Logical succession, the final installment.

For the past couple of weeks, I have been discussing the idea posited by Ray Kurzweil, that we will have linked our neocortex to the Cloud by 2030. That’s less than 15 years, so I have been asking how that could come to pass with so many technological obstacles in the way. When you make a prediction of that sort, I believe you need a bit more than faith in the exponential curve of “accelerating returns.”

This week I’m not going to take issue with an enormous leap forward in the nanobot technology to accomplish such a feat. Nor am I going to question the vastly complicated tasks of connecting to the neocortex and extracting anything coherent, but also assembling memories, and consciousness and in turn, beaming it to the Cloud. Instead, I’m going to pose the question of, “Why we would want to do this in the first place?”

According to Kurzweil, in a talk last year at Singularity University,

“We’re going to be funnier. We’re going to be sexier. We’re going to be better at expressing loving sentiment…” 1

Another brilliant futurist, and friend of Ray, Peter Diamandis includes these additional benefits:

• Brain to Brain Communication – aka Telepathy
• Instant Knowledge – download anything, complex math, how to fly a plane, or speak another language
• Access More Powerful Computing – through the Cloud
• Tap Into Any Virtual World – no visor, no controls. Your neocortex thinks you are there.
• And more, including and extended immune system, expandable and searchable memories, and “higher-order existence.”2

As Kurzweil explains,

“So as we evolve, we become closer to God. Evolution is a spiritual process. There is beauty and love and creativity and intelligence in the world — it all comes from the neocortex. So we’re going to expand the brain’s neocortex and become more godlike.”1

The future sounds quite remarkable. My issue lies with Koestler’s “ghost in the machine,” or what I call humankind’s uncanny ability to foul things up. Diamandis’ list could easily spin this way:

  • Brain-To-Brain hacking – reading others thoughts
  • Instant Knowledge – to deceive, to steal, to subvert, or hijack.
  • Access to More Powerful Computing – to gain the advantage or any of the previous list.
  • Tap Into Any Virtual World – experience the criminal, the evil, the debauched and not go to jail for it.

You get the idea. Diamandis concludes, “If this future becomes reality, connected humans are going to change everything. We need to discuss the implications in order to make the right decisions now so that we are prepared for the future.”

Nevertheless, we race forward. We discovered this week that “A British researcher has received permission to use a powerful new genome-editing technique on human embryos, even though researchers throughout the world are observing a voluntary moratorium on making changes to DNA that could be passed down to subsequent generations.”3 That would be CrisprCas9.

It was way back in 1968 that Stewart Brand introduced The Whole Earth Catalog with, “We are as gods and might as well get good at it.”

Which lab is working on that?

 

1. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/ray-kurzweil-nanobots-brain-godlike_us_560555a0e4b0af3706dbe1e2
2. http://singularityhub.com/2015/10/12/ray-kurzweils-wildest-prediction-nanobots-will-plug-our-brains-into-the-web-by-the-2030s/
3. http://www.nytimes.com/2016/02/02/health/crispr-gene-editing-human-embryos-kathy-niakan-britain.html?_r=0
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Logical succession, Part 2.

Last week the topic was Ray Kurzweil’s prediction that by 2030, not only would we send nanobots into our bloodstream by way of the capillaries, but they would target the neocortex, set up shop, connect to our brains and beam our thoughts and other contents into the Cloud (somewhere). Kurzweil is no crackpot. He is a brilliant scientist, inventor and futurist with an 86 percent accuracy rate on his predictions. Nevertheless, and perhaps presumptuously, I took issue with his prediction, but only because there was an absence of a logical succession. According to Coates,

“…the single most important way in which one comes to an understanding of the future, whether that is working alone, in a team, or drawing on other people… is through plausible reasoning, that is, putting together what you know to create a path leading to one or several new states or conditions, at a distance in time” (Coates 2010, p. 1436).1

Kurzweil’s argument is based heavily on his Law of Accelerating Returns that says (essentially), “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 rest, in the absence of more detail, must be based on faith. Faith, perhaps in the fact that we are making considerable progress in architecting nanobots or that we see promising breakthroughs in mind-to-computer communication. But what seems to be missing is the connection part. Not so much connecting to the brain, but beaming the contents somewhere. Another question, why, also comes to mind, but I’ll get to that later.

