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Posts Tagged ‘futurist

“Humans as we know them are just one morphological waypoint on the long road of evolution”*…

 

Imagine a world where the human race is no longer the dominant species.

Extinct through war or spectacular accident. By devastating pandemic, super-natural disaster, or cosmic cataclysm.

Passed through the Singularity to become unrecognisably posthuman, and left the natural order forever behind.

Infected by a virus, hijacked by a parasite or otherwise co-opted to become ex-human – a “bio zombie” – moved sideways to a new position as ecological actor.

Gently absorbed into – or completely overshadowed by the unfathomable actions of – a superior civilisation comprising benevolent – or unacknowledging – emissaries from the stars (or extra-dimensions).

Dethroned by the return of ancient species, the reawakening of the slumbering Old Ones… Out-competed by the arrival of an invasive species from another world making the Earth just one habitat in a galactic ecology.

It could be far into the future or The Day After Tomorrow.

Robots may rule the world… not so much enslaving as letting us retire to a life of Fully Automated Luxury Gay Space Communism; life in The Culture as Iain M. Banks foresaw it could be.

What is the world like then? After us…

Imagine a world where the human race is no longer the dominant species: “What is the Post-Human World.”

* Annalee Newitz in “When Will Humanity Finally Die Out?

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As we stretch our frames, we might spare a thought for Marvin Minsky; he died on this date in 2016.  A biochemist and cognitive scientist by training, he was founding director of MIT’s Artificial Intelligence Project (the MIT AI Lab).  Minsky authored several widely-used texts, and made many contributions to AI, cognitive psychology, mathematics, computational linguistics, robotics, and optics.  He holds several patents, including those for the first neural-network simulator (SNARC, 1951), the first head-mounted graphical display, the first confocal scanning microscope, and the LOGO “turtle” device (with his friend and frequent collaborator Seymour Papert).  His other inventions include mechanical hands and the “Muse” synthesizer.

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Written by LW

January 24, 2018 at 1:01 am

“Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards”*…

 

If you wanted to hear the future in late May, 1968, you might have gone to Abbey Road to hear the Beatles record a new song of John Lennon’s—something called “Revolution.” Or you could have gone to the decidedly less fab midtown Hilton in Manhattan, where a thousand “leaders and future leaders,” ranging from the economist John Kenneth Galbraith to the peace activist Arthur Waskow, were invited to a conference by the Foreign Policy Association. For its fiftieth anniversary, the F.P.A. scheduled a three-day gathering of experts, asking them to gaze fifty years ahead. An accompanying book shared the conference’s far-off title: “Toward the Year 2018”…

More amazing than science fiction,” proclaims the cover, with jacket copy envisioning how “on a summer day in the year 2018, the three-dimensional television screen in your living room” flashes news of “anti-gravity belts,” “a man-made hurricane, launched at an enemy fleet, [that] devastates a neutral country,” and a “citizen’s pocket computer” that averts an air crash. “Will our children in 2018 still be wrestling,” it asks, “with racial problems, economic depressions, other Vietnams?”

Much of “Toward the Year 2018” might as well be science fiction today. With fourteen contributors, ranging from the weapons theorist Herman Kahn to the I.B.M. automation director Charles DeCarlo, penning essays on everything from “Space” to “Behavioral Technologies,” it’s not hard to find wild misses. The Stanford wonk Charles Scarlott predicts, exactly incorrectly, that nuclear breeder reactors will move to the fore of U.S. energy production while natural gas fades. (He concedes that natural gas might make a comeback—through atom-bomb-powered fracking.) The M.I.T. professor Ithiel de Sola Pool foresees an era of outright control of economies by nations—“They will select their levels of employment, of industrialization, of increase in GNP”—and then, for good measure, predicts “a massive loosening of inhibitions on all human impulses save that toward violence.” From the influential meteorologist Thomas F. Malone, we get the intriguing forecast of “the suppression of lightning”—most likely, he figures, “by the late 1980s.”

But for every amusingly wrong prediction, there’s one unnervingly close to the mark…

Those uncannily-accurate predictions, and their backstories, at “The 1968 book that tried to predict the world of 2018.”

* Søren Kierkegaard

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As we ponder posterity, we might send static-y birthday greetings to Robert Woodrow Wilson; he was born on this date in 1936.  An astronomer, he detected– with Bell Labs colleague Arno Penzias– cosmic microwave background radiation: “relic radiation”– that’s to say. the “sound “– of the Big Bang.  Their 1964 discovery earned them the 1978 Nobel Prize in Physics.

