The Null Device
Posts matching tags 'futurism'
Kevin Kelly (one of the original WIRED contributors) and Brian Eno (no introduction needed) have a game where they try to come up with improbable trends for the near future and extrapolate them. While some of them are (at least nowadays), somewhat lacking in the "improbable" aspects (computer power plateauing has been predicted for a while, people are avoiding American citizenship for tax reasons, Sao Paolo in Brazil has already banned billboard advertising, a deadly airborne plague has been feared since SARS and bird flu and there are predictions that the end of cheap oil will enrich inner cities whilst turning formerly affluent suburbs into impoverished backwaters), others (particularly some of Eno's) are thought-provokingly out-there:
Everybody becomes so completely cynical about the election process that voter turnout drops to 2 percent (families and relatives of prospective politicians) until finally the "democratic process" is abandoned in favour of a lottery system. Everything immediately improves.
Suicide becomes not only commonplace but socially acceptable and even encouraged. People choose when to die: living too long is considered selfish and old-fashioned.
A new profession -- cosmetic psychiatry -- is born. People visit "plastic psychiatrists" to get interesting neuroses and obsessions added into their makeup.
A new kind of holiday becomes popular: you are dropped by helicopter in an unknown place, with two weeks' supply of food and water. You are assured that you will not see anyone else in this time. There is a panic button just in case.
A highly successful new magazine -- Ordinary People, edited by the nonagenarian Studs Terkel -- focuses only on people who have never done anything in particular to deserve attention.
A new type of artist arises: someone whose task is to gather together existing but overlooked pieces of amateur art, and, by directing attention onto them, to make them important. (This is part of a much larger theory of mine about the new role of curatorship, the big job of the next century.)
Manufacturers of underwear finally realize that men have different-sized balls.
(via Boing Boing)
In March, the British Library is hosting hosting a futurist banquet, based on Futurist Manifesto author Filippo Marinetti's 1932 La Cucina Futurista:
The starter makes it clear that this will be no ordinary meal. Expect to be served an olive, a quartered fennel bulb and a kumquat, while the fingers of your free hand stroke morsels of velvet, silk and sandpaper. At the same time the scent of carnations will be sprayed into the room and your ears will be assailed by “wild jazz”, Wagner and aeroplane noise.
Typical Futurist dishes included meat broth sprinkled with champagne and liquor and decorated with rose petals, or the deliberately obscene-looking porco eccittato, a whole cooked salami upended on a plate with coffee sauce mixed with eau de cologne.
Benito Fiore, chairman of the Italian Academy of Cuisine in London, is hosting the event to support the British Library exhibition Breaking The Rules: The Printed Face of the European Avant Garde 1900-1937. He said: “Marinetti was a really fantastic person but his food was awful to eat. We are trying to make it edible.”Entry to the banquet is £75; dress code is "classic or 1930s with a Futurist twist".
Charlie Stross has published his list of Christmas wishes for 2007:
2) There is a disease pandemic that affects all of us. Its onset is slow but progressive and it inevitably gets worse once it is established. Symptoms include skin damage and inelasticity, loss of muscle tone with consequent lethardy, neurological degradation, bone damage, and at a cytological level damage to chromosomes and errors in mitochondrial DNA transcription that appear to drastically increase susceptibility to cancer. In extreme cases, it kills, although victims frequently die of other causes first. It may well be an acquired zoonosis or an endogenous retrovirus, because it is more or less universal among mammals but members of some other classes of animal (such as reptiles and fish) don't show obvious signs of it. This disease is senescence, and it would make me very happy indeed if people stopped treating it as inevitable and started treating it as a pathological condition that needs curing. I am myself feeling the early onset signs (I'm in my forties) and having to watch the decay of elderly relatives, who I remember from their vigorous middle age, fills me with a sense of helpless anger. (In fact, I'm not sure abolishing senescence shouldn't be in the #1 place, ahead of world peace: at least we have a chance of avoiding war.)
