Posts tagged: futurism
Above: generative cities and architecture by Aranda & Lasch
Futurist Chris Arkenberg outlines a possible scenario for urban planning and architecture:
As complex ecosystems, cities are confronting tremendous pressures to seek optimum efficiency with minimal impact in a resource-constrained world. While architecture, urban planning, and sustainability attempt to address the massive resource requirements and outflow of cities, there are signs that a deeper current of biology is working its way into the urban framework.
Innovations emerging across the disciplines of additive manufacturing, synthetic biology, swarm robotics, and architecture suggest a future scenario when buildings may be designed using libraries of biological templates and constructed with biosynthetic materials able to sense and adapt to their conditions. Construction itself may be handled by bacterial printers and swarms of mechanical assemblers.
This reminds me of the recent sci-fi short story “Crabapple by Lavie Tidhar:
Neighborhoods sprouted around Central Station like weeds. On the outskirts of the old neighborhood, along the Kibbutz Galuyot Road and Siren Road and Sderot Menachem Begin, the old abandoned highways of Tel Aviv, they grew, ringing the immense structure of the spaceport rising high into the sky. Houses sprouted like trees, blooming, adaptoplant weeds feeding on rain and sun, and digging roots into the sandy ground, breaking ancient asphalt. Adaptoplant neighborhoods, seasonal, unstable, sprouting walls and doors and windows, half-open sewers hanging in the air, exposed bamboo pipes, apartments growing over and into each other, growing without order or sense, creating pavements suspended in midair, houses at crazy angles, shacks and huts with half-formed doors, windows like eyes–
In autumn the neighborhoods shed, doors drying, windows shrinking slowly, pipes drooping. Houses fell like leaves to the ground below and the road cleaning machines murmured happily, eating up the shrunken leaves of former residencies. Above ground the tenants of those seasonal buoyant suburbs stepped cautiously, testing the ground with each step taken, to see if it would hold, migrating nervously across the skyline to other, fresher spurts of growth, new adaptoplant blooming delicately, windows opening like fruit–
For more of Arkenberg check out our interview with him. Want to learn to think like he does? Here’s his guest post listing his favorite books on systems thinking.
And for more big, mad ideas about architecture and cities check out:
# “Ninety percent of all consumer goods will be home-delivered.” — trend forecaster Faith Popcorn
# Biomonitoring devices that look like wristwatches will continually update you on your blood chemistry, while microchips implanted in your forearm will interact with the heating and lighting systems of the buildings you enter. — World Future Society
# Animal-to-human transplants will be routine, as scientists will learn how to prevent human immune systems from rejecting the animal organs. — Dr. Jim Raymond, associate dean at the University of South Carolina School of Medicine
# A “skycar” that can take off and land like a helicopter will hit the market — San Antonio Express-News
## “By the end of the decade, Americans will be fed up with substituting virtual life for real life. A backlash against facelessness will prompt a resurgence of person-to-person interactions.” — The Daily Herald
Some design fiction from Tim Maly, who wrote that thing about corporations being bad AI:
“…if a firm, partnership, company, or corporation owns real property within the municipality, the president, vice president, secretary, or other designee of the entity is eligible to vote in a municipal election…”
-Montana Bill Would Give Corporations The Right To Vote by Ian Millhiser for Thinkprogress
A broader version of this law passes, leading to an explosion of algorithmic corporations owning nominal fractions of land to meet the real property requirement.
Eventually, the corporate hordes overrun their human voter counterparts. A ballot measure is introduced allowing corporations to stand for election. It passes. Now, their dark work begins.
Full Story: Quiet Babylon: The Corporation Who Would be King
Mark Fisher on the dystopian cinema of 2012:
Ultimately, the Capitol’s domination of the Districts is perhaps most obviously read in terms of colonial domination. In the hunger games, the colonised are forced to celebrate their own defeat and to acknowledge the unassailability of their colonisers’ power. But whether we read the film in generational, colonial, geographical, historical, or class terms – or, as seems best, as a combination or condensation of all these modes – it is clear that Panem is world in which there is Empire but no Multitude – or, rather, we see the Multitude flicker into existence only fitfully, in the uprisings which play only a small part in The Hunger Games but which take on a greater significance as Collins’ trilogy develops.
