“You can only live in the future”: an Interview with Bruce Sterling

Blogging about new technologies, we have the chance of glimpsing a lot of “possible futures” through the new gadgets and inventions we discover everyday. But in some way this is a fragmented vision, pieces of an uncertain world to come. Not many people dare to describe “possible futures” as a whole, with a proper sense. And less people even dare to point out the things that, presenting themselves as “The Future”, are not more than the last funny gadget of the season… Bruce Sterling is really an exception: sci-fi writer, lecturer, blogger, contributor to relevant media as Wired (his farsighted Beyond the Beyond posts were memorable), professor and “visionary in residence”, he is most of all an extremely discerning wise man, capable of understanding the lights and shadows of the future where we are heading towards. When we had the chance of interviewing him, he completely captivated us, not just for the lucidity of his ideas, but for the intensity of his speech, and the profound, naked truth of his vision of technology, humanity and the future.

P.N. You said that we should design futures… but how to see these new futures? Actually, you are an expert on that…

B.S. An expert? Well, sort of. Usually I do two things: I write fiction and I research what’s going on. So the two kind of play one with another, to try to find the grain up the material what seems to be happening. Then you kind of exaggerate it and take the ranges that seems that might go. So, commonly I like to write fiction about an specific scenario, but when I’m thinking about things I usually split them up in the future as quandrums because I think it helps quite a lot. So, let’s say you are worried about high-speed access and privacy, you just have four future worlds: one that has low speed access and low privacy; low speed access but high privacy; high speed access and high privacy; or high speed access but no privacy. And then you can break up the people who would like to be at one quandrum or the other, and the situations where it’s going to happen: sometimes it enables you to figure out where and what scenario would be set.

P.N. So in some way it is all about context: there is not a single setting to place an specific idea, but several problems in different contexts that lead to different possible stories.

B.S. You get brought down in the sort of large abstract issues… It is like where’s the actual harm on that there’s not privacy. If you actually ask who has no privacy you get a kind of a better situation, a better hand on the situation. For instance, a baby can die from privacy. Babies really have to be watched all the time: they are naked, they don’t go to the toilet, they scream all the time… It’s not like “let them have their dignity”, because you know they are not autonomous actors. A baby can’t speak, can’t make adult decisions, he needs to be under surveillance, he needs an adult literally within arms reach. And elderly people don’t need privacy either, they need dignity but they don’t really need privacy, because they could fall over, they can hurt themselves, they need help under certain situations, maybe they need that someone bring them food, they feel isolated because they have lost a lot of their friends, or don’t get out very much… Ok, so they want to be seen, and maybe even looked at, but what they don’t want is to be spied upon or marked.

Bruce Sterling showing new futuristic materials
Bruce Sterling showing a 3D printed material

Continue reading ““You can only live in the future”: an Interview with Bruce Sterling”

Hardware Freedom Day: Barcelona 2015

The Hardware Freedom Day is a yearly worldwide event aimed to spread out the possibilities of free and open hardware. Every year, open hardware enthusiasts gather to share their projects and interests through activities such as workshops, talks, presentations and competitions.

The 2015 edition took place last Saturday 17th January, with an array of events around the world. At Barcelona, for the first time ever, the Hardware Freedom Day was celebrated with an event organized by Caliu and electronics.cat in the area of El Clot, a former industrial neighborhood, looking for its place in the new industrial revolution of which Barcelona takes part.

We spoke there with Rafael Carreras, one of the promoters of the event, and he told us that being, since many years ago, an organizer of the Software Freedom Day, this year he had decided to take the initiative to join Barcelona to the Hardware Freedom Day too. He looked satisfied and pretty surprised by the amount of public attending.

The event, held at the Escola del Clot, was divided in two main spaces, one for talks and presentations on topics like 3D printing, Internet of Things and the platform Sentilo; as the other one was dedicated to more practical activities like workshops of Open Source Hardware, 3D printing and Arduino.  Workshops were run by Jordi Binefa.

Xavier Pi at Hardware Freedom Day Barcelona
Xavier Pi presenting Sentilo, the open source sensor platform designed by Barcelona City Council

As Barcelona becomes a worldwide creative production center, this kind of events shows the relevant role that DIY and Open Source communities can play in the open new world underway.

