Bruce Sterling: A Hardy Polemic


Bruce Sterling is here this evening to talk at our IMD seminar.

He’s fresh from Ars Futura in Barcelona and looking to discuss his new book, Shaping Things.

Here’s a Flickr stream with photos from Bruce’s talk at Ars Futura.

Some Notes

Spime‘s move us away from ubiquitous computation and toward electronically enhanced tags embedded in architectural environments. His book is a mainifesto of a world that contains objects that aren’t smart, but that generate histories and stories embedded in the environment.

Started by trying to write a novel on the subject
energized by Marc Weiser.

Power and mainframes in the environment and everything is sitting around with some processing capacity.

The more he thought about it and try to write a scene and waking up in that sort of environment, he had some deep difficulties.

Ended up thinking that the problem was that it wasn’t ubiquitous (cause there was always patchiness “seams”) and not computation cause you don’t have to move much computation into the tag.

It just needs identity — enough to have some individual identity.

Came to this conclusion this year

Asked to give a lecture at art center. started thinking about govchips and bloggets. rather than giving help, they offered to have him join the faculty and drill down on the subject.

RFID: Applications, Security, and Privacy

If you’re interested in the subject, start by reading RFID: Applications, Security, and Privacy by a colleague of his Simson Garfinkel. They put together a primer on the issues with the heavy duty players and their takes on the topic.

The other is Spychips: How major corporations and government plan to track your every move with RFID (foreward by Bruce Sterling) Katherine Albrecht and Liz McIntyre

Katherine Albrecht is the foremost anti-RFID advocate and a Christian with a doctorate in Marketing from an Ivy League college. She also wrote The Spychips Threat : Why Christians Should Resist RFID and Computer Tracking.

Katherine Albrecht researched patents and revealed the ways that corps are getting IP holds on which are very scary schemes. The Spychips book represents the loyal opposition

What does it mean when you have a computer and a radio attached to all kinds of objects.

To get down to the nitty gritty of the issue. Exteremely bizzare and very profound set of technologies.

Who is going to make all this happen?

Alien Technology, Intermac, Oracle, Fujitsu, Intel, Microsoft, Toshiba, NCR, plus smaller “pure play”

Secured Global VeriChip Subscriber Registry is the money object.

WalMart and the DoD are joint sponsors of the electronic code initiative.

WalMart has a really really good supply chain and were able to ship goods to New Orleans faster than FEMA or anything under the US Flag. You’re better sitting under the WalMart flag.

Wal-Mart, DOD Forcing RFID

Guards and prisoners in LA County prison are given RFID bracelets

Career criminals repurposing RFID for kidnaps

We’re basically hot-tagging everything. point of fact, the people who built the internet, a bunch of interest groups redefine the stuff as a smaller scale development platform.

What does that do? it changes the supply chain into a different kind of entity.

What is a supply chain? it moves things into our possession.

Beginning link and an end link, and the end link is junk. everything moves in one direction so that everything ends up as junk.

What he’d like to see is a supply loop, so that things come back around

Fabs disintermediate the supply chain. How?

1. virtual plans

2. identity – unique identity for objects; a genuinely unique identity that makes it tracable

3. search engines – allow you to manifest the identity

4. geolocation – the ability to find physical objs. in a physical realm

5. social software – not sure what that or web 2.0 mean, but all of them are apps for real world objects, which is compelling. atelier way for small groups to break into the chain to turn it into a transparent realm. way to rip the old way to shreds. not cute or clean, but like what bloggers were able to do to transform the world, e.g. the US President’s Supreme Court nominee was disassembled by bloggers in important ways. Suppose “social software” could support the same practice for objects like a 747?

6. fabricators

7. cradle-to-cradle assembly technology and design for disassembly

Cradle to Cradle title of a book saying that we don’t get to have industrialism unless we can say that waste is food.

Cradle to Cradle

The object is an instantiation of the support system. it’s like it’s own support system. it’s inscribed with itself.

It’s like buying a book on Amazon that comes with an image, information and cross-references, assembled with reviews, etc.

word nuggets
The shadow that supports the object becomes more important than the objects

The Engine is the “Thing” of warcraft

The object is an instantiation of the support system. It’s like it’s own support system. it’s inscribed with itself.

what’s actually new about today’s epic disasters, tragedies, wars, false pretenses leading toward war? 6 billion people trending towards 11 billion the north pole melting away. we’re moving from the unthinkable towards the unimaginable. it’ll be worse than cambodia

Judgments of evil are time bound. it wasn’t evil to find oil for the first time.

It’s to be a modernist to believe that design provides solutions. We need a method to deal with consequences with better attention to managing problems. We need ways to cope, not solutions.

You can track people and keep them in certain areas or away from certain objects. It’s already being done in casinos prisons.

We got the internet we deserved. You can open your browser and get robbed by 10 people before breakfast

The rain falls on the just and unjust alike, even if you’re Trent Lott. You don’t argue for wildfires and melted ice caps.

