Two quotes for 2014

from Freedom by Daniel Suarez:

“Where ancient people believed in gods and devils that listened to their pleas and curses — in this age immortal entities hear us. Call them bots or spirits; there is no functional difference now. They surround us and through them word-forms become an unlock code that can trigger a blessing or a curse. Mankind created systems whose inter-reactions we could not fully understand, and the spirits we gathered have escaped from them into the land where they walk the earth—or the GPS grid, whichever you prefer. The spirit world overlaps the real one now, and our lives will never be the same.”

“But doesn’t this just spread mysticism? Lies, essentially?”

“You mean fairy tales? Yes, initially. But then, a lot of parents tell young children that there’s a Santa Claus. It’s easier than trying to explain the cultural significance of midwinter celebrations to a three-year-old. If false magic or a white lie about the god-monster in the mountain will get people to stop killing one another and learn, then the truth can wait. When the time is right, it can be replaced with a reverence for the scientific method.”

See also Julian Oliver’s talk. Again.

The UK needs a new age of STEAM, and the Ebacc won’t make it happen.

In the UK, the conservative government is trying to remove art and design subjects from the core of their new curriculum, the ‘EBacc’, which the Tories want to focus around readin’, ritin’ and ‘rithmetic.

This is, of course, pretty disastrous.

An age of STEAM – Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Mathematics – (rather than just STEM) is what the UK needs to survive in the foothills of the 21stC. The PM David Cameron et al make a lot of noise about supporting “Tech City” etc., but without nurturing inventive thinking at early stages of kids educations, we won’t be able to compete against bigger and better resourced countries.

A friend of mine, Joe McCloud got a bunch of design firms to get behind a campaign against this – called “#includedesign” which you can read about here:

I’m pleased to say our company, BERG is signed up.

I was contacted by a journalist from Dezeen with a couple of questions about the campaign, the importance of design teaching in secondary education etc.

Sir Jony Ive in the mean-time signed up to the campaign, so I imagine that was a bit more newsworthy, so understandably my answers weren’t used in the piece!

FWIW, I thought I would post my responses here:

1. Why do you think its important that design is taught in schools?

Three reasons to come to mind.

1) is brutal economics. Global competition for jobs, work, wealth means we as a small country need to out imagine the bigger ones. We’re good at that at the moment. Why not invest in that? We’re not going to ‘out-grammar’ or ‘out-times-table’ China or India. Art and design sharpen the imagination, even if you go on to to be a biologist or a banker. It’s beyond foolish to drop them. We need to invest in our Gross National Imagination to survive the 21stC.

2) is improving engagement in schools. I’m not a teacher but I think there is a halo effect from good design teaching that makes other subjects shine for kids.When I was a kid CDT (Craft Design and Technology) was the great leveller. I had great teachers. The nerdy kids and the tough kids did as well as each other – and stereotypes of how well you were meant to do broke down. That lead to kids breaking out of their pre-assigned paths to not-much, and got them enjoying education. Design education could be an engine of social mobility!

3) Being ready for the future. Most of the jobs we do every day at BERG hadn’t been invented when I was at school. Teaching design, making, and inventive thought at young ages will prepare kids for the jobs we can’t imagine now. With a bit of luck they’ll invent them.

2. What do you think will happen if the proposals to drop design become a reality?

I think a lot of people who wish it was still the 19th Century will be very happy – until they realise that they’ve undermined the UK’s place in the creation of business and culture for a generation.

Visit #includedesign, and if you can contribute your voice to the campaign, please do.

To Nick Raynsford, MP

I just sent this through to my MP using 38degrees: DON’T RUSH THROUGH EXTREME WEB LAWS. More at BoingBoing, and ORG.

Dear Mr Raynsford

I’m writing to you today because I’m very worried that the Government is planning to rush the Digital Economy Bill into law without a full Parliamentary debate.

The law is controversial and contains many measures that concern me. The controversial Bill deserves proper scrutiny so please don’t let the government rush it through.

