Category Archives: science fiction

“Innovation and its enemies” and “Science in Wonderland”: a commentary on two books and a few thoughts about fish (1 of 2)

There’s more than one way to approach the introduction of emerging technologies and sciences to ‘the public’. Calestous Juma in his 2016 book, ”Innovation and Its Enemies; Why People Resist New Technologies” takes a direct approach, as can be seen from the title while Melanie Keene’s 2015 book, “Science in Wonderland; The Scientific Fairy Tales of Victorian Britain” presents a more fantastical one. The fish in the headline tie together, thematically and tenuously, both books with a real life situation.

Innovation and Its Enemies

Calestous Juma, the author of “Innovation and Its Enemies” has impressive credentials,

  • Professor of the Practice of International Development,
  • Director of the Science, Technology, and Globalization Project at Harvard Kennedy School’s Better Science and International Affairs,
  • Founding Director of the African Centre for Technology Studies in Nairobi (Kenya),
  • Fellow of the Royal Society of London, and
  • Foreign Associate of the US National Academy of Sciences.

Even better, Juma is an excellent storyteller perhaps too much so for a book which presents a series of science and technology adoption case histories. (Given the range of historical time periods, geography, and the innovations themselves, he always has to stop short.)  The breadth is breathtaking and Juma manages with aplomb. For example, the innovations covered include: coffee, electricity, mechanical refrigeration, margarine, recorded sound, farm mechanization, and the printing press. He also covers two recently emerging technologies/innovations: transgenic crops and AquAdvantage salmon (more about the salmon later).

Juma provides an analysis of the various ways in which the public and institutions panic over innovation and goes on to offer solutions. He also injects a subtle note of humour from time to time. Here’s how Juma describes various countries’ response to risks and benefits,

In the United States products are safe until proven risky.

In France products are risky until proven safe.

In the United Kingdom products are risky even when proven safe.

In India products are safe when proven risky.

In Canada products are neither safe nor risky.

In Japan products are either safe or risky.

In Brazil products are both safe and risky.

In sub-Saharan Africa products are risky even if they do not exist. (pp. 4-5)

To Calestous Juma, thank you for mentioning Canada and for so aptly describing the quintessentially Canadian approach to not just products and innovation but to life itself, ‘we just don’t know; it could be this or it could be that or it could be something entirely different; we just don’t know and probably will never know.’.

One of the aspects that I most appreciated in this book was the broadening of the geographical perspective on innovation and emerging technologies to include the Middle East, China, and other regions/countries. As I’ve  noted in past postings, much of the discussion here in Canada is Eurocentric and/or UScentric. For example, the Council of Canadian Academies which conducts assessments of various science questions at the request of Canadian and regional governments routinely fills the ‘international’ slot(s) for their expert panels with academics from Europe (mostly Great Britain) and/or the US (or sometimes from Australia and/or New Zealand).

A good example of Juma’s expanded perspective on emerging technology is offered in Art Carden’s July 7, 2017 book review for Forbes.com (Note: A link has been removed),

In the chapter on coffee, Juma discusses how Middle Eastern and European societies resisted the beverage and, in particular, worked to shut down coffeehouses. Islamic jurists debated whether the kick from coffee is the same as intoxication and therefore something to be prohibited. Appealing to “the principle of original permissibility — al-ibaha, al-asliya — under which products were considered acceptable until expressly outlawed,” the fifteenth-century jurist Muhamad al-Dhabani issued several fatwas in support of keeping coffee legal.

This wasn’t the last word on coffee, which was banned and permitted and banned and permitted and banned and permitted in various places over time. Some rulers were skeptical of coffee because it was brewed and consumed in public coffeehouses — places where people could indulge in vices like gambling and tobacco use or perhaps exchange unorthodox ideas that were a threat to their power. It seems absurd in retrospect, but political control of all things coffee is no laughing matter.

The bans extended to Europe, where coffee threatened beverages like tea, wine, and beer. Predictably, and all in the name of public safety (of course!), European governments with the counsel of experts like brewers, vintners, and the British East India Tea Company regulated coffee importation and consumption. The list of affected interest groups is long, as is the list of meddlesome governments. Charles II of England would issue A Proclamation for the Suppression of Coffee Houses in 1675. Sweden prohibited coffee imports on five separate occasions between 1756 and 1817. In the late seventeenth century, France required that all coffee be imported through Marseilles so that it could be more easily monopolized and taxed.

