Design fiction. Think now.

This week I gave my annual lecture to Foundations students on design fiction. The Foundations Program at The Ohio State University Department of Design is comprised primarily (though not entirely) of incoming freshmen aspiring to get into the program at the end of their first year. Out of roughly 90 hopefuls, as many as 60 could be selected.

Design fiction is something of an advanced topic for first-year students. It is a form of design research that goes beyond conventional forms of research and stretches into the theoretical. The stuff it yields (like all research) is knowledge, which should not be confused with the answer or the solution to a problem, rather it becomes one of the tools that designers can use in crafting better futures.

Knowledge is critical.

One of the things that I try to stress to students is the enormity of what we don’t know. At the end of their education students will know much more than they do know but there is an iceberg of information out of sight that we can’t even begin to comprehend. This is why research is so critical to design. The theoretical comes in when we try to think about the future, perhaps the thing we know the least about. We can examine the tangible present and the recorded past, but the future is a trajectory that is affected by an enormous number of variables outside our control. We like to think that we can predict it, but rarely are we on the mark. So design fiction is a way of visualizing the future along with its resident artifacts, and bring it into the present where we can examine it and ask ourselves if this is a future we want.

It is a different track. I recently attended the First International Conference on Anticipation. Anticipation is a completely new field of study. According to its founder Roberto Poli,

“An anticipatory behavior is a behavior that ‘uses’ the future in its actual decisional process. It is the process of using the future in the present, which includes a forward-looking stance and the use of that forwardlooking stance to effect a change in the present. Anticipation therefore includes two mandatory components: a forward-looking attitude and the use of the former’s result for action.”

For me, this highlights some key similarities in design fiction and anticipation. At one level, all futures are fictions. Using a future design— design that does not yet exist—to help us make decisions today is an appropriate a methodology for this new field. Concomitantly, designers need a sense of anticipation as they create new products, communications, places, experiences, organizations and systems.

The reality of technological convergence makes the future an unstable concept. The merging of cognitive science, genetics, nanotech, biotech, infotech, robotics, and artificial intelligence is like shuffling a dozen decks of cards. The combinations become mind-boggling. So while it may seem a bit advanced for first-year design students, from my perspective we cannot start soon enough to think about our profession as a crucial player in crafting what the future will look like. Design fiction—drawing from the future—will be an increasingly important tool.

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An Experiment in Ubiquitous Surveillance


I just returned from the First International Conference on Anticipation in Trento, Italy. The conference was a multi-disciplinary gathering of scholars, practitioners, and thought leaders with the same concern: the future is happening faster than we could ever have imagined. The foundational principles of our disciplines that have anchored us since their inception are no longer sufficient to deal with a future that is increasingly unpredictable. The conference featured experts in economics, the environment, biology, architecture, city planning, design, future studies, foresight, political science, psychology, sociology, and anthropology just to name a few. Each has deep concerns about how to model the future of their disciplines and their relationships with the world around them when our existing frameworks no longer fit and complexity and technology are increasing exponentially.

I presented a paper as part of the Design and Anticipation panel entitled, Ubiquitous Surveillance: A Crowd-Sourced Design Fiction. I began by painting the landscape of change and borrowed (as I have often done in this blog) from Ray Kurzweil’s Law of Accelerating Returns. He states that “We won’t experience 100 years of progress in the 21st century — it will be more like 20,000 years of progress (at today’s rate).” The uncertainty is compounded by the reality of technological convergence; the merging of cognitive science with genetics and nanotech or biotech, infotech, robotics, and artificial intelligence. All of these fields are racing toward breakthrough accomplishments. Of course, they cannot be isolated and so the picture changes, in a dynamic and unpredictable way. The reverberations will be sweeping. As I discussed in my paper, there is a natural compatibility between design and future studies, since, “…all design concerns itself with some future, preferably better, whether physical, environmental, or conceptual. Design is creative and iterative. So it is with futures.”

