jueves, 4 de octubre de 2007
Derrick de Kerckhove y el Futuro de las Comunicaciones
Hace casi diez años la revista Domus realizó un número especial implicando a varias personalidades destacadas de la cultura internacional en su mirada hacia el futuro a mediano plazo, fijando como punto focal el 2028.
Derrick de Kerckhove, discípulo de Marshall McLuhan y una autoridad indiscutible en relaciones y comunicaciones con las nuevas tecnologías, escribió este artículo, no muy breve, que ha sido un referente en el tema para mí todos estos años. Si bien el tiempo pasado confirma y/o desestima algunas ideas vertidas, vale la pena acomodarse en una poltrona con un cafecito y repasar las relaciones implícitas entre los sueños del Presente y la ubicación volátil del Futuro. Imperdible.
From the other side of the telescope: communication 1998-2028
Our consideration of the future should be divided into two spheres. The linear forecasts (a past-present-future pattern) tell us what science and technology have in store for us; whereas radial growth is the result of a multiplication of activities at all levels of interconnection, so it is hard to predict its impact.
Let us imagine that we are in May 1968, trying to predict the next thirty years. It was already quite predictable that humans would soon land on the moon (1969) but nothing, even the day before, November 9, 1989, would have allowed anyone to predict the fall of the Berlin wall and subsequent disintegration of the Soviet Empire. This is not a matter of time stretch (18 months versus 21 years ahead) but of radically different patterns of evolution. The landing on the moon was the result of a linear development of technology and investment, while the fall of the wall was an effect of a radial explosion of self-organizing processes which, following patterns described in catastrophe and chaos theory, emerge something completely unexpected. We will return to radial growth later.
1. Linear development
Linear predictions are easy. They follow a pattern of past-present-future developments and they are the bread and butter of self-appointed futurists. Limiting myself to the topics of communications, I can play that game in an almost failsafe manner by selecting five dominant features of communications and information technologies today, yesterday and tomorrow: Connectivity; Wireless and Mobility; Physical and mental Interfaces; Virtualized objects, environments and processes; Satellite Scale. Connectivity (Past: the telegraph – Present: fiber optics – Future: embedded Internet) The garden variety futurist could be forgiven to take connectivity for granted now that wires multiply their average capacity very two years and that bandwidth already in place today allows us to think in terms of several gigabauds per second. The processing speed of our computers is keeping the pace dictated by Moore’s law which states that processing speed and power doubles every 18 months while price falls by half during the same time. The “embedded Internet” may be the next step if we can trust the trend that pushes technological developments to connect all our machines and soon our bodies to the Internet via tiny bursts of data emitted by microscopic radio transmitters. A rather ominous future of connectivity combining wirelessness with a kid of embedded Internet is foreshadowed by a recent Us military innovation which is to invite privates to swallow a set of tiny bio sensors and radio transmitters to connect on the Net so that the chief commander can really know how his soldiers feel.
Wirelessness (Past: radio – Present: mobile telephony – Future: hand held full service communication appliances)
On the other hand, let us not fret too much. It is useful to keep in mind that only 50% of the world population has access to a telephone and 6% only own or have access to a computer. All predictions are pretty heady under such conditions. Wirelessness is supposed to bring a rapid remedy to this unequal condition. Remote Indian villages or even 7000 islands of the Philippines are henceforth accessible to the Internet and viceversa by mobile telephony. It is quite obvious that the industry is pushing hard to grid the planet with low Earth orbiting satellites while Nokia is also developing wireless two-way video delivery. We may not have to wait thirty years to get full telepresent access to our favourite graphic virtual reality community on line somewhere in the boondocks.
Interfaces (Past: pen and paper – Present: voice operated control – Future: mind machine direct- connect)
Interfaces are going subliminal. Today’s trend in voice-operated control and the predictable improvements made in handwriting recognition, are leading to yet another level of subtlety and flexibility, the mind operated machine. We can already see artists and military aviation engineers competing to be the first to create an effective mind-machine-direct connect system. One foreboding example in German artist Ulrike Gabriel’s mind activated robot in Terrain 0/1: after donning a headband with sensors, you can monitor the pattern of your thoughts and train them to increase the intensity of light coming from a lightwell above an arena with motorized robots. The robots get their energy from that light thanks to photoreceptors on their backs. Thus you can command the movement of these robots by thought alone. The United States Air Force is now conducting research along the same lines to allow pilots to trigger urgent commands mentally while their hands are busy otherwise in a
fighter plane. Another aspect of interfaces is that not all need to lead to consciously controlled operations. Many new interfaces pick up heat or electrical fields from the body and thus allow sensors to receive information from our bodies and relay them to automated controls which serve as parasympathetic nervous systems, out of reach of our conscious decision-making processes, very much like our bodied are functioning with both a conscious and an unconscious nervous systems. Are we to connect with our environment as intimately as we connect to our bodies?
Virtualization (Past: holography – Present: Virtual Reality, Artificial Life, Digital Agents – Future: Telepolis)
It has become banal to talk about virtualization as a trend. However it is definitely one of the main pieces of our collective puzzle in that it provides or at least promises the kind of flexibility of imagination we can entertain in our minds, but in this case outside our private minds and open to the minds of many other participants. VR’s true destiny is to augment rather than replace reality, hence AR (Augmented Reality) is an emergent property, like an idea in your mind. The difference, of course, being that an idea in your mind may or may not stay there and be back, while an a VR or an AR on the Internet is durable.
