Reversing the future

ImageJohn Crowley, brilliant writer of splendid speculative fiction, meditates on the future in the most recent Lapham’s. I’d like to draw attention to two main points, beyond the brooding lushness of Crowley’s prose.

First, there’s a futuring method on display.  Even if it’s tongue in cheek, the approach is both entertaining and potentially useful for group work.  The gist: reverse our expectations for the future.  You could even test it retrospectively:

if you simply reversed what the past had imagined, you got something close to the real existing present.

I’d like to try this on small groups.

Crowley then offers an example of this method, projecting one future:



Envisioning a future: True Skin

“True Skin” is a short video imagining a near future dominated by human augmentation.  It begins with physical augmentation, bionics, along with digital skin channels and Google Glass-style contact lenses.  Then it moves into problems: class differences, IP infringement (maybe), uploading…

TRUE SKIN from H1 on Vimeo.

Ubiquitous computing future

What does the future look like, if computing becomes ever more ubiquitous?  “Plurality” is a short film exploring such a world.

The first half is design fiction, taking us through a series of artifacts and humans interacting with them.  The end veers in a very different direction.

(via MetaFilter)

One digital future

“A Digital Tomorrow” is a short design fiction video imagining several ways digital technology could impact daily life.  But it’s not techno-utopianism; instead, it shows people sometimes failing to get tech working.

Warren Ellis points out that interfaces offer an unusual futuring opportunity:

User Interface, however, is in a sense all about the characters. All about the people. And, as in A Digital Tomorrow, has things both speculative and critical to say about the approach of the next New Normal. In the way that core science fiction, which acts as social fiction, speaks to the potentials of the present and the strange weather of the future.

A few more thoughts:

  • Notice how un-digital most of the story is.  The majority of surfaces lack digital displays.  Most objects are analog.
  • Very low budget.  Anyone can do this!
  • Much is inferred rather than described.

The future of one big building

One student project seeks to imagine how New York City’s Port Authority Building would change over the next week decades.

we set out to develop new hypotheses for the future of the PABT which we see as needing to respond to a world in which mobility is as much a matter of portable networked telecommunications devices as travel…
How do we make a building that embraces civic, commercial, and infrastructural spaces while remaining secure?

Check out their detailed discussion of method, including science fiction and graphic design.

The results appear in a video clip which purports to be a kind of informercial from 2060:

(thanks to Hugh Blackmer)

Seeing through science fiction

Warren Ellis offers fine advice to futurists.  The key is to look at the present through a speculative rear-view mirror, as though it were science fiction.  Which it often is.

[Y]ou are all now present at a séance for the future. We are summoning it into the present. It’s here right now. It’s in the room with us. We live in the future. We live in the Science Fiction Condition, where we can see under atoms and across the world and across the methane lakes of Titan.

I hope to hear or watch the talk itself.  The language is rich with shifts and pauses.

(photo by Pop Culture Geek)

The dark side of augmented reality

What are the negative consequences of widespread augmented reality, a la Google Glasses?  “Sight” (2012) is a short science fiction video imagining some of them.  Spoilers after the embed.

The protagonist (or villain) is cut off from some of the world, as e27 observes.  He has little opportunity to experience things physically (does he taste the food, really?) or intuitively (the entire date is augmented).  Gamification blots out experience, and cheapens it.  Finally, bad actors can abuse the system.

It’s useful to compare “Sight” to “Google Glasses: A New Way to Hurt Yourself” (2012).  The latter differs in tone, being comic rather than dystopian, but also in subjects.  “Google” identifies another set of AR problems: communication misfires, physical injury, ad spam, and police surveillance.

As forecasting tools, these kinds of anticipatory sf videos are quite useful.

(via HackerNews)

The Facebook phone as future artifact

Here’s an example of futuring through artifacts: a day in the life of a Facebook phone user.
For example,

I make a few free calls throughout the morning, using the phone’s Skype integration. It’s as simple as holding the thumbs-up button and saying my contact’s name. Most of my friends have a similar device; those that don’t, I can still reach via their desktop. Everyone keeps a Facebook tab open these days in case they miss a call.

Lunchtime, and my screen fills up with coupons from local merchants. I dismiss them all with a tap, head to my favorite sandwich place, point the phone at a QR code reader. Hey presto: my tenth sandwich is free. The Facebook OS was rolled out with a massive small business partner program; Zuckerberg always said that was where the big money was.

Setting aside the question of Facebook actually offering such a thing (I say 50-50 odds), this is a useful futures exercise.  Imagine a future, then create an artifact from it.  Conceive of what life would be like with it.

Science fiction writers guessed at 2012

A group of American science fiction writers imagined what 2012 would be like in 1987.  Their predictions were buried in a time capsule, and just now hauled into daylight.

It’s a fascinating, short read.  Partly for the things these guys got wrong:

the most plausible future scenario is all-out nuclear war.

Probate and copyright law will be entirely restructured by 2012 because people will be frozen at death, and there will be electronic means of consulting them. Many attorneys will specialize in advocacy for the dead.

America and the U.S.S.R. preserve an uneasy accord, each testing the other’s will within well-defined limits

it is very good at last to see this much industry located off-planet, this many permanent space residents and increased exploration of the solar system.

And the occasional near hit:

Oil is running out, but shale-extracted oil is getting cheaper. The real shortage in much of the world is…water.

The one which moves me is from Jack Williamson:


If we had a time-phone, now in 1987, we would beg you to forgive us. We have burdened you with impossible debts, wasted and polluted the planet that should have been your rich heritage, left you instead a dreadful legacy of ignorance, want, and war.

(via MetaFilter)

The post-copyright Singularity

What happens if today’s copyright regime extends to a post-Singularity human consciousness uploading future? Tom Scott offers a satirical glimpse.

(via Hacker News)