This week → Tech futurism’s blind spot ⊗ The dark side of frictionless technology ⊗ The enchanted notebook ⊗ Rewilding Cities
Superb post by Dave Karpf, where he looks at the current tech mega trends (metaverse, Web3, AI) and shows how they all surged around the same time; when tech billionaires got tired of getting beaten up by the tech backlash and decided (consciously or not) to jump on other futures. They want to be inventing a future of win, it wasn’t happening amidst critics asking them to take responsibility, so they simply moved on trying to invent something else where, I guess, they hope there will be fewer critics.
The problem, as is the case for many other people, is the brontosaurus-sized elephant in the increasingly smaller room: climate change. Not only do they seemingly consider it somebody else’s problem to solve, but none of them has jumped convincingly on a future oriented towards solving the climate crisis. MOAR wizbang, MOAR disconnection from the world, less maintenance, less resilience, less responsibility.
We geeks and nerds (I don’t know about you, dear reader, but I’m definitely in that demographic) thought we’d won the world with tech, the ‘smartest’ of us are building rockets now and swimming in money, but our single-mindedness and our imperfect grasp of the physical world are coming back to bite us in the a$$. Time to stop dreaming up the next techtopia, time to realise that there is no real retreat to the virtual, our bodies are still on earth, getting hotter and getting more hurricanes upside the head.
Here's the TL;DR version: Silicon Valley has spent decades accruing power and moving to the center of the global economy. As that has happened, many of its VCs and founders have chafed at the public expectations that are attached to that power. Being held responsible for the state of the present is a lot less enjoyable than being celebrated for inventing the future. (They’d prefer fewer Congressional hearings and more magazine covers, please.) And so, as a reaction to the techlash, the power centers of Silicon Valley have diverted our attention by spinning up tales about the next chapter of the digital revolution. […]
Somehow, here we are in the 2020s and we still have tech visionaries conjuring a future in which the climate crisis is somebody else’s problem to solve. […]
For every narrow benchmark challenge that OpenAI and its competitors solve, there are a dozen intractable problems that they hand-wave away. The imagined AI future is much further away than it is made to seem. […]
Silicon Valley’s engineers, investors, and entrepreneurs have become the center of the global economy. They’ve acquired virtually all the money and power. They’ve developed a sharp distaste for the responsibility and accountability that comes with it. They would like to be judged on their potential again. […]
What if the future isn’t Artificial General Intelligence and 100x increases in computing power? What if it’s cheap-and-flexible mesh networks? What if the future isn’t replacing untrustworthy institutions with blockchain governance? What if it’s replacing untrustworthy global and national institutions with revitalized local trust? What if the metaverse isn’t the future because, in the future, people commit themselves to improving and monitoring their vulnerable surroundings?
More→ In Ascension Drew Austin looks at this same shift in narrative. “Tech discourse has become an endless parade of such debates: NFTs (why are they worth anything?), the metaverse (is it serious and will we have to use it?), TikTok (what is this shit?), AI art (is it really art?), along with weird subplots like Dimes Square (which is a tech issue to the extent that it’s a product of the internet).”
Charlie Warzel almost goes back in time, reading Matthew B. Crawford’s 2009 best seller, Shop Class as Soulcraft and comes back with some interesting parallels and questions. We’ve spoken repeatedly of a loss of attention, of time wasted on social media, but what if it goes deeper than that? Warzel considers Crawford’s ideas and wonders if, in addition to destroying our attention, the slick and frictionless technologies of today are not also robbing us from understanding the tools themselves, and from attending to the world around us.
But I also see the ways that these technologies have shifted my expectations and the expectations of those around me. We expect more from our devices, while at the same time we see them as ever-more disposable. When our technology fails—when the Wi-Fi goes out, or a Bluetooth connection drops—we are quick to feel aggrieved. […]
There is a fundamental tension in the tech industry between the desire to build at all costs, because building is a universal virtue, and the less flashy value system of maintaining structures that already exist so that they may flourish. […]
My chief concern about a tech culture that privileges and lavishly rewards building over maintaining is that this particular mindset is being instilled in us through their tools. That, by relying on their products, we’re subtly adopting their virtues, which include an expectation of obsolescence because builders don’t repair—they build. And that, in turn, the tools that promise us frictionless experiences, boundless productivity, and renewed creativity will actually undermine our competence by leaving us more dependent, and less resilient and attentive.
