Manifest Future has Moved!

The blog has moved to a new address, hosted off of the official website for the Rebellion for Autonomous Future (RAF):

autonomousfuture.org

Please follow Manifest Future there for more reports on the futuristic in the everyday, and SciFi speculation.

Robonaut Update

robonaut

Update on NASA’s robonaut (previous coverage here), who is now en route to the International Space Station. Aboard Space Shuttle Discovery, Miles O’Brian reports that Robonaut 2 will become “a permanent resident of the station” and support orbital research and experiments. But what’s more, it has a twitter account!

I previously discussed the Robonaut (then in works to go to the moon) with regard to its resemblance to past Sci Fi franchises and the general futuristic aesthetic this blog opposes. Now it is worth visiting the Robonaut as a communicative phenomenon. In the many ways androids have communicated with humans in films and comics past, twitter has never come up (feel free to correct me) – and more than simply a result of the unprecedented evolution of the Internet, this form of robotic communication seems altogether friendlier and more human than what we have come to expect from their kind. Indeed, shaping the machine like a humanoid was the first step towards this goal, and after that giving it a twitter account seems only logical. Perhaps we not need a Turing Test of sorts on Twitter to distinguish the people from the programs? 140 characters sounds like a good length for that. Jaron Lanier warned in his book You Are Not a Gadget, that giving human qualities to machines lessens our own vague definition of what it is to be human. Behind the anonymous screen of the Web, I must agree that  Robonaut 2’s tweets are a subtle step towards the nullification of that distinction.

[Orginally seen on BoingBoing]

Manifest Alert: Omni Consumer Products Corporation

omni corporation

Big heads up to all the future-watchers out there: I recently became aware of the Omni Consumer Products Corporation and its mission to realize fictional products from movies and other mass entertainment. One can only presume the cumbersome name is so in jest, as it is named after the malevolent corporation of the same name from the Robocop movies – which coincidentally are being honored in Detroit with a seven-foot-tall iron statue of the cyborg crime-fighter paid for by none other than the real OCPC.

Some background: As reported in the NYT (same issue as the Jeopardy report from last post, coincidentally), a group of web-savvy Detroit locals recently raised more than sixty thousand dollars online to build the aforementioned statue.  The website detroitneedsrobocop.com raised the money in a move that is being hailed and decried in conjunction with Detroit’s more serious economic needs.

Commentary:  The goal of literalizing filmic consumer goods, while cute, is predictable, immoral and as foul an action as those taken up by the company’s namesake.  The blind unalterable adoption of ideas from mass media is never a wise move, and it is especially so when the subjects are unchallenging supermarket tripe little different from goods already available to shoppers. If you’re going to bring some gadget from the silver screen to the street it had better be something worthwhile, or at least have a bit of the escapist zest that we love these movies for in the first place.  In peddling caffeinated marshmallows and brand-name  soft drinks, OCPC appears to be little more than a greedy and spineless startup, riding the success of other’s innovation. By funding Detroit’s Robocop statue the company has shown their firm support for neutralizing the distinction between fiction and reality – something this blog cannot accept – and appears more desperate for publicity than truly dogmatic.

First Chess then Jeopardy

The IBM-built supercomputer ‘Watson’ defeated champion jeopardists Ken Jennings and Brad Rutter at their own game – then again Watson was built specifically for knowledge-crunching button-pressing the game requires.  In a questionably historic victory, Watson has prevailed at scrounging a database/memory for obscure information and “pressing” a button, the latter of which it could do in “as little as 10 milliseconds” reports the New York Times. John Markoff goes on in the Times coverage of the IBM media spectacle to describe potential applications for this technology – such as aiding doctors during surgery. IBM team-leader David Ferrucci does my work for me by describing the underlying origin of such brainy ambitions:

“People ask me if this is HAL,” he said, referring to the computer in “2001: A Space Odyssey.” “HAL’s not the focus; the focus is on the computer on ‘Star Trek,’ where you have this intelligent information seek dialogue, where you can ask follow-up questions and the computer can look at all the evidence and tries to ask follow-up questions. That’s very cool.”

