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The End of Cyberspace

Maybe I shouldn’t have worried so much about how my use of Twitter could be more meaningful, in light of this:

corey menscher built the ‘kickbee’ while attending the itp program at new york university this fall. the device is designed to record kicking movements from a pregnant woman’s baby. once a kicking is sensed, the device will send a signal to its onboard electronics, which will in turn transmit the signal to a computer via bluetooth. the computer then logs the information on the online social messaging service twitter. this send a message out to followers letting them all know that the baby kicked.

Of course, you might argue that a kick is a lot more meaningful than anything I could post.

Menscher elaborates:

As an expectant father, I am once-removed from the physical knowledge my wife has of our baby and its development. With the Kickbee, I wanted to create a device that would give me a chance to be aware of our baby’s movements. It can also aid in tracking the frequency of fetal movements, which is an important way to monitor the health of the developing child.

The Kickbee is a wearable device made of a stretchable band and embedded electronics and sensors. Piezo sensors are attached directly to the band, and transmit small but detectable voltages when triggered by movement underneath. An Arduino Mini microcontroller transmits the signals to an accompanying Java application wirelessly via Bluetooth. (a SparkFun BlueSMIRF v2 module that communicates serially with a Macbook Pro)

The Java application receives the sensor values and analyzes them. When a kick event is detected, a Twitter message is posted via the Twitter API. I chose to use Twitter because it is easy to initiate an SMS message to any mobile phone when a kick is detected. It also acts as a data log that can be accessed programmatically for visualization or archiving.

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The End of Cyberspace

Via ReadWriteWeb, the b.a.n.g. lab at UCSD has created the Transborder Immigration Tool, an app designed to help illegal aliens map safe routes to enter the United States. As RWW explains,

According to the Transborder Immigration Tool website, the application uses Spatial Data Systems and GPS «for simulation, surveillance, resource allocation, management of cooperative networks and pre-movement pattern modeling (such as the Virtual Hiker Algorithm) an algorithm that maps out a potential or suggested trail for real a hiker/or hikers to follow.» In addition to allowing would-be illegal immigrants quick and simple access to map information, the application’s creators hope it will «add an intelligent agent algorithm that would parse out the best routes and trails on that day and hour for immigrants to cross this vertiginous landscape as safely as possible.»

On startup, the app finds GPS satellites. Once the user begins moving, the app acts as a compass that shows the direction the user is heading and also shows the direction a user must travel to reach a «safety site.»

Project leader Ricardo Dominguez is interviewed here. As he explains, the Tool consists of a

Motorola i455 cell phone, which is under $30, available even cheaper on eBay, and includes a free GPS applet. We were able to crack it and create a simple compasslike navigation system. We were also able to add other information, like where to find water left by the Border Angels, where to find Quaker help centers that will wrap your feet, how far you are from the highway—things to make the application really benefit individuals who are crossing the border.

At the same time, it’s awfully academic, as this explanation by one of the project members reminds us:

A poetic gesture from its inception, the Transborder Immigrant Tool functions, via the aspirations of such a dislocative medium, as dislocative media, seeking to realize the possibilities of G.P.S. as both a «global positioning system» and, what, in another context, Laura Borràs Castanyer and Juan B. Gutiérrez have termed, a «global poetic system.»

Indeed, the global poetic system isn’t just a clever metaphor:

The Transborder Immigrant Tool includes poems for psychic consultation, spoken words of encouragement and welcome, which I am writing and co-designing in the mindset of Audre Lorde’s pronouncement that «poetry is not a luxury.»… Postscriptually, Derrida’s vision of hospitality, indexed as scrolling text in «Dubliners,» speaks to the Transborder Immigrant Tool’s overarching commitment to global citizenship. For, the excerpt, itself infused with the «transversal logic» of the poetic, acts as one of the Transborder Immigrant Tool’s internal compasses, clarifying the ways and means by which I and my collaborators approach this project as ethically inflected, as transcending the local of (bi-)national politics, of borders and their policing.

Naturally, the project has inspired some pretty passionate responses.

[To the tune of Eric Clapton, «Border Song,» from the album Two Rooms: Celebrating The Songs Of Elton John & Bernie Taupin (I give it 1 stars).]

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How will spimes help save the world? Bruce Sterling lays out a scenario in Shaping Things. Essentially, it’s the first book in which metadata is a superhero.

