New Scientist and SCI FI LONDON present…

THE SCIENCE FICTION FUTURE

With a keynote by multi-award winning science-fiction writer ALASTAIR REYNOLDS, this packed afternoon of short films and discussions explores how science fiction is guiding us towards an uncertain tomorrow.

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Saturday May 30

12.30–6pm

Blue Room, mezzanine level
BFI Southbank, Belvedere Road
London SE1 8XT

A free drop-in event
(Help us keep track of numbers by registering at Eventbrite)

 


12.30 Screenings

 

Building and testing a Paul-III drawing robot

Patrick Tresset, 2014 (1’ 30)

Patrick Tresset is a French artist who uses robotics to create cybernetic representations of the artist. His robots incorporate research findings from computer vision, artificial intelligence and cognitive computing. @patricktresset


The Willful Marionette

Lilla LoCurto & Bill Outcault, 2014 (2’ 46)

Created during a residency with the University of North Carolina, Charlotte, the marionette is 3D-printed from the scanned image of a human figure and responds in real time to spontaneous human gestures. Their intention was not to create a perfectly functioning robot, but to imbue an obviously mechanical marionette with the ability to solicit a physical and emotional dialogue.


Strandbeest (compilation)

Theo Jansen, 2014 (3’ 55)

In 1990 the Dutch artist Theo Jansen began building large self-actuating mechanisms out of PVC. He strives to equip his creations with their own artificial intelligence so they can avoid obstacles, such as the sea itself, by changing course. @StrandBeests


The Afronauts

Cristina De Middel, 2013 (4’ 30)

In 1964, still living the dream of their recently gained independence, Zambia started a space program that would put the first African on the moon. The project was founded and led by Edward Makuka, a school teacher. The United Nations declined their support. Photojournalist Cristina De Middel assembled surviving documents from the project and integrated them with her own imagery. @lademiddel


The Moon (Luna, excerpt)

Pavel Klushantsev, 1965 (2’ 00)

Concluding scenes from a visionary documentary describing how the moon will be developed, from the first lunar mission to the construction of lunar cities and laboratories.


Reactvertising™ R&D

John St., 2014 (0’ 56)

John Street is a Canadian creative agency. @thetweetsofjohn


13:00 Introduction

Simon Ings

@simonings


13:10 Keynote: “On the Steel Breeze”

Alastair Reynolds

@aquilarift

Marrying human concerns to monstrously scaled backdrops, Alastair Reynolds is one of our finest writers of science fiction. He spent twelve years within the European Space Agency, designing and building the S-Cam, the world’s most advanced optical camera, before returning to his native Wales in 2008. His most recent novel, appearing in September 2013, is On the Steel Breeze, a sequel to Blue Remembered Earth.


13.30 Screenings

 

The Centrifuge Brain Project

Till Nowak, 2012 (6’ 35) Many thanks to ShortFilmAgency Hamburg,

A portrait of the science behind seven experimental fun park rides. Humans are constantly looking for bigger, better, faster solutions to satisfy their desires, but they never arrive at a limit – it’s an endless search. @TillNowak


SEFT–1 Abandoned Railways Exploration Probe

Ivan Puig and Andrés Padilla Domene, 2014 (3’ 05)

Puig and Domene (Los Ferronautas) built their striking silver road-rail vehicle to explore the abandoned passenger railways of Mexico and Ecuador, an iconic infrastructure now lying in ruins, much of it abandoned due to the privatisation of the railway system in 1995, when many passenger trains were withdrawn, lines cut off and communities isolated. The artists’ journeys, captured in videos, photographs and collected objects, establish a notion of modern ruins.


Growth Assembly

Daisy Ginsberg & Sacha Pohflepp, 2009 (3’ 33)

A collection, illustrated by Sion Ap Tomos, of seven plants that have been genetically engineered to grow objects. Once assembled, parts from the seven plants form a herbicide sprayer – an essential commodity used to protect these delicate, engineered horticultural machines from an older, more established nature. @alexandradaisy | @plugimi


Hair Highway

Juriaan Booij, 2014 (4’ 28)

A contemporary take on the ancient Silk Road. As the world’s population continues to increase, human hair has been re-imagined as an abundant and renewable material, with China its biggest exporter. Studio Swine explores how the booming production of hair extensions can be expanded beyond the beauty industry to make desirable, Shanghai-deco style products. @StudioSwine


Magnetic Movie

Semiconductor, 2007 (4’ 47)

Artists Ruth Jarman & Joe Gerhardt (Semiconductor) reveal the secret lives of magnetic fields around NASA’s Space Sciences Laboratories, UC Berkeley, to recordings of space scientists describing their discoveries. Are we observing a series of scientific experiments, or a documentary of a fictional world? @Semiconducting


14:00 Panel: “Unreliable evidence”

Museums and galleries are using mocked-up objects, films and documents to entertain, baffle and provoke us — but what happens when we can no longer tell the difference between them and the real thing?

