inkwell.vue.506 : State of the World 2019
permalink #151 of 209: Bruce Sterling (bruces) Thu 10 Jan 19 00:52

*The European Parliament still likes to do some broad, across
the-board “office of technology assessment” riffing with their
“European Parliament Research Service.”   If you’re into that,
here’s a whole bunch of it for 2019.  Very deliberately trendy: it’s
got  trade wars, ocean plastics, income disparity, Brexit, potential
Euro finance crises: all kinds of stuff you’ll find this year in
European newspapers, if there are any newspapers left.

*And this is the way they talk, which is a very lucid and
well-educated Euro-English Brussels bureaucratese.  You know they're
in government because they use the term "cyberspace," which has
become a very dignified, somberly-serious and governmental word

“The  digital  revolution  has  transformed  our  lives,  offering 
huge  opportunities  but  also  presenting challenges,  such  as 
how  to  protect  people  from  risks  and  threats inherent to a
digitalised world (see issue 10). Cyberspace represents a perfect
playground for criminals: the number of cyber-attacks is increasing
and they are becoming ever more sophisticated. To give just two
examples: every day  more  than  6 million data  records are  lost 
or  stolen  worldwide  and  over  4 000 ransomware attacks   are  
launched.   These   attacks   affect   our   critical  
infrastructure,  such  as  hospitals,  transport  and information 
systems,  and  cost the  European  economy  hundreds  of  billions 
of  euros.  In  some  EU  countries,  half  of  all  crimes 
committed are cybercrimes.  
“Not only is  cybercrime on the rise, but traditional crime is also
going digital. Organised crime groups use the internet for multiple
activities, such as drug trafficking, counterfeiting of means of
payment and  credit  card  fraud,  trafficking  in  human  beings, 
etc.  Despite  some  major  takedowns  by  law  enforcement, illicit
marketplaces flourish on the darknet to sell drugs, weapons,
counterfeit goods, fake identity documents or cybercrime 'toolkits',
that are ready for use by less experienced attackers ('crime  as  a 
service').  There  is  a  high  risk  that  terrorists  may  use 
these  easily  available  tools  to  perpetrate  a  cyber-attack, 
e.g.  in  order  to  target  critical  infrastructure…. “ 
inkwell.vue.506 : State of the World 2019
permalink #152 of 209: Rip Van Winkle (keta) Thu 10 Jan 19 07:04
Welcome to the WELL Kieran!

I'm glad you brought up the tools for local social political

>So the tools exist, they've been around for nearly a decade, and
they are in widespread use. And they are the exact opposite of (big)
social media -- just humans contacting humans, a single, siloed
database per organisation, and no algorithms trying to manipulate
users' emotions. You just don't hear about them as much.

One of the most striking aspects of 2018 in the US has been where we
are starting to hear about them, in the explosive growth of
effective political engagement, from the Women's March to special
election upsets and finally the 2018 midterm results.  While the
story about 2016 is all about nefarious big-data social manipulation
of emotions for election results, it's the tools you mention, used
by ordinary people, that underly 2018.
inkwell.vue.506 : State of the World 2019
permalink #153 of 209: Rip Van Winkle (keta) Thu 10 Jan 19 07:08
It's also really interesting to juxtapose that point with the EU
report quote about traditional crime going digital.  Just humans
being humans as they always have, with new tools.  

And it's a good time to bring up a topic I've followed this year but
we haven't mentioned yet, where the broad fear of internet crime
(and a totalitarian impulse perhaps?) resulted in bad law and
internet censorship - the FOSTA/SESTA (anti sex-trafficking) attack
on Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act (which protects
websites from being treated as publishers and thus liable for

EFF summary:
EFF lawsuit:
inkwell.vue.506 : State of the World 2019
permalink #154 of 209: Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Thu 10 Jan 19 07:51
Listening to birdsong & a distant train whistling and rumbling, it's
hard in this moment to sink into virtual communities, abstract
online worlds, technical infrastructures, etc. Twitchy cardinal on
the fence outside, now flown away. Seeing a heart with wings, ready
to fly.