The fact that objects are divorced from information about them encourages us to focus on and take responsibility for only a tiny part of any object’s life, and makes it far harder to perceive the consequences of our encouraging the creation of that object, our consumption of it, or our disposal.

Consider a bottle of wine (see chap. 9). Today, our interactions with it are reduced to consulting the price tag, drinking the wine, then throwing away the bottle. But

there must be a mountain of externalities, currently obscured and invisible to me, that involved this object. That growing and fermenting of grapes… topsoil loss, chemical fertilizer, insecticide sprays, the fuels involved in heating and distilling all that liquid…. [Were the workers] suntanned Italian peasantry in the full healthful glow of EU agricultural regulations… [or] illegal African or Abanian immigrants? If that’s the case, then I’ve been invegled into oppressing these people under a veil of my own ignorance…. Why do I collaborate with someone who forces me, through obscurantism, to do that against my will?…

This bottle sure came a long way. How’d it get here to me? How much carbon dioxide got spewed into the planet’s air ino order to to ship this object into my hands?…

I’m not supposed to worry my head about all of that, but you know something? I know I am paying for it somehow….

What goes around, comes around. If I ignore distant consequences merely because they seem distant, then distant people will similarly inflict their consequences on me. That’s a beggar-your-neighbor situation, a race to the bottom.

But suppose I show them how the object came to be, and I link that information to the object. That would be «transparent production.»

So a spime is a moral entanglement with a built-in decoder ring. It’s no less a savior or destroyer of worlds than any manufactured object that came before; but by making it laying bare its composition, history, and real costs, you can make better decisions about whether buying and using it will be good for you— by which you mean, good for you, the world, and the future.

Right now, if these externalities are dealt with at all, they’re handled by markets or governments: the price might include a ltitle extra for better labor practices (or it might not), and our taxes cover the costs of disposal and environmental cleanup (or they might not). Our capacity to deal with them independently is pretty limited: knowledge about what companies are socially or environmentally responsible is separated from the point of sale, while detailed information about the composition and history of things is often simply unavailable. Today, how do you know you’re making the consumption choice you’d make if you were fully informed? You don’t.

This bottle arrived in my possession seemingly stripped of consequences, but those consequences exist…. My relationship to this bottle of wine is a parable of my human relationship to all objects….

My own single-handed effort is entirely unequal to that challenge of discovering all those relationships]. I can’t simply know enough… but I can’t Wrangle all the world’s technosocial issues all the time.

It follows this much of this activity should be done for me by other people.

Who would do that? «Designers.»

Just as John Markoff argued that the idea of personal computing was invented before the personal computer itself— that the PC embodied an already-extant notion of how people and computers should relate— so too does Sterling suggest that fifty years from now, we’ll see concepts like the triple bottom line, environmentally aware consumption, and social investing as anticipating the things we’d be able to do, easily and with greater consequence, with spimes.

Technorati Tags: books, Bruce Sterling, cyberspace, design, end of cyberspace, pervasive computing, physical, Shaping Things, sustainability, ubicomp

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The concept of the spime is central to Shaping Things. Most briefly put, a spime is a thing, plus a lot of information about that things: its design, manufacture, shipping history, provenance, use, and ultimate death. A spime is «a set of relationships first and always, and an object now and then.» (77) The information about the spime is more important, and more valuable, than the spime itself.

We don’t have spimes today, but we have relationships with things that give a hint of what living with spimes would be like. Think of a book or CD that you love. Your relationship with it began in somewhere: maybe you found that book on a rainy day in a musty little bookstore in Cambridge when you were a bright-eyed, naive exchange student, or the CD in a basement music store in the East Village a few shell-shocked months after 9/11. You’ve developed a relationship with that artifact— the cover is scratched, the pages are underlined and marked with post-its and coffee stains— and you’ve taken it with you on trips to Rome, Kwangju, Curitiba, and Ithaca. Right now, that history is only recorded in the material record of the object itself, or maybe in your blog. Now imagine every object you own having a history like that. Imagine that that history is recorded in a manner that makes it searchable. And imagine that every experience everyone has with other copies of their spimes is likewise recordable and retrievable.

So a spime is at once a faint expression of an ideal design, a throwaway expression in atoms of the real object living in the Platonic plane of bits, and it’s a unique object.

Why’s this matter? Because spimes can help save the world.

