Three Year FeedForward

I recently ran into Marko Ahtisaari at a wedding in New Delhi. He was asking me and a few friends to engage in some arm chair futurism asking: “What will we know / not know in 3 years time in your field of interest.”

Seeing as I am currently employed at an Art Lab and a Think Tank, and have a long standing interest in an Interaction Design company, all in Bangalore, I thought I would write from the perspective Design, Art & Policy, but in no way do these assessments reflect anything other than my own opinions.

(And the voice is a bit in the style of the group I most often working for a “Haunted Think Tank” in Portland, OR. Even though I am back in India I am still waiting for my soul to catch up with my body half way around the world. Sorry for the US centrism, I should have an India version of this post in about 3 months.)

Here is my 3 Year forecast:

DESIGN: Digital Animism
ART: BioHacking Goes Global
POLICY: From Sustainability Resilience

DESIGN: Digital Animism / Designed Animism / Sentient Landscapes

It’s obvious that locative media is where the web has headed. What may be less obvious (not to Nokia, I know, they’re on top of it 😉 is how this may birth, specific local physical places that are magical, mythical, sacred, and just possibly, cared for. On the other hand, contested spaces will really light up your data devices. If you think the inane flame wars on YouTube get out of hand, wait until you see the Little Gods that are conjured by teens (and hopefully) seniors to protect or hex the places they live. This overlay of Digital Animism is an offshoot of what I have been calling EnviroCasting for a while.

I’d be on the look out for geo-enabled eco-SPAM fighter crews that are out busting invasive species with the help of their smart phones, trees that crank-tweet you, and occasional outbursts in your inbox from Wetlands who are sick of the way you are dumping on them. What we won’t know is if this all makes any difference in the planetary carrying capacity game and (perhaps more unexpectedly) if this is the electronic nervous system extension which pushes us over into serious post-human space.

I gave a strange little lecture on this topic last semester at PNCA called: Attack of the Non-Human Actors.

Augmented (hyper)Reality: Domestic Robocop from Keiichi Matsuda on Vimeo.

[I get motion sickness when I see this feedfoward: AR’s dark side if we follow business-as-usual ad supported content creation can be found here.]

Its one things to have technological mind children which perpetuate themselves and co-evolve with humans, but when the land gets its voice back and enters into a serious networked co-evolution with the net and starts bossing puny humans around, things could get really interesting. My Reads on this one are STILL HeadMap Manifesto (.pdf) (after all these years), and Malcolm McCullough’s book in progress: Ambient Commons (.pdf), and Brenda Laurel’s “Designed Animism” is worth a read.

Or if you want to see some of my thoughts on the matter you can check out an incomplete collection of snippets at

ART: BioHacking Goes Global

The Genie is out of the bottle. Whether it be the outlaw biology conference or our very own Teenage Gene Poets and BioPunks, there is no turning tide back on open source Biology.

Unless state actors choose to make Synthetic Biology and other forms of home-brew biotech explicitly illegal, it appears that our best defense against Grey Goo and its banal-colored cohort, is as many opensource biologists as we can muster. The molecular IP fights have just begun, and A Free culture Culture is gong to take some heavy lifting.

What we will know in three years time is that BioHacking is not going away. The early art / experiments will look as awful as but will have some charm twenty years after the fact. And the networks of hobbyists, hackers, artists and professionals working side by side will set up a generation of unexpected non-normative interactions.

What we won’t know is how so many people, deploying so much potentially scalable technology with possible non-linear interactions will play out. A bang or a whimper? I say, not to worry, we have always been BioHackers and GeoEngineers (at least since the dawn of agriculture) but the non-state, non-market actors better get some good standards and libraries in place. If we are lucky in three years we will at least have some good maps of how the pre-existing planet hacks (agriculture, energy) are doing in terms of the abundance and distribution of material and information.

POLICY: From Sustainability Resilience

You only know your system is NOT sustainable once it falls apart. Sustainable is an either/or proposition. Until the very second it no longer exists, the system is, presumably “sustainable” because it keeps on chugging along. Or as Buckminster Fuller said “Whether it is to be Utopia or Oblivion will be a touch-and-go relay race right up to the final moment. . . . Humanity is in ‘final exam’ as to whether or not it qualifies for continuance in Universe” This is the long game.

On the other hand, systems are always being tested by outside influences, and one can assess the degree of a system’s resilience based on past evidence as well as hypotheses and tests. In the face of adversity a resilient systems adapts, but in different ways, that may be beneficial for different human and non-human actors. In the face of adversity an UNsustainable system collapses. It’s a small but meaningful difference.

In three years time I am pretty confident policy makers will have stopped using the Utopian rhetoric of “Sustainability”, and move to the much more scary but real task of making systems at different scales resilient. Resilience implies ongoing changes in status and relevance for different actors that will have to be dealt with, whereas the rhetoric of sustainability is largely devoid of these political implications precisely because it is a binary. Either a system sustains or it doesn’t so everyone is equally effected.

I am interested in the Transition Towns movement but need to find out more about it, and I am glad that the doomers are off spinning their black threads, in order to get the rest of us moving.

In three years time I think we will have a better idea if Orlov, Kunstler and Michael Ruppert should have been written off as cranks long ago, or if we should have started creating resilient cities YESTERDAY.

Well, there it is. Some short term futurecasting. I am excited to look back in 2013 on this blog and see how innaccurate these predictions were. 🙂

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