A Thousand Tomorrows 22/04/2012 19:56
In times when losses caused by excesses become evident, the thirst for increased sobriety (as in: simple, no frills) peaks.
As such, references to ‘the new normal’ have appeared ubiquitously and with increasing frequency during peaks of the ongoing economic and financial crisis. Gradually the term has been picked up by many ‘leaders’ across the globe as the embodiment of the need for business (and politics) to adapt to new times, with new systemic laws, new equilibria, new codes of conduct, etc.
‘Outwageous‘ golden handshakes, boardroom benefits, management bonuses, etc. are under public attack. Yet not only monetary instances of inflation increasingly attract criticism, also the widening gap between consumption value and meaningfulness for example, as well as boundless branding without proof of substance. The ‘new normal’ and the whole notion of what is ‘normal’ and how we value it, shows itself in a myriad of ways.
Nerds become rockstars, rockstars ‘show off’ with their lack of eccentricities and prime ministers travel economy class. Fashionistas celebrate craftsmanship, timeless quality without the glitter, a single color sweater of top-of-the-line pure wool is the ultimate cool. Boring to some, enviably stylish to others. In fact, some have already started calling boring the new cool. Two years ago, James Ward even organized a packed conference entitled “Boring 2010″. The tranquility of boredom creates time … time to discover things anew as well as new things. Yet again, sobriety can mean more than ‘boring’. It may just as well refer to a profound craving for substance, for meaning or simplicity lost.
According to various branding agencies, in the next few years we are likely to witness a strong increase in the amount of plain products (e.g. Muji, ±0 etc.) and packaging, (near)logo-less brand building; products and services speaking for themselves, their qualities as well as their weaknesses without layers of deceiptful make-up.
Products, services, behaviors … Already we see bike design gaining more attention and attract a more loyal following than that of many cars. Along similar lines of this quest for meaningfulness and qualities of life, slow lifestyle alternatives – related but not limited to slow food – are making headway as they remind people to question assumptions about life in the fast lane.
In a way ‘sobriety’ also implies the reappreciation of the small big valuable things in life, all of which can be ‘created’ and experienced, few of which can be bought, since their value often escapes the narrow definition of value as celebrated by consumption society as we (used to) know it. Not the reset of value to a forgotten baseline but a transformation of the systems of value and the meanings they deal with, is what characterizes and propels the thirst for sobriety to new heights.
Image: painting by Giorgio Morandi
A Thousand Tomorrows 05/04/2012 19:50
April 1st is traditionally April Fools’ day one day a year on which we celebrate pulling pranks on each other. In many countries, every one from John Doe to national media play along and give it their best shot to play tricks on fellow citizens. The format is simple. As in a game of make-believe, we are led to believe something that is not true. Our envelope of reality is temporarily enlarged to include things that normally lie beyond its limits.
A Thousand Tomorrows 20/03/2012 09:07
Like many technologies, (visually) augmented reality is moving from the environment, into the hands, on- & into the bodies of end-users. From pilots’ head-up displays, to BMW’s augmented reality windshield and Corning’s augmented windows and glass surfaces, to smartphone apps such as Layar, future envisionings of the technology become increasingly intimate.
Researchers at Washington State University (USA) and Aalto University in Helsinki (Finland) are making headway with the development of active contact lenses with embedded LED microarrays that allow pixels to be superimposed on natural vision. The lenses are powered by gigahertz-range radio-frequency energy from a transmitter nearby.
First experiments with rabbit’s eyes, showed apparently no side-effects. While current models of the lenses been limited to a few pixels, they might not immediately give you “contact lens TV” or Terminator vision, but they could already be used for example to warn the hearing-impaired of certain obstacles. Other possible uses for active lenses include biosensing (e.g. Swiss Sensimed uses them to monitor fluctuations in intraoccular pressure) and drug delivery … perhaps even a fake biometric ID of course.
