Dystopias loom large over the coming decades: mundane surveillance, autonomous weapons, widespread disemployment, all set against the perpetual dread of climate crisis. It’s easy to succumb to fatalism, to feel powerless in the face of a world tipping off its axis. But there’s no time to mourn everything we stand to lose. Our trajectory is not yet locked in: we have millions of futures to choose from.
We’ve talked enough about how the tech industry – and, indeed, the world – lost its way; now it’s time to make things better. Cennydd Bowles, author of Future Ethics, will explain the essential role designers will play in realising positive visions of the future, and how addressing the world’s most urgent issues requires us to reimagine design itself. Drawing on the fields of speculative design, foresight, and futurism, the session will examine how to mobilise for change, how to bring ethics into the heart of practice, and how to make technology more responsible, more just, and more democratic. Better worlds are possible, if we wish them.
New horizons for design, climate change, speculative and critical design, futurism, ethics.
Offered as a conference keynote or in-house presentation. Intended audience: designers, product managers, software engineers, futurists. This talk sits perfectly alongside the Building Better Worlds training workshop. Book both for reduced rates.
Notes, evidence, and credit
The infamous ‘Gaydar’ study: Michal Kosinski & Yilun Wang, ‘Deep Neural Networks Are More Accurate Than Humans at Detecting Sexual Orientation From Facial Images’, Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, Feb 2018, Vol. 114, Issue 2. The authors published a Google Docs follow-up to the resulting ethical backlash.
Slaughterbots (2017), the Future of Life Institute & Stuart Russell.
‘Much worse’ quote from The Uninhabitable Earth by David Wallace-Wells.
Warming statistics from variety of sources, including The Uninhabitable Earth, Carbon Brief’s The impacts of climate change at 1.5C, 2C and beyond, and The three-degree world: the cities that will be drowned by global warming, and David Wallace-Wells on Twitter.
For more on climate mourning, see Roy Scranton’s NYT piece Learning How to Die in the Anthropocene.
Papanek quote from Design for the Real World (Thames and Hudson, 1985).
Mulching satirical paper: A Mulching Proposal: Analysing and Improving an Algorithmic System for Turning the Elderly into High-Nutrient Slurry, Os Keyes, Jevan Hutson, Meredith Durbin.
Personal climate tactics: there are many who question the safety of Malthusian population-limiting responses to climate. The topic has already been weaponised by far-right ecofascists, some of whom extrapolate it to virtually genocidal conclusions. It is, however, evident that fewer humans ought to mean fewer emissions. One estimate (Mike Berners-Lee, How Bad Are Bananas) puts the lifetime CO₂e impact of a British child at 373,000 kg, although this figure will of course vary enormously in other territories and with various carbon futures. The topic is highly delicate. However, it seems safe to agree that the choice to have a child is likely the most environmentally impactful you will ever make.
Transparent Charging Station by The Incredible Machine.
Frames (2019), dir. Farhad Pakdel. Part of the Screening Surveillance Project.
Social consensus statistics from Goldberg, M. H., van der Linden, S., Leiserowitz, A., & Maibach, E. (2019). Perceived social consensus can reduce ideological biases on climate change. Environment and Behavior.
Individual ➙ Collective ➙ System change model drawn from Jussi Pasanen’s astute post Individual change or system change is not the right question.
‘Who do you want to be at the end of the world?’ quote from Kelly Hayes on Patreon.