If a computer or machine is watching me, so what? Graphic novel commentary.

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This week I’m picking up on a thread from a couple of weeks ago on how adaptive we are as a society and how that can be good and not so good. Gradual change is something we are less likely to notice than abrupt changes in the world around us. One could argue that our adaption to the abrupt changes are more survival oriented — we quickly adapt and then eagerly make efforts to revert to something we think is better. When confronted with things like natural disasters, wars, shortages or catastrophes we tend to adapt quickly, even band together, until the situation can be corrected, or together, we correct it. When we look at the incremental changes of technology, or augmentation, or bio/genetic modification, these changes (though they are coming increasingly faster) are much slower. Adaptation is not on a massive scale. It’s an S curve followed by another S curve, and then another. Before we know it, there has been a massive change. Technologies that enable us to rid ourselves of disease or poverty are one thing; they have less of an effect on an individual’s daily behavior. Technologies that enable us to cram more information into our brains at a faster pace, or stay awake longer, or focus better, including cosmetic improvements, or escapist entertainments may need to contain a warning label. It’s hard to deny that the onslaught of technology and information, of sound byte attention spans on a 24/7 time schedule has changed us. The question is: at what point will we no longer recognize ourselves.

The characters in The Lightstream Chronicles may have arrived at this question too late. Over a period of decades, society has gradually given up on the notion of privacy. It was exchanged, bit by bit for enhancements that enabled telepathy, to channel direct-to-brain, instantaneous entertainment or escape into the V, a brain-port to upload language fluency in two hours, protection from assault and kidnapping. Together with the demand for ubiquitous, “active surfaces” woven into every piece of their environment a 24/7, always-on picture of everyone, every minute became the norm. There seemed to be little question that the positives outweighed the negatives. So what if a computer or synthetic is watching me in my most private moments? It was awkward at first and took some getting used to, but government assurances that the “watchers” were only looking for laws that are being broken and putting citizens into danger, made things easier to take. After all, the watchers are just computers or machines; they are not making any moral judgments. And in a society where anything is legal as long as it is consensual, most people aren’t worried about breaking any laws. And if they feel like being deviant, well there is always the V. There they can delve into the darkest recesses of their imagination with impunity.

Relax. It’s all good.

 

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In the future, hurting people is a crime. In fact, in the surveillance-state, don’t even think about it.

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In last week’s The Lightstream Chronicles, weighing the rational against the emotional, Toei boldly suggested that perhaps a synthetic police detective could do a better job of apprehending the serial rape gang that has been successfully eluding Detective Guren for the past several months. These type of crimes — inflicting harm on another person — are top priority and usually solved immediately. With mesh imagery available for nearly every square meter of Hong Kong 2, the ultra-sophisticated surveillance that is capable of seeing everyone, anywhere, anytime would have quickly identified the imminent crime even before it was actually committed. Similar to matching a fingerprint, analysis of body language, gestures, heart rate and other data can predict almost instantaneously that an individual or individuals is about to commit a crime. The mesh, constantly “on”, looks for patterns of suspicious behavior and provides a 3D picture. When suspicious 3D mesh behavior is detected, computers quickly accesses the chipset of anyone in proximity. Readings from the autonomic nervous system of the victim(s) and/or perpetrator(s), provides evidentiary data. If it is determined that a crime is about to be committed, drones, police or sentinels are quickly dispatched to the scene. If the perpetrator(s) are synthetic, the job of detection is actually less complex than assessing human biometrics. Synthetics, even those who have been twisted, have “intent transmitters” which can quickly be identified by central security systems. In Detective Guren’s serial rape case, however, “outages” in the mesh prevented the first step initiation of this public safety protocol. Should he be held to blame?

Next week, I’ll talk about why crime continues to thrive in HK2.

Progress update

Perhaps it doesn’t take much to get me excited when it comes to The Lightstream Chronicles, but this week, while working on Chapter 3, I built the first few panels with whom I think is going to be our number one star. I don’t think it is too much of a spoiler to say that Keiji-T will play a very prominent role in the remainder of the story. If we make a movie analogy and look at the six chapters that comprise The Lightstream Chronicles (at least so far), then Chapter 1 was probably the first 15 minutes of the flick, and Chapter 2, the next 15 minutes or so. That makes introducing a prime player and arguably the lead character, a good 30 minutes after the start of the movie, a bit risky in standard practice for film evolution. Then again, it might not be totally accurate to say that he (it) has not been introduced. In truth, Keiji’s first appearance was in Chapter 1, on page 17 and then again in Sean’s lab. And there has been chatter about him, but not what you would call an official speaking part as of yet. So, since i know what is going to happen, starting to render Keiji is a pretty big deal for me.

