This week → Can solarpunk save the world? ⊗ A great leap forward in AI ⊗ Neal Stephenson’s vision is very much alive ⊗ Don Quixote tells us how the Star Wars franchise ends ⊗ Whose Future?
On a personal note, after years of catching signals for a print magazine, this newsletter, and clients. After some more years reading and writing about lessons, practices, and theories concerning “futures, foresights, forecasts and fabulations,” I’m stepping things up. Together with Catalina Briceño and Catherine Mathys, we’re starting a new foresight consultancy, la Société des demains. Contact us there or hit reply if you want to know more!
Excellent piece on solarpunk by way of reviewing three books, Solarities: Seeking Energy Justice, Solar Politics, and Multispecies Cities: Solarpunk Urban Futures. Useful piece, even for those who might have read every other solarpunk article I’ve shared, because instead of ‘just’ talking about the genre, Stacey Balkan also weaves in some contemporary examples of applied solarpunk, like Casa Pueblo in Puerto Rico demanding decentralized solar energy, or Queremos Sol (“We Want Sun”) which “imagines a state powered by localized solar energy, routed through substations positioned across the island.” She also writes about solarpunk as literature, as solidarity, as politics, as æsthetic revolution, and as worldbuilding.
It’s also where I learned the word ‘solarity,’ which “could refer to Socrates’s description of the solar elements that inhabit and enliven planetary life, or to what energy humanists define as ‘a state, condition or quality developed in relation to the sun, or to energy derived from the sun.’” According to Balkan solarpunk is drenched in the light of solarity and “advance[s] a liberatory politics that marshals solar power in the spirit of a true energy commons.”
[I]n a discussion about climate and energy justice, we must acknowledge that, for many Indigenous communities, the “apocalypse” happened long ago: during the long 16th-century, when an expanding plantation system expedited the removal and enslavement of millions of BIPOC persons in order to accommodate the hyperconsumption of imperial centers like London. […]
Consequently, solarpunk worlds are not necessarily postapocalyptic (nor set in the future), but they are postextractivist. Responding to the ethos of extractive capitalism—whereby the colonized exist as “fuel … for the sake of someone else’s good life”—solarpunk imaginaries demand a thorough dismantling of fossil-fueled modernity and the material infrastructures (and attendant cultural expressions) that occasioned our comprehensive dependence on prehistoric carbon. […]
“[S]olidarity-oriented solarity” also “require[s] stories that move away from solitary, individual heroes to multispecies stories that are grown over time, stories that are intertwined with other beings and celebrate not individual feats but the mutual creation of new ecosystems … solarity means asserting that we matter only by relation.” […]
Despite the myriad examples of productive violence, the negative consequences of that violence are often borne by industrial workers and their families, rather than their corporate overlords. Consequently, I find far greater value in the transformative power of the imagination [than in revolution], and I am drawn, as a result, to the generative, instrumental, worldbuilding potential of solarpunk—its ability to imagine new, workable infrastructures and assemblages.
What if we cancel the apocalypse? → Another piece about solarpunks, focused on replacing the apocalypse with something less ‘doomy.’ “There are only so many ways one can be told that the future is going to be dark. At some point, there has to be concrete imaginaries readily available for anyone who wishes to cancel the apocalypse. Solarpunk can provide a much-needed critique of the hegemony of apocalyptic visions of the future.”
“A great leap forward in AI” is not the actual title of this article by Scott Galloway, he went with the lazy “AI” but he wasn’t lazy with the rest, it’s a good short opinion piece on why AI matters, why it’s going to have an impact, and why it’s more the real deal than the last couple of hypes; crypto and the metaverse. Spoiler: that’s because “it has a story, and utility.”
Globally, his view seems to parallel Jon Evans’, namely that the last year was a step change in AI’s promise and it’s now here, working, and everywhere. (Both also recognise the multiple issues with AI deployment and underlying data, but by now it’s work to be done, not ‘let’s think about it first.’ Sadly, that ship has sailed.)
Here Galloway’s description is an excellent framing and another case where we can see that there’s something useful in AI but not intelligence per se: “it’s a computer system that makes decisions in an independent and flexible way — distinguished from other computational processes by the category of problems its solves vs. their intensity.”
Back to Evans, if you’re into the more technical but non-mathematical details, read his excellent two-parter in his recently launched newsletter: How DALL-E works, plain English, no math, Part 1.
The problem? Tech has moved to the front of the house when it’s meant to play a supporting role. Answers in search of questions. […]
AI’s contributions to transportation, finance, and media already dwarf any value recognized from crypto. Fun fact: There are few AI companies domiciled in the Bahamas. AI will generate continued progress across disciplines, just as the internet and PCs do. That’s newsworthy, but not what’s motivating billions in investment. […]
These systems could supplement or replace human creators in many sectors. They can be powerful tools for ideation, generating many variations on a theme, particularly something that can be subsequently tweaked and improved by a human artist.