“Suicide is the decisive political act of our times”, claimed Franco Berardi in Precarious Rhapsody: Semiocapitalism and the Pathologies of the Post-alpha Generation. (London: Minor Compositions, 2009, p55). In a world where domination is total, where power has unquestioned dominion over life and death, then the only recourse for the oppressed is to die on their own terms, to use their deaths as – symbolic as well as literal – weapons. Thus, in The Hunger Games, it is Katniss and Peta’s threat of suicide which checkmates the Capitol. In choosing to die, they not only deny the Capitol the captured life of a victor, they also deny it their deaths. Death in the arena ceases to be a reconfirmation of the Capitol’s power, and becomes instead an act of refusal. Up until this climactic moment, The Hunger Games is striking for the fatalism of its lead characters, something that is all the more remarkable given the personal courage and self-sacrifice that they show. They think like slaves, taking it for granted that the Capitol’s power cannot be broken. Katniss and Peeta have at this stage no ambitions to head a revolution against the Capitol (although this becomes their fate in the later novels). Katniss acquiesces because she believes that confronting the Capitol is hopeless; any challenge to the Capitol’s power could only result in her family being tortured and killed. Poignantly, the only alternative to servitude she can imagine at the start of the film is escape into the woods. (It could be argued that the fantasy of escape into the woods is by no means confined to Katniss Everdeen; so much contemporary anti-capitalism, with its vision of a return to the organic and the local, to a space beyond outside the purview of Empire, amounts to little more than a version of this same hope.)
Full Story: Mark Fisher: Dystopia Now
To appreciate eXistenZ’s contemporary resonance it is necessary to connect the manifest theme of artificial and controlled consciousness connects with the latent theme of work. For what do the scenes in which characters are locked in fugues or involuntary behaviour loops resemble if not the call-center world of twenty-first century labour in which quasi-automatism is required of workers, as if the undeclared requirement for employment were to surrender subjectivity and become nothing more than a bio-linguistic appendage tasked with repeating set phrases that make a mockery of anything resembling conversation? The difference between “interacting” with a ROM-construct and being a ROM-construct neatly maps onto the difference between telephoning a call center and working in one. […]
Autonomist theorists have referred to a turn away from factory work towards what they call “cognitive labour”. Yet work can be affective and linguistic without being cognitive – like a waiter, the call center worker can perform attentiveness without having to think. For this noncognitive worker, indeed, thought is a privilege to which they are not entitled. Writing in The Guardian recently, Aditya Chakrabortty (http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2010/aug/31/why-our-jobs-getting-worse) referred to a study of two of Britain’s biggest supermarkets by the sociologist Irena Grugulis. “A trained butcher revealed that most meats were now sliced and packaged before they arrived in store; bakers in smaller shops now just reheated frozen loaves. In their paper, published this summer, Grugulis and her colleagues note that ‘almost every aspect of work for every kind of employee, from shopfloor worker … to the general store manager, was set out, standardised and occasionally scripted by the experts at head office’. Or, as one senior manager put it: ‘Every little thing is monitored so there is no place to hide.’” According to the labour theorist Phil Brown “permission to think” will be “restricted to a relatively small group of knowledge workers” in countries such as the UK and US. Most work will be routinised and outsourced to places where labour is cheap. Brown calls this “digital Taylorism” – suggesting that, far from being engaged in cognitive work, digital workers will increasingly find their labour as crushingly repetitive as factory workers on a production line. eXistenZ’s muted tones anticipates this digital banality, and it is the banal quality of life in an digitally automated environment – human-sounding voices that announce arrivals and departures at a railway station, voice-recognition software which fails to recognise our voices, call center employees drilled into mechanically repeating a set script – that eXistenZ captures so well.
