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Archive for the ‘future’ Category

robots or heirlooms. nothing in between.

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I like robots and heirlooms and very little in between. Heirlooms are things with a lifetime guarantee; binoculars, cast iron frying pans. Robots I shouldn’t need to introduce. If I need to replace something within a year or two and it isn’t a robot then I’m likely to be a bit sniffy about it.

This attitude can appear as occasional Luddism, cosy catastrophism, or an outbreak of Steampunk.

I really really like this pan.


This pan will never die. I will give it to my grandchildren, assuming I haven’t made use of it as a murder weapon. It is better than non-stick. You’re not supposed to wash it up (so clearly this is a better invention than a dishwasher).

Robots encompasses anything properly futuristic i.e. the sort of stuff that appeared in the sci-fi i read as a child. I’m working on a collection of domestic robots.

It’s my attitude to the things in the middle ground that worries my professional peers. Particularly because that middle ground includes smart-phones. And I design things for phones so it’s an understandable concern.

Phones are the middle ground. Useful, yes. Loveable, no. I was a bit stubborn about getting a smartphone but I also refused to wear jeans or watch Jurassic Park when I was a teenager, so I don’t think it’s a coherent principled position.

My iPad is a perfectly nice consumer product. But it’s Jigsaw not Vivienne Westwood.

Written by Karen

February 24th, 2012 at 6:14 am

Posted in future

long view planning

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A lot of goal setting articles include the assertation that “you overestimate what you can do in a day but underestimate what you can do in a year”.

A similar quote is attributed to Bill Gates:

“We always overestimate the change that will occur in the next two years and underestimate the change that will occur in the next ten.”

via The quotable Bill Gates | Developer World – InfoWorld.

There’s a long view planning technique based on these concepts. It asks you to “Describe your life in the future”:

  • 50 years from now
  • 25 years from now
  • 10 years from now
  • 5 years from now
  • 1 year from now

I write the descriptions as  prose but I’ve seen this done in a more structured tabular way so that the same topics are covered each time.

50 years is so much time, it makes most things seem achievable. In fact when I’ve done this I usually find I can’t imagine much difference between 25 years and 50 years, as I usually assume I can get my goals sorted in 25 years. 50 years takes me to 82 but my life expectancy is longer than that even without taking scientific/medical advances into account.

Of course, the time points are completely arbitrary, so long as the final point is sufficiently far in the future.

It’s a good activity for planning and prioritising the meaningful stuff, and for when you need an optimism boost. It’s also  useful for “future now” activities. It challenges you to think about making 1 year look a lot more like 50 years.

A slightly uncomfortable but sometime useful variation is to include 100 years time, or after you are dead! How will you die, what will you be remembered for and by who, and what impact will you leave behind?

Written by Karen

February 17th, 2011 at 1:50 pm

Posted in career,future,happiness


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I’ve been looking at lots of alternative format bookstores, as part of the e-commerce project. One of these was the Large Print Bookshop which has a category of ‘uncategorized’.


I’m trying to imagine the scenario when the user would think “I know…it’ll be in uncategorized”? Particularly given that the choices above are ‘fiction’ and ‘non-fiction’, surely one of the better examples of exhaustive options?

If Guy is still reading, I’d love to know the thinking…

Written by Karen

July 14th, 2009 at 6:16 am

Bruce Sterling in interactions magazine

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I’m never quite sure I’ve ‘got’ what Bruce Sterling is getting at…but there’s always something in his non-fiction writing that I feel the need to capture, come back to, mull over. I never read his sci-fi, I picked up one of his novels in the charity box at work and flicked through it. The prose didn’t seem like something I wanted to spend my time with. I’m not sure if that was hasty.

Still, his article in interactions magazine has the usual hints at possible wisdom. Or maybe just comforting statements of the obvious, although he almost certainly doesn’t intend them to be comforting!

“Below the professional level of for-profit publishing, the subculture of science fiction fans exploited early, DIY duplication technologies: Gestetners, hectograph. There were letter-writing campaigns, amateur press associations, local writers groups, regional science fiction conventions galore. One might even argue that contemporary Web culture looks and behaves much like 1930s science fiction fandom, only digitized and globalized.”

