Posts tagged with ‘bruce sterling’
*I’m Technology Review’s fiction editor for their annual science fiction issue. And check out my list of contributors.
COMPOSE, or Collaborative Open Market to Place Objects at your *lowercase your* Service
In the new Pew Internet report on the Internet of Things in 2025 I was cited for inventing the term ‘computication’:
Desktop computers will be in museums, although a certain cadre will not give up their keyboards and will resist learning how to subvocalize or sign. People who talk to their goggles are considered infantile, since most people give up on that technique before starting school. Most people have wrist or finger devices that talk with their goggles, even when the goggles are off (in bed, exercising, in the shower, etc.), giving notifications, and allowing a subset of computication capability.
Some work objects — and other social objects — will become partly animate, capable of communicating with each other and us. Sensors, AIs, intelligent documents — all will demonstrate the characteristics of Bruce Sterling’s spimes. They will have ‘lifetimes’ and they will persist. They will have relationships with us and other spimes. They will computicate.
Our work graphs will be richer for that, but today’s tools are organized around inanimate and flimsy work objects. Beefing that up is one of the major trends for the next five years in the enterprise.
Four of my favorite covers from Japanese editions of some Bruce Sterling books. I like that Schismatrix translates as ‘Graphics wound matrix’ and Involution Ocean comes out as ‘Sea of dust whale’.
Well, it’s 2014, and I thank goodness the WELL is still here. I’ve
never been so happy to have an Internet account that doesn’t belong to some ultra-rich creep.
It’ll be hard, this year, not to dwell obsessively on the capering
specters of the NSA, Snowden, Wikileaks, Bitcoin… 2013 turned out to be the year when the Digital Revolution trended Stalinist. Old-school Digital Bolsheviks scattered hapless in every direction, as Big Data Killer Bot Commissars scoured the darkening landscape, and Trotsky went to ground in Ecuador.
An extraordinary atmosphere of sullen, baffled evil, as the year
opens. I don’t know what to compare 2014 to — except for many other glum post-revolutionary situations, when the zealots succeeded in toppling the status quo, then failed to install a just and decent form of civil order. The world in 2014 is like a globalized Twitter Egypt.
Bruce Sterling, Bruce Sterling and Jon Lebkowsky: State of the World 2014
That’s the big picture. There are a lot of times and places where “humanity” is headed in no place in particular. Those scenes interest me. Like, little European cultures with weird minority languages, who are just hanging around in obscure mountain valleys, making clay pots and singing, and knifing each other on Tuesdays. You might think that a chrome-and-matte-black science fiction writer would lack a cordial interest in penny-ante cultural scenes like that, but they have their merits. It’s not like we all line up and dash like mad for some end-goal called “The Future.” There’s no victory-condition for being human. The future is just a kind of history that hasn’t happened yet.
"The future is just a kind of history that hasn’t happened yet."
Bruce Sterling’s Viridian Design Principles were recently summarized by Tim Maly. Veridian was a bright green design movement, intended to counter climate change. It ran 1998-2008.
- Eat what you kill. Before superseding or obsoleting some old practice, it is important to fully understand what you are destroying. Compare to: Move fast and break things.
- Avoid the Timeless, Embrace Decay. Nothing lasts, so it is important to design for the end of an object’s lifecycle. When your thing breaks, what will happen to the parts? Harness and even aestheticize rot, rust, and decay. Compare to: Cradle to cradle design.
- Planned Evanescence. When an object ends its inevitable usefulness or is replaced by something better, it should disappear without a trace. Compare to: Planned obsolescence.
- The Future is History — Be When You Are. Viridian design understands that one can only act upon the present and warns against dangerous romanticism for the past or future. Compare to: Futurists, golden age nostalgia, Steampunk.
- History Accumulates. Every generation has more history than the one previous. This constitutes a resource, a ‘compost heap’ to be managed. We need better tools for this. Compare to: Radical breaks with the past, archives and archivists.