If Zuck’s metaverse is all about the 3D environments, Stephenson’s new vision seems to be much less about the dimensions, and much more about a multiplicity of creators, property on the blockchain, and starting from gaming instead of virtual meeting rooms. The metaverse and ‘stuff on the blockchain,’ as in Galloway’s piece above, are both still looking for a real utility to a broad public. Both are also at unconvincing stages but, as tired as you or I might be about those words, there are still possibilities in the original ideas, which is why I still circle back to them.
Also, two things on 2D vs 3D. What’s the ‘number of Ds’ for a super realistic first person game seen on a flat screen vs a Zuckerbian VR room? Is the former really ‘fewer Ds’? Second, while there are now ginormous tv screens in many living rooms, people do still watch movies on mobiles, and some work on wide 30” screens and others on their 13” laptop. Attaching this supposed next stage of the internet to an obligation of supporting and wearing glasses seems misguided.
“[S]o today we have many very beautifully realized 3D worlds that we can run around in when we’re playing games, but for the most part, we don’t do that wearing goggles. We’re just looking at screens.” […]
[T]oday, there are billions of people who are familiar with that style of game and that style of interface. I think that’s how the vast majority of people are going to access the Metaverse.” […]
Blockchain technology will be at the center of all that, which they think is the only possible way to create digital economies, connect worlds, and interoperate with each other, so you can bring your battle armor or your supercar from one world to the next.
Don Quixote tells us how the Star Wars franchise ends → Pretty sure there are some historical liberties or unknowns in there, but useful argument nonetheless. “But here’s the most amazing thing about his brand franchise: Arthurian stories had been circulating in manuscript for more than 300 years at this point. And many of the details in these narratives are much older than that, reaching back to accounts of knights who fought in the Crusades, if not earlier.”
Futures, foresights, forecasts & fabulations →
Whose Future? I wanted to featured this one from Disegno Journal but it’s a bit too ‘down in the weeds’ of designing a museum exhibit. Good stuff though! ⊗ Designing Just Futures “seeks to recruit diverse faculty engaging in innovative and interdisciplinary research at the intersections of design and social justice that prioritize Indigenous, Black, and migrant Futures.” ⊗ Haven’t read it yet, but here’s the second part of the series I featured last week, Worldbuilding, Pt. 2.
- 😍 🦓 🐗 🇳🇦 Namibia: Live stream in the Namib Desert. Peaceful, and fun to see so many species dropping by for a drink. If there isn’t enough action, click back in the past. Pretty sure those were the spooky night eyes of a hyena the first time I clicked in. Found in this post by Matt Webb; Microdosing cathedrals and the synthetic acoustic environment of the ancient world.
- 🍿 🤯 Netflix Presents ‘Kaleidoscope’, “a new non-sequential show titled Kaleidoscope, an eight-episode anthology series following a crew of masterful thieves who work to unlock a vault for the biggest payday in history.” Also, Giancarlo Esposito and Rufus Sewell so that’s a great start.
- 🧂 📸 🇦🇺 🇸🇳 🇫🇷 🇪🇸 Salt Extraction Sites Turn Landscapes into Vivid Tapestries in Tom Hegen's Aerial Photos. “What attracted me was the graphic and abstract appearance of these landscapes, which almost has a painterly quality. This is also the core feature that aerial photography has to offer: an unfamiliar few at ordinary things that surround us.”
- 💧 💻 🤯 😡 🇺🇸 Microsoft, Meta, others face rising drought risk to their data centers. “In just one day, the average data center could use 300,000 gallons of water to cool itself — the same water consumption as 100,000 homes, according to researchers at Virginia Tech who also estimated that one in five data centers draws water from stressed watersheds mostly in the west.”
- ☀️ 🤩 🇳🇱 The floating solar panels that track the Sun. “[T]his is no normal solar array, nor even simply one of the many new floating solar farms being installed in lakes, reservoirs and coastal areas across the world. That's because its panels are doing something none of these other floating solar farms can do: meticulously tracking and following the Sun as it moves across the sky, to catch as many rays as possible.”
- 🦋 🤖 This manta ray-inspired soft robot flies through the water. “To date, swimming soft robots have not been able to swim faster than one body length per second, but marine animals — such as manta rays — are able to swim much faster, and much more efficiently.”
- 💪🏼 🚗 💷 🇬🇧 ULEZ: Ultra Low Emissions Zone to cover all of London. “The ULEZ so far has been transformational, reducing harmful pollution levels by almost a half in central London, … but there is still far too much toxic air pollution permanently damaging the health of young Londoners and leading to thousands of early deaths every year, with the greatest number of deaths in the outer London boroughs.”
Join thousands of generalists and broad thinkers.
Each issue of the weekly features a selection of articles with thoughtful commentary on technology, society, culture, and potential futures.