Thursday, 19 November 2009

The Speed of Life


What is it with cities?

There seems to be a rush to get anywhere. And what are people rushing to? Do they enjoy their job that much? If they’re late, they should leave earlier. Everyone can’t be late every day – can they?

Maybe they’re running from crazy people? If we don’t interact with people, we won’t need to learn about their problems (which we know, aren’t even close to the problems of those kids we see on the news, but they can’t see us through the TV, so it’s ok). Maybe people are worried that if they just stopped to talk with someone, they might actually find the answer.

All around us, things are happening. Interesting things. Yet our headphones and free newspapers protect us from it, keeping us in our self obsessed bubbles.

Are people chasing their dreams, or running from themselves?

Either way, there’ll be another train along any minute.


Image courtest Egan Snow.

Tuesday, 10 November 2009

Technology: It Might Not Destroy Us


As a (very casual) fiction writer, specifically science fiction, I have had to learn the fundamentals of creating an interesting story. In doing this, I’ve become subject to analytical observation, the kind that tends to dilute the beauty of life by trying to understand it too much.

However, one thing it has taught me is that there can be no story without conflict. I once read a book about a couple who had beaten the trials and tribulations of 80s Northern Ireland (in the previous book) and were now building a home together in the country. Everything went wonderfully for them, as the book documented their “happily ever after”. It was the worst story I had ever read.

Hollywood is a mega-conglomerate story making factory, so it stands to reason that everything they create must contain conflict in one way or another. It’s no surprise then, that we have yet to see a story of man and machine living in harmony. (Even in Short Circuit, the American military did what they do best, and created conflict..)

So it stands to reason that the average member of the general public (which of course, does not include your typical transhumanist) is afraid of our technologically dominated future. Their technophobia is justified – especially for those Californians ruled by their very own terminator.

Yet in the end, technology is happening all around us, and it’s not trying to kill us. Doors open when we approach them. Buses tell us when they’re coming and which stop is next. It might not be glamorous, but it makes our lives easier.

We’re afraid that when there’s too much reliance on technology everything will break down, leaving us with chaos. This is just the product of our Hollywood conditioning and too much exposure to certain operating systems. While of course this is a possibility, it shouldn’t limit us.

Generally, with the exception of certain operating systems, technology doesn’t go wrong. We don’t notice when things run smoothly, only when they break down. Even when things do go wrong, this is usually a symptom of planned obsolescence.

In reality, things are always more complicated than the black and white of Hollywood. Our future is destined to be improved and enlightened by technology, as well as being changed in ways we haven’t even thought of.

It might be mundane, but it could just be a happy ending.

Wednesday, 14 October 2009

The Open Automation Project


The first decade of the 21st century could well see the rise of the affordable and useful domestic mobile robot.

The Open Automaton Project aims to provide some of the building blocks that could make this possible.
The purpose of the project is to engineer modular software and electronic components, from which it is possible to assemble an intelligent PC-based mobile robot suitable for home or office environments.

http://oap.sourceforge.net/

Monday, 10 August 2009

Future Art, Beyond Traditional Concepts


Promises, By Starax Statosky - Image courtesy Sl-Art-News

I was inspired by this recent TED talk about "Art that looks back at you". It seems the potential for expression of art is limited only by our imagination.

Modern technology allows for new forms of art to be created, but by this I don't just mean different painting techniques using sophisticated software, but entirely new concepts. We can now use computers, robotics, and perhaps even biological manipulations to create new expressions and to represent profound ideas.

Where chemistry created the medium of fireworks, biology can now take us on previously unthinkable artistic journeys. Extreme body modification such as this seen in bmezine, shows identical twins who experiment with transplanting each other's limbs in the wrong places on each other's bodies. And you thought your tattoo made you "transhuman".

Imagine glowing implants, far more beautiful and colourful than any tatoo, animating through your skin. Or perhaps circuitry can be connected directly to your nerve endings, performing actions such as flashes or movements when fired by your brain? Why stop at replacing lost limbs when entirely new body parts can be added, not just for functionality, but for aesthetic appeal?

