Tag Archives: world future society

Thought leaders and followers.

 

Next week, the World Future Society is having its annual conference. As a member, I really should be going, but I can’t make it this year. The future is a dicey place. There are people convinced that we can create a utopia, some are warning of dystopia, and the rest are settled somewhere in between. Based on promotional emails that I have received, one of the topics is “The Future of Evolution and Human Nature.” According to the promo,

“The mixed emotions and cognitive dissonance that occur inside each of us also scale upward into our social fabric: implicit bias against new perspectives, disdain for people who represent “other”, the fear of a new world that is not the same as it has always been, and the hopelessness that we cannot solve our problems. We know from experience that this negativity, hatred, fear, and hopelessness is not what it seems like on the surface: it is a reaction to change. And indeed we are experiencing a period of profound change.” There is a larger story of our evolution that extends well beyond the negativity and despair that feels so real to us today. It’s a story of redefining and building infrastructure around trust, hope and empathy. It’s a story of accelerating human imagination and leveraging it to create new and wondrous things.

It is a story of technological magic that will free us from scarcity and ensure a prosperous lifestyle for everyone, regardless of where they come from.”

Woah. I have to admit, this kind of talk that makes me uncomfortable. Are fear of a new world, negativity, hatred, and fear reactions to change? Will technosocial magic solve all our problems? This type of rhetoric sounds more like a movement than a conference that examines differing views on an important topic. It would seem to frame caution as fear and negativity, and then we throw in that hyperbole hatred. Does it sound like the beginning of an agenda with a framework that characterizes those who disagree as haters? I think it does. It’s a popular tactic.

These views do not by any means reflect the opinions of the entire WFS membership, but there is a significant contingent, such as the folks from Humanity+, which hold the belief that we can fix human evolution—even human nature—with technology. For me, this is treading into thorny territory.

What is human nature? Merriam-Webster online provides this definition:

“[…]the nature of humans; especially: the fundamental dispositions and traits of humans.” Presumably, we include good traits and bad traits. Will our discussions center on which features to fix and which to keep or enhance? Who will decide?

What about the human condition? Can we change this? Should we? According to Wikipedia,

“The human condition is “the characteristics, key events, and situations which compose the essentials of human existence, such as birth, growth, emotionality, aspiration, conflict, and mortality.” This is a very broad topic which has been and continues to be pondered and analyzed from many perspectives, including those of religion, philosophy, history, art, literature, anthropology, sociology, psychology, and biology.”

Clearly, there are a lot of different perspectives to be represented here. Do we honestly believe that technology will answer them all sufficiently? The theme of the upcoming WFS conference is “A Brighter Future IS Possible.” No doubt there will be a flurry of technosocial proposals presented there, and we should not put them aside as a bunch of fringe futurists. These voices are thought-leaders. They lead thinking. Are we thinking? Are we paying attention? If so, then it’s time to discuss and debate these issues, or others will decides without us.

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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!

p66

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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26 pages – graphic novel – design fiction

Unfortunately, they are not yet available to view. I need to complete 4 more spreads to end Chapter 1. At that point I need to put together a Kickstarter project and see if I can get some support to complete the remaining 200-odd pages (all in CG). Most of the feedback from the “editorial staff” of friends and family has been positive with lots of good suggestions. I also need to put in some work on the books web site, and a way of showcasing the uber-hi-res images for the Chapter 1 preview which will come with the Kickstarter launch.

I recently posted one of those signs you see on message boards with the little tear-off tabs around the art/design building on campus looking for a Chinese translator. As nifty as Google Translator is, it really doesn’t give you context which is all-important in Chinese (and most other languages for that matter). As you know, my graphic novel takes place in Hong Kong, about 100 years from now when most of the globe is governed by China, New Asia, as it is called then. As is the case today, we find a mix of English and Chinese throughout the society and I want my Chinese to be as accurate and believable as possible. After a couple of weeks, I finally got a student volunteer (he will get a signed copy of the book and credit in the back) to do a sanity check on my signs and use of the language. Sadly, based upon Linxiao’s assessment I had to go back and make some changes. Another reason that pages are not yet ready for prime time.

All of this is texture of course, background to add believability and context.

Other notes: On the design fiction front, I just got word that the paper I submitted to the World Future Society’s scholarly journal World Future Review, has been accepted, edited and will be published in the group’s upcoming special conference edition that will be distributed at the WFS conference in Toronto, later this summer.

Meanwhile, I am working away on my presentation to the Rocky Mountain Conference on Comics and Graphic Novels (RMCCGN) and it looks like I’m coming in right around 20 minutes. Now, I’m attending to the visuals. The topic is the same as the WFS paper: When designers ask, “What if?”

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Grinding it out – Graphic Novel update

Today: 3D tutorials. Web comics. Future of clothing. World Future Society.

Have I mentioned how I hate to learn software? It’s a young man’s game. As I remember back to the early 90’s, I taught myself 3D with programs like Strata 3D and PowerAnimator. Somehow it was easier then — software more intuitive (and less robust) — or I was just a lot younger. Anyway, I find myself having to learn certain aspects of the various software programs that are in my stable, just to move from point A to point B. Clothing is a bear. I mean really. Getting clothing to look realistic can be a nightmare. I’m a full week behind on my character designs and clothing is a big part of the issue. Nevertheless, I am grinding on. I still plan to release my eight key characters in September along with the plot line for the book. This comes with the caveat that I can change my mind at any time.

I have also toyed with the idea of launching the story in weekly form online, but have since thought better of it. I’m afraid that launching my graphic novel online before it is finished will prohibit the kind of last minute tweaks and changes that help continuity and overall polish. For example, my first spread is a fairly ambitious project in and of itself, and I am trying to capture a number of sophisticated visual effects to set the state for the whole story. But as I continue to work daily, I actually find that I’m getting better at what I do. What my first spread looks like today could look infinitely better in a year, (when I hope to be finished) if I could go back with new chops and polish it up.

Speaking of clothing… I’ve also done a lot of thinking about what people will be wearing in 150 years. Putting on my futurist hat, my design speculation is that clothing will be more technologically active than today, and a body suit will be the standard for most. It will also be possible to create your wardrobe in your closet, a scarf, a jacket, whatever on your own 3D textile printer. But most of the time you will be wearing a tight fitting body suit that is constantly monitoring your internal chemistry as well as functioning as a mediator with the outside world to provide information and protection. If you are thinking that some people will not look so good in a tight fitting body suit, that should not be a problem, since we will be long past the medical advancements required to maintain perfect body weight and muscle tone late into your first century. So there.

That brings an interesting point and why I have to keep driving toward the finish line on this as fast as I possibly can. If I take too long on design, I run the danger of never finishing. A year is a long time. My whole story vision could change if I’m not careful and over the course of a year I run the risk of hating everything I’ve done thus far. This happens, so I’m going to have to watch out for it.

On an academic note. The World Future Society is calling for essays for next year’s WorldFuture 2012: Dream. Design. Develop. Deliver. Neatly, they’ve inserted design into the theme. What could be better than that for my design fiction essay. I will probably submit. I’d love to attend.

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