The work of James George caught my attention when he began publishing still images generated by mixing inputs from a DSLR camera paired with a Kinect scanner. He & partner, Jonathan Mind, recently produced this thoroughly compelling future-now video from the same process, using their open framework software, RGBD Toolkit, to manage the mapping and in-scene navigation. The camera is fixed but since the Kinect produces a 3D scene you can navigate around the captured image. Where forms in the camera field cast shadows, i.e. where the Kinect cannot scan past e.g. an occluding arm & hand, you see stretching and warping of the 3D mesh and image map. The effect is uncannily similar to the scenes in the film version of Minority Report when Tom Cruise’s character watches holovids of his son & wife, their forms trailing along the light path of the holoprojector.George & Mind frame this video as an exploration of emerging techniques and technologies in filmmaking. Also, they talk about coding and geekery and other cool stuff.
Clouds is a computational documentary featuring hackers and media artists in dialogue about code, culture and the future of visualization.
This is a preview of a feature length production to be released later this year.
By Jonathan Minard (http://www.deepspeedmedia.com/) and James George (http://www.jamesgeorge.org/)
Made with RGBDToolkit.com
“What??” he yelled, in near shock. “You’ve got to be kidding me. Did you talk to the contractor?”
A short pause.
“Ok. Ok. Stop. What do you mean he’s not engaged? He’s a civ! He has to be!” This was going sideways fast.
“I’m calling my attorney.”
He de-coupled from the stemlink and rubbed his temples, struggling to push through the numbness now wrapping itself around his head. He closed his eyes, groping for the sense of it all. Then with a fast spin he flicked his stem and coupled to his attorney, Ersatz Bolzman.
“Satz. This is Bentley Statmaker. I’ve got a problem.”
Bentley proceeded to share with Bolzman the unsettling news that his frenetic & frazzled assistant had just conveyed: how the Biomoss got corrupted and was presently deviating wildly from the 19th century Craftsman remodel he had ordered and god-damned paid for and was now 2 wings and several buttresses into printing out a 13th century gothic cathedral. His home, a modest 3 bedroom on the South Side in dire need of a significant retrofit and well out of style to boot, was expanding at a nonlinear rate – so much so that the houses of his immediate neighbors were now food for its architectural extrusions. Possibly worse, the adjacent street was being overtaken by an aggressively-compiling abbey.
“What…the fuck, Satz?? What the hell am I supposed to do? The neighbors are on me, the city has sent a swarm of inspection flies – they’re mapping the whole deal, blaring code violations non-stop. I can only imagine the stacks at the planning department spinning wildly with dollar signs in their beady little machine eyes…” He trailed off, unsure of his course, whether he should strain to feed the hungry anger or just give in and veer downward into an impotent malaise. He knew there was nothing he could do but prepare for the imminent onslaught of legal battles, the deep apologies to the neighbors, the pay-offs to his HOA… God, that bastard Malamut would have him run out of the co-op for sure this time.
“Calm down, Bent. I’ll file for a writ of suspension, tie up the city works a bit. Pretty sure I can get those inspectors recalled to central too. And it’s not just happening to you, ya know. A whole condo development on 4th & Jobs just went Gaudi. Was supposed to be a nice post-decline piece, all glass and bioplastics, but the mossers crapped out and now it’s just a crazy riot of spires and ceramic tiles and weird biomorphic flourishes. Pretty much totally wiped out the high school across the street. Apparently, some agitprop collective of biomods hacked into the genome. Oh, and that new wing of the Hu Jintao Child Workers Memorial Colliseum..? Went from Classical Ming to Retro Koolhaas in the blink of an eye. The Imperial ruler is pissed,” he emphasized sourly. “You think you got legal troubles? Lemme tell ya…”
Talking with Ersatz calmed him down a bit. At least enough to cover the gap until the neurografts did their thing and started metabolizing the flood of endorphins & cortisol washing through his system. Then, with an almost audible sigh, the grafts began to release a steady drip of Relaxipam into his brain. His affect dulled, the tension of his musculature eased, and he was left with a vague longing for simpler times that probably never really existed but for the halcyon filter of nostalgia.
Midway into the 21st century the industrial labs toiling away for decades on nanotech started to merge into the university labs working on procedural construction, and that whole mess got mashed up with the Asian street gangs and neurocartels delving deeply into the forbidden wizardry of biosynthesis. The end result was a pretty wild chimera of hybridized designer nanomanufacturing: Biomoss. The stuff was the same thing as fire, metal, steam, electricity, hydrocarbons, and atomic physics. Or rather, it was the result of the same quest that drove humanity to harness each of those divine elements of nature and bend them to its will. Biomoss was both the penultimate subjugation and celebration of life itself. It was a means to not only design life but to program it to construct anything we could think of.
We made fuel first, of course. Algae mats that grew to cover most of Asia, expressing sweet crude like shiny black dew. Then we had to engineer vast carbon sinks and tar cleaners – and universal rice that could grow anywhere now that all the Eastern paddies were gone. That was a bit of a detour. Everyone started making all kinds of foods, natural and bizarre. The Southern Federalist Nation of God practically exploded with diabetes until a biomod made an insulin virus. Then they all started collapsing from hypoglycemia. Humans, of course, are pretty great at ideation, not so great at implementation.
The next big step moved beyond simple protein expression. This phase was about building and mass-producing living constructors that could take instruction sets and extrude things. All kinds of things. You could flash a constructor gel, give it a slab of substrate, and watch it build a cup, a toaster, a mobile, even a stemlink. Then they started making vehicles, buildings, bridges, factories. With increasing scale, food for the constructors became a limiting factor.
Initially, substrate was basically a slab of hydrocarbons bound to a crystalline lattice and studded with various functional groups. Esters, aromatics, polymers, and biomolecules. The ingredients of your standard organic stew. This posed problems. There was concern that the constructor gels might start eating up the local flora & fauna. More importantly to the benefactors of the massive public & private grants funding this work, constructing organics only gets you so far. They wanted to build product and devices, machines and monoliths. They needed inorganics. The constructors would be modified to chew through minerals, metals, lanthanides, and solid state compounds, then recompile and extrude them in forms. This also posed problems.
In 2047 a federal appeals court ruled against Pratt Lapman Assuary, Inc. in a class action lawsuit filed by the People’s Republic of Colorado. The plaintiff’s argued that due to gross neglect and moral corruption Pratt Lapman Assuary Inc. did knowingly and willingly administer a swarm of replicating bio-constructors outside the town of Gunniston, Colorado for the sole and express purpose of recompiling the region’s vast titanium deposits into a 3000 foot tall statue of the company’s founder, Chapman Assuary. As the constructors extracted and processed the resource, replicating in multitudes to match the scale of the work, it was only by a programmatic glitch in the genetics that the scalar vector botched and the replicators came to a halt. To this day there remains a 2000 foot headless titanium statue of Assuary, guarded by judicial writ, it’s shiny figure being slowly decomposed by the local, court-appointed bioscrubbers, and sold off bit by bit for the benefit of the Gunniston School District. Despite the loud & irate sputterings & protestations erupting from Pratt Lapman Assuary Inc. the World Court refused to review the case.
By 2050 international conventions were in place forbidding unrestrained nano-bio replication. This pretty much stopped conventional use of constructor gels for several years until epigenetic containment switches and network ID’s were engineered into the germ lines in 2057. The first successful line to emerge from the new regulatory environment became the prototype for Biomoss.
Biomoss is notable in that it is not really a moss, per se. In fact, by microscopy it appears more solid and structured like a mass of very tiny lady bugs covered in salt crystals. It gets its name from both the viridian hue of the individual’s carapace and the way it masses and accretes across surfaces. Furthermore, unlike constructor gels, it does not require a specific pre-configured substrate or uniform material base. Instead, Biomoss will digest anything that it’s targeted for and then recompose the digested mass into a product of similar composition. This adds additional containment to its capabilities by limiting its output to roughly the same as its input. Roughly. But the morphology of the thing is inconsequential. Or rather, the output is customizable as long as it stays within the bounds of the source.
Once Biomoss was productized, innumerable design shops spun up offering precision bespoke manufacturing, customized & stylized by in-house computects. A whole industry grew around the artistry of designed bio-extrusion, resurrecting the styles of historic starchitects, collaging & remixing the canon of industrial design, and making international figures of the leading composers tubing about the globe to paint their visions in transcendent and impossibly expressive mega-structures.
