Like bees and the flowers, we are entangled in a co-evolutionary relationship with our technology. But as in any relationship, we should make sure both parties are actually benefiting from the affair.
Looking at this next natural comic, it seems like our relationship might need some work. Thanks Ad.
A ship shipping ships. Like the bees, who help the flowers propagate, have people become the sex organs of technology? Peculiar image of the week.
Monday afternoon, feeling a a bit jaded? Buckle up for a delightful cinematic espresso shot from Jason Silva (*) on the six epochs of evolution.
* Warning: Video essays from Mr. Silva may cause rushes of Techno-utopism.
Try it once. Go stand near a highway, close your eyes and listen carefully. Hear the sound of tires on the asphalt, hear the rhythmic ‘sshhh’, focus on this particular sound. And then, start to imagine you’re in a forest, maybe even a rainforest. Imagine you are standing in the middle of the rain season in a tropical forest. Would the sound of that monsoon be so much different?
As cars spread over the planet, one could speak of the reign of the cars. Most certainly, a lot of people noticed this. But how many noticed the rain of the cars? This sound similarity is particular, and might go even further: Go stand near a highway again, but now find a spot quite near some traffic lights, so a certain rhythm will come over the sound. Again, close your eyes and listen carefully. Again hear the sound of tires on the asphalt, hear the now even more rhythmic ‘sshhh’, again focus on this particular sound. Imagine you’re on a beach, and this rhythmic sound is the sound of the sea. The waves dictate the rhythm, they keep coming and smashing themselves on the beach, fading away as they do.
Car numbers keep increasing. As more cars are fueled with electricity, motor sounds are becoming less common. The sound of tires stays, though. The automotive monsoon stays, and will soon be everywhere. Now, hotels advertize having sea sight, where the sound of the sea has relaxing powers. Will we soon have our holidays with highway sight, for the relaxing rhythm of tire sounds?
Credits for the first part of the movie go to Rudolf Prinsen (YouTube).
Nearly every adult in the Western world owns a personalized pet, sometimes more than one. It is treated with great care, fed when necessary and fitted to the owner’s wishes and needs. The car.
For decades this car is held close to the humans, since the car was not able to go out on its own. The car of the future is able to drive itself and this future is approaching fast. Today this, so called, autonomous cars are already able to drive safely through a neighborhood and to race on full speed at a race track. But how about the future?
Using fuzzy logic decision-making the car is definitely growing apart from us. Developers are designing vehicles that require less and less human interaction, so that in the near future we will be able to control the car just a little. In the end, the autonomous car will become uncontrollable and will use its own intelligence to drive and to decide. The artificial intelligence will get smarter, which will cause the cars to become beings with self-consciousness instead of the material as it used to be. It may become part of our uncontrollable next nature.
This pet we once had, may turn into an animal we cannot control any longer. Yet we still control it, but we may lose that control.
Computer-controlled players in video games can usually be spotted for their repetitive, illogical or unemotional behavior. Unlike humans, non-player characters (NPCs) don’t get angry, frustrated or scared in stressful game situations, and have trouble planning ahead. In order to address this problem, 2KGames launched the BotPrize, a Turing-style Test aimed at creating more convincing artificial players.
A human audience watched players in battling their way through Unreal Tournament 2004 and rated them on their apparent “humanness”. A team from the University of Texas at Austin tied for the win, creating an NPC so realistic that it scored a humanness rating of 52%. That’s impressive, and even more so taking into account that plain-ole real humans only clocked in at 40%.
The UT team was able to create their more-human-than-human bot through a process called “neuroevolution”. Using existing models of in-game human behavior, the researchers created different NPCs that were weeded out via a Darwinian process. As with mutations in genetic evolution, each new generation of the different NPCs lineages were tweaked slightly with behaviors that could either prove to be adaptive (more human) or maladaptive (less human). After five years of digital evolution, the game bot finally outperformed its human competition.
