Tag Archives: genetic engineering

Disruption. Part 1

 

We often associate the term disruption with a snag in our phone, internet or other infrastructure service, but there is a larger sense of the expression. Technological disruption refers the to phenomenon that occurs when innovation, “…significantly alters the way that businesses operate. A disruptive technology may force companies to alter the way that they approach their business, risk losing market share or risk becoming irrelevant.”1

Some track the idea as far back as Karl Marx who influenced economist Joseph Schumpeter to coin the term “creative destruction” in 1942.2 Schumpeter described that as the “process of industrial mutation that incessantly revolutionizes the economic structure from within, incessantly destroying the old one, incessantly creating a new one.” But it was, “Clayton M. Christensen, a Harvard Business School professor, that described it’s current framework. “…a disruptive technology is a new emerging technology that unexpectedly displaces an established one.”3

OK, so much for the history lesson. How does this affect us? Historical examples of technological disruption go back to the railroads, and the mass produced automobile, technologies that changed the world. Today we can point to the Internet as possibly this century’s most transformative technology to date. However, we can’t ignore the smartphone, barely ten years old which has brought together a host of converging technologies substantially eliminating the need for the calculator, the dictaphone, land lines, the GPS box that you used to put on your dashboard, still and video cameras, and possibly your privacy. With the proliferation of apps within the smartphone platform, there are hundreds if not thousands of other “services” that now do work that we had previously done by other means. But hold on to your hat. Technological disruption is just getting started. For the next round, we will see an increasingly pervasive Internet of Things (IoT), advanced robotics, exponential growth in Artificial Intelligence (AI) and machine learning, ubiquitous Augmented Reality (AR), Virtual Reality (VR), Blockchain systems, precise genetic engineering, and advanced renewable energy systems. Some of these such as Blockchain Systems will have potentially cataclysmic effects on business. Widespread adoption of blockchain systems that enable digital money would eliminate the need for banks, credit card companies, and currency of all forms. How’s that for disruptive? Other innovations will just continue to transform us and our behaviors. Over the next few weeks, I will discuss some of these potential disruptions and their unique characteristics.

Do you have any you would like to add?

1 http://www.investopedia.com/terms/d/disruptive-technology.asp#ixzz4ZKwSDIbm

2 http://www.investopedia.com/terms/c/creativedestruction.asp

3 http://www.intelligenthq.com/technology/12-disruptive-technologies/

See also: Disruptive technologies: Catching the wave, Journal of Product Innovation Management, Volume 13, Issue 1, 1996, Pages 75-76, ISSN 0737-6782, http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/0737-6782(96)81091-5.
(http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/0737678296810915)

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A Science Fiction Graphic Novel About Design and the Human Condition

Page 100

We’ve reached page 100 and in some cases, The Lightstream Chronicles is already longer than many graphic novels. Nevertheless, as meaty as the author has worked it to be, there is so much more in the developing story. I was asked recently, “Where is it going?”

Expect some intrigue, angst and an action packed climax, but as with most science fiction and even design fiction, it is about people.

If you know anything about the author, you know that I’m a designer, heavily ensconced in research in the area of Design Fiction, Speculative Design, and Design Futures. The Lightstream Chronicles is a foray into a future world where we, like it or not, have been changed by the design and technology that we have embraced over the years. We are different. Our behaviors and expectations have changed. This is what design does to society and culture. Don’t get me wrong; it is not necessarily a bad thing. Design is a product of which we are as human beings. It is a reflection of humanity. Hence, it will reflect both bad and good, something that I believe is not a “fixable” tweak in our DNA. It is the essence of our design. In many respects, without it, we cease to be human. We have the choice between good and evil and depending on what we choose, our design and the various manifestations of it will reflect those choices.

As I wrote,

“In The Lightstream Chronicles, the author creates a science fiction graphic novel and asks that the reader ponder the same self-rationalizing tendency as it applies to slick new enhancing technologies and the “design” decisions that fostered them. It looks at not only the option to make the decision, but the ethics of whether the decision should be made, as well as society’s competency to choose wisely.1”

Perhaps then, it becomes a graphic novel about the human condition. In a way then, it is like most fiction, but it is that and more. It also examines where we find meaning, especially when most of what we would consider our greatest fears—of death, disease, physical or mental decline, of enough food and water, sustaining the environment or having enough energy—have vanished. Is it enough to satisfy us, to fulfill us, and give us meaning or does it leave us wanting?