Austin's Homebrew Website Club met last night, planning Austin's
second IndieWebCamp (, which will
be February 23-24 ( Homebrew
Website Club meetings and IndieWebCamp events are global: There's a movement slowly building to
create an independent web by creating technologies to facilitate
publishing and sharing online in a distributed way, as an
alternative to corporate social media platforms like Facebook and
Twitter. We're not talking about something new here - this is the
web we thought we were building, before "the stacks" realized the
opportunity to make big profits via social sharing platforms.
IndieWeb is driven by a smart developers who are building
independent, distributed tools for sharing and interaction. I'm
plugging IndieWeb (as I have in the past) because I think it's an
important movement, creating an alternative to corporate social
media cages.
inkwell.vue.506 : State of the World 2019
permalink #155 of 209: Jane Hirshfield (jh) Thu 10 Jan 19 08:51
Lots of things to ponder from this last batch of posts, and yes,
Kieran, welcome to the Well. 

(keta, your post about finite and infinite games concept was the
perfect clarification, thank you.)

When we talk about the State of the World, it is almost inevitable
that we move to large, visible, human-contract/governance/social
compact level things.  There is a great deal of knowledge here of
specifics I'm grateful to hear about. I also greatly enjoyed the
moment with your cardinal just now, jonl. It is no small part of
what liberty/ equality/ fraternity are for--the continuance into the
future of such quiet moments, free from fear, from hunger, from too
much heat or cold, from the buffetings of cravings and ramped up
angers that don't serve us or those we love or the larger community
inkwell.vue.506 : State of the World 2019
permalink #156 of 209: Kieran O'Neill (oneillk) Thu 10 Jan 19 13:07
Thank you for the welcomes!

And yes, Rip, there's been a huge upswing in political engagement
over the past few years. The Corbynite revolution in the UK has been
another example. It's really exhilarating!

I've been trying, over the past few days, to frame my thoughts
around Dark Mountain, and why I think it's important. I finally came
to the answer this morning, when I was linked this beautiful and
tender article relating cycling advocacy work to inter-generational

There's a lot to be outraged about this past year -- the climate
(and the rest of the environment) is in crisis, the global wealthy
are getting ever-wealthier on the backs of the global working class,
there are monsters in the Whitehouse (and Westminster) mashing all
the oppression buttons at once. Outrage isn't all bad -- it fuels
the activism that effects change. But outrage is also easy to
manipulate, and played a big part in the electoral manipulations of
2016. Outrage fatigue is also very, very real.

So what I realised is this: writing like that Do Jun Lee article, or
the work you find in the Dark Mountain journal, engages with
activism in a gentle, tender, human way. It's the antidote to the
permanent fight-or-flight onslaught of outrage. A way of dealing
with issues through story and empathy and feeling.

What I feel 2018 has brought, and 2019 will bring more of, is
increasing awareness among activists of the need for self-care. Of
the need to "go into the darkness" as Tiffany put it. To engage with
feelings in a safe environment where they can be turned over, felt
through, and processed. I believe we're seeing that in the desire to
pull back from social media, and in the need for more human
engagement in politics.
inkwell.vue.506 : State of the World 2019
permalink #157 of 209: Jane Hirshfield (jh) Thu 10 Jan 19 14:40
Thanks for this post, and the link to that informing, rounding
inkwell.vue.506 : State of the World 2019
permalink #158 of 209: Tiffany Lee Brown (T) (magdalen) Thu 10 Jan 19 18:50

Keiran, wellcome to the Well! i hope you're finding some conferences that
suit your conversational tastes.

jane, your response #142 above is magnificent, particularly the final graf.
"The intersection of aesthetics and decisions about how to live in
 our shared world and its many cultures ..." so much to chew on.

tom and keiran, thank you for the perspective on organizing tools for local
use that don't necessarily rely on the surveillance economy and social
media. i've swung so far against social, so disgusted by what our
technology is doing to our culture and minds and children, that i can kinda
forget about the good things. 
inkwell.vue.506 : State of the World 2019
permalink #159 of 209: Bruce Sterling (bruces) Fri 11 Jan 19 00:36

*When you’re a philosopher who’s way into video games you get into
stuff like “procedural rhetoric.”

 Because there are, like, procedures… or processes… or maybe
algorithms… and when the game designer puts these procedures into
the experience, that’s expressive.  You’re involved in my game world
now, and even though the apparent “world” is really just a stark and
simplified 2d bunch of linked processes, it’s perceived as a world
by the gamer.  Like reading a novel that’s “just a bunch of
sentences,” but, you know, the perception of a world emerges there,
and it matters to people.

So, clearly my problem with the aesthetics of generative art is tied
in with this Ian Bogost idea somehow, only I’m less interested in
the “persuasive rhetoric.”  I’m more interested in “what is it that
the processes are doing that gives the artistic frisson.”  My
feeling is that the process itself has an aesthetic that we might
call “processuality,” as in, wow, what a pretty process.  And why is
the process pretty?  Well, it’s got a certain frost-forming
loveliness about what happens with kinetic elements deployed in
space and time. 

