Filtering by Category: Future

“I’ve never been sued by a door. But I guess I can live through it.”

91 From Ubik, by Philip K. Dick (1969):

"The door refused to open. It said, “Five cents, please.” He searched his pockets. No more coins; nothing. “I’ll pay you tomorrow,” he told the door. Again he tried the knob. Again it remained locked tight. “What I pay you,” he informed it, “is in the nature of a gratuity; I don’t have to pay you.” “I think otherwise,” the door said. “Look in the purchase contract you signed when you bought this conapt.”

In his desk drawer he found the contract; since signing it he had found it necessary to refer to the document many times. Sure enough; payment to his door for opening and shutting constituted a mandatory fee. Not a tip. “You discover I’m right,” the door said. It sounded smug. From the drawer beside the sink Joe Chip got a stainless steel knife; with it he began systematically to unscrew the bolt assembly of his apt’s money-gulping door. “I’ll sue you,” the door said as the first screw fell out. Joe Chip said, “I’ve never been sued by a door. But I guess I can live through it.” "

Why do I blog this I really enjoy this quote and find it exemplifies the ever-increasing delegation of decisions that are embedded/inscribed into technical objects. The Ubik door might certainly be the ubicomp posterchild in a parallel (and dystopic) environment but it seems highly plausible nowadays. Let's accumulate this kind of examples and see what patterns one can find.

Paul Valéry on "the conquest of ubiquity"

Gaz(The famous "Gaz à tous les étages" sign)

Spent some time re-reading this fantastic piece by Paul Valéry called La conquête de l'Ubiquité ("The Conquest of Ubiquity"). Written in 1928, this short text has been quoted by Walter Benjamin in The Work of Art In the Mechanical Age of Reproduction.

Three excerpts that struck me as fascinating (considering that it has been written in 1928):

"At first, no doubt, only the reproduction and transmission of works of art will be affected. It will be possible to send anywhere or to re-create anywhere a system of sensations, or more precisely a system of stimuli, provoked by some object or event in any given place. Works of art will acquire a kind of ubiquity. We shall only have to summon them and there they will be…They will not merely exist in themselves but will exist wherever someone with a certain apparatus happens to be. (...) Just as water, gas and electricity are brought into our houses from far off to satisfy our needs in response to a minimal effort, so we shall be supplied with visual or auditory images, which will appear and disappear at a simple movement of the hand, hardly more than a sign. (...) Just as we are accustomed, if not enslaved, to the various forms of energy that pour into our homes, we shall find it perfectly natural to receive the ultrarapid variations or oscillations that our sense organs gather in and integrate to form all we know. I do not know whether a philosopher has ever dreamed of a company engaged in the home delivery of Sensory Reality""

Why do I blog this? in this fascinating short essay, Valéry forecasted in a very acute way the evolution of art and media delivery. Furthermore, he addressed the notion of dematerialized contents and linked it to the "network" meme: although he does not mention this term, the comparison with utilities (gas, electricity and water) is strikingly interesting. Besides, the last bit about "a company engaged in the home delivery of Sensory Reality" seems to be a premonitory basis for the discourse about Virtual Reality in the 1990s and Augmented Reality nowadays.

Future numbers, letters and idioms

Spacegear GLX POVI WP-3000

Weird brand and idioms encountered in Lisbon and Seoul.

Why do I blog this? it makes me think about the use of certain letters and idioms that made people think about the future. Numbers like "3000" (now that 2000 is in the rear-mirror) and letters like "X" are still employed nowadays to give a futuristic touch. Reminds me of this quote by Douglas Coupland: "he thinks the future will be like rap music and computer codes, filled with Xs, Qs, and Zs”.

Urban screens as skeuomorph

Big interactive stuff in Zurich Hauptbahnhof(an interactive display at Zürich train station)

In his chapter called "Extreme Informatics: Toward the De-saturated City" (taken from "Handbook of Research on Urban Informatics: The Practice and Promise of the Real-Time City" by Marcus Foth), Mark Shepard offers an insightful critique of urban screens. He basically posit that they operate as "skeuomorph" in the evolution of urban informatics.

