A Map of a Map

The story of the Living Earth Simulator reminds me of some recent Guardian verbiage about meta-mapping from Google and Apple. The reason for Borges Google Doodle adorning the page comes from his oft-cited relation to anything and everything cartographical. It was Baudrillard who used Borges' meta-mapping story On Exactitude in Science as a reference for simulacra and McLuhan who brought it up later as a way to outline the way that technology can reflect and even become the landscape it adorns.
In time, those Unconscionable Maps no longer satisfied, and the Cartographers Guilds struck a Map of the Empire whose size was that of the Empire, and which coincided point for point with it. The following Generations, who were not so fond of the Study of Cartography as their Forebears had been, saw that that vast Map was Useless, and not without some Pitilessness was it, that they delivered it up to the Inclemencies of Sun and Winters. In the Deserts of the West, still today, there are Tattered Ruins of that Map, inhabited by Animals and Beggars; in all the Land there is no other Relic of the Disciplines of Geography. On Exactitude in Science, Jorge Luis Borges
It's easy and somewhat justifiable to be skeptical about modelling economics. Very few of these endeavours have ever worked in the past and the point of crises as they happen is that the Black Swans - from outside of the models - are the causes of disaster, not things easily predicted and thus mitigated against. By creating a more accurate model, do we simply suffer a greater deception of safety, or worse - as outlined in the article, does the model itself become of such value that it is more valuable as an artifact within the system than as a tool for observing it from outside? 

Perhaps some sort of bleak merger of an ever-increasingly accurate Google Earth and the Living Earth Simulator might lead to the map of which Borges talked. But the form of this mega meta-map relies on what the creators want us to see and observe in a one-to-one augmented world. 

Then we have to wonder how designers might conform of subvert this super-scale impression of the world. When we make things that go in the world how might they be easily mappable if it becomes such a vital tool? And if we begin to ensure against disaster by a vastly intelligent economic model that might be able to predict the financial ramifications of any introduced design would a new institution stand to test all designs against 'the model' to ensure success?

Might the 'real' world in fact become secondary to the map and the model and defined by it?

Spaceport America

Spaceport America, designed by Foster + Partners and completed last year is the world's first commercial spaceport. Being based in New Mexico, I'm not surprised that it appears to apy more homage to crashed UFO's and Area 51 in design than the sprawling hyper-commercial airports we're used to. I would have thought that at this stage in human history we could get over national pride and call it 'Spaceport Earth' but alas. For some, the space race never ended. These incredible images are actually credible to this Domus article. Words are there too. Sorry I don't have time to write more. Also, check out this interview I did for DNA India on New Mumbai.

Metalosis Maligna

I came across Metalosis Maligna while visiting the new Superhuman exhibition at the Wellcome Collection. It's better than the sorely disappointing brains one from the other month as they've actually managed to put things around that you can see over the shoulders of tourists and the exhibition appears to have a developing narrative - not just stuff, behind glass in a room. Of course, it's littered with DI grads too.

Metalosis Maligna is a short mockumentary shot in a particularly 90s style that follows the story of a new disease where metallic implants become infected and being to mutate resulting in some pretty graphic metallic deformities on Borg-like patients.

Anyway, it was one of the things that really took me at the show, even though I could comprehend why none of the patients appeared to be in any pain.

1:1 Scale

This is a 1:1 scale model. BTW. So meta. I can't even.I don't even understand why it still looks like a model and not like a real car.

Complexity and Systems Diplomats

If you've seen the film Primer then you'll get the point of this chart. It's part of a larger series from XKCD, every geeks' favourite webcomic, that tracks the narratives of various characters in famous films. If you've seen Primer then the chances are that you've seen this chart since I would imagine that they attract the same kind of person. In fact, the finding of this chart no doubt inspires the watching of Primer and the watching of Primer definitely inspires searching Google for 'what happens in Primer?'

Primer is a film remarked upon for the complexity of its storyline - a parody and parable on time travel and what time travel might actually be like if it were to be discovered by three men in a garage by accident.

Folk have tried to accurately map the unfathomable twists, turns, cycles and repetitions in a plot that on the surface should be very simple but is made intractably complex simply by the conflicting of desires of three average men with a time machine.  This is as opposed, to say 12 Angry Men, another film favourite of everyone in the entire world which gets away with lacking time travel or imbued complexity of plot to still deliver an incredible narrative. 

Far from wanting to pollute the Internet with another gushing XKCD inspired post I was inspired by this post for a new 'job' on the Ethics For Doing Good blog. The job of a Systems Diplomat is about getting outside of a complex system, recognising its players and parts and understanding how they work with each other and perhaps other systems. How might this work in an lmost literal way when applied to a narrative like that of Primer? An individual who's sole role is to report on complex events such as that of Primer and try to understand them and to make a way for us to understand them.

As our systems become more and more complex as well as unique, specialised and accessible to the average person, events will suffer from being misunderstood in the rush to apportion blame as often happens in the media, most easily seen in the wake of the 2008 banking crisis. Perhaps media outlets and corporations might end up hiring Systems Diplomats that can see through, piece together and understand systems from outside their own area of expertise in order that a proper analysis of events can be conducted.

But the Systems Diplomat must be wary of suffering from from what Borges called 'Dante's paradox.'
Reports to:
External:     The System – everyone who resides, participates or is affected by the system
Internal:      Own conscience and values
The paradox that anyone who attempts to create a summary of any system (in Dante's case - humanity) inevitably adds to it and so fails to encapsulate it.

(Sorry the posts have been a bit limp-wristed of recent. I'm trying to keep up regular blogging as I used to but there's no point if they're boring or off-tempo. I'll try and post smaller, neater things and less crap.)

What is The Carbon Footprint of Rain?