3) I was originally going to put a cure for AIDS and Cancer in at this level — as a bumper-pack, I guess -- but I've changed my mind. AIDS and cancer make life a misery for many and kill up to a third of us, but there's some hope that they can be abolished without invoking a magic wand. On the other hand, as a species, we suffer from a dismaying surfeit of, to put it bluntly, misogynistic old sacerdotal bigots. It's not simply a matter of being a member of the clergy; I have no beef with belief itself (although I frequently consider it misplaced, irrational, or just plain silly). Rather, it is with the expression of bigoted religious beliefs that punish or restrict the freedom of others, within a political or cultural framework that provides them with the force or actuality of law. In Saudi Arabia, a woman who was gang raped was subsequently sentenced to be lashed for adultery (yes, I know she was subsequently pardoned; that's not the point); in Africa, lying clergy assert that condoms spread AIDS and preach against their use: in Nicaragua a church-inspired ban on abortion is killing women with ectopic pregnancies: children are witch hunted in Nigeria, homosexuals around the world are routinely preached against and persecuted, as are religious minorities, such as Baha'i in Iran ... the list is endless. It's mostly women who are on the receiving end of this -- the "minority" that's a majority, constituting about 51% of the human population -- but when you add all the other out-groups up, I'd be surprised if less than two-thirds of humanity aren't suffering direct or indirect privation as a result of religious bigotry. I just want those who preach intolerance and hatred to stop.
7) Global climate change is clearly a big deal. It doesn't matter whether it's anthropogenic or a consequence of natural variation in insolation -- it's going to affect us either way, and the cause only affects us insofar as it might determine some of the things we've got to do to survive it. Similarly, it's fairly clear that we are not, contrary to orthodox Green ideology, going to deal with this by wailing, putting on hair shirts, and going back to being pre-industrial peasant subsistence farmers. Nor are we going to deal with it by reducing our carbon budget. (You want to reduce our species' carbon budget? Get a rifle and shoot someone. You don't get a lower carbon budget than a corpse. NB: please don't suggest this to some of our more excitable politicians who might be worrying about meeting their carbon trading limits in the near future. That would be Bad.) No; dealing with global climate change is going to take big business and big engineering projects. Lots of nuclear reactors, solar power farms, and plants pumping CO2 into the salt domes of evacuated oil and gas fields. All of which means it's going to cost big money, but in turn, it's going to make big profits for the companies that wise up first and realize that mitigating climate change can be a shiny new business proposition. Please, let's stop thinking negative-sum about climate change and start thinking positive-sum? Capitalism will clean up its own shit -- once it acquires a new set of taste buds and realizes it's delicious.
Charlie Stross has written a travelogue about Japan. As with most, nay, all of his stuff, it is very much worth reading:
You can wander into a Japanese department store and lose an entire day, without even scraping the surface of the mall it's embedded in. My personal nemesis is Yodabashi Camera: a department store that has a clothing and houseware department embedded in it where most such shops would feature an electronics boutique department. Half of the sixth floor of its Yokohama branch is given over to capsule toy vending machines, where for 200 yen (about 80 pence) you can turn the knob and acquire a tennis ball sized bundle of mysterious plasticky goodness with a model kit of some complexity within. My favourite (which Feorag acquired from a capsule toy machine at Puroland, of which more later) is a capsule toy that contains a self-assembly model of a capsule toy machine, complete with tiny capsule toys ready to vend. Even the toys teach recursion ...
Tokyo is ... well dammit, I only spent four days there and you expect me to describe it? Tokyo left me feeling like an illiterate Albanian shepherd teleported without warning to the UK, staring slack-jawed in wonder at the vast, gleaming, powerful public works of metropolitan Huddersfield, reeking of wealth and efficiency and a goat-free future. From the thirty-seventh floor of a skyscraper I looked out across the high rise skyline, red lights blinking fretfully in the grip of a typhoon as winds strong enough to blow sheets of rain up the glass of the window rumbled around me, and I realized: this future has no place for goats.
Kyoto, the former imperial capital, looks like just another modern Japanese city at first. But then, as you're walking through a shopping arcade that specializes in commercial catering supply shops (such as the shop that sells nothing but cash registers, or the signage supplier), you spot a gap between two stalls — and plugging it, the courtyard of an ancient Buddhist temple, sharing a cigarette with the high wooden archway of a Shinto shrine. There's a sign in front, with an English translation, so you pause to read it. "Founded by the abbot ... around 768 ... burned down during the wars ... this is a modern reconstruction ..." And you're about to walk away, disappointed, when you read the final words: " ... created in 1633." It's just as much a modern replica as the Christopher Wren reconstruction of St Paul's Cathedral — and yet, the same language is used of reproduction castles cast in the concrete of 1930s modernism, or Buddhist temples from the fourteenth century.