The only thing that seems to have survived the grasp of man and his ability to wipe it away is evil. The perfection of synthetic humans would seem to be the answer, though even then, man has found a way to twist them. And if we become the creators are not our creations still made in our image?

What do you think?

 

1.Denison, E. Scott. When Designers Ask, “What If?”. Electronic MFA Thesis. Ohio State University, 2013. OhioLINK Electronic Theses and Dissertations Center.
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Who is paying attention to the future? You’re standing in it. 

If you are familiar with this blog you can that tell that I am enamored of future tech, but at the same time my research in design fiction often is intended to provoke discussion and debate on whether these future technologies are really as wonderful as they are painted to be. Recently, I stumbled across a 2012 article from the Atlantic.com (recommended) magazine (Hessel and Goodman) that painted a potentially alarming picture of the future of biotech or synthetic biology, known as synbio. The article is lengthy, and their two-year-old predictions have already been surpassed, but it first reminds us of how technology, historically and currently, builds not in a linear progression, but exponentially like Moore’s Law. This is an oft quoted precept of Ray Kurzweil, chief futurist for Google and all around genius guy, for the reason that we are avalanching toward the Singularity. The logic of exponential growth in technology is pretty much undeniable at this point.

Hessel and Goodman take us through a bit of verbal design fiction where in the very near future it will be possible to create new DNA mathematically, to create new strains of bacteria, and new forms of life for good and for not so good. The article also underscores for me how technology is expanding beyond any hope of regulatory control, ethical considerations or legal ramifications. No one has time to consider the abuse of “good technology” or the unintended consequences that inevitably follow from any new idea.  If you are one of those people who, in an attempt to get through all the things you have to read by taking in only the intro and the conclusion. Here is a good take away from the article:

“The historical trend is clear: Whenever novel technologies enter the market, illegitimate uses quickly follow legitimate ones. A black market soon appears. Thus, just as criminals and terrorists have exploited many other forms of technology, they will surely soon turn to synthetic biology, the latest digital frontier.”

If you want to know how they dare make that assertion you will have to read the article and it is not a stretch. The unintended consequences are staggering to say the least.

Of course, these authors are only dealing with one of dozens if not hundreds of new technologies that because of the exponential rate of advancement are hanging over us like a canopy filling with water. Sooner or later, preferably sooner, we will —all of us—demand to bring these ideas into collaborative discussion.

In addition to my research, I write fiction. Call it science fiction or design fiction. It doesn’t matter to me. As dystopic as The Lightstream Chronicles may seem to my readers, in many ways I think that humanity will be lucky to live that long—unless we get a handle on what we’re doing now.

Some links for the incredulous:

http://www.genome.gov/sequencingcosts/

http://www.genewiz.com/index.aspx

http://mashable.com/2013/05/15/personal-genetics-resources/

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Cyberpunk decisions: to augment or not to augment

Page 28 comments

Introducing Techman: The Lightstream Chronicles‘ first real punk in this cyberpunk future. If you check out the character profile on Techman in the Cast section of the site you’ll see he’s an interesting dude. Back in the latter part of the 21st century, Techman was one of the first experiments in defying the aging gene — and one of the only survivors of that initial testing. He dropped off the grid rather than be a lab rat for the genetics companies. While Techman is chronologically 140 years old he opted out most of the rest of the typical trans-human augmentation, so he’s a bit overweight, prefers blue jeans, t-shirts and leather to bio-sensitive, morphing bodysuits. He still flies under the radar, is a bit paranoid, keeps a low profile and manages to make a living with collectors of antique technology and probably some contraband here and there. As you see on page 28, Techman is a bit of a throwback using such antiquated technology as biometric scanners. Also, in the final panel we see that he and Sean have some history as well as a strong friendship. Much more to come on that. Hope you like Techman’s hang out; lots of texture.

There's more about Techman on the Cast page.
There’s more about Techman on the Cast page.

Call for discussion. Have thoughts on the art, the story, or the flow of the book, cyberpunk, design fiction, cgi or anything else? I’d love to knead into a discussion. Feel free to comment.

