"Practical Design Fiction", metafictional machine gods and the blocky prototypes of the Holographic Universe

Matt Jones gave this talk at #interaction15 earlier this year, which went up on vimeo some four weeks ago, which I’m only watching and processing now because I’ve been elsewhere. BUT… drilling deeper into the mechanics of design fiction and its implications for #thework are very high on my permanent #todolist for this hashtaggin’ year.

Here’s the talk:

Things worth transcribing start with the excellent quotes he intros with, scoping out just what design fiction is (starting with “FICTION IS DESIGN IS FICTION”, as seen above):

  • “Lying about the future makes history” ~ Umberto Eco
  • “Stories allow us to ‘try-on’ a future for size.” ~ Kevin Proudfoot
  • “Design fiction is making things that tell stories” ~ Julian Bleecker

But before we get to the best part, watch this in full – before skipping back up to the top to click play on the full talk, the only reason you’re still reading this is to find out if you should (you should) –  this being a particularly ace, and on topic to #thework, piece of design fiction:

Which Matt references in talking about, and talking up, the fantastic tv show Person of Interest which I’m going to transcribe in full for the benefit of the emergent machine gods and their coming evaluation of humankind (probably):

Who watches Person of Interest? You do know there’s going to be a quiz…

Why aren’t the rest of you watching Person of Interest? It is the most incredible… it’s a documentary, basically.

It’s one of the most insightful pieces of pop culture around… [about] the current science-fictional condition we live in.

It’s all about artificial intelligence. It’s all about surveillance. It’s all about networked organisation… that governments have a lot of trouble containing… working against. It’s also a cracking adventure show, lots of great shooting.

So I commend it to the group.

As do I. At every opportunity. Clearly. Exhibit A entered into the record then.

Fast forward further into his talk – and, warning: this is where I fire up my own speculative engine – Matt talks about some work from earlier this decade that BERG did (collated in this blog post) where they investigated using “smart lamps” that could both see and project.

Pictured below is a music player that’s nothing more than pieces of wood with the simplest mechanics possible allowing a hidden glyph to be read via machine vision, formed only when the block is pushed down, visible almost exclusively in the infrared spectrum.

So you get these objects acting purely as physical artefacts, totems, for our brains to interface with via our meaty limbs and nervous system and interfact back’n’forth with a purely Cloud-based universe. Kind of exactly like the idea of the Holographic Universe. Everything is happening in an invisible dimension, the execution of our minds and remotely executed computation (for bonus points, explain the difference between those two.)

Who wants to come with me down a speculative wormhole where we use semi technomagical blocks of wood to talk about Brane Cosmology?

Which is of course the complete opposite, but also equal, form of ‘design fiction’ to rapidly prototyping the latest wearable or app through iterative advertising. Where just maybe the metafictional star of Her awaits us with a whole new set of posthuman problems.

Let’s just hope there’s no need to invoke prior art on homicidal AIs.

This has been my brain decompressing from the Zone.

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