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  • feedwordpress 08:01:51 on 2018/10/18 Permalink
    Tags: , Analytical Engine, , , , future, , history of computing,   

    “The future is already here – it’s just not evenly distributed”*… 

     

    future

    Security, transportation, energy, personal “stuff”– the 2018 staff of Popular Mechanics, asked leading engineers and futurists for their visions of future cities, and built a handbook to navigate this new world: “The World of 2045.”

    * William Gibson (in The Economist, December 4, 2003)

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    As we take the long view, we might spare a thought for Charles Babbage; he died on this date in 1871. A mathematician, philosopher, inventor, and mechanical engineer, Babbage is best remembered for originating the concept of a programmable computer. Anxious to eliminate inaccuracies in mathematical tables, he first built a small calculating machine able to compute squares.  He then produced prototypes of portions of a larger Difference Engine. (Georg and Edvard Schuetz later constructed the first working devices to the same design, and found them successful in limited applications.)  In 1833 he began his programmable Analytical Machine (AKA, the Analytical Engine), the forerunner of modern computers, with coding help from Ada Lovelace, who created an algorithm for the Analytical Machine to calculate a sequence of Bernoulli numbers— for which she is remembered as the first computer programmer.

    Babbage’s other inventions include the cowcatcher, the dynamometer, the standard railroad gauge, uniform postal rates, occulting lights for lighthouses, Greenwich time signals, and the heliograph opthalmoscope.  A true hacker, he was also passionate about cyphers and lock-picking.

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  • feedwordpress 08:01:30 on 2018/08/28 Permalink
    Tags: Anna Karenina, , , future, , , , , , War and Peace, Yuval Noah Harari   

    “It is far better to foresee even without certainty than not to foresee at all”*… 

     

    wired_coder_museum

    Humankind is facing unprecedented revolutions, all our old stories are crumbling and no new story has so far emerged to replace them. How can we prepare ourselves and our children for a world of such unprecedented transformations and radical uncertainties? A baby born today will be thirty-something in 2050. If all goes well, that baby will still be around in 2100, and might even be an active citizen of the 22nd century. What should we teach that baby that will help him or her survive and flourish in the world of 2050 or of the 22nd century? What kind of skills will he or she need in order to get a job, understand what is happening around them and navigate the maze of life?…

    “As the pace of change increases, the very meaning of being human is likely to mutate and physical and cognitive structures will melt”: “Yuval Noah Harari on what the year 2050 has in store for humankind.”

    * Henri Poincare, The Foundations of Science

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    As we agree with the Marquis of Halifax that “the best qualification of a prophet is to have a good memory,” we might send insightful birthday greetings to Leo Tolstoy; he was born on this date in 1828 (O.S.; September 9, N.S.).  Widely regarded as one of the greatest authors of all time, he first achieved literary acclaim in his twenties with his semi-autobiographical trilogy, ChildhoodBoyhood, and Youth, and Sevastopol Sketches, based on his experiences in the Crimean War.  But he is surely best remembered for two of his novels, War and Peace and Anna Karenina, often cited as pinnacles of realist fiction.

    220px-L.N.Tolstoy_Prokudin-Gorsky source

     

     
  • feedwordpress 08:01:07 on 2016/10/06 Permalink
    Tags: Allen Tate, Caroline Gordon, Ford Madox Ford, future, , , , Southern Agrarians, , ,   

    “A girl should be two things: who and what she wants”*… 

     

    From Lapham Quarterly‘s issue on The Future, an excerpt from Meta Stern Lilienthal’s 1916 book Women of the Future

