A Digital Tomorrow [Design Fiction]

Posted by on September 18th, 2012

From Warren Ellis’ Vice column, what real sf looks like now:

The film, A Digital Tomorrow, produced by Nicolas Nova of the Near Future Laboratory and colleagues at the Media Design Program in Pasadena, was a design fiction.

A design fiction is a short video, usually issued by a practise specialising in user interaction, created to illustrate possible futures in the social technology space. Literally, a fiction about design. This is where science fiction lives now.


It’s easy to believe science fiction’s dead. It’s hard to find in the bookstores, the cinemas peddle fairytale crap dressed up as SF and TV’s record is spotty at best. But it turns out it’s alive, and being made in the offices of people who actually build the near future for a living. Which, like the best science fiction, is something you wouldn’t necessarily have predicted.

IKEA infected with ‘Elephantiasis virus’ (design fiction or news leaked from the future?)

Posted by on February 10th, 2012

“From an unknown location, I break into IKEA’s
computer server. In this nerve centre, the CAD files for
every IKEA product are stored and are downloaded
worldwide. By infecting the CAD files with the
‘Elephantiasis virus’ I have just designed, I can hack the
entire range of products. The virus causes random
deformities, like lumps, cracks and humps, which only
show up when the customer prints his product at home
with his 3D printer.”

The MERRICK originated during a fantasy about the
development described above. The MERRICK is a digital
file infected with the human ‘Elephantiasis virus’ and then converted into tangible products using a 3D printer. Every lamp that is printed will therefore be different

Earth 2.0: Initialization

Posted by on October 9th, 2011

EARTH 2.0™ – Re-establishing a harmonious relationship between humanity and nature, using art, science and digital creativity.

Despite their need to trademark the phrase Earth 2.0, and the heavy post-production, the content in the following videos is spot-on. To soften the blows a bit further, I’ve added some matching quotes from my own unfinished writings on these subjects.

What our cities need today to survive in the midst of climate change and increasingly heavy weather is Aikido Infrastructure.

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Any sufficiently advanced engineering is indistinguishable from nature.

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Song of the Machine

Posted by on April 23rd, 2011

Song of the Machine is my favourite kind of design fiction, combining multiple forms of extrapolation from the present into the future.

Unlike the implants and electrodes used to achieve bionic vision, this science modifies the human body genetically from within. First, a virus is used to infect the degenerate eye with a light-sensitive protein, altering the biological capabilities of the subject. Then, the new biological capabilities are augmented with wearable (opto)electronics, which, by mimicking the eye’s neural song, establish a direct optical link to the brain. It’s as if the virus gives the body ears to hear the song of the machine, allowing it to sing the world into being.

So we’ve got advances in genetic engineering combined with electronic ones to overcome a biological disability through continuing man’s progress, it’s ongoing co-evolution with the tools he creates. Except this marks a Rubicon Moment, the crossing of a threshold into a merger between man and his technology and the result is something far more, a step toward the posthuman.

Get used to this. Better living through upgrades.

For more details see this article in the Guardian by the consultant to this project, Dr Patrick Degenaar, optogenetics researcher at Newcastle University and leader of the OptoNeuro project.

Ericsson’s vision of the future-present smart home

Posted by on April 8th, 2011
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Of course, in the Philip K. Dick version of this scenario the devices would probably conspire against him.

via @bruces

In the year 02037…

Posted by on March 27th, 2011

Via Stuart “Futuryst” Candy we learn of MIT’s Future Freight Flows; four attempts to show just what the year 02037 might look like, from the POV of a person watching various iterations of a news program itself current to that period.  (Stuart uses the Long Now’s 10,000 year clock calendar.)

Of the four, this one seems closest to the mark:

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How close? Well in my view it’s good, apart from these elements of it’s depiction:

  • Firstly, and mostly obviously, Nuclear Power. An increasing problem in extrapolating from the present in these rapidly changing times, something can happen just next week that invalidates the prediction you made today. This is a perfect case of that. Except for maybe state-controlled China (and we’ll see how long that situation itself lasts), that push we’ve been seeing to “re-brand” nuclear power as being ‘Green’ is over. No matter how hard they green-wash it, the world’s just got a deservedly bad case of the NIMBY’s for nuclear reactors. My prediction: reduced energy demands thanks to efficiency gains, coupled with a distributed, renewable energy driven, grid.
  • Hyperlocal manufacturing thanks to 3D Printing tech? Hell yes! But… buying designs as DRM’ed products, controlled via IP law? Well, maybe for the new global elite it might be the chic thing, but for the rest..? No. Far more likely: downloading open-source designs from sites like thingiverse for everything from fashion and furniture to food to medicine, as the technology improves.
  • Finally the year itself: 02037. 02017, more likely. It’s been traditional to project radical changes as being far away, over the horizon of the present. So this imagining of a newish world, a fictional future present, is pitched as being 26 years distant. But as we ride the wave of accelerating change, 6 years is the new 26 years, and I will happily place a Long Bet to that effect.

By way of contrast with this, I leave you with my least favourite of the four scenarios: the quasi-fascist/quasi-communist Eco World Order future:

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Incidental Media vs Invasive Advertising

Posted by on February 1st, 2011

As the information we’re leaving and using on the internet leaks out into the world, there’s many ways it can do so.

A subtle approach, making it an ambient part of the background, popping up on anything from digital clocks to the ticker on a TV screen to a receipt,  is explored in this collaboration between Dentsu London and BERG:


These devices already exist; such as this mirror that displays your latest SMS messages as you approach it.

As we saw a while ago, the type of personalized advertising shown in the mall scene in Minority Report is just part of the biometric scanning system already being prototyped in Leon, Mexico.  Good for the marketers and authorities who like to track people, more than a little annoying to have personalized advertising constantly calling out to you.

How really not to do it? Try this invasive attention-seeking stunt from Alfa Romeo, in a Dutch shopping centre:

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The war for your attention is only going to get worse, unless we’re able to take control of how it’s used.


Posted by on December 14th, 2010

Here’s an interesting piece of design fiction, via BLDGBLOG.

Dunne & Raby, commissioned by Design Indaba as part of Protofarm 2050 for the ICSID World Design Congress in Singapore, have come up with an interesting solution for our “need to produce 70% more food in the next 40 years”.

In short, turn more things into food.

So far we have not really embraced the power to modify ourselves. What if we could extract nutritional value from non-human foods using a combination of synthetic biology and new digestive devices inspired by digestive systems of other mammals, birds, fish and insects?

As such, a group of people take their fate into their own hands and start building DIY devices. They use synthetic biology to create “microbial stomach bacteria”, along with electronic and mechanical devices, to maximise the nutritional value of the urban environment, making-up for any shortcomings in the commercially available but increasingly limited diet. These people are the new urban foragers.

Foragers is about the contrast between bottom-up and top-down responses to a massive problem and the role played by technical and scientific knowledge. It builds on existing cultures currently working on the edges of society, who may initially appear extreme and specialist – guerrilla gardeners, garage biologists, freegan gleamers etc. By adapting and expanding these strategies, they become models to speculate on what might happen in the future


The video is as a crazy as the concept might seem.  But is it so crazy it just might work?