Thinking in maps ⊗ Film production renaissance ⊗ The Insecurity Machine — No.128

Read the Sentiers newsletter on technology in society, signals of change, and prospective futures.

This week → Thinking in maps: from the Lascaux caves to knowledge graphs ⊗ The Great Film Production Renaissance: Are you ready? ⊗ The Insecurity Machine ⊗ The “Frankenstein” that wasn’t: a realistic appraisal of today’s China

A year ago → You can handle the post-truth: a pocket guide to the surreal internet.

Thinking in maps: from the Lascaux caves to knowledge graphs

From a recent favourite, Anne-Laure Le Cunff, the history of the use of maps for thinking. Goes through some of the history of written language, Mesopotamia, Egyptians, pictograms, ideograms, and logograms, Da Vinci, “org charts” in a Bible, Newton, and Disney. Le Cunff then looks at contemporary ways of visually representing complex ideas, at new ways of thinking in maps, and finishes with ontologies and their use “to limit complexity and turn raw information into knowledge.”

When thinking in maps, word-maps (pictograms, ideograms, logograms and other visual symbols) are often amalgamated with world-maps (physical or mental space maps) to create visual representations of our knowledge, beliefs, or questions. […]

“These are the principles for the development of a complete mind: study the science of art, study the art of science. Realise that everything connects to everything else.” […]

[C]oncept maps use a context frame instead of a specific starting point. The relationship between concepts can be articulated in linking phrases such as “contributes to”, “includes” or “shows”, and bi-directional links can be used to capture complex relationships between concepts with reciprocal interactions. […]

Indeed, knowledge graphs, used as a way to formally represent the meaning of information by describing concepts, categories, and relationships between concepts, appear to be one of the most established and most efficient modern ontology visualisation methods.

The Great Film Production Renaissance: Are You Ready?

This one is a good take on a topic I’m putting more and more attention towards. I’m not sure if I should talk about Synthetic Reality, or pre-Metaverse, or something else but this growing intersection where you find gaming, especially gaming engines; special effects; tv and movies more generally; VR, AR, XR; Fortnite and its ilk; even spaces and architecture. In the piece the author considers the new “post” virus constraints and how they might affect an accelerated transition to game engines as virtual studios and world creation. The opportunities he lists around digital artefacts and megascans are especially worth a look.

Local side note: Being in Montréal, I find this view especially intriguing since all the industries involved are present and thriving (or they were, pre-Covid), with a well-known excellence in overachieving with small teams and budgets. The reality he describes seems like a perfect fit.

Editorial side note: I’m thinking about a publication / “intelligence unit” focused on that intersection and looking at the longterm path to some form of Metaverse which could emerge from many of those components. Reply if you’d like to know more when I’ve got something more fleshed-out to share, or if you have opinions and opportunities for discussion and collaboration.

With a little bit of imagination, it’s easy to see how 60–80% of all the TV shows and movies we watch (especially outdoor scenes, large rooms, or vistas through windows) will, in the very near future, actually be billions of digital triangles (Nanites as the folks at Unreal/Epic Games call them) that make up these 3D worlds, and the majority of all productions will be studio based or at the very least one key location that could double up for many different environments. […]

Filmmakers from around the world will no longer be confined by budget and geographic location access to shoot their stories. They no longer need massive crews to support their roaming villages. And they can make projects at a scale that would have shocked David Lean, all from the confines of a small gymnasium and an online network of global digital artists who can earn a decent living working away from the West’s major metropolises and their associated costs of living. […]

The larger stages will still be in demand, but expect to see a huge amount of productions needing a couple of 3,000–7,500 SQFT video backdrop stages instead. In the video below you can see how Disney+’s ‘The Mandalorian’ shot a good number of scenes (around 50% of the series) in a 1,500 SQFT video space.

The Insecurity Machine

Great piece by Astra Taylor on how “Capitalism generates security for the few and insecurity for the many. Digital technologies are making it worse.” For me, it reads a bit too much like capitalism is a conspiracy acting as one, where it’s more of a series of decisions, copying, and building upon each other’s precedents (although there is conspiring and lobbying). Aside from my nitpicking, lots of good points on the enclosure and securitization of the commons from the early days of capitalism, digital redlining, automating tools bypassing laws and disenfranchising minorities, encoding biases, and then how all of that also translates to the workplace,

“Constant revolutionizing of production, uninterrupted disturbance of all social conditions, everlasting uncertainty and agitation distinguish the bourgeois epoch from all earlier ones.” The beneficiaries of this arrangement dubbed it “creative destruction” before rebranding it as “disruption.” […]

During the long and varied period called the enclosure movement, beginning in the twelfth century, wealthy landlords uprooted the peasantry in order to privatize once communal fields and forests, denying them their customary rights to the commons. […]

Automated decision-making enshrines socioeconomic disparities in an invisible, technical process, locking certain populations out or including them on predatory terms. […]

The time has come to decouple security and employment, while also rethinking what security means in an age of ecological crisis and technological possibility. […]

[W]e inhabit a paradox: a new digital arsenal is being developed to ensure we remain insecure despite the abundance in our midst.

