Newsletter No.262 — Apr 30, 2023

Radical Design for a World in Crisis ⊗ The Catalogers ⊗ Collective Mental Time Travel Can Influence the Future

Want to understand the world & imagine better futures?

Also this week → The Andy Warhol copyright case that could transform generative AI ⊗ Design lessons from Space Invaders ⊗ All flourishing is mutual ⊗ Tiny Illustrated Sci-fi Stories

Quick note to say that, thanks to a technical glitch, some of you have been in a kind of “list limbo“ and have not been receiving the newsletter. Hence, a reminder that Sentiers is a weekly newsletter curated by me, Patrick Tanguay, and you likely subscribed at Each issue features a careful selection of articles with thoughtful commentary on technology, society, culture, and potential futures. Since you missed some issues, here’s the archive if you want to catch-up. Very sorry about the wait.

Radical design for a world in crisis

Great essay by Anab Jain (adapted from a keynote actually) for NOEMA. There is a lot in there, I really encourage you to read the whole thing. She is “teasing out, or drawing together,” a practice she calls “ancillary design.” Citing the work of Keller Easterling, Bruno Latour, and Sara Hendren, Jain proposes an approach to design that reopens imagination, functions like mycelium, does not fear the unknown, and “thrives in between and beneath.” Basically, a transdisciplinary design that operates in spaces, joins things, and works in a wholistic manner. She also writes about the use and importance of myth, their approach in Superflux’s practice, and the importance of undermining the extractivist paradigm.

One more sign of something like coming full circle. After centuries of specialising and advancing science and technology for it’s own sake, I’d place ancillary design as part of a transdisciplinary view of the world, of seeing, understanding, and working in the spaces in between, of regaining a wholistic view that was there in the early days of humanity and which we lost on our way here.

Given the scale and knottiness of the challenges we face, we see design playing a fundamental role as an intermediary, a joiner, working between the problem-solution dichotomy to uncover practices and tools and approaches that might offer entirely new possibilities. […]

Ancillary design is not a new idea. It sits in close proximity with post-humanist theories of assemblage, which understands power and social structures as emergent relations defined by interactions and transformations. […]

This in-between function of myth has a binding capacity, capable of connecting us to the future and prehistory simultaneously, or reconciling different species, temporalities and cosmologies. Myths decenter the human; they offer an opportunity to reexamine our relationship with nonhuman life and the nonliving world, to envision potential futures and reunite us with ancient customs and rites. […]

If the underlying motivations and repercussions of extraction are not the target of intervention, the dominant paradigm will always seek to subsume any positive movement to its own benefit. What needs to be addressed is not simply the act of extraction but our underlying relationship with one another and with the natural world.

The catalogers

I really like this piece by David Lang where he writes about “catalogers,” people like Hugo Gernsback (Hugo awards), Stewart Brand, Tim O'Reilly, Dale Dougherty, and Chris Anderson who identify ‘scenes’—most of them about technology and somewhat or closely related to science fiction. He looks at a few examples and outlines how that practice works, how they dive in an emerging field, identify important parts and people, and then advance the development and visibility of the field through a kind of journalism meets advocacy. He also cites David Chapman’s thesis that “subcultures have mostly stopped working as an engine of cultural creativity” and, in the case of tech scenes, that VC money brings premature adulation that “messes with the scenes’ dynamics.”

Lang mentions in a footnote that “it’s all white guys” but doesn’t go much further. I’d suggest that not only is the male-orientation of tech hobbies (see his footnote) true, but that the whole practice of catalogers is almost certainly present in non-tech fields, done by women and/or people of colour, and probably as old, if not older, than his examples. Happens all the time, things get a mainstream name when white guys do it, but it’s often a copy of something that pre-dates it. (Via Sam Arbesman.)

While he is remembered for his role in science fiction history, Gernsback also pioneered a separate and important style of writing that has gone less appreciated. He was the quintessential cataloger — a chronicler, supplier, and cheerleader for a burgeoning amateur technology scene. […]

There are notable similarities between the efforts. What the catalogers provide is different than traditional press coverage or financial investment. They are dealers of agency. Through a combination of tools, information, and imagination they help draw a map around new communities. […]

Windy career paths make perfect sense through the lens of cataloging. Their impeccable timing – showing up at critical moments throughout technology history – is self-reinforcing. They get involved when things get interesting, and things get more interesting when they get involved.

Collective mental time travel can influence the future

Very intriguing piece by Shayla Love for WIRED on various studies about how brains work when remembering the past or imagining the future, how it then works differently for collective imagination. Love also looks at how perceptions of the past, present, and future influence the futures we imaging and how they come about through influencing the present. Basically a number of things mentioned here before, but quoting some actual scientists. (Via my Demains partner Catherine.)

Research on “collective mental time travel” shows that the way we imagine the collective future or past also impacts the present. It can sway attitudes toward policy decisions and laws, as well as how aligned people feel with their country or existing systems. […]

“There is a continuous looping from the past to the future and back again, always converging on the focal point of the present,” Power wrote. There’s room for flexibility—the most important lesson currently from collective mental time travel might be how dynamic an interaction there is between our notions of future, present, and past. […]

Collective mental time travel reminds us that all remembrances of the past are reconstructions to some extent, and our present is continuously being informed by the way we imagine the future and conceive of the past.

