Filtering by Category: Future

(via Pop-Up Urbain ) Do Computers Dream of Electronic...

(via Pop-Up Urbain ) Do Computers Dream of Electronic Sheep ? (2013) Directed by Benjamin Bardou Produced by Data Films Music composed by Steve Moore - Logos from “The Way In” album (1990 - Inner Ear Recordings) CGI from the videogame GTA IV (Rockstar Games/Take Two Interactive) Data Films - 2013

Why do I blog this? This is a fantastic depiction of computing with urban inserts from GTA.  What is fascinating here is the way the different visuals create a new form of aesthetic, an alternative near-future world that merges past and present representations.

Read More as a compilation of weak signals about the future

Btw, I started a tumblr few days ago to accumulate insights, data points and "weak signals" in a very basic/raw way... I use to put that material into delicious but I'm not satisfied with the service anymore. It's called beta knowledge and it can be seen as material that can be turned into long posts here on Pasta and Vinegar, in articles/books/reports, or, even better, into design objects.

I'm trying to integrate that into the feedburner RSS feed.

Yuichi Yokoyama about the future

A strikingly interesting author, japanese manga author Yuichi Yokoyama has an interesting perspective on the near future:

"Matiere: Are you interested in Science Fiction?

Yuichi Yokoyama: I was impressed by Tarkovski’s films, Solaris and Stalker and also by Kubrick’s 2001, a Space Odyssey. I also like TV shows about aliens and prehistoric times… If one sees Sci-Fi in my stories, that doesn’t bother me, but it’s not specifically my intention. I’m not trying to write stories that are set in the future, but rather to write stories which are delivered from references to any given epoch or time. If the history of the world had turned out differently from what we know today, men would live according to different sets of values and different aesthetics. The culture of that world would probably demand that people not wear shoes or always cover their heads and never show their true faces. It would be a civilization completely alien to ours. Tomorrow’s world takes root in our present time, and is always connected to it. That’s why it doesn’t interest me to depict the world of the future. Two of my stories, entitled “Dress-Up” and “Travel” show characters with no hair on their heads. And yet these characters are not old men with bald heads. They are young people who shave their hair off. In the civilization portrayed in those two comic strips, that’s the way things go: it’s maybe part of the fashion to pretend to be old. I draw characters whose aesthetics are different from ours."

Urban theories embedded in cyberpunk stories

For people interested in the relationship between Science-Fiction and the urban environment, Cyberpunk Cities Science Fiction Meets Urban Theory by Carl Abott is certainly a good resource. (A picture of a Shadowrun sourcebook that I ran across in Denmark this week)

The paper argues that cyberpunk culture embedded certain notions ("global cities", cities as communication system, the importance of Los Angeles school of urban studies). It also highlights how urban planners can "understand the influence of a range of social theories on public understanding of planning issues".

The whole paper is of interest but I was struck by this excerpt:

"Reading and discussing science fiction, whether cyberpunk novels or work from other thematic streams, will not help a planning student learn how to model transportation demand or a practitioner to write up findings on a conditional use application. Science fiction does, however, have the capacity to engage our imagination in thinking about present problems and future challenges, a heuristic function that derives from its willingness to take economic, social, and cultural patterns a step beyond their common sense extensions.

Because the cyberpunk subgenre draws on ideas that ascribe power to technological change and global capitalism as all-encompassing forces, it offers relatively little direct guidance for planners. However, it does suggest the need for flexibility, for seeing plans as reflexive processes intended as frameworks for responding to inherent instability. It also suggests the value of creating opportunities for spontaneous and informal social institutions by loosening building codes, preserving low-rent commercial spaces, and making information infrastructures as ubiquitous and cheap as possible."

Why do I blog this? Because of recent work about design fiction and urban futures. Moreover, it's important to think about the excerpt above beyond urban contexts (by replacing "planning" by other forms of social interventions).

