Digital afterlife, Arctic currency, society ruled by AI: Seven projects presented at the New Normal 2016/17 showcase.
The graduates of the first year of Strelka Institute’s The New Normal program present a new vision of the future: their projects offer solutions to the pressing issues posed by the decentralized, automated, and posthuman world. Together, they form a tessellated story of the world to come as seen not merely by humans, but also through the lens of machines.
By chipping off pieces from the New Normal megastructure, we’ll see the posthuman world of platforms, operating on the basis of blockchain technologies. What is the world of The New Normal? It is in short, a speculation based on the immediate present now and the trends that are reshaping it.
The SHIFT project proposes a strategy with the main goal of maintaining the existing ownership model of trucks at a phase of transition between human labor and the processes of automation. It focuses on an object of automation in transportation infrastructure less visible than driverless cars: the private trucking network that links sellers and buyers, farms and supermarkets, villages and megalopolises throughout the vast territory of Russia.
Truck manufacturers are seeking new models of existence, no longer based on selling trucks, but on creating their own fleet of driverless trucks, slowly moving into the logistics market. Global companies are currently developing driverless car technology that will have an unprecedented impact on our future. These companies eventually plan to push independent truck drivers to the dead-end street of the economy.
The SHIFT team suggests that truck unions are in the best position to leverage their unique position in the field of autologistics. Thus, the SHIFT project proposes a way to save and transition the old, driver-owned truck model into the automated-vehicle future. Its platform strategy seeks to maintain the promise of technological development but retains more comprehensive redistribution of the productivity to come, gaining more freedom and control by staying in the union.
From the perspective of the imminently approaching automation, SHIFT notes three major problems: the centralization of control of logistics, the centralization of ownership, and, as a result, massive job loss. Therefore, the SHIFT project will create an alternative form of governance through the network of unions and system of collective negotiations, linking self-employed drivers by a global app that will evolve to play the role of logistics aggregator. The union becomes an automated infrastructure with distributed ownership. Its mobile network will operate as a fluid sensory system constantly scanning, monitoring and informing.
COMMON TASK goes further with the idea of civil data storage: it will allow the achievement of immortality for humankind. The philosophy of Neocosmism, proposed by the team and based on the early-XX-century movement of Russian Cosmism, promotes eternal life for all, but in order to achieve it, Neocosmists strive to overcome the physical bodily condition and eventually become post-human, or virtual. To perform an extensive personal data upload, collection, and daily backup in hope that one day, human consciousness will be simulated and networked within a timeless, post-body society, is a mundane thing in COMMON TASK’s universe.
Russian Cosmism was a driving force behind Soviet space exploration. It inspired writers and artists in the last century. COMMON TASK shows how Neocosmism would have affected Russia if it hadn’t been discarded, but instead became the leading ideology. Today it is reanimated by COMMON TASK as a reference for the current obsession with virtual life.
The COMMON TASK project offers a less anthropocentric and materialist view of the future of human data storage. It introduces twisted futuristic rituals of self-preservation narrated by an alternative visual language. Upload culture has changed the view of the human body, human privacy, and human individuality. Physical death is seen as almost something desirable; it is the path to attaining perfect completeness, or complete perfection, as you please.
COMMON TASK aesthetic research (by Alina Nazmeeva and Jariyaporn Prachasartta)
In the project, body ashes are transformed into diamonds, which then host human data, reflecting yottabytes of sun rays. The diamonds of the afterlife form a celestial dome, a diamond crust spanning the globe when the COMMON TASK is achieved.
Climate change is the greatest challenge of the century. Yet its critical physical reality has been adequately addressed neither by local nor international parties in charge – the centralized generation and distribution of electricity remains largely unchanged. Planetary-scale computation leads to the recurrent absorption of an enormous amount of energy; data centers consume even more electricity than some countries.
Project PHI tries to rethink the relationship between the processes of computation and energy circulation. It proposes a digital jurisdiction focused on using peer-to-peer networks to distribute renewable energy resources, where social obligation, rather than the consumption of electricity, becomes the source of value and network stability.
Starting at the micro-scale of individual communities, the web-based simulation app PHI enables people to explore the potential effects of decentralized energy, currency, and governance on their lives. PHI’s interface offers tools for developing networks of renewable energy resources, managing tokenized assets, and visualizing energy transactions recorded on a public blockchain. Its intuitive chatbot interface is prototyped to create and manage clean-energy infrastructure, token exchange, and the design of smart contracts.
PHI has a blockchain-based token system that allows people to relate to each other and energy infrastructure in new ways. That foundation of PHI’s proposal system has four kinds of tokens related to energy generation and network reputation: Joules, Seed, Negawatts, and Phi.
Eventually, PHI will become a DAO (decentralised autonomous organisation) that facilitates investments in energy networks, managing resources according to the simulations and predictions of the climate system.
One the most staggering outcomes of climate change is the melting of the Arctic. Soon, the Arctic perennial sea ice will disappear completely. Within the coming decades, a new ocean will likely emerge at the top of our world, connecting Europe, Asia, and America through the shortest possible distance, along with the border of the entire Russian Arctic coast. The northern passage will open up, turning the Arctic into a highway of global logistics. The use of world maps centered on the North pole will soon become the new normal.
