MIT researchers Dan Novy and Sophia Brueckner argue that the mind-bending worlds of authors such as Philip K. Dick and Arthur C. Clarke can help us not just come up with ideas for new gadgets, but anticipate their consequences.
How will police use a gun that immobilizes its target but does not kill? What would people do with a device that could provide them with any mood they desire? What are the consequences of a massive, instant global communications network?
Such questions are relevant to many technologies on the market today, but their first iterations appeared not in lab prototypes but in the pages of science fiction.
This fall, MIT Media Lab researchers Dan Novy and Sophia Brueckner are teaching “Science Fiction to Science Fabrication,” aka “Pulp to Prototype,” a course that mines these “fantastic imaginings of the future” for analysis of our very real present.
// Great stuff.
I’m salivating over this piece that critically analyzes sustainability. Both of my masters degrees were heavy on the theoretics and history of sustainability. I even taught a class at UMass-Amherst on trends in sustainability research.
The Anthropocene brings into relief a destabilizing ambivalence running through the conceptual and rhetorical registers of sustainability, one that has been there from its initial formulation as “sustainable development.” In one register, the discourse of sustainability seems to offer a sweeping retraction of modern aspirations in light of the Anthropocene and its implications. What needs sustaining is nature’s (and thus also humanity’s) limits. This inflection of sustainability presupposes a background picture of fundamental scarcity and judges claims of abundance to be illusory.
Depending on your point of view, resources are either finite or unlimited. I believe the Earth’s resources are finite, frailly so. I never fully bought into the concept of “sustainable development,” to the continuous frowning of my advisers, who, it must be said, have staked their careers teaching sustainability principles. Never has so much confused hope been placed into one theoretical pot. Never had environmentalism been so distorted and utterly taken over by corporate devils.
From the “resources are finite” point of view, “sustainable development” is an oxymoron, plain and simple. And I cannot think of an historical analog in the liberal arts where an applied theory been such a fantastical failure. Only corporations can practice “sustainable development.” The infrastructure, food and water supply, hospitals and schools, computers and electricity - books - all the world’s resources that make humankind possible are corporate owned. All dollars flow up. Sustainability is an immeasurable impossibility.
The purported age of material surfeit enjoyed by industrialized nations for the past one hundred years, on this view, came through massive exploitation of the world’s poor societies, through extensive externalization of the real costs of industrialization, and through the plundering of the finite reserves of carbon that have been stored up over eons in the depths of the earth. In short, our fabled abundance came about by overrunning critical social and planetary limits for the sake of present gains, to the benefit of only a minority of humans and at the expense of future generations and other species. The Anthropocene, on this view, represents the redlining of our critical life support systems.
What is needed, I’ve argued before, is a new and expanded theory of environmental conservation. We already have a foundation of environmental management, and the best successes are rooted in conservation. We need to expand upon this foundation and duplicate successes. New Conservation, for example, would be tied to civic duty - that is, taking part in law making, attending city meetings, engaging in government decisions, and learning to run for office. I think we need a blending of steady environmentalism and ethical citizenship. (I’m aware that going to city budget meetings are not as sexy as protest, but it’s a new world with tougher laws and smarter authorities. Protest is no longer sustainable [e.g., OWS]).
A New Conservationism would trace the tracks of Teddy Roosevelt’s environmental legacy. And, it would improve upon subsequent environmental theories that have work and continue to function.
This modern concept of sustainability must die. It is capitalism by another name, and capitalism fundamentally depends on massive - massive - extraction of finite resources. It serves only in the efficient extraction or resources for corporate profit. There are no social benefits - none that can be tangibly measured with any clarity (fair trade is a teeny, tiny niche. It, too, is unsustainable. See the Conclusions section of Fairtrade Foundation’s ten-year report). Sustainable development is demonstrably not sustainable.
This is a must read article. It analyzes the history and purpose of sustainability, “Abundance on Trial: The Cultural Significance of “Sustainability””
I didn’t realize the scale of Curiosity until I saw this image.
In honor of Curiosity’s successful landing, I present “Three Generations,” courtesy of John Klose , JPL employee since 2002. It shows the Mars landers Spirit (foreground), Opportunity (middle), and Curiosity (background) taken in front of JPL building 180, aka the Directors building.
I’m giving away a copy of Francis D.K. Ching’s “Architecture: Form, Space, and Order.” It’s an awesome book for any architecture lover, but more specifically- for the architecture student. Here’s the synopsis:
The Second Edition of this classic introduction to the principles of architecture is…
Rate of Technological Change May Be Outstripping Humans’ Ability to Manage and Adapt to It
Our relationship with tools dates back millions of years, and anthropologists still debate whether it was the intelligence of human-apes that enabled them to create tools or the creation of tools that enabled them to become intelligent.
In any case, everyone agrees that after those first tools had been created, our ancestors’ intelligence coevolved with the tools. In the process our forebears’ jaws became weaker, their digestive systems slighter, and their brains heavier.
Chimpanzees, genetically close to us though they are, have bodies two to five times as strong as ours on a relative basis and brains about a quarter as big. In humans, energy that would have gone into other organs instead is used to run energy-hungry brains. And those brains, augmented by tools, more than make up for any diminishment in guts and muscle. Indeed, it’s been a great evolutionary trade‑off: There are 7 billion people but only a few hundred thousand chimpanzees.
In the distant past our tools improved slowly enough to allow our minds, our bodies, our family structures, and our political organizations to keep up. The earliest stone tools are about 2.6 million years old. As those and other tools became more refined and sophisticated, our bodies and minds changed to take advantage of their power. This adaptation was spread over more than a hundred thousand generations.
New Software Allows 3D Printing of Animated Characters with Articulated Joints
In a new research project, computer scientists funded partially by animation studio Pixar can turn animations into physical objects. The software solves any lingering physical-impossibility problems that can stem from the unrestricted imagination, and prints out a movable object. Lead author Moritz Bächer, a graduate student in computer science, tells Harvard’s School of Engineering and Applied Sciences news site that his program can print anatomically unbalanced creatures, articulated joints and all.
It works by examining an animated character’s virtual behavior, and figuring out ideal locations for their actual joints. Then it builds a 3-D computer model of the joints’ best locations and physical attributes, which you can see at top right in the image above. The software even builds in some friction into the joints — which can be ball-and-socket joints or hinges — so they’ll hold a pose just right. The resulting model can be sintered together on any 3-D printer.