Education Innovation Science! Speculations Technology [future shock]
“Action stations!” here at Pickard Towers.
Emerging, bleary-eyed, from the other side of the 2012 Duke TIP Futures Institute, and before throwing myself back into the fray for a second session, I wanted to take a moment to flag my co-instructor Scott Smith’s after-action report – laying out some of the scaffolding and topics, student project details, and what we, as instructional staff, are taking away from the experience.
One of the most significant thinks I took from our fortnight together was the emphasis on non-market and informal innovation, including a closer look at those activities that sneak under the radar, or emerge from the struggle and foment at the bottom of the pyramid. Ultimately, it’s all about the next billion(s).
Combine that with this trailer for Kickstartered book-turned-media-channel The Misfit Economy (2013) …
… newly-certified crazy person Tobias Revell‘s final-year Design Interactions project, ‘New Mumbai’ …
… a kick-ass talk from IBM Research’s Steve Daniels on innovation under conditions of scarcity …
… and the fact that I’m starting a PhD in Sustainability & Innovation in the autumn, as part of a project on climate-linked uncertainty in South Asia … and, well, things start to get interesting.
Now, I suspect this is an attitude to innovation (and development) that we’ll see more and more, particularly as power begins to shift from America and Europe to the BRICSAM nations.
Best set of tools for the 2010s? Direct eye contact, jazz hands, and a heap of electrical tape. After all, what could possibly go wrong?
Material/Digital Politics/Economics Speculations Technology [future shock]
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‘In 1982, we … could jam a screwdriver into the circuits because we faced no retribution. We could trip the computer and watch it fall, because it couldn’t respond in kind. Now, in 2012, we can be bullied and controlled. We awake to news of drones laying waste to those on our terror watchlist. We are virtually stripped naked at airport security. We are witness to car accidents, prostitution and murder on Google Earth. We are denied a loan because the formula says no. In short, the noose of technology has become tighter. We’re developing a grudge. And when we dislike, we mock. We photobomb the system. We parody. We use code to avoid the encoded.
Our current power politics are built on technology, which is why many clap with glee when masked jokesters hack corporate Web sites, when mustachioed avatars front takedowns of intelligence agencies, when former Russian spies do lad mag shoots and hackers get talk shows. We get a chance to see these tools of power corrupted against “the system.” Power structures 932, People 5. It’s an unfair fight, but we can sleep at night knowing the machine has a flaw, somewhere. Its vision is faulty, its logic not watertight. It wants us to be machine-readable, symmetric, processable. We laugh by wearing t-shirts with its own distorted machine graphics. We blast the glitchy, whomping distortions of its delicate audio circuitry. We use the physical against the digital. In 1983 we played tic-tac-toe against your mainframe. Now we loop images of your mistakes, alongside celebrity wardrobe malfunctions and kitten comedy. We know your secret formula.’
— Scott Smith, ‘Glitched Out,’ 23/04/2012
Academics Design Politics/Economics Speculations Technology [future shock]
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‘To both design and politics, futures affords some tools to crack open times-to-come as a far richer domain for discussion. It also offers the holistic systems-thinking and temporal reach that are necessary to move beyond ideology-driven argumentation about ‘the (singular) future’ into more systematic and multi-dimensional exploration. Politics, in its theoretical aspect, gives futurists and designers a sensitivity to power relations and a range of conceptions of the good and the just at the social level, and in its activist aspect, represents a tradition of exploring and concretely operationalising these ethics in the world. Designers give to futures and politics practitioners a much-needed dose of communications acumen and facility with media, along with a fusion of aesthetic (used here in the narrow sense) with the pragmatic; a necessary equilibrium between form and function.’
— Stuart Candy, ‘The Futures of Everyday Life‘ (2010)
Cartesian Minefield Design Material/Digital Speculations Technology [future shock]
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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‘
Tonight, from 2100 GMT, Guy Yeomans and I will be co-chairing an hour-long Twitter discussion on the future of relationships.
Hosted by the Association of Professional Futurists on Twitter, the ‘Futrchat’ format is a monthly, open, multi-party conversation on a specific topic: usually, ‘the future of X’. Guy has already posted our list of questions for this month, but I wanted to supplement this with a couple of clips and links to get you thinking.
First, a clip from the opening titles of Brit-director Michael Winterbottom’s ambient sci-fi romance Code 46 (2003):
On the ‘sufficiently advanced technology’ front, from that same film, Winterbottom introduces the notion of an ‘empathy virus’. Of dubious plausibility, sure, but one hell of a wild card:
For a bitingly satirical, compelling, and ultimately heartbreaking vision of romance across the generation gap, I can enthusiastically recommend Gary Shtenyngart’s 2010 novel, Super Sad True Love Story. Check out this extract, hosted over at Nerve:
“I volunteer at a refugee shelter near the train station,” Eunice said, apropos of something.
“You do? That’s so fantastic!”
“You’re such a nerd.” She laughed cruelly at me.
“What?” I said. “I’m sorry.” I laughed too, just in case it was a joke, but right away I felt hurt.
“LPT,” she said. “TIMATOV. ROFLAARP. PRGV. Totally PRGV.”
The youth and their abbreviations. I pretended like I knew what she was talking about. “Right,” I said. “IMF. PLO. ESL.”
She looked at me like I was insane. “JBF,” she said.
“Who’s that?” I pictured a tall Protestant man.
“It means I’m ‘just butt-fucking’ with you. Just kidding, you know.”
On the subject of surveillance, privacy, and group psychology, I tend to roll this one out with alarming frequency. We Live in Public (2009):
And, finally, from the fine folks at Intel, a pdf of Scarlett Thomas’ excellent short story, ‘The Drop‘. Great attention to detail, with a real eye for the social and personal impacts of ubiquitous computing and the internet-of-things.
So, that should be enough to keep you guys ticking over until tonight. Hope to see you there!
Built Environment Material/Digital Politics/Economics Science! Speculations Technology [future shock] [key texts]
If you’re reading this, you need to lay your hands on a copy of Transhuman Space: Cities on the Edge. I’ve written previously on my appreciation of the weight and seriousness of the Transhuman Space setting, and this particular supplement, from science writer Waldemar Ingmar and polymath-transhumanist Anders Sandberg, is no exception.
Razor-sharp futurism, sketching the possible shape developments in architecture, infrastructure, and urban culture over the next century, including a plausibly surreal vision of Stockholm, circa 2100.
93 pages. $12.99. Includes the phrases, ‘Beyond advances in life extension, uploading could in principle allow an ageless posthuman monarch’ and ‘The Nuiwhare Heretaunga arcology outside Hastings, New Zealand, was constructed in 2058 as a Maori cultural community.’ High-quality brain food. Recommended.
(That said, I’m slightly concerned to see the best futures work being smuggled into popular culture through RPG supplements — what would Stuart Candy say?)
Design Politics/Economics Visual Culture [future shock]
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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.
Built Environment Cartesian Minefield Politics/Economics Science! Speculations Technology [future shock]
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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]
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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*)