The possible ranks higher than the actual
Technology as an element constitutive of our In-der-Welt-sein, our Being-in-the-World, is the conceptual starting point from which continent. takes its guidance. continent. is marked by an editorial commitment to shed new light on technological processes of convergence that challenge traditional humanism and to a renewed, contemporary understanding of technology as an element that is also crucial to our Mitsein and Dasein. Digital technologies and social networks are re-shaping our Being-with each other; while nanotechnologies, pervasive computing and wireless mobility are a Being-there that is always a Being-here. Inasmuch as our roots are firmly placed on media theory and philosophy, fostering theoretical advances on the field of media & technology is not our only goal. We endorse a practical approach to this field by presenting worldwide instances of real-life experiments using new technological possibilities that have been, or are, in the process of being actualized.
Every new possibility arises from an exercise of imagination. Without imagination, there is no possibility; and without possibility, there can be no change. Rita J. King and Joshua S. Fouts make a splendid introduction to the kinds of new possibilities that new technologies are offering to the expansion of our human awareness and the creation of a better life on this planet. In “Money as Media” Gilson Schwartz talks about the future of money and what it has to do with technology. With King’s essay “The Emergence of a New Global Culture in the Imagination Age” (.pdf at the British Council) it is suggested that a new understanding of value and new possibilities to money creation are on the horizon, with imagination itself becoming commodified.
“Technologies of the Imagination”
Rita J. King and Joshua S. Fouts
Dancing Ink Productions
Technology is a prism held up to the bright beam of the imagination. As the world shifts into a collective new mode of awareness, technology is no longer just an organizational framework for creating greater industrial efficiencies, but a tool for the creative transformation of our global culture and economy. The challenge for interested residents of our tiny blue planet is how to leverage our own innate creativity toward maximum benefit.
As Diego Rivera’s masterpiece mural Detroit Industry demonstrates, all technologies can be used for “good” or “evil” purposes. The consequences can drive humanity to new heights of collective creativity or cannibalize human life for the sake of unsustainable growth, with the justification being ostensible widespread progress, the creation of low-paying jobs and the further enrichment of a tiny population, often referred to today as “the wealthiest two percent.”
It is not always easy to determine the line between good and evil, particularly since intrinsic value of often bleeds imperceptibly into extrinsic consequences. This has long been demonstrated by the hazy boundaries between peaceful and wartime uses of nuclear power, for example, or Google’s obvious value, popularity and “Don’t be evil” motto counterbalanced by the fact that the company has admitted to violating privacy while harvesting data for Street Views and uses a method called “The Dutch Sandwich” to avoid paying billions in taxes.
Technical concepts that were once the stuff of comic books are now reality. This month the BBC reported that scientists at the CERN laboratory in Switzerland had found a way to isolate antimatter. Superman (the comic book hero) had a famous evil “antimatter alternate universe” version of himself known as Ultraman. In the infinite imagination of comic books, the concept of Antimatter was as infinitely and explorable as the universe itself. Now researchers are able to glimpse this previously impossible ephemera. How many other far-fetched sounding ideas will become real in the Imagination Age?
Like superheroes and their nemeses, robots were once considered the machine counterpart to human life, a fictitious future dimension cutely different from people, metallic-looking, with robot voices and a limited capacity for doing anything besides blindly gathering moon rocks or cleaning floors. P.W. Singer’s groundbreaking book Wired for War
So far, these robots have been controlled by human counterparts in remote locations, like avatars in a virtual world being operated by real people scattered in far-flung locales. However, the United States Navy just announced the development of a robot that can deceive, thus obliterating Isaac Asimov’s Three Laws of Robotics, which, while meant as a device for fiction, also served as a common-sense guideline:
- A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.
- A robot must obey orders given it by human beings except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.
- A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Law.
Increasingly, we are becoming cyborgs now, not only through the enhancement of our human bodies with mechanical parts, like Rob Spence, who had his blind eye replaced by a prosthetic fitted with a tiny camera, turning him into a bionic man. Double amputee Oscar Pistorius was disqualified from the Olympics for being too fast on his carbon-fiber prosthetics. The International Association of Athletics Federation found the combination of man and machine to confer an unfair an advantage over competitors.