These facts were little comfort to Bentley Statmaker.
After a quick hop across the tube line and a relay along the ped tiles, Bentley Statmaker arrived at his home. Which is to say, Bentley Statmaker arrived at his shiny new gothic cathedral. It was enormous, dark & brooding, hung from the heavens themselves and, frankly, beautiful. But not in this neighborhood. And high holiness or not, historical re-creation be damned, Malamut and the board would not approve. No. They’d more likely have him drawn & quartered, strung up limp and emptied from the highest spire.
Pushing through the noisy crowd of angry neighbors, drooling gawkers, flashing newsbots, countless projectagrams, and a gathering collective of syncretic worshippers, Bentley heaved open the tall, wooden cathedral doors, stared blankly for a moment at the vast, arching, vaulted nave that used to be his tired living room, and then proceeded defiantly inward. He slammed the great doors behind him with a deep boom and thoughtlessly, aimlessly, walked down the aisle taking his seat along a bland and stern pew. Eschewing formality, he let himself slack, took out a cigarette, lit it after a few tries, and inhaled deeply. He immediately sputtered and coughed before defiantly drawing a second drag of the blue smoke, as if to authoritatively subdue the instinctual protestations of his corpus. In the sudden silence he could just apprehend the delicate crunching and printing of the Biomoss, like the sound of soft snow settling on an empty field.
Suddenly and without due respect to his sanctuary there was a great pounding on the door. Amidst the muted yelling of Malamut he made out the decree of Bentley’s imminent eviction. He imagined Malamut as a tired & troubled Martin Luther nailing up his Ninety-Five Theses on the door of the Castle Church. Here he sat, Pope Bentley the First, grinning slyly while billions of micro-miniaturized bio-machines, seized by some unknowable possession of Spirit, labored towards the monumental construction of this, his great abbey. He keyed his stemlink and coupled to Bolzman.
“Satz. Bentley. Listen… I think I’m gonna keep the church. Yeah, seriously. Hey, can you look up precedent for religious protection? And maybe seizure & eminent domain. I think there was something with the New People’s Temple of Jerseytown maybe ten years ago…”
He took another long drag, holding in the hot smoke as the evening light began to shine through the stained windows of the celestory. Bold indigos and feverish carnelians, glowing laurels and immaculate ambers, all caught fire with the Stations of the Cross surrounding the transept. If he let himself go for a moment, he swore he could hear a great and distant chorus rising up, washing away the pages of time with the enduring hope of the sangreal, and filling the nave with a resounding affirmation of his Grand Papacy.
“Oh, and Satz..? I think I’m gonna need a priest.”
I’ve started a new job in an engineering group at a Fortune 500 company that’s delving into personal cloud deployment with multi-point device access. It’s pretty interesting tech moving into the same space as the Apple home media ecosystem but with a different angle on ownership. The idea is that you control your content & file management rather than trusting a 3rd party to hold it on some remote server. The implementation is pretty nice and the experience is good for such a young product line. While I don’t really have the job description I want, the organization is pretty loose and I’m following the “great employee guideline” of not being defined by my role. Of note, the commute adds 2 hours on top of an 8-hour day so it’s been a bit tricky to get used to the new schedule and the attendant physical overhead.
I’m also collaborating with the Hybrid Reality Institute run by Parag & Ayesha Khanna to contribute research and help grow client opportunities. This is a part-time volunteer gig at the moment but may dovetail with my consulting work at some point in the future. I’ve admired Parag’s efforts since reading his book, The Second World, and have been excitedly following his & Ayesha’s work growing HRI. I recently had the chance to chat with Parag for the first time and was very impressed with his friendliness and the incredibly dynamic life he & Ayesha lead. For my part, I’ll be looking at the broad & somewhat over-trod area of smart cities and urban development. It’s a cool challenge for me to map & articulate such complex systems; to integrate my interests in mobility, social structures, embedded systems, augmented reality, and CAD/BIM architecture; and to tease out hopefully novel approaches to understanding urban dynamics and bending development towards greater efficiency, equity, and sustainability.
On the side, I’ve got a new song I’ve just sent out for final mix & mastering. It’s a chunky hip hop beat with a big dubby flavor and some nice melodic elements. The whole track is built around this old recording of a “rasta elder” speaking on a radio station in, like, 1978. I’ve chopped it up and pulled out a couple of the most compelling bits. I love dub & reggae and have a fondness for rastafari culture in general so this song is really a realization of marinating in this stuff for some time. Particularly in the last 2 years I’ve been deep in the Dub Chamber trying to reverse engineer the dub reggae sound from a large archive of music produced by Studio One, Lee Perry, Trojan Records, King Tubby etc…. In the past few months it got mashed into my hip hop efforts with the result being this song, Man Crab. I’ll hopefully be publishing and promoting this track within the next month. More info as it proceeds but I’m working with a great engineer and can’t wait to hear the final result!
Finally, I’m talking with a German film maker who recently returned from Caracas, Venezuela. He approached me last year after finding my Sathorn Unique project and asked if I’d be interested in doing some soundtrack work for his documentary about La Torre de David, a 45-story abandoned skyscraper now home to literally thousands of squatters. He returned with a bunch of media to compile the documentary. I’ll be plundering the audio files for stuff to work into & inform the music. So, I may be carving out a very rarified niche as a producer who writes soundtracks for weird abandoned skyscrapers. :)
Anyway, I’ve got a lot of other stuff kicking around in the ol’ mind tank that will hopefully congeal into some coherent articles in the near future. In the mean time, thanks for reading!
I saw Amon Tobin’s ISAM project a week ago at The Warfield theater in San Francisco. Literally jaw-dropping.
Leviathan worked with frequent collaborator and renowned VJ Vello Virkhaus on groundbreaking performance visuals for electronic musician Amon Tobin, creating ethereal CG narratives and engineering the geometry maps for an entire stage of stacked cube-like structures. Taking the performance further, the Leviathan team also developed a proprietary projection alignment tool to ensure quick and accurate setup for the show, along with custom Kinect control & visualization utilities for Amon to command.
If the Rooftop represented the peak of the Sathorn Unique experience, then the 5th & final song, simply titled Sathorn, is the come-down & resolution. The track opens with sounds of the street under falling stars. The beat is more syncopated and there’s a roots vibe, accented with a guitar & organ skank. There are more obviously-melodic elements in this song suggesting the enduring vitality of the creative act, in spite of decay & downfall.
And really, Blade Runner futures aside, amidst the endless rise & fall of empires people will always find simple ways to sing & make music. The electronic studio I’ve used to produce these songs could dry up with my ability to pay utilities, or be looted by desperate & displaced interlopers. I’d still have an acoustic guitar. No blips & bleeps needed.
This final song is more about the reality of the street below the Ghost Tower, and the necessary persistence of urban life proceeding whether or not Sathorn Unique was ever a success. Indeed, for most people, such overly-ambitious and incomprehensibly expensive skyscrapers have always been barely real. Such towers are not made for commoners. This one in particular emphasizes the tension, standing as it is now, hollowed and broken, once flush with moneys now vanished & moved on to better investment opportunities.
This is where the lavish imagined timeline of Sathorn Unique collapses back into the local reality, like the moldering brochures showing off a future that never was. This is where the ephemeral whims of capital touched down long enough to leave an indelible reminder of their ultimate disloyalty. The final movement of Sathorn, the song, reinforces the hard facts of life and the brutishness of the global money game. The droning wall and the whining worm throw up the fierce edge of survival.
And yet, the tempest sputters out and returns, as it always does, back to the streets where life continues, for good & ill, unabated for millenia thus far. This is the resolution: that, despite the great power elites and their fantasies & seductions, despite the shell games and ponzi schemes and cronyism and backstabbing… Despite all this the people persist. And they make music to express their lives, ease their burdens, and tell their stories. For most, the Ghost Tower is like the global elite: more easily forgotten in its decline than challenged in its prime.
From Sathorn Unique.
2 new songs from my Sathorn Unique project. This has been the bulk of my focus lately, between paying gigs & whatnot.
Also, please check out my short note on music as structure, music as dream.
[This article has become the most popular item I've ever posted on this blog. Thanks so much to everyone who has read it and passed it along!]
