Tag Archives: design links

Disruption. Part 2.

 

Last week I discussed the idea of technological disruption. Essentially, they are innovations that make fundamental changes in the way we work or live. In turn, these changes affect culture and behavior. Issues of design and culture are the stuff that interests me and my research: how easily and quickly our practices change as a result of the way we enfold technology. The advent of the railroad, mass produced automobiles, radio, then television, the Internet, and the smartphone all qualify as disruptions.

Today, technology advances more quickly. Technological development was never a linear idea, but because most of the tech advances of the last century were at the bottom of the exponential curve, we didn’t notice them. New technologies that are under development right now are going to being realized more quickly (especially the ones with big funding), and because of the idea of convergence, (the intermixing of unrelated technologies) their consequences will be less predictable.

One of my favorite futurists is Amy Webb whom I have written about before. In her most recent newsletter, Amy reminds us that the Internet was clunky and vague long before it was disruptive. She states,

“However, our modern Internet was being built without the benefit of some vital voices: journalists, ethicists, economists, philosophers, social scientists. These outside voices would have undoubtedly warned of the probable rise of botnets, Internet trolls and Twitter diplomacy––would the architects of our modern internet have done anything differently if they’d confronted those scenarios?”

Amy inadvertently left out the design profession, though I’m sure she will reconsider after we chat. Indeed, it is the design profession that is a key contributor to transformative tech and design thinkers, along with the ethicists and economists can help to visualize and reframe future visions.

Amy thinks that voice will be the next transformation will be our voice,

“From here forward, you can be expected to talk to machines for the rest of your life.”

Amy is referring to technologies like Alexa, Siri, Google, Cortana, and something coming soon called Bixby. The voices of these technologies are, of course, only the window dressing for artificial intelligence. But she astutely points out that,

“…we also know from our existing research that humans have a few bad habits. We continue to encode bias into our algorithms. And we like to talk smack to our machines. These machines are being trained not just to listen to us, but to learn from what we’re telling them.”

Such a merger might just be the mix of any technology (name one) with human nature or the human condition: AI meets Mike who lives across the hall. AI becoming acquainted with Mike may have been inevitable, but the fact that Mike happens to be a jerk was less predictable and so the outcome less so. The most significant disruptions of the future are going to come from the convergence of seemingly unrelated technologies. Sometimes innovation depends on convergence, like building an artificial human that will have to master a lot of different functions. Other times, convergence is accidental or at least unplanned. The engineers over at Boston Dynamics who are building those intimidating walking robots are focused a narrower set of criteria than someone creating an artificial human. Perhaps power and agility are their primary concern. Then, in another lab, there are technologists working on voice stress analysis, and in another setting, researchers are looking to create an AI that can choose your wardrobe. Somewhere else we are working on facial recognition or Augmented Reality or Virtual Reality or bio-engineering, medical procedures, autonomous vehicles or autonomous weapons. So it’s a lot like Harry meets Sally, you’re not sure what you’re going to get or how it’s going to work.

Digital visionary Kevin Kelly thinks that AI will be at the core of the next industrial revolution. Place the prefix “smart” in front of anything, and you have a new application for AI: a smart car, a smart house, a smart pump. These seem like universally useful additions, so far. But now let’s add the same prefix to the jobs you and I do, like a doctor, lawyer, judge, designer, teacher, or policeman. (Here’s a possible use for that ominous walking robot.) And what happens when AI writes better code than coders and decides to rewrite itself?

Hopefully, you’re getting the picture. All of this underscores Amy Webb’s earlier concerns. The ‘journalists, ethicists, economists, philosophers, social scientists’ and designers are rarely in the labs where the future is taking place. Should we be doing something fundamentally differently in our plans for innovative futures?

Side note: Convergence can happen in a lot of ways. The parent corporation of Boston Dynamics is X. I’ll use Wikipedia’s definition of X: “X, an American semi-secret research-and-development facility founded by Google in January 2010 as Google X, operates as a subsidiary of Alphabet Inc.”

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How we made the future in the past.