Check out this paper from metadesigners that addresses the idea of repackaging, or 'relanguaging' climate change using design methodology.
Raphael Lemkin demonstrated this principle in 1947, after years of failed attempts to draw the world’s attention to a certain category of military aggression. Only after he invented the word ‘genocide’ did he manage to convince the United Nations to institute appropriate legislation. Hypothetically we could use this approach to design ‘miracles’, assuming that we are talking about rare, or unprecedented events(26), rather than supernatural interventions. Provocative questions may be a start. By asking, “what is the carbon footprint of rain?” we might realize that, when it rains, many people drive their car to the local shops instead of walking. 
Yes, it's old but I missed it was was sent the link over twitter only recently. It's well known that the climate change debate falls down to a paradox of experts. Often the evidence isn't question on the basis of its own merit but on the merit of those who present it. Could a total repackaging of the terms in which climate change is discussed result in more constructive discussion?

Here the argument is made that institutions are accepting or willfully ignorant of the risk of climate change and what the authors seem to argue is a nearly inevitable future of disaster. The expert paradox again plays in here as the more serious and terrifying any warnings over climate change become, the easier it is for an opposition to suggest 'scare-mongering' and fantasy. 

Climate scientists find themselves very carefully stepping around the terms that they use in order that they can conserve the validity of the narrative of climate change. Many people are desperate to see it fail as the easier option to accepting the inevitability of disaster and perhaps more importantly the blame for upsetting the noosphere. 

Alien Otherness

One of the things I've found troubling about the search for extra-terrestrial intelligence is the very narrow band in which we classify 'life.' Most usually it's done on our own terms. We think of aliens as being roughly our height with some sensory apparatus and then tack on various appendages and spikey or round bits to make them seem alien.

To me these archetypes have never been alien. They're more like invented animals - what-ifs about our own biological environment and its potential evolution either future or in an alternative past. Real aliens wouldn't even acquiesce to the same rules that we do. I remember reading some time ago an anecdote that I often quote that if single-celled organisms of the type we know and understand were to have evolved on Venus then equivocally, they would be made entirely of glass and be the size of a large house.

And that's supposing they exist on the same biological plane. Edwin Abbots' Flatland is a parable that could excitingly be taken literally as well as the satire of Victorian society and analogy of physics it so often is. What if, in another part of the universe, mathematics is sentient? What if geometry is it's way of physical representation and interaction? Once this kind of lateral thinking is applied to a universe that is near infinite in scope and 13.7 billion years in age then suddenly the 'Goldilocks' representation of aliens is really rather inept - an outward visualisation of our own insecurities rather than realistic or considered interpretation of the forms that the broadest definition of 'life' probably takes.

Consider the experiment often used by hard sci-fi - if were to encounter an entirely mechanised planet where no 'life' in biological terms exists but a machine intelligence, perhaps not even sentient, governs it's ecosystem would we call this life? What if, in a more Iain Banks style, aliens are huge creatures without any defineable anatomy that stride whole solar systems in single steps?

"Postcards From Hell"

I posted a link to this last time, but it really is worth taking a look at. There's not really any surprising entries on this year's failed state index but the accompanying photos and information are pretty compelling stuff.

I'd also be open to knowing the word count on 'coup.'

City States

If you happened to catch me on Twitter in the last few weeks you'll know that I've occasionally been surfacing from a marathon game of Civilization V on the hardest setting to read the news. So, with a head full of production stats, diplomatic deals, troop movements and technology trees I managed to catch fleeting exchanges about the proposed plans for reforming Honduras.

Honduras didn't rank up in the what Foreign Policy magazine lovingly calls 'Postcards From Hell' this year and this enthused Honduras Weekly enough to poll their outrage at being overlooked for such a prestigious honour. What they don't talk about is the solution that has already been proposed and sent on its way through the Honduran political system - Charter Cities. As far as I understand it, the Honduran government has decided to admit that almost no part of its civil infrastructure is incorruptible or, in some cases, even trustworthy and the only solution is to lease it out to other more stable nations. 

The first part of this proposal would see the Canadian courts acting as a model for a new RegiĆ³n Especial de Desarrollo - a free economic zone - in Honduras around which a stable city could be built. Essentially, this would be sort of like how Hong Kong used to be. Operating in the political boundaries of another nation but under different rules. 

We're already seeing these zones crop up in North Korea and China of course is probably most famous for them, but the idea of chartering the entire legal system is more extreme and potentially more dangerous. A lot of the criticism of the project comes from the long history of economic abuse that South and Central America have suffered at the behest of their northern cousins and there's a lot of wording such as '...democracy will be introduced gradually...' and '...leasing of land...' that ring some bells of warning.

This model of a 'free city' rang other bells for me though - hark back to Venice and the incredible success of that model. Saskia Sassen is prone to argue that the city is the future of civilisation because it attracts specialists and lowers transaction costs - everything is more efficient and more easily controlled in a tighter geographic environment for various convincing reasons. But, as my gaming experience will tell me, the success of this model relies heavily on the consistency of investment as well as location and guile. It's easy to point to the success of Shenzhen or Hong Kong while conveniently avoiding the complete disaster made of much of the rest of the far east in the nineties. 

Still, this is a totally new idea, seemingly initiated by Honduras itself (although time will tell) and without the political hangovers that governed cities like Hong Kong, West Berlin or Tokyo under occupation. What really sets the project apart is the 'Transparency Commission' - a group of effectively independent and outside observers who can check on the progress of the project and make sure that it doesn't end up 'more Macau than Hong Kong.'

All that outside intervention will also create a playground for urban developers, architects and designers and it's going to be great to see if, like with the whole plan, we begin to see some really innovative and new ideas come to life in Honduras.