 And if we had algorithmic new aesthetic, we’d be able to make
useful critical judgements about processuality.  This chess game is
prettier than that one; this Lia code art piece is better than that
one; that robot dances better than the other robot.
inkwell.vue.506 : State of the World 2019
permalink #160 of 209: Bruce Sterling (bruces) Fri 11 Jan 19 00:38

Up to this point in tech-art development, there’s been a whole lot
of hacker-value involved in the artwork, because  technology art is
hard to describe and think about, and also technically difficult and
expensive to create.  You get into the Prof Casey Reas territory of
“the thing that makes the thing is more interesting than the thing,”
and while I don’t have a big problem with MIT hackers getting way
into the hacker-ness, I also know that eventually the interest of
technical novelty itself must wear out.  

The cutting-edge tech coolness will become corny and old-fashioned,
and then you have to find some critical merit in the artwork as
artwork.  Like, what’s inherently interesting about it?  If it’s
“generated” by an algorithmic process, rather than directly inscribe
by the hand, why is it an artwork at all, why is it life-enhancing,
why is it nice to be in the room with it, what is the nature of the

In the case of kinetic art, I think maybe the stripped-down
proof-of-concept is not the chess-game but the desk toy.  Desk toys
are not games, you don’t win them, there’s no contest or
scorekeeping,  they’re not rhetorically convincing you of anything,
they’re not political (unless they’re like, annoyingly expensive
capitalist “Executive” desk toys)….  I don’t think they’re even
“fun,” for more than a few minutes.  They just do kinetic stuff, the
little desk-toys; they’re a consolation of some kind.

The decorative hourglass, the little steel globes on the wires that
click each other, the multicolored drippy gel frames, the chaotic
wheel with the magnet in the base, maybe the baby wind-up crib
mobile (since baby doesn’t have a desk-job yet)…. Something about
them cheers me up; they’re the existence proof that people are
beguiled by process, by a non-human choreography.    

And the truth is, there’s gonna be a whole lot of autonomous stuff
going on around us that’s not performed by humans.  A megaton of
“procedural rhetoric,” really beating us over the head.   We
certainly need a better perceptual grip on all that.  We need to
know when it's ugly.
inkwell.vue.506 : State of the World 2019
permalink #161 of 209: Tom Valovic (tvacorn) Fri 11 Jan 19 07:27

Thanks Tiffany. Appreciate your comments.

Bruce I'd be very interested to hear your perspectives on the
climate crisis. 
inkwell.vue.506 : State of the World 2019
permalink #162 of 209: Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Fri 11 Jan 19 08:07
In the 90s, when I was more involved with digital art and artists
(partly via EFF-Austin's cyberarts posse), we weren't focused on
technologies and algorithms for producing artwork. It was more about
network facilitation of collaborative art processes. I was connected
with the late Bob "Bazooka" Anderson here in Austin, and he was
plugged into a network art community called OTIS, which was later
renamed SITO. (I'm ditzing on the expansion of the acronym.) We were
also hanging out with the Robot Group, including Brooks Coleman -
who were producing robotic art mashups. They had a house band,
Liquid Mice, where Brooks was the gonzo percussionist. They were
repurposing tech objects and robotic concepts as various art
objects, some of which were kinetic and loud, others more
conceptual. The frisson in that case was driven by ironic

Algorithms are just another way that humans organize and produce
aesthetic manifestations. Technology is just tool-making, driven in
part by science, adaptable for aesthetic purpose. If a machine built
a machine that built another machine to produce art, the origin is
always human. Technology in general emerges from human origins, one
reason why I don't buy the Skynet/Colossus mythology, runaway
artificial intelligence seeking to subjugate or obliterate puny

We could as readily argue that an artificial intelligence would
develop, not a propensity for command and control, but a will to
produce aesthetic objects. A Skynet that replicates as
poetic/musical/visual aesthetic algorithms, a machine that mimics
its human creators by developing an appreciate for beauty, creative
manipulation of order.
inkwell.vue.506 : State of the World 2019
permalink #163 of 209: Jane Hirshfield (jh) Fri 11 Jan 19 09:57
three interesting posts, these.

I'm not sure I would quite be on board with "desk toy" = "art",
though I'm not keen on fencing-off definitions of "art," either. I'd
agree that it's in the shared aesthetic-pleasure neighborhood.