Science-Fiction timeline

Being curious about timelines and graphic visualization of time lately, I quite enjoyed this project called "Wandering through the Future" by Marjolijn Dijkman. It consists of fragments of 70 film productions from all over the world: Apocalyptic landscapes and scenarios leads the spectator through the future from 2008 until 802.701 A.D:

"The project Wandering through the Future reinserted such science fiction films into the public sphere from which they are normally banned. Clips from seventy movies were compiled into a sixty minute video, and screened in a shed modeled on the fortunetellers’ tents found in Sharjah souks. The compilation took viewers on a journey through popular cinema’s reservoir of scenarios for the future, ordered chronologically according to the date in which they are set, from 2008 until 802.701 AD. (...) An accompanying graphic timeline charted how far into the future the various films take us. The timeline made apparent that only very few science fiction films, produced in the optimism of the late 1960s and 70s, project their visions into a very distant future, and imagine a future reality that is desirable. But recent films all present apocalyptic scenarios, set in times that are increasingly near. They envision ecological and biological catastrophes, alien invasions, but most of all technological meltdown. "

Why do I blog this? Timelines and graphical representation of sci-fi flourishes here and there. But this one is intriguing and relevant because it doesn't try to map everything. I like this stance.

Cybersyn: a real-time computer-controlled economy

Two weeks ago in Basel, at the Shift Festival, I saw some material about the Cybersyn project that struck me as fascinating:

"Project Cybersyn was a Chilean attempt at real-time computer-controlled planned economy in the years 1970–1973 (during the government of president Salvador Allende). It was essentially a network of telex machines that linked factories with a single computer centre in Santiago, which controlled them using principles of cybernetics. (...) The principal architect of the system was British operations research scientist Stafford Beer."

Country computing: a real-time feedback loop

Interestingly, Cybersyn design has been heavily influenced by the architect of this system, Stafford Beer, a cyberneticist specialized in feedback loops of management in corporations. The idea was basically to design a system for capturing, processing and presenting economic information to be managed in real time. A sort of feedback loop with the population, based on various organizations models better described here or in this lecture called "Fanfare for Effective Freedom: Cybernetic Praxis in Government" [PDF]. Some examples below of the underlying model of Cybersyn:

The idea was to have so-called "algedonic meters" in people's home, i.e. warning public opinion meters that would be able to transmit Chilean citizens's pleasures/displeasures to the government or television studio in real time. The government would then be able to respond rapidly to public demands based on these information, ("rather than repress opposing views" as proposed by Stafford Beer).

User Interface design

Also, the interface design has been carried out by the Gui Bonsiepe a German designer working in Chile at the time of the project. Eden Medina, a researcher at Indiana University in the US is currently writing a book about this project (see here). Some quotes from here found there that I've found intriguing:

"I think the image of the operations room looks like something out of 'Star Trek'or 2001. Whenever I show that image, people are stunned. Most people wouldn't associate that futuristic image with the Allende period in Chile. (...) the flat panel projection screens used a series of slide projectors located behind the wall that were attached to the armrests of the chairs. When you pushed a button on the armrest, it would change the slide on the screen. Each of these slide images was hand-drawn by some of Chile's top graphic designers. It looked like something that was real-time and highly automated -- but you have to remember, this was the 1970s."

Why do I blog this? Another good example in the history of technologies that can be re-used in our work at Lift lab. The implementation of cybernetics in a context like this is quite curious and relevant if you think about more recent instantiations of feedback loops in the context of urban computing ("people as sensors"). Also, I find interesting to observe the system design and its link with SciFi in people's mind. It's fascinating to see how the balance between such a complex project (sensors in people's home, etc.) and the design of a chair to convey a synthetic appraisal of what has been sensed.

There's a lot to dig here.

Speech at the Swiss Design Network about Science-Fiction and Design

Here are the slides of my talk, which concluded the Junior Research Day at the Swiss Design Network 2010 in Basel. It was about the relationships between Sci-Fi and Design... which allowed me to introduce some of the concept that Julian Bleecker or James Auger would address later on in the conference. [slideshare id=5597554&doc=sdn2010-nova-101028114235-phpapp01]

Thanks Laurent Marti and Martin Wiedmer for the invitation!

About African science-fiction

An interesting text by Jonathan Dotse about African science-fiction:

"There are also artistic reasons to look forward to an African science fiction renaissance. African storytelling tradition contains the very sort of metaphysical themes that science fiction is best equipped to address: themes of identity, self and community, and relationships between generations in time. There is no shortage of inspiration for science fiction within African life today, as the pervasive reach of technological development is being witnessed even by those in the most remote regions of the continent. Aesthetically, science fiction gives the writer power to create landscapes that blur the distinction between the literal and metaphorical interpretations of a story to produce an absolute representation of a complex idea. The writer can freely traverse the continuum of time, placing the present time in its right context by clearly framing it between the future and the past. This freedom could yield invaluable additions to the classics of African literature by tackling critical new issues while opening radical new dimensions to existing ones."

