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Tomorrow Today: Design, Fiction and Social Responsibility | DisegnoDaily
"Here they seemed to allude to criticisms of critical design – or the acronym SCD (speculative critical design) by which it has also become widely known – in the sixteen years since the term first appeared in Dunne’s 1999 book Hertzian Tales. If at its best, critical design is held to spark public debate about the ramifications of science, technology and policy, the field has also been lambasted for its limited reach and efficacy. John Thackara, for instance, recently mounted an attack on what he termed its “infantile science fictions” and Susan Yelavich, Associate Professor at Parsons School of Design charged it for ‘only preaching to the choir’.

At the symposium, keynote speaker, design curator Paola Antonelli – who has spent much of the past decade promoting Critical Design to a wider audience through exhibitions at MoMA in New York – diagnosed the moment in her presentation. In the evolution of movements she outlined “a tendency where pioneers are doubted; after a period of drunkenness, the boat capsizes and follows with fatigue.” Antonelli used the online exhibition she co-curated on Design and Violence as evidence of critical design’s enduring potential. The website uses both mass-produced and conceptual design artefacts to provoke discussion on issues such as the death penalty and euthanasia. Antonelli then went to on to call for the scrutiny of standards in Critical Design."

"The afternoon ended fittingly with a performance by urbanist, designer and futurist Liam Young. His vision of the future came in the form of a story told against a backdrop of dystopian, computer-rendered urban landscapes.

Such stylistic probing and cross-pollination of genres were evidence of critical design’s constant scrutiny of ever-evolving codes. These are necessary to straddle the present and the future, reality and fantasy, the ordinary and the extraordinary, the feasible and the strange, the negotiation of which, according to Dunne and Raby, is essential to critical design’s power and success. As the pair conclude their 10-year tenure at the Royal College of Art at the end of this academic year, it was clear from Tomorrow Today that the future of both critical design and otherwise rests on a knife edge."
anthonydunne  fionaraby  dunne&raby  2015  speculativefiction  speculativedesign  designfiction  design  criticaldesign  future  paulgrahamraven  daisyginsberg  liamyoung  onkarkular  johnthackara  susanyelavich  paolaantonelli  catharinerossi  portiaungley  alexandradaisyginsberg  via:anne 
july 2015 by robertogreco
How design fiction imagines future technology – Jon Turney – Aeon
"As technological choices become ever more complex, design fiction, not science, hints at the future we actually want"

"Design fiction’s efforts to create imaginative realisations of technology, which consciously try to evoke discussion that avoids polarising opinion, have a key ingredient, I think. Unlike the new worlds of sci-fi novels, or the ultra-detailed visuals of futuristic cinema, their stories are unfinished. Minority Report is not about critical design because its narrative is closed. In good design fiction, the story is merely hinted at, the possibilities left open. It is up to the person who stumbles across the design to make sense of how it might be part of a storied future."

Design fiction’s proponents want to craft products and exhibits that are not open to this simplified response, that fire the imagination in the right way. That means being not too fanciful, not simply dystopian, and not just tapping into clichéd science‑fictional scripts. When it works, design fiction brings something new into debates about future technological life, and involves us – the users – in the discussion."

"As design fiction comes to be recognised as a distinctive activity, it will continue to find new forms of expression. The US design theorist Julian Bleecker of the Near Future Laboratory suggests that the TBD Catalog with its realistic depictions of fictional products models a different way of innovating, in which designers ‘prototype and test a near future by writing its product descriptions, filing bug reports, creating product manuals and quick reference guides to probable improbable things’. The guiding impulse is to assist us in imagining a new normality. Design and artistic practice can both do that.

