I found the guest talk by Laura Michalsen really interesting. The topic of
biometrics is frightfully relevant. It truly is the kind of thing at least
I seem to be to afraid to handle. Stuck in a fluctuation between panic
over the state of the world and complete self imposed blindfolding. It is
probably a human very reaction when thoughts or understandings get too
complex and out of what you could ever believe was possible. A very
relevant example is that just the other week or so a law was passed in my
home country Sweden that permitted the use of face recognition by the
police. This would have been impossible to implement in Sweden just
a couple of years ago (and not only because of technological
restrictions), the resistance of not only the public but the legal system
would have been too great. To any other it is perhaps nothing special, it
is not a controversial technology in many other parts of the world, at
least in the sense of governments and private sectors since its
implementations are wide spread and have been so for as long as the
technology been around. For the people, it’s a different story and the
resistance is not insignificant.
But we forget and get used to, perhaps as a part of the previous mentioned
fluctuations I mentioned. I also makes me think about time and technology,
how the technology pushes the boundaries of not just what is possible, but
also what is accepted. The relationship between innovation and
technological progress and cultural change. Among how other aspects of
surveillance and categorization of people, and how it in the case of
Facebook, google and general use of internet or for example transportation
or map technologies is in large fed by voluntarily given data, it is
perhaps no surprise that biometrics is now a wide spread technology. It is
something that clearly makes the historical aspects and connections that
Laura described even more relevant. The historical root of biometrics in
a racist andoppressive narrative, it’s connections with fascism,
persecution and abuse still reflects in the technology today and are
important to remember.
The ways of how Zach Blas researched, discussed, examined and thought
about these technologies was very inspirational. It showed of ways how to
both find ways of understand, expose and resist it’s uses. I took note of
how Laura described her research about “the art of disappearing: on masked
resistance to digital biometrics”. It made me think of ways to disappear
and stay anonymous, about how to hide and dodge tracking and
categorization. About hiding with information overflow or to minimizing
traceable data. Where are we most hidden?
I think both Lauras talk and Zach’s work showed great ways of both asking
questions and building understanding of both what is and what is happening
(the reality of things), as well as ways to think about how to handle that
reality and ways to go forward. It gave useful tactics of both asking
questions and both thinking with them as well as living and working with
After some thinking about last weeks incomplete post (which I hope will
be expanded and further discussed soon) about using irrational
technologies or techniques to understand the complexity of existence and
experience in and of time, I thought there where connections with
some initial readings I’ve been doing about speculation during the research project.
In Speculate Everything, Dunne and Raby (2013) writes that “All design to
some extent is future oriented”, but they continue by stating that
“futures are not a destination or something to be strived for but a medium
to aid imaginative thought—to speculate with.” (Dunne and Raby, 2013,
p.3). They place the act of speculation beyond prediction. Thinking about
what lies ahead in the sense of trying to pin the future down is futile.
This is a thought that in its way resonates with Elisabeth Grosz’s idea,
as it is laid out in Thinking the New: Of Futures Yet Unthought (1998), of
an unpredictable, chaotic emergent future defined by “[…] disordered or
uncontainable change, which lurks within the very concept of change or
newness” (Grosz, 1998, p.38). The seemingly irrational relation between
the present and the future does not imply that it is not a relevant
concept to work with. But instead of asking ourselves questions of “what
will tomorrow look like?”, a more important one might be “how do we want
tomorrow to look like?”.
Dunne and Raby puts forth a model of potential futures used by
futurologist Stuart Candy based on what is possible, plausible or probable
in the context of levels of likelihood, where their interest lies in
opening up for a wider set of possibilities. By speculating in the wider
realms of what is possible and not only the most probable, “reality will
become more malleable” and “we can help set in place today factors that
will increase the probability of more desirable futures happening.” (Dunne
and Raby, 2013, p. 6). Speculation then becomes a way to both help
understand the present and the past as well as influencing what will be
unfold in the future. It can be a way of “imagining alternatives” as the
writer Ursula K. Le Guin puts it. Theories about creativity, art and of
fiction then becomes relevant for both the perception of reality and the
outcome of the future.