Why do I blog this? preparing my speech about sci-fi and design for the Junior day at the Swiss Design Network requires some examples :)

Maes-Garreau Point/horizon

Read at Kevin Kelly's blog:

"The latest possible date a prediction can come true and still remain in the lifetime of the person making it is defined as The Maes-Garreau Point. The period equals to n-1 of the person's life expectancy.

This suggests a law: Maes-Garreau Law: Most favorable predictions about future technology will fall within the Maes-Garreau Point. (...) Because the official “Future” -- that far away utopia -- must reside in the territory of the unimaginable, the official “future” of a society should always be at least one Maes-Garreau Point away. That means the official future should begin after the average lifespan of an individual in that society.

Why do I blog this? referencing material for my book about technological failures/failed prophecies about innovation.

"Challenge design orthodoxy and prevailing technological visions"

From the introductory text by Anthony Dunne for the "Design Interactions show 2010":

"Last year, the futurologist Stuart Candy visited the department and showed us a wonderful diagram he used to clarify how we think about futures. Rather than one amorphous space of futureness it was divided into Probable, Preferable, Plausible and Possible futures. One of the most interesting zones was Preferable. Of course the very definition of preferable is problematic — who decides? But, although designers shouldn’t decide for everyone else, we can play a significant role in discovering what is and what isn’t desirable.

To do this, we need to move beyond designing for the way things are now and begin to design for how things could be, imagining alternative possibilities and different ways of being, and giving tangible form to new values and priorities. Designers cannot do this alone though, and many of the projects here benefit from collaborations, dialogues and consultations with people working in diverse fields such as ethics, philosophy, medicine, political science, fiction, psychiatry, economics, life sciences and biology.

This space of probable, preferable, plausible and possible futures allows designers to challenge design orthodoxy and prevailing technological visions so that fresh perspectives can begin to emerge. It is absolutely not about prediction, but asking what if…, speculating, imagining, and even dreaming in order to encourage debate about the kind of technologically mediated world we wish to live in. Hopefully, one that reflects the complex, troubled people we are, rather than the easily satisfied consumers and users we are supposed to be."

Why do I blog this? an interesting description of how design can contribute to futures research.

Design fictions about artifacts from the future (and the future's past)

Being interested in technical objects and futures research, I have listed here various approaches that I find interesting (it's not exhaustive). Artifacts from the future (Wired)

In each issue of Wired magazine, at the end of the book, there's a page called "artifact from the future" that consists in a heavily photoshopped photo of an object supposedly common in the future. These visual elements depicts designers, researchers, pundits' prognostications about how the world "will look like in 10, 20 or 100 years". Yes, it's "will" not "may", as shown in this article. See some examples systematically listed by sceptycal futurist Stuart Candy

There's a lot of alternative ways to create similar account of the future. Think for instance about Future Feed Forward which looks like The Onion. But it's even more interesting when tools are made available to people who would want to create their own narratives with something like this The newspaper clipping generator (as a side note, I love their warning "Please do not use the names of real newspapers or persons").

Artifacts from the past

Of course, creating visual props of the future is one thing but there's a curious other possibilities: looking at present objects from a distant future. Some sort of archaeology from the future: you put yourself in the shoes of an observer who would find an object from the 21st Century and who would try to infer its meaning and usage. If you try to do this, an interesting issue will rapidly arise: how the future from which you have a point of view is like? Indeed, if you want to describe something, you need to have certain values/norms/standards/contextual elements to compare the object from the past to the practices of the future you're supposed to live in. Reading this French graphic novel called Constellations (first volume is downloadable here in PDF), I ran across these two pages at the end of the booklet (the banana is just meant to leave the booklet opened while I take the picture):

