Posts Tagged 'evil'

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.

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

Fresh Scan: Sync-bot

and what's with that stadium in the background...?

Another magazine find, this time from the back cover of Make – which is coincidentally the subject of a large-ish essay I’m writing. Not strictly concerned with depicting the future, makers certainly affect aesthetics and the philosophy of progress, so I might throw it up here when it’s finished in addition to over on the parent site. Anyway, here we have anthropomorphic qualities being projected onto an what looks to be essentially an mp3 player. Personalizing and familiarizing yourself with such technology is fine, as long as you’re aware that you’re closing the gap between people and machines. When you call your car (or especially mass narcissistic tech like an iPhone) a she or a he, you are, as RAF member Jaron Lanier wrote in his 2010 book, perpetuating a” reduced expectation of what a person can be, and of who each person might become” (You are Not a Gadget p. 4)

Automated Homes

Boing boing iPad home automation

Inspired by the above post on Boing Boing, I decided to take a look at home automation and how today’s tech is measuring up to its fictional predecessors. Author/blogger Alan Graham described in the post, how he is using an iPad as a interface for his home-brewed automation system. Using the Pad’s touch screen, he can adjust his home’s lights, temperature, coffee grinder, entertainment system, and apparently a chicken coop.

Boing Boing iPad auto home display

Now Graham’s ingenuity and customization of his home should be commended in the same way that one does a custom-mod Xbox, but the phenomenon of automating your home is itself fascinating; and from the point of view of this blog, it’s worth looking at its origin in Science Fiction. The use of technology to ease the pains and chores of everyday life has long been a staple of industrialization, and later commodity culture.

you'll live better electrically

This idea of selling a better lifestyle was integral to early advertising, as it was to early SF. The obvious example that comes to mind is the 1960’s The Jetsons, whose near-utopian homes were rigged with everything from moving sidewalks to humanoid cleaning bots. For our purposes, just watch the first 90 seconds or so , and try not to be too creeped out by the dog – have they ever heard a real one?

So this got me thinking – to quote the ever precient Doktor Sleepless:

“Where’s my jetpack? Where’s my flying car?”

Well, Where’s my automated home?

Surely by 2010, we should have some pretty banging automated houses set up around the globe… Some quick searching turned up several companies working in the same vein as the previously mentioned Alan Graham. My favorite is called (no, really)… HAL.

HAL home automation... not going to kill you, really.

I can understand wanting to materialize the blissful technology of Utopian SF, but the homicidal AI from 2001? Really? In control of your home? Maybe the folks at Home Automated Living  never saw 1977’s wonderfully ludicrous Demon Seed, whose trailer follows:

The film details a programmer-cum-philosopher whose utilitarian home automation system is taken over by a recently created super AI.

Here’s another video of a setup be E-Home in Dubai. Our tour guide has the unfortunate habit of referring to “Valerie” as a person, and says in a particularly creppy bit around 2:25: “she knows what I like…” But hey, automated curtains!

If  – like in the above video – you’re using a gaming controller to accomplish mundane actions around your house, aren’t you threatening the already narrow gap between real life and its simulacra? Which brings us to the big question of whether or not we should protect that distinction. The pleasure taken in narrative fiction and the ever-illusive goal of depicting precise reality in film and software are signs that (at some level or another) we want to escape reality into something that is exactly like it – but better. Temporary escapism is reasonable, but replacement is not. After all, turning your home into a futuristic techno-palace isn’t actually improving real conditions so much as it is further escaping into conditions already portrayed in mass media. Plus it’s definitely worth questioning the nirvana-like goal of controlling your total environment from a comfortable sofa.


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