Upcoming speaking engagements

Coming to London and Copenhagen
Coming to London and Copenhagen

I think I can safely say, now with travel arrangements in place, that I will be in London and Copenhagen this summer presenting papers on my design fiction research. The first appearance will be at Loncon3, the 72nd World Science Fiction Convention. It runs August 14 – 18 at ExCel in London. I don’t have a fixed time yet but I will be participating in the academic program in conjunction with the event. This is the place where they award the Hugo’s every year for the best in science fiction, and that is pretty exciting. The focus of the academic program is Diversity in Speculative Fiction. I will be presenting the intersection of my digital, online, graphic novel with the broader aspects of design fiction. Shortly thereafter, I will be presenting another paper more deeply focused on design fiction as design research and practice with in the “Design Thinking and Social Justice stream” of the The 2014 Art of Management and Organization Conference in Copenhagen, August 28-31. Both venues are very exciting opportunities. If you’re one of my followers from The Lightstream Chronicles or theEnvisionist.com, in either of these cities, stop by and say hello.

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Can we still march to a different drummer?

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Last week I proposed the question about how we will deal with the idea of our lives being “naked.” I’m probably wearing my glass-half-empty hat today, but if I had to guess what the pulse would be around the globe, I would probably say that 85 to 90 percent of the world hasn’t thought about it at all. Another 10 to 14 percent have thought about it but only superficially, not long enough or deeply enough to form an opinion one way or the other. The remaining 2 percent or so, are probably scattered about between excitement and dread. I have no data to support this other than my own secondary research through the media, culture and the arts; academic papers, futurist and forecasting journals, so the pulse I feel may not be at all real. With that disclaimer, I will dissect that scattered about group.

At one end of the scale are those who consider themselves to be “tech savvy”, those who are comfortable accommodating the latest and most advanced technology into their lifestyles  (and I probably have to include myself in that group) calmly, and maybe even eagerly enfold whatever it is either because we think it is just too cool to pass by or because we think it will be a real enhancement to our life. At the other end of the scale are those, (probably deeper thinkers) who look askance at every new development as something just short of reading the supermarket tabloids. They have a “this too shall pass,” approach and a “wait and see” perspective. Eventually they too may adopt the new technology, but by then, it won’t be new anymore, and they will have fully vetted it as either fad or functional. Some of this second group will be motivated by cost, as early-adopters will always pay top dollar for hot technology. Some will be satisfied with whatever level of technology they are currently using and have no time to fuss with new software or user interfaces, or operating systems. This group is probably not worried about being left behind.

Somewhere in the middle of the spectrum are a handful that might are a bit concerned with how ubiquitous it is all becoming and how it is no longer we who are enfolding technology but technology that is enfolding us. For this group, the idea is disconcerting. Now let’s see, where was I? Ah, yes, back to email…

Even the folks at the opposite end of the early adopter scale will eventually come around won’t they? I mean, they really don’t have a choice, do they? When whatever technology they are using decides to quit, it’s not like they can go back to using the old model. If they want to continue using the functionality they are accustomed to they have to buy the newest. That’s how it works, even for those who are not so quick to embrace it all. Maybe no one wants to be left behind, not really.

It looks suspiciously like a race. The destination is final digital convergence of everything we are. That’s not just alarmist Alex Jones stuff. Guys like Ray Kurzweil and companies like Google would love to see us all with non-invasive brain implants that connect directly to the Cloud, and they foresee that day happening before 2050. Hence, in that day we will all be of one mind, interconnected by our thoughts and accessing data, entertainment, virtual reality 24/7. Cool huh? We will be lightning fast, always on, and smart as a whip. That would include, of course, the kind and compassionate along with the scoundrels. If this is all moving too fast for you, keep in mind that it is just a sliver of where science and technology are leading.  Keep in mind that everything else, like biotech, and genetic engineering, and every other aspect of business and commerce, politics and society will be moving at a similar pace. But relax, we’ll adapt, just like we always do.

In a recent interview, Kurzweil may have pinpointed the underlying pressure that we will to bear to adopt the latest and most advanced. “I think human and computer intelligence will be mixed together just as it is now. We have conflicts today between groups of humans that are both enhanced by intelligent technology. A war between a group that used the latest technology and a group of humans who eschewed modern technology would be a very short war.” 1

All those in favor, say “Aye.”