When it’s busy like this the viz sometimes shifts like the color bleed you used to see on those old Sunday comics, way back in the day. Ubiquitous fiber pipes & wide-band wireless still can’t give enough bandwidth to the teeming multitudes downtown. The viz starts to lag, gets offset and even orphaned from the hard world it’s trying to be a part of. Hyperclear Ray Ban augments, lenses ground down by hand-sequenced rock algaes to such an impossibly smooth uniformity, run through with transparent circuity & bloodied rare-earth elements, scanning the world in multiple dimensions, pinging the cloud at 10GHz and pushing articulated data forms through massive OLED clusters just to show me where I can find an open null shield and the best possible cup of coffee this side of Ethiopia. Then the pipes clog and those ridiculously expensive glasses turn into cheap 3D specs from 2010 pretending to make 2D look like real life but instead here they’re doing the print offset thing, flattening my world into color shifts and mismatched registers.
Marks are flickering in & out, overlapping & losing their z-order. A public note on a park bench glows green – something about the local chemwash schedule – then loses integrity to one of my own annotations left there, like, a year ago. A poem I cranked out on a late night bender but it’s unreadable with all the other layers clashing. Even the filters get confused when the pipes clog. If you look around fast enough, marks start to trail & stutter in a wash of data echoes like when screens used to have refresh errors. Only now our eyes are the screens and the whole world gets caught in recursive copy loops.
The Ray Bans correct it pretty quickly, attenuating the rendered view and pushing up the hard view as the dominant layer. But for a moment it feels like you’re tripping. It used to be physically nauseating, a sudden vertigo brought on by that weird disconnect of self & place. Like so much of life these days, you spend a lot of time adapting to disconnects between layers. Between real and rendered. Between self & other, human & machine. Between expectations & outcomes.
The arc of glorious progress that opened the 21st century seemed to have found it’s apogee around 2006 or so and then came hurtling back towards Earth. And it wasn’t like earlier “corrections”. This one was big. It was a fundamental stock-taking of the entirety of the industrial age to date and things were suddenly, shockingly, terribly mis-matched from the realities of the world. Planetary-scale disconnects. The carrying capacity of economies, nations, ecosystems, and humanity itself came into clear & violent resolution by the 2020’s when everything started to radically shift under the twin engines of hyper-connectivity and ecological chaos. These two previously unexpected titans directly challenged and usurped the entire paradigm of the developed and developing worlds, setting us all into choppy and uncertain seas.
Sure, we still get to play with the crazy cool tech. Or at least some of us do. What the early cyberpunks showed us, and what the real systems geeks always knew, is that the world is not uniform or binary. It’s not utopia vs. dystopia, win vs. lose, us vs. them, iGlasses or collapse. It’s a complex, dynamic blend of an unfathomable number of inputs, governors, and feedback loops constantly, endlessly iterating across inconceivable scales to weave this crazy web of life. So we have climate refugees from Kansas getting tips from re-settled Ukrainians about resilience farming. We have insurgencies in North America and social collectives across South America. The biggest brands in the world are coming out of Seoul & Johannesburg while virtually-anonymous distributed collaboratives provide skills & services across the globe. And we have Macroviz design teams from Jakarta & Kerala directing fab teams in Bangkok to make Ray Bans to sell to anybody with enough will & credit to purchase. Globalization & it’s discontents has proven to offer a surprising amount of resilience. Heading into the Great Shift it looked like the developed world was headed for 3rd world-style poverty & collapse. But it hasn’t been quite that bad. More of a radical leveling of the entire global macro-economic playing field with the majority settling somewhere on the upper end of lower class. Some rose, many fell. It was… disturbing, to say the least. It simply didn’t fit the models. Everyone expected collapse or transcendence.
We humans want things to be as simple as possible. It’s just natural. Makes it easier to service the needs of biosurvival. But we’ve not created a simple world. Indeed, the world of our making looks about as orderly as the mess of 100 billion brain cells knotted up in our heads or the fragmented holographic complexes of memories & emotions, aspiration & fears, that clog it all up. We built living systems as complex as anything the planet could dish out. Not in the billions of years nature uses to refine and optimize but in a matter of a few millennia. We raced out of the gate, got on top of the resource game, took a look around, and realized the whole thing needed to be torn down and completely redesigned for the realities of the world. The outcomes no longer fit the expectations. In some strange fractal paradox, the maps got so accurate that the territory suddenly looked very different from what we thought.
The null shield was created as a black spot. A cone of silence for the information age. They’re like little international zones offering e-sylum in select coffee shops, parlors, dining establishments, and the finer brick-and-mortar lifestyle shops. And in conflict zones, narco-corridors, favelas, gang tenements, and the many other long-tail alleyways of the ad hoc shadow state. The null shield is a fully encrypted, anonymized, opt-in hotspot that deflects everything and anything the global service/intel/pr industry tries to throw at you or copy from you. What’s better is you don’t even show up as a black spot like the early implementations that would hide you but basically tell the world where you were hidden. You’re invisible and only connected to the exact channels you want.
These were originally created for civ lib types and the militarized criminal underclass as a counter-measure to the encroaching security state. But as traditional states universally weakened under the weight of bureaucracies and insurmountable budgets (and the growing power of cities and their Corp/NGO alignments), the state’s ability to surveil the citizenry declined. All the money they needed to keep paying IT staff, policy researchers, infrastructure operators, emergency responders, and the security apparatus – all that money was siphoned up by the cunning multinationals who used their financial wit & weight to undermine the states ability to regulate them. Now states – even relatively large ones like the U.S. government – are borrowing money from the multinationals just to stay afloat. The iron fist of surveillance & security has been mostly replaced by the annoying finger of marketing & advertising, always poking you in the eye wherever you go.
Keeping on top of the viz means keeping your filters up to date and fully functional. Bugs & viruses are still a problem, sure, but we’ve had near-50 years to develop a healthy immunity to most data infections. We still get the occasional viz jammer swapping all your english mark txt with kanji, and riders that sit in your stream just grabbing it all and bussing it to some server in Bucharest. But it’s the marketing vads and shell scanners that drive the new arms race of personal security. Used to be the FBI were the ones who would scan your browsing history to figure out if you’re an Islamic terrorist or right wing nut, then black-out the Burger Trough and grab you with a shock team right in the middle of your Friendly Meal. Even if they had the money to do it now, the Feds understand that the real threats are in the dark nets not the shopping malls. So the marketers have stepped in. They want your reading list so they can scan-and-spam you wherever you go, whenever, then sell the data to an ad agency. They want access to your viz to track your attention in real-time. They want to fold your every move into a demographic profile to help them pin-point their markets, anticipate trends, and catch you around every corner with ads for the Next Little Thing. And they use their access to rent cog cycles for whatever mechanical turk market research projects they have running in the background.
Google gave us the most complete map of the world. They gave us a repository of the greatest written works of our species. And a legacy of ubiquitous smart advertising that now approaches near-sentience in it’s human-like capacity to find you and push your buttons. In some ways the viz is just a cheap universal billboard. Who knew that all those billions of embedded chips covering the planet would be running subroutines pushing advertising and special interest blurbs to every corner of the globe? There are tales of foot travelers ranging deep into the ancient back-country forests of New Guinea, off-grid and viz-free, only to be confronted by flocks of parrots squawking out the latest tagline from some Bangalore soap opera. Seems the trees were instrumented with Google smart motes a few decades ago for a study in heavy metal bio-accumulation. Something about impedance shielding and sub-frequency fields affecting the parrots…
So while the people colonized the cloud so they could share themselves and embrace the world, the spammers, advert jocks, and marketing hacks pushed in just as quickly because wherever people are, wherever they gather and talk and measure themselves against each other & the world… in those places they can be watched and studied and readily persuaded to part with their hard-earned currency.
Or credits or karma points or whatever. Just like the rest of the big paradigms, value has shifted beyond anybody’s understanding. Gold and currency at least attempted to normalize value into some tangible form. But the markets got too big & complex and too deeply connected to the subtleties of human behavior and the cunning of human predators. While money, the thing, was a tangible piece of value, the marketplace of credit & derivatives undermined it’s solidity and abstracted value out into the cold frontiers of economics philosophers and automated high-frequency trading bots. So much of the money got sucked up into so few hands that the world was left to figure out just how the hell all those unemployed people were going to work again. Instead of signing up for indentured servitude on the big banking farms, folks got all DIY while value fled the cash & credit markets and transfigured into service exchanges, reputation currencies, local scrip, barter markets, shadow economies, and a seemingly endless cornucopia of adaptive strategies for trading your work & talent for goods & services.