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“The future ain’t what it used to be”*…

 

People in the early 20th century were hopeful about the future innovation might bring. The technology that came out of World War I, and the growing potential brought by electricity (half of all U.S. homes had electric power by 1925) had many looking ahead to the coming century. Futurists of the early 1900s predicted an incredible boom in technology that would transform human lives for the better.

In fact, many of those predictions for the future in which we live weren’t far off, from the proliferation of automobiles and airplanes to the widespread transmission of information. Of course, the specifics of how those devices would work sometimes fell broad of the mark. Yet these predictions show us just how much our technology has progressed in just a century — and just how much further more innovation could take us…

Further to yesterday’s collection of charts that might serve as a dashboard for us as we look to 2018, a consideration of how 2018 looked to scientists, inventors/technologists, and forecasters in (and around) 1918: Does Life In 2018 Live up to What We Predicted a Century Ago?

* Yogi Berra, The Yogi Book, 1998 (though the phrase “the future isn’t what it used to be” was used in 1937 by Laura Riding and Robert Graves in English, and by Paul Valéry in French)

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As we take the long view, we might spare a thought for Kenneth Patchen; he died on this date in 1972.  A poet and novelist who experimented with form (most notably, with incorporating jazz into his readings), Patchen was widely ignored by the cultural establishment in his lifetime; but (with his close friend Kenneth Rexroth) became an inspiration for the young poets–  Allen Ginsberg, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Gary Snyder, Michael McClure, and others– who became known as the Beat Generation.  In 1968, near the end of his life, The Collected Poems of Kenneth Patchen was published– and Patchen was embraced by the Establishment. The New York TImes called the book “a remarkable volume,” comparing Patchen’s work to that of Blake, Whitman, Crane, Lawrence, and even to the Bible.  In another review, the poet David Meltzer called Patchen “one of America’s great poet-prophets” and called his body of work “visionary art for our time and for Eternity.”

The lions of fire
Shall have their hunting in this black land

Their teeth shall tear at your soft throats
Their claws kill

O the lions of fire shall awake
And the valleys steam with their fury

Because you have turned your faces from God
Because you have spread your filth everywhere.

– from “The Lions of Fire Shall Have Their Hunting”  The Teeth of the Lion (1942)

Allen Ginsberg (left) and Kenneth Patchen (right) backstage at the Living Theatre where Patchen was performing with Charlie Mingus, New York City 1959. Photo copyright © Harry Redl 1959, 2000.

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Written by LW

January 8, 2018 at 1:01 am

“Some people talk to animals. Not many listen though.”*…

 

The frontispiece of Public and Private Life of Animals, by P. J. Stahl, illustrated by J. J. Grandville, and translated rom the French by J. Thompson; 1877; London, S. Low, Marston, Searle, & Rivington.

This collection of acerbic animal fables, originally published in 1842 as Scènes de la vie privée et publique des animaux, boasts among its contributors some of the finest literary minds of mid 19th-century France, including Honoré de Balzac, George Sand, and the publisher Pierre-Jules Hetzel (under the pseudonym of P. J. Stahl). The book is also home to some of the finest work (some featured below) by the caricaturist J. J. Grandville, drawings in which we can see the satirical genius and inventiveness that would be unleashed in full glory just two years later with the publication of his wonderful Un autre monde.

See more at Public Domain Review; and visit the original at the Internet Archive.

* A.A. Milne, Winnie-the-Pooh

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As we anthropomorphize, we might send carefully-limned birthday greetings to Joesph Stella; he was born on this date in 1877.  An accomplished illustrator, he is better known as a Futurist painter, perhaps especially for his depictions of industrial America and  his images of the Brooklyn Bridge.

He was one of the many artists to break out as a result of the 1913 Armory Show (he was considered by critics as important and influential as Duchamp and Picabia).  He was later associated with the American Precisionist movement of the 1910s–1940s.

A photo by Man Ray of Stella (foreground) and Marcel Duchamp (background, sitting under a portrait of Man Ray)

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“We got the beat”*…

 

The drum machine is one of the most effective musical inventions of our time. It’s affordable, easy to use, and ruthless in its precision, able to do exactly what it’s been told for as long as required (so long as you’ve got an AC adaptor). Of course, not everybody warms to the drum machine’s big plastic buttons and bright LED screen…

Starting from the Italian Futurists, “A Brief History of the Drum Machine in Rock Music.”