I explained the notion of design fiction as a hybrid of science fiction narrative, critical design, conventional design and foresight studies. The objective is to provoke interdisciplinary conversations and reflect on the significance of innovation for societies, governments, culture, and individuals. My methods include The Lightstream Chronicles and my newest area, guerrilla futures. In both cases the aim is,

“…to draw a larger circle for these conversations extending beyond academia, governmental inertia, and commercial influence. And to include those who will be affected most by these changes to lifestyle and behavior: the public-at-large.

In storytelling, the focus is on people and drama; there are interactions, and sometimes things go wrong. The fictional story becomes a way for us to anticipate conflict and complexity before it becomes a problem to be solved — a kind of thought problem to engage critical thinking. However, surrounding these issues with the expected, as utopian, or idealistic they risk losing force. Thus, for the story to have the potential of moving beyond merely an entertainment, the ideas must be disruptive enough for the individual to take pause.”

All of this is a lengthy set-up for my current experiment to generate discussion about the future: Ubiquitous Surveillance. The following is a direct lift from my presentation.

“Imagine if you will that the year is 2020. Political and commercial influences have convinced global society that not only our security, but our convenience and fulfillment will be enhanced via ubiquitous surveillance, e.g., cameras everywhere. Let us pull some plausible threads of existing technological advances: It is now possible to have cameras the size and thickness of a postage stamp. These PaperCams can be “posted” anywhere and are available to everyone for no fee. Once distributed, (ideally 1/3m3) imagery and location data is networked into a massive database. A smartphone app can locate and link to any PaperCam and allow users, positioned in front, to transmit a still or video image to anyone at any time from any place—no selfie required. GPS metadata verifies location and group photos take on a new significance. It is touted as both a communication convenience and a security benefit. Imagery can employ facial recognition, and predictive algorithms to identify criminal behavior, potential terrorist events, Cameras can be used to locate disaster, accident, crime victims or for emergency visual anywhere.

Cameras are always on. They do not require our permission. To mitigate the potential adverse reaction to an invasion of privacy, only computers/artificial intelligence (AI) evaluate the images to identify potential threats. The increasing mass of big data enables facial recognition, predictive algorithms for body language, gestures, sounds, voice analysis and other cues. The AI can observe situations and determine whether they are dangerous or benign. Since other humans are not seeing the imagery, personal moments are not in danger of being perniciously viewed and would not be logged unless the AI detects threatening behavior.

A global security corporation, VisibleFutureCorp., has been retained to monitor the cameras.”

Where will the camera show up next?

the cam card

If you want to jump into this future scenario, I have developed a do-it-yourself camera that you can print out, place around your environment, office, (every room in your home) so that it is impossible to go through the day without noticing one of the cameras watching you. After this experience, visit the VisibleFutureCorp. website and get a bit deeper into the experience and it’s believability. There is a link on that site to join in the conversation.

I hope you will try it out.

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Micropigs. The forerunner to ordering blue skinned children.


Your favorite shade, of course.

Last week I tipped you off to Amy Webb, a voracious design futurist with tons of tidbits on the latest technologies that are affecting not only design but our everyday life. I saved a real whopper for today. I won’t go into her mention of CRISPR-Cas9 since I covered that a few months ago without Amy’s help, but here’s one that I found more than interesting.

Chinese genomic scientists have created some designer pigs. They are called ‘micro pigs’ and they are taking orders at $1,600 a pop for the little critters. It turns out that pigs are very close—genetically—to humans but the big fellow were cumbersome to study (and probably too expensive to feed) so the scientists bred a smaller version by turning of the growth gene in their DNA. Voilà: micropigs. Plus you can order

Micropigs. Photo from BPi and

Micropigs. Photo from BPI and

them in different colors (they can do that, too). Now, of course this is all to further research and all proceeds will go to more research to help fight disease in humans, at least until they sell the patent on micropigs to the highest bidder.

So now we have genetic engineering to make a micropig, fashion statement. Wait a minute. We could use genetic engineering for human fashion statements, too. After all, it’s a basic human right to be whatever color we want. Oh, no. We would never do that.

Next up is Googles’ new email respond feature coming soon to your gmail account.