Carden who teaches economics at Stanford University (California, US) focuses on issues of individual liberty and the rule of law with regards to innovation. I can appreciate the need to focus tightly when you have a limited word count but Carden could have a spared a few words to do more justice to Juma’s comprehensive and focused work.

At the risk of being accused of the fault I’ve attributed to Carden, I must mention the printing press chapter. While it was good to see a history of the printing press and attendant social upheavals noting its impact and discovery in regions other than Europe; it was shocking to someone educated in Canada to find Marshall McLuhan entirely ignored. Even now, I believe it’s virtually impossible to discuss the printing press as a technology, in Canada anyway, without mentioning our ‘communications god’ Marshall McLuhan and his 1962 book, The Gutenberg Galaxy.

Getting back to Juma’s book, his breadth and depth of knowledge, history, and geography is packaged in a relatively succinct 316 pp. As a writer, I admire his ability to distill the salient points and to devote chapters on two emerging technologies. It’s notoriously difficult to write about a currently emerging technology and Juma even managed to include a reference published only months (in early 2016) before “Innovation and its enemires” was published in July 2016.

Irrespective of Marshall McLuhan, I feel there are a few flaws. The book is intended for policy makers and industry (lobbyists, anyone?), he reaffirms (in academia, industry, government) a tendency toward a top-down approach to eliminating resistance. From Juma’s perspective, there needs to be better science education because no one who is properly informed should have any objections to an emerging/new technology. Juma never considers the possibility that resistance to a new technology might be a reasonable response. As well, while there was some mention of corporate resistance to new technologies which might threaten profits and revenue, Juma didn’t spare any comments about how corporate sovereignty and/or intellectual property issues are used to stifle innovation and quite successfully, by the way.

My concerns aside, testimony to the book’s worth is Carden’s review almost a year after publication. As well, Sir Peter Gluckman, Chief Science Advisor to the federal government of New Zealand, mentions Juma’s book in his January 16, 2017 talk, Science Advice in a Troubled World, for the Canadian Science Policy Centre.

Science in Wonderland

Melanie Keene’s 2015 book, “Science in Wonderland; The scientific fairy tales of Victorian Britain” provides an overview of the fashion for writing and reading scientific and mathematical fairy tales and, inadvertently, provides an overview of a public education programme,

A fairy queen (Victoria) sat on the throne of Victoria’s Britain, and she presided over a fairy tale age. The nineteenth century witnessed an unprecedented interest in fairies and in their tales, as they were used as an enchanted mirror in which to reflection question, and distort contemporary society.30  …  Fairies could be found disporting themselves thought the century on stage and page, in picture and print, from local haunts to global transports. There were myriad ways in which authors, painters, illustrators, advertisers, pantomime performers, singers, and more, capture this contemporary enthusiasm and engaged with fairyland and folklore; books, exhibitions, and images for children were one of the most significant. (p. 13)

… Anthropologists even made fairies the subject of scientific analysis, as ‘fairyology’ determined whether fairies should be part of natural history or part of supernatural lore; just on aspect of the revival of interest in folklore. Was there a tribe of fairy creatures somewhere out thee waiting to be discovered, across the globe of in the fossil record? Were fairies some kind of folks memory of any extinct race? (p. 14)

Scientific engagements with fairyland was widespread, and not just as an attractive means of packaging new facts for Victorian children.42 … The fairy tales of science had an important role to play in conceiving of new scientific disciplines; in celebrating new discoveries; in criticizing lofty ambitions; in inculcating habits of mind and body; in inspiring wonder; in positing future directions; and in the consideration of what the sciences were, and should be. A close reading of these tales provides a more sophisticated understanding of the content and status of the Victorian sciences; they give insights into what these new scientific disciplines were trying to do; how they were trying to cement a certain place in the world; and how they hoped to recruit and train new participants. (p. 18)

Segue: Should you be inclined to believe that society has moved on from fairies; it is possible to become a certified fairyologist (check out the fairyologist.com website).

“Science in Wonderland,” the title being a reference to Lewis Carroll’s Alice, was marketed quite differently than “innovation and its enemies”. There is no description of the author, as is the protocol in academic tomes, so here’s more from her webpage on the University of Cambridge (Homerton College) website,

Role:
Fellow, Graduate Tutor, Director of Studies for History and Philosophy of Science

Getting back to Keene’s book, she makes the point that the fairy tales were based on science and integrated scientific terminology in imaginative ways although some books with more success than other others. Topics ranged from paleontology, botany, and astronomy to microscopy and more.

