Also this week → This conversation with richard powers is a gift ⊗ Fred Scharmen interviewed at The Prepared ⊗ China Is Planning Record Wind and Solar Power Additions This Year ⊗ From seawater to drinking water, with the push of a button
A year ago → A favourite in issue No.171 was The 7 climate tipping points that could change the world forever by Alexandria Herr, Shannon Osaka, and Maddie Stone.
This piece by Evgeny Morozov is part of the catalogue for the installation “Inanimate Species” by Joana Moll, a “bold attempt to situate the rise of microprocessors against the decline of the number and the diversity of insects.” Morozov argues that techno-capitalism, by staying on the surface, by not taking stock of their impacts, by keeping the costs hidden while forcing users into more and more transparency, hides the true costs of their “digital utopia.” By hiding the true breadth of their resource use and resulting impacts, by moving fast, they make it hard or even impossible for society to ‘evolve’ the proper analytics and language, the proper understanding, to provide a counter balance. Yes, some academics will say they do keep up, and some of their work does, but there’s no arguing that understanding in the public sphere and the language and actions of policy makers does not keep up.
Morozov believes that ‘we‘ must sometimes satisfy ourselves with correlation, with hints of understanding, without waiting for perfect information. “[C]orrelation might also be good enough; to think in terms of causation is a sort of intellectual luxury that requires the kind of analytical maturity that, alas, we have not yet reached.”
To join this with the other pieces below, with the ideas of narratives, stories, and imagined futures, he reminds us that ideas like Moore’s law end up being understood as “‘natural’ features of a given technology (e.g. the ever-shrinking microchip)” where actually they are “just the effects of capitalist competition.” In other words, the tales told by Silicon Valley become ‘natural truth’ but are just part of capitalism, part of a story and a history that needs deconstructing.
The lie that nurtures the utopian myth behind techno-capitalism is that there is only one way to do “big data” or “artificial intelligence” or “cloud computing” – and that this way has already been discovered and perfected in Silicon Valley. The benefits are too numerous and obvious to be even discussed explicitly; a mere invocation of a regularity like Moore’s law often suffices. The numbers go up – and this means “progress.” As for the costs, those could be carefully accounted for, and, when we are lucky, mitigated. […]
It’s only by revealing the inadequacy of our notions of technological progress, with its artificial blindness and inattentiveness to criteria that are of no value to techno-capitalism, that we will be able to regain our intellectual and political bearings, and, hopefully, steer the project of techno-capitalism away from destroying all life on earth. […]
Becoming better, faster, and more efficient at making human (as well as non-human) civilisation obsolete should not count as “progress”, even if, under capitalism, it often does.
It was partially serendipitous that I read this article by Klaus Schwab and Thierry Malleret right after Morozov’s but it’s actually a perfect follow up. The authors show the power of narrative, with examples through history, and how “narratives shape our perceptions, which form our realities and influence our choices.”
I’d like to draw your attention to two items. One, when faced with the magnitude of a task or when too many new things are thrown at us at once, we go into “cognitive lockdown,” resulting in a failure to imagine what can be. I’d attach that with a few discussions I’ve had recently on the companies’ and governments’ failure to build on proposed futures, to adopt the lessons of futures work. I propose that this is a second phase of cognitive lockdown. First is the failure to imagine, then the failure to structure and act.
Two, that ‘we’ can get stuck using ideas that were mere hypotheses and scientific canon, without necessarily having been proven, and thus hiding other possibilities. The authors give Rousseau and Hobbes as examples of this canon, and David Graeber and David Wengrow’s The Dawn of Everything and an example of reviving those old possibilities.
[Narratives] equate to much more than the stories we tell, write, or illustrate figuratively; they end up being the truths, or the ideas we accept as truths, that underpin the perceptions that shape our “realities” and in the process form our cultures and societies. […]
It is incumbent upon us to imagine the contours of a more equitable and sustainable world. Imagination being boundless, the variety of social, economic, and political solutions is infinite. […]
Of course, nature is not “free”; it is priceless, and a degree of imagination is needed to grasp what this means in terms of policy.
I hesitated a bit to include this interview with Alisha Bhagat because it might skew a bit too much towards the practice of futures instead of theories and concepts. However, there are good ideas in there for practitioners (I love the weekly and monthly scanning sessions as a group she mentions). And second, I like collecting these examples of looking at history when considering futures, and it also aligns with the narratives and stories of the previous two above.