Browsing the world around you like an IKEA catalog might be a vintage design groupie’s wet dream, but fast-forward and we might just as well see today’s streets filled with individuals texting away at their mobilephones replaced by streetviews of people apathically staring into the void or smiling as they see the ugliness of their surroundings superimposed by surrogate imagery (your own personal visual antidepressives).
A more direct approach, bypassing lenses altogether, is to plug into one’s visual cortex directly. More information passes there than meets the eye. Just imagine …
“And I don’t want the world to see me
‘Cause I don’t think that they’d understand”
- “Iris”, Goo Goo Dolls
Image via Prof. Baba Parvik’s Research Lab, Washington State U
A Thousand Tomorrows 03/02/2012 13:13
Image shows Gatewing’s X100, Ghent (Belgium).
A Thousand Tomorrows 14/09/2011 11:25
In 2001 researchers from the Max Planck Institute made a breakthrough in so-called neuro-electronics by “Interfacing a silicon chip to pairs of snail neurons connected by electrical synapses“. In the meantime we have seen progress in brain gate experiments, in implants to provide relief for a people with Parkinson’s disease, neuro-prosthetics to help memory function in Alzheimer patient, neuro-engineers over at Stanford University are trying to create a silicon version of the human cortex through neuromorphing (transistor-based neurons & neural circuits), the Human Brain Project brings together 13 universities, research institutes and hospital with the aim of building a European research facility that will simulate the human brain and exploit the results etc.
Recently, IBM researchers unveiled “a new generation of experimental computer chips designed to emulate the brain’s abilities for perception, action and cognition.” The so-called ‘cognitive computing chips’ have been developed within the context of the DARPA funded SyNAPSE project.
“Making sense of real-time input flowing in at a dizzying rate is a Herculean task for today’s computers, but would be natural for a brain-inspired system. Using advanced algorithms and silicon circuitry, cognitive computers learn through experiences, find correlations, create hypotheses, and rememberand learn fromthe outcomes.
For example, a cognitive computing system monitoring the world’s water supply could contain a network of sensors and actuators that constantly record and report metrics such as temperature, pressure, wave height, acoustics and ocean tide, and issue tsunami warnings based on its decision making.”
See also IBM’s Dharmendra S. Modha’s keynote video on cognitive computing.
In a way – by having a chip learn ‘in situ’ in the brain or any neurological situation for that matter and transfer the learned patterns to another implantable chip – the technology can be said to point towards a wetware version of Douglas Engelbart’s notion of Intelligence Augmentation.
As it is usually the case with such breakthrough developments, people’s imagination runs wild. What if we could transfer ‘tricks’ related to how animals process sensory signals to the human? What if next-generation thieves would start stealing skills by adding something to you rather than taking something away? What if humanitarian emergency situations could benefit from these advances by ‘broadcasting skills’? What if the microchip could become fully bio-based? The past weeks we have seen everything from benevolent neuro-prosthetics to Manchurian Candidate-like scenarios pass the revue. While advanced applications might still be years off, the societal debate around the possible impacts of envisioned uses for these technologies is worth carrying out now.
A Thousand Tomorrows 10/08/2011 19:25
Designer and University of Dundee graduate, Patrick Stevenson-Keating became inspired “by the pioneering work of Professor David Deutsch of Oxford University, and the earlier work of Professor Hugh Everett, who argue for infinite copies of ourselves existing within multiple universes”.
As such he developed the quantum parallelograph, a device enabling users to explore the lives of their parallel selves in parallel versions of the universe. At the turn of a knob and the touch of a button, the device spits out a cash-register like receipt of your life in another parallel world. Hence, through a glimpse at their alternative selves and the world they live in, people are implicitly provoked to question their uniqueness and ponder about physics in general. Another subtle example of critical design or design for debate, a field we are particularly fond of and like to experiment with over here at Pantopicon.
The direct link with alternative worlds links this particular example even more closely with the realm of foresight and scenario analysis. Imagine a few extra knobs or levers to set parameters on future developments and you’d have a tangible future scenario-generator, yourself as persona included!