Technorati Tags: Bruce Sterling, cyberspace, end of cyberspace, environment, pervasive computing, physical, reading, RFID, Shaping Things, ubicomp

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  • This paper provides a systematized overview of patterns in the scenario planning literature published in the last decades. Recently, scenario planning has enjoyed a revival, apparent in the ‘boom’ in published research on the matter. Consequently, a major issue that needs to be addressed is how to organize the literature along precise lines.
  • «This paper attempts to open up a new line of enquiry into the dysfunctions of creativity within strategic processes. Generally, the impact and results of introducing creativity (and innovation) into organisational life are perceived to be wholesome and beneficial. But recent research in the area of organisational psychology has documented a ‘dark’ side to its introduction e.g., low employee morale, stress, theft, sabotage, destructive conflict. Learning from this work and shifting the domain to strategic management, this paper focuses on scenario planning-a strategy process widely regarded by participants and facilitators as creative and innovative in structure, content and output.»
  • Thinking and planning for the future is critical in a competitive business world. Scenarios are a common technique for investigating the future, but can be time-consuming and challenging to develop, particularly when more than a single organisation is involved. An approach is presented here which shifts the focus of scenario building from the company level to the sector level, whereby a range of organisations engage collectively on a topic of mutual importance. A rapid technique was developed, with simple scenarios being constructed in 2 to 4 hours…. [The] process was successful in engaging participants in thinking about and discussing the future, appreciating the interconnectivities of the related issues, and understanding the collective implications of their potential decisions, as well as facilitating the socialisation of participant thinking and the construction of collective futures.
  • Allegedly, an important function of scenario development is the exploration of potential discontinuity. However, there are indications that the approach does not deliver on its promises. This article investigates how discontinuity is addressed in futures literature, particularly those sources that focus on cenarios, and how the concept is used in scenario practice. A literature review reveals a multitude of terms, including wild cards and surprises, from which characteristics of discontinuity in the context of foresight can be derived. Insights from the review help investigate how discontinuity is addressed in contemporary scenario development. The investigation described in this article exposes a rather ambiguous approach to discontinuity in current scenario practice. The article closes with questions regarding scenario method where the investigation of potential discontinuity is concerned.
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The End of Cyberspace

How will spimes help save the world? Bruce Sterling lays out a scenario in Shaping Things. Essentially, it’s the first book in which metadata is a superhero.

The fact that objects are divorced from information about them encourages us to focus on and take responsibility for only a tiny part of any object’s life, and makes it far harder to perceive the consequences of our encouraging the creation of that object, our consumption of it, or our disposal.

Consider a bottle of wine (see chap. 9). Today, our interactions with it are reduced to consulting the price tag, drinking the wine, then throwing away the bottle. But

there must be a mountain of externalities, currently obscured and invisible to me, that involved this object. That growing and fermenting of grapes… topsoil loss, chemical fertilizer, insecticide sprays, the fuels involved in heating and distilling all that liquid…. [Were the workers] suntanned Italian peasantry in the full healthful glow of EU agricultural regulations… [or] illegal African or Abanian immigrants? If that’s the case, then I’ve been invegled into oppressing these people under a veil of my own ignorance…. Why do I collaborate with someone who forces me, through obscurantism, to do that against my will?…

This bottle sure came a long way. How’d it get here to me? How much carbon dioxide got spewed into the planet’s air ino order to to ship this object into my hands?…

I’m not supposed to worry my head about all of that, but you know something? I know I am paying for it somehow….

What goes around, comes around. If I ignore distant consequences merely because they seem distant, then distant people will similarly inflict their consequences on me. That’s a beggar-your-neighbor situation, a race to the bottom.

But suppose I show them how the object came to be, and I link that information to the object. That would be «transparent production.»

So a spime is a moral entanglement with a built-in decoder ring. It’s no less a savior or destroyer of worlds than any manufactured object that came before; but by making it laying bare its composition, history, and real costs, you can make better decisions about whether buying and using it will be good for you— by which you mean, good for you, the world, and the future.

Right now, if these externalities are dealt with at all, they’re handled by markets or governments: the price might include a ltitle extra for better labor practices (or it might not), and our taxes cover the costs of disposal and environmental cleanup (or they might not). Our capacity to deal with them independently is pretty limited: knowledge about what companies are socially or environmentally responsible is separated from the point of sale, while detailed information about the composition and history of things is often simply unavailable. Today, how do you know you’re making the consumption choice you’d make if you were fully informed? You don’t.