Sure, there’s still stock markets, central banks, and big box corps but they operate in a world kind of like celebrities did in the 20th century, though more infamous than famous. They exist as the loa in a web of voodoo economics: you petition them for the trickle-down. Or just ignore them. They’re a special class that mostly sticks among their kind, sustaining a B2B layer that drives the e-teams & design shops, fab plants & supply chains to keep churning out those Ray Ban iGlasses. Lucky for them, materials science has seen a big acceleration since the 2010’s with considerable gains in miniaturization and efficiency so it’s a lot easier to be a multinational when much of your work is dematerialized and the stuff that is hard goods is mostly vat-grown or micro-assembled by bacterial hybrids. Once the massive inflationary spike of the Big Correction passed, it actually got a lot cheaper to do business.
Good news for the rest of us, too, as we were all very sorely in need of a serious local manufacturing capacity with a sustainable footprint and DIY extensibility. Really, this was the thing that moved so many people off the legacy economy. Powerful desktop CAD coupled to lo-intensity, high-fidelity 3d printers opened up hard goods innovation to millions. The mad rush of inventors and their collaborations brought solar conversion efficiency up to 85% within 3 years, allowing the majority of the world to secure their energy needs with minimal overhead. Even now, garage biotech shops in Sao Paulo are developing hybrid chloroplasts that can be vat-grown and painted on just about anything. This will pretty much eliminate the materials costs of hard solar and make just about anything into a photosynthetic energy generator, slurping up atmospheric carbon and exhaling oxygen in the process. Sometimes things align and register just right…
So here we are in 2043 and, like all of our history, so many things have changed and so many things have stayed the same. But this time it’s the really big things that have changed, and while all change is difficult we’re arguably much stronger and much more independent for it all. Sure, not everybody can afford these sweet Ray Bans. And the federated state bodies that kept us mostly safe and mostly employed are no longer the reliable parents they once were. We live in a complex world of great wealth and great disparity, as always, but security & social welfare is slowly rising with the tide of human technological adaptation. Things are generally much cheaper, lighter, and designed to reside & decay within ecosystems. Product becomes waste becomes food becomes new life. Our machines are more like natural creatures, seeking equilibrium and optimization, hybridized by the ceaseless blurring of organic & inorganic, by the innate animal disposition towards biomimicry, and by the insistence of the natural world to dictate the rules of human evolution, as always. After all, we are animals, deep down inside, compelled to work it out and adapt.
Time’s up on the null shield. Coffee is down. And the viz is doing it’s thing now that the evening rush has thinned. Out into the moody streets of the city core, the same streets trod for a thousand years here, viz or no. The same motivations, the same dreams. It always comes back to how our feet fall on the ground, how the food reaches our mouth, and how we share our lives with those we care for.
I’ve been on a music production bender since the new year. The results have come together in a new free EP I’ve released through Bandcamp: Western Rains. It’s wet and devotional, a sort of dubstep electro platter featuring eastern vocals and world percussion. Give it a listen. If you like it, please share!
My older music is at N8UR. I’m always interested in collaboration (or licensing!) opportunities…
It’s a wide-ranging discussion around technologies and their impacts on culture, consciousness, the species, and what may become of our futures. In spite of the picture above, there is no discussion of advanced techniques for elevated goat farming. We had to save that for a later episode.
G-Spot interviews Chris Arkenberg.
Image from Wired Magazine.
[Cross-posted from Signtific Lab.]
Researchers at VU University Medical Center in Amsterdam have applied the analytic methods of graph theory to analyze the neural networks of patients suffering from dementia. Their findings reveal that brain activity networks in dementia sufferers are much more randomized and disconnected than in typical brains. "The underlying idea is that cognitive dysfunction can be illustrated by, and perhaps even explained by, a disturbed functional organization of the whole brain network", said lead researcher Willem de Haan.
Of perhaps deeper significance, this work shows the application of network analysis algorithms to the understanding of neurophysiology and mind, suggesting a similarity in functioning between computational networks and neural networks. Indeed, the research highlights the increasing feedback between computational models and neural models. As we learn more about brain structure & functioning, these understandings translate into better computational models. As computation is increasingly able to model brain systems, we come to understand their physiology more completely. The two modalities are co-evolving.
The interdependence of the two fields has been most recently illustrated with the announcement of the Blue Brain Project which aims to simulate a human brain within 10 years. This ambitious project will inevitably drive advanced research & development in imaging technologies to reveal the structural complexities of the brain which will, in turn, yield roadmaps towards designing better computational structures. This convergence of computer science and neuroscience is laying the foundation for an integrative language of brain computer interface. As the two sciences get closer and closer to each other, they will inevitably interact more directly and powerfully, as each domain adds value to the other and the barriers to integration erode.
This feedback loop between computation and cognition is ultimately bringing the power of programming to our brains and bodies. The ability to create programmatic objects capable of executing tasks on our behalf has radically altered the way we extend our functionality by dematerializing technologies into more efficient, flexible, & powerful virtual domains. This shift has brought an unprecedented ability to iterate information and construct hyper-technical objects. The sheer adaptive power of these technologies underwrites the imperative towards programming our bodies, enabling us to excercies unprecedented levels of control and augmnetation over our physical form, and further reveal the fabric of mind.
[Cross-posted from Signtific Lab.]
While most would support using technology to allow parapalegics to walk again, to help the blind to see and the deaf to hear, how will society view those who electively enhance themselves through prosthetics & implants?
Consider the not-so-subtle marginalization of transhumanists who believe that technology should be readily integrated into human biology, experimenting with their own crude body modifications. Or the implications around personal security and privacy (not to mention religious fear) raised by those intrepid folks who are self-implanting RFIDs into their forearms to activate lighting & appliances when they enter their homes. Even the international debates over performance-enhancing drug use by athletes reinforces the cultural belief that a “natural” baseline range exists for human abilities and any “synthetic” modification beyond the accepted range is considered unfair.
From issues of fairness to those of security and trust, integrating more machinery into a programmable nervous system challenges many of the fundamental notions we have of what it means to be human. When a Marine returns from a warzone patched up with a cochlear implant, how will they be regarded when it’s revealed that they can hear you speaking from 3 blocks away? Imagine if that person then enters the Police force, what issues of civil liberty and privacy might be confronted? How might we regard an employer that suggests each employee be programmed with software to bring them into the corporate Thinkmesh?
How does society’s regard for a technology change when that technology becomes part of our bodies? How does our relationship to people change if we know they are different? What competitive advantages are conferred by these technologies and how will they be reinforced by socioeconomic drivers? What gaps might arise between those able to afford augmentations and those who cannot?
And what becomes of the Platonic sense of one fundamental Reality when more & more people are seeing personalized variations of the world mediated by connected devices? Will the merging of technology & flesh enable a more cohesive & effective society or a more fragmented and divisive one?
Thus far humans have worked from a standard body map that allows us to understand ourselves and project that understanding onto all other classes of our species. We will likely bring both our sense of membership as well as our fear of otherness with us as we begin to internalize machines unevenly across cultures.
[See also 5 Dark Scenarios For Trans-humanity.]
[Extensive photo album here.]
Japan crossed with Mexico. Hack, mash, and lash everything together. Very hot and thick, humid and prone to short heavy rains. Bangkok is larger than expected, with a higher skyline. Slum-like in many ways but comfortable. Dirty, aged, grafitti’d, tagged, polluted, smelly, hungry, buggy, feral. Friendly, smiley, reverent, strong, spiritualized, watery, creative, delicious, surviving with tenacity. Temples & tenements, luxury hotels and megamalls. Insane traffic and transport. Little regard for lanes or right of way. Swarms of motorbikes, vespas. Cheap and dangerous tuk tuk 3-wheelers. Families piled onto scooters, kids asleep, baggage strapped on. Traffic flow like a logjam, shifting metal slabs moving within inches of each other, victory goes to the bold in a cloud of exhaust. The mighty Chao Phraya cutting its way through Bangkok and out to the coast, it’s headlands in the foothills below Burma. These are river people, with traffic on the waterways as busy and chaotic as the streets. The river is deep, a 1/4 mile wide, running green & tan, dirty and littered with commercial & vegetal detritus. After the rains clumps of fallen jungle float on its surface, carried down from farms and foothill tributaries. Black & yellow birds land on leafy branches half submerged to dine on nuts and berries. Water taxis from hotel to Sky Train. Fantastic monorail, the SRT, its cement track a modern work of civil engineering adding to the Tokyo vibe of downtown Bangkok.