- Look at the Underside. The number of people paid to promote a product’s finest features far exceeds those tracking down the bugs and problems. So designers should work to correct this imbalance.Compare to: Tech press, customer rants on social media.
- Design For Evil. There are a lot of dangerous people out there. Some have access to their own police state and army. A designer who does not plan for this is naive. Compare to: Internet utopias, street finding its own use, dual-use tech.
- Design for the Old. The average age in most of the world is climbing steadily. To ignore this demographic trend is to ignore a significant slice of your users. Compare to: Youth culture, the coveted 18-35 demographic, demographics in non-Western countries.
- Superstition Isn’t Inspiration. Warns against seeking substitutions for experimental verification and reproducible results. Warns against mistaking the promptings of the unconscious for creative insight.Compare to: Oblique Strategies, user testing.
- Viridian Inactivism. Activism is an attention hog. It is often more efficient to just stop doing the things that are intensifying problems.Compare to: Occupy, the Tea Party, Arab Spring, the limits of individual action to address systemic problems, globe-trotting environmentalists.
- Do Less With Less. Alternative sources of energy may help, but it’s easier to just use less energy. “What exactly are we doing at the moment that is worth ruining the climate for? Relax.” Compare to: Sterling’s ‘hairshirt green’, monastic living.
- There’s No One So Green As the Dead. By the very act of breathing, every human contributes to CO2 emissions. Any attempt at sustainability must grapple with this. Compare to: Voluntary simplicity.
Principles of the Avant-technogarde
- The Biological Isn’t Logical. Design aesthetics tend to follow the dominant tech of the period; “in an age of aviation, even pencil-sharpeners are streamlined.” Accordingly, Viridian design should be biologically-inspired which means strange offshoots pruned back from time to time. Compare to: Modernism, minimalism, arts and crafts, bio-mimicry.
- Augment Reality: Aestheticize All Sensors. As more and more things get sensors, we are going to be faced with increasingly unmanageable data streams. The presentation of this info will be of utmost aesthetic concern. Compare to: Smart cities, ubi-comp, Edward Tufte.
- Make the Invisible Visible. We have more access to visual tools that our forebears. This should be exploited to Viridian ends. “If carbon dioxide were blood-red, our skies would look ominous indeed.”Compare to: Persuasive design, feedback mechanisms.
- Less Mass, More Data. As much as possible, physical resources should be replaced with information. This is not just digitizing everything, it’s also using information to care for things. “If you always know where something is, you don’t have to chain it up…If it pops up and vanishes repeatedly on signal, it doesn’t have to take
abuse.” Compare to: brick and mortar stores, matter battles.
- Tangible Cyberspace. On the other hand, Viridian seeks a closer relationship between the digital and physical, introducing computation into the physical structure of the world. “We seek to make the screen permeable, and to turn ‘computers’ into worldly, sensual entities.” Compare to: Mobile phones, Arduino and similar, wearables, geo-textiles.
- Seek the Biomorphic and the Transorganic. Nature is over. There is no part of the planet that has not felt humanity’s touch. Accept and extend this. “We want to know what a flower means when a flower has onboard processing, amped-up genetics, and its own agenda.”Compare to: Next Nature, preservation efforts, Superfund clean-up sites.
- Datamine Nature. Return to nature for inspiration but at a deep level. “There is a wealth of aesthetic novelty to be found in previously invisible aspects of nature, such as cellular metabolism, noninvasive medical imaging, hybridomas and chimeras, artificial life entities, and chemosynthetic life forms” Compare to: bioluminescent rabbits, bio-mimic jewellery.
- Grow Complexity. It is easy to generate artworks of great complication. Viridians seek to push this to its limits, tastefully.Compare to: Brian Eno, street art.
- Walk Through the Walls of Knowledge Guilds. The socially constructed lines that divide disciplines sometimes entrench power. Viridians seek to serenely ignore these walls. “You can take photographs, plant listening devices and leave. If you choose, you can step outside the boundaries history makes for you.” Compare to:Expertise, professional associations, holding multiple careers.
