“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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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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Connected by default: Meet IoT (Innovation Week Rome)

From 27 sep to 5 oct, Rome hosted the Innovation Week, a place where leaders in innovation, technology experts, makers and many more met to share views on how the near future will be. Promoted by the Chamber of Commerce of Rome, and organized by the Asset Camera, in collaboration with Arduino and Make magazine, the Innovation Week took place in Auditorium Parco della Musica.

The Innovation Week featured many events, ranging from the huge Maker Faire European Edition to the Open Hardware Summit (here, our review of this event), as well as many other events covering an array of topics like social innovation, smart cities, Internet of Things, data society, wearables, creative start-ups, smart money, and so on.

Maker Faire cookies
Maker Faire cookies at Innovation Week bar

For those who are not familiar with the Internet of Things concept yet, briefly we can summarize it as the development of a wide network of interconnected everyday objects via the Internet. From traffic lights to fridges, lamps, and even your own body, everything could be linked to the web, sharing data and being commanded online. Considered as the “big next thing” by amateurs and specialists, Internet of Things (abridged, IoT) brings as many expectations as doubts about its impact on people’s lives.

Meet IoT was the event focusing on Internet of Things at the Innovation Week, showing how IoT developments can make our lives better, but also bearing in mind the challenges and even dangers this would mean. Following, our highlights.

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Fab 10 Barcelona – Symposium

The Fab City Symposium took place on Monday 7th July, as part of the Fab 10 Barcelona Conference. Throughout this one-day event, noted speakers shared their experiences and insights on a range of issues related to digital fabrication, focusing on the role that technology, policy and society have to achieve self-sufficient and productive cities. Circular economy was also an important issue that some speakers addressed. The event was kicked off by Antoni Vives, Deputy Major of Barcelona, and Tomas Diez, head of Fab Lab Barcelona.

We were eagerly looking forward to hearing Neil Gershenfeld, head of MIT’s Center for Bits and Atoms, and main leader of the Fab Lab movement. Of course, we weren’t disappointed: with his clear and condensed style, he explained the essential features of Fab Labs, their impact on society and economy now and in the future, and the roadmap of Fab Lab movement for the next years. Very aware of the transforming potential of these laboratories of fabrication, he emphasized their role as a tool to change the way we understand our relation with the day-to-day life and the objects around us. From democratization of fabrication tools to machines making machines, from programming of functional materials to the emergence of the personal fabricator, his speech guided us step by step by the road Fab Labs and Digital Fabrication will go through.

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