    The young maidens of the future, healthy in body and mind, will go forth from educational institutions to perform their life’s work in their chosen trades and professions. Be they cooks or laundresses, weavers or dressmakers, typewriters or telephone operators, teachers or physicians, they will be assured of a decent livelihood and of the wholesome enjoyments of life in return for their services to society. They will be young as few are young today, even among the favored classes. They will work and enjoy themselves and live with an amount of youthful energy and enthusiasm that is rarely met with in our present enfeebled, overworked, poverty-stricken world. The haggard faces, anemic complexions, and drooping shoulders which are so prevalent among the working girls of today that the average city dweller fails to notice them, will disappear like the white plague and other preventable curses of humanity. Bright eyes, ruddy complexions, and straight, strong bodies will be the inalienable rights of youth. We know that health and strength and vigor are not only possible but natural to youth. Young savage women, untouched by the evils of civilization, show it, and the athletic daughters of the propertied classes, spared from the evils of civilization, show it also. The maidens of the future, strong, healthy, active, and educated, will be physically and mentally fit for wifehood and motherhood as not one in a hundred is today. Eventually every Jill will find her Jack, according to individual needs and circumstances, but economic causes will not retard marriages or prevent those who love one another from joining their lives. Jill will not ask, “Can Jack support me?” because she will be fully able to support herself, and Jack will not inquire whether Jill can make good pies—unless pie making be her trade—because he will be able to get all the pies he wants, even better than “mother used to make.” Instead, they will ask themselves seriously, intelligently, questions such as these: “Do we love deeply and truly?”

    Springtime for Women

    * Coco Chanel

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    As we agree with Niels Bohr that “prediction is very difficult, especially about the future,” we might send birthday greetings in the Agrarian tradition to Caroline Ferguson Gordon; she was born on this date in 1895 (so was likely one of those “young maidens” of whom Lilienthal wrote).  A novelist and critic of distinction– while still in her thirties, she won two prestigious literary awards, a 1932 Guggenheim Fellowship and a 1934 O. Henry Award– she was also (with her long-time partner, the poet and critic Allen Tate) the convener of a salon in her Tennessee home that hosted some of the best-known writers of their time, including F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, William Faulkner, Flannery O’Connor, T. S. Eliot, Robert Penn Warren, and Ford Madox Ford, the author whom Gordon considered her mentor.  She was herself a mentor to younger writers, perhaps most notably, Walker Percy.

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  • feedwordpress 08:01:02 on 2016/03/14 Permalink
    Tags: , Douglas Coupland, , future, , Merleau-Ponty, phenomenology, , ,   

    “To me there is no past or future in art. If a work of art cannot live always in the present it must not be considered at all.”*… 

     

    Douglas Coupland, “Slogans for the 21st Century”

    … Evangelical Christians look to the book of Revelations for clues as to what’s to come next; the secular world looks to contemporary art, which seems to operate in a world that has calcified into a self-propagating MFA‑ocracy as orthodox as any extremist religion. But when did making art and foretelling the future become the same thing? What’s the rush? The rush is already coming at us quickly enough. The future of art has to be something that will give us bit of slow. And I hope that it happens quickly…

    From an essay by artist and novelist/essayist Douglas Coupland, “What is the Future of Art?

    * Pablo Picasso

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    As we celebrate, on 3.14.16, both Pi Day and Einstein’s birthday, we might send ontological birthday greetings to Maurice Merleau-Ponty; he was born on this date in 1908.  a phenomenological philosopher who was strongly influenced by Husserl and Heidegger, Merleau-Ponty wrote about perception, art, and politics in the service of understanding the constitution of human experience and meaning.  He served on the editorial board of Sartre’s Les Temps modernes.  His work has been widely influential, from Hubert Dreyfus’s use of Merleau-Ponty’s thought in the seminal What Computers Can’t Do, to the rise of French, then European feminism.  At his death (in 1961) he was working towards an understanding of “Ecophenomenology,” suggesting in notes left behind the need for “a radically transformed understanding of ‘nature'”:  “Do a psychoanalysis of Nature: it is the flesh, the mother… Nature as the other side of humanity (as flesh, nowise as ‘matter’).” 

