The goal of the series—conversations with leading thinkers, designers, authors and educators—is to critically question how the practice of design can imagine and prepare for "extreme existential risks" like resource wars, climate change, emerging diseases, and even artificial intelligence-gone-amok. According to series founder and moderator Ed Keller, the human race is rapidly approaching an "epistemological event horizon, beyond which we can barely speculate."
Curious and slightly alarmed by the assumptions underpinning the series, I emailed Ed some questions. In his thoughtful and thorough–if not exactly reassuring—answers, he touches on everything from the possible catastrophes that may befall us ("a biotech disaster, a science experiment run wild, or even the emergence of an AI system which is not human friendly") to the short-sightedness of most designers ("Humans think, at the MOST, at the thousand or occasionally ten thousand year timescale"). Read on for more insights into why designers ignore these risks at their—and our—peril.
For example, in the case of Bruce Sterling, who is a renowned writer of scifi, journalism pieces, and nonfiction, two of his nonfiction books have proved especially interesting to me—his Shaping Things and Tomorrow Now are both works of speculative futurology, looking at the relatively near future and trying to anticipate the sociocultural, political, economic changes that will result from emerging technology and networks.Some of the other folks we have joining us are designers and critics I've met over the years at schools like Columbia University and SCIArc. Benjamin Bratton brings his ability to think laterally across emerging technology (he was director of Yahoo's Advanced Strategies Group) into contact with his deep scholarship in political science and philosophy, linking the work of folks like Paul Virilio and Giorgio Agamben back to these questions of deep sustainability and the future of design.
Indeed, some researchers and scientists anticipate such an acceleration in computer technology that strong AI might become a reality in the next two or three decades. If so, this would be a complete game changer (even though it is one of the risk factors!). According to some, the only chance we have to make it through the huge technological leap forward we're caught in will be with the assistance of a friendly, global AI. Up to a point, such an intelligence will be designed. But after that point, of course, we'll be in a dialog with it—and one hopes it would be interested in working with us on engineering problems many orders of magnitude larger than geo-tecting problems or climate change. I find this a fascinating future.One of the greatest challenges I think we face is designing not only our world, but our place in the universe.
When not writing, editing, or combing design magazines and blogs for inspiration, Jaime Gillin is experimenting with new recipes, traveling as much as possible, and tackling minor home-improvement projects that inevitably turn out to be more complex than anticipated.