 

 

Decisions. Decisions. Today’s blog was a toss up between another drone update (probably next week) and some optimistic technology news (for a change). Instead, I decided to go another route entirely. This week FastCo blurbed a piece on the “new” limited edition book collection, “The Making of Stanley Kubrick’s ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’. It’s no so new, the 4 volume set that sold for $1000 sold out in no time, but the story is a compelling one. The $70, second printing is on my Christmas list. There are a dozen fascinating angles to the 2001 production story. FastCo’s article, “The Amazingly Accurate Futurism of 2001: A Space Odyssey“, focuses on the film’s “attention to the technical and design details that made the film such an enduring paragon almost 50 years after its release.” I could not agree more. This latest book’s author, Piers Bizony wrote a predecessor back in 1994 entitled “2001: filming the future.” This book is currently out of print, but I managed to snag a copy for my library. It’s a captivating story, but like FastCo, I am in awe of Kubrick’s brilliance in the team he brought together to build the sets and design the props.

“He assembled a skunkworks team of astronomical artists, aeronautics specialists, and production designers. Aerospace engineers—not prop makers—designed switch panels, display systems, and communications devices for the spacecraft interiors.”

The objective was realism and total believability. It worked. I remember seeing it in the theater on the BIG screen (I was five years old). There was nothing else like it — ever— a testimony to the fact that we still marvel at its accuracy nearly fifty years later.

Clearly Kubrick was a visionary, but what might be more impressive is how they made it look so real. Today, we watch tidal waves take out New York City, and 20 story robots transform into sports cars. It has almost become ho-hum. To capture the effects that Kubrick did it required an inspiring level of ingenuity. Much of this goes to his production designers and the genius of Douglas Trumbull. These special effects, people walking on walls, floating in weightlessness, or believable spacecraft gliding through the cosmos were analog creations. Take for example the gracefully revolving centrifuge: they built it. Or the spacewalking scenes that I believe are every bit as good as 2013’s Gravity. The film was full of artifacts from the future and a tribute to design and engineering problem solving that was and is most rare.

Kubrick's-Centrifuge
They built it!

I could rave about this movie all day, but I can’t sign off until I rave a bit about the film itself. By this, I mean the story. First released in 1968, at the crux of this narrative is an Artificial Intelligence that becomes self-aware. It is so freaking convincing that I leave with this clip. You can also get a taste of how truly visual this film was.

Photo from 2001: Filming the future. Piers Bizony 1996
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What games will we change next? Is your game one of them?

A few of weeks ago I was blogging about open sourcing, collaboration and how all these tectonic shifts change industries, professions and more. Then, there was a recent blog on the future of work and how even white collar jobs, the ones that everyone thought were bullet-proof, are targets for dissolution by artificial intelligence (AI). Could designers be targets as well? That was the subject of the first post I mentioned.

So a couple of things crossed my glance that could have a bearing on the design, manufacturing, collaboration, and what we think of as the traditional maker-economy. What bearing will it have? Who knows? I think we should keep an eye on them.

1. Not long ago, WIRED had an article and video on how a “regular guy” without any special “making” skills was able to fabricate, in his home, a fully functioning and untraceable AR15 automatic rifle. Of course, doing so is illegal, so after testing his weapon on the firing range he turned over the parts to the local police. It was all in the name of journalism. Check it out.

The fully assembled AR-15.  Photo: JOSH VALCARCEL/WIRED
The fully assembled AR-15. Photo: JOSH VALCARCEL/WIRED

2. I read an article in Harvard Business Review about the very interesting trend in business toward Network Orchestrators. According to HBR, “These companies create a network of peers in which the participants interact and share in the value creation. They may sell products or services, build relationships, share advice, give reviews, collaborate, co-create and more. Examples include eBay, Red Hat, and Visa, Uber, Tripadvisor, and Alibaba.”

What do these things have in common? They are potential game-changers. Heck, they’ve already changed the game. The bigger question for us is what game will they change next. Both models challenge traditional “expertise”. The expert, the specialist, the factory, the tradesman (and in some cases the authorities) are getting edged out. It has applications to just about everything including medicine and the work that we believed could only be done by the specialist. So what should we do about it? I don’t have the answer, but I can tell you this: We should be thinking about it.

Just sayin’.

 

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Robots will be able to do almost anything, including what you do.