There is something about all of this technological optimism that furrows my brow. A recent article in WIRED helped me to articulate this skepticism. The rather lengthy article chronicled the story of neurologist Phil Kennedy, who like Kurzweil believes that the day is soon approaching when we will connect or transfer our brains to other things. I can’t help but call to mind what one time Fed manager Alan Greenspan called, “irrational exuberance.” The WIRED article tells of how Kennedy nearly lost his mind by experimenting on himself (including rogue brain surgery in Belize) to implant a host of hardware that would transmit his thoughts. This highly invasive method, the article says is going out of style, but the promise seems to be the same for both scientists: our brains will be infinitely more powerful than they are today.

Writing in WIRED columnist Daniel Engber makes an astute statement. During an interview with Dr. Kennedy, they attempted to watch a DVD of Kennedy’s Belize brain surgery. The DVD player and laptop choked for some reason and after repeated attempts they were able to view Dr. Kennedy’s naked brain undergoing surgery. Reflecting on the mundane struggles with technology that preceded the movie, Engber notes, “It seems like technology always finds new and better ways to disappoint us, even as it grows more advanced every year.”

Dr. Kennedy’s saga was all about getting thoughts into text, or even synthetic speech. Today, the invasive method of sticking electrodes into your cerebral putty has been replaced by a kind of electrode mesh that lays on top of the cortex underneath the skull. They call this less invasive. Researchers have managed to get some results from this, albeit snippets with numerous inaccuracies. They say it will be decades, and one of them points out that even Siri still gets it wrong more than 30 years after the debut of speech recognition technology.
So, then it must be Kurzweil’s exponential law that still provides near-term hope for these scientists. As I often quote Tobias Revell, “Someone somewhere in a lab is playing with your future.”

There remain a few more nagging questions for me. What is so feeble about our brains that we need them to be infinitely more powerful? When is enough, enough? And, what could possibly go wrong with this scenario?

Next week.

 

1. Coates, J.F., 2010. The future of foresight—A US perspective. Technological Forecasting & Social Change 77, 1428–1437.
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Logical succession, please.

In this blog, I wouldn’t be surprised to discover that of all the people I talk (or rant) about most is Ray Kurzweil. That is not all that surprising to me since he is possibly the most visible and vociferous and visionary proponent of the future. Let me say in advance that I have great respect for Ray. A Big Think article three years ago claimed that
“… of the 147 predictions that Kurzweil has made since the 1990’s, fully 115 of them have turned out to be correct, and another 12 have turned out to be “essentially correct” (off by a year or two), giving his predictions a stunning 86% accuracy rate.”

Last year Kurzweil predicted that
“ In the 2030s… we are going to send nano-robots into the brain (via capillaries) that will provide full immersion virtual reality from within the nervous system and will connect our neocortex to the cloud. Just like how we can wirelessly expand the power of our smartphones 10,000-fold in the cloud today, we’ll be able to expand our neocortex in the cloud.”1

This prediction caught my attention as not only quite unusual but, considering that it is only 15 years away, incredibly ambitious. Since 2030 is right around the corner, I wanted to see if anyone has been able to connect to the neocortex yet. Before I could do that, however, I needed to find out what exactly the neocortex is. According to Science Daily, it is the top layer of the brain (which is made up of six layers). “It is involved in higher functions such as sensory perception, generation of motor commands, spatial reasoning, conscious thought, and in humans, language.”2 According to Kurzweil, “There is beauty, love and creativity and intelligence in the world, and it all comes from the neocortex.”3

OK, so on to how we connect. Kurzweil predicts nanobots will do this though he doesn’t say how. Nanobots, however, are a reality. Scientists have designed nanorobotic origami, which can fold itself into shapes on the molecular level and molecular vehicles that are drivable. Without additional detail, I can only surmise that once our nano-vehicles have assembled themselves, they will drive to the highest point and set up an antenna and, violå, we will be linked.

 

Neurons of the Neocortex stained with golgi’s methode - Photograph: Benjamin Bollmann

Neurons of the Neocortex stained with golgi’s methode – Photograph: Benjamin Bollmann

I don’t let my students get away with predictions like that, so why should Kurzweil? Predictions should engage more than just existing technologies (such as nanotech and brain mapping); they need demonstrate plausible breadcrumbs that make such a prediction legitimate. Despite the fact that Ray gives a great TED talk, it still didn’t answer those questions. I’m a big believer that technological convergence can foster all kinds of unpredictable possibilities, but the fact that scientists are working on a dozen different technological breakthroughs in nanoscience, bioengineering, genetics, and even mapping the connections of the neocortex4, doesn’t explain how we will tap into it or transmit it.