This book provides a contrast to Juma’s direct focus on policy makers with its overview of the fairy narratives. Keene is primarily interested in children but her book casts a wider net  “… they give insights into what these new scientific disciplines were trying to do; how they were trying to cement a certain place in the world; and how they hoped to recruit and train new participants.”

In a sense both authors are describing how technologies are introduced and integrated into society. Keene provides a view that must seem almost halcyon for many contemporary innovation enthusiasts. As her topic area is children’s literature any resistance she notes is primarily literary invoking a debate about whether or not science was killing imagination and whimsy.

It would probably help if you’d taken a course in children’s literature of the 19th century before reading Keene’s book is written . Even if you haven’t taken a course, it’s still quite accessible, although I was left wondering about ‘Alice in Wonderland’ and its relationship to mathematics (see Melanie Bayley’s December 16, 2009 story for the New Scientist for a detailed rundown).

As an added bonus, fairy tale illustrations are included throughout the book along with a section of higher quality reproductions.

One of the unexpected delights of Keene’s book was the section on L. Frank Baum and his electricity fairy tale, “The Master Key.” She stretches to include “The Wizard of Oz,” which doesn’t really fit but I can’t see how she could avoid mentioning Baum’s most famous creation. There’s also a surprising (to me) focus on water, which when it’s paired with the interest in microscopy makes sense. Keene isn’t the only one who has to stretch to make things fit into her narrative and so from water I move onto fish bringing me back to one of Juma’s emerging technologies

Part 2: Fish and final comments

Time traveling at the University of British Columbia

Anyone who dreams of timetraveling is going to have to wait a bit longer as this form of timetraveling is theoretical. From an April 27, 2017 news item on ScienceDaily,

After some serious number crunching, a UBC [University of British Columbia] researcher has come up with a mathematical model for a viable time machine.

Ben Tippett, a mathematics and physics instructor at UBC’s Okanagan campus, recently published a study about the feasibility of time travel. Tippett, whose field of expertise is Einstein’s theory of general relativity, studies black holes and science fiction when he’s not teaching. Using math and physics, he has created a formula that describes a method for time travel.

An April 27, 2017 UBC at Okanagan news release (also on EurekAlert), which originated the news item, elaborates on the work.

“People think of time travel as something fictional,” says Tippett. “And we tend to think it’s not possible because we don’t actually do it. But, mathematically, it is possible.”

Ever since H.G. Wells published his book Time Machine in 1885, people have been curious about time travel—and scientists have worked to solve or disprove the theory. In 1915 Albert Einstein announced his theory of general relativity, stating that gravitational fields are caused by distortions in the fabric of space and time. More than 100 years later, the LIGO Scientific Collaboration—an international team of physics institutes and research groups—announced the detection of gravitational waves generated by colliding black holes billions of light years away, confirming Einstein’s theory.

The division of space into three dimensions, with time in a separate dimension by itself, is incorrect, says Tippett. The four dimensions should be imagined simultaneously, where different directions are connected, as a space-time continuum. Using Einstein’s theory, Tippett explains that the curvature of space-time accounts for the curved orbits of the planets.

In “flat” or uncurved space-time, planets and stars would move in straight lines. In the vicinity of a massive star, space-time geometry becomes curved and the straight trajectories of nearby planets will follow the curvature and bend around the star.

“The time direction of the space-time surface also shows curvature. There is evidence showing the closer to a black hole we get, time moves slower,” says Tippett. “My model of a time machine uses the curved space-time—to bend time into a circle for the passengers, not in a straight line. That circle takes us back in time.”

While it is possible to describe this type of time travel using a mathematical equation, Tippett doubts that anyone will ever build a machine to make it work.

“H.G. Wells popularized the term ‘time machine’ and he left people with the thought that an explorer would need a ‘machine or special box’ to actually accomplish time travel,” Tippett says. “While is it mathematically feasible, it is not yet possible to build a space-time machine because we need materials—which we call exotic matter—to bend space-time in these impossible ways, but they have yet to be discovered.”

For his research, Tippett created a mathematical model of a Traversable Acausal Retrograde Domain in Space-time (TARDIS). He describes it as a bubble of space-time geometry which carries its contents backward and forward through space and time as it tours a large circular path. The bubble moves through space-time at speeds greater than the speed of light at times, allowing it to move backward in time.