There seems to be a lot of talk these days about what our working future may look like. A few weeks ago I wrote about some of Faith Popcorn’s predictions. Quoting from the Popcorn slide deck,

“Work, as we know it, is dying. Careers and offices: Over. The robots are marching in, taking more and more skilled jobs. To keep humans from becoming totally obsolete, the government must intervene, incentivizing companies to keep people on the payroll. Otherwise, robots would job-eliminate them. For the class of highly-trained elite works, however, things have never been better. Maneuvering from project to project, these free-agents thrive. Employers, eager to secure their human talent, lavish them with luxurious benefits and unprecedented flexibility.  The gap between the Have’s and Have-Nots has never been wider.”

Now, I consider Popcorn to be a marketing futurist, she’s in the business to help brands. There’s nothing wrong with that, and I agree with almost all of her predictions. But she’s not the only one talking about the future of work. In a recent New York Times Sunday Book Review (forwarded to me by a colleague) Rise Of The  Robots | Technology and the Threat of a Jobless Future, Martin Ford pretty much agrees. According to the review, “Tasks that would seem to require a distinctively human capacity for nuance are increasingly assigned to algorithms, like the ones currently being introduced to grade essays on college exams.” Increasingly devices, like 3D printers or drones can do work that used to require a full-blown manufacturing plant or what was heretofore simply impossible. Ford’s book goes on to chronicle dozens of instances like this. The reviewer, Barbara Ehrenreich, states, “In ‘Rise of the Robots,’ Ford argues that a society based on luxury consumption by a tiny elite is not economically viable. More to the point, it is not biologically viable. Humans, unlike robots, need food, health care and the sense of usefulness often supplied by jobs or other forms of work.”

In another article in Fast Company, Gwen Moran surveys a couple of PhD’s, one from MIT and another who’s executive director of the Society of Human Resource Management. The latter, Mark Schmit agrees that there will be a disparity in the work force. “this winner/loser scenario predicts a widening wealth gap, Schmit says. Workers will need to engage in lifelong education to remain on top of how job and career trends are shifting to remain viable in an ever-changing workplace, he says.” On the other end of the spectrum some see the future as more promising. The aforementioned MIT prof, Erik Brynjolfsson, “…thinks that technology has the potential for “shared prosperity,” giving us richer lives with more leisure time and freedom to do the types of work we like to do. But that’s going to require collaboration and a unified effort among developers, workers, governments, and other stakeholders…Machines could carry out tasks while programmed intelligence could act as our “digital agents” in the creation and sharing of products and knowledge.”

I’ve been re-accessing Stuart Candy’s PhD dissertation The Futures of Everyday Life, recently and he surfaces a great quote from science fiction writer Warren Ellis which itself was surfaced through Bruce Sterling’s State of the World Address at SXSW in 2006. It is,

“[T]here’s a middle distance between the complete collapse of infrastructure and some weird geek dream of electronically knowing where all your stuff is. Between apocalyptic politics and Nerd-vana, is the human dimension. How this stuff is taken on board, by smart people, at street level. … That’s where the story lies… in this spread of possible futures, and the people, on the ground, facing them. The story has to be about people trying to steer, or condemn other people, toward one future or another, using everything in their power. That’s a big story. “1

This is relevant for design, too, the topic of last week’s blog. It all ties into the future of the future, the stuff I research and blog about.  It’s about speculation and design fiction and other things on the fringes of our thinking. The problem is that I don’t think that enough people are thinking about it. I think it is still too fringe. What do people do after they read Mark Ford? Does it change anything? In a moment of original thinking I penned the following thought, and as is usually the case subsequently heard it stated in other words by other researchers:

If we could visit the future ”in person,” how would it affect us upon our return? How vigorously would we engage our redefined present?

It is why we need more design fiction and the kind that shakes us up in the process.

Comments welcome.

1 http://www.warrenellis.com

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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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Kickstarter graphic novel has a futurist angle.

Writing a science fiction graphic novel that is set 147 years from now takes a lot of speculation on what the future holds. Not only technology is up for grabs, but geopolitics, society, transportation, fashion, and entertainment. The list is endless. There is a prevailing view among many science fiction writers that writing anything that falls in the near future runs dangerously close to being obsolete before you are published. That is one of the reasons I chose a far future scenario. It does drift into the realm of futurism. Of course, that is not my profession. There are plenty of futurists out there; professionals that make a living at researching and prognosticating on what might happen. They rarely go this far into the future, however. It’s just too far away to know and so much can happen between then and now.

