"The best way to predict the future is to invent it"
-- Alan Kay.
The split between the Arts and the Sciences is a typically modern
notion, born out of the specialisation that Ortega called barbaric.
Leonardo was an engineer as much as a sculptor, and Newton a politician
as much as a physicist and mathematician. Both represented the
whole tradition of knowledge about the human and physical world.
The industrialisation of knowledge and the culture of consumption
have allowed our modern scientists and writers to delegate on
others some of those functions of knowledge and agency. They are
those opposing intellectual elites that CP Snow railed against
in "The Two Cultures". Snow noted how literary intellectuals
had taken possession of the term "intellectual", which
somehow could no longer be used to refer to Rutherford, to Bohr,
to Heisenberg, to Einstein... If what these scientists were doing
was not intellectual, what was it? And what validity could have
any statement about the world made by those who vaunted their
ignorance of its rules?
All historical times have had nodal points of the next era, of
the paradigm shift in thought. Where the conversation changed.
Renaissance Italy, Enlightenment France, and the distributed non-place
where art, science, economics and technology mixed freely at the
close of the 20th century. The Berkeley-San Francisco-Silicon
Valley axis was one of the venues of that movable feast, and Linz,
with its Ars Electronica, was its Harvest Festival.
The Barcelona-Madrid-Sevilla trajectory has been another of those
magical ley lines where the Spirit of the Yet-to-Come has surfaced.
For the last 15 years Art Futura has played a relevant role in
this process of generating the new. Writers like William Gibson,
artists like Rebecca Allen and Eduardo Kac, thinkers like Derrick
de Kerckove and Brenda Laurel have helped make Art Futura into
a crucible of technology and thought. Here the twain have melted
into a platonic embrace, getting back together after their split
during Modernity. During this time we have come to realise a couple
of new things:
First, technology entails policy. In the words of Cory Doctorow:
"The last twenty years were about technology. The next twenty
years are about policy. It's about realizing that all the really
hard problems -- free expression, copyright, due process, social
networking -- may have technical dimensions, but they aren't technical
problems. The next twenty years are about using our technology
to affirm, deny and rewrite our social contracts: all the grandiose
visions of e-democracy, universal access to human knowledge and
(God help us all) the Semantic Web, are
dependent on changes in the law, in the policy, in the sticky,
non-quantifiable elements of the world. We can't solve them with
technology: the best we can hope for is to use technology to enable
the human interaction that will solve them."
Second, the noosphere is not isolated from the material sphere
of the planet. As Bruce Sterling argues, next to the Ars Electronica
Center Cave there is a Silicon Graphics computer the size of a
boat engine, simultaneously outputting polygons and heat. It is
an industrial machine, made with industrial processes, and it
will not cease to be so just because there is not a big smokestack
beside it. This heat is generated by electricity, and the electricity
is generated with coal and oil. Oil sends us to war and emits
CO2, degrading both our political and material environments. The
material objects that mediate our interaction with information
change the balances of commerce too, and their manufacture also
pollutes. The noosphere should be sustainable, both politically
These last two offerings come from two science fiction writers
that are not just fiction writers. Both write more and more about
the present. One would say that the Buckminster Fuller maxim,
"think globally and act locally" can be applied not
only through space but also through time.
After all, the best way to predict the future is to invent it.
Javier Candeira is a journalist.
Text originally published in ArtFutura's 2004 catalog.