The strangest monument in America looms over a barren knoll in northeastern Georgia. Five massive slabs of polished granite rise out of the earth in a star pattern. The rocks are each 16 feet tall, with four of them weighing more than 20 tons apiece. Together they support a 25,000-pound capstone. Approaching the edifice, it’s hard not to think immediately of England’s Stonehenge or possibly the ominous monolith from 2001: A Space Odyssey. Built in 1980, these pale gray rocks are quietly awaiting the end of the world as we know it.
Called the Georgia Guidestones, the monument is a mystery—nobody knows exactly who commissioned it or why. The only clues to its origin are on a nearby plaque on the ground—which gives the dimensions and explains a series of intricate notches and holes that correspond to the movements of the sun and stars—and the “guides” themselves, directives carved into the rocks. These instructions appear in eight languages ranging from English to Swahili and reflect a peculiar New Age ideology. Some are vaguely eugenic (guide reproduction wisely—improving fitness and diversity); others prescribe standard-issue hippie mysticism (prize truth—beauty—love—seeking harmony with the infinite).
What’s most widely agreed upon—based on the evidence available—is that the Guidestones are meant to instruct the dazed survivors of some impending apocalypse as they attempt to reconstitute civilization. (wired.com)
Rise of the Network Society — Manuel Castells’ excellent book about the economic and cultural implications of pervasive computing. Writing about nanotech, Castells notes that “…experimental programs seem to indicate that molecular electronics is a possible avenue to overcoming the limits of increasing density in silicon chips, while ushering in an era of computers 100 billion times as fast as a Pentium microprocessor; this would make it possible to pack the computing power of a hundred 1999 computer workstations into a space the size of a grain of salt. Based on these technologies, computer scientists envisage the possibility of computing environments where billions of microscopic information-processing devices will be spread everywhere ‘like pigment in the wall paint.’ If so, then computer networks will be, materially speaking, the fabric of our lives.” (53)
Hitachi RFID dust — These tiny RFID chips look like powder, measuring just 0.05 millimeters (0.002 inches) by 0.05 millimeters (0.002 inches), and are thin enough to be embedded in pieces of paper.
The Semantic Web
Tim Berners-Lee: “I have a dream for the Web [in which computers] become capable of analyzing all the data on the Web – the content, links, and transactions between people and computers. A ‘Semantic Web’, which should make this possible, has yet to emerge, but when it does, the day-to-day mechanisms of trade, bureaucracy and our daily lives will be handled by machines talking to machines. The ‘intelligent agents’ people have touted for ages will finally materialize.” (Weaving The Web, ch. 12)
Linked Data — Tim Berner-Lee’s original article on the subject.
Cool URIs for the Semantic Web — W3C article on standards for concept and data URI (Universal Resource Identifiers). Abstract: “The Resource Description Framework RDF allows users to describe both Web documents and concepts from the real world—people, organisations, topics, things—in a computer-processable way. Publishing such descriptions on the Web creates the Semantic Web. URIs (Uniform Resource Identifiers) are very important, providing both the core of the framework itself and the link between RDF and the Web. This document presents guidelines for their effective use. It discusses two strategies, called 303 URIs and hash URIs. It gives pointers to several Web sites that use these solutions, and briefly discusses why several other proposals have problems.”
Shaping Things (.pdf) — A pdf copy of Sterling’s 2005 book wherein he describes the concept of the spime. From the product description: “The future will see a new kind of object—we have the primitive forms of them now in our pockets and briefcases: user-alterable, baroquely multi-featured, and programmable—that will be sustainable, enhanceable, and uniquely identifiable. Sterling coins the term “spime” for them, these future manufactured objects with informational support so extensive and rich that they are regarded as material instantiations of an immaterial system. Spimes are designed on screens, fabricated by digital means, and precisely tracked through space and time. They are made of substances that can be folded back into the production stream of future spimes, challenging all of us to become involved in their production. Spimes are coming, says Sterling. We will need these objects in order to live; we won’t be able to surrender their advantages without awful consequences.” (Amazon.com)
Spimes and the Future of Artifacts (video presentation) — An entertaining 35 minute presentation elaborating on six key technology trends (RFID, GPS, visual search, CAD, rapid prototyping and “transparent production”) that are changing the way that we relate to objects. He defines a spime as an object that is “plannable, trackable, findable, recyclable, uniquely identified and generates digital histories.” (5:33)
Flurb #6: Computer Entertainment (text) — A signature Bruce Sterling rant posing as a lecture given to a 2008 SXSW audience by a time traveler from the year 2043. Representative passage: “This is my General Electric Pocket Mediator. This one’s about five years old, it’s a student’s model. Personal mediators are a stable technology in my time, we don’t have to fuss with them much. Unfortunately it doesn’t have full functionality here in 2008, because we don’t have the cloud yet. As soon as I reached here, my Mediator reached out for the cloud to reload its apps and OS… and it tapped into something called “Window-Vista.” Then it just plain gave up. It’s gone completely limp now. There’s nothing left here but this frozen screen-saver pattern.”