I think in cultures where we look more at time as a circle, in which lessons from the past are still important, hold a lot of value. Although these lessons from the past may be reinterpreted to meet the modern day, there's a way in which we could challenge that paradigm and just bring that different mindset into the way we design things now. […]
I think now there is a huge surge in interest in futures and foresight because companies want to be ahead of the next COVID-19. And I think there's also a realization with COVID-19, with the war in Ukraine, that these sorts of disruptions and uncertainties are just going to keep on happening. And greater resilience is obviously needed to cope with those things and be ready. […]
I think there's a need for climate positive visions of the future. And a need for design that is holding two truths: that climate change is really bad and detrimental, but is there something hopeful, or actions that we could feel good about implementing.
This conversation with richard powers is a gift → Ezra Klein is right, their conversation is a gift. I didn’t feature it because I barely take the time listen to podcasts and listened to it over 2-3 ‘sittings,’ which doesn’t make for the best synthesizing. Powers has the same kind of speaking voice as William Gibson, a kind 0.8X or 0.9X speed, reflective, informed way of speaking that really fits with what he’s saying.
Fred Scharmen interviewed at The Prepared → Good interview on space science. I’m highlighting the following quote because it’s a similar line of thinking as my original interest in synthetic reality; an intriguing intersection born of shared techniques. ”When I went digging through the histories of space science—I found a lot of shared goals and techniques between architecture, space science, and science fiction. …Seeing those different shared techniques turned on a light in my brain that said, ‘There’s a lot here in the space between these disciplines and territories to explore.’”
Futures, Foresights, Forecasts & Fabulations → The Imagination Machine (Tobias Revell) ⊗ 20 Books and Articles to Get You Started in Strategic Foresight (list by Amy Webb) ⊗ Olalekan Jeyifous Is Imagining an Afrofuturist Brooklyn ⊗ Futures Thinking Educators ⊗ Agroecology, farming the future ⊗ Museum of Futures
No.217 Asides ⊕ See Note
- 🇨🇳 💨 ☀️ 👏🏼 China Is Planning Record Wind and Solar Power Additions This Year. “China will add 140 gigawatts of capacity from the clean energy sources, said Tao Ye, a researcher with the National Development and Reform Commission, the country’s top economic planning agency. That’s more than the rest of the world combined in 2020, according to BloombergNEF data.”
- 🤯 🤩 👏🏼 From seawater to drinking water, with the push of a button. “The suitcase-sized device, which requires less power to operate than a cell phone charger, can also be driven by a small, portable solar panel, which can be purchased online for around $50. It automatically generates drinking water that exceeds World Health Organization quality standards. The technology is packaged into a user-friendly device that runs with the push of one button.”
- 🇷🇼 🩸 Drones Have Transformed Blood Delivery in Rwanda. “Marie Paul Nisingizwe analyzed nearly 13,000 drone orders between 2017 and 2019 and found that half of the orders took 41 minutes or less to deliver by drone. On the road, that median time would be at least two hours. Reports of wasted blood donations dropped.”
- 🤯 🔋 🜍 An accidental discovery could change the world. “In the battery, this phase completely stops the reaction that creates polysulfides. This was so effective that the scientists sent the battery through 4,000 charge cycles without a drop in capacity, meaning it lasts at least twice as long as lithium-ion.”
- 🐴 ⏳ What Were Humans Doing in the Yukon 24,000 Years Ago?. “… most of the bones are from Beringian, or Yukon, horses. These furry animals were smaller than modern horses and likely roamed in herds with one male and many females. The Beringian horse went extinct about 14,000 years ago, possibly due to human pressure and climate change, she says.”
- 🤔 🤖 Meta's newest AI discovers stronger and greener concrete formulas. “Of the generated list of potential formulas, the research team then selected the five most promising options and iteratively refined them until they met or exceeded the 7- and 28-day strength metrics while dropping carbon requirements by at least 40 percent.”
- 👀 Dezeen can be quite annoying with their unidentified internal links but still, looks like there’s quite a bit of clicking and searching about these interesting people. Fifty architects and designers you need to know on Earth Day.
- 🇺🇸 🌖 🏍 (More for the look than anything.) A Custom-Built Moon Motorcycle. “Named Tardigrade after the hearty micro-animal, the 2-wheeled rover weighs almost 300 pounds, is constructed out of aluminum, Kevlar, carbon fiber, and other materials, has a top speed of 9 mph, and a battery with a range of 62 miles.”
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