and talk to us (and each other). But rarely are these ‘otherworldly’ dimensions of technologies explored in more detail. There is an often unspoken presumption that the march of progress will inevitably mean we all adopt new practices, and incorporate new products and new ways of doing things into our lives—all cities will become smart cities; all homes will become smart homes. But these systems have become omnipresent without our necessarily understanding them.

They are not just black boxes, but invisible: entities in our homes and everyday lives which work through hidden flows of data, unknown agendas, imaginary clouds, mysterious sets of rules which we perhaps dismiss as ‘algorithms’ or even ‘AI’ without really understanding what that means. On some level, the superstitions and sense of wonder, and ways of relating to the unknown and the supernatural (deities, spirits, ghosts) which humanity has felt in every culture throughout history have not gone away, but started to become transferred and transmuted into new forms.

What creative research opportunities are there at this intersection? This project aims to investigate these opportunities, in the process enabling students to gain familiarity with an under-explored dimension of our relationship with technology.

Project Co-Directors:

  • Dan Lockton (School of Design), Assistant Professor at Carnegie Mellon University School of Design, and founder and director of the Imaginaries Lab.
  • Daragh Byrne (School of Architecture), Associate Teaching Professor with the School of Architecture, Carnegie Mellon University.


  • Matthew Cruz (Information Systems)
  • Anuprita Ranade (School of Design)
  • Gordon Robertson (Mechanical Engineering)
  • Karen Escarcha (School of Design)
  • Yiwei Huang (School of Design)
  • Katherine Giesa (School of Architecture )
  • Lisa Yeung (Electrical and Computer Engineering)
  • Christi Danner (School of Design)
  • Catherine Yochum (School of Design)
  • Elizabeth Wang (School of Design)
  • Anuprita Ranade (School of Design)
  • Meijie Hu (School of Design)
  • Miranda Luong (School of Design)

Spooky Technology: A reflection on the invisible and otherworldly qualities in everyday technologies (ISBN 9780956542151) was supported in part by Grant #2021-017 from the Frank-Ratchye Fund for Art @ the Frontier, as well as the CFA Fund for Research and Creativity.