What’s next: life imitates art

Mar
02
2014

In the movie Minority Report, a lot of people (like me) saw predictions of our own technological future. In the special effects of Minority Report, we were shown a logical extension of our present (capitalist) world: what comes next. In that world, we are to be enmeshed and immersed in a system comprising all manner of useful digital machines that will manoeuvre around us with increasing intimacy, always to obtain our attention. Minority Report was all about interfaces, baby.

It’s useful, I think, to bear in mind that vast sums of money must be mobilized to create entertainment like Minority Report, and that there are political priorities behind the funds. Chief among these, I would think, is the straightforward but not always easy priority of profit. A close second, as I see it, is to reproduce the conditions of capitalism, to create the capitalism of the future as a continuation of capitalism today.

It seems obvious to me that movies like Minority Report are (intentionally or not) a kind of market research, and indeed propaganda. We are shown a simulation of the future that’s a clean and clear extrapolation of the (affluent) present. As Tom Cruise moves about in that world, sensors in the landscape are constantly tracking his movements, and according to where he is, systems target him with personalized advertising, based on a rich history of data about him. In that future, essentially unchanged from today, we will be urged–with messaging of increasing sophistication–to consume. To persuade us, digital information machines will learn who we are, what interests and appeals to us, what motivations can be tapped. Everywhere we go, the machines will pitch consumer goods; our place, now and in the future, will be to aspire and work to possess those goods. Whatever else is changing in our world, Minority Report suggests that the essential elements of our economic system will persist.

The other day, I learned about Apple’s iBeacon: a new and–I feel sure–disruptive technology, that’s will bring us closer to the world we saw in Minority Report. iBeacon, simply put, is a technology that will be capable of tracking the indoor location of iPhone users with considerable precision, and will communicate with us according to who we are, where we are, what we might want, and what we may be doing. We’ll have the choice whether or not to opt in and share our data, to be sure, but there will be payoffs, just as there are today for retail points cards, and I daresay most of us will make the trade.

This won’t stop with one vendor’s technology, or with one kind of device. Soon enough, we’ll be wearing Google Glass or something like it, or a smart watch, then (I feel sure) contact lenses with embedded heads-up displays, then implants in our eyes.

From the Washington Post: How iBeacons could change the world forever.

The elephant in the room

Nov
22
2013

Here’s a TED talk by Paul Gilding, an Australian who writes about sustainability.

The matter-of-fact and plainspoken Mr. Gilding warns us that “the Earth is full,” and challenges us to respond: what are we going to do about it? On one level the question seems almost trite, because I’d think a lot of people are wondering along that line, but asking the question is as far as most of us get, if that. A lot of people I hear and read, perceive that we’re rushing headlong toward a planet-scale catastrophe (certainly this is my intuition). Speaking from my little corner, I’m aware of no discourse emerging to answer it.

Such a simple question, banal: “What are we going to do about it?” What I think: we won’t act, save around the edges of things, and mostly as a matter of greenwashing. We won’t dare risk acting, until business-as-usual becomes simply inconceivable. By which I mean, having arrived at a point when we can no longer imagine ways to sustain the machinery of human enterprise.

(more…)

What can you make with a 3D printer?

Oct
07
2013

printedsneakersI visited Thingiverse today—a repository of digital 3D templates: objects you can manufacture, if you have a 3D printer.

I find a lot of parallels with early inkjet printers in the consumer market. My first was an HP Deskjet 500: black, white and grey, built like a tank. The colour variant, the Deskjet 500C, was about $1,000 (oh, how badly I wanted colour! but it was far too expensive). I’m thinking this was about 20 years ago.

Who might have imagined that today, I can get a colour inkjet printer/copier/scanner, with vastly better print quality than the old 500C, for well under $50? Yet so it is; and I think it will go the same with 3D printers. As the technology spreads and production economies of scale kick in, printers and raw feedstocks will fall in price, becoming more accessible, even as the technology, surely, becomes more sophisticated and powerful.

If you think about it, a 3D printer is a teleportation device. Virtual objects are distributed planet-wide as mere information. If you’re not already familiar, go have a poke around Thingiverse, just to get an idea of all the virtual objects accumulating in cyberspace, waiting to be manifested in the real world. I don’t have any clear sense of how this technology will change things—that’s difficult to foresee—but I do think it will be disruptive.

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