About a year ago, the retailer quietly began staffing up Lowe’s Innovation Labs, a group meant to lead innovation by testing and creating technologies, as well as partnering with startups. Kyle Nel, executive director, leads the labs in Los Angeles and San Francisco, as well as another under construction in Boulder, Colo. The labs focus on “uncommon partnerships” with Singularity University and SciFutures, for example.
“A lot of companies have outside spaces, but we approach it in a different way, through science-fiction prototyping,” said Mr. Nel, who reports to Lowe’s Chief Information Officer Paul Ramsay. “You take all of your market research, all of your trend data and hire professional science-fiction writers. And they write real stories with conflict and resolution and characters. We turned it into a comic book and created possible stories or visions of the future.”
One of those visions involved giving homeowners the ability to envision remodeling projects with augmented reality. “Because it was a sci-fi story, it really opened up people’s imaginations to understand what was possible,” Mr. Nel said. “Now that we’ve gone through it, it seems weird we wouldn’t work in this way.”
“We look at emerging tech, consumer insights, unmet needs and pain points, give them to sci-fi writers and create preferred futures,” said Ari Popper, founder and co-CEO of SciFutures, a self-described “technology, research and foresight agency” that counts Hershey, Del Monte and PepsiCo among its clients. “Technology removes a lot of the barriers and unmet needs and pain points associated with the visualization of home improvement.”
Believing in history is easy enough—we have little choice, as it turns out, because regardless of what you care to think, history is believing in you. But suggesting the possibility of belief in the future seems to be a major revelation for some. As if I told you that yesterday happened. It is big business for some, to assure others that the future will happen. There are profitable Churches of the Fact of the Future, whose only function is to verify the existence of the cosmology of history in general. Their scam is encouraging you to believe that knowledge of history in general is enough to let you know your own personal future. But specific questions of a personal future are not the real issue here.
The question to ask of the future is not what, but why? The future, as I have seen it, is the future. There were new technologies, new triumphs, new tragedies. There were new occurrences of the continued existence of humanity in the future, with all the suffering and bleeding and spitting and gushing and moaning in pleasure and pain. All the time and thought given up to reassuring ourselves that we are experiencing something, and that we will likely go on to experience something different. All of that navigating, to assure ourselves that we are standing where we stand. But to ask why, would take up all those precious resources with a much more difficult question. Why was the future the way it was? How did the future get so fucked up, and despite the fact that we could remember that the future would be the way it was, we still watched it occur with barely a shake of our heads? We know the facts of history, and yet we seem to merely remark upon them. We spend so much time confirming the obvious fact, we barely pause to think why.
The answer isn’t a simple existential theory. If only it were as simple as mere eschatological motive or rationale. If only the sidewalk and the roadway were a grand plan. Shoes and cars would be angels. But there’s no skill required here. There is little talent to learn. I remember the future of driving and walking, and it is very much like walking and driving in a car. There is always more street, and all the street is now connected. The future is visible in these streets, and it looks like streets, full of dust, blown up to obscure where street signs might exist
Robots will neither be common nor very good in 2014, but they will be in existence. The I.B.M. exhibit at the present fair has no robots but it is dedicated to computers, which are shown in all their amazing complexity, notably in the task of translating Russian into English. If machines are that smart today, what may not be in the works 50 years hence? It will be such computers, much miniaturized, that will serve as the “brains” of robots. In fact, the I.B.M. building at the 2014 World’s Fair may have, as one of its prime exhibits, a robot housemaid large, clumsy, slow- moving but capable of general picking-up, arranging, cleaning and manipulation of various appliances. It will undoubtedly amuse the fairgoers to scatter debris over the floor in order to see the robot lumberingly remove it and classify it into “throw away” and “set aside.” (Robots for gardening work will also have made their appearance.)
Much effort will be put into the designing of vehicles with “Robot-brains”*vehicles that can be set for particular destinations and that will then proceed there without interference by the slow reflexes of a human driver. I suspect one of the major attractions of the 2014 fair will be rides on small roboticized cars which will maneuver in crowds at the two-foot level, neatly and automatically avoiding each other.
For that matter, you will be able to reach someone at the moon colonies, concerning which General Motors puts on a display of impressive vehicles (in model form) with large soft tires intended to negotiate the uneven terrain that may exist on our natural satellite.
Any number of simultaneous conversations between earth and moon can be handled by modulated laser beams, which are easy to manipulate in space. On earth, however, laser beams will have to be led through plastic pipes, to avoid material and atmospheric interference. Engineers will still be playing with that problem in 2014.
Conversations with the moon will be a trifle uncomfortable, but the way, in that 2.5 seconds must elapse between statement and answer (it takes light that long to make the round trip). Similar conversations with Mars will experience a 3.5-minute delay even when Mars is at its closest. However, by 2014, only unmanned ships will have landed on Mars, though a manned expedition will be in the works and in the 2014 Futurama will show a model of an elaborate Martian colony.
Visit to the World’s Fair of 2014
By ISAAC ASIMOV – http://www.nytimes.com/books/97/03/23/lifetimes/asi-v-fair.html
The Coca-Cola Company plans to erect 150 kiosks in 20 countries that will offer water, electricity and Internet connections; they may also sell Coke and other products.
“We’re calling it a downtown in a box,” said Serena Levy, a company spokeswoman.
The announcement was made by Coca-Cola’s chairman, Muhtar Kent, at the Clinton Global Initiative meeting.
Right now, one such kiosk exists, a pilot version in Heidelberg, South Africa. It is a shipping container with solar panels for power, a satellite dish for wireless communication and a Slingshot water distiller designed by Dean Kamen, the Segway inventor.
Setup costs are an issue; for example, the first Slingshots cost more than $100,000 to build, but Mr. Kamen has said that he hopes volume will push the price below $2,000.
Ideally, the Coca-Cola Company said, the kiosks will be run by women. Which products and services the company will charge for is under discussion; they could, for example, store vaccines and offer health education without cost while asking people to pay for water and cellphone charging.
“We’re still working on the business model,” Ms. Levy said.Read more
As Bob Guccione wrote in 1978, in the opening pages of the very first OMNI Magazine, “the frontiers of human knowledge and experience are forever changing, forever expanding, and we, who are living at the very dawn of time, must make our common peace with change if we are to survive the next 1,000 years.”
We can make our peace with change, and map it, too: at the intersection of science fiction and reality, and the point where the two stray apart. After all, there have only been a few periods, fleeting, incandescent, where technology, science, and science fiction have found themselves expressing the same desires. In the Space Age, writers conjured the stars just as scientists worked diligently to send us there. In those days we dreamt collectively–our heads in the sky, our feet on the moon. But more often than not, science and science fiction diverge. Now, far more than in OMNI‘s heyday, our visions of the future are fractured in the simultaneous, ever-changing electronic marketplace of ideas we call the digital world.
The future has become a product. It supports a cottage industry of folks who earn their bread prognosticating, prophesying, designing, and marketing it. We are sold the impression that it will happen, like an event, from one day to the next–and told we will need the right gadgets to properly recognize it. But the future doesn’t work that way. It’s not a clubhouse; it’s not a trend; it’s not a place. The future will mostly likely happen as it always has: emerging from a million transparent forces, from patterns already, always, in place everywhere around us.