Emerg­ing tech­nolo­gies will af­fect our lives. What choices do we have as cit­i­zens to in­flu­ence their de­vel­op­ment?

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - WEEKEND LIFE -

Emerg­ing tech­nolo­gies will af­fect our lives. What choices do we have as cit­i­zens to in­flu­ence their de­vel­op­ment?

On June 28, 2016, Face­book com­pleted the first suc­cess­ful test flight of Aquila — a so­lar-pow­ered drone that aims to beam in­ter­net tech­nol­ogy to re­mote parts of the world and even­tu­ally break the record for the long­est un­manned air­craft flight. Big as that mile­stone was, Face­book en­vis­ages a fleet of Aquilas fly­ing to­gether at 60,000 feet, com­mu­ni­cat­ing with each via lasers and stay­ing aloft for months at a time — some­thing that’s never done be­fore. It’s all part of the dig­i­tal be­he­moth’s mis­sion to con­nect the world and help more of the four bil­lion peo­ple who aren’t on­line to ac­cess the myr­iad op­por­tu­ni­ties the in­ter­net pro­vides.

In­deed, the world of to­mor­row is shaped by the de­signs and tech­nolo­gies emerg­ing to­day. From smart ap­pli­ances to satel­lites, the ex­hi­bi­tion The Fu­ture Starts Here, at Lon­don’s Vic­to­ria & Al­bert Mu­seum, brings to­gether more than 100 ob­jects (ei­ther newly re­leased or in de­vel­op­ment) that point the way to­ward where so­ci­ety might be headed. Although some may seem straight out of the realm of sci­ence fic­tion, they’re all real, pro­duced by re­search labs, uni­ver­si­ties, de­sign­ers’ stu­dios, gov­ern­ments and cor­po­ra­tions.

The un­de­ni­able phys­i­cal re­al­ity of th­ese ob­jects may give the im­pres­sion that the fu­ture is al­ready fixed. But new things con­tain un­pre­dictable po­ten­tials and pos­si­bil­i­ties, of­ten unan­tic­i­pated even by their cre­ators. It’s up to us — as in­di­vid­u­als, as cit­i­zens and even as a species — to de­ter­mine what hap­pens next. While the ob­jects here sug­gest a cer­tain fu­ture, it is not yet de­ter­mined. The fu­ture we get is up to us. And it starts here.

Guided by eth­i­cal and spec­u­la­tive ques­tions, the ex­hi­bi­tion ex­am­ines the tech­no­log­i­cal im­pact on no­tions of the self, the pub­lic, the planet and the af­ter­life — each evok­ing in­creas­ing scales of tech­no­log­i­cal im­pact. How might th­ese ob­jects af­fect the way you live, learn and even love?

Hu­mans can now de­sign life it­self. Our bod­ies, and even our in­ter­nal bi­o­log­i­cal sys­tems, are be­com­ing sites of de­sign. Wear­able tech­nolo­gies and per­sonal track­ers have be­come quo­tid­ian stan­dards; we mea­sure heart rates when we run and nav­i­gate cities by GPS when we drive. The dis­tinc­tion be­tween hu­man and tech­nol­ogy blurs. Once a pre­serve of pri­vacy, the home is now a broad­cast­ing sta­tion from which we share our lives through so­cial me­dia.

How will tech­nol­ogy af­fect the places we gather col­lec­tively to make de­ci­sions? In a world where peo­ple crowd­fund ev­ery­thing from bi­cy­cles to bridges, or leak gov­ern­ment se­crets and gen­er­ate new cur­ren­cies, does democ­racy still work? The top-down strate­gies of an in­creas­ingly small num­ber of com­pa­nies and gov­ern­ments, ver­sus the bot­tom-up tac­tics of a ris­ing mass of peo­ple — which will thrive?

And then there’s the even big­ger pic­ture. Should the planet be a de­sign project? Hu­man ac­tiv­ity has al­tered our planet to the ex­tent that some sci­en­tists have de­clared a new ge­o­log­i­cal epoch, the An­thro­pocene, or “age of hu­mans”. Now that our be­hav­ior has un­in­ten­tion­ally de­signed the Earth, can we use tech­nol­ogy to re­verse the ef­fects and clean, re­pair or give back to the planet? Some are look­ing for so­lu­tions in the stars — de­sign­ing satel­lites that scope as­ter­oids for min­ing new ge­o­log­i­cal re­sources and de­vis­ing ways for us to in­habit Mars. But if Mars is the an­swer, what is the ques­tion? Can we still save our planet, or is it time to leave?

Which leaves us with man’s ir­rec­on­cil­able dilemma: mor­tal­ity. Who wants to live for­ever? Cur­rent ad­vance­ments in biotech­nol­ogy and ar­ti­fi­cial in­tel­li­gence have the po­ten­tial to re­de­fine our con­cep­tions of what life is. Reawak­en­ing af­ter death or up­load­ing one’s mind onto a com­puter are ideas that may sound like sci­ence fic­tion, but are taken quite se­ri­ously by some fu­tur­ists to­day. Against th­ese ef­forts to pre­serve the self, in­sti­tu­tions such as the Long Now Foun­da­tion and the Sval­bard Global Seed Vault are work­ing to pre­serve hu­man­ity through books, seeds and ma­te­rial cul­ture. But what do we want to save for the fu­ture — the in­di­vid­ual or the col­lec­tive?

The fu­ture starts here. And our chal­lenge has never looked greater — or more press­ing.


A test flight for the Aquila, a so­lar-pow­ered drone with the wing­span of a Boe­ing 747, de­vel­oped by Face­book.

Tomas Sara­ceno’s Ae­rocene launches at White Sands Nat­u­ral Park, 2015.

Shoot­ing Stars project, Ale Co Ltd, 2016.

Be­ta­model, Bento Labs.

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