Comply! Resistance is futile.

A couple of interesting items in the news intersected for me this week. The first was Google’s announcement that it was going to down-rank web sites that are not, according to Google, mobile-friendly. They’ve built a little app  for this that lets you test whether your site is about to get dinged. Easy enough, you type in your URL, it searches through your site and then, you either get the green good, or the red bad. If you get the latter, the app tells you what you need to fix. Choosing not to fix it, means that when folks search for you or your product or service on a mobile device, you won’t be very high on the list. From a BrandChannel post this week,

“Forrester Research reports that just 38 percent of business websites are currently optimized for mobile—while 86 percent of all US smartphone users search via Google. “Businesses must improve the usability of their websites on smartphones and tablets now, or risk being buried among 177 million websites in Google search,” Forrester noted.”

So it would appear that complying with Google’s algorithms is no longer an option if you want your site to retain its ranking. This strikes me as an interesting type of forced compliance. I don’t think I would call it bullying, but maybe it’s somewhere between than and peer pressure. Based on Forrester’s research a lot of companies didn’t think it was all that important to be mobile-friendly, but according to Google, there should be a penalty for that kind of thinking and they have the power to enforce it. Oh, and by the way, you don’t get a vote in this. If you disagree or feel that the “big picture” nature of your site doesn’t translate the smart phone world you either comply or the result could impede the traffic on your site. The argument I’m sure is that a poor mobile experience is just as damaging as a lower ranking. But what about those users who are just searching and then, for a better experience decided to view it on their big screen when they get home? It might not happen, because in your new lower ranking, they might not find you at all. Resistance is futile.

The next item across my desk was a call for academic papers for a conference coming up in Osaka, Japan. The name jumped out at me: 5th International Workshop on Pervasive Eye Tracking and Mobile Eye-Based Interaction (PETMEI 2015). Investigating further was this description:

The goal of the workshop is to bring together members in the ubiquitous computing, context-aware computing, computer vision, machine learning and eye tracking community to exchange ideas and to discuss different techniques and applications for pervasive eye tracking.” 

But wait, there’s more. Here are some of the topics of interest:

– Eye tracking technologies on mobile devices

– Gaze and eye movement analysis methods

– Fusion of gaze with other modalities

– Integration of pervasive eye tracking and context-aware computing

– User studies on pervasive eye tracking

– Eye tracking for pervasive displays

– Gaze-based interaction with outdoor spaces

Apparently, there is a fairly developed need to know what we look at when we are computing or when we are on a mobile device—and maybe even when we are just gazing around and it’s pervasive!

What do these two news items have to do with each other? Directly, nothing, but putting on my Envisionist glasses I see a huge corporation exerting its will in a wave-of-influence sort of way, and I see that there are technologies that we have virtually no exposure to, that will change the way technology reacts to us and the way we react to technology. For me, it underscores how gradually we just adapt to new technologies, because we really have no choice—even though we most definitely do. The power brokers of the future will be the peddlers of all manner of “better ways” to do everything from browsing on your mobile device, to shopping, to learning, to health, to lifestyle, and so on. The proposition will be this: get better at these things or get left behind. Kind of a form of technological Darwinism, and like pervasive eye tracking, we may not even know it’s happening.

I’ll stop there… for now.

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No ordinary bed. You’ll be sleeping late.

Doctors, therapists and many other health and wellness experts are re-emphasizing the importance of sleep to our overall health and wellbeing. A solid 8 hours has been proven to prevent disease, obesity, lessen stress, increase energy and brain activity. Last year, the Washington Post ran an article on the future of sleep, listing seven areas where science and technology are working to make a good night’s sleep even better. They included, managing your dreams, the perfect sleep environment, super-naps, genetic modifications to cram more sleep into less time, wakefulness drugs (not exactly sleep), smart pajamas (the night time version of the bodysuit worn by the characters in The Lightstream Chronicles) and hyper-sleep so that you can head for Mars and not grow old.