Design fictions are not a panacea for some ideal future of broad participation in choosing the ensemble of technologies that we will live with. Most future technologies will continue to arrive as a done deal, despite talk among academics of ‘upstream engagement’ or – coming into fashion – instituting ‘responsible research and innovation’. The US Department of Defense, for instance, and its lavishly-funded, somewhat science-fictional Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) has an extensive catalogue of research and development (R&D) projects on topics from robotics to neural enhancement, selected according to a single over-riding criterion: might they give the USA a military advantage in future? DARPA’s Biological Technologies Office tells us, in a ghastly combination of sales talk and bureaucratese, that it is ‘looking for the best innovators from all fields who have an idea for how to leverage bio+tech to solve seemingly impossible problems and deliver transformative impact’. Here, as in other fields, military, security and much commercial R&D will probably go its own way, and we’ll get weaponised biology whether we like it or not.

For the rest, though, there is a real contribution to be made through a playful, freewheeling design practice, open to many new ideas, and which is technically informed but not constrained by immediate feasibility. There are already enough examples to show how design fiction can invite new kinds of conversations about technological futures. Recognising their possibilities can open up roads not taken.

Design fiction with a less critical (and more commercial) edge will continue to appeal to innovative corporations anxious to configure new offerings to fit better with as yet undefined markets. Their overriding aim is to reduce the chances of an innovation being lost in the ‘valley of death’ between a bright idea and a successful product that preys on the minds of budget-holders.

But the greatest potential of this new way of working is as a tool for those who want to encourage a more important debate about possible futures and their technological ingredients. This is the debate we’re still too often not having, about how to harness technological potential to improve the chances of us living the lives we wish for."
design  designfiction  2105  jonturney  technology  science  participatory  future  complexity  debate  futures  potential  howwelive  lcproject  openstudioproject  darpa  scifi  sciencefiction  change  nearfuturelaboratory  julianbleecker  tbdcatalog  fiction  prototyping  art  imagination  tinkeringwiththefuture  paulgrahamraven  alexandraginsberg  christinapagapis  sisseltolaas  syntheticbiology  alexiscarrel  frederikpohl  cyrilkornbluth  margaretatwood  anthonydunne  fionaraby  dunne&raby  koertvanmensvoort  hendrik-jangrievink  arthurcclarke  davidnye  julesverne  hgwells  martincooper  startrek  johnunderkoffler  davidkirby  aldoushuxley  bravenewworld  minorityreport  jamesauger  jimmyloizeau  worldbuilding  microworldbuilding  thenewnormal 
march 2015 by robertogreco
The Good Life is a fiction — Medium
"We offload physical effort onto our technologies, but are hence increasingly obliged to engage in other forms of labour in order to sustain the infrastuctures on which those technologies depend; the increasing interdependencies of infrastructure act as multipliers of technological effectiveness, but as they do so they push us further out onto the brittle, skinny branches of the technological path-dependency tree."

For example: to run a tractor, you need diesel, which in turn requires the entire Byzantine global supply chain of the petrochemical industry (not to mention the global military-industrial complex with which it is locked in a seemingly inextricable symbiotic embrace); the electronic components in the tractor’s GPS required small but crucial quantities of the increasingly well-named rare earth metals, plus copper, aluminium, and a whole bunch of other interestingly toxic or inaccessible things; ideas, materials and various forms of energy are collected, processed, distributed and harnessed in countless complex and unseen ways before you can observe them manifest as a tractor ploughing a field. So if you’re really going back to the land, you can’t use any of that stuff, because in doing so you are extending your footprint far beyond your little croft. Perhaps you can find a local blacksmith with whom to barter for some basic tools — but where did he get those pigs of iron from, hmm? Whence came the hardwood of the handles, the coal that fuels the forge? How was it gathered, transported?

The problem here is infrastructure — or, more accurately, the illegibility thereof. I’ve unpacked this idea at greater length already, but for now it suffices to say that infrastructure is as old as argriculture, perhaps even as old as civilisation itself, and as such is one of the great unquestioned assumptions of our lives. You can perform an analysis much like the one I just performed on the tractor on pretty much anything and everything you touch and see in your everyday life — and I recommend you do so, even if just as an occasional exercise, because you will be equipping yourself with a pragmatic wisdom for the troubled years to come. It’s the antidote to Milton Friedman’s libertopian magical thinking about pencils: the market thinks about resources, capital and labour so you don’t have to!