“Studying space-time is both fascinating and problematic. And it’s also a fun way to use math and physics,” says Tippett. “Experts in my field have been exploring the possibility of mathematical time machines since 1949. And my research presents a new method for doing it.”

Here’s a link to and a citation for the paper,

Traversable acausal retrograde domains in spacetime by Benjamin K Tippett and David Tsang. Classical and Quantum Gravity, Volume 34, Number 9 DOI: https://doi.org/10.1088/1361-6382/aa6549 Published 31 March 2017

© 2017 IOP Publishing Ltd

This paper is behind a paywall.

News from Arizona State University’s The Frankenstein Bicentennial Project

I received a September 2016 newsletter (issued occasionally) from The Frankenstein Bicentennial Project at Arizona State University (ASU) which contained these two tidbits:

I, Artist

Bobby Zokaites converted a Roomba, a robotic vacuum, from a room cleaning device to an art-maker by removing the dust collector and vacuuming system and replacing it with a paint reservoir. Artists have been playing with robots to make art since the 1950s. This work is an extension of a genre, repurposing a readily available commercial robot.

With this project, Bobby set out to create a self-portrait of a generation, one that grew up with access to a vast amount of information and constantly bombarded by advertisements. The Roomba paintings prove that a robot can paint a reasonably complex painting, and do it differently every time; thus this version of the Turing test was successful.

As in the story of Frankenstein, this work also interrogates questions of creativity and responsibility. Is this a truly creative work of art, and if so, who is the artist; man or machine?

Both the text description and the video are from: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0m5ihmwPWgY

Frankenstein at 200 Exhibit

From the September 2016 newsletter (Note: Links have been removed),

Just as the creature in Frankenstein [the monster is never named in the book; its creator, however, is Victor Frankenstein] was assembled from an assortment of materials, so too is the cultural understanding of the Frankenstein myth. Now a new, interdisciplinary exhibit at ASU Libraries examines how Mary Shelley’s 200-year-old science fiction story continues to inspire, educate, and frighten 21st century audiences.

Frankenstein at 200 is open now through December 10 on the first floor of ASU’s Hayden Library in Tempe, AZ.

Here’s more from the exhibit’s webpage on the ASU website,

No work of literature has done more to shape the way people imagine science and its moral consequences than “Frankenstein;” or “The Modern Prometheus,” Mary Shelley’s enduring tale of creation and responsibility. The novel’s themes and tropes continue to resonate with contemporary audiences, influencing the way we confront emerging technologies, conceptualize the process of scientific research, and consider the ethical relationships between creators and their creations

Two hundred years after Mary Shelley imagined the story that would become “Frankenstein,” ASU Libraries is exhibiting an interdisciplinary installation that contextualizes the conditions of the original tale while exploring it’s continued importance in our technological age. Featuring work by ASU faculty and students, this exhibition includes a variety of physical and digital artifacts, original art projects and interactive elements that examine “Frankenstein’s” colossal scientific, technological, cultural and social impacts.

About the Frankenstein Bicentennial Project: Launched by Drs. David Guston and Ed Finn in 2013, the Frankenstein Bicentennial Project, is a global celebration of the bicentennial of the writing and publication of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, from 2016-2018. The project uses Frankenstein as a lens to examine the complex relationships between science, technology, ethics, and society. To learn more visit frankenstein.asu.edu and follow @FrankensteinASU on Twitter

There are more informational tidbits at The Frankenstein Bicentennial Project website.

STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts, and mathematics) at Marvel Comics

Thanks to David Bruggeman’s Aug. 20, 2016 posting on his Pasco Phronesis blog for this tidbit from Marvel Comics (Note: A link has been removed),

This week Marvel announced that several of its titles will have STEAM-themed variant covers.  Readers are likely familiar with the STEM acronym – science, technology, engineering and math.  STEAM adds art to the acronym, and can be favored by some advocates (who are generally objecting to the crowding out of many subjects in American education).

In November [2016] Marvel will issue variant covers for five of its titles, each one corresponding to a category in STEAM. …

An Aug. 19, 2016 article by Xavier Harding for Popular Science provides more information and preview images for the covers,

Marvel heroes are no strangers to science. Characters like Bruce Banner, Peter Parker, Reed Richards and many more all have ties in science as either part-time, or full-time, scientists. Keeping with their science-based roots, Marvel’s latest crop of characters are engaging in the science fun as well.