Many people think it will damage schools and businesses as well as innocent people who rely on the internet because it will allow the Government to disconnect people it suspects of copyright infringement.

For instance, I’m a partner in a small technology design business, and our type of business is often cited by the government as the type of company and the type of industry that the UK needs to succeed. We’ve been cited by the UKTI for instance for innovation being promoted abroad. Currently we compete with the best firms in Silicon Valley for business. We invent and create intellectual property – we are far from against fair copyright laws and being rewarded for our efforts and research, but our copyright debate has been dominated by incumbent industry that haven’t responded to technology or their customers for too long.

It galls me that lobbyists for incumbent behemoths like the BPI will screw up the nascent technology industry in the UK, without my representative in the House debating it. It galls me that this Bill has been rushed through, and seems ill-considered. It galls me that the Labour party, which historically I have supported, and I have seen as a champion of progressive forces in both society and technology in-particular seems to be siding with vested interests representing the least-progressive side of the music industry instead of championing the infrastructure we need to invent our way out of our economic, environmental and societal difficulties across the spectrum.

Industry experts, internet service providers (like Talk Talk and BT) and huge internet companies like Google and Yahoo are all opposing the bill – yet the Government seems intent on forcing it through without a real debate.

As a constituent I am writing to you today to ask you to do all you can to ensure the Government doesn’t just rush the bill through and deny us our democratic right to scrutiny and debate.

Best regards,

Matt Jones

Stuart Candy on Ambient Futures at Long Now London

Very rough notes from Stuart’s talk:

Long Now London
stuart candy

designs on a longer now

q: what drew you into the long now?

(the hope is) this group is a group of early adopters of an idea which can get into the broader culture eventually?

stewart brand: why haven’t we seen a picture of the whole earth yet?

made a hundreds of badges the next day with this on
echoing bucky: people don’t think about their impact on the whole earth as a system as they cannot see it

Apollo program picture ‘blue marble’ had the mainstream impact needed for this

Long now is trying to do the equivalent for time as the blue marble did for space

a cultural change in attitudes towards time

(shows protos of the LN clock and mt washington in nevada where the clock is to be built)

but – it’s not really the clock that is the central object – it’s designing culture around the clock… the clock is a catalyst for that.

manifesting futures in the present: ‘found futures’

why: because physiologically, neurally, culturally we all programmed for continuity while living through discontinuity (accelerating change)

building bridges across this] experiential gulf

project: hawaii2050: workshopping with 600 ppl, 4 different versions (scenario) of 2050
continued growth / discipline / collapse / transformation

project: art objects from a 2108 Hawaii: found objects from a future scenario

problem: not everyone you want to reach is attending these things (self-selecting)

solution?: guerilla futures : ad-hoc incursions into futures.
manifest futures in the present whether people have requested it or not

project: postcards from different scenarios printed and sent to the most powerful people in the state of Hawaii at their home addresses one a day without explanation

project: simulated urban gentrification takeover : used vacant lots and filled them with fake posters of multinational brands moving into a chinatown. ‘save chinatown’ group went out and lobbied passers by. unintended consequence: ppl annoyed that they had been ‘hoaxed’

projects: scenario where relationship between Hawaii and china supplants that of the usa, and a bird flu scenario of 2016, played out in wall plaques and street signs (backwards)

Future Shock-therapy

bruce sterling asked: what would happen if you changed ‘guerilla’ interventions into a regular standing army?

got candy thinking: a 2nd strategy: ‘ambient foresight’

foresight as an emergent capacity – instead of being deliberately disorienting and interventionist – it’s more subtle and day-to-day. implicit, incidental

‘what kind of practice do we need to be thinking about the future day to day, for it to be woven into culture’

cf. paul hawken: ‘sustainability should be as easy as falling off a log’

ambient foresight examples: lung pictures on cigarette packets? nutrition facts (!)

carbon/energy facts: jamais’s cheeseburger footprint

aim: ‘social capacity for foresight’ (richard slaughter)

Eno vs Shirky at the ICA

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Eno vs Shirky, originally uploaded by blackbeltjones.