“Digital media is much more frail and contingent than print media. I rather imagine that people will be reading H.P. Lovecraft-likely the ultimate pulp-magazine science fiction writer-long after today’s clumsy, bug-ridden MMORPGs are as dead as the Univac.”

“Experience designers are a tiny group of people with a radically universalized prospectus”

“I scarcely know what to do about this. As Charles Eames said, design is a method of action. Literature is a method of meaning and feeling. Hearteningly, I do know how I feel about this situation. I even have some inkling of what it means”

via interactions magazine.

Written by Karen

April 27th, 2009 at 6:38 am

Posted in digital,future,past,ucd

The Edge Annual Question — 2009

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This year the Edge question is “What game-changing scientific ideas and developments do you expect to live to see?”. This seemed to inspire far more lengthly articles than in previous years so getting through the whole lot is quite a time commitment.

The answers cover AI, space travel, understanding genius, nanotechnology, intelligent alien life, human speciation, the elimination of violent impulses,  life on mars, mastering death, cheap energy, universal translation, climate change, mind-reading, and nothing. These are the things science fiction has been promising me for three decades (except for ‘nothing’ – that would make a rather challenging sci-fi novel).

Many of the authors are idealistic:

“But a young girl born in Africa today will probably have access in 10 years’ time to a cell phone with a high-resolution screen, a web connection, and more power than the computer you own today. We can imagine her obtaining face-to-face insight and encouragement from her choice of the world’s great teachers.”  Chris Anderson

This is a nice image but rather skips over the economics of teaching and buys into myths of educational choice. The world’s great teachers are scarce, have limited time and will still need to be paid. You might get access to their lecture notes, MIT-style but personal access to individual teachers is far less likely.

As usual (and particularly having been sick for the whole festive period) I’m rather more attracted to the more cynical voices, those that question how much we really change:

“Those Romans, despite their technological privations, led lives remarkably like ours. Bring them into the 21st century and they would of course be amazed by what science has achieved. Yet they would soon discover that beneath the modern wrapping it is business as usual. Politics, crime, love, religion, heroism.. The stuff of human biography. The more it changes, the more it’s the same thing.” Nicholas Humphrey

“I grew up expecting that, when adult, I’d travel to Mars. I expected cancer and the flu—and all illnesses—to be cured, robots taking care of labor, the biochemistry of life fully unraveled, the possibility of recreating damaged organs in every hospital, the nations of the Earth living prosperously in peace thanks to new technology, and physics having understood the center of a black hole. I expected great changes, that did not came. Let’s be open minded: it is still possible for them to come. It is possible for unexpected advances to change everything—it has happened in the past. But—let’s indeed be open minded—it is also possible that big changes would not come.” Carlo Rovelli

“Where are our flying cars? My answer is clear: we haven’t developed them because we couldn’t be bothered” Aubrey de Grey

As last year’s Edge question inspired my future-facing grumble the internet is not a flying car it was nice to see the flying cars making an appearance again. In the spirit of that post I wonder which of these game-changers when and if they happen, will I refuse to have anything to do with?

Written by Karen

January 2nd, 2009 at 11:44 am

Posted in future

why isn’t AI a GM-like bogeyman?

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I listened to the Gardeners Question Time GM debate recently. Afterwards I tried to explain to PW why anti-GM protesters annoy me, when I mostly agree that turning propagation into something controlled by corporations is a bad thing.

I suppose I get annoyed with the focus on GM as the science that will destroy the world. Pretty much any technology has that capability but we only seem to be allowed to worry about one at a time (fretting about nuclear is very last century, it seems).

Co-incidently I’ve just finished Dan Simmon’s Hyperion series (tetralogy? cantos?) which features sinister artificial intelligence that may be intent on genocide. The AI takeover of the world (AI apocalypse, Cybernetic revolt, Machine Rule, Grey Goo) is such a common theme in modern Sci-Fi that it seems curious that there has not yet been tabloid outrage at the reckless scientists working in the field of AI. Think Matrix, Terminator, Battlestar Galactica, and 2001. And after all, what’s is the etymology of ‘Frankenstein Foods’?