The market makes infrastructure illegible, because everyone’s a sucker for a good magic trick, and who wants to think about where pencils come from?

In order for you to not need to know where pencils come from, many hundreds or thousands of people — hell, maybe even more — have to know a very great deal about where pencils come from. You pay the market price for a pencil because that is the cost of the pencil being Someone Else’s Problem.

But the infrastructural gotcha doesn’t just restrict you from using labour-saving devices; agriculture is even more deeply tied into global supply chains and economic flows than that. Centuries of selective breeding and, more recently, genetic engineering, have produced seed stock for growing plants that resist pests, that yield more or better fruits or seeds, that grow taller and stronger and more tightly, more times per year. But those breeds may be dependent on fertilisers, which are a product of the international chemical industry; they may require more water per hectare than is available in the immediate area, and which must be piped from elsewhere; they may need to be grown in specialist greenhouses with energy-hungry climate control systems, or to be shipped to an optimal market via one or more transport infratructures; they may require chilling or freezing before they make it to the consumer’s household, where they may require further chilling or freezing. In short, the agricultural yield of a plot of land is amplified hugely by the technological multipliers of global infrastructure; remove the influence of that infrastructure, and the yield drops spectacularly, to a point where there is nowhere near enough arable land on the surface of this planet to feed all the people currently living on it.

This is why we can’t go backwards, any more than we can keep running blindly forwards.

To detechnologise and deurbanise the human species and return to its mythological and romanticised agrarian roots, it would be necessary for the vast majority of the human species to die in a very short period of time. Ironically enough, this may well be exactly what comes to pass if we cannot solve the existential crises which solutionism and hairshirt primitivism alike both claim to and fail to address. Over-optimised and hyper-cybernetic systems running at capacity are prone to sudden phase changes and cascading chain-reaction failures; if solutionism simply kicks that can a bit further down the road, then primitivism chooses to pretend it never drank anything that came from a can. Both positions suffer from the same terminal lack of reflexivity that eats like a cancer at the heart of contemporary political discourse: a desperate denialist refusal to consider the wider context from which these problems have emerged."

"If I was to sum up what the Viridian Movement meant to me in practical terms, I’d say it taught me that the answer to bad technology is neither more technology or no technology, but better technology.

More technology is our current solutionist paradigm: if cars pollute, then we’ll make electric cars that displace the pollution somewhere we can’t see it; if cars kill people and clog cities, then we’ll add expert systems and automation to them, so that the roads can handle even more traffic than ever before. More technology has been our approach since the industrial revolution; it’s the approach that has bequeathed us rising global temperatures, psychotic emergent behaviours in stock markets, increasing alienation from our labour, from our world, from each other.

But no technology is pure reactionism, a refusal to acknowledge technology’s role in making your life something other than three score years and change of relentless, thankless labour. No technology is the cry of those who are, unwittingly, more dependent upon technology than anyone else; it is not a cry you will hear in squats, townships and refugee camps, but in leafy suburbs and expensively pristine tourist destinations. No technology is the cry of unchecked privilege, of bleeding-heart middle-class liberalism, of sublimated Puritan guilt manifesting as Protestant condescension, of ignorance mistaking itself for concern.

And better technology?

The first step toward better technology is to make a clear distinction between better technology and more technology.

The second is to realise that better technology doesn’t necessarily mean thinking about what a technology does or how it does it, but about why you wanted the technology in the first place, and what you definitely don’t want it to do; to start and finish every design or strategy by resituating it in its contexts, local and global alike.

The third step toward better technology is to realise that all technologies are effectively hyperspecialised extensions of our infrastructures; to not further obscure and occlude the supply chains and networks in which our lives are embedded, but to expose them, celebrate them, admire and fear and reimagine them; to recognise the role of infrastructure as the sole mediator between our species and the environment which both sustains and threatens us, and as the ultimate arbiter of our civilisational futurity.