French photographer Stéphane Couturier provides us with an intimate peek inside the womb of a Toyota car factory north of Paris, France. The highly abstract photos of car parts, workers and machines capture the complexity, vitality, serene precision and harmony involved in the car production process.
The standard story of the cowboy hat goes something like this: In 1865, J.B. Stetson went out west during the California gold rush. He observed that bowlers, raccoon hats, and sombreros weren’t cutting it for men who spent their lives in the harsh conditions of the American West. Stetson went back home and invented “The Boss of the Plains”, a waterproof hat with a high dome, ideal for cowboy life. This story would check out if the original Stetson looked anything like a true cowboy hat. Which, with its flat brim, round top, and bow-tied ribbon, it does not.
Johnnie Hughes, author of On the Origin of Teepees, argues that the Stetson’s modern form was actually an accident of environment and human habit. The characteristic rolled brim and dented crown are the result of thousands of ranch hands picking up, folding, and sleeping on their hats. The wide brim, waterproof materials, and high crown were responses to a climate with blazing summers and frigid, wet winters. Just like the horse hoof, the cowboy hat was the unintentional result of a population of “organisms” adapting to a grasslands habitat.
It can be problematic to equate natural evolution with the development of manmade objects. Whether or not these changes can be compared to Darwinian selection depends on the intentionality of the design. Some, like corporate logos, superficially appear to evolve like living organisms in gradual, logical steps. However, each iteration of the design can usually be linked back to a conscious decision. Others are unintentional but non-adaptive. This Boo Berry cereal box, for instance, is more akin to harmless DNA transcription errors than natural selection. Finally, the Stetson hat is a true example of a manmade object that was shaped by actual, unintentional Darwinian selection to arrive at its “fittest” form. Proof that not all design is intelligent.
On the shortlist for the year’s strangest book title, Jonathan Olivares’ A Taxonomy of Office Chairs charts the “evolution” of chairs from the 1840s to the present day. The author explicitly uses the language of biological classification, opening with a quote from Baudrillard that describes consumer objects as reproducing species. Olivares notes that “I find it ironic and unnerving that our society cherishes, studies and documents the natural world, but keeps little track of the products that make up our predominant reality.”
In his analysis, Olivares discovered that the individual components of chairs – bases, backs, and armrests – evolved independently. The gradual changes in the design of a chair don’t mirror, for instance, the logical sequence of horse evolution, but more like something along the lines of bacterial conjugation, when whole genetic sequences can be swapped in and out. It’s arguable whether the conceit is more than a useful metaphor, but it may be that chairs can join razors, phones and corporate logos as objects that appear to evolve like organisms.
Dutch newspaper NRC Next features a shortened version (in dutch) of the Razorius Gillettus essay, written by Koert van Mensvoort. Download the scan. A longer version of the essay (in english) can be read here.
Prior to the forthcoming Next Nature Power Show in Amsterdam, we share some videos of presentations at earlier next nature events.
At our 2008 Powershow in Los Angeles founding editor of Wired Magazine, Kevin Kelly, talked about the nature of technology. Kevin proposes to define technology as the 7th Kingdom of Life. According to Kelly, “Our entire system of technology is now so complex that it forms a tangled ecology of ideas and devices which support each other. Human mind, so essential for its birth, play a decreasing role.”
Our peculiar image of the week presents us the lustrous uncannyness of a Beetle car in its embryonic stage. Rest assure: this is fiction, however, metaphorically the sculpture by artist Olav Mooij represents a profound truth we are only gradually getting attuned to: how mankind is co-evolving with its technology and thereby enabling non-genetic evolution.
The beetle egg is currently on display at the Natuur Apps expo at the Gouverneurstuin in Assen (NL), where it will remain until September 1th. The expo is closed with a Next Nature lecture, so if you happen to be in the neighborhood..
Corporate logos constantly have to adapt to survive. With the lion of the Peugeot car brand this resulted in a parade of poses over time. Peculiar image of the week.