I was in Geneva last week for Lift13, the eighth iteration of an annual conference exploring ‘the business and social implications of technological innovation’. I’d tunnelled into last year’s conference with a press pass, and helped Nicolas Nova run a workshop exploring some possible futures at the intersection of nomadic work, mobility and big data, which went something like this …
This year, I gave a talk about 3D printing and design. My first talk to an audience of this size, it was slightly too long and – in retrospect – wildly overambitious, but seemed to go down well. A great learning opportunity and a broad success, particularly you take into account I’d spent most of the preceding fortnight substituting coffee for sleep. I’ll probably get around to putting up the slides at some point, but, in the meantime, you can watch it here.
Much more importantly, I fell into a series of incredible 1-on-1 conversations with gnarly, multi-faceted individuals, and was lucky to be able to bask in the reflected glory of the other speakers. IMO, those talks that worked best tended to approach the question of technology and innovation from an oblique angle, and I want to spotlight a few of my favourites. I’m going to pass on offering any notes or commentary (for now, at least), as I think they speak for themselves.
And with that out of the way, I can brute force the phantom conference syndrome and reverse culture shock, start processing some of the many new inputs, and get on with the rest of my life.
Cartesian Minefield Politics/Economics Speculations Technology
leave a comment
‘I am fascinated by possibilities. There’s nothing I like better than seeing what can be, than perhaps transitioning those possibilities into this world. In the past few years I have honed my ability to see possibilities (and a process to make them real). I can see around corners, juggle variables and play a metaphorical shell game with data, research & time extrapolations to create a cone of plausability, mine the possibilities in and around it (wildcards fall on the edge or outside of them) and identify (sometimes multiple based on your valueset/variables) preferred futures.’
— heathervescent, ‘Reflections on Preferred Futures, Possibilities & Impossibilities‘
Cartesian Minefield Design Material/Digital Speculations Technology [future shock]
leave a comment
Presentation delivered at the APF V-Gathering, on 27th October 2011.
Notes, annotations, links:
- Our essay on ‘design futurescaping’ in Blowup: The Era of Objects
- Stuart Candy’s PhD thesis, ‘The Futures of Everyday Life‘
- Robin Sloan’s ‘Kanye West, Media Cyborg‘
Academics Cartesian Minefield Design Politics/Economics Speculations Technology
leave a comment
‘Scenius is like genius, only embedded in a scene rather than in genes. Brian Eno suggested the word to convey the extreme creativity that groups, places or “scenes” can occasionally generate. His actual definition is: “Scenius stands for the intelligence and the intuition of a whole cultural scene. It is the communal form of the concept of the genius.”‘
– Kevin Kelly, ‘Scenius, or Communal Genius‘, The Technium, 10/06/2008
‘Scientists try to understand nature. Engineers try to make things that do not exist in nature. Engineers stress invention. To embody an invention the engineer must put his idea in concrete terms, and design something that people can use. That something can be a device, a gadget, a material, a method, a computing program, an innovative experiment, a new solution to a problem, or an improvement on what is existing. Since a design has to be concrete, it must have its geometry, dimensions, and characteristic numbers.’
– YC Fung and P. Tong, 2001, Classical and Computational Solid Mechanics
Key texts include the work of Steven Johnson, Joseph Schumpeter, Francis Spufford’s Red Plenty, the ‘soft’ architecture of Cedric Price and Archigram, the as-of-yet-unwritten obituary of East London Tech City, and any amount of behavioural economics. Organisational acupuncture. An architecture of micropolitics.
It might even be a career.
Cartesian Minefield Design Material/Digital Pop Culture Speculations Technology Visual Culture
leave a comment
Academics Cartesian Minefield Material/Digital Politics/Economics Speculations Technology [future shock]
I like (most) cyborgs.
I like Donna Haraway, Ghost in the Shell, and talking at length about technological prostheses.
And here we are, doing just that.
This round of discussion has its roots tangled messily round Tim Maly‘s 50 cyborgs, a month of posts celebrating the term’s fiftieth anniversary, back in September. This was something Chairman Bruce described as:
‘a large clique of obviously intelligent and creative people who all more or less know each other through the Internet, and are all loosely riffing about cyborgs, and what-cyborg-means-to-them.’
Then, more recently, we had Amber Case at TED and Lepht Anonym talking about self-bootstrapping with implants. In reaction, Matthew Battles wrote a piece for Gearfuse, which M1k3y read and tweeted. Based on that piece, I had a late night discussion with Matthew about who gets to be a cyborg, which Tim Maly later compiled and annotated on Storify.
With me thus far? Good.
Next, we took it into a Google Document and – 13,000 words and two days later – found ourselves with a mammoth discussion/exploration of all kinds of nuances and discontinuities in our use of the term ‘cyborg’, with contributions from Tim Maly, Amber Case, Matthew Battles, Tim Carmody, Ella Saitta, Deb Chachra, Hilary Dixon, Adam Rothstein, and others. None of whom I have met in the flesh — something worth highlighting.
Strange and all kinds of epic.