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What did one AI say to the other AI?


I know what you want.

A design foundations student recently asked my advice on a writing assignment, something that might be affected by or affect design in the future. I told him to look up predictive algorithms. I have long contended that logic alone indicates that predictive algorithms, taking existing data and applying constraints, can be used to solve a problem, answer a question, or design something. With the advent of big data, the information going in only amplifies the veracity of the recommendations coming out. In case you haven’t noticed, big data is, well, big.

One of the design practitioners that I follow is Amy Webb. Amy has been thinking about this longer than I have but clearly, we think alike, and we are looking at the same things. I don’t know if she is as alarmed as I am. We’ve never spoken. In her recent newsletter, her focus was on what else, predictive algorithms. Amy alerted me to a whole trove of new developments. There were so many that I have decided to make it a series of blogs starting with this one.

Keep in mind, that as I write this these technologies are in their infancy. If the already impress you, then the future will likely blow you away. The first was something known as, Project Dreamcatcher from Autodesk. These are the people who make Maya, and AutoCAD and much of the software that designers, animators, engineers and architects use every day. According to the website:

“The Dreamcatcher system allows designers to input specific design objectives, including functional requirements, material type, manufacturing method, performance criteria, and cost restrictions. Loaded with design requirements, the system then searches a procedurally synthesized design space to evaluate a vast number of generated designs for satisfying the design requirements. The resulting design alternatives are then presented back to the user, along with the performance data of each solution, in the context of the entire design solution space.”

Another on Amy’s list was Google’s recently announced RankBrain, Google’s next venture into context-aware platforms using advances in predictive algorithms to make what you see scarily tailored to who you are. According to Amy from a 2012 article (this is old news folks):

“With the adoption of the Siri application, iOS 5 mobile phones (Apple only) can now compare location, interests, intentions, schedule, friends, history, likes, dislikes and more to serve content and answers to questions.”

In other words, there’s lots more going on than you think when Siri answers a question for you. Well RankBrain takes this to the next level, according to Bloomberg who broke the story on RankBrain:

“For the past few months, a “very large fraction” of the millions of queries a second that people type into the company’s search engine have been interpreted by an artificial intelligence system, nicknamed RankBrain…’Machine learning is a core transformative way by which we are rethinking everything we are doing,’ said Google’s Chief Executive Officer Sundar Pichai on the company’s earnings call last week.”

By the way, so far, most AI predicts much more accurately than we do, humans that is.

If this is moving too fast for you, next week, thanks to Amy, I’ll highlight some applications of AI that will have you squirming.

PS— if you wan to follow Amy Webb go here.

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Take your medicine.


One of the realities that the characters in The Lightstream Chronicles have come to accept as a mundane part of everyday life is the matter of ubiquitous surveillance. The mesh, as it is known, enables visual monitoring of every citizen during every moment of the day, home, work, recreation, etc. What we would consider our most private moments are no longer truly private. AI monitors the digital mesh impressions for irregularities, threats, suspicious behavior, and danger. Through chipset identification (everyone has a chipset), persons, synthetics, even animals are identified, and GPS located so that the AI knows at whom it is looking. Then decades of big data analyze gestures, behaviors, voice patterns, and permissions (who is allowed to be where) to determine that all is well, or not so well.

If things are not well, a voice will chime in from one of your active surfaces to alert you to sudden danger or tell you to remain where you are until authorities or help arrive.

After many years of this level of surveillance, the citizenry has become used to the idea. The public’s initial reticence was assuaged by the idea that humans are not watching. Over the years, for most, it has become commonplace to the extent that few ever think about it, some find it reassuring, and others find it titillating. The AI knows when you wake up, go to sleep, have sex, bathe, eat, and everything else that is part of your day. As long as you and those around you obey the laws the AI doesn’t intervene.

Personal assistants are a different story. Personal assistants that take the form of synthetic humans, animals, or merely a disembodied voice, can speak audibly or telepathically and serve a different function. This kind of AI knows everything about you at a personal level, personal motivations, hopes and fears, aspirations, daily health and disposition. These AI are helpers, as opposed to observers. In the event of danger or a legal breach, those observing take precedence.

