The future isn’t what it used to be. When one looks at some of the defining science fiction writers of the last century, names like Jules Verne, Edgar Rice Burroughs, J.G. Ballard, Samuel Delaney, and Octavia Butler come to mind. In the last 20 years, there’s been a re-thinking of what “the future” means, and—as usual—writers, artists, designers, and architects have been the people who have helped us look at how our imaginations shape and mold the way we live now. Origin Magazine decided to sit down with Bruce Sterling, one of the 21st century’s more dynamic thinkers, to do a catch up session.
Paul D. Miller: What do you think is the future of cloud computing and architecture?
Bruce Sterling: Cloud computing seems to be following this evolutionary path: A—Internet backbone. B—Information Superhighway. C—The Net. D—The Web. E—The Cloud. F—”Ubiquity” G—???…
As for the future of Architecture, it’s urban informatics, the parametric, the generative, the biomorphic, the digitally repurposed “stuffed animal,” Gothic High-Tech, and Favela Chic.
PM: Where does literature fit into RFID?
BS: There’s no room for any text on that tiny chip. But RFID is an actuating trigger for most any data stream that its masters want.
PM: Geolocational aesthetics?
BS: Ultra-regional literature. The psychedelically immediate. The Georges Perec urban life as user’s manual. Species of spaces.
PM: Hidden dimensions of the urban landscape?
BS: Pynchonian paranoia. Geoff Manaugh architecture-fiction.
PM: Who would be the new story tellers for this kind of literature in design and architecture, and how do you think people should hack it?
BS: “Story-tellers” should listen seriously to design and architecture without getting all literary and imperial about that. Hackers are arrogant geek romantics. They lack the attentive spirit of inquiry.
PM: Two words, just respond as you want to: public space?
BS: “We Augment Reality” = WAR
PM: With the rise of “makers” and ad-hoc design hacker culture, we’ve seen a democratization of software unprecedented in the 21st century, that takes us back to the era of novel experiments of people like Benjamin Franklin or Newton, but with a massive twist: the level of science required to “play” is higher than ever, and access to resources gets more abstract—things like massive parallel computing level the playing field and even more kind of social/crowd sourced solutions can have impact in radically unexpected ways. What do you think of things like this after disasters like Fukushima?
BS: Good thing that reactor didn’t have an Application Programming Interface. The “level of science required to play” is not climbing, it is radically declining. It’s all about “Big Math for Trivia,” the BERG of London “demon-haunted world.” Complexity too cheap to meter.
Architects thrive after massive urban disasters. The abject collapse of East Berlin gave us the only city in Europe with a mighty host of Postmodern skyscrapers.
PM: What’s the design and architecture response to something on that level of destruction?
BS: Find a client and get a job.
PM: You’ve written extensively about a kind of post-American future, and now extensively chronicle the past. The future isn’t what it used to be. Why?
BS: It’s because every passing year brings us more past futures. Here in Europe they had a Dark Age so extensive, radical and obliterative that everyone forgot how to speak Latin. It’s counterproductive to blither on about “the” future. It’s always somebody’s future, and we’re not who we used to be.
If some genius wrote the “Great American Novel” today, would we bother to read it? I already read the “Great Italian Novel.” It was written in 1821 and it’s set in 1628. It’s the most famous and widely read novel of the Italian language, and it’s a colossally horrifying disaster novel. Manzoni’s The Betrothed makes Fukushima look like
the Tokyo Disneyland.
PM: Can the future be an open source idea?
BS: The future is a process, not a destination. Richard Stallman is a guy my age. I sympathize with Richard rather more than I sympathize with Richard’s open-source ideas, but the guy’s a mortal human being and so is his social movement. Open-source is a means of production. This question is like asking if Detroit’s future can be an assembly-line idea. Yeah, of course it can. For a while.
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