The notion of "skeuomorph" is taken from Hayles who borrowed it from anthropology to describe transitional objects and meme in the context of cybernetic theory:

"In archaeology, skeumorphs are material artifacts that simulate an aspect of a previous time using a technology that has superseded it. They are derivative objects that retain structurally necessary elements of the original as ornamentation, stripped of their original function. Skeuomorphs are often deliberately employed to make the “new” look familiar, comfortable and accessible. Examples include the simulated stitching of the vacuum formed vinyl replacing the fabric upholstery of car interiors, the mechanical shutter sound produced by digital cameras, or more abstractly, the metaphor of the “desktop” work-space of the personal computer introduced by Apple with the Macintosh computer in 1984, where the organizational syntax of files and folders serves to orient us within an otherwise unfamiliar space"

For Shepard, these transitional artifacts enable to soften the transition between technological phases. As he points out, "Artifacts (and by extension ways of thinking) of one moment are carried forward into the future by simulating aspects of the past". Quite an inspiring quote I think.

Using this notion, he then explains how urban displays are based on a longstanding model of information access and distribution in public space that is old (and flawed): the fact that we need to access MORE information (and that it should be broadcasted to a "public"):

"I would argue that the paradigm of large-scale “urban screens” operates as a skeumorph in the evolution of urban informatics. It is based on conceptual categories whose relevance vis-à-vis contemporary societies is questionable. While this paradigm may serve to smooth the transition of integrating digital information systems into urban environments, it does so by reproducing modes of information access and distribution that no longer hold sway. In doing so, it perpetuates design logics regarding “the public” and “public space” that are perhaps less reflective of the way we access, share and distribute information today."

The paper also offers an interesting exploration of other strategies for urban computing/informatics to offer alternatives.

Why do I blog this? I have to admit that I am often on the look out for such theoretical constructs that enable to reflect on technological design. The notion of "skeuomorph" seems relevant and largely applicable to other fields. It's surely important to use in a course I am preparing for next week about innovation and foresight.

Self-fulfilling prophecy

As shown in his book "Social Theory and Social Structure", Robert Merton coined the expression "self-fulfilling prophecy":

"a situation where "a false definition in the beginning... evokes a new behavior which makes the original false conception comes true (...) this specious validity of the self-fulfilling prophecy perpetuates a reign of error. For the prophet will cite the actual course of events as proof that he was right from the beginning"

Why do I blog this? preparing a course about innovation and foresight leads me to revisit this notion. The history of sciences and techniques has a great list of such prophecies.

Reading "The Caryatids" by Bruce Sterling

The Caryatids Just finished reading "The Caryatids" by Bruce Sterling. This inspiring book is built around the history of the four Mihajlovic sisters, who are surviving clones of a biopiracy lab. Spread in different countries (Balkans, California and the Gobi desert in China), each of them represent a different "camp" (Acquis, Dispensation, China and crazy individual) with different values and approaches to see the world. All of this is wrapped in en eco-disaster twist that is a bit reminiscent of Sterling's other novels ("Holy Fire or "Distraction"). Both a fun and deep read.

The novel is an insightful extrapolation of our present: the description of the faction (through each character in the 3 chapters) is a good example of how todays trends could evolve in the mid-term. We have networked-participative-ecofriendly Acquis, futile-wired-greedy Dispensation and Nation-State China who all have their own approaches to see the world. After Distraction and its "Moderators versus Regulators" factions, Sterling keeps exploring social and political differences of the near future. Like a foresight research report with a 3-scenarios structure, the book offer different visions of how tackling today's world problems can be achieved through differently. Of course, these 3 responses correspond to existing forces at play nowadays.

This "3 responses" structure makes me think that futures think-tanks and foresight research group can take this novel as a great example of how they could craft engaging deliverables. The "futures/foresight" angle is important anyway and Sterling drops bits of wisdom here and there that will definitely echo with futurists' approaches:

"the sea had no 'real' blue and the camp was no 'real' camp. There as a mélange of potent forces best described as 'futurity'. They were futuring here, and the future was a process, not a destination." (p13)

"it was an old trick, but often a good one. Most trend-spotters using the net looked for raising new items that were gaining public credibility. But you could learn useful things in a hurry if you searched for precisely the opposite. News that should have public credibility, but didn't." (p118)

"Futurism is prediction. We all know that's impossible. But history is retrodiction, and that's impossible too. Se we have to paper over these black holes with sheer imagination." (p295)

Besides, one of the character (Little Mary Montalban, that looks IMO to some sort of "little miss sunshine") even described herself as a Black Swan.

