The futures of the futures of iOt

Springer recently published a (seemingly) interesting volume, Architecting the Internet of Things; ‘seemingly’ because I didn’t read it and unlikely will in the near, despite my interest in these issues. The price tag – a coquette 99.95 euro – is very high even for this publisher, known for its crazily expensive books.

But ok, I can at least read an intro and the first chapter, An Architectural Approach Towards the Future Internet of Things [pdf, 25 ppl] (I took both images from this text, just colored them slightly). It’s a good summary, for those who knows next to nothing about IoT and wants to get updated (it’s not very techy, and starts being just a bit hairy only by the end).

Patching the Futures

Recently I was luck enough to buy the first book published by the Patching Zone, a creative spin-off of the V2 Institute in Rotterdam headed by Anne Nigten (“lucky” here means that I managed to get the last copy in our local bookshop, and a minute later saw a guy asking for this book – I could be on his place!)

Patching Zone is an interesting creation, escaping any definition; it reminds me the way how Lily Allen explained what kind of music she wanted to buy in her brilliant LDN – “Have you may be kind of soft panky electronica, like grime, but sort of new age grime? May be kind of broken beat, but sort of dubby broken beat kind of grime? No?”

Lily got kind of ‘No’, but we are getting kind of soft ‘Yes’ with Anne and her team; to tag this posting, I have to use all the categories I predefined for the blog: Art, Design, Ideas, Future, Game, Technology, Spaces, Experience. And yes, Book too, and I still tempted to use XYZ. A ‘transdisciplinary media laboratory’ is how it’s called officially.

The book (Real Projects for Real People, Vol 1) looks like a diary of the projects the lab was doing last two years, a collection of cases – of collaborative research, of street intervention, of new media technology in the city, and all that with some efforts to reflect on these new practices.

Few of these projects were new for me (I listen to a few presentation by Anne and other Patching Zone folks), but being bound into one volume, they got a very different weight. A well worth volume to read, if not to have. Speaking about weight, it is perhaps the only negative comment about the book – it is the first for this lab, but it continues a series of books published by V2 and NAi as the publishers, thus follow their disastrous style: very heavy, with sick glossy papers that start falling off before you even open the book. But well, one can forgive them this horrible printing; their content is usually superb, and this volume is not an exception. Kudos, Parching Zone!

PS: Need to add that all the pictures are from the book, expect the photo of Anne Nigten; the later I took from the Flickr of Premsela Foundation.

Zizek on Everything

Quite lengthy (20+min) and very interesting interview with Slavoj Žižek, a somewhat eccentric Slovenian philosopher aka social psychoanalyst by Riz Khan/AlJazeera. It’s more or less a recap of one of his latest books, Living in the End Times, but – as always with Žižek – about many other things too. He freely flows from current economic troubles to the future of biogenetics, to the role of (new) media, to the necessity of the New Left to emerge (among others). If you like Žižek, you will call it ‘an in-depth systemic analysis’, if you don’t (and there are many of those) you might spit few more times.

I find his books very thought-provoking, and provoking here means ‘literally’. I may disagree with both his conclusions and the way he construct the, but I always find his texts very stimulating, and at least far from a politically correct chewing gum of the majority of the essays on similar subjects (including the ones on future studies).

For the record, I found the link to this clip in the blog of Bruce Sterling, and the posting was more about his take on the Wikileaks/Assange – Good Manners in the Age of WikiLeaks. In this short article Žižek argues that we have to transcend currently omnipresent neurotic description of the conflict (“Assange is a good guy” vs “Assange is a bad guy”), and instead treat it as a manifestation of new emerging social and political order:

The ultimate show of power on the part of the ruling ideology is to allow what appears to be powerful criticism. There is no lack of anti-capitalism today. We are overloaded with critiques of the horrors of capitalism: books, in-depth investigative journalism and TV documentaries expose the companies that are ruthlessly polluting our environment, the corrupt bankers who continue to receive fat bonuses while their banks are rescued by public money, the sweatshops in which children work as slaves etc. However, there is a catch: what isn’t questioned in these critiques is the democratic-liberal framing of the fight against these excesses.

Here again, the essay by Žižek on Assange as a Joker of our times may be farther from so called ‘facts’ (those, for example, highlighted in the article of the same Bruce Sterling on the matter – The Blast Shack), but it gives me more ‘food for thought’, which I appreciate. The only concern I have is that Joker – and Heath Ledger – died, the prophecy I don’t want to come true.

Atlas of Gnoseography

I’ve recently bought an amazing book, Atlas of Science: Visualizing What We Know, both beautiful and thoughtful. It is is indeed an atlas, so do expect a lot of maps there, but these will not be your usual geographic maps – at least most of them are not. Rather, and it a very rich collection of scientific information visualizations, and in particular those trying visualize the science about science, a meta-scientific knowledge.

The books is a by-product of some sort, of an exhibition Places and Spaces: Mapping Science, or more precisely a series of unfolding exhibitions, that started back in 2005 and still in a making (they plan to add new content up until 2014)

I said it’s a large and beautiful volume, but’s it’s not your usual coffee-table book, laid to show off; it’s a treatise for a serious and thoughtful exploration; it presents a huge amount of projects, explained and visualized; the references section alone takes more than fifty pages. Although I adore the book as it is, I also do regret that it’s still a ‘dead wood’ format, printed on paper. The material it presents does beg for something more interactive, zoomable, palpable, explorative and immersive. I guess, iPad version would do better, or something like a 3D virtual world.