In an attempt to spark interest in math and the sciences amongst readers, Marvel will introduce STEAM variant covers. Each cover will represent one of the themes relating to science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics. The education-themed Marvel covers will hit stands November 2016.

In a statement issued by Marvel, senior vice president of sales & marketing David Gabriel mentions how Marvel’s characters have inspired fans for ages. “With our new STEAM variants, we plan to continue to motivate our fans to explore their passions in the fields of science, technology, engineering, art, and math,” said Gabriel, “and present these disciplines through some of our favorite young heroes who are doing just that – following their dreams and preparing for the challenges that await them ahead.”

Moon Girl: Science

Moon Girl Marvel STEAM cover

Marvel

The Moon Girl, Lunella Lafayette, covers Marvel’s STEAM-branded issue.

*Iron*-Man Cover: Engineering

Ironheart

Marvel

Invincible Iron Man

Riri Williams will be know known as Ironheart

Champions Cover: Arts

Marvel STEAM branded cover

Marvel

Marvel STEAM branded cover

Starring Spider-Man, Ms. Marvel, Nova, Incredible Hulk, Viv and teenage Cyclops, this cover offers the Arts in STEAM.

I miss the days when you could find comic books at drugstores. In order to find these, I’ll have to make a special effort.

*’ron’ changed to ‘Iron’ on Sept. 14, 2016.

SciFi novel “Divided Minds” from India

Thanks to an Aug. 23, 2016 news item on nyoooz.com I found out about an Indian science fiction writer,

Sanjay Koppikar’s book, Divided Minds is the harbinger of good news for sci-fi fans in India. Nanotechnology can take over the world and Sanjay Koppikar’s book Divided Minds tells its readers how Science fiction in India needs a push.

The summary on nyoooz.com is derived from an Aug. 22, 2016 article by Sahitya Poonacha for The Hindu, which features an interview with the author,

How did the idea of Divided Minds strike you?

I am basically a storyteller. Even in my job I do the same thing. I run a software company, I create technology stories that solve some problem, and send it to the customers. Then a few years ago I started saying no, I should not just be stuck with work. I should try and do something different so I started drawing. I travel a lot. I would sit at the airport and look at people’s faces, and sketch them. I also started making up stories to keep myself busy in ways other than work. I had this story in June, 2011. To finally get it to reality took five years. I had to do a lot of research. The story is about nanotechnology that is to be injected into the bloodstream. To make this story believable I had to study a little bit about that to realise that there are people already working on those lines.

… if you put an electronic chip into your bloodstream will that be acceptable to the bloodstream? It won’t be; so how will it react? Or how is it going to charge itself? You can’t think of putting a battery inside and replacing it. There were all these kinds of questions. Then there was the medical part of it. I spoke to at least six to seven doctors and kept picking their brains for information.

How did Delhi become the centre of activity in the book?

None of the places I have mentioned in the book I’ve ever been to. If you have followed the news, the story happened because of some different incidents knit together.

One of them is when General V.K. Singh was heading the Army — there was some news about the Army moving towards Delhi and later on there was a lot of denial and they said it was a general exercise. So, why did they move?

There is another story where a particular inspector took his family to a restaurant, had dinner and shot himself. These stories were eating me up — what must be going on in his head when he did that? A lot of people commit suicide but this is not the way to go about it. These people then became characters in my book. If at all I had to show the power that this phenomenon will bring about, it had to be set in the Capital.

I’m impressed by Koppikar’s interest in some of the real life issues with putting a computer chip into your bloodstream. A lot of science fiction writers use ‘nano devices’ merely as a means of moving the narrative forward and in those worlds, nano devices don’t have any of the shortcomings and problems one might expect in a real world medical application. Not having read the book I’m not sure how many of these concerns and what weight they have, if any, can be found in Koppikar’s narrative but it certainly sounds promising.

He has also integrated political concerns as per the article but no mention is made of the romance element evident in the book trailer,

For anyone interested in purchasing the book, go here.