The way out is through."
2013  paulgrahamraven  viridianmovement  technology  primitivism  solutionism  technosolutionism  reactionism  rural  urban  infrastructure  future  sustainability  climatechange  efficiency  systemsthinking  agriculture  behavior  complexity  simplicity 
november 2014 by robertogreco
Improving Reality 2013 - Paul Graham Raven - YouTube
"Paul is going to talk about infrastructure, about what we mean (or think we mean) when we say that word, and about why infrastructure is not so much invisible as illegible: omnipresent, ubiquitous, but almost always Someone Else's Problem. He will compare the Someone Else's Problem problem to the "hypnosis of normality" which Anab Jain (designer at Superflux) suggests design fiction is intended to dispel. Paul proposes that the tools of design fiction and critical theory can, and should, be turned outward upon the complex, interdependent and surprisingly fragile metasystems on which our lived reality is utterly dependent."

[See also: ]
2013  paulgrahamraven  infrastructure  designfiction  speculativedesign  speculativefiction  criticaltheory 
october 2014 by robertogreco
Make technological utopia easier with this one weird trick | Blog | Futurismic
"Now, as a card-carrying Harawayian, I am in no way averse to ascribing agency to non-human and/or artefactual subjects; what bothers me about these scenarios is that they largely remove agency from human subjects, being variations on the Software Salvationism which believes that all obstacles might be overcome through the addition of EVN MOAR ALGOS PLZ*, and assumes (falsely, I hope) that people would like less direct control over the way their world works rather than more. But it’s kind of inevitable, really: when you ask “how can technology make a better future?” you foreclose (whether deliberately or not) on the possibility of making that better future with anything other than new technology; this is one of the epistemological bear-traps of technological determinism, which Kelly and many other tech-centric futures people have been circling around for decades.

But it’s easily enough stepped out of; all you need to do is take the “technology” specifier out of the question, and/or avoid asking it of people who identify with technology in either a entrepreneurial or quasi-religious manner (no beer for you, Ray Kurzweil). By way of example, here’s my own late submission to Kelly’s call, a 101-word haiku describing a desirable future:
No one goes hungry. No one sleeps outdoors, unless they choose to. No one is conscripted as a child-soldier. No one is maimed by land-mines made on the other side of the world. No one is exploited for the betterment or gain of another. No one is a second class citizen to anyone. Nothing is wasted. Things – whether material or digital – are made with care and thought, and are made to last a long, long time. We appreciate a plurality of systems of value alongside the legacy cash-money system, which we keep going as a honey-trap distraction for the instinctively acquisitive.

If that’s not utopian and desirable, I don’t know what it is. And as implausible, unlikely and peacenik-pie-in-the-sky as you might (very reasonably) choose to call it, it is possible — because it doesn’t require us to make a single damned invention or piece of software we don’t already have. We have everything we need already; it’s just, as Gibson didn’t quite say, not yet evenly distributed. That means my little scenario above is intrinsically more plausible than any future that requires a technological novum to make it work, because [Occam's Razor]. And if you’re aching to say “but hang on, you’ll never get that to work because getting people to change the way they do things isn’t at all simple”, then congratulations –you’ve internalised the very point I’ve been trying to make all along. Have a cookie.

In short, then, and in hope of answering Kelly’s rhetorical question: the reason it is no longer possible/easy to write believable technological utopias is that we’ve had enough historical and personal experience with previous technologies failing to deliver on their utopian promises that we are no longer willing to take them at face value; we no longer believe that new technologies are an unalloyed good in and of themselves, and there have been sufficient charlatan futurists that we’ve started to assume they’re all charlatans until proven otherwise.

So perhaps we’re edging closer to utopia faster than we thought."
paulgrahamraven  2014  utopia  economics  donnnaharaway  transhumanism  humanism  technology  inequality  kevinkelly  future  futures  policy  politics  waste  environment  care  thought 
october 2014 by robertogreco
In the Loop: Designing Conversations With Algorithms | superflux
"As algorithmic systems become more prevalent, I’ve begun to notice of a variety of emergent behaviors evolving to work around these constraints, to deal with the insufficiency of these black box systems. These behaviors point to a growing dissatisfaction with the predominant design principles, and imply a new posture towards our relationships with machines.