All of this deals with the act of sleeping but what will we be sleeping on and how will we sleep. This week in The Lightstream Chronicles we take a look at a Panorama Suite in the orbiting space resort New Vega City. The bed may look conventional in many respects but there’s a lot of tech hidden in those sheets. For example the bed, while you can exactly tell from our vantage point is round, and suspended by magnetic levitation, hence hovering about 10 inches off the floor. The sheets are programmed to identify your body temperature and adjust accordingly or you can manually adjust them via your luminous implants. (If you are new to the story or the blog you might want to check out the lexicon.) The sheets can also emit pheromones to enhance sexual experiences.

No ordinary bed.

No ordinary bed.

The environment is important, too. The temperature of the room perfectly regulated, that giant panoramic picture window will dim to complete black if you choose and the floor can shift it’s haptic sensations from freshly cut grass, to warm sand, smooth stones or wet pavement—whatever floats your boat. All of the structural surfaces are active which means that anything you can see, imagine in your mind or the completely library of virtual experiences can come to life through the walls around you. And you think it’s tough to get out of bed now.

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Season 4 begins. The plot thickens.

Each week I post a blog congruent with what is happening on The Lightstream Chronicles. Sometimes it is tightly related, other times it might be a bit of a stretch. At any rate, this week we are launching Season 4, and as is customary, we are starting out the season with a bit of context that can help to situate you more comfortably in 2014. That’s a stretch, I realize, but the more you understand about this world the more you are likely to relate to the story, the characters, and the drama.

That being said, we examine the idea of a space station, or in this case a space resort, tethered to earth by no less than a space elevator. Your first thought is science fiction fantasy, but not so fast. The idea of a space elevator actually dates back to the 19th century and a good deal of speculation has been done on how this might actually happen. The critical element that makes this plausible is carbon nanotubes; super strong, super light. Do your homework (ibid).

NVCinsert

Dream on.

 

 

Hence, in 2159 we have an orbiting space resort tethered to a space elevator. Hong Kong 2, though slightly outside of the equatorial ideal zone won the bid. It turns out that mathematical calculations can render almost any location acceptable for an elevator, though Hong Kong remains the only existing site. Plans are underway for Sri Lanka and Rio de Janeiro with new space resorts.

New Vega City could be compared with a 21st century cruise ship. In fact, it was a cruise line that made the initial investment in NVC. Not unlike 21st century cruise ships, passengers choose state rooms based on the view. There are beaches, wave pools, casinos, restaurants that serve non-rep food—the options are impressive. It remains one of the few experiences that rival the V.

Hope you enjoy the next four weeks of Season 4 Prologues and the rest of Season 4.

 

 

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The Finale to Season 3.

The idea of tapping into someone’s memories has been discussed more than once over the years (like this). Remember that the medical erasure process has already been recommended for Sean since he was very badly beaten and raped. Medical erasure could wipe this from his memory and after the scars have healed there would be no trace of the trauma mentally or physically. Of course, this procedure has not taken place yet, so Keiji is able to, through the superconductivity of the regen pod, tap into some of Sean’s latent, near term memories. As we see, however, they are fairly sketchy.

If we stop to think about our own memory, it rarely plays back as a continuous movie. It’s more like quick edits of what we saw or said and almost never includes audio, yet audio can often play a major role in triggering us to remember places, people and things. It is interesting to contemplate that accessing our memories from the outside, might just include audio and more.

We shouldn’t be surprised that Keiji isn’t getting a clearer picture though he could if he could get direct physical contact with Sean. By so doing, he could, theoretically, scan right through the event in its entirety. The complication here is that there was evidence that Sean was headjacked, (another topic I have blogged about numerous times), depending on the quality of the device and the trauma involved those memories may or may not be in tact. In fact, Sean’s memory could already be a disconnected pile of snippets not unlike the event we have just witnessed. He may not even know his name.

Season 4 begins next week April 10th and it kicks off with 4 double-page spreads in the Prologues section. Interesting stuff about the world of 2159, maybe some clues, maybe some foreshadowing.

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More futurist predictions from The Lightstream Chronicles.