Keep up the good work, Patrick!
A Thousand Tomorrows 10/08/2011 19:03
On August 2nd 2011, Dutch philosopher, editor in chief and journalist-commentator of NRCNext Rob Wijnberg published a tongue in cheek column entitled “A travel guide to Planet Earth” in the dutch daily: NRC Handelsblad. The same article was entitled “Lonely Planet” on NRCNext. In concordance with his statement on Planet Earth’s Media – i.e. earthlings blogging on whatever they read in newspapers – I hereby ‘blog’ his column (in translation) on ‘a thousand tomorrows’:
Planet Earth is located in one of the most isolated corners of the galaxy. Earthlings are known as hospitable, except to strangers. Please read this guide carefully before departure.
Journey: Between two and four million light years. Consider a jet lag.
Climate: The best time to visit Earth would be between 2011 and 2100. After that the tropical season will start.
Currency: The main currency on Earth is debt, a fictional currency based on which earthlings manage to maintain their non-existing wealth. Debts are the only currency in the universe that are being reproduced in case there are too many of.
Geography: Earthlings have divided their planet randomly into 196 countries. Free travel is permitted, unless you’re poor, hungry, or on the run.
Politics: There are two political movements on Earth: Left and Right. Left hugs terrorists, right breeds terrorists. Terrorists themselves are lonely lunatics who have lost their sense of reality.
Religion: There are two religions on Earth: Islam and anti-Islam. Muslims believe that all people are equal, except gay men, women and non-Muslims. Anti-Muslims believe that all people are equal, which makes them superior.
Points of interest: Earthlings were known for their cultural traditions, until the multiculturalists helped to kill the culture. The last bit was retrenched in order to save banks. The only remaining attraction is the Nationaal Historisch Museum in the Netherlands, which has on show a model of the Nationaal Historisch Museum.
Media: Most earthlings get their information from the so-called ‘Internet’. The Internet is a gathering place for bloggers who write about what they have read in the newspapers that day. In the newspapers of the next day, pieces of what’s been said on the internet are being published. In addition, on Earth every year a thousand books on how the Internet causes people to read less and less are being published.
Hotspots: Greece is the place to be because of low prices. Expect a high credit card bill after returning home. The United States were supposed to be closed by now, but will remain opened until the end of the season - (check usdebtclock.org for opening. Who wishes to visit Belgium will need to hurry.
Although Wijnberg mainly reflects on a future inspired by the present and currently ongoing events, he chose a format not unlike that often employed by futurists to shake people out of their perspective and look at the world through the eyes of a timetraveller or someone coming back from a long journey after 20, 30, … years time. The column shows how ‘distancing’ in either space or time is a powerful perspective-changing tool stimulating critical reflection.
A Thousand Tomorrows 14/06/2011 20:28
While recovering from the banking and financial crisis that hit Iceland hard, the country is preparing for new times. Which better way to start than by drafting a new constitution. Iceland basically copy-pasted Denmark’s constitution when it gained its independence back in 1944, so times seem right to freshen things up. Not only the constitution itself, also the way in which it is written ought to be reflective of the 21st century way of doing things, the constitutional council must have thought, as they decided to post the draft articles on the internet offering citizens the opportunity to discuss, amend, witness and assist in the birth of a new constitution first hand.
“The crowdsourcing follows a national forum last year where 950 randomly selected people spent a day discussing the constitution. If the committee has its way the draft bill, due to be ready at the end of July, will be put to a referendum without any changes imposed by parliament so it will genuinely be a document by the people, for the people.
Given that it was intended to go to a referendum, Gylfason said, the idea was that the public should be involved from the start of the process and not just at the end. Social media is seen as a way of making that happen with Iceland’s population among the world’s most computer-literate. “
With activity on just about any social media platform, from Facebook to Twitter, from Flickr to YouTube, the Constitutional Council is working hard to maximize buy-in, to collect feedback and collaboration from the Icelandic public. According to GOOD, “the draft Human Rights section currently contains an expansive clause barring descrimination for just about any reason (including “genotype” and “social origin”) but also guarantees universal mental and physical healthcare, academic freedom, and the protection of natural resources.”