Futures, foresights, forecasts & fabulations → Gah!! I love these! Tiny Illustrated Sci-fi Stories. ⊗ Writing The New Story Of Foresight: A Conversation With Keely Adler. I recently linked to an interview there so I didn’t feature this one but I’m sure it’s worth it. ⊗ The Future Will Also Be Here Tomorrow. Kristian Leth interviewed about his upcoming book. ⊗ Jay Springett committed a design fiction. Hiring Soon: World Runner.

The Andy Warhol copyright case that could transform generative AI

Madeline Ashby for WIRED (btw, saving things in read later apps sometimes gets you around paywalls, just sayin’) on the US Supreme Court’s upcoming decision on a Warhol-Goldsmith-Prince case. I’ve been saying for a little while that AI training will likely end up as fair use, Ashby goes into some detail on the case itself and how copyright and fair use work and might be impacted by the decision.

Also, if you like how seemingly unrelated things connect, have a read for the superb way she weaves another SCOTUS decision, Prince, Anil Dash, and the bible into the piece.

The US Copyright Office determined recently that art created solely by AI isn’t eligible for copyright protection. Artists can attempt to register works made with assistance from AI, but they must show significant “human authorship.” […]

“Copyright is meant to be an incentive for creation, and AIs don’t need that incentive,” says Merkley. “I think if you let AIs make copyright, it will be the end of copyright, because they will immediately make everything and copyright it.” To illustrate this, Merkley describes a world where AI systems make every potential melody and chord change and then immediately copyright them, effectively barring any future musician from writing a song without fear of being sued. This is why, he adds, “copyright was meant for humans to make.” […]

“AI is funded by extremists,” says technology entrepreneur and Prince fan Anil Dash. He points out that the investment capital required to create and develop artificial intelligence at scale is so huge that only a handful of people or companies could access it, and now they have total control of the technology. The extractive practice of training large language and image models on the collective commons of the internet without consent is, after all, no different from taking advantage of public roads to drive for Uber or Lyft.

Algorithms, Automation, Augmentation →
This is too important to leave to Microsoft, Google and Facebook by Ezra Klein at The New York TimesThere Is No A.I. by Jaron Lanier for The New Yorker. ⊗ What is AI going to do to art? The History Of Photography Offers Clues. Lois Rosson, historian of science and technology, for NOEMA. ⊗ Grimes invites AI artists to use her voice, promising 50 percent royalty split.

Design lessons from Space Invaders Clive Thompson on the serious constraints that, in the end, made the game so great. This is the pondering bit for us though: “These are fun lessons to think about, because these days we’re often faced with the opposite problem that Nishikado faced: Our tools for creativity are too capable, too overpowered.”

All flourishing is mutual Gemma Copeland visited Cooperativa Integral Minga and shared this super short piece full of inspriring work. “Anyone living in the area around Montemor can pitch an idea to join the group, as long as their practice is in accordance with Minga’s values: sustainability and degrowth. Once they join, they can run their company through the co-op rather than individually, sharing resources and lowering costs for everyone. In return, 5% of each invoice goes towards Minga.”


  • 😎 💪🏼 🍄 🇦🇺 As always, fungi FTW! Plastic-Devouring Fungi Boost Hope for Tackling Global Litter. “The researchers tested the ability of Aspergillus terreus and Engyodontium album to break down polypropylene, a type of plastic that is rarely recycled… heat- and UV-treated degraded by 21% in about 30 days, according to the study. The plastic reduced by 25% to 27% after 90 days of being incubated with the fungi.”
  • 🤔 🤖 🍿 ‘Avengers’ Director Predicts AI-Generated Movies Within Two Years. “Speaking on a panel at the Sands International Film Festival in St. Andrews, Scotland, Russo was joined by Epic Games CCO Donald Mustard, who predicted that an AI-generated movie could arrive even sooner than Russo’s two-year timeframe.”
  • 😍 📸 🪱 🌶 ‘Dune: Part Two’—An Exclusive First Look at the Saga’s Epic Conclusion. “Timothée Chalamet, Zendaya, and director Denis Villeneuve share secrets from the new film and reveal Florence Pugh’s, Austin Butler’s, and Léa Seydoux’s new characters.”
  • 😱 🌪 🇺🇸 A Waterspout in Florida. “Pictured here is one of the better images yet recorded of a waterspout, a type of tornado that occurs over water. Waterspouts are spinning columns of rising moist air that typically form over warm water.”
  • 🪨 🛰 📸 🇦🇪 Wait what? The UAE has Mars missions? First up-close images of Mars’s little-known moon Deimos “The United Arab Emirates’ space probe Hope has taken the first high-resolution images of the farside of Mars’s moonlet Deimos. The observations add weight to the theory that Deimos formed together with Mars, rather than as an asteroid that was captured in the planet’s orbit, mission scientists say.”
  • 🤩 ⛵️ 🎥 How an 18th Century Sailing Battleship Works. 3D fly-through model ship of HMS Victory.
  • 🕸 🍊 🍋 🇺🇸 This Website Reimagines Cities as Foraging Utopias. “In 2013, Welty and Caleb Phillips, a computer scientist and fellow forager, launched, an open-source map that charts edible plants in cities around the globe to encourage urban foraging.”