If anyone has a theory on this, please join the discussion.

1. http://bigthink.com/endless-innovation/why-ray-kurzweils-predictions-are-right-86-of-the-time
2. http://www.sciencedaily.com/terms/neocortex.htm
3. http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-3257517/Human-2-0-Nanobot-implants-soon-connect-brains-internet-make-super-intelligent-scientist-claims.html#ixzz3xtrHUFKP
4. http://www.neuroscienceblueprint.nih.gov/connectome/

Photo from: http://connectomethebook.com/?portfolio=neurons-of-the-neocortex

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A facebook of a different color.

The tech site Ars Technica recently ran an article on the proliferation of a little-known app called Facewatch. According to the articles writer Sebastian Anthony, “Facewatch is a system that lets retailers, publicans, and restaurateurs easily share private CCTV footage with the police and other Facewatch users. In theory, Facewatch lets you easily report shoplifters to the police, and to share the faces of generally unpleasant clients, drunks, etc. with other Facewatch users.” The idea is that retailers or officials can look out for these folks and either keep an eye on them or just ask them to leave. The system, in use in the UK, appears to have a high rate of success.

 

The story continues. Of course, all technologies eventually converge, so now you don’t have to “keep and eye out” for ner-do-wells your CCTV can do it for you. NeoFace from NEC works with the Facewatch list to do the scouting for you. According to NECs website: “NEC’s NeoFace Watch solution is specifically designed to integrate with existing surveillance systems by extracting faces in real time… and matching against a watch list of individuals.” In this case, it would be the Facewatch database. Ars’ Anthony, makes this connection: “In the film Minority Report, people are rounded up by the Precrime police agency before they actually commit the crime…with Facewatch, and you pretty much have the same thing: a system that automatically tars people with a criminal brush, irrespective of dozens of important variables.”

Anthony points out that,

“Facewatch lets you share ‘subjects of interest’ with other Facewatch users even if they haven’t been convicted. If you look at the shop owner in a funny way, or ask for the service charge to be removed from your bill, you might find yourself added to the ‘subject of interest’ list.”

The odds of an innocent being added to the watchlist are quite good. Malicious behavior aside, you could be logged as you wander past a government protest, forget your PIN number too many times at the ATM, or simply look too creepy in your Ray Bans and hoody.

The story underscores a couple of my past rants. First, we don’t make laws to protect against things that are impossible, so when the impossible happens, we shouldn’t be surprised that there isn’t a law to protect against it.1 It is another red flag that technology is moving, too fast and as it converges with other technologies it becomes radically unpredictable. Second, that technology moves faster than politics, moves faster than policy, and often faster than ethics.2

There are a host personal apps, many which are available to our iPhones or Androids that are on the precarious line between legal and illegal, curious and invasive. And there are more to come.

 

1 Quoting Selinger from Wood, David. “The Naked Future — A World That Anticipates Your Every Move.” YouTube. YouTube, 15 Dec. 2013. Web. 13 Mar. 2014.
2. Quoting Richards from Farivar, Cyrus. “DOJ Calls for Drone Privacy Policy 7 Years after FBI’s First Drone Launched.” Ars Technica. September 27, 2013. Accessed March 13, 2014. http://arstechnica.com/tech-policy/2013/09/doj-calls-for-drone-privacy-policy-7-years-after-fbis-first-drone-launched/.
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The foreseeable future.

From my perspective, the two most disruptive technologies of the next ten years will be a couple of acronyms: VR and AI. Virtual Reality will transform the way people learn, and their diversions. It will play an increasing role in entertainment and gaming to the extent that many will experience some confusion and conflict with actual reality. Make sure you see last week’s blog for more on this. Between VR and AI so much is happening that these could easily outnumber a host of other topics to discuss on this site next year. Today, I’ll begin the discussion with AI, but both technologies fall into my broader topic of the foreseeable future.