How does one then approach speculation and creativity? Imagination may be
one of the keys. Perhaps as in Kendell L. Walton’s theories of make
believe cited by Dunne and Raby, where fictional objects can be seen as to
“prescribe imaginings” and “generate fictional truths”, that they can
“facilitate imagining and help us entertain ideas about everyday life that
might not be obvious”(Dunne & Raby, 2013, p.90). Or in how Lubomír Doležel
writes about creating and imagining possible worlds “not just for
entertainment but for reflection, critique, provocation, and inspiration”
(Dunne & Raby, 2013, p.70). For Le Guin imagination is paramount, and as
alluded above, imagining is described as making, a making of the world we
But there is something more to creativity than projecting the future from
the position of the present. To further quote Le Guin she writes that “To
make something is to invent it, to discover it, to uncover it..” (Le Guin,
World Making, 1981). The creative act is here also an exploratory one, the
future we seek is a future not only to be created but to be found. The
concept of creativity as exploration is not only important to artists and
writers but is a major narrative within the fields of cybernetics,
evolutionary theory, the sciences and humanities. In one direction, new
creative ideas are explained as the products of blind testing, solutions
are perceived as “[…] being selected from the multifarious exploratory
thought trials” (Campbell, 1960, p.384). Yet these chance operations does
not need to be understood as trying out all the possible configurations
but is often paired with the notion of selective retention. Previous
actions and results of the individual or collective successes and failures
together with environmental and surrounding influence, biology, culture
and other aspects guide the exploration (Campbell, 1960), (Heylighen,
2011), (Jung R. E., 2014).
This deterministic and causal view echoes the questions often seen in
computational complexity theory, art and research. Questions about
randomness, complexity, chaos and emergence that are often addressed in
both the sciences and in works of art. Places where wonder and surprise
can be the result of simple rules or systems, or experiments with chance
operations or engaging with the ideas of consciousness, time and space.
This can among other palces found in the writings of Borges or in Bryon
Gysin and William Burroughs cut-up experiments as well as in computer
aided and generative artworks and approaches like cellular automata as in
the artistic representations of Conway’s Game of Life, computational
emergence, machine learning and AI just to name a few.
All of these approaches, tools and ideas are not only useful within the
framework of trying to figure out causal systems and getting glimpses of
what is to come, but as ways of interacting with and shaping the future.
They are methods of widening the sense of what is possible (past the
seemingly determined), methods of imagining and inhabiting in Le Guin’s
language, or as in Dunne and Raby’s increasing of the probability of the
realisation of a desired future. Grosz goes further beyond (but not
without) a predetermined selection with the thought of an inconceivable
open ended future and identifies the limitations of realisation, here
understood both in terms of resemblance as well as a narrowing down of
possibilities. Then instead of “following of a plan, it links to the
uncertain” (Grosz, 1998, p.51), and the future is understood as not only
mechanical repetition or as a predetermined preformism, but as an open
ended unfolding and the emergence of the new. The explorative aspect of
speculation, is then not only a blind testing of failure and success, it’s
an active engagement and with an uncertain future.
The value of speculative art is perhaps not only as a way to understand
the present, or to lay out blueprints of the future to be executed, but as
a way to explore, interact, work and create with a living universe of the
past present and future.
Campbell, Donald T. “Blind Variation and Selective Retentions in Creative
Thought as in Other Knowledge Processes.” Psychological Review 67, no.
6 (November 1960): 380–400. https://doi.org/10.1037/h0040373.
Dunne, Anthony, and Fiona Raby. Speculative Everything: Design, Fiction,
and Social Dreaming. Cambridge, Massachusetts ; London: The MIT Press,
Grosz, E. A. “Thinking the New: Of Futures Yet Unthought.” Symploke 6, no.
1 (1998): 38–55. https://doi.org/10.1353/sym.2005.0074.
Heylighen, Francis. (2001). Principles of Systems and Cybernetics: an
Jung, Rex E. “Evolution, Creativity, Intelligence, and Madness: ‘Here Be
Dragons.’” Frontiers in Psychology 5 (2014).
Le Guin, Ursula K. (2018). Dreams must explain themselves – the selected
non-fiction of ursula k. le g. Orion Publishing Co
Simonton, Dean Keith. “Creativity and Discovery as Blind Variation:
Campbell’s (1960) BVSR Model after the Half-Century Mark.” Review of
General Psychology 15, no. 2 (June 2011): 158–74.
//Jakob Jennerholm Hammar