Afrofuturism in the UK’s Guardian newspaper and as a Future Tense Dec. 2015 event

My introduction to the term, Afrofuturism was in a March 11, 2015 posting by Jessica Bland for the Guardian in the Technology/Political Science section. It was written on the occasion of a then upcoming FutureFest event,

This is unapologetically connected to FutureFest, the festival Nesta (where I work) is holding this weekend in London Bridge. These thoughts represent the ideas that piqued my interest while curating talks and exhibits based on the thought experiment of a future African city-superpower. George Clinton, Spoek Mathambo, Tegan Bristow and Fabian-Carlos Guhl (from Ampion Venture Bus) will be speaking during the weekend. Thomas Aquilina is displaying photographs from his trip and the architects of the Lagos 2060 project will take part in a debate on whether their fiction can lead to a different kind of future.

In anticipation of the March 2015 FutureFest event, Bland had  written a roundup piece about “New sounds from South Africa and Nigeria’s urban science fiction [that] could change the future of technology and the city.” Here are some excerpts from her piece (Note: Links have been removed),

Strong stories or visions of the future stick around. The 1920s sci-fi fantasy of a jetpack commute still pops up in discussions about the future of technology, not to mention as an option on the Citymapper travel app. By co-opting or creating new visions of the future, it seems possible to influence the development of new products and services – from consumer tech to urban infrastructure. A new generation of African artists is taking over the mantle of Afrofuturist arts from a US-centred crowd. They could bring a welcome change to how technology is developed in the region, as well as a challenge to the dominance of imported plans for urban development.

Last Thursday’s London gig from Fantasma was sweaty and boisterous. It was also very different from the remix of Joy Division’s She’s Lost Control that brought front man Spoek Mathambo to the attention of a global audience a couple of years ago. Fantasma is a group of South African musicians with different backgrounds. Guitarist Bhekisenzo Cele started the gig with three of his own songs, introducing the traditional Zulu maskandi music that they went on to mix with shangaan electro, hiphop, punk, electronica and everything in between.

The gig had a buzz about it. But the performance was from a new collective trying things out; it wasn’t as genre-smashing as expected. And expectations ride high for Spoek. In 2011, he titled a collection from his back catalogue ‘Beyond Afrofuturism’. He took on, at least in name, a whole Afro-American cultural movement: embodied by musicians like Sun Ra, George Clinton and Drexciya. A previous post on this blog by Chardine Taylor-Stone describes the roots of Afrofuturism in science fiction that centres on space travel and human enhancement. But she goes on to say: “Afrofuturism also goes beyond spaceships, androids and aliens, and encompasses African mythology and cosmology with an aim to connect those from across the Black Diaspora to their forgotten African ancestry.” Spoek shares what he calls a cultural lineage with this movement. But he is not Afro-American. He also shares a cultural lineage with the sounds of South African musicians he grew up listening to.

Other forms of art are taking an increasingly activist role in the future of technology. Lydia Nicholas’s description of the relationship between Douglas Adam’s fictional Hitchhiker’s Guide and the real life development of the iPad shows how science fiction can effortlessly influence the development of new technology.

The science fiction collection Lagos 2060 is a more purposeful intervention. Published in 2013, it speculates about what it will be like to live in Lagos 100 years after Nigeria gained independence from the UK. It was born out of a creative writing workshop initiated by DADA books in Lagos. Foundation director of DADA, Ayodele Arigbabu, described the collection and other similar video and visual art work (in an email): “Far more than aesthetic indulgence, these renditions are a calibration of the changes deemed necessary in today’s political, technical and cultural infrastructure.”

Bland also explores a history of this movement,

Gaston Berger was the Senegalese founder of the academic journal Prospectiv in 1957. To many, he was the first futurist, or at least one of the first people to describe themselves as one. He founded promotes the practice of playing out the human consequences of today’s action. This is about avoiding a fatalistic approach to the future: about being proactive and provoking change, as much as anticipating it.

Berger’s early work spawned a generation, and then another and another, of professional futurists. They work in different ways and different places. Some are in government, enticing and frightening politicians with the prospect of a different transport system, healthcare sector or national security regime. Some are consultants to large companies, offering advice on the way that trends like 3D printing or flying robots will change their sector. An article from 1996 does a good job of summarising the principles of this movement: don’t act like an ostrich and ignore the future by putting your head in the sand; don’t act like a fireman and just respond to threats to your future; and don’t focus just on insurance against for the future.

Bland has written an interesting and sprawling piece, which in some way reflects the subject. Africa is a huge and sprawling continent.

