October 21, 2014

The future as the present with bits missing

Filed under: Futures,Innovation — by xrematon @ 8:13 pm
Tags: , , , ,

By juicing the fruits, you lose all the fibers, and that’s what your body wants. That’s the important part. Otherwise, it’s just all sugar.

So where do you think that quote comes from? A discussion on some chat show? Health advice in a lifestyle magazine? Well, actually it’s from a Golden Globe winning film – Her directed by Spike Jonze – and set at some point in the near future. It is notable for the way in which this depiction of the future is unobtrusive, and as exemplified by this quote, mundane.

As some one who thinks about the future (I did spend over ten years working at a place called The Futures Company), I enjoyed noticing other little facets of everyday life in this depiction of the future:
– Post is still part of everyday existence – letters are written (albeit in an intriguingly novel way) and mail boxes opened with keys.
– Yellow taxis still roam the streets (though there aren’t many other cars – more on this later).
– People still get take-out in those dinky little cardboard boxes.
– There don’t really appear to be many old people around.

Now, as I was rather surprised by the last observation (the ageing population is one of the first statements one tends to trot out when describing what society will be like in the decades to come), it made wonder how realistic/close to the facts this depiction of the future is. I came across the following assessment from futurist Kurzweil.

 I would place some of the elements in Jonze’s depiction at around 2020, give or take a couple of years, such as the diffident and insulting videogame character he interacts with, and the pin-sized cameras that one can place like a freckle on one’s face. Other elements seem more like 2014, such as the flat-panel displays, notebooks and mobile devices … Samantha herself I would place at 2029, when the leap to human-level AI would be reasonably believable. There are some incongruities, however. As I mentioned, a lot of the dramatic tension is provided by the fact that Theodore’s love interest does not have a body. But this is an unrealistic notion. It would be technically trivial in the future to provide her a virtual visual presence to match her virtual auditory presence, using, lens-mounted displays, for example, that display images onto Theodore’s retinas.

Kurzweil appears to suggest that the AI element is the most far out, but it is perhaps worth recalling that some claim the Turing Test has been passed. In June 2014, at an event at the Royal Society in London, a conversation programme running on a computer called Eugene Goostman was able to convince more than a third of the judges that it was human.

What was the thinking of those who actually put the film together? Well, it appears they wanted to avoid giving sci-fi geeks something to get their teeth into, according to production designer K.K. Barrett.

One of the first things I said in designing Her was, ‘I don’t want to show any cars. When you look at any film from any time period and see a car, you can place it right to the year. I didn’t want people in the audience looking at the background and going ‘Oh, look at the cars they’ve designed!’ because that’s a distraction from the story.

Instead, this is a deliberately ambiguous but not unappealing future – comfortable, natural and intuitive. The secret to achieving this?

 When we were making rules for this world we created,we decided that it would be better to take things away rather than add them.When you add things that aren’t of this era, you wind up noticing them and it becomes really distracting,so our rules were more like,there won’t be any denim in this film, there won’t be any baseball hats,there won’t be any ties or belts.Even lapels and collars will almost disappear. I think the absence of those things creates a unique world. (Comment from CaSey Storm designer for the film)

Worth pondering – a twist on the oft-repeated William Gibson riff (The future’s here – just unevenly distributed) – the future is the now with bits missing.

summer rain sunset

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