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Sufficiently-Advanced Technology

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xspimetheory1, originally uploaded by brucesflickr.

I love Bruce Sterling’s fantastically lo-tech-halloween-Mayan-frightmask of spime theory.

However, he states:

“Look at the bottom of this theory object. You can see that I’ve killed off two very important ideas: Artificial Intelligence and panpsychism. Why did I get rid of those? Because they smell too science-fictional to me. I don’t think they have any real-world traction. I think they are superstition. I think they’re over and done.”

A few years back I raised the idea of a ‘digital spirit world’ being created by arphid-laden objects not being understood or transparent to end-users in a talk I gave at DesignEngaged.

As a subscriber to Clarke’s 3rd Law, I’m not sure superstition has ever been ‘over and done’ unfortunately.

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After reading Jane’s post about using time people spend fiddling with Facebook for solving problems with other (gaming) networks, I wondered whether there were other things you could do with all those idle hands.

What about Folding@home or Mechanical Turk tasks, as shown rather sketchily above.

Back in May, referring to Sony’s announcment that the folding@home client would be installed on the PS3, Alice wrote about “Games that do good”

“Are there games or game mechanics that could be used to fund-raise or awareness-raise?”

My quick mock up is not all that enticing or interesting, though touches like sparklines, league-tables and scoring could rapidly turn such things into more of a playful and engaging activity, turning all those idle hands to good causes.

Know of anything like this going on?

“I remember those nights, planning technologies that didn’t exist yet, outsider science, futurist dreaming, half-magical. The things I could do outside the unversity setting, now that I didn’t have to wait for the pompous fools at the college! I was building another science, my science, wild science, robots and lasers and disembodied brains. A science that buzzed and glowed; it wanted to do things. It could get up and walk, fly, fight, sprout garish glowing creations in the remotest parts of the world, domes and towers and architectural fever dreams. And it was angry. It was mad science.”

The words of Doctor Impossible, from Austin Grossman’s excellent “Soon, I will be invincible”

Warren Ellis, on his creation of another mad scientist: Doktor Sleepless:

“I was ready to do another big piece of political sf, and I knew what I wanted to talk about. I wanted to talk about the subsumation of authenticity into fiction. I wanted to talk about liars, on a grand scale. I wanted to talk about the end of the world, in the major and the minor. And I wanted to talk about where I think we are today, and where we could end up in ten or fifteen years. The motor of innovation and novelty is really kind of cranked up right now, but, in contrast, the general culture is still in a sort of post-millennial shock, just laying there and drooling over its nipples.”

The just-announced Call-For-Papers for Etech 2008:

At the 2008 version of ETech, the O’Reilly Emerging Technology Conference, we’ll take a wide-eyed look at the tech that’s just arriving and cast a cynical one at some that have been emerging for too long. From robotics, health care, and space travel to gaming, finance, and art, we’ll explore promising technologies that are just that–still promises–and renew our sense of wonder at the way technology is influencing and altering our everyday lives.

A theme (ahem) emerging?

Ellis’ Tony Stark took a pop at Etech (and I joined in, embolded by the lead taken by a fictional alcoholic billionaire superhero) and the somewhat introverted web-centricity of it in his run on Iron Man a few years back.

Perhaps with Shellhead poised for mainstream glory, it’s time for science heroes again?

Perhaps, at last, some genuine outbreaks of the future…

Over at Interactive Architecture Dot Org, a report of Stephen Gage and Will Thorne’s “Edge Monkeys”:

The UCL EdgeMonkey robot, picture from interactivearchitecture.org

Their function would be to patrol building facades, regulating energy usage and indoor conditions. Basic duties include closing unattended windows, checking thermostats, and adjusting blinds. But the machines would also “gesture meaningfully to internal occupants” when building users “are clearly wasting energy.” They are described as “intrinsically delightful and funny.”

I applaud the idea, and (for now) look forward to a world chock full of daemons and familiars helping us do the ecological-right-thing… but I think trying to make them “delightful and funny” would be a mistake.

Far better to make them slightly grumpy and world-weary – rather than have a insufferably jolly robot ask if you really want to leave that light on.

Who needs a planet of Clippy?

Mike Sugarbaker makes comparisons between Last.fm and Pandora, finding pros and cons in each, and ends up asking why we can’t gene-splice the two together:

“We shouldn’t have to choose between bottom-up and top-down, between cathedral and bazaar – that’s the other thing, that Pandora’s categories were made by experts and presumably applied by professionals, whereas last.fm basically is just the product of what people do anyway, via the site and its associated Audioscrobbler tool.

People say that the top-down, made-by-those-who-know-what’s-good-for-you approach is now outmoded, but in this case it seems to have what folksonomy will never get us: the element of surprise.”

Well, the gene-splice has happened it seems: with PandoraFM (http://pandorafm.real-ity.com/)

I missed this when it made LifeHacker late last month, but this seems like an excellent idea (although there’s still no link through to Bleep. Hummph) – injecting the element of robotic, clinical input into the organic social network. Going to try it for a little while…

What other social networks could benefit by the addition of non-humans?

Brain switched on fully this morning.

Woken by, like a bell ringing backward from tomorrow, this headline – heralding the terrible, wonderful material future:

Fullerene Super-Armour

Let’s have that again.

Fullerene Super-Armour

Along with the rollicking arphid-blistered-rollercoaster of a ride that’s been “Shaping Things”, I’m getting just-enough medicinal futureshock to crank the year into the gear.

Saturday morning – Foe remarked on my Pavlovian response to the opening bars of “Sailing By”, the music that introduces the late-night shipping forecast on BBC Radio 4.

Usually I am asleep by the end of it, or well on my way. Sometimes I can last until around South Utsire before I’m snoring like a taser’d walrus.

We have a DAB digital radio by the side of the bed, and Foe’s idea was to have the latest shipping forecast spooled on there for on-demand consumption, whenever you needed a nap.

I went one further, suggesting it gets spooled to your mobile, in order to take it where you want – a nap in the park, or if you’re been travelling to other timezones – a digital, portable melatonin replacement to get you to sleep wherever, whenever. The audio could be transmitted by bone-conduction under your pillow, as not to disturb others.

Foe then trumped this suggestion by taking the bone-conduction theme to its natural conclusion – the shipping forecast implanted, resonant in one’s bones; the offshore outlook of your sceptred isle sending you a-slumber whenever your head rested on your shoulder…

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