Tag Archives: Moore’s Law

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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Futurist Artifacts. Where is the Design Fiction in Chapter 1?

I’m referring to chapter 1 of The Lightstream Chronicles, of course. I’ve decided to write about this since I fear that some folks (who actually care about such things) may have taken a pass on covering chapter 1, because the design fiction element wasn’t obvious or categorically relevant. I will be detailing some of this in future blogs.

The future of The Lightstream Chronicles is built with “artifacts” that, by virtue of the narrative, become infused with meaning. At the same time, they are intended to provide a sense of realism and increase engagement, as well as foster discussion and debate. Because design permeates culture, and is an inextricable part of daily life, as it has been for centuries and will likely be in the future, design also blends in, and the people living in, and with it, don’t particularly take notice of it. As Kirby suggests, this is the purpose of diegetic prototypes: characters take them for granted, which tells the audience that these are, in context, not magical, but rather everyday technologies.

As an example, it is helpful to consider how the current day has evolved. To a mid-20th century audience, the idea of a smart phone or an iPad may seem extreme or fantastic, but in the context of today’s culture, these tools are commonplace and have become significantly less remarkable to the users. The smart phone, as an example, is a designed technology that brings with it new efficiencies, and at the same time, engenders new behaviors. To imagine by what means humanity will communicate in 147 years, the designer must also speculate on what new behaviors that technology will engender. The first step is to research trending technology. In the example of the smart phone, there will likely be the convergence of many technologies. Miniaturization is one aspect. With the relentless pursuit of faster and more robust computing, physicists have calculated that miniaturization will, upon achieving the molecular limit, will come to a grinding halt. Unless molecular computing can pick up the slack, the end of Moore’s law (the idea computing power doubles every 12 months, or so), which is predicated on the use of silicon chips, is predicted to occur in the next 20-25 years. For the purposes of the story, it is assumed that this level of nano-engineering is successful. The next converging factor is the implantation of these devices into the human body. This is already in common technology in cochlear implants, pacemakers and medical information chips as well as security and tracking devices. Combined with advancements in retinal displays through contact lenses and eventually built-in devices, everything that is present-day smartphone technology will eventually be implanted into the human body.

In the future world of 2159, the smart phone is long gone. Relaying and transmitting messages, or images is achieved through the nano “chipset” implanted shortly after you are born. These react with luminous implants just under the skin of the fingertips. Users learn a sequential language of “taps,” fed via the body’s own electrical impulses to the brain to access different content and transmit or receive information. Tapping the correct sequence makes, a “call,” and the user can see the person on the other end through a retinal projection and talk, or simply “think” their conversation. In this instance, design has become internalized. Behavior is the only telltale sign that design is in use.

 

Luminous implants will be the portal to senses, emotions and data.
Luminous implants will be the portal to senses, emotions and data.

Not everything in the story was designed to be ”new.” Many future technologies were imagined as a blend of today and tomorrow. For centuries, society has been had a fascination with furniture and seating that will probably continue, only the materials will change. Just as “antiques” from a previous century find their way into current lifestyles, fashions, and personal artifacts, it is likely that these elements of 20th and 21st century culture will be carried forward into the 22nd century. It is plausible, therefore, that a LeCorbusier sofa winds up in the living space of a character from The Lightstream Chronicles. This mixture of old and new could also be expected in architecture. Though it may be surrounded by radical new designs, classic and even ancient architecture will be continually restored and renewed. Other artifacts like books and art, or artifacts from the past, will likely continue to be collected as they provide meaning and hold relevance in the culture.

Next post:

Building the Visible World

 

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