Nevertheless, I am considering this a work of design fiction with a little bit of critical design thrown in for good measure. Design fiction is an emerging field of study that combines the application of design and speculative futures to, “enhance our capacity to seek out and work with possibility… exchange speculative ideas, disrupt conventional mindsets with provocative visions of alternative futures, and affirm individual agency” (Resnick, 2011:iii).1

Though the terms are sometimes used interchangeably, speculative design might be seen as an evolution of critical design. “Speculative design is a dreamlike exercise – manufacturing alternate worlds, ones which feel every bit as real as the ‘real world’ we inhabit day-to-day… It cannot predict the future, but it can shape the present”(Keating, 2011).2

At a basic level, design is a future-oriented pursuit—to create something that does not currently exist. Thus, as design expands to embrace more complex social issues and wicked problems, the migration toward, and application to the future sciences becomes more relevant. High atop these disciplines is the study of foresight. Foresight embodies critical thinking about long-term developments, to generate debate and participation toward shaping the future, especially toward public policy.1 In the practice of foresight and futures research, usually, “in the service of national strategic interests (Resnick, 2011:13), many have arrived at the conclusion that the changes imminent in the 21st Century are so broad and happening so fast, that current methodologies cannot cope.“ “… the emerging strategic conditions of the 21st Century require us for the first time in history to develop the capacity to engage consciously in the evolution of existing human cultures, including their most fundamental frames of reference” (Nelson, 2010:282).3

The graphic novel project and this paper are based on a collection of ideas from the aforementioned experiments into critical design, speculative design, design fiction, foresight, design research, and narrative among others. The project is, at a surface level, a science-fiction graphic novel. It depicts a future where technological, political, and cultural “evolutions” have not only transpired, but are commonplace. They have become a part of the everyday fabric of a future culture.

All of this underlies what, on the surface, looks like a sci-fi, crime thriller. But that makes it that much more interesting on many different levels. So, if this all sounds a bit too scholarly for you, forget it. Enjoy the story. Remember Chapter 1 is still free online and there is still time to get in line for the book or digital edition when it’s completed.

The police maintain order in DownTown, through cruisers and remote drones. The drones can scan your implanted chips (everyone has them) and quickly identify if you are authorized to be in this neck of the woods. More on The LIghtstream Chronicles website. http://thelightstreamchronicles.com

Citations:

1.Resnick, R. (2011) Materialization of the speculative in foresight and design. Master of Design. OCAD-Ontario College of Art and Design.

2. http://pstevensonkeating.co.uk/a-critique-on-the-critical

3.Nelson, R. (2010) Extending foresight: The case for and nature of Foresight 2.0. Futures, 42 (4), p.282-294.

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Graphic novel, sequential art, comic… It’s a book.

I have an observation that I find continually reaffirms itself. If you study man-made concoction long enough, you will find something to change. It was an unwritten rule from my agency, and design firm days that you should never leave a presentation image up for more than 5 minutes or somebody will find something wrong with it. With a few rare exceptions, that is a good rule of thumb. Unfortunately, when you are working on a project that takes a year to complete you find yourself looking back at past decisions that will ultimately have to be incorporated into a finished work some time in the future. There is no guarantee that a year from now I will like what I see. Already, despite the fact that I labored long and hard over my eight character designs—posting nothing without lengthy inspection and scrutiny— there are changes I know I will have to make. And then, there’s that title. I’ve decided to tweak that, too.

Graphic novel. If you set up a Google Alert for the term, (in quotes) you will get a fair amount of daily chatter. The kinds of books that crop up are more likely to be titles like Habibi, or Blankets, Watchmen, Maus, a Kickstarter project, and that sort of thing. You don’t seem to get a lot of discussion, these days, on whether or not the term is a good one or not. Most people in the biz and in the library system have accepted the graphic novel as probably a longer form than a standard “serial” comic,  and whether or not it is a compilation of several “serial” comics under one story arc into a single, bound novel, it probably steers toward older readers with story lines that are not conventional comic book themes. Since many graphic novels are one-off, stand-alone works, this can be another differentiating feature. I emphasize the work probably because there are always exceptions. With that being said, there is still a certain pretentiousness that accompanies the term through no fault of its own. Some people will use the term because it helps define the book as of the aforementioned types. Others will use the term in an attempt to ascribe some sort of weightiness or affectation of greater worthiness over comic book fare. Alas, there is nothing you can do about that. When I use the term it is to let people know that this is a long form comic.