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  • feedwordpress 09:01:35 on 2016/02/12 Permalink
    Tags: drug bust, ecommerce, future, , , , , , ,   

    “When a man is tired of London, he is tired of life”*… 

     

    Greenwich Hospital (from the North Bank) source: The Queens’ London

    Accurately imagining what the world will be like one hundred years in the future is always going to be fraught with difficulties (see this attempt, and also this). The writer of this piece “London a Hundred Years Hence”, which appeared in an 1857 edition of The Leisure Hour, certainly swayed a little off the mark when it comes to an imagining of 1957 London – sadly in being a little too utopian. In addition to the eradication of all poverty and crime, the author talks of a smoke-free city, and the “crystal waters” of the Thames, with fishes seen darting over the “the clear sand and white pebbles lying at the bottom”. However, the vision is surprisingly accurate in other quarters. In addition to predicting the vast geographical expansion of the city in which “Kew and Hammersmith were London; Lewisham and Blackheath were London; Woolwich and Blackwall were London”, it also gets it right with specifics, such as the building of Embankment (which would actually begin only five years after the piece was published): “instead of shelving shores of mud, I saw solid walls of granite, … part paved for wheel-carriages, and part a gravelled promenade for the citizens”. There is also a foreseeing of the shopping mall:

    I beheld vast associative stores, the depositories of the skilled worker in every craft, where all that talent could invent or industry produce was displayed in magnificent abundance beneath one ample roof. One shop of this kind for each single branch of commerce sufficed for a large district, and the decreased expenditure in rent, fittings, and service, reduced the cost of management, and consequently the price of products … The purchaser walked through long galleries, where, ranged in orderly array, glittered and gleamed the gold, the gems, the jewels of every clime.

    The piece is really notable, however, for its anticipation (albeit a little too early for 1957) of internet shopping:

    I observed that from each of these district shops innumerable electric wires branched off in all directions, communicating with several houses in the district to which it belonged. Thus, no sooner did a house-keeper stand in need of any article than she could despatch the order instantaneously along the wire, and receive the goods by the very first railway carriage that happened to pass the store. Thus, she saved her time, and she lost no money, because all chaffering and cheapening, and that fencing between buyer and seller, which was once deemed a pleasure, had been long voted a disgraceful, demoralizing nuisance, and was done away with.

    And then also the connectivity across distances which the telephone, and then internet, would bring:

    The electric wires ran along the fronts of the houses near the upper stories, crossing the streets at an elevation at which they were scarcely visible from below; and I noticed that the dwellings of friends, kindred, and intimates were thus banded together, not only throughout the whole vast city, but even far out into the provinces, and, in cases where the parties were wealthy, to the uttermost limits of the realm.

    More at “London a Hundred Years Hence (1857),” where one will find the full text and links to scans of the original.

    * Samuel Johnson, as quoted in Boswell’s The Life of Samuel Johnson LL.D. (Vol 3)

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    As we look right, we might recall that it was on this date in 1967 that Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, Marianne faithful, and friends were busted:

    Just after eight o’clock, on the evening of February 12 1967, the West Sussex police arrived at Keith Richards’ home, Redlands. Inside, Keith and his guests – including Mick Jagger, Marianne Faithfull, the gallery owner Robert Fraser, and “Acid King” David Schneiderman – shared in the quiet warmth of a day taking LSD. Relaxed, they listened to music, oblivious to the police gathering outside. The first intimation something was about to happen came when a face appeared, pressed against the window.

    It must be a fan. Who else could it be? But Keith noticed it was a “little old lady.” Strange kind of fan. If we ignore her. She’ll go away.

    Then it came, a loud, urgent banging on the front door. Robert Fraser quipped, “Don’t answer. It must be tradesmen. Gentlemen ring up first.” Marianne Faithfull whispered, “If we don’t make any noise, if we’re all really quiet, they’ll go away.” But they didn’t.

    When Richards opened the door, he was confronted by 18 police officers led by Police Chief Inspector Gordon Dinely, who presented Richards with a warrant to “search the premises and the persons in them, under the Dangerous Drugs Act 1965.”

