Based in the School of Architecture at Newcastle University (UK), Imaginaries of the Future: Historicising the Present is an “international research network designed to think through how we might think about the future. It does not advance specific visions of the future as such, but rather seeks to develop strategies for conceptualising ‘the future’, without doing violence to the bodies that might inhabit and (re)produce it. It is utopian rather than futurological in orientation, and believes that the utopian should not be reduced to the fanciful, impossible or authoritarian.”
The 6 symposia it has organised over its 3 years of existence (2014-2017) have a distinctly militant flavour, which makes the programme all the more powerful in looking at, and powering, utopias:
During the CHI 2013 conference, four robots from the future, posing as legitimate researchers, presented a paper called “CHI and the Future Robot Enslavement of Humankind; A Retrospective“. The paper illustrates how the sustained effort of Computer-Human Interaction (CHI) specialists “tirelessly focussed on the improvement of technology to make it more usable, accessible and fun, while simultaneously more ubiquitous, hidden and capable of understanding and controlling the behaviour of humans“, thereby creating both the technology and the mindsets that would make domination by evil robots possible, and unstoppable.
What can “imaginizing the future” do for you? Where, and how, does imagination help envisage very different futures? Who works on this kind of ideas, of methods, of stories?
Below is a VERY uncomprehensive, yet already rich mindmap. Comments and additions welcome!
>> Download this fairly large map (pdf; links should be operational)
Organized by Aquitaine Europe Communication, directed and curated by myself and Daniel Erasmus, Ci’Num was a global, multicultural, 3-year foresight process (2005-2007) which intended to shed a new light on the future of our digital civilizations, taking into account geopolitical, cultural and economic differences. Our focus was:
- on the specific contribution of, and challenges related to, the emergence of ubiquitous and “intimate” technologies stemming from the convergence between nanotech, biotech, IT and cognitive science;
- on the social appropriation and production of technology;
- and on the ways, tools and methods through which we become empowered to shape our personal and collective futures – i.e., not on figuring out the most likely futures, but in recognizing uncertainties and looking for ways to maximize choices and opportunities in any given future.
At the request of Melbourne’s Deakin University, in 2016, the Canadian writer and journalist Cory Doctorow wrote an interesting story on how the real-world development of self-driving cars could go really, really wrong.
As Doctorow himself puts it: “The story, Car Wars, takes the form of a series of vignettes that illustrate the problem with designing cars to control their drivers, interspersed with survey questions to spur discussion of the wider issues of governments and manufacturers being able to control the operation of devices we own and depend on.” (actually, the survey questions don’t really help “spurring discussions”, as Deakin professor Gleb Beliakov provides his own, unequivocal and somewhat laconic answer to all of them – you can, however, view the survey results here)
In the story, the interaction between highly intelligent self-driving software, rules and exceptions forced into the car systems by all kinds of authorities, and a well-planned act of behavorial hacking, forces most of the city’s car into behaving like a herd of frightened buffaloes driven over the edge of a cliff. All, but one cleverly (although illegally) software-hacked car. But of course, if you had the right to hack your car, and if everyone did it, the situation could get even worse. Or could it?
In 2312, first published in 2012 (French translation to hit the shelves in May 2017), SF writer and ecologist Kim Stanley Robinson (aka KSR) imagines a world where, after having (almost) desperately messed up its planet of origin, humanity expands by colonizing and “terraforming” the whole solar system…
… What, another of those stories? Not quite.