Panpsych-OUT!

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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.

Eloi vs Morlocks: Fictional Superspies Edition

When it comes to the people saving the Earth, or just the UK, or even just Cardiff from peril – don’t you want them to have a little more technical savvy, than, say a bored teenager?

Take a look at what alien crimefighters and Gallifreyan-crossword-anagram-answer, Torchwood are using:
Torchwood are Eloi

Despite being a shadowy paragovernmental agency entrusted with securing alien technology – they are most comfortable something that resembles a bad Web2.0 site, or a dodgy trillian skin at best. They’re your Hotmail friends! They’re the people who send you that Ok-Go treadmill YouTube clip four months after you saw it!

They’re Eloi! We’re doomed!!!

Reassuringly, good old Five are staffed with much more CLI-kinds of guys…

Spooks are Morlocks

The Spooks, unlike their colleagues at CTU (who seem to favour the 45 degree angled corners of professional flash design circa 2002) are strictly on the command-line tip with the odd snazzy-but-useful bit of hardcore datavis.

MORLOCKS, THANKFULLY!

Wikipedia: we really haute to know better

Evidence is building that Nicholas Carr’s argument against peer-production of knowledge by amateurs is dead-on.

Today’s Guardian rounds up a panel of experts to score the wikipedia entries against their deep domain knowledge in their somewhat-pointedly-titled “Can you trust Wikipedia”

It’s broadly good news for the free, open and amateur with scores in the 6’s and 7’s out of 10, with one 5 for the article on ‘encyclopedias’ as judged by an ex-editor of the Encyclopedia Brittanica.

Could the harnessing of “collective intelligence” not just be the wishful thinking of venerable west-coast technohippies, but something that could help humankind out of the beginnings of what may turn out to be it’s most difficult century, a.k.a. The Grim Meathook Future?

Maybe, maybe…

Until – we get to a 0 out of 10.

It’s from Alexandra Shulman, editor of Vogue:

“Broadly speaking, it’s inaccurate and unclear. It talks about haute couture and then lists a large number of ready-to-wear designers. As a very, very broad-sweep description there are a few correct facts included, but every value judgment it makes is wrong.”

We’re so HOSED!!!

Gotta code it all!

In response to an essay on why console gaming does not bode well for raising future generations of hackers, Mike Sugarbaker hits upon an idea of pure molten genius: a pokemon-style collecting game, where what is collected traded and battled with is code:

“Instead of blocks, cards. Instead of Pokemon or collectible monsters and magic items on the cards, commands. Or types of loops, or even objects with multiple slots for properties and other commands. That’s right, I said collectible programming commands. Make the powerful, difficult-to-grasp ones rare, have some server-mediated market for getting them, and provide an anime-like story shell about being the greatest hacker. Then just let the kids loose and let ‘em fight each other with code.”

This is just fantastic.

Instead of Fred Harris and Ian McNaught-Davis in cosy, chunky jumpers, I imagine the next generation would want a hyperkinetic saturday morning show full of begelled young turks and turkesses in directional topshop clothing gunging youngsters who have careless with their memory handling.

Alice, Tom and the other BBC skunkworks-types should be on the phone to Mike today to ask where they should throw the money to make this happen.

The Grim Meathook Future

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Joshua Ellis, republished by Jim Rossignol:

“Feeding poor people is useful tech, but it’s not very sexy and it won’t get you on the cover of Wired. Talk about it too much and you sound like an earnest hippie. So nobody wants to do that.

“They want to make cell phones that can scan your personal measurements and send them real-time to potential sex partners. Because, you know, the f*cking Japanese teenagers love it, and Japanese teenagers are clearly the smartest people on the planet.

“The upshot of all of this is that the Future gets divided; the cute, insulated future that Joi Ito and Cory Doctorow and you and I inhabit, and the grim meathook future that most of the world is facing, in which they watch their squats and under-developed fields get turned into a giant game of Counterstrike between crazy faith-ridden jihadist motherf*ckers and crazy faith-ridden American redneck motherf*ckers, each doing their best to turn the entire world into one type of fascist nightmare or another.

“Of course, nobody really wants to talk about that future, because it’s depressing and not fun and doesn’t have Fischerspooner doing the soundtrack. So everybody pretends they don’t know what the future holds, when the unfortunate fact is that — unless we start paying very serious attention — it holds what the past holds: a great deal of extreme boredom punctuated by occasional horror and the odd moment of grace.”

Eloi on the rise.

“Yummy” say the Morlocks.

“Experts in human-computer interaction say that the real difference between teenagers and their elders is teens’ willingness to experiment with computers, combined with their acceptance of the seemingly arbitrary conventions that are endemic to contemporary computer interfaces. In other words, teens aren’t worried about breaking their computers, and they’re not wise enough or experienced enough to get angry at and reject poorly written programs. The teens just deal with computers, as they are forced to deal with many other aspects of their lives. These strategies, once learned and internalized, are incredibly effective for working with today’s computer technology.”

My bold in the above quote. The gist of this story I’ve come across many times before. The tyranny of current interface idioms looks set to continue for a while. New contexts like mobile computing or paradigms like the web still haven’t killed the WIMP interface.

Aside: Why the hell do I have icons on my phone?

Perhaps though change will be pressed by what people are trying to do with personal tech. Communicate and share experience. OurLifeBits, if you will – is demanding different idioms evolve.

Whether we enquire what lies beneath those idioms is another matter.

» MIT Tech Review: The Myth of Generation N