Shirky vs eno: raw notes, usual disclaimers apply – not a transcript by any means.


Monday 17th march, 7pm

Eno: Emergence of social communities through networks
1988 : joined the well
Felt like a fulfilment of mcluhan idea of the global village
Persistent on a mixture of honour and shame – which is what keeps small communities together.
93-95 internet had started to grow and it was obvious it wasn?t a 60s social experiment.
Large scale online games: not idealistic global villages -they need different sorts of tools and rules to run successfully. Not anarchistic or simplistic – but nothing like business as usual.
What is the difference between a trad business like ford cars and wikipedia?

Clay: The biggest difference is that large actions generally entail large transaction costs. Scale of decisions pushes you to add some kind of structure. Till recently this was always certainly hierarchically. Internet and social tools reduce coord costs so radically that groups can form and disband easily, but still produce action. Contribution of individuals can be lightweight and distributed.
Most people do almost nothing, and a very few people do an awful lot. Power law. The value of those minimal contributions, can be aggregated to a great effect.
The search for how to structure very large networks that are building value (e.g. Wikipedia, linux) that we are living through is the experimental wing of political philosophy.

Eno: We are poorly informed by our current news media structures (cf. Nick Davies book) PR culture means opinion is careful moulded by power and distributed by a hungry and resource-starved mainstream rolling news media.
Other sources of opinion are needed – the networks.
There?s a phrase of yours I like: ?replacing planning with co-ordination?

Clay: When ever you get a mobile phone you replace plans with co-ordination. What this does for p2p comms is now coming to groups. Great example: HSBC protests on facebook (clay mentioned this on STW)

Eno: a lot of the book is about how a quantitative change becomes a qualitative change. Enabled new situations to catalyse.

Clay: what?s changed is not the tools. Society doesn?t change because of tools, but when attitudes and behaviours change. The tools plus increased social density and comfort – means early adopter techniques have become mainstream social behaviour. The public can now take the sort of actions that they were locked out of just a few years before.

Eno: we?re in England and so we?re pretty cynical compared to people from the west coast. Coming from the most surveilled society in the western world. Can?t believe that governments are going tolerate these changes in power balance that online communities create.
If the co-ordination is mostly through the internet- it?s inconceivable to me that governments are not spending billions on figuring out how to control this. Doesn?t this co-ordination online make us vulnerable?

Clay: Well – I?m not from the west coast I?m from NYC, so my levels of cynicism is somewhere between Mountain View and Brixton.
Yours is a nightmarish scenario, but the thing holding it at bay is that the internet is the first thing that merits the name ?media? because it is genuinely general purpose and flexible. The choice that governments have therefore is connect or disconnect. Too much of what the government is doing is on the same network. The danger is that certain wealthy and controlling regimes will perfect some kind of point control to remove undesirable information from the public sphere before there is casual awareness (cf. The chinese firewall)
(Starts ref: the Leipzig / Minsk ice-cream protest story from ?here comes everybody? – information cascades)

Goes to questions…

Black Swan Green

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Black Swan Green, originally uploaded by blackbeltjones.

“It is inevitable that we will be massively blindsided by events, because our understanding is misled by an array of beguiling illusions about reality.”

Stewart Brand on Nassim Taleb, in his introduction to Taleb’s forthcoming Long Now [SALT] talk, entitled: “The Future Has Always Been Crazier Than We Thought”

Governing the High Frontier

The NASA Ames Summer Studies of Space Habitats from the mid to late 1970s have recently been linked by BoingBoing and O’Reilly’s Make Blog, principly for the evocative, nostalgic images therein.

The text of the Summer Studies makes for fascinating read though. Here’s an extract from the 1975 study, suggesting that the future inhabitants of the L5 Lagrangian Libration point would be left to orginate their own forms of government and policing…

“Distance and isolation also affect the governance and social order. Whether space colonization is a unilateral effort on the part of the United States or a cross-national enterprise, it will most likely be sponsored by a public or quasipublic organization with a bureaucratic structure which permeates the early settlement. The sense of isolation may stimulate the organizational development of communities away from the organizational form of the sponsor as the interests and life circumstances of a rapidly growing population change and develop. The form of governance depends very much on the preferences of the settlers, in much the same way as allowances for individual choice have been emphasized in other considerations of life in space.

