Report from Wired NextFest 2005

Posted by Jonah Brucker-Cohen | Wed Jul 6th 2005 4:16 p.m.

Here's a report I wrote on NextFest...hope people find it interesting..
-jbc

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Report from Wired Nextfest
Chicago, Illinois
June 25-26, 2005

In the sweltering heat of the Chicago summer, Wired Magazine's
NextFest took place on Navy Pier, the city's entertainment center.
Billed as "the next world's fair", the 2nd annual Next Fest (last
year's event took place in San Francisco and next year's will be in
New York City) was a mixture of corporate ecology culture and
artistic interventions into visions of the future.

NextFest was split up into 7 categories examining projects in the
future of "Exploration, Transportation, Security, Health,
Entertainment, Design, and Communication." Notable projects in this
year's fest included the "Entertainment" category's "Kick Ass Kung
Fu", a full body Kung Fu game where participants step on a platform
and fight 2D assailants. Camera tracking on movements puts players
into the game screen. Other projects such as Robot Lab's "Jukebots"
were repurposed car manufacturing robots that spin and scratch
records on turntables. It was nice to see a combination of hi-tech
robotics next to the very "low-tech" medium of vinyl (especially
since many of the kids attending the event might not even know what a
"vinyl record" was. Also on the floor was "Musicbox", a souped up
version of the classic music windup toy where instead of metal pins,
used bright LEDs

On the subject of kids, the Future of Exploration pavilion featured
"STINKY" a submersible robot built by the Falcon robotics team at
Carl Hayden High School in Arizona. Their project was featured in
WIRED in an article called "La Vida Robot", as their hand-crafted
robot beat MIT researchers in the "national underwater bot
championship". Nearby, in the "Transportation" pavilion, was the
"Moller Skycar", a flying car that looks like a 1950s red baron
bomber. Videos playing beside it showed the car in action, but I have
a feeling you have to be present at a test flight to really believe
in it as the future of transportation.

The "Future of Health" pavilion was perhaps the most bizarre of all
the collections of projects on display. Here you could see a set of
real-live "cloned" cats. Also on display was Luminetx's "Veinviewer",
an infrared light that when projected on the patient identifies which
veins are suitable for injection or blood withdrawal. Also the "Power
Assist Suit" by Japan's Kanagawa Institute of Technology is a
full-body hydraulic outfit that assists senior citizens or
handicapped people by calculating how much air to release to the
"muscles" based on sensor input from the wearer's limbs. There was
even a cyborg of Science fiction writer Phillip K. Dick that
understood natural language enough for visitors to ask him questions.
Unfortunately, I didn't get a chance to ask what the next Hollywood
inflated-budget remake of his novels would be? Oh well, maybe next
time.

Across the room from Health was the "Future of Design", which
featured projects that attempted to seamlessly integrate technology
into everyday experience. Sweden's Interactive Institute showed their
"Energy Curtain" an augmented curtain that stores energy from the sun
on flexible solar panels during the day and lights up the opposite
side at night. Also integrating technology into fabric was "Urban
Chameleon", a set of computationally enhanced skirts that monitored
air quality, movement, and touch and displayed them on the surface of
the garments. Adding interaction into the mix, the "Future of
Communication" featured projects that examined how technology will
(and has already) change (d) the way we connect to people over
distance and within close proximity. The "Acceleglove" by students at
George Washington University, is a glove that translates sign
language into written characters and speech to allow for a type of
"dictation tool" for the deaf. Also here was "Mobile Feelings" by
artists Christa Sommerer and Laurent Mignonneau. The project
consisted of two gourds that that allowed each user to share their
pulse rates with each other across a minimal distance.

Finally, the "Security" pavilion focused on projects that
demonstrated how "secure" we might be if we had devices that could
detect unwanted visitors from miles away and conduct automated
background checks on them as they approached. One of the more
interesting projects was "Brain Fingerprinting", a device with
electrodes that monitors brain activity and can detect when the
person recognizes an image they had previously seen. Forget lie
detectors, in the future nothing will be a secret.

