“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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“We are heading towards matter becoming software”: Interview with Vik Olliver

“Wealth without money” is one of the mottos in RepRap community. Conscious of the deep revolution that the creation of a self-replicating machine implies, they go beyond the technical issues and promote a new social philosophy based on openness, sharing and creativity. RepRap (abbreviation of replicating rapid prototyper) was born as a project with the clear goal of creating a 3D printer able to print its own components. Founded in 2005 by Adrian Bowyer, it was in September 2006 when a RepRap printed one of its components by the first time, by Vik Olliver. Next, Olliver built the first RepRap “child” –that is, the first completed self-replicated 3D printer in history.

Adrian Bowyer (right) and Vik Olliver (left) with the first self-replicated 3D printer
Adrian Bowyer (left) and Vik Olliver (right) with the first self-replicated 3D printer (First replication – CC BY-SA 3.0)

It was a huge step towards the Third Industrial Revolution. From then, RepRap community increased unstoppably, with around 15,000 registered users now. However, it is not possible to trace all existing RepRaps today, as they can develop by themselves… So when we had the chance of talking with Vik Olliver, we knew that we were talking with the “father” of a long-range movement. The funny thing of it is that he knows, too.

P.N. Even if you are one of the leaders of the RepRap movement, you always emphasize the great importance of community, and specially on the essential role of open source ideology. Do you consider open source a solid business project?

V.O.  Of course. Open source works because if you have two companies working on a project for you, it will be easier for everybody if they do it on an open source basis. It means that you can get more than one company to work on a project and share the benefits and share the experience, and there’s no worry that lawyers will descend upon anyone after the project is finished.

P.N. But on the other side copyright laws are being strengthened… Continue reading ““We are heading towards matter becoming software”: Interview with Vik Olliver”

“Future is written in our dreams”: Interview with Rodrigo Bautista (Forum for the Future)

Forum for The Future is a non-profit organization specialized in sustainable development. They work with companies, governments and other organizations to solve sustainability challenges. We spoke with UK-based industrial designer Rodrigo Bautista, member of the System Innovation team at Forum for the Future.

PN: Let’s talk about Forum for the Future

RB: We are an organization of around 100 people with offices in New York, London, Singapur, and many others. We help organizations and companies to be more sustainable. If they want to reduce their carbon footprint or improve their portfolio in terms of their products and services to be more sustainable, we have processes to help them. We could say we are like a think tank.

PN: But always focusing on sustainability, that is your speciality, isn’t it ?

RB: We have three big areas: Food, Energy and Sustainable Business. Regarding the Food area, we aim to change it, make it more efficient and reconnect producers with consumers. Nowadays our relationship with food is broken: we go to a supermarket and our relationship is packaged. Many children can’t even recognize fruits and vegetables. Concerning the Energy area, we address a lot of problems mainly related to the consume based in fossil fuels. We are interested in generating more circular economy models.

In Sustainable Business area we have rather an one-to-one approach. It is usually a long-term program,  to help companies by embedding sustainability in their internal processes. It is more like building capacities, it requires a lot of strategy.

We have some great tools to create future scenarios, this is also the reason of our name, Forum for the Future. For instance, Consumer Futures 2020 or Fashion Future 2025. One year ago we published the Informal City Dialogues, it was a project developed in six cities of the South hemisphere: Accra, Bangkok, Chennai, Lima, Manila, and Nairobi. We generated scenarios of how the informal economy could be by 2040.

PN: Explain to us more about how these future scenarios work…

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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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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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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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Fab 10 Barcelona – Sunday, 6th July

Sunday opened with the “3D Printing” panel talk featuring Vik Olliver and Roger Uceda from RepRap, Joan Ravantós from Stalactite 3D, Harma Woldhuis from Ultimaker, Sénamé Koffi from Woelab, and William Hoyle (moderator) from Ethical Filament Foundation.

RepRap guys explained the origin and evolution of their project, as well as the revolutionary concept lying behind it; a free 3D desktop printer that can print replicas of itself.  Showing a firm support to openness (“evolution needs open source” they said), and highlighting the importance of the community for the success of an open source project, their talk was one of the strongest points of the day. They also commented on RepRapBcn, a Polytechnic University of Catalonia (UPC) project aimed to spread the use of RepRap technology in Europe. We spoke to Vik Olliver, core member of RepRap project. We will publish his interview soon.

Joan Ravantós from Barcelona-based start-up Stalactite 3D introduced us their 3D printer Stalactite 102, a high definition desktop resin printer with innovative technology and design looking pretty impressive. They just concluded a successful fundraising campaign on Indiegogo. Meanwhile, Harma Woldhuis from Dutch 3D printers fabricant Ultimaker told us the story of the company. Former participants of RepRap project, their founders launched this company in 2011, having had to go through a hard road to positionate it as one of the most successful open source companies within the Maker industry.

Finally, Sénamé Koffi from Woelab, a community of African makers and technology incubator center located in the small African nation of Togo, presented Wafate, the first 3D printer made of recycled electronic waste. By using these components, Woelab gives a solution to the problem of waste disposal while making 3D printing technology more affordable. This inspiring project deserved the first prize of Global Fab Awards this year.

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