In a companion article Dylan Loeb McClain points out the obvious predecessor to Watson and how Deep Blue’s own victory (chess this time), has been slowly deflated as time and technology plod along. “14 years later” McClain writes, “chess programs running on an average desktop computer can play better than Deep Blue”. Technological dreams may become real, but seldom the way we expect them to.

Postscript: does Jeopardy even count without Trebeck?

Just Add Some Vectors and Squares and Things

minute to win newspaper add

Seen on the back of a fellow commuter’s Am New York the other morning, this ad seems relentless in its attempt to appear shiny and futuristic. Vector art has certainly taken over the vocabulary of printed and (particularly) digital advertisements due to its apparent perfection of line and lack of human error. A proper logo follows, but I rather enjoy the “imperfection” the ad gains from being printed on newsprint. I have no idea what this show/lottery is about and the grinning idiot on the less obtuse ads isn’t encouraging me to find out.

minute to win

Grinding

grinding definition

Posted over at IO9, we’ve got a brief case-study on a DIY cyborg named  Lepht Anonym. Through somewhat scary homebrew self-surgery, Anonym has implanted herself with a number of super-sensual devices – including magnets that let her sense electromagnetic fields (!) and RFID chips that allow a new field of personal computer interaction. Besides working slowly and ambitiously towards the actualization of Post-Human fiction, this story is noteworthy for applying the term “grinding” to this unique brand of self-improvement. As seen above, the word has a vague and widely spread definition ( intransitive verb form courtesy of Merriam Webster ) but it presence in reference to Ms. Anonym piques my interest because of the use of “grinding” in Warren Ellis’ 2007 graphic novel Doktor Sleepless. There, the word also refers to superhuman-improvement through technology and a then-fictional website inspired by the also fictional imminent.sea (hosted on Sealand). Grinding.be is of course now a real website that operates with similar goals to this one except on a greater scale and with more of a pop-media slant.

Anyhow, the Doktor Sleepless website offers the following further definition of  “grinding” as:

people who practice extreme body modification – the term comes from computer gaming, where it refers to unlocking features (or, more commonly, improving one’s character) through repetitive gameplay…

Grinders in Heavenside are seen as a lower tier of society and ignored…

…in New York [and] pretty much everywhere else… the Grinders are viewed as Doktor Sleepless’ private army… Sleepless doesn’t really give them instructions: he merely provides them with tools and broadcasts his cryptic radio shows–stepping back from actual leadership and simply allowing the Grinders to do what they think he might want.

Food for thought, I suppose. Here is Wikipedia on “grinding” in video games – in short: doing mindless repetitive tasks to level-up. The actual grinding.be shares the following (with more at this link) video of Ms. Anonym’s talk at the 27th Chaos Communication Congress (27C3), about which, what?

The CCC or C3 as it is also apparently understood is “die größte europäische Hackervereinigung” (largest european hacking group) and has apparently been having these conference for 27 years. Other events listed on their  schedule include “Tor is Peace, Software Freedom is Slavery, Wikipedia is TruthThe political philosophy of the Internet” and “‘The Concert’ a disconcerting moment for free culture”.

From NYT Magazine

Here’s an ad scanned from last weeks New York Times Magazine, I just couldn’t resist posting it. I mean, really? An ergonomic toothbrush-cleansing egg?

futuristic toothbrush holder

And while not strictly concerned with the visual culture of the futuristic, that same issue did fulfill a bit of Sci-Fi promissory. In Gary Shteyngart’s recent (and fantastic) Super Sad True Love Story,  a near-future New York is littered with government propaganda urging Latino residents to save and for the Chinese to spend – cut to the cover of said NYTM cover:

new york times magazine cover shop cjina shop

And here’s a clip form the book. It’s worth noting that while humorous, Shteyngart’s novel is truly terrifying due to its spot-on depiction of a “post-literate” society in which books are seen as grotesquely uncool and acronyms rule the world’s language.  Language, which is of course online. Playing off of the common fears of today’s world – economic collapse, subservience to technology, growing old – Super Sad True Love Story is such because of its humanism, all the more noteworthy in the face of the vapid world we seem to fear. This sense of cultural collapse, is a driving issue here at Manifest Future, and ironically one of the most original ideas to enter our collective vision of what the future may hold.

super sad true love story


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