To kickstart the integration of the Arctic territory, the SEVER project introduces a new Arctic currency, SEVER [SVR], a location-based token whose value increases with the degree of latitude at which it is used. Variations of latitude of the digital wallets are translated into fluctuation of balances, rewarding transactions that move capital north. Its new proof-of-location protocol verifies transactions. Anyone, anywhere, can purchase SEVER tokens; but their optimal economic value is reached when they are used above the Arctic Circle.
The SEVER project imagines the Arctic as a frontier where a future based on logics of decentralization, automation, and transparency will be incubated. The foundation layer of the SEVER project recognizes the Arctic as a common territory, over which the SEVER blockchain technology is deployed, connecting Arctic nodes into a single distributed network. The blockchain is then used to raise capital for collective infrastructure, which paves the way for a decentralized form of governance. In the future, key administrative decisions will be delegated to the community of token holders: from electing representatives to legislating on rules and policies.
SEVER will foster exchanges and cooperation across Arctic countries.
As the SEVER blockchain feeds on more and more data, it will establish itself as the spinal cord of an increasingly sentient urban network, spreading between the prominent Northern cities: Murmansk, Anchorage, Tromso, Reykjavik, etc.
SEVER’s location-based nature supports the development of automation across all industries. This automated industrial complex will remove the need for much of the human labour currently involved in the same operations. Rather than themselves working in often hostile Arctic conditions, humans could be primarily tasked with supervision of the machines.
The cost of living in urban centers is rising higher and higher. The expected urban influx and the rise of mortgage costs are bringing even more concerns to the highly skilled and educated freelance-employed individuals between the age of 25 and 35, the initial users of DOMA project. They are reliable tenants, yet they cannot afford to buy property. Adaptable to advancing technology and open to unconventional models of living, the young users would be actively integrated into the project’s non-familial creative communities. DOMA will try to create a dynamic community of skills and expertise that will form a platform for networked home ownership, turning its users into owners of the cities.
DOMA, as a cooperative platform, operates on the transparency of smart contracts. By organizing a non-profit, user-owned corporation, DOMA identifies the potential not only to improve users’ quality of life, but also to sustain economic stability and a built environment for the upcoming generations of users.
DOMA members will pay a monthly fee for the unit they inhabit, a portion of which will cover operational costs and fund the growth of the platform, while an increasing percentage will be translated into equity. But here’s the twist: DOMA’s equity is a part of the ownership of a cluster of homes. Thus, users can freely move within the network of homes without losing their equity. They can also share residential units and non-residential spaces (like kitchens or offices), easily splitting dues and equity. Data collection will be an integral part of the network’s development. By utilizing blockchain technology, DOMA allows for anonymous data to be utilized and kept in a pooled, encrypted storage account for network maintenance.
The first human-habitable planet of the Solar System has been discovered. In 2050, its virtual model, Patternist-3, which was created by a secret Russian private space agency, was partially leaked to the public. Then, someone hacked the model’s protocol and began to unlock its layers. This led to a viral common task to uncover its megastructure.
The PATTERNIST project operates against the background of an artificial intelligence evolving at an urban scale, while the perception of the citizens’ environment is becoming augmented. PATTERNIST proposes to look at the city as a metabolism, speculating on the spatial and economic reorientation at the scope and scale of technological acceleration.
PATTERNIST is a multi-platform, location-based virtual and augmented reality game in which the surface of a fictional alien planet is mysteriously overlaid onto the Earth’s skin. It facilitates local exploration and cooperative engagements to mine and map its emerging terrain. Resulting from various levels of complexity within gameplay, PATTERNIST tries to reveal visions of and insights into the contemporary urban environments.
In the game, players can trade elements with other players. The trade’s location and transaction data will be recorded and assigned a unique identifier. This transforms the landscape of the game into a distributed ledger with a real-world record of transactions. After the trade is codified, players can merge two elements to generate an alloy. These alloys create the tectonic landforms of the PATTERNIST planet. Thus, the game becomes a method to blend realities which make it possible to navigate through them simultaneously.
You can already download the demo-version of the app from the iTunes.
AIR KISS is a visual story of an AI governance model unfolding in the post-state conditions of the city of Moscow. The rich vignettes from the AIR KISS film show glimpses of human and non-human interactions, interfaces, and urban institutions. AIR KISS is an aesthetic experience of artificial intelligence, which isn’t just cold controlling power, but rather a tool to embrace the complexity of existing subjectivities.
By speculating on possible governance models, AIR KISS shows what ubiquitous and constantly adjusting AI will feel like as a habitat for human citizens. AIR KISS’s AI isn’t supernatural, it’s strangely familiar, native to humans: it senses, reacts, decides. It is politics that you can almost touch. Partially because it feeds on humans’ thoughts, partially because humans are part of a continuous algorithmic state-computation.
We see a hypothetical reality in which there is no longer any distinction between a citizen’s subjectivity and AI’s, that adapts and re-establishes the fundamental principles of collective existence. The death of old governmental structures manifests in the appropriation of leftover institutional buildings by citizens. The tactile human vs. non-human interactions and chemical reactions become the means of portraying the physicality of the architectures of a deeply material computation.
AIR KISS is a film for machine vision, a participant of the now, a tool to portray the future. This tool uses humans to create and validate this future.
Text: Inna Pokazanyeva