No related posts.
A Thousand Tomorrows 13/06/2011 21:29
While we move from ‘touch’ to ‘gesture’, interacting with our technology directly via brainwaves seems to be up next. We have already seen games such as brainball or mindball and even wheelchairs controlled via brainwaves. Now recently, the Japanese firm Neurowear launched Necomimi (check out the video), a set of brainwave-controlled cat-ears. Concentrate and the ears stand up, relax and they lay down: a poetic way of rendering aspects of one’s state of mind visible to surrounding individuals.
It makes one wonder which cues about our state of mind, now subtly hidden below our behavioural surface, more or less beyond reach of direct sensorial detection, one would like to share with others? How would we use the information? How would it enhance the bandwidth of our communicative spectrum? Which new challenges would it pose to interpersonal relationships?
Tapping into the state of mind – e.g. being concentrated or not – is one thing, tapping into what the brainwaves are actually about another. Belgian Prof. Philippe Schyns and his team at the University of Glasgow recently succeeded in ‘reading’ brainwave information related to visual perception (see here).
On a more artistic note, do not forget to check out Christophe De Boeck’s Staalhemel, “an interactive installation with 80 steel segments suspended over the visitors head as he walks through the space. Tiny hammers tap rhythmical patterns on the steel plates, activated by the brainwaves of the visitor who wears a portable EEG scanner.”
A Thousand Tomorrows 13/06/2011 11:13
The McKinsey Global Institute has recently published a report on Big Data , defined as datasets whose size is beyond the ability of typical database software tools to capture, store, manage and analyze. The authors expect that big data will play a significant role in having/letting businesses and governments operate in a more efficient and qualitative way, which, amongst others, should effectuate a more thorough relation between companies, institutions and consumers/the public, leading to innovation and economic growth. At the same time researchers emphasize the complexity of the interpretation of big data: new analytic software and specialized analysts would be needed.
One may well call Geoffrey West, physicist and former president of the SantaFe Institute such a specialist. Via reasoning inspired by metabolic processes West is developing quantitative, analytic, mathemitizable, predictive frameworks in order to understand how cities complex social systems – work exactly. One of his findings is that, unlike other physical and biological processes cities do become more efficient: the bigger the city, the (exponentially) higher its production and wages. In cities, more patents are produced, they are more innovative …
Based on these findings the growth of cities is a positive trend. From the point of view of sustainability also major advantages of living in a city can be discerned. The impact smaller towns have on the environment are relatively high. Based on this understanding the Chinese government had hundreds of thousands of people move from the rural Ordos plains to the newly buit Ordos City. In “City vs Country: The concrete jungle is greener” Shanta Barley gives some more examples of why densification of cities should be supported:
- The carbon footprint of inhabitants becomes lower
- The scale of waste generation becomes substantial enough to be an efficient and economical resource for energy production
- It helps decreasing overpopulation since urban women have better access to family planning and birth control, often have better employment opportunities and have their first child later.
How would these insights and examples contribute to the ongoing debates on sustainability? One could argue that these developments support efficiency, no substantial change. By all means they clearly stem from a belief in or the need for technology to solve sustainability issues instead of finding new ways to bring more balance in the earths ecosystem (Medea vs. Gaia Hypothesis).
Exaggerating, one could say that West believes that the closer one would bring people together, the better the ideas will pop up. However, West also realizes that with the pace of growth of cities, it will be hard for human kind to keep being innovative…
See also the New York Times Magazine’s article A Physicist Solves the City and a conversation with Geoffrey West on Edge.org entitled Why Cities Keep Growing, Corporations and People Always Die, and Life Gets Faster .