Saturday, 26 December 2015

Futurists >>> and the promises of science and technology >>> Part three: "Our naive innovation fetish"

What does the future hold for us?

Looking at the entries on this blog under 'science and technology' from this year...

We might be moving to another planet for one reason or another:
Futures Forum: Mission into space >>> "We’re making a mess of this planet - it’s probably good for another 200 or 300 years, so it makes sense to get out there and find another one."
Futures Forum: Climate change... and 'Interstellar': 'Cli-fi' escapism?

Futures Forum: Climate change... and 'Interstellar': degrading soil and running out of food

Flying cars will not be available to all, however:

Futures Forum: Techno-promises unfulfilled >>> Where did the future go?
Futures Forum: Of Back to the Future and the promise of flying cars
Futures Forum: "Where are the flying cars?" or, "What happened to derail so many credible ideas and prospects?"

Or will they?
Futures Forum: Technology and economic progress
Futures Forum: Using technology to transform enterprise
Futures Forum: "Abundant, cheap electricity has been the greatest source of human liberation in the 20th century."

Maybe we should appreciate the less spectacular steps in technology:
Futures Forum: The future of lighting: new led technologies
Futures Forum: Climate change: and air-conditioning: "focusing on innovating new kinds of air conditioning that can keep us cool at a lesser cost."
Futures Forum: Frugal Innovation: on BBC Radio 4's In Business
Futures Forum: New battery technology to change the energy infrastructure

Meanwhile, there is the promise of AI:
Futures Forum: Creating/destroying jobs >>> Creative Destruction and Artificial Intelligence
Futures Forum: Artificial Intelligence: 'complements labor and increase its productivity'

How accessible will this technological promise be, however?
Futures Forum: VW... and making 'wholly opaque disposable vehicles' >>> rather than making vehicles which 'run for a long time and are easy to fix'
Futures Forum: Open Source Ecology >>> Homebrew Industrial Revolution >>> Do-it-yourself sustainable development

But what about the future state of nature?
Futures Forum: "Britain's wildlife is in an increasingly fragile state, putting food production in jeopardy"
Futures Forum: Neonicotinoids are bad for butterflies >>> What can we do?

Or the future state of farming:
Futures Forum: "Little over half of our food needs will be produced here at home within 25 years."
Futures Forum: Neonicotinoids are bad for bees >>> What can we do?
Futures Forum: Soil-conservation farming >>> protecting the soil

Our perspective on 'the future' depends on our stake in that future - and who that perspective serves:
Futures Forum: "Exposing the futuristic fantasies deployed by the fossil-fuel companies"
Futures Forum: Climate change: and geoengineering >>> "Climate Intervention Is Not a Replacement for Reducing Carbon Emissions"
Futures Forum: Climate change: "The forecasts are accurate, unfortunately." And yet: “the history of trying to make economic forecasts is one of complete failure.”

And this is the point made by Evgeny Morozov almost every time he writes:

Our Naive "Innovation" Fetish

Left, right, and center—everyone loves the buzzword of modern America

March 18, 2014

Who today is against innovation? It is a word capable of uniting even the two parties. In December, the House passed a bill called the Innovation Act by a margin of 325 to 91. Cities (like Austin and San Francisco) have established innovation offices. Two years ago, the White House launched an innovations fellows program to place technology-savvy workers inside various (presumably innovation-deficient) federal agencies. The nation’s innovator-in-chief, Barack Obama, has extolled, “Don’t just download the latest app [but] help design it. Don’t just play on your phone [but] program it.”

As a buzzword, “innovation” appeals to the left and the right, both of which claim it as their own. For the left, the case is plausible, at least in the abstract. The values of innovation—uncompromising experimentation, radical impatience with the current order—seem squarely of progressive provenance. But the left’s ecstatic celebration of innovation helps to conceal its glaring absence of a robust technology policy—at least one that is independent of Silicon Valley and serves social goods greater than flying cars and longevity pills.

Innovation Fetish: Naive Buzzword Unites Parties, Avoids Policy Choice | New Republic
Everyone Should Fetishize Innovation | Bitcoin Magazine

Future Shlock

Meet the two-world hypothesis and its havoc

May 27, 2013

The sewing machine was the smartphone of the nineteenth century. Just skim through the promotional materials of the leading sewing-machine manufacturers of that distant era and you will notice the many similarities with our own lofty, dizzy discourse. The catalog from Willcox & Gibbs, the Apple of its day, in 1864, includes glowing testimonials from a number of reverends thrilled by the civilizing powers of the new machine. One calls it a “Christian institution”; another celebrates its usefulness in his missionary efforts in Syria; a third, after praising it as an “honest machine,” expresses his hope that “every man and woman who owns one will take pattern from it, in principle and duty.” The brochure from Singer in 1880—modestly titled “Genius Rewarded: or, the Story of the Sewing Machine”—takes such rhetoric even further, presenting the sewing machine as the ultimate platform for spreading American culture. The machine’s appeal is universal and its impact is revolutionary. Even its marketing is pure poetry:

On every sea are floating the Singer Machines; along every road pressed by the foot of civilized man this tireless ally of the world’s great sisterhood is going upon its errand of helpfulness. Its cheering tune is understood no less by the sturdy German matron than by the slender Japanese maiden; it sings as intelligibly to the flaxen-haired Russian peasant girl as to the dark-eyed Mexican SeƱorita. It needs no interpreter, whether it sings amidst the snows of Canada or upon the pampas of Paraguay; the Hindoo mother and the Chicago maiden are to-night making the self-same stitch; the untiring feet of Ireland’s fair-skinned Nora are driving the same treadle with the tiny understandings of China’s tawny daughter; and thus American machines, American brains, and American money are bringing the women of the whole world into one universal kinship and sisterhood.

“American Machines, American Brains, and American Money” would make a fine subtitle for The New Digital Age, the breathless new book by Eric Schmidt, Google’s executive chairman, and Jared Cohen, the director of Google Ideas, an institutional oddity known as a think/do-tank. Schmidt and Cohen are full of the same aspirations—globalism, humanitarianism, cosmopolitanism—that informed the Singer brochure. Alas, they are not as keen on poetry. The book’s language is a weird mixture of the deadpan optimism of Soviet propaganda (“More Innovation, More Opportunity” is the subtitle of a typical sub-chapter) and the faux cosmopolitanism of The Economist (are you familiar with shanzhai, sakoku, or gacaca?).

Eric Schmidt and Jared Cohen:"The New Digital Age"'s Futurist Schlock | New Republic

Published on Apr 17, 2013

To Save Everything, Click Here: 
The Folly of Technological Solutionism

In the near future, "smart" technologies and "big data" will allow us to make large-scale interventions in politics, culture, and everyday life. Technology will allow us to solve problems in original ways and create new incentives to get more people to do the right thing. But how will such "solutionism" affect our society? What will happen when deeply political, moral, and irresolvable problems are recast as uncontroversial and easily manageable matters of technological efficiency? Technology, Evgeny Morozov proposes, can be a force for improvement--but only if we keep solutionism in check and learn to appreciate the imperfections of liberal democracy.

To Save Everything, Click Here: The Folly of Technological Solutionism - YouTube
To save everything... | Evgeny Morozov
Evgeny Morozov on the folly of 'technological solutionism' | European Social Innovation Research

See also:
Futures Forum: The 'sharing economy', 'resilience' and 'nudging': Evgeny Morozov on "The rise of data and the death of politics"

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