Of course this is fiction, but it is also design fiction, so whatever future I have incorporated into the story, it is my task to provide plausible connection to some existing technology today. There are thousands of examples of ubiquitous surveillance, and they are increasing daily. The personal assistant concept is well on its way. But a news article this week in The Verge about a company called Proteus Digital Health brings the idea of the chipset even closer to reality.

According to Proteus,

“Our products and services provide patients with meaningful health information to help manage their condition and provide physicians unprecedented insight into patient medication-taking and daily health habits.”

Call this the digital pill, the medical version of the insurance tracking device that monitor one’s driving habits. Drive safely and you get lower insurance rates. With the Proteus digital pill system, it’s not that easy to opt out. According to the article,

“Buried inside the pill is a sand-sized grain, one-millimeter square and a third of a millimeter thick, made from copper, magnesium, and silicon. When the pill reaches your stomach, your stomach acids form a circuit…The signal travels as far as a patch stuck to your skin near the navel, which verifies the signal, then transmits it wirelessly to your smartphone, which passes it along to your doctor. There’s now a verifiable record that the pill reached your stomach.”

Clever. Except when it becomes mandatory that you take whatever your doctor prescribes, or your insurance rate goes up. Hmm. I think this is a bad idea, but somehow I sense the insurance companies will love it, and big Pharma even more. A few years ago I was prescribed statins for cholesterol. Today there is a great deal of information available on how bad statins can be for you, and how cholesterol is not the villain that they once thought it was. Fortunately, I got wise to the potential adverse effects of statins and “took myself off of them”. Using a combination of supplements and changes in diet, I brought my cholesterol to healthy levels without drugs. But what if taking myself off of the drug was not an option, at least not an option without an expensive penalty? How long before this method is applied to pain-killers, vaccinations, or food and drink choices?

“Good morning Mr. Smith, this is the government. We noticed that you did not medicate yourself this morning. By not taking your medication, big data shows that you have a 62% chance of becoming a burden to the state. This is your first reminder…”

What do you think?

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We are as gods…


“We are as gods and might as well get good at it.”

— Stewart Brand (1968) Whole Earth Catalog

Once again it has been a busy week for future news, so it becomes difficult to know what to write about. There was an interesting OpEd piece in The New York Times about how recreating the human brain will be all but impossible this century and maybe next. That would be good news for The Lightstream Chronicles where the year is 2159 and artificial intelligence is humming along smoothly, brain cloning or not.

A couple of other web articles caught my attention both emanated from the site, Motherboard. They frequently write about the world of Transhumanism. This week there was an interesting article on “the Father of Modern Transhumanism” Fereidoun M. Esfandiary, who changed his name to FM-2030, FM was a futurist, a UN diplomat, and writer. In 1970, he began writing about utopian futures that broke free of all the “isms” that were holding back humanity. The author, Ry Marcattilio-McCracken, writes:

“For FM-2030, the ideological left and right were dinosaurs, remnants of an industrial age that had ushered in the modern world but was being quickly replaced and whose vestiges were only holding humanity back. He proposed a new political schema populated by two groups: UpWingers and DownWingers. The former looks to the sky, and into the future. The latter down into the earth, and into the past. UpWingers see a future for humanity beyond this planet. DownWingers seek to preserve it.

FM-2030 was an unabashed UpWinger.”

FM imagined some prescient future scenarios such as open-source genetic blueprints, the disappearance of the nuclear family and cites replaced with something he called mobile, as well as the end of aging and disease and anything resembling our current form of politics. The article continues:

“Science and technology serve as the engine behind FM-2030’s “true democracy,” one he believed could chaperone humanity beyond its oppressive, hierarchical, and tribal origins and into the future it deserves.”

FM died at 69 of cancer and was frozen, “but his political ideas have lived on.” The up-winger, down-winger terminology has been replaced by Proactionaries and Precautionaries by philosophers and sociologists.