Beyond these general elements, The Caryatids is an excellent platform where Sterling brings a context and some carefully-crafted poetry of technological devices and social trends. By describing the crossing of these elements, the novel shows various implications about what our society (researchers, designers, policy-makers, entrepreneurs) are doing right now on our planet.

One of the easiest aspect to get, if you're following ubiquitous computing and networked objects, consists in the discussion of everyware and what Sterling refers to as the "Sensorweb":

"the sensorweb was a single instrument, small pieces loosely joined into one huge environmental telescope. The sensorweb measured and archived changes in the island's status. Temperature, humidity, sunlight. Flights of pollen, flights of insects, the migrations of birds and fish" (p10)

"now the island was an aspect of the web" (p11)

"your everyware touches everything that we do here" (p33), "cover the world with scanner and sensors" (p78)

Reading Bruce Sterling

The vision the reader is presented here is not just descriptive since the most interesting aspect of the sensorweb discussion concern its implications. As shown on the picture above (p72), there is a relevant differentiation between "sensory analysis" versus "sensory control". The two correspond to different approaches to a problem at stake today with the advent of networked sensors and the possibility of collecting information from mobile devices and the web. The current debate (today, not in the novel) is basic: (1) We have traces that are available today (generated by the use of mobile devices, picture upload on the web) and that will be easier to collect tomorrow (brain activity, heartbeats), (2) some people think it can be an opportunity for social sciences renewal, others fear that it can lead to greater control. Which actually corresponds, in the novel, to this pertinent quote by a cloned chinese state warrior who paraphrase Gilles Deleuze's "Postscript on the Societies of Control":

"The worst threats among those state running dogs are provocative figures who foment new relationships emerging from the long-standing interplay of social and urban control experiments practices by the state elite against the colonized posturban peoples. Through continually linking sensors, databases, defensive and security architectures, and through the scanning of bodies, these running nodes export the state's architecture of control" (p257)

"Diseases were everywhere, while surveillance was everyware, Everyware crushed diseases, subtly, comprehensively, remorselessly" (p211)

Moreover, Sterling reminds us that the situation is not so simple and that "blackspots" are part of the solutions:

"a hole in a sensorweb was called a blackspot. The laws of physics declared that there were always blackspots in the world. Computer science could assume perfectly smooth connections, but the Earth had hills and valleys and earthquakes and giant volcanoes. The sky had lightning storms, and even the sun had sunspots. Wireless connections were not magic fogs. Real-worl wireless connections were waves, particles, bits: real things in real places. So, If you didn't want to be seen, or heard, or known in a world of ubiquitous sensorwebs, there were options. You could find a blackspot. Or created blackspot. Some blaskspots were made by organized crime or official corruption. Other blackspots just grew in their natural blackness." (p161)

If you read Human-Computer Interaction, you'll recognize here the discussion around the messiness of the physical environment, seams and seamful design described by Bell and Dourish or Fabien Girardin). Which is exemplified by the part about augmented reality that is criticized by one the character as "pasting fantasies onto the island" and flawed because there is "a design conflict between strict geolocative accuracy and an augment that everyday viewers might willingly pay to see". To put in shortly, the augmented layer is not well adjusted to the physical environment and the digital part "appears to be hovering" over the material layer.

As a side remark, I would highlight the fact that this argument about the inherent messiness of the physical world is one of the trickiest to convey to a certain class of people who always think that "eventually XXX will be taken care of" (replace XXX by "phone connectivity" or "GPS coverage). One of the concluding remark in the novel is not so optimistic though:

"Those ubiquitous systems, what they used to call the 'mediation', the 'sensorwebs'. (...) Those technologies advanced so far that they vanished. The language operating systems, frameworks of interaction, the eyeball-lasting laser-colored neural helmets... all that stuff is more primitive than steam engines now. I mean, you can tell how a steam engine works by just looking at it, but a complex, distributed, ubiquitous system? There's no way to maintain that! That all became ubijunk! Those cutting-edge systems are gone like sandcastles. A rising tide of major transformations threw them up on the shore, and then the whole sea rose and they are beyond retrieval" p295

There is of course more in the novel. The two last points I was intrigued about are finally:

  • Participation and reputation-based social systems are in the background, a bit less than in Distraction (with the reputation servers process). The Acquis faction is based on "glory rating" and they use "an architecture of participation" to promote people at other ranks.
  • The whole fun around "correlation engines"n which are "an amazing new business tool (...) that never fails to hit on correlations of major interest"

Why do I blog this? this is a quick and rough transcript of the notes I've taken when reading the book. I enjoyed the whole thing and it's interesting to put the novel in perspective with the author's musings, warnings and speeches. As usual, there is a lot to draw from Sterling's novel, and I tried to make some connections here in the 30' I allowed myself to write in this blogpost.

