Blog Archive for the ‘Futures’ Category

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World War II Sites, Then and Now

Posted on Wednesday, October 22nd, 02014 by Charlotte Hajer
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About two years ago, we shared with you a set of enhanced photographs that visualized the transformation of World-War-II-era Leningrad into contemporary St. Petersburg.

We recently came across a similar photographic experiment in picturing historical change. The temporal lapse is similar: this interactive series compares 1940s images of European sites that played an important role in World War II history with their contemporary counterparts. There is no stitching together of old with new in these images; instead, your mouse performs the magic of time travel, revealing the new in place of the old as you drag it to the right.

Nevertheless, these photos have the same effect of making visible, even tangible, the radical transformations that a locale can undergo in the fleeting span of a half century – while simultaneously highlighting the endurance of its sense of place.

 

Peter Schwartz: The Starships ARE Coming — A Seminar Flashback

Posted on Friday, September 12th, 02014 by Mikl Em
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In September 02013 futurist Peter Schwartz spoke for Long Now about realistic scenarios for human interstellar travel. Peter, a founding Long Now Board member, participated in “The 100-year Starship” project and contributed to the book Starship Century (Edited by Gregory Benford and James Benford) with scientists and science fiction authors positing realistic ways humanity could voyage beyond our Solar System.

Our September Seminar About Long-term Thinking (SALT) ”flashbacks” highlight Space-themed talks, as we lead up to Ariel Waldman’s The Future of Human Space Flight at The Interval, September 30th, 02014.

Video of the 12 most recent Seminars is free for all to view. The Starships ARE Coming is a recent SALT talk, free for public viewing until September 02014. Listen to SALT audio free on our Seminar pages and via podcastLong Now members can see all Seminar videos in HD.

From Stewart Brand’s summary of this Seminar (in full here):

Standard-physics travel will require extremely long voyages, much longer than a human lifetime. Schwartz suggested four options.

  1. Generational ships: whole mini-societies commit to voyages that only their descendants will complete.
  2. Sleep ships: like in the movie “Avatar,” travelers go into hibernation
  3. Relativistic ships: at near the speed of light, time compresses, so that travelers may experience only 10 years while 100 years pass back on Earth.
  4. Download ships: “Suppose we learn how to copy human consciousness into some machine-like device.

Peter Schwartz is a futurist, scenario planning  expert, and author of The Art of the Long View. Currently he serves as Senior Vice President for Global Government Relations and Strategic Planning at Salesforce.com. In 01988 Peter co-founded Global Business Network and served as their chairman until 02011. He is a co-founding Board Member of The Long Now Foundation and has spoken in our SALT series on four occasions.

Peter Schwartz

The Seminars About Long-term Thinking series began in 02003 and is presented each month live in San Francisco. It is curated and hosted by Long Now’s President Stewart Brand. Seminar audio is available to all via podcast.

Everyone can watch full video of the last 12 Long Now Seminars (including this Seminar video until late June 02014). Long Now members can watch the full ten years of Seminars in HD. Membership levels start at $8/month and include lots of benefits.

You can join Long Now here.

The Future Declassified at The Interval: Tuesday September 23, 02014

Posted on Friday, September 5th, 02014 by Mikl Em
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Mathew Burrows at The Interval: The Future Declassified

Our next talk at The Interval takes as its subject the complexities of our collective global future:

Mathew Burrows: The Future Declassified
hosted by Paul Saffo
Tuesday September 23, 02014 at 7:30pm
at The Interval (doors at 6:30)
Advanced Tickets are encouraged
as space is limited

The volatility of today’s world is apparent just by reviewing the day’s headlines. Across the globe, the pressures of population growth, environmental change, and constant technological disruption are just a few of the factors that promise to influence how governments, economies, and individual lives will change in the coming years.

So how to make sense of it all? It takes access to information, methodical analysis, and the application of wisdom gained from observing past change to see tectonic patterns in cultural shifts and plot their trajectories. On September 23rd The Interval at Long Now welcomes one of the most seasoned experts in reading the epic trends of the global stage.

