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

Messages of Hope for Boston

boston-marathon-explosion-1I think it’s fair to say that the weekend bombing attack in Boston was a shock to us all. Worse yet was the horror faced by those who were at ground zero when it happened, men, women and children taking part in a public sporting event that was hurting no one and served no political purpose. The deaths and injuries sustained to these people who were simply out for a run with hundreds of their fellow Bostonians is an outrage to say the least.

And of course, there has been plenty of speculation and attempts at recrimination, the kind of thing that always follows in the wake of a terrorist bombing. Though no guilty parties have been identified and no one has come forward to claim responsibility, there are those who want to point fingers and start beating the war drums, demanding blood and vengeance for the terrible crime. At a time so soon after the tragedy struck, this kind of attitude can only add to the hurt and difficulty.

Boston_projectorAnd yet, in the midst of this tragedy, there are thing that remind us that there’s always reason for hope, like in how people overcome their differences in times of strife to show mutual love and support. A perfect example is how last night in Brooklyn, a glowing message of hope appeared on the face of the Brooklyn Academy of Music. Here, New Yorkers were treated to a series of messages offering their support for the city of Boston in the wake of the Marathon bombings, such as “Brooklyn Loves Boston” and the Martin Luther King quote “Darkness cannot drive out darkness, only light can do that.”

But here’s where it gets especially inspiring! The lights were the work of a van that was outfitted with special projection technology that was originally designed for the Occupy Wall Street protests. As a mobile offshoot of the “We Are The 99%” projections that were placed on the sides of skyscrapers some years back, this vehicle was planned for upcoming Tax Day, projecting the message “Tax Evader”. However, it quickly retooled the moment news of the bombings broke. Hence, what was originally intended as a message of protest promptly switched to one of support, peace and love.

boston-marathon-bombingAnd then there was another news story to come out of the carnage, something which reminds us that human beings are capable of exceptional good when the chips are down. With all the news about how social media has been used for evil (i.e. to document cases or rape or bully people into committing suicide), the Boston Marathon presented a side of social media that shows how effective it can be in a crisis.

Within seconds of the first bomb blast, pictures, video and news of the horrific event were pulsing over social networks. For many, this was how news of the attack first came to light, and first responders and police even used Twitter, Facebook, and Tumblr and other networks to get valuable information out, like warning people to stay away from the crisis area. In times of mass panic, when conventional means of communication can be overwhelmed, this kind of response can be invaluable.

Boston Marathon ExplosionThe memes that quickly emerged from the event involved the sharing of photos and questions about how to reach loved ones when cell coverage was down in large parts of the Boston Area. Google immediately set up a “person finder” system for posting and finding information about specific people. And while major news outlets covered the casualties and law enforcement’s efforts to locate more bombs, citizens reached out to each other with the best factual information they could find.

Granted, there were some offensive memes, but by and large, the efforts of bloggers had the effect of providing real-time information on the bombing and allaying fears. Some even went as far as to correct misinformation and rumors spreading about the attack, about the bombers, and to place the events in a global context. One blogger reminded people of the recent bombings in Iraq which killed 37 people and left 140 injured. It says something about people when, even in the face of fear and sadness, they are able to remind people that there are some that have it worse.

Whereas many people think that social media is little more than a means of spreading rumors, gossip, or the hurtful trifecta known as FUD (Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt), thus making a crisis situation that much worse, the speedy response and responsible use of social media sites in the midst of this crisis was actually very helpful and may have averted further problems. I for one hope this is a sign of things to come, how technology can and will be used responsibly to deal with challenges and extend help to those in need.

At this point, I hope this spirit of support, love and mutual assistance continues on into the foreseeable future. As 9/11 reminded us, terrorist attacks and tragedies can so easily become the fodder of extreme intolerance and questionable agendas. Thought it’s not clear yet who did this or why, I am hopeful that what President Obama said about finding the people responsible and holding them accountable proves true, and soon.

Sources: IO9, fastcoexist.com