These living conditions place a mold around the behaviour of the people who live with them. Take the wearing of uniforms, for example. In the UK, with a few exceptions — the uniformed services of government, police and military and fire services — we respond poorly to being placed in a uniform; it's a sign of depersonalization, stripping us of individuality. In Japan, however, uniforms are everywhere. Even people who don't have to wear them seem to gravitate towards workwear that's uniform in its appearance: taxi drivers in dark suits, peaked hats, and white gloves. Uniforms confer status — a uniform is a sign that you belong to some greater social context, to a corporation or a shop or a school or something important.(The last part makes a similar point to Momus' essay on "superlegitimacy".)
On a tangent: Earthquake sets Japan back to 2147.
Wired has an interview with Ridley Scott about the soon to be released final cut of Blade Runner:
It's the same as trying to do a monster movie. You know, Alien is a C film elevated to an A film, honestly, by a great monster. In this instance, my special effect was the world. That's why I put together people like [industrial designer] Syd Mead who were actually serious futurists. The big test is saying, Draw me a car in 30 years' time, without it looking like bad science fiction. Or, Draw me an electric iron that will be pressing shirts in 20 years without it looking silly. I wanted the world to be futuristic and yet feel — not familiar, because it won't be — but feel authentic. One of the hardest sets to design was the kitchen. It's easy to fantasize about Tyrell's giant neo-Egyptianesque boardroom, but imagining a bathroom and kitchen in those times, that's tricky. Nevertheless, fascinating. I love the problem.The piece also includes pullquotes from various luminaries about Blade Runner:
J. Craig Venter, Geneticist:
"The movie has an underlying assumption that I just don't relate to: that people want a slave class. As I imagine the potential of engineering the human genome, I think, wouldn't it be nice if we could have 10 times the cognitive capabilities we do have? But people ask me whether I could engineer a stupid person to work as a servant. I've gotten letters from guys in prison asking me to engineer women they could keep in their cell. I don't see us, as a society, doing that."
Ray Kurzweil, Futurist
"The scenario of humans hunting cyborgs doesn't wash because those entities won't be separate. Today, we treat Parkinson's with a pea-sized brain implant. Increase that device's capability by a billion and decrease its size by a hundred thousand, and you get some idea of what will be feasible in 25 years. It won't be, 'OK, cyborgs on the left, humans on the right.' The two will be all mixed up."
Blog discovery of the day: Paleo-Future, a blog devoted to yesteryear's predictions for the future, from Buckminster Fuller's visionary contraptions to tree-crushing, highway-building robot juggernauts, to flying cars, robot housemaids, free love (a feature of several 1970s-vintage predictions of life in a few decades' time), and vast oceans of leisure time, all tagged by category and decade.
Don't expect to find any dystopias, mass die-offs or post-apocalyptic wastelands here, though; the fragments featured in Paleo-Futurism all have an upbeat tone, often to the point of naïveté, informed by a faith in the march of technological progress which seems charmingly quaint today. What was in the water supply in the mid-20th century anyway?
(via Boing Boing)
Today in rocket science: scientists have developed a rocket-powered mechanical arm. I guess they were right, and in the future, everything will be rocket-powered.
I wonder whether installing one of these as a prosthetic limb would be classified as rocket surgery.
In the future, we'll have terrorism by flashmob and EMP weapons, ethnic cleansing by neutron bomb, neurally-implanted computer chips and the resurgence of Marxism as the middle classes become the new proletariat. Oh, and spray-on computers.
WIRED has a picture of a bookshop's "how-to" section from the post-singularity future; this includes titles like "Talking To Your Kids About Mitochondrial De-Aging", "Our Hive-Mind, Ourself", and "The Easy Way To Stop Playing World of Warcraft: A 12-Step Guide". Not to mention a few contributions from famous people, such as Katie Holmes' "Dianetics Revisited" and Francis Fukuyama's "The End of History: This Time For Sure".
(via Boing Boing)
The Wall Street Journal on lowered expectations for the future, or how poorly the present compares against futurologists' and sci-fi writers' predictions from a few decades ago of where we'd be around 2005:
We read all these stories the moment they popped onto our screens, just as we'll read all the space-exploration stories to come -- we love this stuff. But that said, those stories didn't deliver the same thrill they would have 25 years ago. And we doubt very much that the next quarter-century will be much different. (We assumed we'd see men on Mars by now; at today's pace, we'd be pleasantly surprised if our grandkids do.)