Living in the future

In Receiver #14, James Katz wrote an interesting article entitled "The future of a futuristic device" where he describes why lots of people perceive the mobile phone to be a futurist tool, and what they might want in their phones. An interesting part of the paper deals with how early adopters say that having the most advanced mobile phone technology makes them feel like they are living in the future:

"This "living in the future" sense has both intrinsic and extrinsic attractions. In terms of intrinsic attraction, having futuristic devices suggests that the users have more insight and power than those left behind in the past. They are in several senses visitors who are experiencing today what others can only experience later. In terms of extrinsic attraction, future-oriented users can avail themselves of distinctive pleasures and conveniences. If knowledge is power, then the users of futuristic devices appear to have the knowledge to command resources and deal with various contingencies. In essence, this bestows power: they know what other people's future will be like."

Why do I blog this? what the future is can definitely be seen as a social construct. Perhaps some good material here for some of a student I am working with on the role of imagination in design.

The Sci-Fi angle in Love&Rockets

One of my favorite graphic novel series lately is "Love&Rockets" by Gilbert and Jaime Hernandez. More specifically, it's Jaime's Hoppers 13 which gets me all hopped up. It basically tells the story of a group of chicano girlz in their teenage years (Margarita Luisa "Maggie" Chascarrillo and Esperanza "Hopey" Leticia Glass as well as tremendous quantity of secondary characters) in the SoCal punk-rock scene.

An interesting aspect consist in the mix of science-fiction elements at the beginning of the series, especially in Maggie the Mechanic, surely on of my favorite comic-book. The SoCal world is mixed with sci-fi fantasies that some folks referred to as "window dressing"... which I disagree with. Although this futuristic twist is sort of left out of the pictures afterwards in the comic series, I found it highly intriguing.

"Maggie the Mechanic" is about Chascarillo's adventures as a world-travelling "prosolar mechanic" (working on space-rockets) with Rand Race (a famous prosolar mechanic who becomes Maggie's love interest). The plot revolveds around Maggie and Race who get a job in Rio Frio (an island in the Pacific) where the weird Dr. Beaky wants them to fix robots on the isle of Chepan, so he can say he's employing Race to his rival H.R. Costigan (more about it here if you're lazy). Let's have a look at sci-fi ingredients in there.

The first thing that struck me as fascinating was the general aesthetic: parts of a broken spaceship crashed in the jungle, a bunch of old robots that need to be fixed, dinosaur-encounters after fixing a spaceship. There is a sense of fascinating "retro-futurism" in there through a mix of "almost-space-opera" and mexican wrestlers. Written in 1984, technology is definitely not digital as it's mostly all about mechanical engineering. The idioms are curious too, starting with this "pro-solar mechanic" job title or the presence of "hover-bikes" and "mini-tram". Even the french translation that I had a glance at kept these good memes. The beautiful drawings of Hernandez, as well as the writings make the whole atmosphere very special. For example, the tone (see the panel above) is both humorous and casual while describing fantastic situations.

And the second aspect that I found important was that how science-fiction characteristics are only depicted as background elements, with a strong plot around it. They just fade in the background and are then taken for granted. You can find broken robots, odd animals such as dinosaurs or awkward spaceship but you never really see where they can bring you to. It's just part of the ambience and it's fine. The emphasis in the graphic novel is clearly on relationships, not on weird and crazy technological items. As Jaime's brother claimed:

"What's very interesting about the science fiction stuff is that the question we get asked the most, at least out loud, is "Where is the rocket? That's the real Love and Rockets." Oddly, that's the smaller segment of the audience--they're just more vocal. The real audience is the one who followed Maggie and Hopey's adventures as real girls, so to speak, and the Palomar stories. That is the real Love and Rockets reader. But for some reason we have the most outspoken ones saying, "When are you going to do the rockets? It's called Love and Rockets!" That's fine, we love doing rocket stuff, but the real Love and Rockets is what we are famous for."