“Proactionaries (UpWingers) argue, most simply, that the risk inherent in any technological or policy venture is unavoidable and, further, often offset by the rewards of progress. They aver that the universe is a fundamentally perilous place.”

Precautionaries are a bit more egalitarian and more risk averse. I would call them the voice of reason, but then I’m probably one of them.

The article sums up noting how far the transhumanist movement has come, citing the advent of the Transhumanist Party and its current Presidential candidate Zoltan Istvan. Istvan also writes occasionally for Motherboard.

So I jumped to an Istvan article on the same site, Why I Advocate for Becoming a Machine. Istvan begins with this simple statement: “Transhumanists want to use technology and science to become more than human.” He explains that our present feeble makeup cannot see 99% of the light spectrum, we can’t hear like bats, nor energy patterns, nor vibrations from the Earth’s core. To Istvan, that we owe ourselves and humanity a rebuild.

“The reality is that many transhumanists want to change themselves dramatically. They want to replace limbs with mechanical endoskeleton parts so they can throw a football further than a mile. They want to bench press over a ton of weight. They want their metal fingertips to know the exact temperature of their coffee. In fact, they even want to warm or cool down their coffee with a finger tip, which will likely have a heating and cooling function embedded in it…Biology is simply not the best system out there for our species’ evolution. It’s frail, terminal, and needs to be upgraded.”

Istvan makes one a good argument: that we are confused about the point at which we become no longer human. For example, he notes that if we had all of our internal organs replaced many of us would probably find that acceptable. If, however, we replaced our arms and/or legs with super-charged titanium versions most would think we are crossing the line.

Here are some of my questions: If, within our current capabilities, we are unable to find happiness and fulfillment, then why should we expect to find it when we can throw a football a mile, or bench press a ton? What is to keep it from becoming two miles or two tons? Will we be happier or safer when the next Hitler can run faster, jump higher or live forever? Is the human propensity to foul things up going to go suddenly away when we can live forever?

One could argue that from the beginning of time, (literally) we have been obsessed with becoming God. As god-like as we have become over the centuries, it appears that we are still no closer to knowing what it means to be human or finding meaning in our lives. It seems that might be something we should get a grip on before moving on to the divine.

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The big questions.


I was delighted this week to discover Michael Sandel Professor of Philosophy and Government at Harvard’s Law School, where he teaches a wildly popular course called “Justice”. In this course, Sandel asks the big questions: Is it right to take from the rich and give to the poor? Is it right to legislate personal safety? Can torture ever be justified? He also asks questions of the digital age These are the issues with which I wrestle. A recent article in FastCompany, highlighted some of these: “Should we try to live forever? Buy our way to the head of the line? Create perfect children?” In a recent blog, I asked a similar question: Is it a human right to have everything that you want?

Sandel’s questions are about ethics and making his students think about the tough questions that we confront every day and the tough issues that are looming in the future. Some of these are accelerating toward us at an alarming pace. Privacy, artificial intelligence, and biotechnology are also on his list.

To the students at Harvard, Sandel is probably a celebrity. Sandel has a long list of credentials, including TED talks, and a best-selling book, Justice: What’s the Right Thing to Do. Nevertheless, I just discovered him this week, and I’m particularly pleased. Sandel is raising the kinds of questions that I try to do through my design fiction. His class is provoking the same discussion and debate that I work toward not only with design students but also the public at large.

Most often we do not like to grapple with these questions. It is one of the challenges of The Lightstream Chronicles. An explicit goal of my story to get people to think about the future, but thinking is optional. We have the option view the story as entertainment, purely for its story value without considering the underlying themes. It is one of the reasons that I have begun to pursue additional, more “guerrilla” oriented design fictions.

Back to the FastCo article, Sandel agrees that these discussions happen too infrequently. He gives a couple of reasons (sorry for the long quote, but he’s dead-on).

“There are two obstacles to having these conversations. One is that we have very few public venues and occasions for serious discussion of these questions… It’s very hard to have the kind of reasoned discussion of these big ethical questions without creating opportunities to do that.