    This then was the start to the infamous trial of Mick Jagger, Keith Richards and Robert Fraser…

    [More at “The Great Rolling Stones Drug Bust“]

    Richard Hamilton’s portrait of Robert Fraser and Mick Jagger under arrest

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  • feedwordpress 08:01:25 on 2015/10/28 Permalink
    Tags: , Azone, future, Guggenheim, , Locke, market, ,   

    “I never think of the future – it comes soon enough”*… 

     

    From The Guggenheim, “an online exhibition that enables you to take a position on the future of a world increasingly shaped by emerging technologies.”  Built with the help of a variety of contributors—from artists and architects to theorists and strategists–Åzone (from azone, ancient Greek for “without nation,” with reference to Åland, a unique and autonomous region of Finland, and the site of a Guggenheim-led retreat where this project was initiated) is “an online marketplace that allows visitors to learn about, discuss, and evaluate the effects of technology-driven change.”

    Invest in the future at Åzone.

    * Albert Einstein

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    As we place our bets, we might spare a reasoned thought for the Enlightenment giant John Locke; the physician and philosopher died on this date in 1704.  An intellectual descendant of Francis Bacon, Locke was among the first empiricists. He spent over 20 years developing the ideas he published in his most significant work, Essay Concerning Human Understanding (1690), an analysis of the nature of human reason which promoted experimentation as the basis of knowledge.  Locke established “primary qualities” (e.g., solidity, extension, number) as distinct from “secondary qualities” (sensuous attributes like color or sound).  He recognized that science is made possible when the primary qualities, as apprehended, create ideas that faithfully represent reality.

    Locke is, of course, also well-remembered as a key developer (with Hobbes, and later Rousseau) of the concept of the Social Contract.  Locke’s theory of “natural rights” influenced Voltaire and Rosseau– and formed the intellectual basis of the U.S. Declaration of Independence.

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  • feedwordpress 08:01:38 on 2015/10/22 Permalink
    Tags: airsickness, Alvin Toffler, , future, Future Shock, , Garnerin, , , ,   

    “You got to be worried when they’re agreeing about anything… Prophets. That’s the last bloody thing you want prophets to do”*… 

     

    email readers click here for video

    We may define future shock as the distress, both physical and psychological, that arises from an overload of the human organism’s physical adaptive systems and it’s decision-making processes… Put more simply, future shock is the human response to over-stimulation…

    – Alvin Toffler

    The film above is a documentary based on Future Shock, the book written in 1970 by sociologist and futurist Alvin Toffler…

    Released in 1972, with a cigar-chomping Orson Welles as on-screen narrator, this piece of futurism
    is darkly dystopian and oozing techno-paranoia… A great opening features a montage of car crashes and civil unrest intercut with two figures walking in a green field (while creepy synthesizers play in the background) who are soon revealed to be automatons with creepy robot faces — a nice metaphor for the fear of the unrecognizable, cold, and chaotic future society that Toffler thought we were all headed for…

    More background in the notes accompanying the film.

    (After watching the film, take a whack at being a futurist yourself; try the card game, “The Thing From the Future“…)

    * China Miéville, Kraken

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    As we brace for change, we might recall that it was on this date in 1797 that André-Jacques Garnerin accomplished the first successful parachute jump.  He ascended to 2,230 ft. above the Parc Monceau, Paris, with a balloon, then released it and unfurled a silk parachute.  Lacking any vent in the top of the parachute, Garnerin descended with violent oscillations– as a result of which, he suffered the first case of airsickness.

    Garnerin releases the balloon and descends with the help of a parachute, 1797. (Illustration from the late 19th century.)

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  • feedwordpress 09:01:52 on 2015/02/11 Permalink
    Tags: Anders Sandberg, , future, hazard, , , , threat, , , warning   

    “History is a vast early warning system”*… 

     

    … Still, the hazards we face at any point in time have altogether-contemporary characteristics.  Happily, Anders Sandberg has ridden to the rescue a new collection of warning signs…

    See them all at “Warning Signs for Tomorrow.”