Why do I blog this? saturday afternoon musing about interesting cultural items sitting on my desk. Tried to rationalize a bit why I found this piece intriguing. What I find important here, and perhaps as a take-away in my work, is that science-fiction bricks and components should not be fetishized, instead they can act as "hooks" to create a certain atmosphere. Perhaps this atmosphere allows to create an interesting imaginary realm where new ideas about more abstract maters can take place. The parallel I draw here concerns the role of sci-fi items in design and foresight: the items are not the most important part, it's the implications and what people do around/with them that counts.

Generativity

For a project about the future of the interwebs that I recently completed, I read The Future of the Internet -- And How to Stop It by Jonathan Zittrain. Beyond the internet topic itself, I was struck by his thoughts regarding "generative technologies", i.e. systems that are flexible enough to create even more ideas, methods or processes. Or, according to the author, generativity on the internet is the ""capacity for unrelated and unaccredited audiences to build and distribute code and content through the Internet to its tens of millions of attached personal computers". Here's how Zittrain frames the evolution of generativity:

  • "An idea originates in a backwater.
  • It is ambitious but incomplete. It is partially implemented and released anyway, embracing the ethos of the procrastination principle [by which he means that most problems confronting a system such as the internet/OS/computers can be solved later by others if they express the need to do so].
  • Contribution is welcome from all corners, resulting in an influx of usage.
  • Success is achieved beyond any expectation, and a higher profile draws even more usage.
  • Success is cut short: "There goes the neighborhood" as newer users are not conversant with the idea of experimentation and contribution, and other users are prepared to exploit the openness of the system to undesirable ends.
  • There is movement toward enclosure to prevent the problems that arise from the system's very popularity."

His point is that there is a "paradox of generativity": an openness to unanticipated needs can lead to a bad or non-generated waters. In the context of his book, Zittrain describes how the Internet can be locked down if certain problems (security, viruses, malware or privacy intrusion) spreads. Therefore:

"The keys to maintaining a generative system are to ensure its internal security, and to find ways to enable enough enforcement against its undesirable uses without requiring a system of perfect enforcement"

Why do I blog this? I was less interested in the part about how security issues of the internet but found interesting this notion of generativity to have a macro-view of technological evolutions in society. It shows the important point that the situation is dynamic and that an innovation cannot be taken for granted as it is; evolution happens and its intrinsic characteristic (e.g. generativity) is not a given as it can lead to opposite consequences. Furthermore, as the project I had was about policies and regulations, it was fruitful to understand this notion.

A mixture of whimsy, propaganda and truth

Just found this interesting quote by James Carey (in "McLuhan and Mumford: The Roots of Modern Media Analysis." Journal of Communication 31 (Summer 1981): 162-78):

"all of the claims that have been made for electricity and electrical communication, down through the computer and cable and satellite television, were made for the telegraph with about the same mixture of whimsy, propaganda and truth. Cadences change, vocabulary is subtly altered, examples shift, the religious metaphors decline, but the medium has the same message."

Why do I blog this? collecting material to improve one my speech. I gather elements about the recurring promises of technologies (and their failure).

20 years of the WWW afterthoughts

First read/write webpage The other day at CERN, one of the thing that intrigued me most was the discussion around the first webpage. Tim Berners-Lee showed us the HyperMedia Browser/Editor, represented above. What's important there is the notion of a read/write piece of software, which reminds us that the "write" (i.e. "participate in the creation of content") component was there right from the beginning of the WWW.

First web server

As a person interested in how things age, I quite enjoy the crappy sticker on the first webserver ("This machine is a server, do not power it down")

Battlestar Galactica and UN

A curious article in the NYT about the presence of Battlestar Galactica's creator at a United Nation meeting:

"Representatives from the Sci Fi Channel approached the United Nations early this year. “They came to us and explained that there were themes common to both the show and the U.N.,” Mr. Brandt said, “and that those themes could be discussed here in a serious manner.” (...) “The show has been a sort of laboratory for the choices and issues real people in governments are making every day,” "

Why do I blog this? curious hint about the importance of fiction and politics.

