Last week DI have been invited to Manchester to attend the 19th edition of one of the top ten ideas festival in the world, Future Everything. With the theme, Tools For an Unknown Future, the festival set out to be a promising window into the (f*cked-up?) future of our digital culture as envisioned by present pioneers and ventures. As once said, “the future starts today, not tomorrow”.
Manchester, with its history of radical innovation, is probably the perfect background for such an event. The city offered a curious juxtaposition between the ubiquitous wreckage of industrialization seen at every corner in the form of monolithic victorian infrastructure and a cutting edge festival discussing concepts of openness, superfiction, synthetic biology, robotics, quantified self, genomics, sustainability, IoT, data, reverse engineering and algorithmic intelligence.
The future starts today, not tomorrow. Pope John Paul II
Before we start with the review, I feel compelled to praise an excellent protagonist of the festival. Regularly manifesting itself, it created a mystical aura encompassing every aspect of the conference. My biggest thanks goes to the majestic bell of the Manchester Town Hall that would punctually play, help, chastise, support or magnify the speakers’ ideas.
The first talk of the day held by Mike Bracken, Head of Government Digital Services, that introduced the recently relaunched uk government website. An excellent example of a revolutionized service that combines functionality and beauty in a single place. The elegant site managed to condense the previously thousands of UK’s government website into one easily accessible place “making life better for millions of people”. The elegance and intuitivity of its UX and UI is supported by a resilient ecosystem of IT teams spread across the country. Important to mention the opensource nature of the project.
Golan Levin is a lecturer and interactive designer based in Pittsburg, USA. He highlighted society’s need of creative practices that highlight our relationship with machines and each others. He stressed the notion of reverse engineer as a social empowerment activity that sees people adapting enclosed “black boxes” to their specific needs. Amongst others, The NeoLucida Project gained him and his team relative international recognition allowing for a critical exploration of design with “a product as provocation”.
The afternoon session started with an eccentric explosion of creativity at its purest with the panel titled, Superfictions: Design for Social Dreaming. The panel was a celebration of speculative design, an increasingly relevant field of design.
Superflux is a cutting edge design collective funded by Anab Jain in 2009. The studio embraces the everchanging nature of our times, designing with and for uncertainty. Dynamic Genetics Vs. Mann, is a classical example of speculative research that sees imagination running free investigating possible futures. 5th Dimensional Camera, is instead a fictional prototype of a future camera able to translate conceptual ideas of quantum mechanics into a tangible object.
Anab Jain conducted a superb talk spanning across many aspects of our technologically mediated society. She presented the audience with the crowdsourced surveillance car checking plates DNR (Digital Network Recognition), a stop riots without violence app and the IOTA platform to foster creativity, collaboration and technological literacy in the world of IoT. She also informed the crowd on the etymological root of the term ‘idiot’, which is the result of the greek words for privacy and idiom. For the Greeks a true idiot is “someone who acts in public as if they were still in private”- which appears to me to be peculiarly relevant to our present social media fetichism.
Alexandra Daisy is a designer, artist, writer, curator and author of the latest book on my bookshelf, Synthetic Aesthetic. Her practice brilliantly investigates both aesthetic and ethical futures for design attempting to bring it upstream and affect the direction of technology. Her interest in synthetic biology got her to curate ‘Grow you own… life after nature’ exhibition, that amongst other incredible projects included a cheese made from armpits’ bacteria.
Van Mensvoort is a cheerful designer, researcher, futurist and technologist from Eindhoven. I was personally very impressed by the range of inventive ideas he presented. Focusing on speculative design since the start of his career he worked on projects where “the products are fictional, the debate is a fact”. He warmed up the audience showing the organic coke, the smart tag that changes color when food spoils, wallsmart a paint that can change color through your phone, a belt that can produce energy from your fat and the future of high hills.
Then he went on with more conceptual ideas regarding his practice. In a world where “kids know more logos than animals” and biodiversity is decreasing while technodiversity is instead increasing the designer needs to stick to the vision and materialize the impossible. He concluded the talk with his seven steps to transform technology into nature. Debateable.
Try to imagine a space that exists outside of our neo-liberal fascism, a creative fusion of a monastery and a hackerspace, a new kind of social space, a think tank for social experiments, an utopia if you wish. The place is real, and is called unMonastry. The first prototype is currently developed in Matera, Italy. Ben Vickers, gave the audience an insightful overview of the current status of the project and future developments. Fully embracing technology, the community aims at bridging social gaps, develop community skills, spark new ideas, increasing security knowledge, living sustainably and foster education.
To conclude I’d like to mention the impressive range of events connected to the festival that saw an international jam of cross-disciplinary artists gathering in Manchester. Amongst others the eclectic Darkside, acclaimed sound artist Robert Henke and breakthrough musician Evian Christ.
Alongside music and art a series of workshops and activity spanned across the city actively engaging the public. Ranging from maker movements, DIY workshops, 3d printing, soldering workshops, new sharing platform and cutting edge research project. Fixperts is a particularly interesting platform that calls designers, creatives and makers to take on board creative challenges for society’s good, fixing existing problems not yet addressed. Apps for Europe is a promising new network that provides tool and support for the development of the best data apps with focus on europe.