Where Robot Cars Are Driving Us: Interview with Brad Templeton

During the recent Web Summit held in Dublin, Ireland, we were honored to speak with Internet pioneer Brad Templeton on topics like robot cars (self-driving cars), Internet of Things and on-line surveillance.

Canadian-born software architect Brad Templeton is active in the network community since late 70’s. He is considered to have been the first to suggest that Internet addresses should be in the form site “dot” top-level-domain. He also founded the first-ever dot-company back in 1989.

Currently, living in San Francisco, Templeton is a noted advocate of robot cars, having even advised Google on its driverless car project. This multifaceted entrepreneur is also a Board Member of the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a well-known non-profit organization defending civil liberties in the digital world, Director for the Singularity University, and Board Member of the nanotechnology think tank Foresight Institute.

He made two appearances at the Web Summit, the first one on Day 1 to talk to a crowded audience on the Machine Stage, and the second one on Day 2 in a round-table format meeting. After that we met for this interview.

Brad Templeton at Dublin Web Summit 2014
Brad Templeton at Dublin Web Summit 2014

P.N. Robocars are one of the most expected technologies nowadays. Can they, in its current state of development, provide solutions for the car industry of today ?

B.T. I don’t want to say that the cars are good today as something you can sell to people. Although, there are some people building products, what you call advanced cruise control, but you still have to pay attention, you can take your hands off the steering wheel but still you have to be watching, so that is just a way of relaxing. Some of these technologies sprung out of researches on this, or some of the robocars researches sprung out of researches on building a system called ADAS. The interesting thing happening is a push for cheaper sensor technology, lighter technology, radar technology. All these technologies are getting more people interested in working on manufacturing high-end cars cheaper, which gonna help every kind of car.

P.N. How come you got involved with robocars ?

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“The future will be ecosystemic”: An interview with Simone Cicero

After a brimming Open Hardware Summit, full of projects and ideas, we had the chance of talking with Simone Cicero, co-chair of the event and a sort of polymath of the New Economy: Blogger, Speaker, Digital Strategist, Event Designer, Facilitator, Dot Connector… Through his multiple activities and his blog Meedabyte, he analyzes the changes in society, economy and production in this new era of collaborative blossoming and disruptive technologies. This, together with his front-row activities as Connector at Ouishare, gives him a broad view of the advances that Open Culture and Sharing Economy, among other issues, are experiencing.

Simone Cicero at Innovation Week Rome 2014
Simone Cicero at Innovation Week Rome 2014

P.N. After Open Hardware Summit 2014, which are your conclusions of the event ?

S.C. My impression of the Summit is that it was a good start, but it is quite far from where I would like to be in terms of awareness and groundwork… That kind of event should be much more a community trying to lay out the world. I really think that we need to start to do more in terms of actionable knowledge and decisions, like a wiki, discussion groups, etc. –a real community, because there is no a real community engagement right now. And we are a big community, so we have to spread wider to discuss about real issues. What I see is companies flocking to this collaborating economy and open source, increasing blogging interest and so on, and it’s like the tipping point is finally arriving. This is reflecting that our community is growing exponentially. Finally, we are getting to the point that this must be changing as soon as possible, now the question is will it be possible to change everything in such a small amount of time …

P.N. But it is going really fast …

S.C. Yes, it is going fast, but also unfortunately that disaster where we are living is going pretty fast, probably faster, so when I think that we need to change everything in 15 years…

Continue reading ““The future will be ecosystemic”: An interview with Simone Cicero”

Additive creativity: Maker Faire Rome 2014

The Innovation Week Rome ended with the Maker Faire European Edition, a huge event where makers from all around the world met to showcase and share their innovative ideas and inventions with more than 90,000 people from all ages.

Showcases, exhibitions, workshops and talks in the field of robotics, 3D printing, drones, sensors, and many more, took place during 4 days at Rome’s Auditorium Parco della Musica.

Maker Faire Rome was promoted by Camera di Commercio di Roma and curated by Massimo Banzi and Riccardo Luna.

On this post we will focus on the Opening Conference that gathered an array of noted international speakers to talk about the future of the Third Industrial Revolution and Maker Movement.