Dr. Mathew Burrows has been an advisor to the US Government in various positions for the better part of 30 years. Typically his reports have been available exclusively to top US administration officials, ambassadors, intelligence services, and allied governments. But his new book, appropriately titled The Future Declassified, offers his insight and forecasting talents to the general public. Its foreboding subtitle “Megatrends That Will Undo the World Unless We Take Action” confirms the importance of the stakes at hand.

Looking forward to the year 02030, Burrows underlines the interconnectedness of the decisions made today with the medium and long-term future of our society and the planet.

Long Now Board of Directors member Paul Saffo will be hosting this event. A well-respected forecaster in his own right, Paul teaches forecasting at Stanford University, and he chairs the Future Studies and Forecasting track at Singularity University.

We hope you can join us for this important talk, there are still tickets available.

Long Now’s salon talk events happen on Tuesday nights at The Interval, our bar / cafe / museum at Fort Mason Center in San Francisco. The lineup of upcoming talks is growing. Check the full list here.

Interval donors hear about our events first: there is still time to become a charter donor.

We are Walking Rocks: Friends of the Pleistocene Explore the Geologic Now

Posted on Saturday, August 30th, 02014 by Charlotte Hajer
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Geopoetry Smudge Studio

In The Life and Death of Buildings: On Photography and Time Joel Smith writes:

Imagine making a picture using film so insensitive to light – so slow, in photographic parlance – that to burn an image onto it required an exposure of twenty-five centuries. Geologically speaking, the blink of an eye. The picture from that negative would reveal a world made of stone, and stone only. It would be a world where plants and people, seasons and civilizations, had come and gone, quite untouched, and unbothered, by mankind. And yet, here it is, a world, unmistakably shaped by human hands.

Perhaps one of humanity’s greatest weaknesses is that our power of imagination tends to be dwarfed by our power of transformation. Twenty-five centuries ago, Rome was little more than a small town; Confucius had just resigned from his government post; Olmec society had slid into decline; and none of the languages we speak today had yet evolved. Entire civilizations rise and fall within the blink of a geologic eye – and whether as cause or consequence, we have a collective attention span to match.

We might be able to stretch our sense of “our time” a century or two into the past and future, but anything beyond that feels so far away that it dissolves into (seeming) irrelevance. As a result, we often don’t realize that our contemporary world is significantly shaped by the geological worlds that came before it; and that the fruits of our short-term pursuits can far outlast our own physical existence on Earth.

The Friends of the Pleistocene try to encourage this realization by spurring our temporal capacity for imagination. An interactive and creative research collaboration by Elizabeth Ellsworth and Jamie Kruse, the duo behind Smudge Studios, FOP’s mission is, essentially, to create the kinds of pictures Smith imagined. Through a variety of projects, they direct our focus to the Pleistocene traces that continue to reverberate through our contemporary world, and to the impact our culture makes on the ancient landscapes around us.

The geologic epoch of the Pleistocene is commonly dated from 2.58 million to 10,000 years BP (before the present). We know it as the time of glacial periods, mammoths, saber-toothed cats, and Neanderthals. It is also the period of humanity’s childhood: it’s during the Pleistocene that the genus Homo first learned to walk upright and manipulate its environment with stone tools. This epoch predates agriculture, or any notion of ‘civilization’ – yet its landscapes are still as much a part of our present world as they were to our early ancestors. As Kruse and Ellsworth explain,

The Pleistocene landscape literally shapes how we live today and affords the placement and design of many infrastructures in our contemporary lives, such as building highways along the spines of glacial moraines, as in the case of the Long Island Expressway, or the great views afforded by the now extinct Pleistocene Lake Bonneville’s shoreline “benches” where suburban houses perch in Draper, Utah. We also use Pleistocene lakebeds as testing grounds for weapons (such as for the Trinity test in 1945) or for recreation, like the Bonneville Salt Flats or Cape Cod’s beloved swimming holes – the kettle ponds.