Maintenance of order and of internal as well as external security initially falls to the Earth-based sponsoring organizations and then to the organized community which is expected to rise early in the colony’s history. The small size of the settlement, combined with a rather precarious manufactured environment, may emphasize a concern for internal security. Any individual or small group could, in prospect, undertake to destroy the entire colony by opening the habitat to surrounding space, by disrupting the power supply, or by other actions which have few corresponding forms in Earth-based settings. Whatever organizational form the colonists evolve, it must be able to assure the physical security of the habitat and its supporting systems, and this need for security may infringe upon other desirable features of the colony and its operation.”

Surely there has to be a TV series or two here – Deadwood in Space? I guess a Russell T. Davies reboot of StarCops is out of the question…

A Manhattan melange of “Macroscopes”

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Globe of Patents, originally uploaded by blackbeltjones.

By chance this morning found an excellent mini-exhibition in midtown Manhattan.

“Places & Spaces: Mapping Science” has been curated by Dr. Katy Börner and Deborah MacPherson.

From the website:

“Today, the word “science” encompasses myriad arenas of physical and abstract inquiry. This unique exhibition, at the Healy Hall in midtown Manhattan, uses innovative mapping techniques to physically show what and where science is today, how different branches of science relate to each other and where different branches of study are heading, where cutting edge science is erupting as archipelagos in the oceans of the yet unknown – and – how it all relates back to the physical centers of research. The world of science is turned into a navigable landscape.

Modern mapping imagery has come a long way from Ptolemy. In this stimulating show compelling for all ages and backgrounds, audiences will both visually and tactilely uncover how contemporary scientific thought has expanded. Such visualization of scientific progress is approached through computer-generated relationships, featured on large panels as well through the collaboration of New York based artists W. Bradford Paley, Digital Image Design Incorporated and Columbia University and Ingo Gunther with renowned scientist from the field of scientonometrics: Eugene Garfield, Henry Small, André Skupin, Steven A. Morris, Kevin Boyack and Dick Klavans.”

Scientonometrics! Awesome!!!

It’s a concise, enjoyable and clear exhibit showing concrete examples of what John Thackara might call ‘macroscopes’: artworks, mappings and visualisations of complex interconnected systems (in this case science and intellectual property) that help ‘ordinary folk’ examine the choices they make and those being made for them.


Before and after science (fiction)

To get going again, some words from our new sponsors.

John Thackara, “In the Bubble” (if you haven’t read it yet, why not?):

“…switch attention from science-[fiction] dominated futures to social fictions in which imagined new contexts enrich and otherwise familiar world. Design scenarios are powerful… because they make a possible future familiar and enable the participation of potential users in conceiving and shaping what they want”

H.G Wells, in an 1891 essay “The rediscovery of the unique”:

“Science is a match that man has just got alight. He thought he was in a room – in moments of devotion, a temple – and that his light would be reflected from and display walls inscribed with wonderful secrets and pillars carved with philosophical systems wrought into harmony. It is a curious sensation, now that the preliminary splutter is over and the flame burns up clear, to see his hands and just aglimpse of himself and the patch he stands on visible, and around him, in place of all that human comfort and beauty he anticipated – darkness still.”

T.S Eliot (in his 1940 commentary on H.G. Well’s ‘The first men in the moon’):

“We can have very little hope of contributing to any immediate social change; and we are more disposed to see our hope in modest and local beginnings, than in transforming the whole world at once. On the other hand , though the immediate aims are less glittering, they may prove less deceptive: for Mr. Wells, putting all his money on the near future, is walking very near the edge of despair; while we must keep alive aspirations which can remain valid throughout the longest and darkest period of universal calamity and degradation”

Last word to Mr. Wells:

“If the world does not please you, you can change it.”