The first behavior is adaptation. These are situations where I bend to the system’s will. For example, adaptations to the shortcomings of voice UI systems — mispronouncing a friend’s name to get my phone to call them; overenunciating; or speaking in a different accent because of the cultural assumptions built into voice recognition. We see people contort their behavior to perform for the system so that it responds optimally. This is compliance, an acknowledgement that we understand how a system listens, even when it’s not doing what we expect. We know that it isn’t flexible or responsive enough, so we shape ourselves to it. If this is the way we move forward, do half of us end up with Google accents and the other half with Apple accents? How much of our culture ends up being an adaptation to systems we can’t communicate well with?


The second type of behavior we’re seeing is negotiation — strategies for engaging with a system to operate within it in more nuanced ways. One example of this is Ghostery, a browser extension that allows one to see what data is being tracked from one’s web browsing and limit it or shape it according to one’s desires. This represents a middle ground: a system that is intended to be opaque is being probed in order to see what it does and try and work with it better. In these negotiations, users force a system to be more visible and flexible so that they can better converse with it.

We also see this kind of probing of algorithms becoming a new and critical role in journalism, as newsrooms take it upon themselves to independently investigate systems through impulse response modeling and reverse engineering, whether it's looking at the words that search engines censor from their autocomplete suggestions, how online retailers dynamically target different prices to different users, or how political campaigns generate fundraising emails.


Third, rather than bending to the system or trying to better converse with it, some take an antagonistic stance: they break the system to assert their will. Adam Harvey’s CV Dazzle is one example of this approach, where people hack their hair and makeup in order to foil computer vision and opt out of participating in facial recognition systems. What’s interesting here is that, while the attitude here is antagonistic, it is also an extreme acknowledgement of a system’s power — understanding that one must alter one’s identity and appearance in order to simply exert free will in an interaction."

"Julian Oliver states this problem well, saying: “Our inability to describe and understand [technological infrastructure] reduces our critical reach, leaving us both disempowered and, quite often, vulnerable. Infrastructure must not be a ghost. Nor should we have only mythic imagination at our disposal in attempts to describe it. 'The Cloud' is a good example of a dangerous simplification at work, akin to a children's book.”

So, what I advocate is designing interactions that acknowledge the peer-like status these systems now have in our lives. Interactions where we don't shield ourselves from complexity but actively engage with it. And in order to engage with it, the conduits for those negotiations need to be accessible not only to experts and hackers but to the average user as well. We need to give our users more respect and provide them with more information so that they can start to have empowered dialogues with the pervasive systems around them.

This is obviously not a simple proposition, so we start with: what are the counterpart values? What’s the alternative to the black box, what’s the alternative to “it just works”? What design principles should we building into new interactions?


The first is transparency. In order to be able to engage in a fruitful interaction with a system, I need to be able to understand something about its decision-making process. And I want to be clear that transparency doesn’t mean complete visibility, it doesn’t mean showing me every data packet sent or every decision tree.


The second principle here is agency, meaning that a system’s design should empower users to not only accomplish tasks, but should also convey a sense that they are in control of their participation with a system at any moment. And I want to be clear that agency is different from absolute and granular control.


The last principle, virtuosity, is something that usually comes as a result of systems that support agency and transparency well. And when I say virtuosity, what I mean is the ability to use a technology expressively.

A technology allows for virtuosity when it contains affordances for all kinds of skilled techniques that can become deeply embedded into processes and cultures. It’s not just about being able to adapt something to one’s needs, but to “play” a system with skill and expressiveness."
superflux  anabjain  agency  algorithms  complexity  design  networks  wearables  christinaagapakis  paulgrahamraven  scottsmith  alexislloyd  2014  communication  adaptation  negotiation  antagonism  ghostery  julianoliver  transparency  virtuosity  visibility  systemsthinking  systems  expressiveness 
april 2014 by robertogreco

Lighthouse's digital culture conference, Improving Reality, returned for a third year this September. Talks included tours through worlds that artists are growing rather than making, critical revelations of the systems and infrastructures that shape our world, and narratives of radical alternative futures.