The conversation is slow moving again this year, but that’s actually pretty nice. A few highlights:
And here’s a longer excerpt from Lebkowsky, on “present shock”:
I find myself taking more breaks from the streams of information by and about my friends, reading more books and fewer activity streams. When I’m surfing online in hyperdrive mode, I feel an anxiety about all that’s happening and how to track it. Every day I get notices about so many events that are happening at once, and for every event I make, I feel I’m missing a dozen others. Is it better not to know?
I suppose I’ve been information-greedy, and greed is destructive.
On two species of humanoids in HG Wells’ The Time Machine — Eloi and Morlocks — Edward Strickson writes:
So, is it likely that this is our future? We can speculate, but I’d lean pretty far towards a no. As we combine our cultures and try to spread equality, it’s less likely that entire branch of us will be isolated, unless there is a natural disaster or something similar that separates us. But this does not mean that we will not change, just that the extremes of Eloi and Morlocks are (thankfully) looking less likely as time goes on, at least in my point of view.
The historic tendency of “masters” to have sex with slaves may also prevent our evolution from ever bifurcating along class lines.
Strickson thinks that of the two species we’re more likely to end up like the Eloi: “Many more of us are able to get on with our lives without immediate dangers, knowing that if anything befalls us we will be looked after.”
I disagree. Modern medicine has licked a number of diseases, and increased our likelihood of surviving accidents. Yet our lives are not without immediate dangers. We risk death every day in the U.S. when we step into automobiles. The rest of the world face other dangers, ranging from war lords to malaria. We still have no cure for AIDs, which is still one of the most common causes of death in world.
Meanwhile, global warming is baking our planet, necessitating more adaptation and/or evolution. Perhaps the Morlocks, with their underground habitats, are our species’ future after all.
Tonight I will be meeting friends in a restaurant (tavernas have existed for at least 25 centuries). I will be walking there wearing shoes hardly different from those worn 5,300 years ago by the mummified man discovered in a glacier in the Austrian Alps. At the restaurant, I will be using silverware, a Mesopotamian technology, which qualifies as a “killer application” given what it allows me to do to the leg of lamb, such as tear it apart while sparing my fingers from burns. I will be drinking wine, a liquid that has been in use for at least six millennia. The wine will be poured into glasses, an innovation claimed by my Lebanese compatriots to come from their Phoenician ancestors, and if you disagree about the source, we can say that glass objects have been sold by them as trinkets for at least twenty-nine hundred years. After the main course, I will have a somewhat younger technology, artisanal cheese, paying higher prices for those that have not changed in their preparation for several centuries.
Full Story: Salon: The Future Will Not Be Cool
What Taleb fails to mention is that although perhaps he and his dinner companions will be civilized enough not to partake, many of the people in this restaurant will spend much of their evenings staring and glowing rectangles instead of talking with each other — for whatever that’s worth.
Still, he brings up at one point something interesting, which is thinking about what we will subtract in the future, rather than what we will add. From The Verge’s interview with Warren Ellis:
I’m in the middle of writing a thing for Vice right now, and I opened it by talking about how we can measure the contemporary day by the things that have become absent. Things we perhaps only notice peripherally.
For instance, here in Britain, the soundtrack of every single early morning (except Sundays) was the hum and crunch of a milk float. I don’t know if you had these in the States? Electric light vehicles stacked with crates of milk for doorstep delivery. Twenty years ago they were a permanent feature of the soundscape. Today they’re almost all gone, because home delivery got killed by cheap milk in supermarkets. So, if you’re of a certain age, there’s a gap in the ambient soundscape. That denotes futuricity (which may not be a word) just as strongly as the absence of great mountains of horseshit in our cities denoted a futuristic condition in the 1950s.
Likewise, the presence of condoms and the pill is felt by the absence of population.
More recent stuff from Taleb:
How To Build An Antifragile Career, wherein Taleb claims that artists and other creative people should have a “robust but not mentally taxing day job” instead of making a living from their creative work — do jobs like that even exist anymore?
Futurist Jamais Cascio has over the past couple years been elaborating on an idea called Teratocracy, “the rule of monsters.” Specifically what he’s talking about, however, is the tendency for those who lose elections to question the legitimacy of the winning parties.
Here’s how he explains it:
Democracy is defined by how you lose, not (just) how you win.