And just as the Pleistocene continues to shape our world, so do we continue to make an impact on it. Kruse and Ellsworth recall making this realization during a residency at the Center for Land Use Interpretation (CLUI) in Utah:

… we came across their (CLUI’s) book on the Nevada Test Site. At that point, we had no idea that over 1000 nuclear bombs had been detonated in the United States. We began to realize that the tourist experience of the American West often overlooked the fact that just behind or underneath the stunning backdrops of iconic scenery were invisible vibrant human-made materials, and they were actively reshaping the landscapes we were moving through, at the very moment we were moving through them. The forceful actions of many of those materials were potent enough to continue this reshaping into deep geological futures. This led to future trips where we actually toured the NTS and ended up designing a project to visit the sites where underground testing had occurred outside the NTS. It was literally standing at these sites, in the present, that geologic time and the contemporary moment came vividly together for us.

Exploring such ancient sites across the United States and beyond, the Smudge duo harness art and design as useful tools to spur our imagination into time scales that dwarf a human lifetime. They produce photographic essays, narrative field guides, educational events, and speculative tools to help others explore the convergence of human and geologic processes – and they add not one, but two zeroes to their date notations!

Smudge’s projects include an examination of how the Pleistocene geology of the Great Lakes continues to influence processes of urbanization in the region; visualizing the ancient geological materials that constitute the man-made buildings of New York City; mapping the intersection of human and geologic processes in the American West; and representing the material origins of the energy that sustains our civilization.

Much of their work has examined the handling of nuclear waste – an issue that indelibly reminds us of how tied we are to the deep material processes of our world:

In realizing that the contamination can’t be moved from where it is, and will stay contaminated for tens of thousands of years in the future, it seems important to start developing capacities to think and design for larger timescales. … We humans have catalyzed a geologic impact around the globe, materially. These effects are much more than the nuclear, but nuclear materials are such a clear and potent example, they still exist at the root of our work and are why we veered in this direction so many years ago.

Their projects tend to incorporate an interactive approach: Ellsworth and Kruse try not only to visualize, but to encourage others to join in their imaginative processes:

Interactivity seems key to the ideas we’re working with – which focus on the importance of being able to experience the material reality and force of processes and movements that are either hard for humans to sense physically, or hard for humans to admit politically or emotionally.

In 02012, Kruse and Ellsworth published Making the Geologic Now, an edited collection of photographs and essays by more than forty contributors that include Rachel Sussman, (photographer/author of the Oldest Living Things in the World and Long Now SALT speaker) and Elizabeth Kolbert (The Sixth Extinction and Field Notes from a Catastrophe).

Making the Geologic Now documents and encourages what they have identified as a “turn toward the geologic,” a collection of “early sightings” of emergent social and cultural awareness of the deep geological parameters of our world. The book is meant to be generative rather than analytical or critical; in their introduction Kruse and Ellsworth describe the contributions as

places to think experimentally about what might become thinkable and possible if humans were to collectively take up the geologic as an instructive partner in designing thoughts, objects, systems, and experiences. The book provides an armature for framing responses to that idea.

Earlier this year Kruse and Ellsworth went to Norway for a work they called “Inhabiting Change” – it’s part of a larger collaboration that investigates the socio-geographic changes ahead for the Arctic Circle. Once seen as a remote forbidding place, it is now being transformed by the forces of capitalism, the pinch of dwindling resources, and a growing global population. As they expressed their goal for this project:

We intend to create dynamic tracings of the arrival of new futures of the North into widespread human + nonhuman cognizance. Works that result from Inhabiting Change may take the form of a series of linked multi-media dispatches. We also intend to compose a collaborative, human + nonhuman voice with multiple, moving points of view—while we live and make in the midst of the forces of change that currently are composing emerging futures north.

Ultimately, what Ellsworth and Kruse hope people take away from their work is new curiosities about and appreciations of their bare physical materiality – the chemical and physical fact that we are “walking rocks,” and that we live within the geologic, as a condition of our daily lives.

Making The Geologic Now can be purchased or downloaded from Smudge Studios. They also offer a place to contribute your own sightings of the geologic.

Images by FOP/Smudge Studios

Dissident Futures at YBCA

Posted on Wednesday, October 16th, 02013 by Austin Brown
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On October 17th, Yerba Buena Center for the Arts opens their new exhibition, Dissident Futures which will explore how we think about possible futures through a variety of media, with a thematic focus on utopian, speculative, and pragmatic concepts.