Arguably, our increasingly collective reliance on machines for computing, working and socializing is turning us into cyborgs. For some, this is a terrifying thought. Others welcome the possibility of engineering a longer, healthier life and even envision full merger with machines in the future.
Jason Silva states it well, “One of the most exciting things about accelerating technologies is that the tools to translate our imaginings for the ‘world out there’ are finally coming to fruition. We are programming reality, with biotech life itself as our canvas. Our imagination is bursting through our brains.”
At a TEDxNASA conference this past November, NASA’s Jim Green, head of planetary science development, described some recent discoveries that had only once been the dreams of scientists. For example, the moon Europa, which orbits Jupiter has water on it. In 1980, Arthur C. Clarke wrote in his book 2010: The Year We Make Contact, (the sequel to 2001) that Europa likely could contain water and, if the life on planet Earth was a grand experiment of some more technologically advanced species, as he posited in both books, they were aware of the possibility that we would attempt to explore the other planets. So Clarke had his technologically advanced species send a message to humanity, “All these worlds are yours, except Europa. Attempt no landings there.” Presumably to protect an experiment with emergent life on that planet, just as life on our planet, he imagined, was a possible experiment as well.
Once again, fiction and art anticipate science and engineering–the technologies of the imagination.
While the global economy has collapsed and cities are shrinking, technologies of the imagination have shifted to become more ubiquitous and empowering. In the favelas of Brazil, for example, “LAN Houses” have sprung up, providing opportunities for the very poor of Brazil to understand the Internet and become part of a global conversation.
Though the future is still distributed unevenly, mobile devices are permeating much of Asia and Africa, creating an agile environment of connectedness. Augmented reality, virtual worlds and the imagination are all blending into one seamless interconnected hybrid reality, and our job now is to navigate it well, to create jobs within it, and further, to make that work meaningful and sustainable.
As the Internet matures, companies are commodifying our time spent online to market to us under the guise of interaction. Sites like Facebook track the connectedness and ways that people are related to each other to selectively advertise things that are more likely to be of interest to you, or not. Facebook is not your friend. They are selling you to other people, like a potential client who instead of offering payment for services rendered takes valuable information from you and sells it to others, giving you nothing in return other than the ability to “connect” with “friends.”
Maybe that’s a fair trade for some. But is it a sustainable business model as an imaginative new generation takes shape? The race is on to see if the riptide of desire to think freely and invent collaboratively and in solitude can overcome the aggression of targeting new marketing techniques that grow ever more sophisticated as more data is harvested.
Facebook, with its 500 million global users, isn’t alone in this. Twitter, which hasn’t fully revealed its marketing and sales philosophy, relative to what they are doing with the data they are collecting by Twitter members, just announced that they would be selling access to a chunk of that data for $360,000 per year. ReadWriteWeb noted that at 1000 Tweets per second, that number of Tweets per day equals is over 86,400,000. There’s a lot of value in being able to measure a massive groundswell of collective sentiment.
That number isn’t even close to the amount of cell phone geo-locative data that is exchanged. Apparently, if you are a Blackberry owner, for example, “Every few minutes, it sends a heartbeat, creating a transaction whether you are using the phone or not.“ Aggregating the total number of cellphone users, that’s “600 billion geo-spatially tagged transactions per day is a whopping … 7000 times more geo-locative data than is being collected on Twitter,” according to ReadWriteWeb.
Part of the imagination has always been dark–a place where a tempted Hobbit called Gollum can form a greedy addiction to a powerful ring. The bright innovation and interconnectedness created by the digital culture for real world benefit will case shadows, and so the question of the Imagination Age is–will individuals find a way to counterbalance the realities and demands of modern life with an atmosphere of open-minded play so we can create the future together?
Rita J. King (Twitter: @ritajking) and Joshua S. Fouts (Twitter: @josholalia) work toward a new global culture and economy in The Imagination Age. You can learn more about their work at DancingInkProductions.com and on their blog, TheImaginationAge.net.