    * Norman Cousins

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    As we duck and cover, we might spare a thought for René Descartes, the French philosopher and mathematician who thought and therefore was; he died on this date in 1650.

    Many contemporaries (perhaps most notably, Pascal) rejected his famous conclusion, the dualist separation of mind and body; more (Voltaire, et al.), since.  But Descartes’ emphasis on method and analysis, his disciplined integration of philosophy and physical science, his insistence on the importance of consciousness in epistemology, and perhaps most fundamentally, his the questioning of tradition and authority had a transformative– and lasting– effect on Western thought, and has earned him the “title” of Father of Modern Philosophy.

    “In order to improve the mind, we ought less to learn than to contemplate.”
    – Rene Descartes

    Frans Hals’ portrait of Descartes, c. 1649

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  • feedwordpress 08:01:00 on 2014/04/22 Permalink
    Tags: Bow Street Runners, , Fielding, future, Henry Fielding, , , Samuel Richardson, Tom Jones,   

    “I see that the fashion wears out more apparel than the man”*… 

     

    From a delightful piece called the “Future Dictates of Fashion” by W. Cade Gall and published in the January 1893 issue of The Strand magazine. On the premise that a book from a hundred years in the future (published in 1993) called The Past Dictates of Fashion has been inexplicably found in a library, the article proceeds to divulge this book’s contents – namely, a look back at the last century of fashion, which, of course, for the reader in 1893, would be looking forward across the next hundred years into the future. In this imagined future, fashion has become a much respected science (studied in University from the 1950s onwards) and is seen to be “governed by immutable laws”.

    The designs themselves have a somewhat unaccountable leaning toward the medieval, or as John Ptak astutely notes, “a weird alien/Buck Rogers/Dr. Seuss/Wizard of Oz quality” to them. If indeed this was a genuine attempt by the author Gall to imagine what the future of fashion might look like, it’s fascinating to see how far off the mark he was, proving yet again how difficult it is to predict future aesthetics. It is also fascinating to see how Gall envisaged the progression of fashions across the decades – considering that, from our perspective now, his vision of 1970 doesn’t much look much different to 1920 – and to see which aspects of his present he wasn’t even able to consider losing to the march of time (e.g. the long length of women’s skirts and the seemingly ubiquitous frill). As is often the case when we come into contact with historic attempts to predict a future which for us is now past, it is like glimpsing into another possible world, a parallel universe that could have been (or which, perhaps, did indeed play out “somewhere”)…

    Read more (and see more) at “Fashions of the Future as Imagined in 1893.”  Then read a full transcript of Gall’s piece at Forgotten Futures or in its original context on Internet Archive.

    * Shakespeare: Conrade, Much Ado About Nothing, Act 3, Scene 3

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    As we worry through our wardrobes, we might send slightly subversive birthday greetings to Henry Fielding; he was born on this date in 1707.  Fielding began his literary career as a dramatist, writing plays savagely satirical of the government of Sir Robert Walpole– so critical, in fact, that they led to the imposition of the Theatrical Licensing Act of 1737– which effectively outlawed satire on stage, and ended Fielding’s career in the theater.

    Fielding became a barrister, but continued to pen satires of current politics and culture, first “printed plays” (published, but unperformed) like The Tragedy of Tragedies (for which Hogarth designed the frontispiece), then prose.  He wrote for Tory publications; then, in anger at the success of Samuel Richardson’s Pamela, or Virtue Rewarded, Fielding took to writing novels in 1741 and had his first major success– Shamela, an anonymous parody of Richardson’s melodramatic novel.  He followed up with Joesph Andrews.  But his greatest work was Tom Jones, the meticulously-constructed picaresque that tells the convoluted and hilarious tale of a foundling finding his fortune.

    Interestingly– and perhaps ironically– Fielding also has an important place in the history of law-enforcement, having founded (with his half-brother John) what some have called London‘s first police force, the Bow Street Runners, using the authority he gained when he was appointed a magistrate.

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