A range of programs will be presented in conjunction with the exhibit, in collaboration with Long Now and other Bay Area organizations.

Dissident Futures presents art that investigates possible alternative futures,  particularly those that question or overturn conventional notions of innovation, such as existing power, economic and technological structures.

Long Now has partnered with YBCA on three events throughout the exhibition:

Opening Night Party

Friday October 18th, 8:00pm to 10:00pm
Free for Long Now Members (check your email for promo code!)

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Project Nunway

Saturday November 2nd, 7:00pm
with Long Bets table (make predictions without the $50 Prediction fee)

Dissident Futures Art and Ideas Festival

Saturday November 23rd, 1:00pm to 10:00pm
Long Now staff present on The Manual for Civilization at 2:00pm, Free with RSVP

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The Imagined Future of 02013

Posted on Monday, May 6th, 02013 by Charlotte Hajer
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Long Now’s Long Bets project is founded on the premise that we can improve our long-term thinking by holding ourselves accountable for the predictions we make about the future. By revisiting our forecasts as time goes by, we reveal the subtle mechanics of society’s evolution, and teach ourselves something about what kinds of visions might turn into reality.

Jerry Lockenour, a professor of engineering at the University of Southern California, has turned this premise into a lesson plan. Students in his Technology Development and Applications class are going back to the future: they are studying a 01988 issue of the Los Angeles Times’ Magazine, which offered a vision of the futuristic LA of 02013.

“In class we study emerging science and technology that can change the future,” he said. The magazine helps students see the relevance of the developments they are reading about in textbooks and professional journals, he said.

The 01988 feature offers a detailed description of a day in the life of a fictional family. Written in consultation with more than 30 futurists and experts, the article offers prospects for the technological innovations, environmental challenges, economic issues, and demographic shifts we might expect to deal with in 02013.

The LA Times itself recently interviewed Lockenour’s students to evaluate the quality of its 01988 predictions. “To their surprise, the students – some of whom weren’t even born when [the magazine’s] look into the future was published – found that many predictions have become reality.” Though robots have not quite become a staple in our households, we do indeed drive our cars with the aid of “electronic navigation systems,” schools have embraced the interactive learning potential of computers, and the population has indeed exploded.

To read the complete feature – and compare its vision of the unimaginable future to today’s present moment for yourself – please visit the LA Times’ website here.

Humanity’s Last Game

Posted on Thursday, April 11th, 02013 by Charlotte Hajer
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Former SALT speaker and professor of religion James Carse distinguishes between “finite” and “infinite” games:

“A finite game is played for the purpose of winning, an infinite game for the purpose of continuing the game.”

We might think of games as things we ‘play’ – as make-believe universes in which we might wander around for a period of time, engaged in activities that have little to no bearing on our ordinary lives. But ordinary life can, in many ways, also be thought of as a form of ‘play’. In the real world, too, we (mostly) play by the rules; we employ strategies in order to achieve certain objectives, and we interact with fellow players.

At last week’s Game Developer’s Conference, designer Jason Rohrer presented a new game that brings all these different dimensions of ‘play’ together. In response to a design challenge prompt that asked developers to come up with “the last game that humanity will ever play,” Rohrer designed a game that is both infinite and finite, lived and ‘played’ – and very, very long term.

Rohrer’s game is intended not to be played for another 2,000 years. In order to ensure its longevity, he built its board and pieces out of solid machined titanium. Anticipating a temporal language barrier between himself and future generations, he wrote the game’s instructions in the form of symbols and visual diagrams.

In order to ensure that the game would not be played before its time, Rohrer buried it at a precise but unknown location in the Nevada desert – and turned the process of finding it into a game itself. At his conference presentation, Rohrer gave each member of his audience a sheet that listed 900 unique GPS coordinates. Taken together, these handouts contained a million possible locations, only one of which corresponds to the game’s actual site. If one person checks one of these GPS coordinates each day, it is guaranteed that the game will be found within one million days, or 2,737 years.