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Young makers at work

I can’t let you do that, Dave

Science Fiction author and technology activist Cory Doctorow made one of the boldest speeches of the meeting.  Doing a strong call to make an active defense of liberties on the Internet, he depicted a chilling future if we don’t do something now about some issues: particularly, he addressed, privacy and freedom of expression. He talked about the interests of companies to limit liberties on the Internet, being done that for the ruling technocapitalism system it is not convenient that people can freely share their knowledges and discoveries –even they are already achieving to turn illegal the act of publishing certain informations.

Referencing Hal 9000’s quote of the film “2001: A Space Odyssey”, Doctorow mentioned the growing possibility of machines starting to decide what things we can communicate based in parameters predefined by companies.

Furthermore, he also remarked the importance of organizations like Open Rights Group to preserve liberties of individuals on the Internet, and finished saying that “The Internet is the nervous system of XXI century”, hence we shouldn’t underestimate the importance of these issues in order not to jeopardize the future of Humanity.

Cory Doctorow
Doctorow advocating for Internet liberties

Superhumans

Scientist Michael McAlpine from Princeton University presented his researches in the development of bionic humans. Some years ago, he developed a flexible material that produces energy when subjected to mechanical pressure. This can be applied to generate power from human motion, for instance portable electronics powered by walking. Nowadays, he is working on the creation of bionic organs through 3D printing, being the advancements so promising up to the point that McAlpine envision a future where being bionic will be something normal.

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Future Music Forum Barcelona

Any content business that is struggling with new digital models nowadays, shall take a look at music industry: they were the first ones to face the challenge, and now they are pioneers in finding innovative solutions. Knowing this, Future Music Forum has brought together a leading-edge clique of professionals, eager to explain their answers to the questions asked in such troubled times.

Lodged at the old Damm Factory, well-known in Barcelona as one of the more active music sponsors in the city, Future Music Forum has provided a superb stage for some of the biggest stars of the business behind the scenes and out of the traditional labels field.

In the hall of Damm's Factory at Barcelona: an unexpected way of joining beer and music
In the hall of the old Damm Factory at Barcelona: an unexpected way of joining beer and music.

One of the brightest talks of the event was Mark Mulligan‘s, co-founder and analyst at Midia Consulting, who emphasized how technology has an essential role to modify the relationship between society and music: from the birth of radio to Spotify today, reactions have been many and very different, but music has survived, enlarging its reach. Using Mulligan’s words: “Not fighting the technology is the best we can do”. In his speech filled with graphics and data, he settled the four main phases on digital music: first, piracy; second, download; third, streaming; and fourth, the rise of curated and listen services, which is the one where we are placed now. Asserting that there is still a long way to go through, for instance on the streaming path or the fans engagement, he pointed out that “artists still need to find their pop-corn”, as they haven’t found yet the alternative way of getting the expected revenues from their work. Continue reading “Future Music Forum Barcelona”

Interview with Neil Gershenfeld, head of MIT’s Center for Bits and Atoms

In despite of his guru’s aura as founder of the Center for Bits and Atoms at MIT and creator of the Fab Lab model, Neil Gershenfeld proved at Fab 10 in Barcelona that he enjoys being on everyday’s work and making things turn real. During the meeting you could see him everywhere: on stage introducing the speakers, with young volunteers guiding their work, solving technical issues with sound system people, struggling with computers to connect call conferences on time…

If by chance somebody there didn’t knew who he was, by his humble and zealous attitude perhaps they wouldn’t suspect that Neil Gershenfeld is the cornerstone of Fab Lab movement. With essential books as <<When things start to think>> or <<Fab, The Coming Revolution on your Desktop>>, and his magnificent work on the Center for Bits an Atoms, he builded a completely new model of understanding how to make things. In fact, it can be said that he has triggered a whole new way of understanding productive economy, with crucial consequences that we will see in the years to come.

Some days ago, President Obama hosted the first White House Maker Faire and there he discussed with Neil Gershenfeld about the digital fabrication implications now and in the future. In the midst of frantic Fab City Symposium, Gershenfeld was so kind of granting us some time to ask him some questions about his activity and thoughts. We were really keen to have the chance of talking with him and hearing his thoughts about the influence that Fab Lab movement is gaining day by day.

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