One of my favorite quotes of 2014 (seems like ancient history now) was from an article in Ars Technica by Cyrus Farivar 1. It was a drone story about FBI proliferation to the tune of $5 million that occurred gradually over the period of 10 years, almost unnoticed. Farivar cites a striking quote from Neil Richards, a law professor at Washington University in St. Louis: “We don’t write laws to protect against impossible things, so when the impossible becomes possible, we shouldn’t be surprised that the law doesn’t protect against it…” I love that quote because we are continually surprised that we did not anticipate one thing or the other. Much of this surprise I believe, comes from experts who tell us that this or that won’t happen in the foreseeable future. One of these experts, Miles Brundage, a Ph.D. student at Arizona State, was quoted recently in an article in WIRED. About AI that could surpass human intelligence, Brundage said,

“At the point where we are today, no AI system is at all capable of taking over the world—and won’t be for the foreseeable future.”

There are two things that strike me about these kinds of statements. First is the obvious fact that no one can see the future in the first place, and secondly that the clear implication is, that it will happen, just not yet. It also suggests that we shouldn’t be concerned; it’s too far away. This article was about Elon Musk is open-sourcing something called OpenAI. According to Nathaniel Wood reporting for WIRED, OpenAI is deep-learning code that Musk and his investors want to share with the world, for free. This news comes on the heels of Google’s open-sourcing of their AI code called TensorFlow, immediately followed by a Facebook announcement that they would be sharing their BigSur server hardware. As the article points out, this is not all magnanimous altruism. By opening the door to formerly proprietary software or hardware folks like Musk and companies like Google and Facebook stand to gain. They gain by recruiting talent, and by exponentially increasing development through free outsourcing. A thousand people working with your code are much better than the hundreds inside your building. Here are two very important factors that folks like Brundage don’t take into consideration. First, these people are in a race and, through outsourcing or open-sourcing their stuff they are enlisting people to help them in the race. Secondly, there is that term, exponential. I use it most often when I refer to Kurzweil’s Law of Accelerating Returns. It is exactly these kinds of developments that make his prediction so believable. So maybe the foreseeable future is not that far away after all.

All this being said the future is not foreseeable, and the exponential growth in areas like VR and AI will continue. The WIRED article continues with this commentary on AI, (which we all know):

“Deep learning relies on what are called neural networks, vast networks of software and hardware that approximate the web of neurons in the human brain. Feed enough photos of a cat into a neural net, and it can learn to recognize a cat. Feed it enough human dialogue, and it can learn to carry on a conversation. Feed it enough data on what cars encounter while driving down the road and how drivers react, and it can learn to drive.”

Despite their benevolence, this is why Musk and Facebook and Google are in the race. Musk is quick to add that while his motives have an air of transparency to them, it is also true that the more people who have access to deep-learning software, the less likely that one guy will have a monopoly on it.

Musk is a smart guy. He knows that AI could be a blessing or a curse. Open sourcing is his hedge. It could be a good thing… for the foreseeable future.

 

1. Farivar, Cyrus. “DOJ Calls for Drone Privacy Policy 7 Years after FBI’s First Drone Launched.” Ars Technica. September 27, 2013. Accessed March 13, 2014. http://arstechnica.com/tech-policy/2013/09/doj-calls-for-drone-privacy-policy-7-years-after-fbis-first-drone-launched/.
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Harmless.

 

Once again, it has been a week where it is difficult to decide what present-future I should talk about. If you are a follower of The Lightstream Chronicles, then you know I am trying to write about more than science fiction. The story is indeed a cyberpunk-ish, crime-thriller, drama intended to entertain, but it is also a means of scrutinizing a future where all the problems we imagine that technology will solve often create new ones, subtle ones that end up re-engineering us. Many of these technologies start out a curiosities, entertainments, or diversions that are picked-up by early-adopting technophiles and end up, gradually in the mainstream.

One of these curiosities is the idea of wearable tech. Wristbands watches and other monitors are designed to keep track of what we do, remind us to do something, or now in increasing popularity, remind us not to do something. One company, Chaotic Moon is working on a series of tattoo-like monitors. These are temporary, press-on circuits that use the conductivity of your skin to help them work and transmit. They are called Tech Tats and self-classified as bio-wearables. In addition to their functional properties, they also have an aesthetic objective—a kind of tattoo. Still somewhat primitive (technologically and artistically) they, nevertheless, fall into this category of harmless diversions.

techtats

Monitoring little Susi’s temperature.