Four Stages of the Internet of Things — Former Wired editor and all-around whiz Kevin Kelly riffs on this article by Tim Berners-Lee to construct a succinct description of what he thinks “the Semantic Web” or “Web 3.0” is all about. In short, his four stages are: 1) Linking computers, 2) Linking documents, 3) Linking the data in (and about) documents, and 4) Linking things.
The net shapes up to get physical — Guardian article by Sean Dodson. Good general description. Excerpt: “Most people, if they bother to think about it at all, probably view the internet as an agent of profound change. In the 15 years since Tim Berners-Lee invented the world wide web, the life of almost everyone in the industrialised world has been touched by it. But just as many of us are getting to grips with its second stage, the mobile internet, very few are prepared – perhaps even aware – of the third and potentially most revolutionary phase of all: the internet of things.” (guardian.co.uk)
RFID — Wikipedia article on RFID tags. Includes many interesting examples.
How smart does your bed have to be, before you are afraid to go to sleep at night? — Rich Gold critiques the notion of the “smart house” in this hilarious and thought-provoking essay. “Can an intelligent house fall in love with the house next door,” asks Gold. “Can they have baby houses? Is an architect a trained “womb” for houses, or more crudely, is an architect how a house makes another house? Does an architect feel like she/he is violating fundamental forces of evolution if she/he does not include the latest new technology in the house she/he next gives birth to? Do you believe in progress? Is a suburban house of today better than a terrace house in London in 1850 which was better than a thatched country cottage in 1700 which was better than the tepees and mud huts that Columbus found in the New World? Is the house that Donald Trump lives in better than the house you live in? If you were an architect and you designed an intelligent house, would the house’s own happiness matter to you? If the couple that bought the house you designed got a divorce, do you think you should be libel for damages?”
This presentation explores the evolution and trajectory of ubiquitous computing technologies that enable designers to embed media artifacts and computational systems in physical space. By placing custom bar code glyphs, GPS/Google Earth markers, sensor systems or other smart-phone-readable triggers in physical locations, designers can create hyperlinks connecting real-world objects or places with a wide variety of media — from video, audio and text content to dynamic data feeds and opportunities for interactions with both human and non-human agencies. Crucially, however, this layering practice does not stop at the level of the hyperlink or the traditional notion of Augmented Reality. Rather, designers are beginning to perceive opportunities for embedding responsive computational power in physical space, enabling environments to track, profile and communicate with their inhabitants, providing customized, adaptive and anticipatory user experiences.
Andre Michelle’s Tone Matrix is a simple but Flash-based music sequencer. You can copy-paste sequences by right clicking (or option-clicking on a Mac). By opening several Tone Matrices in multiple tabs on your browser, you can actually create some pretty amazing tracks…
Useful Phrases (usfl_phrss) uses Markov word/phrase probabilities to generate unique sentences by breaking apart a source text — in this case, the introduction to “Fifteen Thousand Useful Phrases” by Grenville Kleiser. These sentences are then added to a blog.
Click here to view the blog or here to go straight to the “writing” tool.
This is both fascinating and terrifying news: an organism that can break down into self-sufficient parts only to re-constitute itself as a massive Blob-like mega-entity. A prime candidate, evolution-wise, to usurp us genetically-varied individualists:
Scientists say the discovery is much more than a mere curiosity, because the colony consists of what are known as social amoebas. Only an apparent oxymoron, social amoebas are able to gather in organized groups and behave cooperatively, some even committing suicide to help fellow amoebas reproduce. The discovery of such a huge colony of genetically identical amoebas provides insight into how such cooperation and sociality might have evolved and may help to explain why microbes are being found to show social behaviors more often than was expected.
“It is of significant scientific interest,” said Kevin Foster, an evolutionary biologist at Harvard University who was not involved with the study. Though amoebas would seem unlikely to coordinate interactions with one another over much more than microscopic distances, the discovery of such a massive clonal colony, he said, “raises the possibility that cells might evolve to organize on much larger spatial scales.” (nytimes.com)