All of this sarcasm has a point. What really motivates us to accept and enfold technology. Is it because we are afraid of being left behind when the rest of the world is doing it? Are we destined to be motivated by fear that our neighbor has an upload port behind her ear and we don’t? What  if the children across the street have brain enhancements that allow them to learn faster and retain more information, should my kids have it, too? It’s time to think about this. It is a possible future.

Next week: How this applies to The Lightstream Chronicles.

1.Segall, Eli. “Futurist Ray Kurzweil Predicts In-body Computers and a Potential War With machines.” Las Vegas Sun 26 Jan. 2013: n. pag. LasVegasSun.com. 26 Jan. 2013. Web. 13 Mar. 2014.

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The Naked Future. Are you ready?

Ed. note: Due to problems with my ISP, The Lightstream Chronicles was posted late this morning. Perhaps the subject of a future blog rant, after hours of something loosely called “tech support”,  I had to drive to the local Starbucks to upload the pages. Long live Starbucks!

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If you zip back to my blog about page 53 you’ll see a somewhat lengthy but not all that coherent post on the interaction between humans and synthetics. That post centers more on how synths, once they became realistically human, were quickly exploited as slaves, both menial and sexual. Though not all of the future society in The Lightstream Chronicles was to blame as soon as there was a device that could do your bidding, there were those who abused the technology. Some will see this is pure dystopic fiction but it is difficult to argue that the past is littered with the precedent for technological misuse. And as we move toward a more ethically relativistic society, misuse will have a narrower and narrower definition. Therefore, even in a society that should be more enlightened, it is completely plausible that we could treat our synthetic co-workers with less respect than real humans. The irony in this future speculation is that the technological enhancement of humans and their symbiotic fusion with the technosphere, along with the ever more emotional and empathic capabilities of synthetics, the line between real humanity is almost nonexistent.

The Naked Future

Thinking about the future is more than a geeky, sci-fi pastime. I believe it is our responsibility to engage with the political, scientific, social and ethical decision-making happening around us. Because, whether we know it or not, those decisions will make a huge impact on the shape of the world we live in tomorrow. It’s just one of the reasons that I am a card-carrying member of The World Future Society. As a member, I regularly check in with wfs.org to see read the latest prognostications on the future. If you look closely at the predictions or forecasts of any futurist, it’s possible to see where they are coming from as well. In other words, everyone comes at his or her vision of the future with an opinion: Is this aspect of the future all positive or is there a cautionary tone?

This is, of course, at the core of my design fiction research at Ohio State. So, as I was meandering around the wfs.org site I stumbled upon an article by Patrick Tucker, an editor at The Futurist magazine, a publication of WFS. This happened on March 5th. Coincidentally, I saw that Patrick’s book, The Naked Future: What Happens In A World That Anticipates Your Every Move? was about to be released on March 6th. Since this topic is dead center on my radar, I clicked over to iTunes to see if it was available as an iBook, and sure enough, it was. Nevertheless, I couldn’t wait so Googled up a YouTube video moderated by David Wood for the London Futurists and featuring the aforementioned Tucker along with futurists David Orban, Evan Selinger, Gray Scott, and Rachel Armstrong. It was a lively (though, at times, technically challenged) Skype meet-up that touched on some timely topics.

I hope to have a full review on Tucker’s book in a future blog but I think that the meet-up touched on some of the thought-provoking ideas that I’m sure are in-store for the reader. Naked is a perfect term for this idea of our lives being transparent and the book (though I am only partially through it) documents the shrinking evolution of big data from unwieldy complexity to smartphone accessibility — as a fearsome tool of the powerful over the weak to what is becoming an open resource. Therein is perhaps the most interesting part. We may as well accept that fact that this is a reality, and as Tucker explains (11) the big data era has already morphed into telemetry, “Telemetry is the collection and transfer of data in real time, as tough sensed.” The fact is we leave tracks. Extrapolating this is easy, walk the same path, explore some dark corner, innocently tweet and you are adding to your data. After a while, as much as you may wish to disbelieve, it is easy to predict where you will go next. As computing becomes more ubiquitous, all of our surfaces become live, as everything we touch leaves some sort of metadata fingerprint, eventually our lives will be, well, naked.

How will we deal with that? Some say to relax, that we’ll adapt to that change just like we have to every other change. I have some ideas on that, but I will save them for the next blog. Cheers.

 Tucker, Patrick The Naked Future: What Happens In A World That Anticipates Your Every Move? New York, Penquin, 2014.
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