As this year's NextFest came to a close, the question remained as to
how much of this "techno fetishism" stuff will ever make it to
market? When will I be able to walk into my local car dealer and take
a test "fly" in the Moller Sky Car? If the future is closer than we
think, this might be something that will happen in our lifetime. If
not, we might find out what's "next" by dreaming it up in a bathroom
stall. In any case, Wired's world fair of sorts was a good reminder
that we are heading towards the future at an accelerated pace. The
question that still needs addressing is: What will we do once we get
there?

-- Jonah Brucker-Cohen
  • // jonCates | Fri Jul 8th 2005 7:52 p.m.
    On Jul 6, 2005, at 5:19 PM, Jonah Brucker-Cohen wrote:
    >There was even a cyborg of Science fiction writer Phillip K. Dick

    it isn't rilly a cyborg. it's an android (as in it dreams of electric sheep). or robot (as in it is a slave w/o the ability for autonomous behavior or creativity). or _very_ primitive replicant (as in "you see a tortoise laying on it's back...").

    >that understood natural language enough for visitors to ask him questions.

    "understood" is def'ly debatable. the droid {parsed|processed} natural lang well enough to generate replies. i talked to the droid after it had been rebooted but it was often _very_ oblique, abstract + inexact in it's replies to queries. i spoke w/the developers @ length + found their effort to be very sincere in their desire to both recreate a likeness of Dick + well intentioned in their densely multilayered approach to simulation + simulacra. they expressed that the droid was to be evaluated as art.

    as art, the Dick droid did not reinforce a technopositivist view of inevitability of these futures but rather reinscribed the fallibility of these current + futuristic desires. the Dick droid undermined perfection, seamlessness + flawlessness not only in it's estranging replies + faltering mechanics but also in it's exposed "brain". the back of the Dick droid had a suicidally huge hole from which colorful bundles of cables + blinken lites bleed out connecting the puppet like body of the droid to it's software systems housed in boxes a few feet away. exposed in the Dick droid's skinless skull.bak were plastic cogs, servo motors, cables + blinken lites that were mainly visible thru the window from the room's exterior.

    Philip K. Dick did not commit suicide. he died of a stroke in 1982:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Phillip_K_Dick#Death

    but the way in which the Dick droid was left w/a skinless skull or rather a giant hole in his head keeps me thinking of self inflicted wounds such as those. i wonder about the reasoning for this detail (evaluating the droid as art or artware). functionally speaking, i assume that access to the components in the head must have been operationally crucial to the development team. sill, i can't help wondering how this hole fits in the field of resonance in relation to the Dick droid as art. did the development team hope to help ground the Dick droid in the nonhuman by exposing the materiality of the components in it's head? was this unfinished feel meant to minimize potential alienating effects of the droid? does exposing the computational clockwork electro-mechanics lessen or heighten a horror filmy zombie like identification?

    representatives of Hanson Robotics, the FedEx Institute of Technology's Institute for Intelligent Systems, the Automation + Robotics Research Institute at UTA + Dick's friend Paul Williams who collaboratively [built/developed] the Phillip K. Dick robot told me that the bot + their efforts are cleared w/the Dick family. apparently Dick's daughter(s ?) had visited w/the bot in CHI IL .US before NextFest opened. when we were discussing this a person next to me commented that their conversation must have been strange + amazing. based on my experience w/the bot i wonder what if anyThin they could have discussed + sustained any sort of linear or logical path.

    Hanson Robotics:
    http://www.hansonrobotics.com

    >Finally, the "Security" pavilion focused on projects that demonstrated how
    >"secure" we might be

    actually, the entire NextFest was extremely militarized. the military-industrial-academic-entertainment complex was well represented in celebratory + uncritical terms.