Last week I talked about the similarities between Faith Popcorn’s 2025 predictions and that many of these predictions were already included in The Lightstream Chronicles. Since TLSC takes place 134 years after Faith Popcorn’s predictions, a better term than predictions would probably be backstory. As I have written before, one of the reasons for choosing such a distant future is to allow for the dramatic improvements in artificial intelligence (AI). There is quite a debate on this in science fiction and in future studies: When will we break the true AI barrier? Some believe that we will leave our physical bodies behind and become one with the hive, a giant mind merger of shared thoughts and consciousness somewhere in the mid to late 21st century. Ray Kurzweil, and Martine Rothblatt would probably fall into this camp. Kurzweil believes that there is ample evidence to trust that exponential improvements in technology will make this possible. It appears as though Rothblatt is working on achieving this by what amounts to an accretion of your own data, thoughts, opinions, etc. over time producing what would be the ultimate Siri of yourself. The body it would seem is an afterthought, possibly unnecessary.

My scenarios hinge heavily on what I would call, my take on human nature. I think we like bodies. In fact, they obsess us. I can’t see us abandoning our physical selves for an enhanced neural connection to the Othernet, especially as we are on the verge of perfecting it, ridding it of disease, aging and disability. So enamored are we with bodies, we will insist that our robots be equally sleek and endowed.

And while many future predictions include a Singularity, where everything changes, an unrecognizable future ruled by AI, I think change will be more mundane. As I highlighted last week (and where Popcorn and I agree), I believe we will be heavily augmented. Here are some more:

  1. By nature of what I call endofacts, (implanted artifacts) we will become our own ultra-powerful computers. Our input output (I/O) will be built-in as in luminous implants; our user interface (UI) will be visible on our retinas.
Learning to use your new luminous implants. Click to enlarge.

Learning to use your new luminous implants.

  1. Our aging process cease with an outpatient procedure that stops telomere decay. 25-29 will be the preferred age for that.
  1. Because of the powerful transmission chips embedded in our chipset, we will be able to transmit thoughts and images from our mind or our vision to anyone, anywhere who is willing to receive it. It will be a lot like reading minds, but we will also have to invent brain-gate encryptions to keep others from hacking our thoughts. If you want to talk to me, (like a phone call) I have to give you permission.
  1. As with Popcorn, I believe that virtual reality will make physical travel less important, but I also believe it will rule the day. It will be the new drug with millions addicted to it as an escape from reality into their own programmable, perfect world. Once again, this is attributable to human nature. This, I believe, will be the biggest upheaval in the socio-techno future: the determination and separation of real from virtual.
  1. The Top City Spanner is the result of programmable architecture. It can replicate and rebuild itself based on our needs. It’s the same idea that nano technology promises but on a larger, life-size scale. The two technologies will merge.
  1. Replication is another big prediction. We will be replicating food and just about anything else by recreating its molecular structure. It will end starvation, food shortages and most farming.

There are a lot more if you drift through the pages of TLSC, which I encourage you to do.

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The future according to Popcorn and The Lightstream Chronicles.

Back in the 90’s an innovative marketing futurist/consultant by the name of Faith Popcorn created quite a stir with her book, The Popcorn Report. It was a best seller for its predictions of what we would be doing and buying at the turn of the century. I’m pretty sure she coined the phrase cocooning, back then. Some of her predictions came true and then it seems as though we didn’t hear much from Popcorn. Then, earlier this week, I stumbled on an article on the online site, Fusion. The article spun from a presentation called FutureVision:2025 that Popcorn gave earlier this year on the future of work. There are a host of new predictions, but what struck me was how many of these predictions are already part of my future in The Lightstream Chronicles. Herewith are some of the similarities:

1. Popcorn says:                                               LSC says:

Careers and offices are over.                           The majority of the work force works at home. p4 S1.

2. Virtual travel replaces actual travel              Travel greatly reduced by use of the V. p4 S1.

3. Language download to implanted chip         The chipset and implants. See the lexicon.

4. Implanted chips release body chems           Adjusting your chems. See Prologues to Season 3.

5. A robot revolution (lots of robots)                  Major premise of graphic novel is ubiquitous synthetics.

6. Robots will care for the young.                      Introducing Marie-D. See Season 2.

7. Robots and humans                                      Note the AHC logo and image from Popcorn’s deck below.

popcorn

 

8. “Always upgradable embedded chips…”       Lots on the chipset and implants. See the lexicon.

