Today the human impact on our planet can hardly be underestimated. Climate change, population explosion, genetic manipulation, digital networks, hurricane control and engineered microbes. Untouched old nature is almost nowhere to be found. “We were here,” echoes all over. This omnipresence of human activity motivated some to announce the end of nature and proclaim a post natural future. Contrary to these observations, I believe that it is not nature that died, disappeared or became obsolete, rather that our notion of nature is changing.
Text for blind people using the Braille alphabet has been around for some time. But instead of making separate books for the visually impaired, why not change the way we all read?
With Braille 2.0, you simply scan text with your finger. Tiny implants will digitalize the text and transmit it to an ear implant. The implant converts the text into spoken words that are projected into the ear.
Other applications of the system are also appealing for people with full vision. Adding the function of translating or explaining a word’s meaning will give readers a richer experience. Instead of looking words up in the dictionary, you scan it and get the meaning projected through your ear implant. Reading in the dark might even be possible. Now everyone can go to the library and pick up any book he wants to read, with or without vision.
Do you ever miss being able to smell the woods in an online travel journal? The odor of a new leather jacket in an online shop? Or perhaps you just couldn’t find the words in an email to describe the delicious scent of your freshly baked goods?
DigiScents did, or at least thought a lot of consumers in 2001 were encountering this gap in the day’s technology. The idea of adding smell to the way we communicate online unfortunately was not successful. Failing to surpass the prototype stage, its ambitious concept to link our rapidly growing technology use to more senses than our eyes and ears, actually does something more: It reveals the true colors of the technology we use.
Often cockroaches aren’t people’s best friends, but maybe in a few years you will be relieved when you see a cockroach. Researchers of the North Carolina State University succeeded in developing a new technique that will be able to move a cockroach in any direction. By doing this, they may be creating an opportunity to change the cockroach’s poor image into that of a life saver.
The technique has three main principles. First, to control the cockroach, they give it a backpack containing a microchip, with a wireless receiver and transmitter. This microchip communicates with a micro-controller, which is also stuffed into the backpack. The controller is wired by electrodes that are implanted into the antenna at the front of its body and the cerci at its abdomen.
The future of farming is not to be found in further mass-industrialization nor in the return to traditional farming with man and horse power, but rather in swarms of smart, cheap robotic farmers that patiently seed, tend and harvest fields one plant at a time without the need for damaging pesticides.
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.
Roads are a ubiquitous, even defining aspect of our urban and suburban spaces. In the United States alone, parking lots and roads cover 16,000 square kilometers. So why must roads be gray, plain and a general waste of space? Dutch designer Daan Roosegarde, inventor of the Intimacy Dress, wants to take the technology from his Sustainable Dance Floor and apply it to the highway of the future.
The vibrations of cars over the road surface will create energy for streetlights and will power electric cars and scooters at charging stations. These “smart” roads could be further equipped with sensors to report ice, rain, temperature or traffic conditions. Roosegarde’s proposal for an energy-generating highway isn’t the first: There’s been plans for solar roadways in the US, electromagnetic roadways in China, and a piezo-electric road similar to Roosegarde’s in Israel.
Feeling grumpy and hungry? Unfortunately, the University of Tokyo’s Happiness Counter refrigerator won’t open up until you give it a big smile. The concept is based on the fact that smiling releases endorphins, but it seems like the pushy fridge is a quicker route to rage than to true happiness.
Volvo cars is testing a new safety system that automatically hits the brakes once an animal is detected in the vehicles vicinity. The Animal Detection System expands the range and capability of Volvo’s current Pedestrian Detection System. Its goal is to reduce the speed at which the animal is hit, which should reduce the severity of injuries. According to Volvo, about 200 people a year are killed in the U.S. due to accidents with wild animals. Since larger animals pose the biggest risk, the system is trained to recognize the shape of animals like deer and elk.
Philosopher and professor Jos de Mul and media artist Geert Mul set out to visualize the Gods Browser in a unique art-science collaboration. The result is a conceptual poem of words and an excess of images. Welcome in the technological sublime.
The nature of humanity in the twenty-first century is, according to sociologist Steve Fuller, a ‘bipolar disorder’ beset with dualisms of identification such as divine/animal, mind/body, nature/artifice and individual/social. He notes that they have challenged our collective sense of identity as ‘human’, particularly though the operationalization of the mind/body question in new material configurations of metallic or silicon bodies .
In short, we are ‘becoming’ machines. Inventor Ray Kurtzweil and performance artist Marcel Li Antunez Roca both explore this notion in their projections about the future of the human body. Yet ‘emergentist’ philosophers and scientists have challenged the mechanistic model of matter since the late 18th and early 19th century. They propose another way of understanding the organization of matter , without resorting to the customary mechanist  – vitalist  dichotomy . Observations from the biological and chemical sciences demonstrate that substances frequently do not behave in a manner that can be explained as the simply ‘sum’ of their components. For example, the addition of an acid and an alkali creates salt and water, while the fusion of an ovum and spermatozoon produces a conceptus. These are transformational rather than additional processes, which resist simple, mechanical interpretations.
Once upon a time animism ruled people’s beliefs: both organisms and objects were imbued with a conscience. Artist Ronald van Tienhoven states that as technology closes the gap between organisms and objects, a new form of techno-animism arises.
Nothing beats the factory-scent of expensive, freshly unboxed technology! Artist group Greatest Hits produced the Apple Unboxing Scent for use at an exhibition in Melbourne, where it will be diffused for the visitors at West Space – Level 1, 225 Bourke Street – April 20th – May 12th.
“A distinctive scent can be observed when unwrapping a newly purchased Apple product from its packaging. Apple fans will certainly recognize this smell. The scent created for Greatest Hits encompasses the smell of the plastic wrap covering the box, printed ink on the cardboard, the smell of paper and plastic components within the box and of course the aluminum laptop which has come straight from the factory where it was assembled in China.”
For centuries mother nature has been the inspiration to the perfume makers. Our perfumes make us smell like lavender fields or cool breezes. Even our sweat smells rollicking. Nowadays one could question whether there is such thing as “natural odor”. Seen from this perspective, it is only logical that concepts like these, prelude the coming of a new era where the fusion of man and technology is accepted and common. This must be what NextNature smells like!
So you thought the Internet was made by and for people? Think again. A study by Incapsula, a provider of cloud-based security for web sites (mind you where this data comes from), concludes that 51% of all Internet traffic is generated by non-human sources such as hacking software, scrapers and automated spam mechanisms. While 20% of the 51% non-human traffic is’ good’, the 31% majority of this non-human traffic is potentially malicious.
Arjen Born, a Dutch Photographer, envisions the future of assisted living through hilarious and moving photographs.
Photography often reside in the realm of the nostalgic past, but Arjen dares to look forward. He does not question if robots will assist us in our daily life, he questions how robots will do this.
“Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” 
In Western cultures, nature is a cosmological, primal ordering force and a terrestrial condition that exists in the absence of human beings. Both meanings are freely implied in everyday conversation. We distinguish ourselves from the natural world by manipulating our environment through technology. In What Technology Wants, Kevin Kelly proposes that technology behaves as a form of meta-nature, which has greater potential for cultural change than the evolutionary powers of the organic world alone.
With the advent of ‘living technologies’ , which possess some of the properties of living systems but are not ‘truly’ alive, a new understanding of our relationship to the natural and designed world is imminent. This change in perspective is encapsulated in Koert Van Mensvoort’s term ‘next nature’, which implies thinking ‘ecologically’, rather than ‘mechanically’. The implications of next nature are profound, and will shape our appreciation of humanity and influence the world around us.