The real test of whether a society that uses a plebiscite to determine leadership is really a democracy is whether the losing party accepts the loss and the legitimacy of their opponent’s victory. This is especially true for when the losing party previously held power. Do they give up power willingly, confident that they’ll have a chance to regain power again in the next election? Or do they take up arms against the winners, refuse to relinquish power, and/or do everything they can to undermine the legitimacy of the opposition’s rule? […]
Unfortunately, it appears that attacking the in-power opposition’s legitimacy may be an increasingly effective way to derail policy initiatives. When a substantial portion (at least 30%, perhaps up to 50%) of the Republican party, for example, believes that not only does Obama have bad policies, he has no legitimate right to be President, compromise and negotiation become difficult at best. Republican leaders willing to negotiate aren’t just compromising principles, they’re aiding and abetting a violation of the Constitution. And while this is currently a Republican problem, there’s nothing to say that Democrats — the political leaders, not just the activists — won’t learn the lesson that this is an effective way to fight once Republicans retake the Presidency.
Most of this is so much hot air, but as Cascio points out, it’s about the opposition party disrupting the winning party’s ability to govern. It’s about distraction.
The problem though is that our system is deeply broken — we have a two party duopoly, broken electoral processes designed to suppress the vote, etc. There were some on the left who questioned Bush’s legitimacy to lead as well, though I’m not sure these concerns were ever voiced as loudly as the Birthers’ claims.
The frightening thing is not that people are attacking the legitimacy of government, it’s a question of who is attacking it (ie, the very wealthy) and what sort of system we are likely to get in its place. Quoting Johnny Brainwash from my interview with him in 2010, which is worth a re-read:
The only way a movement could grow strong enough to take on the paramilitarized surveillance state backed up by an enormous and well-prepared military is if it recruits its own military power from the army and the police.
I don’t say this is unlikely- in fact, it’s a more valid concern than it has been in decades. But by drawing on the institutions of power, it guarantees that it will not be revolutionary in nature. Just a different set of goons on top, and no more hiding behind veils of democracy or what have you.
Adrianne Jeffries interviews Warren Ellis:
I think the New Aesthetic is a series of observations. I think most of the trouble people have had with it comes from a misunderstanding of it as a movement.
The New Aesthetic is an act of noticing, as much as anything: we are already in a machine-vision world, we are already in a world where the digital is erupting into the physical, and we just didn’t really notice it, in the entire breadth of its creeping wave, until now. From my perspective, James Bridle collected all this shit up from public sources, put it all in one place for the first time and said “oh, shit.” Some people had real issues, it seems, with what James did next, which was to say, “Let’s start talking about what this means.”
It could become an artistic movement. But, to me, the New Aesthetic is about the sighting of the New Normal.
I thought this line was interesting as well: “I think blogging is a muscle that most people wear out.”
Adam Rothstein on preserving tools and specialized knowledge (such as science and engineering) in case of a collapse:
Any number of aspiring futurists, science-fiction authors, preppers and Dark Mountaineers can present us with a point-by-point plan of how to survive a species-threatening cataclysm, the true effectiveness of which can only be judged in practice. So let us leave survival up to those who will need to hack it, and instead ask what can we do now to make things a bit easier for our post-apocalyptic children of the future?
We might bury useful tools everywhere in a strategy resonant with Philip K. Dick’s The Penultimate Truth, to make surprising archaeological Easter Eggs of power saws and streaming media tablets to the future’s struggling humankind. But without cellular data contracts and extension cords, these might not prove very useful. Far better to provide them with knowledge, argues Grassie, in order to kick start their inevitable journey back through scientific progress to re-learn the things we will lose. You can give a post-human descendant species-branch a CD-ROM and they can surf Encarta for a day. Or you can teach a post-human descendant species-branch to write objective secondarily-sourced encyclopedia articles, and they can have their own Wikipedia-esque debates about editing procedures for the rest of their brutish and short lives.
Full Story: The State: Satellites of History
Rothstein goes on to note some attempts to preserve knowledge for the future, and questions whether the endeavor matters.