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Why are the bodies so perfect in this graphic novel?

Now that the first chapter of the graphic novel is up at Kickstarter, this topic has surfaced a few times in conversation and in critique. “Why are the bodies so beautiful or so developed?” Usually, this kind of commentary is reserved for how women are often depicted in comics as overly voluptuous with images that pander to the stereotypical adolescent male reader. In the case of The Lightstream Chronicles, however there is no discrimination between males and females. All the men are just as muscularly perfected, and their body suits just as tight fitting as their female counterparts.

There is no obesity in the 22nd century, male or female.

There are actually numerous reasons for the choice of body style. First and probably most important is that it is story appropriate. The design fiction future of The Lightstream Chronicles has been built in equal parts, on what exists today, what is projected for tomorrow and then some healthy speculation. How we will behave and what will we wear when everybody has “the perfect body?” According to Barbara Cohen, PhD. (1984), “We are a culture nearly addicted to individual control and the notion seems to exist in our society that fatness means a loss of self-control – which is considered the ultimate moral failure in our culture, and perhaps the most frightening of all fears” (1). In the story narrative, through genetic engineering, and continuous monitoring and augmentation of body chemistry, the society of 2159 has enabled the sculpting of any body shape, musculature, and proportion, (in addition to gene splicing and species blending). Hence, the story contains a visual proliferation of ideal bodies as a direct result of technological advancements in medicine and body design. The plot then, serves to drive body exaggerations in this context and provides the opportunity to examine the perfect body phenomenon in the cultural context of the narrative.

Andrew Curry (2010) examines this idea in The 1910 Time Traveler, asking what a 1910 Edwardian might think of 21st century London. He thinks many of the technologies may well be conceivable. The bigger changes may be in the quality and realism of content, the disappearance of industry and cleaner air. “The bigger changes, though, would almost certainly be about values.” The society is more international, more politically civil, the role of women has changed dramatically, and then there is: “Casualness of dress and social etiquette generally: both Edwardian men and women tended to travel well covered up, even at the beach. In contrast, our informality of clothing, and the casualness of our language – even rudeness – along with the end of most visible signs of etiquette, would be a profound change… But there’s perhaps an underlying story here. When we think about long-term change with the benefit of hindsight, the things we think are unfathomable are usually the technology – planes, cars, computers. But it is at least as likely that the things that time travelers would most struggle with are the shifts in social values, which are almost invisible to us because we swim in them constantly and adapt ourselves to them as they change.”

If an Edwardian would be shocked at a 21st century bikini, I imagine that we would be equally aghast at body suits that show off every detail of the ideal physique.

There is also another, more subtle rationale as homage to the superhero genre. There are two aspects to this objective: 1.Dramatic effect. Comics historian R.C. Harvey (1996,35) calls to mind the name of Burne Hogarth who drew Tarzan for a period in the 1940s. Remarking on Hogarth’s unique and, “minute attention to musculature,” Harvey says, “This treatment gave dramatic emphasis to the actions being depicted: Hogarth’s character, their muscles shown in bold relief, appeared to strain with the effort of their endeavors. The effect was to add a visual intensity to the drama of the narrative” 2. Heightened realism. Detail in anatomy adds visual excitement. In discussing the artwork of comic artist Jack Kirby, Harvey, refers to his realistic style. “Realistic rendering helps make it all seem possible, and Kirby’s skillful deployment of the medium’s resources makes the action so exciting that we overlook the impossibilities. We can’t help concluding that super heroics are possible—but we must add, only in the comics” (40). To aficionados of the classic comic genre, as well as to game enthusiasts (who are certainly targeted consumers of the graphic novel) superhero depictions, with exaggerated anatomy and operatic movement are an expected part of the presentation.

Not that I hold a candle to Jack Kirby, but it’s the thought that counts.

 

Citations:

Cohen, Barbara A. Ph.D. (1984). The Psychology of Ideal Body Image as an Oppressive Force in the Lives of Women. Available: http://www.healingthehumanspirit.com/pages/body_img.htm. Last accessed 22 Oct 2012.

Curry, Andrew. http://thenextwavefutures.wordpress.com/2010/09/04/the-1910-time-traveller/

Harvey, Robert C., The Art of the Comic Book: An Aesthetic History. The University Press of Mississippi, 1996.

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