Alec Steadman, formerly of The Hut Project, joined the arts-science hub The Arts Catalyst as Curator in April 2015.

A curator, producer and artists’ agent, Robert Devcic uses objects to challenge, inform and deepen our ideas of the real world. Through his gallery GV Art, he pioneers work that erases the boundary between art and science, fact and fiction.

Cher Potter is a senior editor at the fashion forecasting company WGSN. She analyses social, political and cultural trends and their potential impact on the fashion industry. She is part of the curatorial team for a forthcoming exhibition at the V&A Museum titled The Future: A History.

Deputy keeper of technologies and engineering at the Science Museum, Doug Millard has just completed work on a major exhibition of Russian space exploration to be staged at the Science Museum in September 2015.

@TheArtsCatalyst | @GV_Art

Lost in Fathoms
Anaïs Tondeur & Jean-Marc Chomaz, 2014 (3′ 27)


14:45 screenings

 

Big Dog Overview

Boston Dynamics, 2010 (3’ 24)

BigDog is a rough-terrain robot that walks, runs, climbs and carries heavy loads. BigDog’s four legs are articulated like an animal’s, with compliant elements to absorb shock and recycle energy from one step to the next. @BostonDynamics


Farmer’s Pet

Joshua Allen Harris, 2008 (2’ 17)

US street artist Joshua Allen Harris uses ordinary black garbage and shopping bags to make his pieces, tying them down to subway grates with tape in the hope the strong gusts from the trains will be strong enough to inflate his characters and animate them. @tweetsbyjosh


Shrink (performance at Brucknerhaus, Linz, Austria)

Lawrence Malstaf, 2009 (4’ 25)

Belgian artist Lawrence Malstaf develops installation and performance art dealing with space and orientation. His projects frequently involve advanced technology and the participation of visitors.


Big Dog Beta: – early Big Dog quadruped robot testing (excerpt)

Seedwell, 2011 (0’ 48)

The somewhat flawed predecessor to Boston Dynamics’ Big Dog robot. Camera by Dana Kruse. @seedwell


First on the Moon (excerpt)

Aleksei Fedorchenko, 2005 (1’ 30)

Soviet scientists and military authorities managed to launch the first spacecraft 23 years prior to Yuri Gagarin’s flight. Fedorchenko’s first feature tells about everyday life, heroic deeds and tragedy of the first group of the Soviet cosmonauts.


15:00 Panel: “We’re making this up as we go along”

Can we ever ready ourselves for the unexpected? And might the games we play now lead us into making the wrong choices in the future?

Funny and uneasy by turns, Pat Kane’s annual FutureFest festival for the innovation charity NESTA reflected his belief in the importance of play. A musician, writer and political activist, Kane (appearing via Skype) was also one of the founding editors of the Sunday Herald newspaper.

Rob Morgan develops VR titles, including shooters, thrillers and action/comedies, for major game studios, charities, publishers and indies. He was a contributor to the award-winning browser game Samsara and the ARG Unreal City, collaborated with J K Rowling on Pottermore, and has just finished writing the script for the upcoming The Assembly for Morpheus & Oculus Rift.

Andy Franzkowiak has flooded Edinburgh with zombies, sent Siemens’ urban museum The Crystal to 2050, and built the solar system in Deptford. He has previously worked with Punchdrunk, the Southbank Centre and the BBC. Mary Jane Edwards, who develops projects focused on cultural regeneration, social policy and social finance, is his new partner in crime in attempts to blur the distinction between art, education and science.

