“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

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Making Arduino: Interview with David Cuartielles

Is it possible to sense if an specific technological advance was made with genuine good faith? Talking with the founders of Arduino, you always have this honest impression. Some time ago we interviewed Massimo Banzi at Barcelona (you can read it here) and few months later we had the serendipitous chance of talking with David Cuartielles, co-creator of Arduino, as well as Electronics Laboratory Director at Malmö University and an active promoter of open hardware and education through technology.

Arduino is becoming something like a household name in electronics, being used widely by the Maker movement. For those who are not familiarized with it yet, let’s summarize saying that Arduino is an open source board of micro-controllers which has revolutionized the way of making interactive objects: easier, cheaper and backed on the community cooperation. A new way of understanding electronics, interactivity and our relationship with the world around us . As put in <<Arduino: The documentary>>: “It’s kind of like I’m taking one step up a ladder and helping other people go further up the ladder”. Talking with David Cuartielles in the Web Summit at Dublin, we better understood why Arduino’s community is unstoppably climbing the ladder of technological evolution.

P.N. Every day manufacturers are launching new “compatible with Arduino” stuff. It seems that it could happen in the future that everybody will say “an arduino” for any electronics board, as it is becoming like a generic…

D.C. Yes, something like this is happening and I must say that it is a honor to me, as we are changing the way people understands the creation of hardware and software.

David Cuartielles at Dublin Web Summit 2014
David Cuartielles at Dublin Web Summit 2014

P.N. How did you start working together in the Arduino project?

D.C. It’s a funny story. I started studying electronic engineering and working in the University, and I realized that even being a passionate of electronics in that moment I didn’t really liked the practice of it. I was 24 then. So I took the chance offered by the School of Arts and Communication of Malmö University, On January 1rst 2001 I took my car, all my things, and I drove through the bridge to Malmö, Sweden. In the University I gave Java lessons to Industrial Design and Interactive Design students: people who had no former education on technology, meaning that I was teaching to people who didn’t knew what an algorithm is, or discrete mathematics, or mathematic thinking at all. It wasn’t easy, I had to invent a full series of methods. Now it seems normal because many people is working on this, but back in the year 2001 there was nobody.

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Dublin Web Summit 2014 Day 1: Machine stage

Technology conference Web Summit was held in Dublin from 4th to 6th November, an impressively huge and very well organized tech event, where around 20,000 attendees from more than 100 countries met. During three intense days, we found gathered a great amount of insightful speakers sharing their ideas, enthusiastic startups willing to met investors, as well as countless workshops, roundtables, network sessions, presentation pitches, demos, stands, and also night parties.

Actually, the event featured several summits happening at the same time: Builders, Enterprise, Food, Machine, Marketing, Music, Sport, amongst others. The first day, we mainly attended the Machine Summit, where a line-up of noted speakers discussed about topics like the Internet of Things, smart cities, wearables, robotics, 3D printing and human-machine interaction.

Web Summit
The Web Summit beehive

From Hollywood to the real world

In the morning, one of the first speakers that impressed us was the interface designer John Underkoffler, pretty widely known for his work as science advisor on SF films like “Iron Man” and “Minority Report”. This MIT Media Lab alumni gave us a visionary glimpse of where human-machine interaction is heading. It looks like definitely you can forget your mouse, keyboard and other devices as 3D space UI is becoming the emerging trendOblong Industries, the company where Underkoffler serves as a CEO, has been working since more than a decade to make real the cool gesture-based data interface technology featured in the film “Minority Report”, and they are almost there with G-Speak, an spacial operating environment, whose first commercial application is the conference room solution Mezzanine.

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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.

IMG_20141003_125328
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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Interview with Massimo Banzi: cofounder of Arduino

The year 2005 was full of big shocks: Hurricane Katrina, Indonesia big blackout, Avian Flu… and amongst all this, it was born a big invention, one with potential enough to solve many shocks in the future: Arduino. It was born in Ivrea, Italy, originally as a tool for students who needed cheaper hardware for their electronic projects. But there it was the seed of the next revolution: Open Hardware. The spread of Arduino has been immensely broad, enabling people throughout the world to develop a vast number of inventions which wouldn’t have the chance of existing without this “magic board”. In 2005, it was not hard to imagine free software, but to envision open hardware you needed to be really a visionary.