Start with the space shuttle. Without taking anything away from the astronauts, the biggest accomplishments of the Discovery mission were that a) it came back; and b) an astronaut pulled bits of cloth out from between tiles. Moreover, NASA had already announced future flights will be grounded because the agency can't keep foam from falling off fuel tanks.Of course, while we didn't get Martian colonies, personal rocket cars, cocktail bars on the Moon, food pills or 80-lane hamster-tube highways snaking their way beneath the glass domes of shiny 21st-century cities, we did get a lot of things down here on Earth:
When we were kids, computers were hulking things off in universities that chattered and blinked mysteriously before spitting out reams of paper. Today, we feel guilty about putting exponentially more-powerful machines than those out on the curb. Back then if you wanted cash you structured your day around when you'd stand in line at the bank; today your choice might be between deli ATMs or settling a debt via PayPal. We have Web-enabled phones in our pockets, instant messaging at the office and can shop in our skivvies at 3 a.m. Wonders upon wonders -- it's only up in the heavens that we're a generation behind.
Which brings us back, unhappily, to the future all those sci-fi books of our youth described. Looking 25 more years down the road, we fear we'll find an amplified, more-depressing version of today: Maybe Real Time 2030 will fret about how our college kids do little more than steal full-res holographic porn when they're not getting their financial identities stolen by cyber-jihadists eager to build more backpack nukes.
A gallery in London is staging an exhibition of Italian late-futurist "aeropainting", vaguely Art Deco-ish paintings of bombers on missions and such from Mussolini's Italy. The Ettorick Collection are downplaying the fascist subtext of the images, though that hasn't gotten past the appalled Guardian columnist, who also suggests that the Berlusconi government's backing of such an exhibition may be part of an attempt to rehabilitate Mussolini, and/or a fascist streak in the right-wing Italian government.
Tato painted this piece of fascist crap in 1937. Does the date ring a bell? It was on April 26 1937 that the Condor Legion of the German Luftwaffe, in support of General Franco's war against the Spanish Republic, bombed the Basque capital Guernica, on a market day, killing 1,654 people out of a population of 7,000. Pablo Picasso began Guernica after he read about this new chapter in the story of human cruelty. It seems plausible that Tato's painting Aerial Mission refers to the same events. For more than half a century Picasso's Guernica has preserved the memory of a town torn to pieces by aerial bombing. Now, at last, Futurist Skies gives us the other point of view: that of the murderer in the cockpit.
Futurist Skies is not a joke. It is not a parody but an example of the moronic complacency of the art world. And it really does have the support of the Italian state. Silvio Berlusconi's government has meanly and destructively starved museums of cash. But the director of the Estorick Collection warmly thanks the Italian foreign ministry for its "commitment" and "support" for this exhibition of meretricious art from the golden age of Il Duce. At least it's good to know where the Berlusconi government's cultural priorities lie. Claiming "aeropainting" as a major 20th-century art amounts to rehabilitating fascist kitsch.
And, for reference, Flying and the Fascist Aesthetic, a screed from USENET a decade or so ago, making a connection between the two subjects:
Why is flying inherently fascist? Because it exploits man's drive to put himself *above* the masses, as if the masses were some sort of disease that needs to be expurged from the soul. Flight becomes partly a search for clarity [of the sort that fascist movements purport to offer], partly a quest to raise the spectre of patriarchic hegemony to new, unfounded heights. Here there are many parallels to Hitler. Everything in Hitler's speeches built on the idea of "purity", "room for living", etc. So it is no doubt that some parallels may rise to the surface, once that surface is scratched.
Remember 21C, the glossy, graphically impeccable cyberculture magazine of the 1990s, which followed in the footsteps of MONDO 2000, coming from a combination of the inner suburbs of Sydney and the cyberculture Petri dish of the Bay Area? (Come to think of it, remember the heady, optimistic futurism of early-90s cyberculture, when it was about more than new ways of making a buck and the latest titanium-plated gizmos?) Well, it's back, at least in the online sense. (The glossy, coffee-table-proportioned dead-tree edition may still be some way off.) And they've got articles, such as this one on bootleg remixes, and this slightly pomo celebration of the mythology of pimp culture.
Remember WIRED Magazine; that MONDO 2000 for the masses? Well, they've now got an issue on the future of music, in which they got various musicians to talk about how they work with technology. Malcolm McLaren comes across as pretentious, Jean-Benoit Dunckel (of Air fame) seems obsessed with bootywhang, while Björk sounds, well, Björkish.