 

@theplayethic | @AboutThisLater | @shrinking_space

Afrogalactica: a short history of the future
(performance excerpt)
Kapwani Kiwanga, 2011 (4′ 50)


15:45 screenings

 

Corner Convenience: “Hoodie”

Near Future Laboratory, 2012, (1’ 40)

Near Future Laboratory’s design-fiction workshop used print and film to explore the future as a place we will, inevitably, take for granted. Its ruling assumption was that the trajectory of all great innovations is to trend towards the counter of your corner convenience store, grocer, 7–11 or petrol station. @nearfuturelab


Reactvertising™

John St., 2014 (3’ 12)

@thetweetsofjohn


New Mumbai

Tobias Revell, 2012 (9’ 17)

During the Indian Civil War the Dharavi slums of Mumbai were flooded with refugees. Sometime later a cache of biological samples appeared through the criminal networks of Mumbai. Revell explains how a refugee community managed to turn these genetically-engineered narcotics into a new type of infrastructure. @tobias_revell


Tender – it’s how people meat

Marcello Gómez Maureira, 2015 (0’ 52)

Tender is the easy way to connect with new and interesting meat around you. @dandymaro


Aurora, the Aura City (excerpt)

Urban IxD, 2013 (3’ 25)

A design fiction created during the Urban IxD summer school in Split, Croatia during August 2013, and led by Tobias Revell and Sara Bozanic. It is 2113. Cities have undergone profound change. A sharing economy holds sway, but the desire for efficiency and optimization has led to the development of highly sophisticated sharing systems that preclude social interaction. The streets have emptied… @tobias_revell | @me_transmedia


Corner Convenience: “Drunk”

Near Future Laboratory, 2012, (1’ 50)

@nearfuturelab


16:00 presentations

Rachel Armstrong creates new materials that possess some of the properties of living systems, and can be manipulated to “grow” architecture. Through extensive collaboration, she builds and develops prototypes of sustainable and self-sustaining metabolic buildings.

@livingarchitect

Lydia Nicholas, is a researcher in collective intelligence at Nesta and founding member of the Future Anthropologies Network. She speaks at conferences about bodies and biology and numbers and making in various combinations. Her favourite bacteria is Paenibacillus vortex.

@LydNicholas


16:15 panel: “This is not a drill”

Rachel Armstrong and Lydia Nicholas join Georgina Voss, Paul Graham Raven and Regina Peldszus to explore how mock-ups, simulations and rehearsals are shaping the real world.

Georgina Voss co-wrote the “Better Made Up” report from NESTA examining the co-influence of science fiction and innovation, and is currently is a resident at Lighthouse Arts, using 3D print technology to promote women’s health in remote regions.

Paul Graham Raven is a postgraduate researcher in infrastructure futures and theory at the University of Sheffield. He is also a science fiction writer, literary critic and essayist.

Via Skype, Regina Peldszus explores how humans and technology interact. She was an Internal Research Fellow with the European Space Agency in Darmstadt, Germany. She is now at Leuphana University of Lüneburg, researching the ethics of simulation.

@gsvoss | @PaulGrahamRaven

Forever Future
Sacha Pohflepp, 2010 (4′ 24)


17:00 Screening

Fugitive Futurist: A Q-riosity by “Q”

Gaston Quiribet, 1924 (12’ 00; silent)

An on-the-run inventor claims to have invented a camera which looks into the future, and reveals a grim destiny for London landmarks like Tower Bridge and Trafalgar Square.


17:15 Discussion and screenings

 

Public Tracks

Hubert Blanz, 2010 (1’ 25)

Excerpt from an audio/video installation. Over the last few years the importance of virtual social networks has greatly increased and has significantly changed the way we communicate.


Brilliant Noise
Semiconductor, 2006 (5’ 50)

After sifting through hundreds of thousands of computer files, made accessible via open access-archives, Semiconductor bring together some of the sun’s finest unseen moments. These images have been kept in their most raw form, revealing the activities of energetic particles. The soundtrack highlights the hidden forces at play upon the solar surface, by directly translating areas of intensity within the image brightness into layers of audio manipulation. @Semiconducting


Singular Occurrence of a Fall

Anaïs Tondeur & Jean-Marc Chomaz, 2014 (1’ 13)

Produced with PhD students during an art and science workshop at Cambridge University, this is one of a series of video pieces that reconstruct in the laboratory the effects of an earthquake on the lost island of Nuuk.


@newscientist
@CultureLabNS
#SFL15

On Saturday 30 May, fantasy takes over the future

There’s an official webpage coming, but in the meantime, here’s a bit of mischief I’m planning with New Scientist and SCI FI LONDON in a corner of the British Film Institute on the afternoon of Saturday 30 May.