Body modifications and upgrades are just the beginning. Manipulating our cells and DNA can provide all sorts of potential, from reptile skin to the ability to spin spider silk.

However, despite seemingly unlimited potential for body upgrades, the possibilities fade in comparison to the artistic potential opened up by virtual reality. We've already seen body manipulation here, this is nothing new. What is really exciting about virtual reality is its potential to rewrite the very meaning of existence.

In virtual reality, art can be represented in a more interactive way than in reality. Creations that allow interaction can achieve artistic concepts with both their interactive configuration and their feedback. For example, a large virtual book can read out poetry and vary the tone according to the actions of the user.

Yet neither the interaction nor the feedback needs to be confined by the restraints of reality. The book can be replaced by a metaphor, as can the feedback, and even the interaction. Such concepts that we take for granted, such as time and space, need not even apply in virtual art.

In this technological world, a wonderland of possibilities exist to create a whole new paradigm of art.

Monday, 3 August 2009

The 7 Layers of Creativity

It is said that art imitates life. To be able to express oneself creatively is both powerful and fulfilling. True creativity resides within all of us, but because of the power of creativity those that aren’t ‘naturally gifted’ feel intimidated to even try. By breaking down the fundamental layers of creativity, we see that the process of creating art is not only simple, but can be applied to all activities of your life – whether you are organizing a file cabinet or painting a self portrait, these 7 steps will help you find art in all that you do in life.

Imagine you’re painting a picture. You find a nice spot, on the beach. You find an appropriate angle, where you will have an interesting view of the sea, with the beach and a palm tree coming in on one side. In the distance, there is a city skyline. It’s a perfect scene.

Now, many would assume that the creative process involves simply transferring this beautiful image onto a canvas, that this is what it takes to be creative. I’m here to tell you that creativity is in fact a much deeper process than this. It involves many layers of thought and meaning. The good news, is that this in fact makes it easier for anyone to get in touch with their creative side.

The Subject Matter Layer


In this example, nature has already given you a piece of art that anyone with a camera can share. Nobody should have a problem finding this layer. It is simply an observation, something interesting in the world around you. For a story teller, it could be an event that happened, or is imagined. It’s what your piece represents.

The Creation Technique Layer


In a painting, the next layer is the artist’s personal brush technique. A professional photographer will add this layer in a similar way with their choice of lens, filters, exposure etc. A writer will use their practiced techniques of arranging sentences and paragraphs. Any artist’s use of their tool of choice makes their work different from anyone else’s interpretation. This is a special layer of the piece that requires a lot of attention and is developed over an artist’s entire life.

Style is a very important part of this layer. The same image can be drawn in watercolor, charcoal, or pencil. Shading can be rendered in various ways, even the choice of paper is part of the creation technique. In all forms of creativity, including writing and music, there are infinite possibilities for style.

The Perspective Layer


Painting or photographing a picture is only the beginning of a creative exercise. What turns a generic photo into a piece of art, is perspective. The human holding the camera will always be an integral part of the piece.

In the case of our painting, it is the artist with the brush that provides this layer. They can chose how to present the picture. The audience should be forced to ask themselves, even if it is subconsciously, why has the artist chosen this perspective?

The Interpretation Layer


This is the layer where a piece will really begin to stand out. While the artist’s perspective gives a lot of depth and personality, their interpretation is where they have the opportunity to show something that might not be visible at first. Remember our painting. Well, the artist could see the city in the background as tarnishing the beautiful natural scene, and paint it in a way that makes it look grey, dull, maybe even sinister.

In this layer there is much scope to represent the scene in a way that is based on what it means to the artist, and the confines of reality need not be a limitation.

The Depth Layer


Your view of a cityscape from a beach has a lot more to it than meets the eye. Why is that city there? Who lives there? What are their lives like? What is their history? What does the future hold for them? Any of these factors can be brought into the painting if the artist wants to. As a very simple example, if the artists feels that the people of the city have been mistreated, he can draw something into the picture (or emphasize something that is already there) that represents this, such as a person looking sad.