You, and everybody else for the matter, can go back to it anytime. It is the rise of Virtual Estate. Before thirty years are up, millions of people will make a living and live that living in virtual environments which may still bear the name of ‘cities’ for nostalgia’s sake, much as today, we talk about “information highways”.
One of the fears attending any discussion about virtuality is that it will rid us of both our bodies and our real world. Far from it, it will make more precious than ever that which is ‘real’ and bears witness to origin. The law of “minimal materiality” which posits that any virtual transaction be supported by a material substrate is not yet written, but it will become evident. Like the gold in the bank supports value, the material supports the virtual.
The difference here is that the virtual allows the maximum flexibility of movement and control of the real. When stock exchanges play with values, astronomical sums of money shift from one part of the world to another, but cash, the real thing, doesn’t have to move at all. The virtual is the laboratory for the planet imagination.
Satellite Scale (Past: Sputnik – Present: geographical information systems – Future: pulse of the Earth on TV)
Popular media and blockbuster movies like Startrek’s Borgs, The Lost World, Contact, Volcano and others are exploring the frayed edges of present and past realities, as if to exorcise them. These movies also express huge releases of aggressivity as if to shake off the fears that our own technological acceleration is imposing on us. Most of these mythological products tend to involve the destiny of the whole planet. The vision of humanity is always a planetary vision. Indeed, the difference between the Renaissance and today is an issue of scale. While the Earth is being discovered and circumnavigated in that period, the size of man was the “measure of all things”. Today, seen from the satellite, the Earth itself has become the standard, the measure. The fact is brought to us by satellite not only in terms of what we see, but also in terms of what we feel. Satellites provide the planet with a sensitive data reception system akin to the human skin. The effects of being in touch with everywhere at once is to give us a new sense and a new scope of responsibility. Tomorrow, we will be able to know instantly where the world is hurting.
2. Radial Growth
Radial growth is the result of the multiplication of activities at all levels by interconnection. For example, it is easy to identify quantum leaps in levels of interconnections from the city-to-city telegraph to the present hypertextual totally internet worked World Wide Web. Such interconnection phases generates emergent properties which appear as full-scale economies. On one hand, it is quite difficult to predict the impact of radial growth for the next minute, let alone thirty years ahead. Mainstream technologies seem to undergo and in turn provoke radical change every three to five years with consequences quite unpredictable. For example, five years ago, no one was speaking about the Internet, let alone the web which was born in 1992. At the rate the web is growing today, thirty years is roughly equivalent to the evolution of six human generations under severe adaptive challenges. On the other hand, it is becoming rather coy to go on pretending that we cannot predict the future when so much of it is in our collective hands. It helps to identify patterns of selforganisation. Radial effect of communication technology The radial effect of connectivity is making the whole humanity and Planet a single, unified and biotechnologically interlinked system of communication (Humpty Dumpty together again).
Should we start developing new varieties of access barriers or interactive-free architecture and design? The radial effect of wirelessness is the return of the electronic (technological) nervous system into the personal body. The mobile telephone is a prosthesis. It can even convey vibrations instead of ringing. Why not develop a tactile variable personal mobile? We may soon be able to broadcast intimate caresses wirelessly.
The radial effect of satellite is the extension of selfperception of the Earth for the expansion of self to Earth scale for the reduction of the Earth to human scale. The Earth is, more than ever, part of my body.
The Radial effect of interface is an environment so closely connected to our bodies and minds than we might as well wear it. We can develop “personsensitive” gardens and rooms. The radial effect of virtualization is already happening and will only continue to do so for the next thirty years, that is the increasing rebalancing of substance and value from the material to the virtual. While responding to as yet unknown laws, the virtual will acquire as much substance, if not weight, as we still credit the material with. Designers, get down to work!
In that virtual and fluid environment, ruled by a mix of local habits and international dialogue, there is little that comes under unifies body of controls. International standards apply only to specific technologies and not always very well at that. The other reason why self-organisation is the way of the day is that no one has a sufficiently good idea of what is going on to really impose an order. Everything is in flux so things must find their own course following pressures of the moment. Chances are however that before the next years are up, there will develop a new morality, just as the post humanism era developed renaissance.
For example, a possible moral effect of radial growth is today’s decision to ban landmines all over the world. This could be an unconscious effect of satellite psychology, an emergent form of sensibility. Indeed, ecology and the growing feeling that the planet needs a facelift are part of a trend to encompass the whole planet at once in one’s mind. Similarly, it could be that more and more people East and West are recovering one of humanity’s oldest feelings that the living organism, an extension of our bodies, and something that landmines are polluting as clearly as tobacco is now felt to be polluting seriously our flesh. The ban on mines is, in that sense, an outcome of emergent connective feeling, just like, a century ago, the ban on slavery arose from the increase of communications via telegraphy.
Hegemony for all Considering that no one holds a monopoly on what is desirable for everybody else’s future, one direction that we might inflect in our creative disciplines is to allow self-organising principles to obtain among different levels of society, different levels of expertise and different levels of power to collaborate on desirable strategies for all.
Artículo extraído de la revista Domus, enero 1998
Mas información sobre el autor y su obra en: http://www.mcluhan.utoronto.ca/
La imagen fue tomada de la web y podría tener derechos
Editado por el arq. Martín Lisnovsky