Slate, a US online magazine, is hosting along with New America and Arizona State University a Future Tense event on Afrofuturism but this seems to be quite US-centric. From the Future Tense Afrofuturism event webpage on the Slate website (Note: Links have been removed),

Future Tense is hosting a conversation about Afrofuturism in New York City on December 3rd, 2015 from 6:30-8:30 p.m.

Afrofuturism emphasizes the intersection of black cultures with questions of imagination, liberation, and technology. Rooted in works like those of science fiction author Octavia Butler, avant-garde jazz legend Sun Ra, and George Clinton, Afrofuturism explores concepts of race, space and time in order to ask the existential question posed by critic Mark Dery: “Can a community whose past has been deliberately erased imagine possible futures?”

Will the alternative futures and realities Afrofuturism describes transform and reshape the concept of black identity? Join Future Tense for a discussion on Afrofuturism and its unique vantage on the challenges faced by black Americans and others throughout the African diaspora.

During the event, enjoy an Afrofuturist inspired drink from 67 Orange Street. Follow the discussion online using #Afrofuturism and by following @NewAmericaNYC and @FutureTenseNow.

Click here to RSVP. Space is limited so register now!

PARTICIPANTS

Michael Bennett
Principal Investigator, School for the Future of Innovation in Society, Arizona State University
@MGBennett

Ytasha Womack
Author, Afrofuturism: The World of Black Sci-Fi and Fantasy Culture and Post Black: How A New Generation is Redefining African American Identity
@ytashawomack

Juliana Huxtable
DJ and Artist
@HUXTABLEJULIANA

Walé Oyéjidé
Designer and Creative Director, Ikire Jones
@IkireJones

Aisha Harris
Staff writer, Slate
@craftingmystyle

It seems we have one word, Afrofuturism, and two definitions. One where Africa is referenced and one where African-American experience is referenced.

For anyone curious about Nesta, where Jessica Bland works and the Future Fest host (from its Wikipedia entry),

Nesta (formerly NESTA, National Endowment for Science, Technology and the Arts) is an independent charity that works to increase the innovation capacity of the UK.

The organisation acts through a combination of practical programmes, investment, policy and research, and the formation of partnerships to promote innovation across a broad range of sectors.

That’s it for now.

Liquid metal taking shape

A North Carolina State University July 9, 2013 news release (also on EurekAlert) avoids a Terminator 2: Judgment Day movie reference (which I am making) in its description of building 3D structures out of liquid metal,

“It’s difficult to create structures out of liquids, because liquids want to bead up. But we’ve found that a liquid metal alloy of gallium and indium reacts to the oxygen in the air at room temperature to form a ‘skin’ that allows the liquid metal structures to retain their shapes,” says Dr. Michael Dickey, an assistant professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering at NC State and co-author of a paper describing the work.

The researchers developed multiple techniques for creating these structures, which can be used to connect electronic components in three dimensions. White it is relatively straightforward to pattern the metal “in plane” – meaning all on the same level – these liquid metal structures can also form shapes that reach up or down.

One technique involves stacking droplets of liquid metal on top of each other, much like a stack of oranges at the supermarket. The droplets adhere to one another, but retain their shape – they do not merge into a single, larger droplet. Video of the process is available here.

Another technique injects liquid metal into a polymer template, so that the metal takes on a specific shape. The template is then dissolved, leaving the bare, liquid metal in the desired shape. The researchers also developed techniques for creating liquid metal wires, which retain their shape even when held perpendicular to the substrate.

Dickey’s team is currently exploring how to further develop these techniques, as well as how to use them in various electronics applications and in conjunction with established 3-D printing technologies.

The lead researcher, Michael Dickey has produced an image of liquid metal drops in a 3D structure,

Researchers have developed three-dimensional structures out of liquid metal. Image: Michael Dickey.

Researchers have developed three-dimensional structures out of liquid metal. Image: Michael Dickey.

Here’s a link to and a citation for the published paper,

3D Printing of Free Standing Liquid Metal Microstructures by Collin Ladd,  Ju-Hee So, John Muth, Michael D. Dickey. Article first published online: 4 JUL 2013 DOI: 10.1002/adma.201301400

Copyright © 2013 WILEY-VCH Verlag GmbH & Co. KGaA, Weinheim

This paper is behind a paywall.