After the story itself, the two authors (Daryl and Popcube) invited friends as guest to give their perspective on their work. One of them, called Run, designed these two pages which show how artifacts from the past (a Rubik's cube, a vacuum cleaner, a Winnie-The-Pooh mug) were perceived by people from the future. The action takes place in a post-apocalyptic world in which - of course! - things from the past are no always available or in use because the industrial chain has vanished, because electricity is scarce and above all because people forgot about them. Each narrative (in French sorry) can be perceived as intriguing account of how people project a certain meaning based on surface characteristics: shapes, colors, characters, handles, etc. The Rubik's Cube is no longer understood as being a puzzle but the author shows how it is helpful to calculate using colored cubes and shape-shifting. At first glance, it looks very naive and done for the lulz but it's far more insightful than that; and I think undertaking this kind of activity is valuable for both design and futures research. This two pages should IMHO be a mandatory outcome of an exercise for my design students to force them thinking about affordances, form/function dialectics or research avenues.

Besides, this example reminds me that I should really spend more time digging what Michael Shanks is doing at Stanford Humanities Lab because it may be close to this angle.

Objects from the future produced in the past

The last category I find interesting during the sunny sunday morning is the idea of exploring objects from the future proposed in the past (this is triggered by my interest in design failure). Recently I collected lots of material from cyberpunk universes described in the 80s. The most interesting items came from my Role-Playing Games books which presented visually some cyberpunk artifacts to be used by characters. See some examples below (extracted from Cyberpunk 2020):

Why do I blog this? looking for curious exercises to be done in workshops or during my courses next year.

Urban futures: from science-fiction to design fiction

Yesterday evening, I gave a talk at the Cinemathèque suisse in Lausanne. There was an event organized by the swiss radio and Les Urbanités about movies and cities and my speech was before "Brazil" by Terry Gilliam. The talk was called "Solar progeria versus renaissance of urban fictions" and it wasn't related to this film per se. Rather, I gave a talk about an interesting shift from urban representations of the future created by science-fiction writers/directors to design projects about urban phenomena created by designers: video games, visual representations, new forms of maps. All of these can be considered as "design fictions" which have something to say about cities. See the slides below, the images I used actually corresponds to several videos I commented to the attendants. [slideshare id=4488727&doc=cinematheque2010-2-100613131628-phpapp02]

In sum, new representations of the urban futures I'm interested are mostly design fictions with the following characteristics: 1. They’re not only about the urban morphology, they’re also about invisible phenomena such as radiowaves or the city metabolism (e.g. with cell-phone usage), 2. A new asthaethic emerges from the digital culture (video games, web and mobile culture) and leads to curious metaphors and representations, 3. The territory itself is augmented and new layers of information/experience is added on top of existing places.

Thanks YGM for the invitation!

Beyond Future Fatigue

The office Some interesting quotes from a blogpost by William Gibson about science fiction and temporal dimensions (present, near future, distant future):

"Alvin Toffler warned us about Future Shock, but is this Future Fatigue? (...) The Future, capital-F, be it crystalline city on the hill or radioactive post-nuclear wasteland, is gone. Ahead of us, there is merely…more stuff. Events. Some tending to the crystalline, some to the wasteland-y. Stuff: the mixed bag of the quotidian. (...) Please don’t mistake this for one of those “after us, the deluge” moments on my part. I’ve always found those appalling, and most particularly when uttered by aging futurists, who of all people should know better. This newfound state of No Future is, in my opinion, a very good thing. It indicates a kind of maturity, an understanding that every future is someone else’s past, every present someone else’s future. Upon arriving in the capital-F Future, we discover it, invariably, to be the lower-case now. (...) The best science fiction has always known that, but it was a sort of cultural secret. When I began to write fiction, at the very end of the 70s, I was fortunate to have been taught, as an undergraduate, that imaginary futures are always, regardless of what the authors might think, about the day in which they’re written. (...) I wrote a novel called Virtual Light, which was set in 2006, which was then the very near future, and followed it with two more novels, each set a few imaginary years later, in what was really my take on the 1990s. It didn’t seem to make any difference. Lots of people assumed I was still writing about the capital-F future. I began to tell interviewers, somewhat testily, that I believed I could write a novel set in the present, our present, then, which would have exactly the affect of my supposed imaginary futures. Hadn’t J.G. Ballard declared Earth to be the real alien planet? Wasn’t the future now?"

Why do I blog this? some resonance with the theme of Lift09, these quotes are inspiring after a good discussion with Julian about design fictions.