Perhaps it is just a little too early.

(I’m also regularly referred to as the AI, as in “we’ll get the AI to knock out some wireframes”, so I’m looking forward to being mistaken for a tabloid threat to humanity)

Written by Karen

December 31st, 2008 at 7:12 am

Posted in fear,future,science

fantasy farm hunting

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Facebook friends will notice from my status updates that I spend far too much time “fantasy farm hunting”.  To be honest, it isn’t so much fantasy as a little premature. Mostly what I’m trying to figure out is where we should buy this future farm. There’s lots of factors involved.

High volumes of affordable small-holdings:

  • Scotland, esp Dumfries and Galloway, Aberdeenshire, the Shetlands(!)
  • Around Carlisle
  • The Wash and the Fens (particularly anywhere that is at risk from rising sea levels)
  • Wales, and Shropshire borders
  • North Lincolnshire, East Yorkshire and North Yorkshire (slightly lighter volumes)

Our current work:

  • London, esp King’s Cross
  • Peterborough (my optional/alternative base)

Our family:

  • London
  • Yorkshire (Wakefield + Harrogate)
  • Peterborough
  • Bristol
  • Aberdeenshire (never met that branch but they are farmers and apparently welcoming of black sheep)


  • London
  • Cumbria
  • Cambridge
  • Bristol
  • Peterborough

Good for woods:

  • big chunks of Scotland and Wales
  • Shropshire
  • Cumbria
  • North Yorkshire
  • Norfolk

East Coast mainline looks like it may be a significant ‘spine’ for our search, with a slightly weaker pattern along the West Coast mainline. The trains only matter if we’re assuming we want to get back to London for work some of the time. If we cut the London link completely then the range opens up but, realistically, our budget drops dramatically.

This weekend’s fantasy farm hunting delights included :

The Smithy – Shropshire. Scores points for including a blacksmiths shop, some old pigsties and an acre of woods.
Foresters Cottage – Cornwall. Woodland, chicken runs and it’s a foresters cottage 🙂

Neither is particularly viable with that price-location combination. Fantasy farm hunting will continue…

Written by Karen

November 25th, 2008 at 6:05 am

Posted in farms,future

something else that isn’t a flying car

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I nodded furiously whilst listening to I’ve Never Seen Star Wars. Not because of anything Star Wars related but because Marcus Brigstocke pointed out that  Bladerunner is set in 1992 which in reality is the year that Windows 3.1 was launched, and not the hovercar.

I’m happy to concur that it’s not just the internet that is not a flying car.

Written by Karen

October 11th, 2008 at 6:18 am

Posted in future

green thinking

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From Wired: five people who’ll make you feel good about the future

  • Peter Head on the world’s first sustainable city in China
  • Dickson Despommier on vertical farming
  • Majora Carter on green-collar jobs
  • Mitchell Joachim on Smart Cities
  • Blaine Brownell on sustainable building materials

(and if you’re visiting the World Science Festival website then have a look at the ‘LiveSearch’ – taking ‘suggestions as you type one step’ further. )

Written by Karen

June 18th, 2008 at 6:00 pm

Posted in future

tools that people care about

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“to say this is not to plead for a return to the buggy cart, the steam engine, or the vinyl record. It is to plead for attention – attention to stubbornness, to what will not budge, to the things that people fight for. So it’s to plead for design that takes into account resources that people care about. Such design, we are confident, produces tools that people care about – a kind of tool that seems, despite modern inventiveness, in remarkable short supply. (Take a quick look over the computer applications you have bought, borrowed or downloaded over the past five years and see how many you would actually fight for.)”

The Social Life of Information.

I’d keep my Grandad’s singer sewing machine just to have it around, which I guess would have seemed bizarre when he bought it.

The friend with his walkman mounted in a picture frame is somewhat ununusual. The aesthetics of most electronics are shocking. Apple is the best we seem to have but they only really do one style and it will be interesting to see how it ages.

That’s not to say the quote was just about aesthetics. But where are the things that will last?

Written by Karen

May 30th, 2008 at 9:09 am

Posted in future