The “Frankenstein” That Wasn’t: A Realistic Appraisal of Today’s China

From the cleverly named MacroPolo, the “in-house think tank of the Paulson Institute in Chicago,” a piece trying to bring some perspective to the stereotypical views we often read and hear concerning China. From catching-up for some decades, the country is now building the present, leading or challenging in a number of tech fields, and looks like it’s turning its back to endless GDP growth. While for so long the template for progress was the American model, what might China want to change to that model, do they want to shape the new one, and will the US let them?
(Via Johannes Klingebiel)

China has become the all-weather “Sputnik moment” that America needs to jolt it out of its complacency and rise to the challenge. But such narratives rarely reflect the complexities of the world’s second-largest economy and most populous country. […]

While China is now competitive across several technology domains, it hasn’t reinvented the future either. Instead Beijing has busied itself with deploying the present. […]

[T]he earth under the GDP fixation has already shifted. The profound impact this shift will have on the Chinese growth model over the medium to long term should not be underestimated. […]

China is clearly dissatisfied with some features of the current system, and with its growing capabilities and influence, it wants to modify those features to better serve its own interests.


  • ? ? Fuzzy Green ‘Glacier Mice’ Move In Groups And Puzzle Scientists. “Each ball is like a soft, wet, squishy pillow of moss. The balls can be composed of different moss species and are thought to form around some kind of impurity, like a bit of dust. They’ve been seen in Alaska, Iceland, Svalbard and South America, although they won’t grow on just any glacier — it seems that conditions have to be just right.”
  • People are using Red Dead Redemption 2 to hold conference calls. “But then, as it turned out, it wasn’t quite as ridiculous as expected. ‘The thing is,’ Viv explained, ‘the Cowboys just look right when they’re sitting around the campfire? They look like they’re in a meeting: scratching noses and frowning, and occasionally gesturing.’”
  • ?? ♻️ ?? From no recycling to zero waste: how Ljubljana rethought its rubbish. “The Regional Centre for Waste Management (RCERO) opened in 2015 and today services almost a quarter of all Slovenia, uses natural gas to produce its own heat and electricity, processes 95% of residual waste into recyclable materials and solid fuel, and sends less than 5% to landfill. It even turns biowaste into high-quality gardening compost.”
  • ?? ? How South Korea turned an urban planning system into a virus tracking database. “That platform was originally designed to let local authorities share urban planning information, from population to traffic and pollution, by uploading data in Excel spreadsheets and other formats. Now it forms the foundation for a data clearing house that has turbocharged South Korea’s response to the virus.”
  • ? ? World health leaders urge green recovery from coronavirus crisis. “More than 200 organisations representing at least 40 million health workers – making up about half of the global medical workforce – have signed an open letter to the G20 leaders and their chief medical advisers, pointing to the 7 million premature deaths to which air pollution contributes each year around the world. … Chief medical officers and chief scientific advisers must be directly involved in designing the stimulus packages now under way, the letter urges, in order to ensure they include considerations of public health and environmental concerns. They say public health systems should be strengthened, and they warn of how environmental degradation could help to unleash future diseases.”
  • ?? ? Insanity in Oz. Rio Tinto blasts 46,000-year-old Aboriginal site to expand iron ore mine. “An earlier 1 metre test dig, conducted in 2008, dated the site at about 20,000 years old, but the salvage expedition uncovered a “very significant site” with more than 7,000 artefacts collected, including grid stones that were 40,000 years old, thousands of bones from middens which showed changes in fauna as the climate changed, and sacred objects.”
  • ? ⚡️ Very nice. Very slick. Very expensive. Gogoro’s Eeyo 1 is the ‘sports car’ of e-bikes. “[P]owered by what Gogoro is calling the Eeyo Smartwheel. Instead of attaching the battery to the frame or putting it in one of the tubes, Gogoro has placed it in a hub in the back wheel along with an electric motor and some sensors.”
  • ? ? ? Uber is scrapping tens of thousands of Jump bikes during a nationwide bike shortage. “Uber is sending tens of thousands of its electric Jump bikes to the scrap yard, weeks after offloading the money-losing bike-share division on Lime. The news of the scrapped bikes has incensed bike enthusiasts on social media, one of whom decried the act as ‘unconscionable.’”

Header image: Alexander Graham Bell’s Tetrahedral Kites (1903–9).