Packy McCormick thinking about a Lex Fridman interview of Ray Kurzweil. If your spidey sense is tingling … well, you’re not wrong. But there are a couple of ways of reading this where he makes good useful points on topics of interest here.
First, the whole thread about an enchanted notebook and Kurzweil’s encouragement to “put yourself in the position that what you’re trying to create already exists,” of writing down clearly some imagined future or artefact and working back from there fits very well with the idea of “talk[ing], loudly and frequently and in detail, about the future you want. You can’t manifest what you don’t share,” [ref] which has been mentioned here repeatedly.
The second useful part has to do with synthetic media, the prompting of AIs to create things, to manifest ideas we are formulating. McCormick is talking kind of as if a ‘Midjourney for engineering’ is just a couple of decades away. I disagree, but I also didn’t expect the current level of image creation to be here now, so it might still be something worth fabulating about.
Write a speech, or a story, about the thing you want to create or the future world you want to inhabit. Paint that world in detail so rich, using the present tense, that it feels like you already live there. Imagine the magical technology that has become so ordinary that people just use it every day without a second thought. How do people behave in this world? What’s changed about them? What’s stayed the same? […]
I wonder how far off we are from the Enchanted Notebook: the point at which technology eliminates, or dramatically shrinks, the gap between imagination and reverse engineering. And from there, how much further we are from the point at which technology eliminates, or dramatically shrinks, the gap between reverse engineering and execution. […]
Whether that future is two months, two years, or two decades away, or whether it never comes, a good proximate next step on any timeline is for more people to paint rich, detailed visions of the future that they want to see come true.
Rewilding Cities. We’ve monocropped streets — so they’re used almost exclusively for cars. → I love this lens of rewilding and monocrop. “This idea of ‘rewilding’ is even bigger than cities and landscapes, though. Indeed, it’s a weirdly powerful way of examining at the world, because it applies in all manner of situations.”
TikTok creators are condensing Hollywood films like Gone Girl and Danish Girl into minutes and getting millions of views → “Chinese creators use translation apps, dubbing software, and VPNs — TikTok is blocked in China — to help viewers speed-watch movies and TV dramas in English, Spanish, and Bahasa Indonesia. Despite the translation errors and robotic narrations, each clip garners anywhere between a few thousand to millions of views, generating decent income for the creators.”
Futures, foresights, forecasts & fabulations → Omenana Speculative Fiction Magazine Issue 23 “We are a tri-monthly magazine that is open to submission from speculative fiction writers from across Africa and the African Diaspora.” ⊗ Let’s Talk about Success: A Proposed Foresight Outcomes Framework for Organizational Futurists ⊗ Can Society Learn From the Mistakes of Futurism? ⊗ The site is straight out of 1994, but looks to have lots of good links. Inventions and Ideas from Science Fiction Books and Movies at Technovelgy.com (Via Julian in the NFL Discord.) ⊗ Wow! An Improbable Future. “Industrial Design of the future, influenced by the past. Designed by AI - created & curated by me.”
No.236 Asides ⊕ See Note
- 🤯 🧵 🎥 Repetitive Brain Explode Syndrome. Stable Diffusion is only 30 days old… a MEGA THREAD 🧵 on its rapid rise. Runway looks insane! But also, read the first featured article in this issue.
- 😍 🗺 Shadows on maps are getting a lot more exciting, and here’s why. A deep dive into the world of gorgeous Blender maps. (Also via Julian.)
- 🤯 🌎 Seven times people discovered the Americas – and how they got there. Bet you can’t name all seven!
- 🏢 🏔 🇳🇱 Siri, show me Habitat 67 but for the 21st century. MVRDV's angular Valley skyscraper opens in Amsterdam.
- 😍 🌳 🇺🇸A Sprawling Connecticut Estate Embraces the Wild. “The British landscape designer Dan Pearson has created a uniquely connected ecosystem that dances between cultivation and wilderness.”
- 👏🏼 🪶 🌳 🇺🇸 Interior Department issues guidance to strengthen tribal co-stewardship of public lands and waters. “From wildfire prevention to managing drought and famine, our ancestors have used nature-based approaches to coexist among our lands, waters, wildlife and their habitats for millennia. As communities continue to face the effects of climate change, Indigenous knowledge will benefit the Department’s efforts to bolster resilience and protect all communities.”
- 💩 Insert Seinfeld “That’s a shame” animated Gif. NFT Trading Volumes Collapse 97% From 2022 Peak.
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