In the last chapter of The Clock of the Long Now, Stewart Brand writes that

“Infinite games are corrupted by inappropriate finite play. Governance (infinite) is disabled when factional combat (finite) becomes the whole point instead of providing helpful debate and alternation of power. Cultures (infinite) perish when one culture seeks to eradicate another. Nature (infinite) is dangerously disrupted when commercial competition (finite) lays waste to natural cycles. Finite games flourish within infinite games, but they must not displace them, or all the games are over.” (1999:161).

Rohrer has not only taken this to heart, but has in fact taken it a step further: the finite board game he has buried in the desert is ultimately intended to be the simple starting point for the infinite game of long term thinking.

Neal Stephenson’s Hieroglyph Project Launches

Posted on Tuesday, March 26th, 02013 by Austin Brown
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Towers that reach 15 kilometers into the sky and autonomous 3D-printing robots on the Moon aren’t just great fodder for sci-fi; they’re also plausible enough to be considered as audacious, but realistic engineering goals. That sweet spot is exactly what the Hieroglyph project is aiming for. A collaboration between Arizona State University’s Center for Science and the Imagination and sci-fi author Neal Stephenson, Hieroglyph seeks to bring engineers and authors of science fiction together to develop and illustrate scenarios in which “Big Stuff Got Done.”

Neal Stephenson explains that Hieroglyph is working to put together a collection of sci-fi that avoids dystopian tropes and instead focuses on positive, inspiring possibilities:

The idea is to get SF writers to contribute pieces to an anthology. These pieces would all be throwbacks, in a manner of speaking, to 1950′s-style SF, in that they would depict futures in which Big Stuff Got Done. We would avoid hackers, hyperspace, and holocausts. The ideal subject matter would be an innovation that a young, modern-day engineer could make substantial progress on during his or her career.

A tower 15 kilometers in height is the scenario Stephenson is exploring, with help from structural engineer Keith Hjelmstad. The Hieroglyph website will serve as a hub and forum for sharing moonshot-style thinking like this; it’s already got Stephenson’s Tall Tower and the aforementioned Moon robots, a scenario being developed by Cory Doctorow.

The Conversation: 1 motorcycle, 9 months, 40 interviews & countless futures

Posted on Thursday, March 7th, 02013 by Austin Brown
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Over much of 02012, Angeus Anderson rode a motorcycle across the United States. Along the way, he recorded conversations with 40 different people espousing diverse critiques of the present and a plethora of visions for the future, “thinkers and doers, from transhumanists to neoprimitivists, urban farmers to musicians.” These interviews, produced by Anderson and Micah Saul, are called The Conversation.

Anderson spoke with Long Now’s Alexander Rose about the 10,000-Year Clock during the early part of his trip. He’s since concluded his travels and reflected on the ideas and perspectives he encountered by mapping the concepts covered to those who discussed them.

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Browse all the episodes, or explore the concept map.

How long is humanity’s future?

Posted on Friday, March 1st, 02013 by Austin Brown
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Much like the Centre for Existential Risk at Cambridge, the Future of Humanity Institute at Oxford spends significant effort grappling with scenarios that could lead to the human species’ demise.

The Institute is headed by Nick Bostrom, a scholar of philosophy, physics, computational neuroscience, and mathematical logic. Aeon Magazine’s Ross Anderson recently spoke with Bostrom and several other researchers at the Institute to ask what kinds of risks we should really be taking seriously:

The risks that keep Bostrom up at night are those for which there are no geological case studies, and no human track record of survival. These risks arise from human technology, a force capable of introducing entirely new phenomena into the world.

Studying risk of any kind leads inevitably to questions of statistics and probability – things human intuition is generally very very bad at comprehending. Fortunately, what nature did not give us, we can still nurture in ourselves. Bostrom is relentless is his mathematical and logical approach to the probability of different possibilities and the utility they afford the human race.  Depicting his utilitarian approach, Anderson paraphrases Bostrom’s explanation for why studying existential risk is so valuable:

We might be 7 billion strong, but we are also a fire hose of future lives, that extinction would choke off forever. The casualties of human extinction would include not only the corpses of the final generation, but also all of our potential descendants, a number that could reach into the trillions.

Read: Omens by Ross Anderson