Posts tagged 2015

Interview Fall 2015: Human Augmentation and Transhumanism

changeist, transhumanism, augmentation, Paul Graham Raven, Lydia Nicholas, interview, 2015

The topic of transhumanism has been a hot one lately, for reasons that probably stretch from recent surges in bio- and physical computing to questions of economic and political equity that come out of the other end of a global recession. We’re very fortunate that two people with provocative viewpoints agreed to take part: writer, researcher and critic Paul Graham Raven and researcher, writer and anthropologist Lydia Nicholas.


Objects From An Alien World: What is Design Fiction?

design fiction, fadesingh, mathematics, history, questions, 2015


I’m just archiving this Asian Age summary of a lecture from 9th April 2015, because the newspaper webpage has vanished. [Photos

Time Out listingHow would you design an object for a world that does not exist? What does such an object say about the world in which we actually live? This idea tugs at the core of ‘design fiction’ practice. For instance, the iPad first appeared in Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey. Its writer Arthur C. Clarke was also the first to imagine geostationary satellites. The impact of Minority Report on human-computer interfaces cannot be overstated. Even outside of fully formed fictional worlds, a standalone object can trigger many unexpected narratives, such as the famous 3D-printed gun or the US Army’s “indestructible sandwich”. We will discuss these and many other examples of speculative design in this talk. 

Asian Age Article:  (16 Apr) For Rohit Gupta, the essential question isn’t “why” but “why not”. He held forth on the concept of “design fiction” at a talk in the city recently. His previous projects include trying to figure out a way to fit astronomical contraptions on top of auto-rickshaws and coming up with a mechanism to type through walking (in which one could type out a whole text message in no less than seven hours!). While many around him may wonder “why”, for Rohit Gupta aka Compasswala aka fadesingh, the only question is “why not”. Giving a talk on design fiction at the Maker’s Asylum, the researcher who studies the history of science and mathematics explained why for him fiction was everywhere, not just in the depiction of future, but even the past. Speaking about what exactly design fiction is, Rohit says, “It’s about the objects. Design fiction deals with how to create objects that describe or imply a story or an aspect about a world that doesn’t exist.” Going on to give us an example in his own style, Rohit says, “Let us consider hypothetically that there was a catastrophic event in Mumbai in 1960 that entirely changed the city. Now let us take a map of Mumbai in 2015 that shows how it looks now in that scenario. We don’t have to describe everything that happened in the time frame between the disaster and now, but just the map, which is an object of design fiction can show or tell us a huge number of details about that world. ‘That’ is design fiction.” Rohit adds, “Design fiction has existed for a long time. Now we may have sci-fi movies and earlier there were books. But those were just the  interfaces. It has existed for long before these interfaces came about.” While sci-fi and fiction is usually considered to depict the future or altogether different realities, Rohit contends, it is equally relevant and present in describing the past as well. 

He explains, “Not many might have heard about the Ishango bone. Now the Ishango bone is considered to be the oldest mathematical instrument known to man. But basically it is just a simple bone with hand carved lines drawn on it in varying sequences. Now what these prehistoric humans were trying to do with those lines we don’t know, but researchers have interpreted various reasons ranging from calculating menstrual cycles to lunar calendars. But this is our modern interpretation of what this particular object tells us. It could well have been something else but these are the stories we are interpreting from it. So this is design fiction as well, only in the past.” Design fiction, says Rohit, varies from the miniscule to the astronomical. “You could create a simple toy in a workshop or you could even create an enter solar system like Asimov (Isaac) did in Nightfall.” But while the potential of design fiction could be limitless, it is upto us to ask the questions from whence we can derive the answers says Rohit. “This is increasingly becoming a trend. Researchers in top institutes are  taking questions that may sound ridiculous and are coming up with the most scientific explanations for them. For example, 'How does a Muslim astronomer face Mecca while in space’ but believe it or not the Malaysians have actually come up with an entire manual for it.” And progress, says Rohit is all about not shying away from doing what may sound crazy. “One of my friends, a poet named Christian Book is now engaged in a project to create the world’s first indestructible book. How he’s doing it is the most interesting part. He actually took a strain of this microbe called Dienococcus Radiodurans, which is an extremophile (Something which can survive in extreme conditions such nuclear blasts, volcanoes or even in space) and imprinting a poem into its very DNA and is planning to launch it off into space. Now whom he is writing for or what the poem itself is irrelevant. But the only question is 'Why the hell not’,” concludes the Compasswala.

Exxon Knew Everything There Was to Know About Climate Change by the Mid–1980s—and Denied It

Bill McKibben, Exxon, climate, climate change, global weirding, climate denial, 2015, corporatism

 When Hansen testified before a Congressional committee in 1988, the atmospheric level of CO2 was just passing 350 parts per million. Now we’ve gone beyond 400 ppm, we’ve seen the rapid melt of the Arctic, the acidification of the planet’s oceans, and the rapid rise in extreme weather events. (Just lately: “thousand-year-rainfalls” in South Carolina and Southern California so far this month, and now a typhoon dropping a meter or more of rain on the Philippines.) Thanks to Exxon’s willingness to sucker the world, that world is now a chaotic mess. We’ve finally begun to see the rise of a movement large enough to challenge the power of the oil companies, and that means that Paris will come out better than Copenhagen, but the quarter-century wasted will never be made up.–1980s-and-denied-it/

Do We Still Need the Trolley Problem?

The Atlantic, ethics, automation, engineering, trolley problem, driverless cars, 2015

It may be fortuitous that the trolley problem has trickled into the world of driverless cars: It illuminates some of the profound ethical—and legal—challenges we will face ahead with robots. As human agents are replaced by robotic ones, many of our decisions will cease to be in-the-moment, knee-jerk reactions. Instead, we will have the ability to premeditate different options as we program how our machines will act. For philosophers like Lin, this is the perfect example of where theory collides with the real world—and thought experiments like the trolley problem, though they may be abstract or outdated, can help us to rigorously think through scenarios before they happen. Lin and Gerdes hosted a conference about ethics and self-driving cars last month, and hope the resulting discussions will spread out to other companies and labs developing these technologies.

The price of the Internet of Things will be a vague dread of a malicious world

IoT, dread, consumerism, corporatism, deception, paranoia, futures, 2015

So the fact is that our experience of the world will increasingly come to reflect our experience of our computers and of the internet itself (not surprisingly, as it’ll be infused with both). Just as any user feels their computer to be a fairly unpredictable device full of programs they’ve never installed doing unknown things to which they’ve never agreed to benefit companies they’ve never heard of, inefficiently at best and actively malignant at worst (but how would you now?), cars, street lights, and even buildings will behave in the same vaguely suspicious way. Is your self-driving car deliberately slowing down to give priority to the higher-priced models? Is your green A/C really less efficient with a thermostat from a different company, or it’s just not trying as hard? And your tv is supposed to only use its camera to follow your gestural commands, but it’s a bit suspicious how it always offers Disney downloads when your children are sitting in front of it.