Tangled mess of black utility cable slashing horizontal lines across most everything, tied in to huge transformers, burnt metal grills pumping amperage for the teeming metropolis of 6 million. The twisted infrastructure grows organically like a banyan, stretching out axonal to connect and communicate. Most buildings are old haggard tenements, their facades stained with a dark grey wash like grease and ash drawn out of the thick air. Structures that seem abandoned, uninhabitable, are strung with drying laundry drawn perpendicular to the necessarily ubiquitous swamp coolers lining the sides of each floor. Broken concrete fields under freeway overpasses offer football grounds lined by graffiti mural walls under chainlink divisions.
Downtown, luxury malls with Louis Vuitton and Burberry fronted by large altars of golden Buddha’s and Ganesha’s, black marble elephants flecked with gold, yellow floral garlands and incense offered by shoppers to their immaterial gods. A sign at Wat Phrao Keo in broken Thaiglish sagely, if not inadvertently, warns visitors to “Beware of your valuable possessions”. Technology, commerce, wealth, and western aesthetics have moved in with the economic development afforded here as in every other large city by the realities of globalized communication and trade.
Down crowded alleyways lined with merchant stalls and open air ad hoc kitchens, thick with pedestrians, cars, tuk tuks, and manic motorcyclists weaving through the narrow channels, over rooftop patios caged against some unseen menace, rise countless golden and white and glittery temple spires. Buddhist Wats take residence everywhere, themselves seemingly hacked into the dense fabric of the city, rising like aspirational fruiting bodies of ancient mycelial webs. Wat Arum, Wat Pho, Wat Phra Keo & the Grand Palace, and innumerable others. Religion & myth is woven throughout the populace. Every building has it’s own adjacent spirit house offering residence to the disincarnate lest they move into your own home. City walls are tacked with incense holders between stores. Banyans breaking through the sidewalks are wrapped with rainbow sashes honoring their freakish holy treeness. Every taxi has a statue on the dash or mala hanging from the rearview or Buddhist stencil on the headboard or any combination of the aforementioned. A 3-day Buddhist holiday shut down all government and banking.
The current Thai king is the longest reigning monarch of the modern age, holding office since 1950. Thailand was the only East-Asian country to resist British colonialism, sparing its autonomy by ceding a few bits of territory along the Burmese & Malay borders. Indeed there are long running conflicts with the Burmese, and Buddhist Thailand is in the midst of an insurgency along the Malaysian border from an advancing Islamic populace. The cabinet of the prime minister and the military have provided ongoing political theater as each vie back and forth for the seat of power. Most transfers of power, even in the case of multiple coups, have been bloodless. The Thai people themselves seem to have little interest in these power games, preferring a life of pragmatic spirituality while maintaining a deep abiding love and respect for the king. The two possibly mortal social offenses in Thai society are speaking ill of the Buddha and speaking ill of the king.
Farming is honored. Rubber trees and palms cover most southern land, providing two of the country’s largest exports. The Thai peninsula includes all the most breathtaking exotic tropical beach locations you could imagine, including the stunning Railay Bay – famed for the movie The Beach. Beautiful light blue waters, ridiculously warm and salty, stretched for ages across the gulf. Koh Samui running on Full Moon inertia, tourist trinkets, and scattered luxury resorts sheltered from the hustle. Low inland jungles bring minimal shade to island shanties in seemingly impossible poverty. Yet they survive & persist and move through generations like the rest of us. Koh Phangan also still milking their internationally notorious Full Moon Rave scene, adding a Half Moon party to underwrite the Euro draw. Even away from the main strips the beach scenes has a fun accidental Burning Man vibe, a shoreline esplanade of shanty bars and sound systems. Expats all over the place. Seems easy to get lost for months, years, decades in some seaside shack eating fruit and fish in a poor man’s paradise. Impossible walls of insects whip up into sudden frenzy, a cacophonous wail of screamapillars, giant cicadas that still don’t seem anywhere near big enough to make such a pitch. Monkey troops swing across canopies carpeting tall rock slabs jutting from the water. A rock climber’s joy, sheer faces hung with dripping stalactites and pocked with rope tie-ins. These tall rocks are scattered by the hundreds – thousands? – across the Gulf of Thailand and Andaman Sea. A boater’s paradise. You could spend months exploring thin beaches stretched around the edges of countless small jungle rock islands.
In the South, each night was attended by thunderstorm, often over sea or above the island peaks. Big black charcoal canvas lumbering across, flicker flashed with lightning bursts every few moments, often too distant to hear the thunderclap, then a sudden ear-shattering rend of ozone right above. When the heavy rains hit they come quickly and with ferocity. Never seen rain like it. So thick that it occluded line of sight to 20 meters or so, hiding everything beyond in watery showers. From the steep island peaks water rushes down in sudden rivers cutting through beach sands, pushing tan clouds out into the bay, a shimmering clear layer of fresh water forcing the saline back out over the ocean’s surface. Giant raindrops agitate the bugs forcing them to take flight in peppery swarms. Small opportunistic swift-like birds take to the skies darting and arching, turning and diving to pluck the insects mid-air in some ancient deeply programmed ballet of the food chain. Life goes on. It must. When rains come often and fiercely you can’t just drop your business. This was especially so in Bangkok whose streets are lined with tirelessly deployed open markets bare to the sky save for a small canvas over each. In 20 or 30 minutes the rain will likely pass so there’s no point in worrying much about the interlude.
While the deep south is struggling with a mounting Islamic insurgency, and the peninsula is attending the construction of more new mosques, the buddhist majority continues to permeate life with the spirit of their patron, accompanied by a host of Garuda and Nagas and a menagerie of mythic beasties syncretized from India and China. If Thai Buddhist Bangkok is feral and lashed and relentlessly modded in ghetto slapdash, the Bangkok Chinatown is 10x more so compressed into tighter alleyways, with more people and motorcylces (Vespas apparently seek Chinatown to live out their golden years), hung with impossibly more spaghetti cables, and festooned with walls of neon Mandarin signage casting a little too much light onto freakish displays of animal carcass and presumably inedible seafood and giant transparent sacks of fried pork product and stall after stall of fashionable Versace & Loius Vuitton knock-offs. Imagine threading your way down a dark, narrow alley lined with flea market stalls and no-health-code/no-insurance open air cart kitchens, filled with people pressing in all directions through dense heat and smell and rot, then send a motorcycle down the alley every few moments to do battle with cross-traffic carts and tuk tuks. Now imagine the alley is a whole network labyrinth covering multiple blocks between several-story tenaments streaked with black soot and stain and hung with drying clothes and black cables. This is why we western pansies stay in the nice hotel with A/C and a pool.
The final capper to the trip was in Bangkok the night before our departure. After the evening rains subsided, my partner and I went down to the pool for a night swim, around 9pm. Refreshing and fun we frolicked and generally soaked up the remaining moments of our stay. Then, in the poolside darkness moving low between the lounge chairs, I saw a large reptilian form lumbering along. “Dude, there’s a fricken alligator coming towards the pool!” I exclaimed excitedly. As it marched into the light we realized it was actually a monitor lizard – Varanus salvator, to be precise – about 5-6ft long with a fattened belly like it just ate a dog or possibly a small European child. “If that thing gets in the water, we get out immediately” I said with some urgency. I knew it could swim and see underwater much better than we could. No reason to tangle with a 6ft thunderlizard in a foreign country with questionable health care. Sure enough the beast slipped into the pool and sidled along the swim-up bar. We hopped out, laughing nervously, and I approached the lizard from a careful distance. Grabbing the pool attendant I motioned towards the monster. “That’s bad”, he said in a way that suggested that, bad as it may be, it wasn’t unusual. And so he casually splashed the creature with water nudging it along until it climbed out of the pool slowly, begrudgingly, made it’s way back into the riverside brush. It was easily the biggest lizard I’d ever seen in the wild.