9.”Who will offer immortality insurance…”         Lexicon, p4 S1. Almost no one is getting old.

In a related slide deck, Popcorn also makes a bunch of predictions on the augmented brain. These include exchanging memories, adjusting your mood, reducing sleep time, and escaping into the virtual. Of course, all of these predictions are foundational to my story. And there are a number of slides in these decks that bear an uncanny resemblance to images from the graphic novel. Maybe great minds think alike.

Next week, I’ll highlight some of my other predictions. Speaking of thinking, what do you think?

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Reader thoughts.

This week I’m posing some questions. I know the traffic here is only a fraction of The Lightstream Chronicles but we’ll give it a shot? Answer one, all, any or add your own?

1. How’s the story progressing for you?

2. Would you prefer publishing every two weeks as a “spread, double” page, or stay with the single page format?

3. Have a favorite character?

4. Got a guess on whodunnit or is it too early to tell?

5. I’d describe the blog content now as part design fiction, futurist blather,  part behind the scenes (making of), and part backstory. Do you have a preference?

Hope we get some response on this. If not, I will continue to probe…

introgif

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On Worldbuilding and the graphic novel

Some cursory research into the term worldbuilding will provide the description for an exercise in constructing a different world than the one we live in. It could take on the aspects of fantasy such as the world of The Lord of the Rings trilogy, or the role-playing game of Dungeons and Dragons, or it could be a fictional universe akin to the worlds of the Star Wars series of movies and books. In fact, any imaginary world, past or present, could qualify for the worldbuilding description. Whatever genre it assumes, good worldbuilding requires a significant amount of thought. Things like culture, politics, technology, social issues, health, and even human interaction are things to be considered and crafted. Since the author is creating a fictional universe and establishing all the rules, I really can’t imagine a science fiction writer doing anything less to assemble a coherent story.

I wrote The Lightstream Chronicles in the spring of 2011, originally as a screenplay, and then converted it into a graphic novel script shortly thereafter. As part of the exercise, I created a timeline that brought the world from 2011 to 2159 taking into account, (broadly at first then gradually adding detail) the geopolitical environment, technology, tools, society, culture and even some wild cards thrown in. Much of this appears in the first few episodes (pages) of the story (Season 1) but considerably more detail is available by accessing the backstory link on the LSC site. Nevertheless, since the production of all the episodes is still in the works, the process of worldbuilding continues as I sort out increasing levels of minutiae as it applies to all of the above.

A key motivating factor in my creative process is also the center of my research, namely how design and technology affect us as human beings. Design affects culture and culture affects design. Because culture is a hefty composite of our beliefs, behaviors, hopes, dreams, and humanity, it is my assertion that design and its conjoined twin technology, in many ways are becoming the primary sculptors of our culture.

I’ve come to view some version of the worldbuilding exercise as almost a prerequisite to design. If designecnology does have such a profound impact on culture and all of its entanglements, can design really afford to move into the future without considering these larger implications?

Perhaps this is something for my next academic paper.

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Backstage on page 109 – latent memories

This week I’m taking a break from the usual future chitchat to give a behind-the-scenes commentary on page 109.

In panel 1, we revisit the Prefectural Medical Center where Sean Colbert is mending from his assault as Keiji gets his first glimpse of the victim. This is reminiscent of the scene on page 54 in Season 2. Keiji’s pre-programmed clearance provides him with access to just about anything and puts him in a very powerful position to hasten the investigation. The doors literally part for him upon his arrival.

Then next step is to see tap in to the patient’s condition and download everything from vital signs to the status of each injury and how damaged tissues, broken bones, contusions and lacerations are responding to the regen process.

I added some details to Sean’s appearance. Since he has been suspended for nearly 12 hours in the regen “soup.” I wanted to show noticeable improvement in the injuries. The bruises are not as severe, nor are the cuts, and he has even started to grow back his hair, which we can note was completely shaved in the Season 2 scenes.

