Notes from FutureFest

FutureFest was yesterday. Here are some (very rough) notes from the talks I heard.

Rachel Armstrong: black sky thinking. Not sure what’s going on here. Organic, natural computing and chemistry. Other audience members nearby seemed befuddled.

Tamar Kasriel: business planning for future growth in the face of uncertainly. Scenario planning: Kahn broke apart the way the future is thought of by asking what the world would look like after nuclear way. What about personal scenario planning? Applying business futures to one’s personal life. Accept uncertainty, be objective/distant, treat it as a process that won’t happen by itself. Such planning can be a good defence against regret. Thinking far out can depersonalise planning.

Rohan Gunatillake: meditation is a mirror to the mind. Lots of tech exists for fostering mindfulness. But how do we develop eg websites, social networks aimed at increasing human happiness/wellbeing? How do we design interfaces to reward patience? How do we make email more connective? What about wearable technology that reminds people of their physicality? Is a ‘technoptimist’. The web is 22-33; when Rohan was that age he was interested in sex, money and status. The web is the same. As people grow with time and through crises, so the internet will develop.

Kathy Hinde: Open scores allowed musicians to play a ‘choose your own adventure’ piece. A little bit on emergent complexity. I really need to read Gödel, Escher, Bach. Showed an exhibit of a piano board that plays itself based on the silhouettes of birds on telegraph lines. Showed Twitchr, a map-based ‘open score’ using recorded birdsong.

Marek Kohn: images of cities underwater are unrealistic and risk encouraging fatalism. But climate change is about more than just the weather: it’s about social change, both within Britain and between countries. Britain will warm, but less than almost anywhere else in the world. British weather will become the envy of the world, and people will flock. Terraces will be favoured over detached houses. Life will become more communal and social, relying on shared resources. Notably, Britain will gain economically relative to continental Europe because Europe will heat up much more significantly. Perhaps the continent will be a test bed for new forms of communal, convivial living. Britain’s fortunes will depend entirely on immigration from other countries. The divisiveness of climate change may cause conflict, both within Britain and between European countries. We need to evolve a more nuanced from of freedom, not in individual consumption but in collaborative political decision-making.

Ian Goldin: this is a great and very previous moment in history - during the twenty minute talk, life expectancy of the audience has increased by five minutes - but it risks being an exception rather than a trend. The source of progress, connectivity and immigration, is at risk of being rejected and its benefits lost. The unwieldy institutions of the 1950s are no longer fit for purpose. At the centre, the tension between individual and collective freedoms and tragedy of the commons. Accepting a loss of individual and national sovereignty and freedom will be required. Climate change, antibiotic resistance are all examples of this. Increasing population density will mean pandemics are a serious risk. The financial crisis may have been the first of a number of 21st-century crises. So what does the future hold, and what can we do about it?

Ben Hammersley: began the talk by getting us all to stand up, stretch, say hi to our neighbours (such a good idea). IARPA is an intelligence technology agency, and advertises its requests for technology proposals at Its recent METAPHOR programme looked for talented linguists to help interpret metaphors and analogies in tapped materials. Looked at analogies and metaphor in architecture, operating systems, the floppy disk icon meaning save. “To those of you in the room with the last remaining BlackBerrys in the world…” Shifting analogies and metaphors is, in a way, the definition of innovation. Ben shared two works in progress: one on judging counter-terror measures in the same way we judge new drugs, setting off the greater good for the various negatives these measures involve; the other, on countries. Since 1492, only one European country (Portugal) has survived in an identical shape. What if we redrew the map based on culture, social connection, trade, intellectual cooperation? Think about where you live, and where your allegiances lie - with similar people, not clumps of soil. Examine metaphors and try as work out what’s behind that symbolism and whether it’s still valid. The compere notes the weird etymology of country names, including Welsh being the German word for ‘foreigner’.

Alex Fleetwood: “Where are the monoliths built to our artists?” Imagines a future game space in cities, with salaried employees choosing games for players based on their expertise and experience. Such spaces will be supported by governments, and will focus on archiving old games and hardware. Argues that such cultural institutions have a great impact on what art is made. Games are rarely made for their own sake – usually in service of the prevailing culture’s values.

Alice Taylor (married to Cory Doctorow): from maker movement to commercial product. MakieLab allows users to design an avatar to make a co-created doll. Manufacturing can happen wherever there are 3D printers. Each toy is unique. The toys have passed safety/CE certification. Boy and girl dolls have knees and elbows (so they can ride motorbikes!). 3D printing has totally changed the way toys can be made and personalised. Similarly, toy shops traditionally get toy companies to bid for shelf space - selling online has changed this. Also allows for agile, iterative development - impossible in mass manufacturing. A/B test and experiment as you go. Makies are now available in Selfridges - a podium let’s customers design dolls on tablets. Challenges include getting to a £20 price point, building up the brand, building games around Makies.