The second obstacle is that we have a tendency in our public life to shy away from hard, controversial moral questions…We have a fear of moral judgment and moral argument because we know we live in pluralist societies where people disagree about values and ethics. There’s a tendency to believe that our public life could be neutral on those questions.

But I think that’s a mistaken impulse.”

Sandel goes on to suggest that the public has a “great hunger” for these philosophical, moral and ethical questions. I agree. Through my work and research, I hope to provoke some of these discussions and perhaps the public venues and occasions to hold them.

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Behind the scenes, The Lightstream Chronicles Episode 136

Episode 136

Clearly,  the Techman is out cold, probably has a whopping headache and some tingling extremities. No problem. Keiji-T has equipment for this. Rubbing his fingertips together, Keiji-T can emit a chemical odor akin to our current day smelling salts. Aromatherapy from the fingertips, however, is a standard feature built into most synths. As we saw back in season 3, Keiji was bragging about the various scents he could conjure up.

In 2159, pheromone implants are also a common human augmentation. A quick trip to the infusion store and you can pick up a nano-endocrine emitter (NEET) that you apply to the skin and it absorbs through the pores. The emitter synchs with your master chipset and can generate or regulate certain hormonal activity.  The most popular varieties are either axillary steroids or aliphatic acids that act as a potent attraction to the opposite sex or as enhancements to intimacy. There are many other options available including repellent scents, stimulants, and relaxants. They are also an optional feature for the enormously popular fingertip implants (luminous implants) that nearly everyone has. This option, however, is not available on earlier fingertip models like one’s that Techman uses.

You can read more about a host of 2159 technologies and augmentations by visiting the glossary part 1 or part 2.

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Why Kurzweil is probably right.


Some people tell me that I am a pessimist when it comes to technology. Maybe, but part of my job is troubleshooting the future before the future requires troubleshooting. As I have said many times before, I think there are some amazing technologies out there that sound promising and exciting. One that caught my attention this week is the voice interface operating system. If you saw the film Her,  then you know of that which I speak. For many Silicon Valley entrepreneurs, it has been the Holy Grail for some time. A recent WIRED magazine article by David Pierce highlights some of the advancements that are on the cusp of being part of our everyday lives.

Pierce tells how in 1979 during a visit to Xerox PARC, Steve Jobs was blown away by something called a graphic user interface (GUI). Instantly, Jobs knew that the point, click and drag interface was for the masses.

One of the scientists in that Xerox PARC group was a guy named Ron Kaplan who tells Pierce that, “‘The GUI has topped out,’ Kaplan says. ‘It’s so overloaded now.’”

I guess I can relate. Certainly it is a challenge to remember the obscure keyboard commands for every program that you use. One of my mainstays, Autodesk Maya, has so many keyboard options that there is a whole separate interface of hotkeys and menus accessed by (another) keyboard command. Rarely, except for the basics like cut, paste, and delete are these commands or menus the same between software.

If there were a voice interface that could navigate these for you, (perhaps only when you’re stumped), it would be a great addition. But the digital entrepreneurs racing in this direction, according to Pierce are going much further. They are looking, “to create the best voice-based artificial-intelligence assistant in the world.”

The article mentions one such app called Hound. It not only answers questions faster than Siri but with remarkably less overt information. For example, you could ask two different questions about two different places and then ask, “How many miles between those two?”  It reads between the lines and fills in the gaps. If it could see, I’m guessing it could read a graphic novel and know what’s going on.

Apparently there are quite a few well-funded efforts racing in this direction.  As Pierce says,

“It’s a classic story of technological convergence: Advances in processing power, speech recognition, mobile connectivity, cloud computing, and neural networks have all surged to a critical mass at roughly the same time. These tools are finally good enough, cheap enough, and accessible enough to make the conversational interface real—and ubiquitous.”

That’s just one of the reasons why I think Kurzweil is probably right in his Law of Accelerating Returns. (You can read about it on Kurzweil’s site of read a previous blog – one of many). Convergence is the way technology leaps forward. Supporting technologies enable formerly impossible things to become suddenly possible.