* The Go-Gos

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As we lay in the loop, we might recall that it was on this date in 1990 that NARAS stripped Milli Vanilli of the Grammy that they had won earlier that year.  One of the most popular pop acts in the late 1980s, their album debut album Girl You Know It’s True achieved international success and earned them the Grammy for Best New Artist.  But when it was revealed that neither of the duo (Fab Morvan and Rob Pilatus) had actually sung lead vocals on the albums songs, the award was withdrawn.  The group recorded a comeback album, Back and in Attack, in 1998, but Rob Pilatus died before the album was released.

Milli Vanilli at the 1990 Grammys

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Written by LW

November 19, 2015 at 1:01 am

“You got to be worried when they’re agreeing about anything… Prophets. That’s the last bloody thing you want prophets to do”*…

 

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We may define future shock as the distress, both physical and psychological, that arises from an overload of the human organism’s physical adaptive systems and it’s decision-making processes… Put more simply, future shock is the human response to over-stimulation…

– Alvin Toffler

The film above is a documentary based on Future Shock, the book written in 1970 by sociologist and futurist Alvin Toffler…

Released in 1972, with a cigar-chomping Orson Welles as on-screen narrator, this piece of futurism
is darkly dystopian and oozing techno-paranoia… A great opening features a montage of car crashes and civil unrest intercut with two figures walking in a green field (while creepy synthesizers play in the background) who are soon revealed to be automatons with creepy robot faces — a nice metaphor for the fear of the unrecognizable, cold, and chaotic future society that Toffler thought we were all headed for…

More background in the notes accompanying the film.

(After watching the film, take a whack at being a futurist yourself; try the card game, “The Thing From the Future“…)

* China Miéville, Kraken

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As we brace for change, we might recall that it was on this date in 1797 that André-Jacques Garnerin accomplished the first successful parachute jump.  He ascended to 2,230 ft. above the Parc Monceau, Paris, with a balloon, then released it and unfurled a silk parachute.  Lacking any vent in the top of the parachute, Garnerin descended with violent oscillations– as a result of which, he suffered the first case of airsickness.

Garnerin releases the balloon and descends with the help of a parachute, 1797. (Illustration from the late 19th century.)

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Written by LW

October 22, 2015 at 1:01 am

“Never make predictions, especially about the future”*…

 

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Leonard Richardson likes old books of futurism. In 2008, he borrowed one from a friend, a classic from 1967: The Year 2000: A Framework for Speculation on the Next Thirty-Three Years, by Herman Kahn and A. J. Wiener.  Richardson color-coded the authors’ predictions, summarized in three tables near the front of the book, with his subjective impressions of whether each was a hit, a partial hit, or a miss.  For example…

Table XVIII: One Hundred Technical Innovations Very Likely in the Last Third of the Twentieth Century

  1. Multiple applications of lasers and masers for sensing, measuring, communication, cutting, heating, welding, power transmission, ilumination, destructive (defensive), and other purposes
  2. Extreme high-strength and/or high-temperature structural materials
  3. New or improved superperformance fabrics (papers, fibers, and plastics)
  4. New or improved materials for equipment and appliances (plastic, glasses, alloys, ceramics, intermetallics, and cements)
  5. New airborne vehicles (ground-effect machines, VTOL and STOL, super-helicopters, giant and/or supersonic jets)
  6. Extensive commercial application of shaped-charge explosives
  7. More reliable and longer-range weather forecasting
  8. Intensive and/or extensive expansion of tropical agriculture and forestry
  9. New sources of power for fixed installations (e.g., magnetohydrodynamic, thermionic and thermoelectric, and radioactivity)
  10. New sources of power for ground transportation (storage battery, fuel cell, propulsion [or support] by electro-magnetic fields, jet engine, turbine, and the like)

Out of 135 predictions there are 27 hits and 22 partial hits. Read the three lists in their entirety at “The Year 2000“… then ponder what our lists, looking out to 2045-2050, might contain.

* Casey Stengel

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As raise our eyes to the horizon, we might send mutable birthday greetings to Leonidas FrankLon” Cheney; he was born on this date in 1883.  The son of two deaf parents, Cheney was skilled at pantomime from an early age, a talent he parlayed into a successful vaudeville act.  A scandal (his first wife’s attempted suicide) forced him from the theater into the nascent film industry– where he became a successful character actor. Cheney developed deep skills in make-up to complement his pantomime skills, and created some of the most memorable characters in the golden age of silent film– among them, The Phantom of the Opera and Quasimodo (The Hunchback of Notre Dame).  In an interview reviewing his work in over 100 films, Chaney referred to his gifts in using make-up and contortion to portray his subjects as “extraordinary characterization”; in the industry he was known simply as “the man of 1,000 faces.”

Cheney in The Phantom of the Opera

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Written by LW

April 1, 2014 at 1:01 am

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