The final day we were denied pool access during a particularly solid rain. When it’s always 90+ degrees & 90+% humidity, swimming in the rain is quite nice. But no, we were not allowed. “Why?” I protested. “Lightning” retorted the attendant. Fair enough, I thought. Then, in a casual but cautionary aside, the attendant reflected, “We had an accident last year”. This is the Bangkok Riverside Marriott, a fancy if not dated family hotel. Apparently buried somewhere deep in the boilerplate legalese fine print of our hotel contract is the clause, “Marriott Properties takes no liability in the event of any hotel guest or visitor getting suddenly struck by lightning and then slowly eaten by ferocious monitor lizards”.
I stayed in Las Vegas for a few nights this week to see Jane’s Addiction at The Pearl. A large part of me loathes much of what Vegas is (and by “Vegas” I’m mainly referring to The Strip and its satellites – no offense to the folks who live in the city) yet I can’t help but be mesmerized and amazed at the sheer scale of fantasy on sale there in the wasteland of the Nevada high desert. It is by all accounts an impossible mirage, timeless and ephemeral, drawing in the seekers, fleecing them, and sending them back home like it never existed. Inevitably, it seems it will fall back into the desert as Lake Meade dries up and the drought deepens, leaving behind skeletons of a once mighty empire. Caesar’s Palace may retain it’s name but Nero is the ruler of today’s Vegas.
Anyway, here are my tweets from the trip, in chronological order:
- Heading off to Sin City for glittering nights & saltine days before it all dries up & blows away. #NIN/JA2009 New Aeon Rat Pack 8:55 AM May 17th
- Have successfully played my role as cattle/combatant/customer in SanJoseAirport security theater. Now matriculated to cargo. 10:22 AM May 17th
- Tarmac running to the jetwash mirage of Las Vegas. 12:06 PM May 17th
- Vegas directs its formidable will at constantly maintaining the illusion of plenty. Super Size everything while the desert bides its time… 4:41 PM May 17th
- Vegas, in a nutshell: http://twitpic.com/5ew00 10:21 PM May 17th
- everything about this city is designed to separate me from my money. call me the mark. 12:29 AM May 18th
- Vegas commodifies dreams and the easy score, selling back crumbs at criminal markups, preying on mammon & ruin. 12:02 PM May 18th
- A sign of my age: hoping to trade my #NIN/JA floor tickets for seats. 1:13 PM May 18th
- Little fluffy clouds march relentlessly across the ancient Nevada desert as spacemen floating high above tweet us thermospheric thoughts. 1:45 PM May 18th
- As growth stalls, Vegas withdraws into the strip to focus on sustaining the mirage. The illusion thrives at the expense of the sprawl. 2:35 PM May 18th
- Recent NPR story spoke of tracts of abandoned LV tenaments haunted by erratic chirpings: the sound of fire detectors with dying batteries. 2:40 PM May 18th
- About 2M people inhabit Las Vegas. Nellis AFB brought federal stimulus; the mob & Howard Hughes built The Strip. 5:19 PM May 18th
- Deserts are like seas, vast & deep. In this The Strip is a glowing lure above the gaping maw of a dark desert angler. 5:25 PM May 18th
- You think you’re about to score a nice meal but really you are the prey about to feed something much larger. 5:26 PM May 18th
- got tix sorted. now heading to The Pearl for NIN/JA with @jingleyfish & friends. w00t! 7:28 PM May 18th
- Goddamn i love Jane’s Addiction 12:31 AM May 19th
- crawling the vegas strip with the good dr 1:17 AM May 19th
- new dreams waking with the sun on the fiery vegas strip, raging towards another night 5:49 AM May 19th
- ack. marinating in ambient cigarette smoke on the casino floor. 4:31 PM May 19th
- your trowelled-on cake facade masks the withering age of dessicated bones, too long standing on sore heels to hawk & bark a distant fantasy 4:37 PM May 19th
- Ruminating w/ @jingleyfish about the resource usage profile of the Vegas strip. How much does this desert fantasy consume? Is it a threat? 5:52 PM May 19th
- To paraphrase the bubbling hatery, is Vegas a “cankar needing to be excised”? Carbon tax would likely crush phallic wavings of Wynn et al. 5:56 PM May 19th
- sleepless pineal cascade, flush with endogenous indole, wondering if im really still stuck in this airport 7:27 PM May 19th
- on the ground rolling back to santa cruz. crowd-induced stabby mysanthropy subsiding. actual sleep nigh iminent. 10:24 PM May 19th
Some rough notes from the weekend on the Northern California coast… I’m trying to get at the core of my general orientation towards the world. It’s coming into focus at the nexus of evolutionary biology & technology. Or…
How does evolutionary biology express through culture & technology?
Requirements of human biosurvivial & social identity (compare to Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs):
water, food shelter, fecundity, mortality, socialization, cognition, communication, migration, lineage, history, myth, aspiration, discovery, expression, emotion, time, transcendence.
Global comm networks are rapidly bringing the world closer and changing human cognition in ways we cannot yet fully see. What are the impacts and consequences of the emerging self-identification of the human species? How will we manage the human agency? Do we have a global strategy yet, or just a Balkanized polyculture of mostly-competing sub-identities? (Obv. the latter.) Compare to the Greek & Roman consciousness that embodied emotional states & psychological constructs in the mythic drama of deities & demigods. The western religious myth of Earth as resource and Earth as purgatory elevated us above the natural world. The planet is now urgently reminding us that we are within the natural world – a subset embedded in a much larger and ultimately self-interested system.
The assertion of the natural world compels us towards alignment with biomimetic solutions & protocols. Or towards oblivion as we are corrected by the planetary system. We cannot destroy the world before it limits our ability to do it damage. The compulsion towards environmental protection is a species-wide awareness rising from our very cells and fueled by our growing awareness of our impact on the planetary ecology. Adapt or perish.
Socio-economic & ecological adaptation is not on a uniform schedule. Diverse states & peoples have their own schedules to work out as they march up the pyramid of civilization. Does this demand caretakers & parent states? Globalization is a normalizing force, but inequities between self-appointed parents and emerging economies will grow, as will the ability of smaller networks to inflict their will on states, NGO’s, & global systems. This democratization of technological empowerment is yet another major current working through our species. We’re getting stronger yet the morality(?) & responsibility expected to wield this power is not uniform across cultures & peoples. Core biosurvival needs remain the primary driver, exposed to shifting climates and diminishing conventional energy sources. There will be (more) blood.
The race is whether the technologies of liberation & salvation will outpace the technologies of destruction & exploitation. Of course, the real technology underneath both is the human brain – a much more subtle & powerful tool, highly malleable but stubbornly resistant to overt change.
Here are my rough notes from the ETech 09 talk by Lane Becker and Thor Muller of Get Satisfaction.
The End of Obsolescence: Engineering the Post-Consumer Economy
System of Consumerism: Economists think recessionary patterns (eg cobblers, repair) are transient and spending/consumption will return. Disposable culture. Planned obsolescence, lock-in, bigger is better –> The Ownership Society. No such thing as an infinite loop (eg pop dynamics). Rise & fall of growth and recessions is taken as a given of a natural cycle. Landscape amnesia. People forget what it used to be like. Our situation looks much more like a sharp asymptotic curve leading to a much sharper crash. Consumerism, growth curve is crashing quickly. Speed kills but it can force us to change in real time.
The Great Compression. A squeezing out perceived value to leave only real value in our economy. We have under-estimated the costs and over-estimated the value. Value destruction at work (slide shows sectors of economy with huge chunks that make things of no value or move value around, esp wholesale trade, manufacturing, financial investment – these are being selected against). NYT: Job losses hint at vast remaking of US Economy. Collapse – social, environmental, financial. Environment being wrapped up as the gooey center of the larger collapse. All of our systems are under pressure to remove false value and select for intrinsic value.