    >Forget lie detectors, in the future nothing will be a secret.

    on 2005.06.24 @ the Army's Full Spectrum Warrior exhibit booth, Stone, an Army representative, showed a video + distributed nfo on the Army's Future Combat Systems program. the video Stone showed (which is also available online) is set in 2014. this future war takes place in mountainous computer generated wintery landscapes (as in definitively not the desert, assuming for the moment that the war + occupation in Iraq will have been concluded before 2014). this CG'd military engagement is populated by live actors realizing networked war games as their interfaces play across the screen like the simulations of success they [imagine/fantasize].

    in this future, a .US .MIL Army military-industrial-academic-entertainment dream of 2014, the Orwellian + Foucaultian [fascist/totalitarian] {surveillance|police} state apparatus will not only prevent secrets but also erase borders between nonexistent nation states allowing a decentralized nodal network of hyperlinked systems operated by young soldiers who have been pre-trained, pre-screened + pre-tested on games + systems such as Full Spectrum Warrior. currently the Army's minimum age for enlistment is 17 + the maximum age is 35. today's 6 to 26 year olds will be Full Spectrum Warriors in the Future Combat Systems' scenarios of 2014.

    Army Future Combat Systems representative Stone told me that the goal of the Future War Systems is to get them (as in the enemy as in the binary opposition of us vs. them) before they even know we know about them. or perhaps he said before they even see us coming. i am paraphrasing from memory b/c i was too {taken|shaken} by the sheer honesty of Stone's comments + his seemingly solid assumption of righteousness to ask him for clarifications or to take notes while we talked. Stone was very interested in why i was so interested + began to recruit me, telling me about all of the wonderful job opportunities that exist in the Army for talented young artists like myself.

    the videos Stone was showing in the Full Spectrum Warrior
    http://www.fullspectrumwarrior.com

    exhibition booth for the Army's Future Combat Systems are available online w/nfo about the program:
    http://www.army.mil/fcs/

    >As this year's NextFest came to a close, the question remained as to how much
    >of this "techno fetishism" stuff will ever make it to market?

    for me the questions remain: what about the techno fetishism that are the military industrial academic entertainment art design markets? which techno fetishes are already [in/on] these markets? how do we personally develop, connect, organize + resist these + numerous other techno fetishes? to what extent are we [in/on] these markets? to what extent are we able to mobilize [in/on/against] these markets + techno fetishes?

    representative Bill Walker of Northrop Grumman watched me amble around in the sprawling Northrop Grumman "booth". this booth was an open air semi-circle of model airplanes (actually autonomous Killer Bee aircraft + scale models of larger autonomous weapons, surveillance + network systems in the shape of aircraft), mockups of existing command & control war rooms + glossy promotional materials. Walker watched me snap digi picts for awhile + then said looking @ my t-hirt "SIMS?". i replied yes, it was a SIMS t-shirt, Kevin Staab to be exact + when this was met w/a cold unknowing stare i just said "old skool skateboard stuff." to which Walker replied sumThin along the lines of "i build unmanned aircraft." "ok" i thought "that is perhaps the most amazing nonsequeter of the day..."

    the UAVs (Unmanned Aerial Vehicles) + UCAVs (Unmanned Combat Air Vehicles) of which we spoke are currently on the market + in the field (as in killing people today). the Northrop Grumman surveillance systems that Walker enthusiastically explained to me are on the market, in use in Iraq + (@ least tested if not currently operational) in the continental .US integrating realtime + cached cybernetic command & control systems that surveil (as in attack) subjects (as in the subjecated) thru nodal nets containing autonomous agents in the shape of tiny stealth bombers (w/the nifty name Killer Bee) as well as full sized aircraft. Walker whipped out a PDA + clicked thru hi rez imgs of "a palace in Baghdad" while explaining to me the flexibility + scaleability of the system + how intelligence like this was now available to soldiers (as in Full Spectrum Warriors) on the ground. when i saw that almost all of the video footage playing on their monitors was from the continental .US, i began to ask about their use in the States.

