Scott Smith's presentation "Beware of Flat-Pack Futures" is a stinging critique of thoughtless corporate futurism, that he delivered at Media Future Week in Almere, Netherlands. His "flat-pack futures" are the insufficiently weird, bland, like-today-only-moreso futures we see depicted all around us. He proposes a weirder, more textured, more contradictory future and a toolkit for thinking about it. It's a whole hour, but it's an hour very, very well spent.
William Shatner takes us into the Microworld for this 1980 promotional film from the AT&T Archives. Ah, the history of the future.
Last week, I told you about the US Supreme Court ruling that made it illegal to patent naturally occurring DNA. In that article, I talked briefly about the fact that the new ruling doesn't cover all DNA. It's still perfectly legal to patent synthetic DNA, and the court documents referred specifically to complementary DNA (aka cDNA).
This is where things get murky. Complementary DNA is a thing that can be both natural and synthetic. And, as a laboratory creation, it's an important step in a common method of replicating naturally occurring DNA. All of which leaves some holes in the idea that the Supreme Court ruling is a simple "win" for open-access science, patent activists, and patients. After all, if you can't patent a gene, but you can patent the laboratory copy of the gene, what's that mean? It's sort of like not being able to patent a novel, but being able to patent a copy of its contents that's had all the white space removed. It seems like everybody is a bit confused by this. So I wanted to take a moment to at least clarify what cDNA is and what some people, on different sides of the science/law/biotech divides, are thinking about it.
It starts with some stuff you learned back in junior high — how information from your DNA gets turned into actual working proteins.
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Game designer creates a never-played-by-humans titanium boardgame and buries it for play 2700 years from now
Michael McWhertor recounts Jason Rohrer's extraordinary Game Developers' Conference presentation from last March; Rohrer used a set of genetic algorithms to evolve and play-test a board-game that no human ever played, then he milled it out of a piece of titanium and buried it, along with acid-free rules encased in Pyrex, and buried it in the desert for someone to dig up in 2,700 years and play for the first time. It was in response to a design challenge called "Humanity's Last Game," and Rohrer certainly made a run at it.
To accomplish that, Rohrer first built the game in computer form, designing a set of rules that would be playtested not by a human, but by an artificial intelligence. He said he plugged the game's rules into a "black box," letting the AI find imbalances, iterating new rules and repeating. Rohrer showed the video game version of his board game onscreen, but obscured key portions of the board game's layout, so no one in attendance could reverse engineer its mechanics.
Then he set about manufacturing it. Rattling off a list of board game materials that would be unlikely to last the intended passage of time (wood, cardboard, aluminum, glass), Rohrer ultimately decided to make the game from a resilient metal. He machined the 18-inch by 18-inch game board and the pieces future players will use out of 30 pounds of titanium.
Rohrer laid out the game's rules diagrammatically on three pages of archival, acid-free paper, hermetically sealed them inside a Pyrex glass tube — which were then housed inside a titanium baton — and set about burying them in the earth.
The game is now embedded somewhere in the Nevada desert. Rohrer's not exactly sure where, as he plotted out available public land far enough away from roads and populated areas, hoping to find a suitable, desolate location to hide the game. He buried it in the desert himself, he said, turned around and walked away from the game's indistinguishable resting place.
His finale was distributing about a million GPS coordinates spread across hundreds of envelopes, and explaining that it would take one person a million days (about 2,700 years) to visit each site and check it with a metal-detector. However, my money is on this being buried somewhere along the trash-fence at Burning Man.
Game designer Jason Rohrer designs a game meant to be played 2,000 years from now, hides it in desert [Polygon/Michael McWhertor]
On Super Punch, set of photos of a beautiful, enbubbled, betailfinned Los Angeles land yacht spotted on the 101. Hoo-ah.
In a fascinating installment of the IEEE Techwise podcast [MP3], Rice University Computational Engineering prof Moshe Vardi discusses the possibility that robots will obviate human labor faster than new jobs are created, leaving us with no jobs. This needn't be a bad thing -- it might mean finally realizing the age of leisure we've been promised since the first glimmers of the industrial revolution -- but if market economies can't figure out how to equitably distribute the fruits of automation, it might end up with an even bigger, even more hopeless underclass.