This bottle arrived in my possession seemingly stripped of consequences, but those consequences exist…. My relationship to this bottle of wine is a parable of my human relationship to all objects….

My own single-handed effort is entirely unequal to that challenge of discovering all those relationships]. I can’t simply know enough… but I can’t Wrangle all the world’s technosocial issues all the time.

It follows this much of this activity should be done for me by other people.

Who would do that? «Designers.»

Just as John Markoff argued that the idea of personal computing was invented before the personal computer itself— that the PC embodied an already-extant notion of how people and computers should relate— so too does Sterling suggest that fifty years from now, we’ll see concepts like the triple bottom line, environmentally aware consumption, and social investing as anticipating the things we’d be able to do, easily and with greater consequence, with spimes.

Technorati Tags: books, Bruce Sterling, cyberspace, design, end of cyberspace, pervasive computing, physical, Shaping Things, sustainability, ubicomp

Рубрики
Без рубрики

The End of Cyberspace

The concept of the spime is central to Shaping Things. Most briefly put, a spime is a thing, plus a lot of information about that things: its design, manufacture, shipping history, provenance, use, and ultimate death. A spime is «a set of relationships first and always, and an object now and then.» (77) The information about the spime is more important, and more valuable, than the spime itself.

We don’t have spimes today, but we have relationships with things that give a hint of what living with spimes would be like. Think of a book or CD that you love. Your relationship with it began in somewhere: maybe you found that book on a rainy day in a musty little bookstore in Cambridge when you were a bright-eyed, naive exchange student, or the CD in a basement music store in the East Village a few shell-shocked months after 9/11. You’ve developed a relationship with that artifact— the cover is scratched, the pages are underlined and marked with post-its and coffee stains— and you’ve taken it with you on trips to Rome, Kwangju, Curitiba, and Ithaca. Right now, that history is only recorded in the material record of the object itself, or maybe in your blog. Now imagine every object you own having a history like that. Imagine that that history is recorded in a manner that makes it searchable. And imagine that every experience everyone has with other copies of their spimes is likewise recordable and retrievable.

So a spime is at once a faint expression of an ideal design, a throwaway expression in atoms of the real object living in the Platonic plane of bits, and it’s a unique object.

Why’s this matter? Because spimes can help save the world.

Technorati Tags: Bruce Sterling, cyberspace, end of cyberspace, environment, pervasive computing, physical, reading, RFID, Shaping Things, ubicomp

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The End of Cyberspace

In laying out his vision of the future in Shaping Things, Bruce Sterling employs two concepts that require a little decoding: metahistory and synchronic society.

Every civilization has a metahistory, a kind of internal cultural logic. One great flaw is that metahistories tend of see themselves as permanent; a contingent metahistory that allowed for the possibility of its own end— and was more thoughtful about how to avoid that end— would work better.

Our own current metahistory is damaging in its short-sigtedness and have yielded «slow crises cheerfully generated by people rationally pursuing their short-term interests.» (41) As Sterling puts it,

The 20th century’s industrial infrastructure has run out of time. It can’t go on; it’s antiquated, dangerous and not sustainable. it’s based on a finite amount of ice in our ice caps, of air in our atmosphere, of free room for highways and transmission lines, of room in the dumps, and of combustible filth underground. This is a gathering crisis gloomily manifesting itself int he realm of bad weather and resource warfare. It is the legacy we received from world’shaping industrial titans such as Thomas Edison, and Henry Ford, and John D. Rockefeller— basically, the three 20th century guys who guys us into the Greenhouse Effect. (131)

Its no use starting from the top by ideologically re-educating the consumer to become some bizarre kind of rigid, hairshirt Green…. The only sane way out of a technosociety is through it, in to a newer one that knows everything the older one knew…. That means revolutionizing the interplay of human and object. It means bringing more attention and analysis to bear on objects than they have undergone. It also means engaging with the human body and our affordances. (131-132)

The fact that we can insulate ourselves from the histories and consequences of our decisions, and that markets can assist us in that process (by reducing our relationships to things to price, and treating everything from the social consequences of abusive labor practices to the environmental costs of disposal of packaging as an «externality» that neither you nor the manufacturer has to think about), means that we can live in a state of blissful, deadly innocence.