    Walker explained to me that of course it was technically possible to fly autonomous intelligent machines in the continental .US (while my mind reeled conspiratorial hystories up + prepared to hyperthread them into the projector, played back thru a filter of my memories of Manual De Landa's War in the Age of Intelligent Machines) but that the FCC was just being cautious + slow to regulate what is permissible in the .US b/c of the implications this would have on industries such as air travel. while i was wording sum sort of question that would engage hypothetical scenarios for weaponizing unmanning aircraft on the scale of commercial airliners, Walker happily continued to relate how all of this happens everyday when pilots switch auto-pilot on @ the beginning of a flight + switch it off @ the end + how he (as a representative of Northrop Grumman) has a dream of the control tower contacting an autonomous system rather than a human pilot. Walker was quite clear that this dream is not futurist as it is exactly what is currently operational in Iraq + Afghanistan but that the FCC is currently the only barrier to making this dream a reality. when i continued to press on about if these systems were currently in use in the .US by police agencies or the .US .MIL (+ let me reiterate that much of the footage was from the .US + that Walker had gleefully told me that the people in the footage had no idea that they were being surveilled) Walker only smiled + moved on to the next ppl ambling around saying sumThin to them on the order of "you like aircraft?" i walked away allowing my signed Kevin Staab old skool pirate deck t-shirt to have the last uncomfortable [look/laugh] @ Walker + the Northrop Grumman systems.

    the Cyber Warfare Integration Network, Killer Bee aircraft + the Advanced Information Architecture + ISP In The Sky from Northrop Grumman are all detailed online:
    http://www.northropgrumman.com

    >If the future is closer than we think, this might be something that will happen
    >in our lifetime.

    again, these futures are happening + in fact (as in the case of the Northrop Grumman weapons systems) are ppl's present moments. we are in this future now but we can contend w/it if we take the time to unpack assumptions, critically question those ppl that are developing these moments + their monumental rhetorix, [decode|decompile] their systems + create our own systems, sayings + trajectories.

    >If not, we might find out what's "next" by dreaming it up in a bathroom stall.

    the bathroom stall doesn't seem like a great place to dream to me. maybe the bathtub if we are going to stay in the bathroom.

    >In any case, Wired's world fair of sorts was a good reminder that we are heading
    >towards the future at an accelerated pace.

    this rhetorix disappears over the horizon site lines @ a Virilio like rate. Wired's NextFest did not remind me of or pull me into a vortex of accelerated futurism on the scale of a bygone world's fair era. it was instead like standing in the present moment or perhaps just slightly like the recent future of the Universe Next Door. but the futures (+ it is crucial to keep this term plural rather than singular in order to prevent ourselves from the fallacies of monolithic progress towards a single mythically inevitable technopositivist future) depicted @ Wired's NextFest were very familiar, perhaps in part b/c most have been or are [featured/marketed/technofetishized] in Wired itself + elseware.

    >The question that still needs addressing is: What will we do once we get there?

    the question is ware are we going? ware is these contentious futures? in the future? in the present? solid? abstract? self-justifying? lived? dead? injured? killing? on what grounds? on whose neighborhoods, streets + homes? w/or w/o justification?

    ++

    what engines drive + power sources fuel this hypothetical time machine of NextFest or other futurist fantasies of worldly importance? how mini time machines are there? do they flower out, radiating in bifurcating branching multiverses [+/or] bubble up in quantum foamy indeterminate patterns, recursively mirrored in the net of Indra once mentioned?

    ++

    who will we be then + there?

    ++

    how do we anticipate, effect, shape, detourn, remix, remodel, develop, map, route, root + question these futures + our future selves?

    mini Q's mini A's mini futures...

    // jonCates
    CHI IL .US
    2005.07.08

    // an illustrated (img + mpg4) + hyperlinked version of this reply exists on
    // my newMedia(now&&then) blog:
    http://newmedianowandthen.blogspot.com
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