Design/Futures/Design

It's been a while that "On Futures and Design" by Alex Soojung-Kim Pang was stuck in my RSS reader. Finally got some time to read it. In this article, Alex examines the role of design in futures research and how both field can be beneficial to each others. Electronics@LDM (Crafted piece of the future at LDM, EPFL in Lausanne)

In the first part of the paper, he shows how research techniques developed by designers (especially those about human/device interactions, i.e. user research) is of interest for technology forecasting. The main issue in forecasting is that people have the tendency to base forecasts exclusively on technology trends. This determinism makes futurists stating that "mobile technologies will turn us into postmodern nomads, wanderers as disconnected from place as we are wired into the electronic hive mind". This connects to what I described last week in my Lift talk about the fact that forecasting is framed into a certain mindset, a "zeitgeist" that only see certain aspects shaping the future (yesterday nuclear power, today the power of networks for instance). Alex's point is that "the relationship between technology-- especially information technology-- and people is considerably more complicated". And if one wants to highlights possibles futures path, it's important to "go below broad trends in order to understand how technologies and people interact". What does it mean more concretely? Simply that it's important to look at "how technologies are used, how they're integrated (or not) into products, and what prior concepts or mental models users bring to new devices or products". This is where designers come into play: their approach to deal with these issues is fundamental and can be transferred to futures researchers.

The second part of the paper deals with the contribution futures research can make to design. The authors takes the example of how "we can create devices that make the long-term consequences of day-to-day actions visible to users".

And finally, in the last section, Alex points out how "the ability to create devices that give users a feel for the future, for the cumulative long-term impact of small changes, and for the collective impact billions of such choices could have on the world, is the most important and exciting development for futurists since the invention of oracle bone". He shows that beyond white papers and dense powerpoint slides there is a need to change the way futures researchers work and communicate their thinking. Learning to talk about the future through things is a new and exciting direction. This does not mean that futurists should become designers, it's instead a call to renew the tools, methods and collaboration by benefiting from a neighboring field.

Why do I blog this? this short article features an exciting agenda for futures research. What is perhaps controversial in this pieces is the fact that futurists can learn from ethnography/user research. This is something new I agree with. There is therefore some methodologies to rethink about this issue, related with what Jason Tester defined in his blogpost called "the case for human-future interaction.

Besides, I would be interested in how designers can think and write about it, perhaps to exemplify how, as designers, they would expand on how futures research can benefit to them.

On a different note, I am still looking for papers and references about how futures research can be described as a specific form of "long-term design" (a topic that Bill Cockayne addressed in his Lift08 speech last year).

Lift 09 poster

Snowed under work lately (foresight project about the future of the web, gestural controllers research, lift, writing a book about locative media), I have less time to blog but it's worth having a look at the new Lift poster:

Explained by Bread and Butter themselves:

A city by night, an impressive landscape of anonymous buildings. Could be anywhere. A luminous meteor carves the darkness, rustling the anarchy of the city, of our memories. LIFT 09 emerging with new energy, lights and colors.

A feeling of perspective, of vertigo. An image inspired by the covers of sci-fi novels of the 70-80's. This is a typical LIFT poster, 1:1 hand-made, with enough feather strokes to confuse the pixels, impactful.

Carving into the past, LIFT lights up the future that never was. The journey starts now…

You can see the archive of Lift posters here, and download highres versions for printing if you wish.

Internet of Things day

The Lift team is helping other conferences with their program, advising on speakers and format. For instance we are organizing a whole day in Sierre, Switzerland about the Internet of Things on January 30th. With speeches from Daniel Kaplan (from the french think tank FING, who brilliantly wrapped up Lift07), David Orban (of the Open Spime project) and Jean-Louis Fréchin (NoDesign and ENSCI). There will also be different workshops.

Apart from David's talk, the event is going to be in french.

Switzerland sci-fi museum

Last week, I visited the Maison d'Ailleurs in Switzerland, which is a museum of science-fiction and utopia. The only public institution of its kind in the world, it's a non-profit foundation functioning both as a public museum and a specialized research center. Maison d'Ailleurs

They have temporary exhibition (with people such as H.R. Giger, John Howe or Alejandro Jodorowski) and have a tremendous "Espace Jules Verne" with tons of documents (books, pictures, objects) related with this author. They also have a library with a huge collective of pulps and sci-fi documents that can be interesting for researchers.