Design Patterns for Post-Consumerism: weak signals, indicators that suggest possible directions. What could replace consumerism? Two types of patterns: 1) Go back to basics. Not likely. Service economy represents giant heatsinks of human activity. Free time, cognitive potential. Other heatsinks are terrorism and civil unrest. How can we effectively use people’s free time. 2) Progressive future. Eg The Diamond Age; Universal copy machine. Physics & culture at the heart of the problem. Bits don’t move – they are copied. What can’t be copied? What is important? Culture becomes all-encompassing. World breaks out of nation-states into tribes. Culture is defined by what people make. OpenSource as example of removing economics of production. We still make & participate & contribute & collaborate.
Design Pattern 1: FREE. What economic & cultural value can be created outside of capital? What if everything was free? We assume economic trade must be the primary framing of value in our lives. Capitalism is shrinking. It must compressed because a lot of economics is perceived value, not actual value. This encourages alternatives that build real value. Design
Pattern 2: Repair Culture. Old school. When something is built to last, you want to see it last. We need objects that tell us to take care of them. Inverse of culture of obsolescence. The curse of innovation. Always improving products… how to avoid obsolescence? Eg DIY & Maker culture. Now there are customer communities & repair cultures for everything. Emergent business ecosystem that rises from repair communities. Eg Twitter community of teachers, services.
Design Pattern 3: Reputation Scaled. Reputation is the fertile ground from which civilization arises. Keeps us honest. Internet has transformed the village into the global village. This has transformed reputation (nobody can hide). Eg microlending. Collective reputation. Rewired the system to fund people without credit. Lent to groups of people who know each other – individual reputations are tied to group reputation. Innovation from the bottom-up. Eg Tidy Towns. Engage people in rural Irish towns to get passionate about clean cities. Town, community, individual. Tying individual reputation to larger group reputation.
Design Pattern 4: The Loanership Society. Lending stuff we can spare or don’t use. Eg why does everybody have a power drill? Why not share across groups? Eg Eco-neighbuzz. “I need a drill. Can anyone lend me one?” Make it a utility. Eg utility of the Zipcar. Notion of ownership over solid media versus subscription models. Subscription models for everything. Eg Comcast bundles subscriptions. People want a la carte. Hence more people are going to the web for content on their own terms. Pride of ownership vs. pride of stewardship. Eg John Muir. Not “I own this thing”, but “we collectively have a guardianship”. What are the environments where stewardship is more appropriate than ownership?
Design Pattern 5: Virtual Production. Eg device containers that stuff gets made and sold for. Not solid product but digital goods. Breaking cycles of production & consumption. Eg iPhone & apps. Eg. Air Level, iCandle. Se amount of economic activity that involves creating new stuff is being retargeted to virtual goods. Such goods get better over time rather than decaying. Eg Last.fm. Creating micro-economic climates. New metrics.
How can we move the culture towards these trends. Amplify the patterns. We have the opportunity, the tech, and the will. Benefit ourselves and our culture, our futures and our children.
Here’s a selection of my tweets from the O’Reilly Emerging Technology Conference this past week. These are the ones I think grab the juicy nuggets from the speaker’s presentations. [In temporal order with the earliest (ie Monday eve) listed first.]
Tim O’Reilly: “We have greatness but have wasted it on so much. ”
We have an unprecedented opportunity to build a digital commonwealth. #etech
Work on something that matters to you more than money. This is a robust strategy. #etech
Niall Kennedy: Energy Star rating for web apps? Thinking of clouds & programming like tuning a car for better gas mileage. #etech
Cloud computing: no reasonable expectation of privacy when data is not in your hands. Not protected by 4th amendment. #etech
Alex Steffen: Problems with water supply are based in part on our lack of beavers. #etech
Social media for human rights. http://hub.witness.org #etech
Gavin Starks – Your Energy Identity & Why You Should Care. see http://amee.com #etech
Maureen Mclugh – Consider that technology may be evolving in ways that are not particularly interested in us. #etech
Becker, Muller: We have under-estimated the costs and over-estimated the value of our economy. #etech
Becker, Muller: We assume economic trade must be the primary framing of value in our lives. Why? #etech
Design Patterns for PostConsumerism: Free; Repair Culture; Reputation Scaled; Loanership Society; Virtual Production. #etech
NYT: emerging platforms, text reflow, multitouch, flexy displays, smart content, sms story updates, sensors, GPS localized content. #etech
Jeremy Faludi: Buildings & transport have the largest impact on climate change. Biggest bang for the buck in re-design. #etech
Jeremy Faludi – Biggest contributor to species extinction & habitat loss is encroachment & byproducts from agriculture. #etech
Jeremy Faludi – Best strategies to vastly reduce overpopulation: access to birth control & family planning, empowerment of women. #etech
Tom Raftery: Grid 1.0 can’t manage excess power from renewables. Solution: electric cars as distributed storage. #etech
Considering the impact of pluging AMEE (@agentGav) data in ERP systems for feedback to biz about supply chain impacts. BI meets NRG ID.
Mike Mathieu: Data becoming more important than code. Civic data is plentiful and largely untapped. Make civic apps! #etech
Mike Mathieu: Take 10 minutes today and pick your crisis. Figure out how to create software to help. #etech
What is #SantaCruz doing to make civic data available to service builders? We want to help SC be healthier & more productive.
Mark Fraunfelder: “I haven’t heard of anybody having great success with automatic chicken doors.” #etech [re-emerging technology]
Realities of energy efficiency: 1gallon of gasoline = ~1000hrs of human labor. #etech
Kevin Lynch: Adobe is saving over $1M annually just by managing energy. #etech
Designing backwards: Think about the destiny of the item before thinking about he initial use. (via Brian Dougherty) #etech
RealTimeCity: physical & digital space merges, people incorporate intelligent systems, cities react in accord w/needs of pub welfare. #etech
Oh my we’re being LIDAR’d while Zoe Keating plays live cello n loops. ZOMG!!!
zoe keating & live lidar is blowing my mind at #etech 1.3M points per sec!
Julian Bleeker cites David A. Kirby: “Diegetic prototypes have a major rhetorical advantage over true prototypes” #etech
Julian Bleeker: Stories matter when designing the future, eg. Minority Report. #etech
Julian Bleeker: “Think of Philip K. Dick as a System Administrator. #etech
Rebecca MacKinnon: Which side are we helping, River Crabs or Grass Mud Horses? #etech
Kati London: How can we use games to game The System and how can they be used to solve civic problems? #etech
Nathan Wolfe: Trying to fight pandemics only at the viral human level ignores deep socioeconomic causes of animal-human transmission. #etech
Nathan Wolfe, re: viral jump from animal to human populations: “What happens in central Africa doesn’t stay in central Africa.”
Nathan Wolfe: need to work with % of population w/ hi freq of direct contact with animals for early detection of viral transmission.
Nathan Wolfe: Vast majority of biosphere is microscopic, mostly bacterial & viral. Humans: very small piece of life on Earth. #etech
Most product opportunities are ephemeral, rising off the whims and fads of the social world. Likewise, most products and services cater to temporary needs, momentary desires, and passing fads. There are certainly a bounty of successful business models that capitalize on such trends (remember Beanie Babies?) and there will be plenty more, but in the long run all are doomed to pass after a few years at best, downcycling more resources and adding yet more volume to the world’s landfills. Ultimately, product solutions that don’t speak to the more fundamental motivations of the human animal will rise and fall on the endocrine tides of psychology.
The technologies that are really transformative and sticky are those that help people adapt better to their world (duct tape being a contemporary classic, environmental concerns aside for the moment). They make it easier to be an effective human. The technologies and solutions that make the biggest mark on the landscape are those that reinforce biological imperatives. The ability to harness fire established several millenia of product iterations designed to deliver heat to the needs of humanity. Agriculture, metal alloys, the printing press, immunizations, the car, the telephone, the computer, and Google all created enduring markets by providing adaptive advantages to the user.
Now in the hyper-connected, hyper-accelerated world of the Digital Age it seems as if we’re caught up in constant revolutions in technology, each Big Thing laying the foundation for The Next Big Thing. The marketplace is driven to spot the upstart that will unseat the previous generation in innovative cycles that are increasingly impacted and shortening. And when they find one, the antibodies flare up to test its mettle. Is it really that innovative? Is it useful? Will it make any money?
Twitter is a prime example of this condition. In 2 short years it’s gone from nothing, to something cute & fun, to presenting a viable challenge to the world’s largest information house, Google. Hitting the hype crescendo lately, everyone is trying to figure out why Twitter is useful and why anybody would use it in the enterprise and how & when they’ll start drawing revenues. The answer to these questions seem plainly obvious when we acknowledge that the fundamental needs of the human animal will always trump all other market factors.
