Uncertain Frontiers

Apologies for the multi-week break in publishing this newsletter. After a winter in the trenches, we'
Uncertain Frontiers
By Changeist • Issue #19
Apologies for the multi-week break in publishing this newsletter. After a winter in the trenches, we’ve all been on the road in various places — first together at FutureEverything 2016 in Manchester two weeks ago, then to Barcelona for a workshop and the second Internet Age Media Weekend, then splitting between Amsterdam (for NRC Moonshot and three upcoming events next week) and New York City (for Natalie’s talk yesterday at Theorizing the Web). In the midsts of this transport-hopping, we’ve had some great discussions and catchups with friends and colleagues, clandestine meetings of the Cross-Quadrant Working Group, and attended some thought provoking talks. 
Uncertainty has stalked us as we’ve traveled, from occasional flight delays to unclear terms of reference to the odd epistemological breakdowns. We’ve seen art pose interpretations of uncertainty, and supercomputers (live and decommissioned) who’s job it is/has been to render uncertainty statistically irrelevant. In Barcelona, we listened to John Willshire talk about the uncertain metamechanics of information and knowledge manifested as the Internet, and I talked about uncertainty of how we even conceptualize the future—as a product, an aesthetic, an experience, or as a frontier. We even ran a workshop there, using minimal structure to solve for the uncertainty of presenting possible futures to unknown publics. 
In Manchester, we were most moved by two talks: first, on the unexpected outcomes of trying to use technology to wring risk and uncertainty out of information—particularly financial information—given by Izabella Kaminska of the FT, whom I mentioned a few weeks back. As I understood her talk, the certainty promised by technologies like the blockchain and big data stand not to liberate us from dysfunctions and ambiguities of markets and an elite of knowledge-keepers (read: banks), but instead may deliver us even more brittle, controlling systems. The second was from friend and colleague Madeline Ashby, who delivered a brilliant critique of the false certainties of clinging to utopias. Her talk, a response to those who would criticize critical, even dystopian visions pointed to the value of these dark stories as a valuable form of thinking—a way to work out what could go wrong, and how we might deal with it. 
In lieu of yet-to-be-posted video, here’s an excerpt from her talk*: 
“And what is futurism, but a kind of defensive pessimism? Also a theory of cognition from the 1980’s, “defensive pessimism” is the idea that people with anxiety constantly pre-figure or imagine negative or even disastrous scenarios in order to avoid or prevent them. In psychology, this is called pre-factual thinking. In studies, people who engage in pre-factual thinking, people who imagine scenarios of failure and work to prevent them, perform just as well on tasks as people who optimistically expect themselves to do well. But the key difference is that people who engage in defensive pessimism have a constant drive to do better on the next task. Because what is pre-factual thinking? It’s really just strategic planning.”
Meanwhile, I’ve been looking at the artificiality of countries in advance of a talk coming in Brussels in June. The Panama Papers disclosure has shown us what a fiction the sovereign nation is, and parallel discussions of turning off and on bits of the European Union sound more like the quibbling around an OS update than negotiations around governance. I’ve added a few fun links in below on that topic. If you have thoughts or links, throw them this way.
Last thing. Some of you may have noticed we finally created an unlocked Instagram account, which we’re already making heavy use of. Too many shareable shots were disappearing behind a locked door. Follow if you’re brave enough.

*thanks, Madeline!

On The Agenda
Scott's talk on bots and organizations from #NRCLive Moonshot in Amsterdam.
Scott's talk on bots and organizations from #NRCLive Moonshot in Amsterdam.
Open State is a 10-day event coming up in October in Adelaide “exploring how open and transparent decision-making, innovation and engagement can address the complex challenges of the future.” Sounds like my kind of party. I’ll be giving a talk on my *first* trip to Australia after all these years. 
Natalie is giving a talk at this intriguing event in Manchester 27 May. 
Smart systems must learn the ways of the world
My essay from Futures Centre’s Long View 2016 has just been released online. It deals with the role the IoT *should* play in improving lives around the world. A long way to go.
Summer course in Innovation and future thinking | IED Barcelona
Another signal boost for our upcoming summer course being held again at IED Barcelona the last two weeks of July, with instructors including myself, John Willshire, Andres Colmenares and Natalie Kane, with some guest appearances TBA. We hit full capacity last year, with students from a wide range of professions and home countries—including Brazil, Colombia, Nigeria, Sweden, Denmark and Mexico. Let’s see if we can expand on that this year (hello Asia, I’m looking at you!). If you want to know more, get in touch.
Uncertain Frontiers
Atlas of Potential Nations (via @Samim) Generate your own country and flag. Feature request: generate your own tax regime?
Taking the long view, nation-states are a recent invention in human history.
Sometimes the best way to start is to start from scratch. Points deducted, though, for lazy use of the term ‘futurist’ in the headline.
Democracy is under threat from rising inequality and terrorism. Google and Facebook have taken over By now, the fact that transatlantic democratic capitalism, once the engine of postwar prosperity, has run into trouble can hardly be denied by anyone with the courage to browse a daily newspaper.
The Network
PUMZI on Vimeo
One of the great things to come out of IAM last week was the opportunity to listen to—and swap ideas with—Kenyan filmmaker Wanuri Kahiu. As well as telling us about her new initiative Afrobubblegum, she pointed us to her great short film Pumzi, a near-future science fiction vision of a water-starved Nairobi which showed at Sundance in 2010. Give it a view. 
Paul Graham Raven carries on the theme of fiction and social sciences.
Super pleased to see this great show announce another stop—this time at the ArtScience Museum in Singapore. Hopefully we’ll get to catch it in its new form.
Tim Maughan added a great piece of speculative fiction to the latest Long + Short from Nesta. Enjoy. 
Uncertain End
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