The Fictional Future We Plan For

The Information Society Technologies (IST) Working Group on Grand Challenges in the Evolution of the Information Society have released their report. The report, commissioned by the European Commission, intended to ‘identify grand challenges in information and communication technology (ICT), the pursuit of which will stimulate research and development in key areas and help the European Union to achieve its social and economic goals’. Many ‘grand challenges’ have been identified: The 100% Safe Car, The Multilingual Companion, The Service Robot Companion, The Self-Monitoring and Self-Repairing Computer, The Internet Police Agent, The Disease and Treatment Simulator, The Augmented Personal Memory, The Pervasive Communication Jacket, The Personal Everywhere Visualiser, The Ultra-light Aerial Transport Agent and The Intelligent Retail Store. They all make sense and are clearly influenced, as we all are, by sci-fi lit visions.

Image of robot with old man from report
‘The Service Robot Companion’, page 18 of the report.

I’m excited by The Personal Everywhere Visualizer, or (PEV) as it is known by those in the know, will:

comprise hardware for display, capture, and communication, as well as software for realistic graphics, visualization, animation, image understanding, and multimodal interaction. Having the size of a Personal Digital Assistant (PDA), the device will be readily available to generate instant display, augmented reality, and immersive communication scenarios for a wide range of applications including tele-presence, tele-learning, product management, mobile office environments, medical applications, retail scenarios, homecare of elders and entertainment.

‘…and entertainment.’ Oh, it just got in there. My lordy! Won’t the projection of fictional characters, scenes, lovers be THE use of the device? I think the report overlooks the strong desire humans have for manifesting or immersing themselves in fictional, constructed or different worlds. I am writing and researching with such future devices in mind. I’m looking forward to digital paper too. So that when people read a book, in that ol’ comfortable shape and size, they can follow hyperlinked words or see scenes played out. Check out the current technology on electronic|digital paper:
digital paper
digital pens & paper
E-Ink
MIT’s Electronic Paper Project
video speed electronic paper
flexible electronic paper.
So, right now, I write sci-fi futuristic works with my eye on future delivery technologies. Will I ever actually be in the present? Or is aiming for the future a normal present state to be in? I do know that I am conscious of the effect sci-fi has on culture and technology creation. So, to prevent stuff happening or uses of technology happening that I forsee I write about the horrible consequences. I hope to offer a choice to people in the present — you don’t have to have that future. But like all sci-fi and other apocalyptic visions of the future we actually end up creating the need for the choice. I’m gonna get my tail, round, round, round…

Writing for a Different Story World

I’ve been thinking about how writing for an interactive medium changes the narrative construction…and come up with a working analogy. Imagine a room, a room that is a cube. It has a bench and a stove. From your right walks in a yellow translucent figure. The figure walks to the stove, picks up a yellow kettle and pours into a yellow cup. At this moment another yellow figure walks in from the ‘top’/furthest wall alongside the bench and continues to exit the room just beside where the first figure entered. And then another figure enters from the left this time and this figure is green. This figure walks to the wall on the right and appears to be washing dishes in green water. Another figure, say blue,  enters from the top/furthest wall and stands at the bench facing the yellow person drinking tea and the green person washing dishes. This is linear narrative. It is up to the author to make sure, by walking amongst these coloured phantoms, that their paths never cross. To do so would cause their colours to blend and upset the space and time structure, and indeed character integrity, set up. The worlds could recognise each other, across time and space, if the author intended them so. The green figure at the sink could suddenly turn around and see and be seen by the blue figure standing at the bench. They could transcend the limits to their worlds because of love or some other great motivation for such transgression.
 
Now imagine a user could come in and click a button to have any one of those figures enter at any point. Not one after another but the green figure from the left first and then the yellow one. This would cause the figures, and thus the storyline, to clash. Users love doing this, indeed look for it. It is the task of a writer of such works that allow agency to write in a manner that the figures never clash, unless intended to do so. A possible approach would be to make the paths of the figures so minimal or planned so they never could clash. But this wouldn’t be fun for the users and no challenge for the writers. This is how I see my work as a writer working with new technologies present and envisioned. How to work out the story, the characters, the plot, to work no matter when commenced. Can this work with ’cause and effect’ plot structures or does there need to be some other system in the design? I’m hoping that cause and effect can be achieved at the same time as another system — so all are satisfied at once. Makes sense if it is cumulative, or paradigmatic…
 

This crafty little image is from a software program that is trying to achieve such nifty plays with time and space NOW. Check out Martin Reinhart’s work.

Are You Sure You Want to Do That?

I was lucky enough to be commissioned to write for a new website produced by ABC Arts Online called Strange Attractors that will showcase Australian animators to the rest of the world. My task was to write a critical essay on new media artist Simon Norton’s work Testimony: A Story Machine. Simon did a great job with the work, has scored lots of teaching work and awards from his creations. Testimony was created a few years ago though and in his interview with me he mentioned that he learnt that people want to be TOLD a story. His goal to produce a work that does rely on the reader’s work in producing a story is admirable. And I’m sure that he will find the tenuous balance between Barthes’ ‘writerly’ text and ‘readerly’ text. More about this in my article.

Check out fellow writer and researcher Adam Ford’s review of the entertaining animation by Dan Hartney: BucketHead. A must see animation in the series (there are many) is Adam Duncan’s ‘Robot Republic: The Uncertainty Principle’. What do robots do when faced with Schrodinger’s cat? The results is hilarious and makes complete sense. But the robots can solve this in a way humans cannot. Here’s a quirky program playing with Schrodinger’s Cat.

Another one I found very funny is a satirical animation called The Game by Lucas Licata. Here the consequences on violence in games for game AI is spelled out in a government-warning style. This reminded me of the clever ‘rewriting’ of games at Red vs Blue.

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