When Keiji accesses the control panel, by virtue of the super conductivity of the regen suspension liquid and Keiji’s ability to bypass anyone’s brain gate encryptions, he receives a quick flash of latent memory that’s still active from Sean’s past. This is an indication that, at least some of Sean’s memory is still in tact (possibly leading to an identification of the perpetrator(s)), but it also reveals an interesting wrinkle that perhaps no one else thought of: the victim is also Keiji’s creator. Erasing a synthetic from any memory of the laboratory and manufacturing process, especially individuals involved in the creation is a primary protocol — which Sean faithfully executed. of The final image on page 109 harkens back to Season 1, page 21 where Sean takes the critical step of erasing any memory of their prior relationship. This could complicate matters, but that remains to be seen.

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There’s a hack for that.

In The Lightstream Chronicles circa 2159, the government of New Asia (virtually the whole world) owns the Lightstream. The Lightstream is the evolution of what we think of as the Internet today. It is a photo-fast unlimited transmission space that channels everything from your DNA, to your recent V (virtual) experience. It’s considered un-hackable because any intrusion is instantly traceable. It was engineered that way back in the 21st century when New Asia’s breadth was expanding and the government realized that anything other than complete control was just an accident waiting to happen. Since virtually anything consensual is legal and the public is convinced that only AI has access to their private behavior, most don’t consider this a breach of freedom or privacy. But that’s the future…

I recently came across an article in The New York Times about a new web service called the Hackers List, where you can hire a hacker. According to the site HL site, “Hiring a hacker shouldn’t be a difficult process, we believe that finding a trustworthy professional hacker for hire should be a worry free and painless experience.” I’ve always thought so. According to TNYT, “It is done anonymously, with the website’s operator collecting a fee on each completed assignment. The site offers to hold a customer’s payment in escrow until the task is completed, “ and over 500 jobs have been put out for bid, including everything from getting into someone’s email to grabbing a company’s database. Yes, we’ve monetized and consumerized hacking.

Now it may seem as though this next item is unrelated, but reserve judgement. A recent article in WIRED magazine tells us “Why the US Government is Terrified of Hobbyist Drones.” I’ve blogged on this before, but the whole drone thing has already escalated out of control. According to WIRED, the FAA held a conference that was open to civilians but closed to the press. At the conference,

“…officials played videos of low-cost drones firing semi-automatic weapons, revealed that Syrian rebels are importing consumer-grade drones to launch attacks, and flashed photos from an exercise that pitted $5,000 worth of drones against a convoy of armored vehicles. (The drones won.)” At the conference they showed something called the DJI Phantom 2 a, “quadcopter, strapped to 3 pounds of inert explosive.”

Hmmm. What have we here?

Hmmm. What have we here?

Interestingly, this was a newer version of the drone that landed on the White House lawn earlier this year. So the drone maker, a Chinese company that doesn’t want to loose it’s foothold on this booming market created a firmware update that incorporated something called GPS geofencing. The manufacturer has added the White House to a soon to be list of 10,000 places you will not be able to take your drone. Most of these are airports.

TNYT cited a spokesman from the drone maker,

“‘We do provide different layers of security to make it difficult to hack and get around,’” says DJI’s Perry. But for those determined to avoid geofencing, “there’s an easy way to do that, which is to buy another quad-copter.”

Now maybe you see the connection to the earlier item. So what are we to take from this? Well, we could say that this is another example of technology out of control. We could say that this is proof that with stuff like GPS geofencing we will always stay one step ahead of the hackers. I say this is just the beginning.

Of course, my residence and probably yours, too is not on the geofencing list. What about us?  But wait. Why not hire a hacker to set one up for you?

Fast forward two years: My telco is overcharging me for my premium channels. I log into the HakStore and download my $7.99 hack for that.

Think the Web is tangled now?

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About the Envisionist

Scott Denison is an accomplished visual, brand, interior, and set designer. He is currently Assistant Professor of Design Foundations at The Ohio State University. He continues his research in epic design that examines the design-culture relationship within a future narrative — a graphic novel / web comic. The web comic posts weekly updates at: http://thelightstreamchronicles.com. Artist's commentary is also posted here in conjunction with each new comic page. The author's professional portfolio can be found at: http://scottdenison.com There is also a cyberpunk tumblr site at: http://lghtstrm.tumblr.com
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