And the visionary was Massimo Banzi, cofounder of the Arduino project, who conceived an open-source platform to make electronics universally available and, most of all, to create a community strongly engaged with this vision. As an icon of open- source and Maker movements, we felt privileged to have the chance of talking with him during Fab 10 Barcelona and asking him for some ins and outs of Arduino wave.

P.N. When you started with Arduino, did you imagine it would grow as much as it has grown ?

M.B. No, no, no. It started off as a tool for my students, to teach my students. They are Design students, so they are very clever, very intelligent. They design the products that we use everyday, products based in technology, in electronics. I needed something that it would allow them to learn about electronics very quickly, so they could actually make, you know, imagine the products of the future. We made it for them. And then, obviously, afterwards it became useful for other people, artists, musicians, and makers in general, and then kids. So there were a lot of different groups of people that found the system that we started, it was useful enough and worked.

Massimo Banzi at Fab 10 Barcelona
Massimo Banzi at Fab 10 Barcelona

P.N. So you gave the tool and people put the ideas, was it something like that?

M.B. Yeah. The tool was designed for a specific group of people, and then it turned out to be useful for many people. I think this is important, when you design something for a group of people, don’t try to invent something for everybody, because if you try to create something for everybody, actually nobody likes it. When you try to design something for a specific group of people. Then other groups of people could say OK, this is interesting and useful…

P.N. We can not please everybody.

M.B. No, no. I think you should design things for specific types of person, and then if it gets more universal, that’s great.

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Sputniko! interview: “I just can’t stop crossing borders”

Sputniko! is an artistic name based both on technology (Sputnik) and surprise (o!): and that is in some way a good definition for her work too, mixing design, technology, art and many other disciplines to cause our amazed surprise and constant delight. Hiromi Izaki, real name of Sputniko!, mathematician by career and artist by profession, seduced us with the softness of her manners and the strength of her ideas during our conversation at Sónar +D Barcelona. An Assistant Professor at renowned MIT Media Lab, while keeping her allure of “Woman of the Year 2013” by Vogue Japan Magazine, she shared with us her thoughts about technology, design, art, pop culture, and society in the world to come.

P.N. You are constantly mixing different areas from video to music to technology: how do you like to define your creations and installations? Is that wide mixing of techniques something deliberate to enhance your message, or just a way to feel comfortable to develop your work?

S. If I need to explain what I do and why I work with so many media, also working with many different genres of people, I think that artist would be a very convenient word that covers everything for me. I guess the reason why I work in so many different formats is that I have always been a hybrid, I grew up mixing techniques. I like just working with different ideas and genres because it give me an inspiration. I just can’t stop crossing borders, I just like it.

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RE.WORK Berlin 2014 – Day Two

RE.WORK Technology Summit was held during two days in Umweltforum (Environmental Forum). This church venue, situated near Berlin Alexanderpatz, is over a hundred years old and has been renovated with high-spec environmental technology.

Day Two opened with the Start-Up Stage. From the six participating start-up companies, all of them with interesting proposals, we highlighted the Berlin-based start-up LUUV, who presented a “bits and atoms” project looking very promising. They are aimed to produce and market the first 3D-Printed plug & play camera stabilizer for smart phones and action cameras, that allows to everybody to shoot steady footage at any time. Now, they are in a prototype stage and “looking for hardware-loving investors”.

Following the Start-Up Stage, Béatrice Marquez-Garrido presented us Future and Emerging Technologies (FET), an EU-backed funding programme whose mission is discovering new technologies with an emphasis on inter-disciplinary, collaborative and high-risk projects. During her brief presentation, she showed some innovative projects where FET is working on as the computer-controlled brain stimulation technology HIVE and the new generation of neuroprostheses Brain Bow. A call is open to submit novel ideas for radical new technologies.

“Meet the New Makers” session gathered to three noted speakers: Ronen Kadushin, Peter Troxler and Sebastien Bourdeauducq, discussing about topics as Open Design, Maker movement and Open Source. 

Starting this session, the Israeli, Berlin-based industrial designer Ronen Kadushin enthusiastically talked about Open Design, to which he defined as design behaving as software. He also regarded Open Design as an opportunity for industrial design “to join to the network” and be part of “the cutting-edge society”.

Ronen Kadushin comparing designers and makers at RE.WORK
Ronen Kadushin comparing designers and makers at RE.WORK Berlin 2014

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