We’ll Eventbrite all this to get an idea of numbers but it’s free — drop in, heckle, throw peanuts, and above all buy me beer afterwards..

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The wildest and most outlandish stories are slipping through the screens, cabinets and wall-spaces of our most treasured institutions and into the streets and squares of the real world.

Kicked off with a keynote by multi-award winning science fiction writer Alastair Reynolds, this packed afternoon of short films and discussions explores how stories, games and falsehoods are guiding us towards an uncertain tomorrow.

Curators Robert Devcic and Doug Millard lead us through a bizarre world of unreal exhibits — objects and films and documents that purport to be from future times and unreal places. These mock-ups are meant to entertain, baffle and provoke us — but what happens when we can no longer tell the difference between them and the real thing?

In the company of Pat Kane, Meg Jayanth and Shrinking Space we explore the fun and games to be had in making up and playing the future. Can we ever ready ourselves for the unexpected? And might the games we play now lead us into making the wrong choices in the future?

And Georgina Voss, Paul Graham Raven and (via Skype) Regina Pedszus, will help us discover how mock-ups, simulations and rehearsals are bearing on the real world, and making science fiction real.

Interspersed with short films, video art and live readings, New Scientist‘s afternoon at Sci Fi London will take science fiction off the screen and jam it under your skin.

London’s Design Museum spins four fictional futures for the UK

The other day I went along to London’s Design Museum to catch the opening of United Micro Kingdoms (UMK): A Design Fiction. The exhibition, conceived and curated by design studio Dunne & Raby, uses elements of industrial design, architecture, politics and science to explore the future of design. Anthony Dunne talked to me about his four fictional kingdoms, his love of science fiction, and the value of dystopic thinking.

[youtube=http://youtu.be/oqGynLMPWko]

United Micro Kingdoms runs until 26 August 2013 at the Design Museum, Shad Thames, London SE1 2YD.

Bedding Heather

The Productions of Time

So I was on this panel about sexuality at EightSquaredCon, paraphrasing a pick-up scene by professional Yorkshireman John Braine and hazing people with the idea that maybe we didn’t invent same-sex attraction last week, and that anyone writing novels or reading them may for the longest time have had a fairly sophisticated take on the subject; one we just can’t see these days, obsessed as we are by labeling everything. And then I read The Productions of Time by John Brunner, an indispensable book if only for its jaw-dropping overuse of the expression “fullblown Les”. As in:

“And me as a fullblown Les,” Heather said. “It’s so frightening, Murray! They said ‘the urge was on her tapes’ and if you hadn’t worried me so much… I’d have been seduced by Ida and then…”
“But it might not have worked, young woman!”
“It would have,” she said obstinately. “There’s a bit of it in all of us — you should know that, as a doctor. I used to get crushes on older girls when I was at school, so it’s probably still in me, just below the surface, waiting for—“
Hysteria on the way, Murray diagnosed, and wondered if he was going to have to slap her face to quiet her.

So that’s my oh-so-sophisticated take on the historiography of sex blown out of the shallows. Though of course Brunner, while capable of writing like a dog and thinking like a dog, was not incapable of irony, and this was published (in 1967) by New American Library, so maybe there’s a sneery transatlantic joke being played here on the cowpokes.

All that remains is to write a cracking outline to go with “Fullblown Les” – a title too po-mo to waste.

Of Martians and machines

1908: The Island (work in progress)

Thought arises, not from matter, but from the way it is organised. Alexander Bogdanov, science fiction pioneer, philosopher, physician, Lenin’s friend and rival, explored the idea of automating society. The West calls this cybernetics and it fuels consumer culture. But in the Soviet Union, Bogdanov’s philosophy was discredited and suppressed. On Tuesday 18 December at 7.30pm I’ll be asking why the Soviets abandoned their early dreams of automating Man.

The talk’s at Pushkin House, 5A Bloomsbury Square, London WC1A 2TA, and you can find more details here.

Come journey with me to Zochonis TH A (B5)!

Thecanalmanchesterlancashire1925

‘Putting the Science in Fiction’ – an Interfaculty Symposium on Science and Entertainment – takes place there on Wednesday 25 April 9:30am to 5pm.

Zochonis TH A (B5) is, in fact, in Manchester. Well, it’s a bit of Manchester University. Oh, I don’t know, I’ll just turn up early and find some corridor to sit down in and start screaming; someone’s bound to find me and steer me to the right place sooner or later.