Pierce goes on to talk about a gadget called Alexa, which is now a device known as  Amazon Echo, which uses something called Alexa Voice Service. The Echo is a, a black tube with flashing blue LEDs designed to sit in some central location in your space. There, it answers questions and assists in your everyday life. Pierce got to live with the beta version.

“In just the seven months between its initial beta launch and its public release in 2015, Alexa went from cute but infuriating to genuinely, consistently useful. I got to know it, and it got to know me… This gets at a deeper truth about conversational tech: You only discover its capabilities in the course of a personal relationship with it.”

Hence, part of developer’s challenge is making an engaging, likable, and maybe even charming assistant.

But Pierce closes the article with realization that such an agent is

“…only fully useful when it’s everywhere when it can get to know you in multiple contexts—learning your habits, your likes and dislikes, your routine and schedule. The way to get there is to have your AI colonize as many apps and devices as possible.”

So, this technology is coming and probably nearly here. It may well be remarkable and rewarding. I wouldn’t be doing my job, however if I didn’t ask about the emanating ripples and behaviors that will inevitably grow up around it. What will we give up? What will we lose before we realize it is gone? It is marvelous, but like it’s smart-phone cousin (or grandparent), it will change us. As we rush to embrace this, as we most likely will, we should think about this, too.


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A paralyzing electro magnetic laser: future possibility or sheer fantasy?

In episode 134, the Techman is paralyzed, lifted off the ground and thumped back to the floor. Whether it’s electrostatic, electromagnetic or superconductor electricity reduced to a hand-held device, the concept seems valid, especially 144 years from now. Part of my challenge is to make this design fiction logical by pulling threads of current research and technology to extrapolate possible futures. Mind you, it’s not a prediction, but a possibility. Here is my thinking:

Keiji’s weapon assumes that at least four technologies come together sometime in the next 14 decades. Safe bet? To start with the beam has to penetrate the door and significantly stun the subject. This idea is not that far-fetched. Weapons like this are already on the drawing board. For instance, the military is currently working on something called laser-guided directed-energy weapons. They work like “artificial lightning” to disable human targets. According to Defense Update,

Laser-Induced Plasma Channel (LIPC) technology was developed by Ionatron to channel electrical energy through the air at the target. The interaction of the air and laser light at specific wavelength, causes light to break into filaments, which form a plasma channel that conducts the energy like a virtual wire. This technology can be adjusted for non-lethal or lethal use. “

The imaginative leap here is that the beam can penetrate the wall to find it’s target. Given the other advancements, I feel reasonably safe stretching on this one.

LIPC at work.

LIPC at work.

Next, you have to get the subject off the ground. Lifting a 200-pound human would require at least two technologies assisted by a third. First is a levitating superconductor. A levitating superconductor uses electric current from a superconductor to produce magnetic forces that could counter the force of gravity. According to

“Like frogs, humans are about two-thirds water, so if you had a big enough Bitter electromagnet, there’s no reason why a human couldn’t be levitated diamagnetically. None of the frogs that have taken part in the diamagnetic levitation experiments have experienced any adverse effects, which bodes well for any future human guinea pigs.”

The other ingredient is a highly powerful magnet. If we had a superconductor with a few decades of refinement and miniaturization, it’s conceivable that it could produce magnetic forces counter to the force of gravity. 1

The final component would be the power source small enough to fit inside the weapon and carrying enough juice to generate the plasma, and magnetic field for at least fifteen seconds. Today, you can buy a million-volt stun device on for around $50 and thyristor semiconductor technology could help ramp up the power surge necessary to sustain the arc.  Obviously, I’m not an engineer, but if you are, please feel free to chime in.


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About the Envisionist

Scott Denison is an accomplished visual, brand, interior, and set designer. He is currently Assistant Professor and Foundations Coordinator for the Department of Design at The Ohio State University. He continues his research in design fiction that examines the design-culture relationship within future narratives and interventions. You can read his online graphic novel in weekly updates at This blog contains commentary on all things future and often includes artist commentary on comic pages. You can find the author's professional portfolio at http://scottdenison(dot)com
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