I think the issue of machine intelligence and jobs deserves some serious discussion. I don’t know that we will reach a definite conclusion, and it’s not clear how easy it will be to agree on desired actions, but I think the topic is important enough that it deserves discussion. And right now I would say it’s mostly being discussed by economists, by labor economists. It has to also be discussed by the people that produce the technology, because one of the questions we could ask is, you know, there is a concept that, for example, that people have started talking about, which is that we are using, we are creating technology that has no friction, okay? Creating many things that are just too easy to do.
Many of these ideas came up in this Boing Boing post from January, which also touches on Race Against the Machine: How the Digital Revolution is Accelerating Innovation, Driving Productivity, and Irreversibly Transforming Employment and the Economy, a book that Vardi mentions in his interview.
Slate, the New America Foundation and Arizona State University have kicked off a new podcast called "Future Tense," hosted by Internet scholar Tim Wu. The inaugural episode is an interview with Neal Stephenson wherein Neal and Tim talk about where the future has gone -- why we no longer seem to dream of jetpacks and instead focus on fiddly mobile phones. Stephenson gets some very good points in on the lack of predictivity in science fiction, and what sf really contributes to the future.
There are six installments in all -- coming episodes include conversations with Margaret Atwood and me!
Bruce Sterling's speech from NEXT Berlin is a blast of cold air on the themes of startup life, disruption, and global collapse. Bruce excoriates the startup world for its complicity with the conspiracy of the global investor class to vastly increase the wealth of a tiny minority, and describes the role that "design fiction" has in changing this.
Over at Fast Company, our pal Chris Arkenberg wrote about how advances in synthetic biology and biomimicry could someday transform how we build our built environments:
"Cities Of The Future, Built By Drones, Bacteria, And 3-D Printers"
Innovations emerging across the disciplines of additive manufacturing, synthetic biology, swarm robotics, and architecture suggest a future scenario when buildings may be designed using libraries of biological templates and constructed with biosynthetic materials able to sense and adapt to their conditions. Construction itself may be handled by bacterial printers and swarms of mechanical assemblers.
Tools like Project Cyborg make possible a deeper exploration of biomimicry through the precise manipulation of matter. David Benjamin and his Columbia Living Architecture Lab explore ways to integrate biology into architecture. Their recent work investigates bacterial manufacturing--the genetic modification of bacteria to create durable materials. Envisioning a future where bacterial colonies are designed to print novel materials at scale, they see buildings wrapped in seamless, responsive, bio-electronic envelopes.
Boing Boing friend Marina Gorbis is executive director of Institute for the Future, a non-profit thinktank where I'm a researcher. Marina has just published a compelling, provocative, and grounded book about how technology is enabling individuals to connect with one another to follow their passions and get stuff done, outside of large corporations, governments, and the other institutions that typically rule our lives. Marina calls it "socialstructing." I call it making the future better than the present. The following is an excerpt from Marina's book, "The Nature of the Future: Dispatches from the Socialstructed World." - David Pescovitz
Putting the Social Back Into Our Economy
by Marina Gorbis
My mother never heard the term social capital, but she knew its value well. In the Soviet Union, where she lived and where I grew up, no one could survive without it, and she leveraged her social capital on a daily basis. It enabled her to provide a decent life for her family, even though she was a widow without much money, excluded from the privileged class of the Communist Party. We never worried about having enough food. My sister and I always wore fashionable clothes (at least by Soviet standards). We took music and dance lessons. We went to the symphony, attended good schools, and spent summers by the Black Sea. In short, we enjoyed a lifestyle that seemed well beyond our means.
How was my mother able to provide all these things on the meager salary of a physician in a government-run clinic in Odessa, Ukraine? Social connections were a powerful currency that flowed through her network of friends and acquaintances, giving her access to many goods and services and enabling our comfortable, if not luxurious, lifestyle. Read the rest
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A real-time, always-on existence without past or a future, origins or goals.Read the rest
In Bruce Sterling's barn-burning closing keynote for SXSW 2013, he confronts the realities of disruption -- that disruption leads to destruction. Our wonderful things destroy other wonderful things. The future composts the past. We roast the 20th century over our bonfire, let's not shamefully pretend that we did it by accident. Let's eat our kill.