There is an interesting chapter on the ‘future of science map’. Here the books predicts (and I believe, rightly so, a much wider use of maps and information visualization in general, both for the development of science itself, but also as a facilitator in economic and political decision making, and in fact for exploration of the futures themselves! Of course, it expectedly refers to the unfolding phenomena of global ambient intelligence (described as the ‘global brain’), and position the future infoviz tools as a way self-reflection, almost as a planetary self-consciousness.

But I like the latest twist most: Katy Börner also writes that we need to also grow a ‘global heart’ of a sort, something more compassionate and emotional. A tough challenge for traditionally cold and rational science! And definitely a challenge for information visualization, because I guess we will need more senses than only vision to build these new representations.

Ideefiks Seminar in U Twente

Last Friday I went to the Ideefiks Lustrum seminar held by the Center for Philosophy of Technology and Engineering Science (CEPTES) of the University of Twente. I learned about the event via my recent Facebook ‘friendship’ with Peter-Paul Verbeek, the Center’s director (and it was a pleasure to meet and thank him in person at the event). I didn’t know all the background behind the gathering, but as I discovered it was a celebration of the Center’s 25th anniversary, and quite a memory-able event, with a lot of alumni members of the center in the audience.

Despite the importance and Big Number date, the seminar’s atmosphere was quite homey, almost intimate. I guess, the majority of the people there knew each other, and most likely for years – which also meant that the debates and discussions may go bit deeper than at an average conference of that kind. The first presentation was by Søren Riis, Danish philosopher currently affiliated with Copenhagen Institute for Futures Studies. His talk was about Martin Heidegger, and how his ideas can help us to better understand the future of… biotechnology (!) (the ‘ultimate technology’ of the future, as believed by Søren.

It was a very thoughtful talk, the one that requires more serious thinking than the average powerpoint slideshow implies. I can’t agree with some of the Søren’s arguments, to discuss some others I would need to (re-)read both Heidegger’s work and some other texts, but in general it was a very thought-provoking presentation. I took the pictures of almost all of his slides, and in case of interest the readers of this blog can find them in my set on Flickr (Ideefix Seminar) .

The second presentation was by Peter-Paul Verbeek; he wasn’t supposed to talk, and had to replace Arie Rip at the last moment.

But I personally think it was excellent a replacement! (Don’t want to say anything bad about Arie, I am sure his story would be great too, but I found the P-P V’s take most appropriate for such an event.) It was an excellent overview of the evolution of approaches (‘turns’, as he called them) in the philosophy of technology during last 25 or so years. A very informative story, also concluded by his views of ‘what’s next’. According to the speaker, the next turn after the ‘ethical’ one will be ‘anthropological’, with a focus on ‘accompanying technology’ rather than ‘assessing’ it. I was in particular delighted with the request to reflect on the role of design in this whole process (and of course I couldn’t resist to share my ‘insider information’ about design, the fact that in fact ‘design doesn’t exist’ 🙂 . Which lead to an interesting – albeit short – discussion about the role of philosophy for the discipline of future studies.

The last presentation, by Hedwig te Molder from the Wageningen University was, well, interesting, yes, but not so refreshing for me; I just knew quite well the subject she was talking, discourse analysis (of the communities, in her case). For me that was a daily life for many years in the past, moreover, I also saw the problems (or rather ‘issues’) with this approach when applied in real-life business situations. But it was good story anyway, and nicely complementing the other two.

All in all, a great afternoon, and a lot of food for thought. We also discuss with P-P V that I may come one day, and present one of my own stories, for example, about exploring possible futures by design, in a form of guest lecture.

The Future is Yes is More

This is a piece of absolutely blunt promotion (free): I’ve recently bought a very nice book, Yes is More, by the Danish architectural agency BIG (named after its founder and still a director, Bjarke Ingels); but ‘nice’ would be an understatement, it’s truly a remarkable book, in many senses. I can’t say it’s the first book about architecture I read with great pleasure, but it definitely belongs to a set a of very few such ones.

I like the opening story, about Bruce Mau who came to their studio, liked one of the projects, and later asked to send him the slides describing it. When he received the slides, he thought it’s a wrong set, and asked to send him the ‘right’ one. When he was eventually assured that this is exactly the project they discussed the other day, he was shocked by the difference between the dead slides, and the live, vibrant, colorful story he heard in the office. The book is an effort to recreate this experience of a live story-telling, and the team creatively uses various tools to achieve it: the book is written in a form of a comic strip, with a first-person voice-over balloons. And this is a very honest voice, not a typical grand, over-polished vision-mission corporate lingo. There is a lot of humor and self-irony in the book, and what is also important, we see the efforts to show the real complexity of the projects’s emergence, not post-rationalizations. And yes, many of the projects are nice, too.

I selected just a few of very many great projects, very subjectively, of course. This one, for example, is just a sheer beauty; called The Escher Tower, it does make your mind a bit dizzy (that’s one building, by the way, not four):

This is one of their ‘mountains’ projects (they have quite a few of those). Ok, everything is relative, and for some these ‘mountains’ are not so huge. But for the land as flat as Denmark it should look quite impressive (and I was a climber earlier in my life, so these themes have a special appeal to me).

Another mountains, this time designed for an island near Baku, the capital of Azerbaijan. It is based on the idea of the Seven Sacred Mountains of Azerbaijan (never heard about them, but nvm). The island also claims to (eventually) have a zero use of carbon fuel, quite a statement for one of the oil-richest country in the world.

Perhaps, not the best photography, but a wonderful concept, of an Infinity Loop building; designed specially for the Eternal Walks.

A very nice book indeed; I felt pity when it was over, and I regret it doesn’t exist online, in some sort of form wiki or a forum where people could add their own ideas and interpretations.