The Design-Fiction Slider-Bar of Disbelief
10. Holy relics, attributes of sainthood and divinity; transubstantiated Hosts, Arks of Covenant, teeth of Buddha
9.5 Supernatural objects and services associated with elves, vampires, fairies; magical charms, garlic, silver bullets etc
9.4 New age crystals, lucky charms, protective pendants, mojo hands, voodoo dolls, magic wands
9.3 Quack devices, medical hoaxes
9.3 Fantasy “objects” in fantasy cinema and computer-games
9.2 Physically impossible sci-fi literary devices: time machines, humanoid robots
9.2 Perpetual motion machines; free-energy gizmos, other physically impossible engineering fantasies
9.0 State libels, black propaganda, military ruses; missile gaps, vengeance weapons, Star Wars SDI
8.9 “Realplay” services, “experiential futurism” encounters, military and emergency training drills, props and immersive set-design, scripted personas
8.8 Online roleplaying scenario games
8.7 Net.art interventions, diegetic performance art, provocative device-art scandals
8.6 Guerrilla street-theater; costumes, puppets, banners, songs, lynchings-in-effigy, mock trials, mass set-designed Nuremberg rallies, propaganda trains
8.5 Fake products, product forgeries, theft-of-services, con-schemes, 419 frauds
8.0. For-profit frauds and false commercial advertising
7.9 Rube Goldberg and Heath Robinson devices, chindogu “unuseless objects”, parodies, whimsies and comical contraptions; Albert Robida satirical prognostications
7.0 Vaporware; “Fear Uncertainty and Doubt” campaigns
6.0 “Design Fiction” diegetic prototypes from sci-fi media, “concept cars,” “conversation pieces,” provocative laboratory curiosities
5.9 Blue-skying Internet-based “theory objects” and congealed techie pundit scuttlebutt; socially-generated rumor and tech speculation; crowdsourced speculative objects and services; Kickstarter projects
5.0 “Brand Management” by design
4.9 Design pitches to the board of directors; untested business-models
4.8 The plans and schematics for as-yet-unborn yet genuine objects and services
4.0 Real-life product descriptions and users instruction manuals
3.5 Product reviews and opinions; user feedback, public assessments
3.0 Design criticism; material-culture assessments; scholarly studies
2.0 Legal regulations and government protocols concerning objects and services
1.0 Engineering specifications, software code
0.5 Historical tech assessment of extinct technologies, the “judgement of history’
0.0 The ideal and unobtainable “objective truth” about objects and services
I gave a talk last year called What Will Matter In The Future?. One thing I suggested to the entrepreneurial types at a Montreal startup conference was that we might start making everyday goods at home, with 3D printers using recycled plastic.
Stowe Boyd, What Will Matter In The Future?
The frontiers of the future will the ruins of the unsustainable. - Bruce Sterling
Sterling’s tantalizingly bleak and oblique wisecrack has to be considered from the prospect of both real and virtual ruins.
Only 5% of the plastic from recycled plastic shopping bags is reused, because there is no demand. What if Makers start to reuse plastic bags in the home, in 3D printers? What if I could model and manufacture iPhone cases from those bags? Or planters? Or light shades? Or fruity-flavored condoms?
Well it turns out Tyler McVaney has gotten kickstarted on building the Filabot, which is a desktop plastic extrusion device. Basically it shreds various sorts of plastics, like the ones in soda bottles and milk jugs, melts them down, and turns them into the spools of plastic filament that serve as the most common input to 3D printers. Doesn’t look like plastic bags are an option, at this time, however.
McVaney’s been funded, so it just a matter of time before artisanal types will be making flip-flops, bricks, shower curtains, and iPhone cases out of plastic waste.
And all of a sudden, a revolution in recycling, happening at the micro scale, and empty milk cartons become an asset instead of waste.