For anyone who isn’t familiar with Terminator 2 and doesn’t understand why it was mentioned  in the context of this posting, here’s an excerpt from the Wikipedia essay (Note: Links and footnotes have been removed),

The T-1000 is a fictional robotic assassin and the main antagonist in Terminator 2: Judgment Day. Created by the series main antagonist Skynet, the T-1000 is a shapeshifter whose body is composed of a mimetic poly-alloy (liquid metal) body that allows it to assume the form of other objects or people of equal mass. [emphasis mine]

Physicists at CERN film Decay—their first zombie movie?

Decay, the movie, seems to have been released in late November 2012.  It is, according to the Nov. 1, 2012 preview article written by Rebecca Pahle for The Mary Sue website, a project developed by physics students working at CERN’s (European Particle Physics Laboratory) Large Hadron Collider facility.

There are a lot of zombie movies out there. But Decay is the only one filmed in CERN, a.k.a. the home of the Large Hadron Collider. The film is the brainchild (mmmm… brains) of Luke Thompson and Clara Nellist, both Ph.D. students in physics, who despite having no filmmaking experience decided that, dammit, they were going to make a film about exposure to the Higgs Boson particle turning people into zombies. (If that sounds critical, it’s unintentional—jumping in and just doing it is a time-honored method for indie film.)

Though Thompson and Nellist got permission to shoot their film in CERN, the just-released trailer makes it very clear that officials there in no way endorse it. (Which—of course they wouldn’t. But they let them shoot there! How cool is that?)

Here’s the movie trailer,


J. Bryan Lowder’s Dec. 12, 2012 article for Slate describes some of Lowder’s experiences as a science writing intern dealing with myths about science and the filmmaking team’s motivations (laughing at science horror myths),

Back when I was a science writing intern at a major U.S. lab, there was a short list of words we were cautioned never to use in our public articles. Radiation was at the top of that list, not because the lab produced it in dangerous amounts (actually, it produced less than exists normally in nature), but because when people read the word, they freak out. The public’s fear—and by extension, this lab’s fear of talking about—radiation is understandable, but it’s also unreasonable and reveals a disappointing ignorance of science. …

Burton DeWilde, a physics Ph.D. and Decay’s director of photography/editor (and a friend of mine), explained the genesis of the project in an email:

The idea of filming a zombie movie at CERN was originally conceived by Luke Thompson (writer-director) and Hugo Day (props master) while exploring the lab’s creepy labyrinth of underground maintenance tunnels. It was agreed that they would make an excellent setting for a horror film. From there, the story evolved into a cheeky riff on the black hole hysteria: “The LHC didn’t produce earth-devouring black holes after all—but have you considered brain-devouring zombies?” Concerns about the Higgs in particular and clichés of mad scientists were also mixed in. We took all these worries to a totally ridiculous place.

And Decay is totally ridiculous, in the best sense of the word. The 75-min, $3,500 movie is remarkably well-made, given the creative team’s lack of experience. It’s studded with all the gratuitous gore, cheap shocks, and absurd plot twists that zombie fans crave. Science nerds and those who love them will bask in its shameless use of sci-fi clichés like “the results are inconclusive at best,” and “my research is too important!”

You can view the whole movie by clicking the link to Lowder’s article where it is embedded, visiting this Dec. 11, 2012 posting on The Mary Sue website, or going to the Decay website.

Zombies are a very hot topic in popular culture these days as per this Nov. 12, 2012 posting on this website which mentions my presentation ‘Zombies, brains, collapsing boundaries, and entanglements’ at the S.NET 2012 (Society for the Study of Nanoscience and Emerging Technologies) conference in Enschede, Holland.

BTW, Mary Sue is a term used to describe a female character who is perfect. From the Urban Dictionary definition,

  1. A female character who is so perfect that she is annoying. The name originated in a very short Star Trek story that mocked the sort of female characters who showed up in fanfiction. It usually refers to original female characters put into fanfiction, but can refer to any character. …
  2. An original character (fem.) in fanfic or an original story, usually on the internet, who is far superior to all other characters. She is typically beautiful, intelligent, kind, and in all other ways “perfect”. She usually serves as an important part in a pivotal plot element (ie: a prophecy) and becomes romantically involved with the author’s favourite character in the story. The internet fiction world runs rampant with these characters. …

Do go to the Urban Dictionary to reed the examples of ‘Mary Sue’ characters as they are very funny. The male equivalent may be called Marty Stu, Gary Stu, or Marty Sam.