Ironically, in the artifact era, when most humans grew their own food and made their own things— or were related to those who did— we knew a lot more about where stuff came from, and the consequences of making things poorly (of using unsustainable farming practices or building a shoddy furnace); but there were also few enough of us so that anything we did was likely to have very little impact on the world.

Our ability to change the world, intentionally or unintentionally, has far outstripped our ability to make sense of those changes. (Will history regard the internal combustion engine, and not nuclear weapons, as the greatest technological terror of the 20th century?)

To deal with this, «[w]e need a designed metahistory,» (42) and Sterling thinks it will

combine the computational power of an INFORMATION SOCIETY with the stark interventionist need for a SUSTAINABLE SOCIETY. The one is happening anyway; the other has to happen. (42)

It would be a synchronic society. Such a society

  • Has a temporalist perspective: it seeks to generate more time and greater opportunity, both at the micro-scale, and the level of civilizations. (To this society, burning fossil fuels is the height of folly.)
  • Sees sustainability as a process, not a fixed state;
  • Seeks the knowledge to deal with the inevitable unknowns;
  • Uses rapid prototyping-like methods to generate potentially vast inventories of solutions to copy and failures to avoid;
  • Treats objects as expressions of and generators of information, interesting not just for their obvious physical properties.

If we design that metahistory to exploit the power of spimes, which are «information melded with sustainability,» (43) we can create a dynamic by which we can preserve and learn from our history, thus giving us the chance to evolve our way out of the current mess. Spimes are especially important because they exist at:

the intersection of two vectors of technosocial development. They have the capacity to change the human relationship of time and material processes, by making those processors blatant and generalization. Every spime is a little metahistorical generator.

History is this technoculture’s primary source of wealth. As it transits through time, due to the principles of its organization, it will increase in knowledge, capability, wealth, and power.

But wait, there’s more….

Technorati Tags: Bruce Sterling, design, end of cyberspace, environment, physical, Shaping Things, sustainability, ubicomp

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  • The Brain Observatory, is dedicated to the study of the architecture in the human brain. We have optimized multiple complementary imaging modalities, such as Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) and computer-controlled microscopy, to illustrate the detailed structural design of the brain and to understand how cognitive systems are perturbed by neurological disease.»
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  • «[T]he QB50 constellation was organized under the management of Jean Muylaert, who is Director of VKI; previously, he was the head of Aerothermodynamics Department in ESTEC and involved with the development of the EXPERT (European Experimental Reentry Testbed) payload to be tested in mid-2010 with a Russian Volna rocket. The constellation of 50 Double Cubesats, sequentially deployed by a single launch (with the Russian Shtil 2.1 rocket, based upon the Volna technology) is to put around the Earth a network for multi-point, in-situ, long-duration measurements in the lower thermosphere, between 90 and 320 km. This environment used for atmospheric re-entry operations is not very well known because of its variability under the influence of “space weather” changes (due to the activity of the Sun).»
  • «The lower thermosphere (90-320 km) is the least explored layer of the atmosphere. Atmospheric Explorers were flown in the past in highly elliptical orbits (typically: 200 km perigee, 3000 km apogee); they carried experiments for in-situ measurements but the time spent in the region of interest below 320 km was only a few tens of minutes. Nowadays, sounding rocket flights provide the only in-situ measurements.»
  • «The kilometre-high skyscraper, the underwater hotel, the cloud on stilts … Steve Rose mourns the eye-popping erections that should never have been commissioned.» Who could have guessed that some of this would turn out to be speculative vanity projects with shaky financing? Weren’t the business cases for an underwater hotel and city with its own Death Star pretty ironclad?
  • «Could CubeSats be used to demonstrate newly discovered non-contact assembly principles that might be used to build large equipment and satellites in space?»
  • «SwissCube is the first satellite entirely built in Switzerland…. Due to its size and available power (less than a few Watt are generated by the solar panels), SwissCube can of course not compete with the capabilities of much larger satellites. However, it carries most of the sub-systems (e.g. structure, on-board computer, communication, attitude control, antennas) that exist on large satellites and allowed students to build a complex engineering system.» Insert your own Swiss Army Knife in space joke here.
  • Set of 2 scenarios written by Siemans in 2004. Focused geographically on Europe, but the scenarios cover many aspects of life in great detail — unfortunately, not warfare. It’s a beast of a document.