Warning Signs from the Future

future-signs-02From bioenhancements becoming the norm, to people constantly wired into augmented reality; from synthetic organs to synthetic meat; driverless taxis to holograms and robot helpers – the future is likely to be an interesting-looking place. That’s the subject in a new Tumblr called Signs from the Near Future, where designer Fernando Barbella explores what signage will look like when we have to absorb all of these innovations into human culture.

Taking its cue from what eager startups and scientists predict, Barbella’s collection of photos looks a few decades into the future where dramatic, sci-fi inspired innovations have become everyday things. These include things like drones becoming a regular thing, driverless taxis (aka. robotaxis) and synthetic meat becoming available, high-tech classrooms servicing the post-humans amongst us, and enhancements and implants becoming so common they need to be regulated and monitored.

future-signs-01Barbella says that the project was inspired by articles he’s read on topics like nanomedicine, autonomous cars, and 3-D food printing, as well as classic books (Neuromancer, Fahrenheit 51), movies (Blade Runner, Gattaca), music (Rage Against The Machine), and TV shows (Fringe, Black Mirror). The designer chose to focus on signs because he figures that we’ll need a little guidance to speed up our learning curves with new technology. As he put it during an interview via email:

New materials, mashups between living organisms and nanotechnologies, improved capabilities for formerly ‘dumb’ and inanimate things . . . There’s lots of awesome things going on around us! And the fact is all these things are going to cease being just ‘projects’ to became part of our reality at any time soon. On the other hand, I chose to express these thing by signs deployed in ordinary places, featuring instructions and warnings because I feel that as we increasingly depend on technology, we will probably have less space for individual judgment to make decisions.

future-signs-07Some of the signs – including one thanking drivers for choosing to ride on a solar panel highway – can be traced back to specific news articles or announcements. The solar highway sign was inspired by a solar roadways crowdfunding campaign, which has so far raised over $2 million to build solar road panels. However, rather than focus on the buzz and how cool and modern such a development would be, Barbella chose to focus on what such a thing would look like.

At the same time, he wanted the pictures to serve as a sort of cautionary tale about the ups and down of the future. As he put it:

I feel that as we increasingly depend on technology, we will probably have less space for individual judgment to make decisions. …I’ve sticked to a more ‘mundane’ point of view, imagining that the people or authorities of any given county would be probably quite grateful for having the chance of transforming all that traffic into energy.

future-signs-03He says he wants his signs to not just depict that momentum and progress, but to reflect the potentially disturbing aspects of those advances as well. Beyond that, Barbella sees an interesting dynamic in the public’s push and pull against what new technology allows us to do. Though the technology grants people access to information and other cultures, it also poses issues of privacy and ethics that hold that back. As a result, privacy concerns are thus featured in the collection in a number of ways.

This includes warning people about “oversharing” via social media, how images snapped using contact display lenses will be shared in real-time with authorities, or how certain neighorhoods are drone patrolled. His images offer a look at why those issues are certain to keep coming — and at the same time, why many will ultimately fall aside. Barbella also stated that has more future signs in the queue, but he says that he’ll stop the moment they start to feel forced.

future-signs-05You have to admit, it does capture the sense of awe and wonder – not to mention fear and anxiety – of what our likely future promises. And as the saying goes, “a picture is worth a thousands words”. In this case, those words present a future that has one foot in the fantastical and another in the fearful, but in such a way that it seems entirely frank and straighforward. But that does seem to be the way the future works, doesn’t it? Somehow, it doesn’t seem like science fiction once it becomes a regular part of “mundane” reality.

To see more of his photos, head on over to his Tumblr account.

Sources: fastcoexist.com, theverge.com

The Future of Education: Facial Recognition in the Classroom

https://i2.wp.com/edudemic.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/07/intel-bridge-the-gap.pngFor some time now, classroom cameras have been used to see what teachers do in the course of their lessons, and evaluate their overall effectiveness as educators. But thanks to a recent advances in facial recognition software, a system has been devised that will assess teacher effectiveness by turning the cameras around and aiming at them at the class.

It’s what’s known as EngageSense, and was developed by SensorStar Labs in Queens, New York. It begins by filming student’s faces, then applying an algorithm to assess their level of interest. And while it might sound a bit Big Brother-y, the goal is actually quite progressive. Traditional logic has it that by filming the teacher, you will know what they are doing right and wrong.

https://i1.wp.com/f.fastcompany.net/multisite_files/fastcompany/imagecache/slideshow_large/slideshow/2013/10/3018861-slide-makerfaire1.jpgThis system reverses that thinking, measuring reactions to see how the students feel and react, measuring their level of interest over time to see what works for them and what doesn’t. As SensorStar Labs co-founder Sean Montgomery put it:

This idea of adding the cameras and being able to use that information to assist teachers to improve their lessons is already underway. Where this is trying to add a little value on top of that is to make it less work for the teachers.

Montgomery also emphasized that the technology is in the research and development research and development  phase. In its current form, it uses webcams to shoot students’ faces and computer vision algorithms to analyze their gaze – measuring eye movement, the direction they are facing, and facial expressions. That, coupled with audio, can be transformed into a rough, automated metric of student engagement throughout the day.

https://i2.wp.com/endthelie.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/08/facial-recognition-data-points.jpgAfter a lesson, a teacher could boot up EngageSense and see, with a glance at the dashboard, when students were paying rapt attention, and at what points they became confused or distracted. Beyond that, the concept is still being refined as SensorStar Labs looks both for funding and for schools to give EngageSense a real-world trial.

The ultimate goal here is to tailor lessons so that the learning styles of all students can be addressed. And given the importance of classroom accommodation and the amount of time dedicated to ensuring individual student success, a tool like this may prove very useful. Rather than relying on logs and spreadsheets, the EngageSense employs standard computer hardware that simplifies the evaluation process over the course of days, weeks, months, and even years.

https://i1.wp.com/image.slidesharecdn.com/technologyandeducation2-110922110134-phpapp01/95/slide-1-728.jpgAt the present time, the biggest obstacle would definitely be privacy concerns. While the software is designed for engaging student interest right now, it would not be difficult at all to imagine the same technology applied to police interrogations, security footage, or public surveillance.

One way to assuage these concerns in the classroomstudents, according to Montgomery, is to make the entire process voluntary. Much in the same way that smartphone apps ask permission to access your GPS or other personal data, parental consent would be needed before a child could be recorded or their data accessed and analyzed.

Sources: fastcoexist.com, labs.sensorstar.com