What Is This Future?

 In late 2012 HSBC, a large international bank, executed an advertising campaign dubbed “In the future…”. These ads, appearing in business magazines and international airports, featured predictions about technology and economics, and pronouced, “a new world is emerging.” Several of the ads presented HSBC’s accord with ‘green’ technologies, such as one claim that, “In the future, we will all fly organic.” The accompanying image places mushroom gills within an airliner turbine, presenting biofuels as an emerging and profitable investment. Alignment of international banking with alternative energy was always going to require careful analysis, but other components of this ad campaign turn downright disturbing. An image of a fish with a barcode on it proclaims, “In the future, the food chain and the supply chain will merge.”i

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Another states, “In the future, nature and technology will work as one,” while depicting a bee with camera lenses for eyes.ii [Read more →]

Control and Freedom in Geographic Information Systems

Like the Internet, the Global Positioning System (GPS) was developed first with military applications in mind.  GPS enabled a precise, autonomous, and facile location of any point on the globe.  The development of this technology was critical to the broad merger of cartography with database technology and statistical analysis in the second half of the 20th century.  This new science, termed Geographic Information Systems (GIS), has profoundly changed our views and interactions with physical reality at both continental and minute scales.  The potential for highly detailed monitoring is exhilarating for scientists, but often terrifying for divergent or contestational voices.  At the same time access to these technologies is not highly controlled, which has thrown open the door for popular participation in map creation and publishing.  Through GIS and GPS, cartography has become a crucial new media for expression and critique.  How we choose to map reality is a cornerstone of our consensus on what exists, has existed, or will be created in a place.
The science of cartography has always had deep implications for increased control.  Creation of useable world maps in the colonial period was essential to developing global shipping routes.  Better maps facilitated the massive transport of resources from less technologically developed regions to those holding the most accurate picture of the world.  Among the most famous are the transfer of precious metals from Central and South America to Europe, and the middle passage of African slaves to North America.  Maps have historically empowered control on much smaller scales as well.  Violently enforced consensus on terrestrial boundaries is the defining ingredient enabling land ownership and regulatory extents.  On the other hand, iterative improvement of maps has hugely augmented our concepts of physical reality.  Without a  ‘birds eye view’ our notions of Earth extend only so far as we have seen, perhaps a small area only reaching the borders of town.  Without a map, all the rest is unknown, the other.  Early maps highlight precisely this erroneous notion, placing a given civilization at the center of the world and filling the unknown space with nothing [Figure 1].  In modern times we can view the entire globe, explore its topology, civic organization, and boundaries without leaving the house.  This constitutes a major widening of perception for the human race.
Still, greatly enhanced apprehension of geographic space has been a hotly contested arena.  [Read more →]