With all that said, at this point, sticking”The Graphic Novel” into the title of my book now strikes me as dumb, so I’m taking it out. The new title (which I’m still considering a working title) is simply, LIGHTSTREAM Moment of Truth. You can call it a graphic novel if you want and I will still refer to it that way. You can call it sequential art storytelling. You can call it an illustrated novel. You can call it whatever you want, but in the final analysis it’s a story. It’s a book.

I’ve made this subtle change on most of the postings (except for the concept art on my web site, I hope to get to that this week). Changes, changes, changes.

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Graphic novel concept art unveiled

Phase 1 of my graphic novel project is now online. The book will be titled: LIGHTSTREAM The Graphic Novel: Moment of Truth.

Here is the synopsis.

The year is 2159. One major, global government — New Asia — has engulfed most of Europe and North America. The government maintains tight control of the Lightstream — the evolved Internet — as well as rights and freedoms. Science has made it possible to manufacture life-like bionic persons. Known as synthetics, these bionics are found in all walks of life and can be virtually indistinguishable from humans.

In the former America, the largest city is New Hong Kong (also known as HK2). Here, the celebrity-son of a high-ranking government official is brutally attacked and left for dead. Police investigator Keiji-T, the latest in synthetic technology is assigned to the case. Under pressure from above, Keiji is given 24 hours to find the truth or to pin the crime on “the usual suspects”.  Though confident that his highly advanced programming has prepared him for the task, Keiji suddenly encounters conflicting instructions from a mysterious data implant.

In the next 24 hours Keiji, together with his human and synthetic counterparts, must unravel what is true and false in a world where it is difficult to tell what is real.

There you have it. Concept art is being showcased in several places. 1. DeviantArt, 2. The CGSociety, 3. scottdenison.com Ultra hi-res images are on DeviantArt which is set up for big files.

A few notes on design which you probably have gathered from my previous blog posts. I have another year of work on roughly 100 pages of CG but this is the look and feel that I will be working toward on every page. Since the entire graphic novel will be built in CG, that makes the scope of the project enormous. I have had to resort to starting with base stock models primarily for figures, clothing and and some background architecture. This is something I’ve wrestled with this for a long time but if I have to create everything myself the project will never be finished and most of these have been greatly customized and 90% of the environments, vehicles and props are all custom using Maya and Modo. The rendering is in Bryce. There is only minor retouching in Photoshop and the framing and typography are using Illustrator.

Comments welcome.

I’m taking Labor Day off. Hope you enjoy.

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Graphic novel update: 8.29.11

There is little in the way of academic thought today as I have been crunching away at my self-imposed deadline to finish my eight key characters this week. I’m happy to report that I’m running renders on the last one right now. This one is turning out to be it’s own unique challenge, as they all have been, but will probably require numerous render passes and more compositing than the others.

I’ve also decided to make DeviantArt my launching point for these characters. I thought about doing it right here but this blog is not really set up for large imagery and DevArt handles that pretty well. Plus, these are the people who really appreciate the work that goes into this so it makes sense. I’ll be adding them to scottdenison.com but in a lower res format.

Now, the question is: one a day, or all at once? I’ve created a template for the characters that links them all into the book title and supplies some basics on who they are. There will be a story synopsis to accompany the launch, but it’s going to be a year before the 500 or more panels are complete so after this, folks are just going to have to use their imagination. I’m thinking that to keep things alive until the book is finished I’ll be posting random renders, scenes, props, “diegetic prototypes”, (there, I made my academic contribution) and such. And, of course, I will keep everyone in the loop on progress.

This autumn I will be teaching Basic Design at OSU, which is a heavy 2:45 studio, three days a week. No telling, at this point, how much it will eat into my design time on the book. We’ll have to wait and see.

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