So, how can you spot deep innovation that addresses the core requirements of the human animal? You have to ask these questions:
1) Does it enable you to more effectively address a fundamental biological need? Eat, drink, sleep, mate, procreate, move, establish dominion…
2) Does it enable you to more effectively address a fundamental social need? Communicate, collaborate, contact, support, share, trade…
3) Is it presented in simple & clear terms? Easy to learn, obvious functional use, immediate advantage…
4) Can it easily be integrated as an entrained extension of the user? Simple to use, second-hand adoption, action without thinking…
5) Does it provide the user with a selective advantage in the competitive landscape? Finding and obtaining resources, getting work and pay, making friends and collaborators, finding potential mates…
A truly profound illustration of these principles is the mobile phone. This seemingly simple technology addresses and enables almost every one of the above needs. Data on cellphone uptake shows the sharpest arc of adoption of any device ever. In every case the technology enables humans to be more successful at being humans, particularly in the ability to easily coordinate group efforts towards socioeconomic and biological ends. Clay Shirkey explores this phenomenon in depth in his seminal work Here Comes Everybody.
To turn this eye towards Twitter, we ask “Why does it work?”. Two things are immediately clear: It’s simple to use and it enables much greater communication & coordination. Specifically, it allows one person to quickly communicate with large groups of people while simultaneously drawing information about the landscape from the larger herd. With mobile integration each user becomes a sensor communicating to the tribe, and when in need the user can appeal to the tribe for immediate assistance. In this context, it’s obvious how Twitter would be of value within a secured enterprise, enabling ostensibly coordinated individuals to see more into the operations & needs of their collaborators & their company, while providing the channel to reach out for information and assistance in accomplishing the goals of the business.
Of critical importance, and why Twitter succeeds in ways that other social networks don’t, is that It forces communication to be succinct and to the point. The 140 character limit forces communications into small, digestible chunks, limiting the overhead of use and managing the potential for overload in signal. Passing a link, a question, or a simple plea, “ARRESTED”, brings the core of the communication up front & center rather than buried within paragraphs of narrative padding. Granted, all datastreams require management as the volume of input rises, but the word limit fundamentally rewrites the game of communication – and even language itself – in ways we don’t yet fully realize.
There will obviously be many more successful business models that don’t cater to the evolutionary, socioeconomic, & political needs of the human species, just as there will be many more billions of dollars spent on using energy and creating waste to capitalize on the current desires of the marketplace. I submit that the truly compelling and enduring innovations – the innovations that build long-lasting behavioral & business opportunities – are those that design for the fundamental needs hardwired into every human user on the planet; that design for the immediacy of an interconnected planetary ecology; and that reflect Tim O’Reilly’s call to work on stuff that matters.
Markets are abstractions that merely arise off the imperatives of survival, adaptation, and success, and are often far too volatile & obtuse to be really reliable, much less enable us to be more effective members of a planetary ecology. Designing for deeper principles is imperative not only for salvaging a faltering economy, but for creating sustainable models of innovation and evolutionary adaption that bring our species into a greater degree of harmony and cooperation with the world in which we are intimately embedded. The arc of our times is quickly becoming the necessary realization of these imperatives.
Today Facebook announced a new homepage whose re-design appears to be a response to the growing popularity of Twitter. Or more explicitly (to strip away the brand and focus on the technology), Facebook is moving towards the real-time web by adding a Stream view that shows updates from friends. In the words of Facebook’s director of product development, Chris Cox, “the stream is what’s happening”.
Indeed, the stream is certainly compelling. There is potentially great value in receiving & transmitting information as quickly as possible. As Twitter shows, people want to opt-in for notices from connections & information sources, but it’s uncertain whether Facebook users will be able to handle the unrestrained volume of content that it’s users post. Information is valuable only when it’s useful. The 140 character limit of the SMS underlying Twitter forces information to be clear & concise. It’s hard enough to keep up with Twitter posts, much less following everything your Facebook connections are allowed to post. The stream may simply be too overwhelming for most.
However, the interesting bits include the addition of filters that allow users to manage stream views, offering some hope to pare down the data glut. Likewise, the proposed ability to visualize a user’s social graph – the immediate and extended connections they have in Facebook – coupled to a lifting of the 5000 friend limit will open new opportunities for connectivity and communication but will also force users to manage their filters in order to deal with the volume.
The main downside seems to be Facebook’s ongoing insistence on private networks that are probably a legacy feature from the college-only days of in-group cliques that initially colonized the service. How will the rest of the world find value in it’s thoughtstream? How will businesses leverage the trends and interests of Facebook users if it’s too prohibitive to get access? Facebook may have the advantage in user numbers, but Twitter has the advantage in connectivity.
While Facebook boasts 175 million users, they cluster mostly in private groups. As someone who doesn’t use Facebook, I often encounter links that take me to the Facebook gates only to be turned away. It’s a walled garden to which the uninitiated do not have access. If Facebook is to approach the really interesting value of Twitter as a real-time search tool, it will need to open it’s network (and its API) to the rest of the world, thereby challenging its own users. Otherwise it will remain a land of closed & Balkanized cliques content to share party pictures and trade dollar beers, which may be enough for a business model but may fall short of moving into the territory currently occupied by everyone’s most surprising competitor: Twitter.
Some analysts I admire greatly have developed highly refined predictive scenarios based on coupling new-millenial geopolitical models to what is effectively non-linear dynamic systems theory. Dynamic systems theory is the same stuff that’s used to model population growth, weather patterns, and, increasingly, economic systems. They use this lens to analyze the global condition and make reasoned approximations about where we’re headed (and perhaps why we’re in this handbasket) and how we may prepare.
So when they look at the inertia behind the current economic climate and apply the principles that describe all natural systems it’s typically surmised that we’re swinging wildly out of equilibrium and heading for a complete crash. Stockpile ammo and shore up your networks are the unavoidable implications. Each day that reports new lows in the flagging and out-dated stock market adds more credence to the rapidly approaching Global Financial/Civilizational Meltdown.
Perhaps with the deep existential need to hang on to at least some hope, I’ve been looking for reasons why, despite my own passions for systems theory, they might be wrong and we might avert catastrophe. And it occurs to me that humans are different. Not a huge leap, I know, but unlike all other entities within natural systems, which effectively run along by their own immutable rules and finite sets of variables, humans deliberately and often intelligently apply creative feedback to the world in order to modulate it’s behavior. We alone are capable of looking at the system, understanding it, and identifying the ways & means to perturb or otherwise attempt to manage its outcomes. Often we do this without even realizing it or deliberately trying to affect it. This is why one of the new trends is behavioral economics which seeks to understand the feedback effects between the two highly coupled and extremely sensitive systems of macroeconomics & human emotion. You see, human behavior, while mostly robotic and in-line with the Paleolithic Human OS1, is capable of sudden leaps that break the bonds of pure systems theory and allow us to apply sudden paradigmatic shifts to the world (witness fire, the wheel, the steel forge, writing, movable type, radio, tv, the web, cell phones, etc etc… Of course, this incessant meddling with natural systems is also how we got ourselves into this mess in the first place.
But the fact remains: you can bet that at least a few hundred thousand really smart people are pushing hard to make sure we can nudge the system back into some reasonable approximation of healthy equilibrium. In the age of instantaneous global comm & collab, it’s likely that the good ideas will, slowly, eventually, hopefully soon enough but probably inevitably, rise through the fetid bogs of politic and bureaucracy (which probably do need some serious systemic shocks) and mobilize the gears of industry to bust the Big Move that will save our asses from the post-apocalyptic scenarios of bartering for bread, struggling to maintain technology & the power needed to run it, while dodging tribal warfare on the way to work at the potato farm.
But I digress. The point is, we’re not wholly subservient to the whims of natural systems. We might not pull it off in time if we dawdle and fight too much but we have the capacity to analyze and overcome… to find the work-around. Hence the imperative of Tim O’Reilly and others like him to leverage the empowering tools of our age to “work on stuff that matters”. This is not just about feeling better and contributing. It’s really about marshaling our shared abilities and wielding the collective will to drive the system and actively steer our civilization away from the edge.