Maison d'Ailleurs

The most intriguing activities are certainly the research aspects. For example, they have done a project with the European Space Agency called Innovative Technologies from Science Fiction for Space Applications (ITSF). The Maison d'Ailleurs was commissioned by ESA to organise and lead a study of technologies found in science fiction literature in 2000-2001:

"The study supervisors - along with SF writers, engineers, experts and anyone seriously interested in the project - are identifying whether any of these technologies might hold potential for further analysis leading to feasibility studies. The technologies listed are being examined to see what might be possible with today's knowledge, technologies and materials, or what new technologies and knowledge might be required to make any of the identified SF concepts work.

Following this, an in-depth technological study will then be carried out in order to make a more extensive evaluation of the major technologies deemed to be of sufficient interest by a panel of experts. The objective will be to ascertain whether any of these are worthy of eventual consideration for ESA's long-term space programme"

Maison d'Ailleurs

Why do I blog this? beyond my fascination towards sci-fi, this place seems to be a highly relevant institution. The material they have can be very interesting for researchers and as a material to work on design related issues. Besides, the museum director will give a speech at Lift 09.

Doctorow as a "presentist"

More about present and near future sci-fi with this interview of Cory Doctorow in The Guardian. It practically addresses "why he's not interested in predicting the future using science fiction, but influencing it". Doctorow describes himself as a "presentist", that is to say someone who writes metaphorically about the present (something every sci-fi writer do as he points out) and therefore "comment on the now" to "extrapolate the future". He then contrasts this with other forms of engagement with reality:

"The job of a science fiction writer, historically, has been to understand how technology and social factors interact," he says, "how technology is changing society. An activist's job is to try to direct that change."

Why do I blog this? simply find intriguing this sort of meme lately about the "near future". It's therefore interesting to observe what sci-fi has to say about it: an intriguing locus of interaction between the social and technologies. The reason why I am digging this down lately is that fiction plays an important role in both shaping our imagination towards various inventions and setting up the scenes about possible alternatives.

William Gibson on scifi

New Scientist has a quick piece by William Gibson that is somewhat intriguing if you're interested in building near futures. A sort of extension of "the future is just here, it's not evenly distributed". See for example:

"The single most useful thing I've learned from science fiction is that every present moment, always, is someone else's past and someone else's future. I got that as a child in the 1950s, reading science fiction written in the 1940s; reading it before I actually knew much of anything about the history of the 1940s or, really, about history at all. I literally had to infer the fact of the second world war, reverse-engineering my first personal iteration of 20th-century history out of 1940s science fiction. I grew up in a monoculture - one I found highly problematic - and science fiction afforded me a degree of lifesaving cultural perspective I'd never have had otherwise. I hope it's still doing that, for people who need it that way, but these days lots of other things are doing that as well. (...) I took it for granted that the present moment is always infinitely stranger and more complex than any "future" I could imagine. My craft would be (for a while, anyway) one of importing steamingly weird fragments of the ever-alien present into "worlds" (as we say in science fiction) that purported to be "the future"."

Why do I blog this? very interesting elements here to link with what Charles Stross discussed recently concerning near future SF. Also important when you think how scifi is about the past and the present (or at least as a discourse about these different timeframes and what is important before and during the time the author wrote).

The relation to design? Simply, the Uncanny of the present is material for design.

Future of economic and cultural exchange

Recently been working on the future of economic and cultural exchange with a good bunch of people. The project is called KashKlash and has the following purposes:

"KashKlash is a lively platform where you can debate future scenarios for economic and cultural exchange. Beyond today’s financial turmoil, what new systems might appear? Global/local, tangible/intangible, digital/physical? On the KashKlash site, you can explore potential worlds where traditional financial transactions have disappeared, blended, or mutated into unexpected forms. Understand the near future, and help shape it!

Imagine yourself deprived of all of today’s conventional financial resources. Maybe you’re a refugee or stateless — or maybe it’s the systems themselves that have gone astray. Yet you still have your laptop, the Internet, and a broadband mobile connection. What would you do to create a new informal economy that would help you get by? What would you live on? E-barter? Rationing? Gadgets? Google juice? Cellphone minutes? Imagine a whole world approaching that condition. Which of today’s major power-players would win and lose, thrive or fail? What strange new roles would tomorrow’s technology fill?""

This public domain project is conceived and led by Heather Moore of Vodafone’s Global User Experience Team and run by Experientia, an international forward-looking user experience design company based in Turin, Italy.

You can check the project description for more info.

KashKlash also involved a participatory exploration phase in which you can join and follow the debate of our experts or contribute yourself by leaving a comment on the different matters or fill out our KashKlash questionnaire.