Games? Maybe invent a game of tag that puts a laquer of the virtual on the physical.


Dead Media Project

RFID Conspiracy

Beyond the Beyond

VeriChip (CEO former PR guy – ruthlessly looking for some kind of PR angle. Wanted to attach implantable RFID tags into the bloated corpses of people in New Orleans after Katrina and toe tags were no good because the bodies were decomposing and injectable tags were more effective.)

RAND Terrorism and Homeland Security

Failed States Index

books mentioned

Shaping Things

Cradle to Cradle

The other is Spychips: How major corporations and government plan to track your every move with RFID (foreward by Bruce Sterling) Katherine Albrecht and Liz McIntyre

Katherine Albrecht is the foremost anti-RFID advocate and a Christian with a doctorate in Marketing from an Ivy League college. She also wrote The Spychips Threat : Why Christians Should Resist RFID and Computer Tracking.

RFID: Applications, Security, and Privacy

[w:The Nine Nations of North America]

Why do I blog this? Sterling has been Visionary-in-Residence at Art Center College of Design in Pasadena and has passed through here a few times in various contexts. (He was propped in the back left corner of the room in which I gave my 4S paper a few weeks ago.) He participated in the SoCal Digital Culture Group several months ago and, as part of a discussion, offered the word nugget that “Al Qaeda is a FlashMob” in response to some glowing description of the political import of distributed networks. I enjoy the provocateur in him, even as I think he’s pretty much spot-on on the topics he’s talking about — a sort of [w:Mike Davis]-esque apocalyptic vision, but the vision is more than everything is going south, it’s where it’s going south and notions of ways of coping rather than trying to instrumentalize a modernist solution. I appreciate that kind of capacity to polemicize in that way.

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Image Theory Objects: Flickr Collaboratory

I’ve been adding somewhat anonymous Flickr “users” who seem to be using their images as a collaborative research effort. I guess. My favorite currently is’s Flickr stream. Shared collaboratory, I guess. Many of there images are these semantic diagrams — showing trends reports, Venn Diagrams of memes and where these ideas might lead in a speculative kind of way. Others are like this one — an image of a near-future context for interaction or interface or designed experience.

Why do I blog this? I’ve been interested in how images affect my design thinking. I’ve been trying to use them as tools for representing concept and design ideas, as sort of — theory objects in themselves.

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Evading the Sensor Nest

This “Lab Notes” dispatch from the Berkeley College of Engineering resonated because I have been thinking about the military industrial light and magic complex. That is, the knitting together into shared sensibilities a cohesive semantic blob that makes it difficult to distinguish military-entertainment-games-illusion-simulation as wholly and semantically separate entitites.

NEC Distinguished Professor S. Shankar Sastry has been doing research with his graduate students on a challenge of creating an aerial drone that can track moving targets on the ground. This is part of the Network Embedded Systems Technology (NEST) project launched in 2001 using “motes” — small, self-organizing sensor nodes that are supposed to aggregate and make sense of their surroundings.

On a sunny August day at UC Berkeley’s secluded Richmond Field Station, several graduate students are erratically running back and forth through an overgrown field. Meanwhile, small unmanned aerial vehicles buzz overhead. The students are playing a game but it’s not football, soccer, or some other college sport. They’re playing Multiple Target Tracking and Pursuit Evasion Games, and it’s serious business.

Why do I blog this? Two reasons. First one is an ongoing intellectual struggle to talk articulately about the relationships between the military, entertainment, gaming, death-defiance, simulation, etc. The second is to understand how my thinking around this particular semantic rats nest is torn between some kind of perverse fascination with what the military does that is somehow tied to what they (maybe) could help me do, for my own purposes, which somehow are tied to their purposes, except the part about killing people or getting people killed.

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This continues to please me..

Google military industrial light and magic complex.


Why do I blog this? I still haven’t lost sight of the linkages between the military and entertainment. No normative judgement here — I enjoy the fraught tension and the collective efforts at fantasizing ways to scare ourselves to death and live and learn from the experience. When I first started thinking about this I was speculating why games (play) and simulation were so tightly coupled. I’m still accumulating the little practice indicators as to what’s going on here. Thursday I go see some goodies developed by ICT (Institute for Creative Technologies) which is all over this theory nugget.

But wait! There’s more — RAND and USC are engaged!. I’d enjoy kicking it with those guys and seeing how we’d think together. I’m going to go chit-chat with folks from RAND next week. It’s going to be a westside day — Yahoo, RAND, Protohaus and then a BBQ out back with the Nokia Insight-Foresight dynamic duo.

WYS, WIS, What We See Together

I recently found out that the acronym soup of the Computer Human Interaction ([w:CHI]) cauldron has been stewing the WYSIWIS (‘what you see is what I see’) concept for sometime now. I’ve been doing anonymous reviews of papers for CHI2006 and stumbled across the acronym and it got me to thinking about WYSIWIS for presence awareness in mobile and pervasive contexts.