Once there, I’ll find myself in good company. Confirmed speakers include Stephen Baxter,  Ken MacLeod, Alastair Reynolds, Geoff Ryman (the eminence grise behind this junket), Justina Robson and Matthew Cobb, among many others.

Watch us all “forge new relationships between the scientific community and the arts/entertainment community”. There is no cost for the workshop, but spaces are limited so you will need to book a place by contacting scienceinfiction.manchester@gmail.com

And visit http://bit.ly/yxgLGQ

It won’t tell you where Zochonis TH A (B5) is, but at least you’ll know I’m not making it up.

What is science fiction anyway?

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I call it The Conversation. You know the one. It has a tendency to erupt whenever more than three science fiction fans gather in one place. Science fiction is that genre whose readers tend to ask: “But what is science fiction anyway?” No other genre is as obsessed with self-definition.

I haven’t had The Conversation for a while. The nearest I’ve come to it was a couple of months back, at a public debate convened to discuss the proposition that science fiction (whatever that is) is the only form of literature that’s relevant for our times.

After all, how can we write about the real world *without* science fiction? We are all, after all, cyborgs. We’re born in intensive care, and we die there. In between we neck pharmaceuticals, conduct meaningful relationships through the screens of our TVs, computers and phones, and hurtle about in the bellies of huge, mechanical beasts. Even my spectacles are a caveman’s bionics. It will be science and technology that make us whatever we are tomorrow. And it’s science fiction that tells us what to expect.

The world is full of journals and websites and blogs telling us what the future might look like. Harder to find, and set in ever-clearer opposition, are works of science fiction that dare to set out what this future might mean for us. And sometimes it’s the least “accurate” science fiction that has the most to say. Earlier this year, William Gibson put it this way: that science fiction is a way of examining the present without having to cope with the terrifying reality of looking directly at it.

Another of my fellow panelists, the author and academic Adam Roberts, noted that science fiction often gets the technology wrong in order to get the priorities right. Even when science fiction is at its most stolid, trying its damnedest to be about things rather than people, it still ends up saying a whole lot about optimism, anxiety, shamanism and snake oil. There’s truth about people, and there’s truth about technology. The two aren’t the same.

Perhaps that’s what Margaret Atwood was driving at when she explained that she writes speculative fiction (about how we get from here to there) rather than science fiction (which starts there, among the octopuses and spaceships). It’s a perfectly workable distinction. Inevitably, it led to The Conversation, immense heat, and very little light.

In recent years, the Arthur C Clarke Awards have revealed a lot about how contemporary writers regard the genre. The word “confused” springs to mind: Kazuo Ishiguro turned up (for Never Let Me Go); Cormac McCarthy’s The Road wasn’t even submitted.

Science fiction impresario Tom Hunter saved the Clarke Award from extinction when its eponymous benefactor died. When he revamped the Award to be more diverse in its nominations, he found himself facing accusations that he was trying to out-do the The Man Booker prize.

It was quite a compliment, in its way: The Man Booker, after all, wants to stand for literary excellence (whatever *that* is). But Tom thinks the comparison is false. The Clarke isn’t the Man Booker, so much as the Turner Prize. It’s the Turner, after all, that continually throws up new definitions of what modern British art actually is.

Why do lovers of science fiction waste so much of their time on The Conversation? I think it’s out of a fear that the literature they love, let off the leash entirely, would simply run off without them with never a backward glance. Science fiction is notorious, after all, for biting the hand that feeds it, for deliberately running counter to all expectation, and getting lost for decades at a time in the contested, sometimes ugly territory where the humanities leave off and the sciences begin. Science fiction prides itself on crashing and burning, again and again, against the walls of narrative expectation and good taste. It’s the Gully Foyle of literature, fearsome and damaged and perilous in its promise: a Prometheus figure shoving fire in your face. “Catch *this!*”

That’s the proposition that we’ve set out to explore in Arc, a new digital magazine that’s about the future – the promise and the terror of it. We’ve enlisted some of the finest writers of our time to explore our growing conviction that, for good or ill, science and technology have acquired spiritual power over us – and that science fiction really has become our only truly relevant literary genre.

Is Arc a science fiction magazine? Perhaps. Until something better turns up. But these things turn on a penny, and the future – whatever *that* is – always wins.