Another way to represent depth is to think about the ways certain parts of the painting interact with each other. For example, the palm tree that frames the city brings shade to the beach, but it is still brighter than the city. Perhaps this illustrates how nature is more forgiving than the hand of man.

The Emotion Layer


All of the other layers will mean nothing, if your piece doesn’t provoke emotion from your audience. Quite often, your other layers will provide this simply with the story they tell, but perhaps they won’t. You should make sure that whatever else is going on with your creation, you think about how your audience is going to feel when enjoying it. It doesn’t matter if they’re happy, sad, angry, or shocked, just as long as they’re not disappointed. The emotion layer is so important it can almost stand on its own without the other layers.

Connecting with your audience emotionally is an art form in itself that takes a lot to master. There are many ways to press people’s buttons so I recommend you research this topic further. Ultimately, you must relate to their hopes and fears. Learn what makes people have certain emotions and incorporate this into your creations in whatever measure you see fit.

You could probably stop here, and you will still have a phenomenal, multi-layered piece of art that stands out to its audience. However, there is one more layer that you can add to your creations. This powerful layer can turn you from a hobbyist into a respected professional.

The Focus Layer


When you feel like you have enough layers to your piece, add one more. This layer does not add to the creation, but actually takes away. It hides many of the details, but those details are still present, underneath. They still affect the characters in our story. We have just focused in on what is important.

Poets understand this layer better than anyone. It is the metaphorical layer – the images they use to hide raw emotions.

Add this layer either by hiding the creation’s true meaning behind a metaphor, or by telling it from a perspective that does not give everything away. Your audience will still see the meaning, but it will give your piece even more depth. This is the magical layer, the layer that transforms an idea into a story.

Anyone can be creative


Although I used a painting as an example, these techniques can be applied to any and every kind of creative outlet. If you’re a writer, take an interesting event and write about it in your own unique style, using the perspectives of your characters. Give your characters history, emotions, and needs, and guide them using your interpretation of the story. Connect to your readers emotionally by relating to their hopes, fears, and dreams. Finally take this story and express it through a metaphorical veil, refining and clarifying the main points of your story.

Never again will you be able to use the excuses “I can’t draw”, or “I can’t play a musical instrument”. Even if you find yourself held back by your lack of creation technique skills, you can now create powerful pieces of art with your utilization of all the other layers. Learn how to bring perspective, meaning and depth to what you see, and you will become a true artist.

Monday, 2 March 2009

How Social Data can Manipulate Society

What are the implications of storing a complete record of your life online?

More than likely, you'll be halfway towards this already. Facebook has your friends. Google has your search history, your emails and your documents. Microsoft has your chat history. Last.fm has your taste in music. Delicious has your interests. Twitter has your random thoughts. And all this is voluntary. Imagine what they may be doing with this data, when it's all brought together, what will it tell them about you? It's no surprise that Google is buying everything.

Of course it's worrying, but I suppose it's not the end of the world if some big corporation has your information. It's not even anything new, credit card companies have been doing it for decades.

The issue now though is that the information mined is more detailed and complete than it's ever been before. And it's all owned by American companies. Companies who, thanks to the patriot act, have to hand over any information the US government asks for.

However, the problem is not what they will do with one person's information. It's what they will do with all of it.

Social control is a relatively simple practice. It's been done for centuries, convincing societies to go to war, to do the bidding of the elite.

If a government or political entity knows enough about its society, it can play off its fears, play up to its desires, and essentially manipulate the populace with counter-information spread via media, both social and mainstream. It can drive sentiment, spread rumours, and shape the information people have access to.

This is not a new practice, but it has become a lot easier, a lot more specific. Now that various aspects of our personalities are recorded, it has become much easier to focus in on specific hopes and fears. It should not seem far fetched that this information could be used for very specific political purposes.