A quick bargain basement search of the ACM Library Digital Portal reveals that it floated to the surface of the publication stack, at least in the ACM world, around 1986 or 1987 within the CSCW crowd. The first paper to mention it in its title that I found was in 1987, with the reformatory sounding WYSIWIS revised: early experiences with multiuser interfaces by a gang of Xerox PARC researchers (pre-Fuji) including Stefix, Bobrow, Foster, Lanning and Tatar. The abstract reads thus:

WYSIWIS (What You See Is What I See) is a foundational abstraction for multiuser interfaces that expresses many of the characteristics of a chalkboard in face-to-face meetings. In its strictest interpretation, it means that everyone can also see the same written information and also see where anyone else is pointing. In our attempts to build software support for collaboration in meetings, we have discovered that WYSIWIS is crucial, yet too inflexible when strictly enforced. This paper is about the design issues and choices that arose in our first generation of meeting tools based on WYSIWIS. Several examples of multiuser interfaces that start from this abstraction are presented. These tools illustrate that there are inherent conflicts between the needs of a group and the needs of individuals, since user interfaces compete for the same display space and meeting time. To help minimize the effect of these conflicts, constraints were relaxed along four key dimensions of WYSIWIS: display space, time of display, subgroup population, and congruence of view. Meeting tools must be designed to support the changing needs of information sharing during process transitions, as subgroups are formed and dissolved, as individuals shift their focus of activity, and as the group shifts from multiple parallel activities to a single focused activity and back again.

Why do I blog this? One aspect of presence awareness that I find compelling is the ability to indicate state, or mood or location in non-verbal ways. This isn’t news for anyone likely reading this, but the paper I was reviewing indicates a number of approaches to turning WYSIWIS into a kind of sociable presence awareness framework that has some exciting implications for maintaining social cohesion and creating some cool ways to manage social groups and the movement of those groups (across topics, activities, rendezvousing, etc.)

Workshop: Triggerd by RFID

Timo just told me he’ll be attending Triggered by RFID a workshop by Mediamatic that sounds like it’s really a workshhop. Like..things will get built using objects. I’m very jealous. I wish I was going there. Things are so painfully quiet here right now. Lots of ideas, lots of motivated colleagues and grad students, no research support or start-up from the university beyond a room to meet in.

The Reader for the workshop is online, which is great. There’s also a link to some RFID development kits by an outfit called Sonmicro.

Why do I blog this? From the description, this sounds like the workshoppers’ workshop. There’s a kit of goodies you can purchase to construct things, and it sounds like there’ll be plenty of theory objects either built or discussed. Also, the Reader contains some tasty morsels, particularly in the RFID Art Projects section. And that got me thinking about the prefixing of instruments to “Art Project”.’s a WiFi Art Project, or a Cellphone Art Project. The semantic lamination creates a kind of frame on the effort that, in my opinion, brings it closer to an experiment or R&D to investigate the possibilities of doing something new, interesting, exciting with a technology and the only way to get away with the experiment or the R&D is to frame it as an “Art Project.” If only there were a way to couple experimentation, with creative foresight, with sustainable enterprise frameworks (e.g. “commercial” opportunities). Reminds me of Naimark’s Arts Lab.

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LA Weekly Follow-On

On the IDC list, there’s been a thread of comments on the LA Weekly article that’s been a little bit fun to follow. A little bit.

[iDC] interesting article on new media scene in LA

Why do I blog this? The follow-on to the article has been as interesting as the article itself. Some annoying east-side/west-side silliness has thankfully fallen away, and the more challenging and substantive missives about financing and funding and the influences of the military-industrial-light-and-magic complex on media art work, as if the mil-ilm could have no influence. I mean..please.On the IDC list, there’s been a thread of comments on the LA Weekly article that’s been a little bit fun to follow. A little bit.On the IDC list, there’s been a thread of comments on the LA Weekly article that’s been a little bit fun to follow. A little bit.

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Vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V) communication

From SmartMobs


Vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V) communication:

General Motors Corp. has “demonstrated a fleet of cars that do in fact have a sixth sense.Using vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V) communication,a vehicle can detect the position and movement of other vehicles up to a quarter of a mile away. In a world where vehicles are equipped with a simple antenna, a computer chip and GPS (Global Positioning System) technology your car will know where the other vehicles are, additionally other vehicles will know where you are too — whether it is in blind spots, stopped ahead on the highway but hidden from view, around a blind corner or blocked by other vehicles.The vehicles can anticipate and react to changing driving situations and then instantly warn the drivers with chimes, visual icons and seat vibrations. If the driver doesn’t respond to the alerts, the car can bring itself to a safe stop, avoiding a collision”. Via New Mobilities

General Motors Develops Vehicles with a Sixth Sense

Why do I blog this? I think automobiles are a fruitful area for exploring mobile networking for all kinds of scenarios, some of which are described here. I can also think about how collaborative, real-time mapping and waypoint creation, proximity-based networking and maybe even V2V game scenarios would be cool to research.

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