Now, there’s a lot of these 13,000 words to leak out over the coming weeks and months, but this is something that stuck with me. Originally authored by Tim Carmody, but edited by committee — to the point where we felt we could agree.
Either way, here’s what we came up with:
- Pointing to something like cell-phone use and saying “we’re all cyborgs” is not substantially different from pointing to cooking or writing and saying “we’re all cyborgs.”
- Cooking and writing are nothing to sneeze at! They’re important technologies that we’ve incorporated nearly seamlessly into our psychological lives and (in the case of cooking) our biological evolution.
- Despite our long-running species enmeshment in technology, we’re witnessing the emergence of something closer to the popular techno-organic image of the cyborg, if not necessarily the original idea of either the cyborg or the broader field of cybernetics.
- That new thing (whatever form it takes) is bigger than computers or phones or consumer communication technologies. It points to the incorporation of technological components that violate or transform the bodily/agential integrity of human beings.
- This is happening in a way that’s partially invisible, as part of the medical/industrial/networked aspects of our societies (tooth fillings, drugs, Google Instant, etc.), and in a way that’s much more visible, more closely related to our ideas of disability, transgenderism, etc.
- This presents a weird synthesis of the classic idea of the cyborg, the development of medical technology, the evolution of consumer technology, and identity politics.
- Cyborgs have a troubling dual origin, which includes both mega-reliance on techno infrastructure and homesteading DIY self-emancipation. This tension will not go away.
- Equally, this tension is nothing new. This is a tension that began in earnest during the Macy conferences in the 1940s, when cyberneticists, technologists and anthropologists began to meet to discuss this very subject.
I have a great deal of fondness for this list, even as it dodges controversy by charting a safer path. How about you? Partially-formed thoughts? Observations? Strident cries of diagreement?
Let us know.
Academics Cartesian Minefield Memory Politics/Economics Speculations
leave a comment
As a precis, the final chunk his concluding paragaph is incredibly apposite, but go – read the complete article. It’s solid stuff, with a brace of excellent case studies; well worth checking out.
‘There are certainly new and opposite cognitive, social, and political forms taking shape before us: artificial intelligences, cyborgs, posthuman subjectivity, a breakdown of mind along with the destruction of the planet, a technoprogressive democracy, a society of control networked from synapse to street, and on and on. This paper was an attempt to look out the window at our minds as they reach the “sound barrier,” and what possibilities, if any, might lie just beyond the sonic boom. We’re almost there; meet you on the other side.’
– Jake Dunagan, 2010, ‘Politics for the Neurocentric Age’, Journal of Futures Studies 15 (2), p. 67.
Built Environment Cartesian Minefield Politics/Economics Science! Speculations Technology [future shock]
leave a comment
From anthropologist Michael Taussig, the following paragraph has been lingering; floating on the surface on my consciousness as cognitive duckweed. Once tangled up in the pond pump, it has proved all-but-impossible to remove.
‘For the question arises as to whether a new body will be formed as that other body we call planet earth heats up? Certainly changes are already happening down to the genetic level with insects and plants. As regards us humans equipped with a body whose thermostat will be reset together with other basic adjustments, might we not come to possess a new body-mind relationship such that our body’s understanding of itself shall change? Even more important in changing the old-fashioned mind-body setup will be the cultural changes — that foreboding sense of cliff-hanging insecurity in a world ever more engaged with security in a climate gone terrorist.’
– Michael Taussig, 2009, What Color is the Sacred?, p. 14
Cartesian Minefield Politics/Economics Speculations Technology Writing [future shock]
leave a comment
Couple of excerpts from a great New York Times piece. Haruki Murakami on 9/11, network realism, and the challenges for 21st century fiction:
‘Viewed from such a professional perspective, it would seem that the interface between us and the stories we encounter underwent a greater change than ever before at some point when the world crossed (or began to cross) the millennial threshold. Whether this was a change for the good or a less welcome change, I am in no position to judge. About all I can say is that we can probably never go back to where we started.
Speaking for myself, one of the reasons I feel this so strongly is the fact that the fiction I write is itself undergoing a perceptible transformation. The stories inside me are steadily changing form as they inhale the new atmosphere. I can clearly feel the movement happening inside my body. Also happening at the same time, I can see, is a substantial change in the way readers are receiving the fiction I write.’
‘We often wonder what it would have been like if 9/11 had never happened — or at least if that plan had not succeeded so perfectly. Then the world would have been very different from what it is now. America might have had a different president (a major possibility), and the Iraq and Afghanistan wars might never have happened (an even greater possibility).
Let’s call the world we actually have now Reality A and the world that we might have had if 9/11 had never happened Reality B. Then we can’t help but notice that the world of Reality B appears to be realer and more rational than the world of Reality A. To put it in different terms, we are living a world that has an even lower level of reality than the unreal world. What can we possibly call this if not “chaos”?
What kind of meaning can fiction have in an age like this? What kind of purpose can it serve? In an age when reality is insufficiently real, how much reality can a fictional story possess?‘
– Haruki Murakami, ‘Reality A and Reality B‘, New York Times, 29/11/2010 (emphases mine)
(*adds Murakami books to Christmas list*)