Of course, Chaotic Moon is hoping (watch the video) that they will become progressively more sophisticated, and their popularity will grow from both  as both tech and fashion. Perhaps they should be called bio-fashion. If no one has already claimed this, then you saw it here first, folks. If you watch the video from Chaotic Moon you’ll see this promise that these things (in a future iteration) will be used for transactions and should be considered safer than carrying around lots of credit cards. By the way, thieves are already hacking the little chip in your credit card that is supposed to be so much safer than the old non-chipped version. Sorry, I digress.

My brand of design fiction looks at these harmless diversions and asks, “What next?”, and “What if?”. I think most futurists agree that these kinds of implants will eventually move inside the body through simple injections or, in future versions, constructed inside via nanobots. Under my scrutiny, two interesting things are at work here. First there is the idea of wearing and then implanting technology which clearly brings us across a transhuman threshold, and the idea of fashion as the subtle carrier of harmlessness and adoptive lure. You can probably imagine where I’m going with that.

Next up is VR. Virtual reality is something I blog about fairly often. In The Lightstream Chronicles, it has reached a level of sophistication that surpasses game controllers boxes and hardware. You simply dial in your neocortex to the Lightstream, (the future Internet) and you are literally wherever you want to be and doing whatever your imagination can conjure up.  In the story, I more or less predict that this total immersion becomes seriously addictive. Check out the prologue episodes to Season 4.

Thanks to one of my students for pointing out this video called the Uncanny Valley.

“I feel like I can be myself and not go to jail for it.”

“I feel like I can be myself and not go to jail for it.”

You can watch it on Vimeo. Chat up the possible idea of any detrimental effects of video games with a gamer and you’ll almost certainly hear the word harmless.

These are the design futures that I think about. What do you think?

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Anticipation. Start by working with the future.

 

 

A couple of blogs ago I wrote about my experiment with the notion of ubiquitous surveillance. I chose this topic because in many ways surveillance is becoming ubiquitous. It is also the kind of technology that I see as potentially the most dangerous because it is slow and incremental and it grows through convergence.

Technological convergence is the idea that disparate technologies sometimes merge with, amplify and/or enfold other technologies. An example often cited is the smartphone. At one time its sole purpose was to make phone calls. Meanwhile other technologies such as calculators, cameras, GPS devices, and video players were each separate devices. Gradually, over time, these separate technologies (and many more) converged into a single hand-held device, the smartphone. Today we have a smartphone that would blow the doors off of a laptop from 15 years ago. The downside to technological convergence (TC) is that these changes can be very disruptive to markets. If you were in the business of GPS devices a few years ago you know what this means.

TC makes change much more rapid and more disorderly. Change becomes unpredictable.

The same concept can be applied to other technological advancements. Biotech could merge capabilities with nanotechnology. Robotics could incorporate artificial intelligence. Nanotech for example could enable many of the technologies formerly in our devices to be implanted into our bodies.

Google’s Chief of Tech and noted futurist Ray Kurzweil is a someone I follow. Not just because he’s brilliant, nor because I agree with his aspirations for future tech, but because he’s often right with his predictions; like 80% of the time. According to Peter Diamandis for singularityhub.com,

“’In the 2030s,” said Ray, ”we are going to send nano-robots into the brain (via capillaries) that will provide full-immersion virtual reality from within the nervous system and will connect our neocortex to the cloud. Just like how we can wirelessly expand the power of our smartphones 10,000-fold in the cloud today, we’ll be able to expand our neocortex in the cloud.”

I’ll let you chew on that for a few sentences while I throw out another concept. Along with all of these “technologies” that seem to be striving for the betterment of humankind, there are more than a few disruptive technologies that are advancing equally as fast. We could toss surveillance, hacking, and terrorism into that pot. There is no reason why these efforts cannot be advanced and converged at an equally alarming and potentially unpredictable rate. You can do the math.

Should that keep us from moving forward? Probably not. But at the same time, maybe we should start thinking about the future as something that could happen instead of something impossible?  

More to think about on a Friday afternoon.

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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 nature.com

Micropigs. Photo from BPI and nature.com

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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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 http://thelightstreamchronicles.com. 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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