We’ve collected together the videos of the days talks, and invite you to join us in the discussion on Twitter and Facebook, or in any way you’d like. Visit the relevant session to watch the videos, and find out more about the themes, issues and ideas up or discussion.

In between sessions were a set of Tiny Talks, interventions from artists and designers involved in Brighton Digital Festival.

Session 1. Revealing Reality

Social, political and technological infrastructures are the invisible “dark matter” which underlies contemporary life, influencing our environment and behaviour. This session explores how the spaces where we live, such as our cities, are being transformed by increasingly interlinked technological and architectural infrastructures. We will see how artists and designers are making these infrastructures visible, so that we may better understand and critique them.

Speakers: Timo Arnall, Keller Easterling and Frank Swain. Chair: Honor Harger.

Session 2. Re-imagining Reality

Our increasingly technologised world, with its attendant infrastructures, is in a constant state of flux. This session explores how artists, designers and writers are imagining how our infrastructures may evolve. We will learn what writers might reveal about our infrastructures, using tools such as design fiction. We will go on tours through worlds that artists are growing, rather than making, using new materials like synthetic biology and nanotechnology. And we’ll see how artists are imagining new realities using techniques from futurism and foresight.

Speakers: Paul Graham Raven, Maja Kuzmanovic, Tobias Revell and Alexandra Daisy Ginsberg. Chair: Simon Ings.

Session 3. Reality Check

The growing reach of technological infrastructures and engineered systems into our lives creates uneasy social and ethical challenges. The recent scandals relating to the NSA, the revelation of the PRISM surveillance programme, and the treatment of whistleblowers such as Edward Snowden and Bradley Manning, have revealed how fundamentally intertwined our civil liberties are with our technological infrastructures. These systems can both enable, and threaten, both our privacy and our security. Ubiquitous networked infrastructures create radical new creative opportunities for a coming generation of makers and users, whilst also presenting us with major social dilemmas. In this session we will look at the social and ethical questions which will shape our technological infrastructures in the future. We will examine algorithmic infrastructures, power dynamics, and ask, “whose reality we are trying to improve”.

Speakers: Farida Vis, Georgina Voss, Paula Le Dieu, and Justin Pickard. Chair: Scott Smith."
timoarnall  kellereasterling  frankswain  honorharger  paulgrahamraven  majakuzmanovic  tobiasrevell  alexandradaisy-ginsberg  simonings  faridavis  georginavoss  paulaledieu  justinpickard  scottsmitt  reality  art  systems  infrastructure  politics  technology  darkmatter  behavior  environment  architecture  2013  flux  change  nanotechnology  syntheticbiology  materials  futurism  ethics  surveillance  nsa  edwardsnowden  bradleymanning  civilliberties  security  privacy  algorithms  networks  ubiquitouscomputing  powerdynamics  towatch 
october 2013 by robertogreco
An Introduction to Infrastructure Fiction | superflux
"'All-in-One' was an EPSRC-funded project ... [T]he basic research question was 'would it be possible to replace all the disparate utility infrastructures which we have currently with a system that uses one single unified infrastructure to fulfil all the needs of end-users?' ... [L]ook at the actual ideas we came up with: a 'city blood' circulatory system, wherein energy is carried to homes dissolved in water like oxygen is carried to our cells by haemoglobin; a rhizome-topology urban network of underground freight-delivery tunnels; the entire planet powered by orbital solar collector satellites, and eventually by a belt of photovoltaics on the moon; and a subterranean modular city based around the central need for water, energy and fresh air."
infrastructure  city  design  commentary  infrastructurefiction  fiction  paulgrahamraven  designfiction  via:jbushnell 
august 2013 by robertogreco

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