Rhetoric is, for me, a fascinating lens to look at anything through.
I'd say that Bogost is spot-on in saying there are
non-language-based rhetorics embodied in the worlds of games, just
as there are non-language-based rhetorics embodied in the world.
Culture is a rhetoric. "Reality" is a rhetoric. It persuades me of
many things I might not have understood were it possible not to
interact with it. 

But video games and virtual realities are optional. So they not only
have their own rhetorical persuasions, they are designed to lure you
into the playing of them in the first place. And have been pretty
successful at that. (Though I will confess what is obvious: not my
own realm at all.)

What do our futurists here think humanity, as a species and set of
cultures, has learned / gained, by the amount of time it has
invested in the designing of, and then the playing of, these kinds
of games and these types of art? What have we been persuaded of? Is
it like young animals playing at tasks that will later be applied to
increased survival-- that the playing increases computer programming
skills? Is it an altered ethical realm that increases (or decreases)
our sense of empathy, kinship, our ability to live with or want to
eliminate those both like and unlike us?  Is it, for the
non-designer participant, skill building in ways that continue
outside of the game? How did Second Life alter First Life?

I'm sure this is kindergarten-level stuff for many of you. But it
does go to that perennial question of how much we humans have
changed with the precipitously changed world we have created and now
inhabit, a world in which what was once a realm with groups of
people sitting around a card table trying to glimpse some tell in
one another's bodies is now... pretty different.

What experiences is it we want from our games, from our arts, from
the shapes of what we see and hear when we look and listen, and why
has our species, so long as it's existed, wanted those experiences?
And does it want something different now from what it did 100, 1000,
10,000 years ago?

inkwell.vue.506 : State of the World 2019
permalink #164 of 209: Tom Valovic (tvacorn) Fri 11 Jan 19 10:23

Great questions and framing Jane.

>We could as readily argue that an artificial intelligence would
develop, not a propensity for command and control, but a will to
produce aesthetic objects.

If only...but is there time to allow this "aging of the wine" to
take place? Can creators create something that transcends their own
limitations? Given that any such evolution might inherently become
"out of control" to use Kevin Kelly's phrase and assuming it might
even be possible, how big a Las Vegas gamble might that constitute
in a world racing towards an unstable and uncertain future?
inkwell.vue.506 : State of the World 2019
permalink #165 of 209: Renshin Bunce (renshin) Fri 11 Jan 19 12:18
Isn't the problem that we make things just because we can, not
because they're needed, and then try to figure out what to do with
them.  And that Silicon Valley, with its endless resources, is like
a very powerful and competitive baby, putting together the next
bright shiny thing without a thought of side effects.
inkwell.vue.506 : State of the World 2019
permalink #166 of 209: Bruce Sterling (bruces) Sat 12 Jan 19 01:18

*Meanwhile, on the sculpture front of the New Aesthetic, here’s Prof
Golan Levin’ s  course on algorithmic, generative, parametric
objects, from 2015.

*So, okay, these generative “objects” are not chess games, desk
toys, motion graphics, expressive video games, dancing robots or any
of those other more or less arty phenomena that I’ve been going on
about for days now.  These are physical objects, robot-chiseled out
of wood, melted  and spewed toothpaste-style, whatever.

*And they’re analog, material, permanent.  Some of them could last
centuries.  So how do you assess them aesthetically?  Like which
ones are kinda cool, and the inventor deserves an award, and they
oughta be sold on Kickstarter… and which ones are dispiritingly
hideous, resource-consuming “crapjects” that shouldn’t exist in the
first place?  A kind of physicalized email-spam.  That’s what you
get when production costs are low or free and there’s no standards
of production.

*Even if you have a rather educated taste in this subject, and you
have some pretty strong intuitions about it, because you’ve been
standing next to smelly 3DPrinters for 15 years — how could you
compose a reasonable aesthetic manifesto that would convince other
inkwell.vue.506 : State of the World 2019
permalink #167 of 209: Bruce Sterling (bruces) Sat 12 Jan 19 01:30

*Of course I’ve got a vested interest in all this, since I am the
art director of Share Festival, the Turinese technology art fair. 
Pretty soon our jury will be meeting, and this year it even includes
“Lia,” who has agreed to join us.  If you want to propose an artwork
for our fair, there’s the link.  The theme this year is “Ghosts.”

*So when we’re in these tech-art jury meetings, even if there’s only
five or  maybe six of us at the table (if you count the ghost), we
have to tackle some severely abstruse questions.  Such as: “Which of
these is better for our Italian public — this politically satirical
design-fiction video about an imaginary form of social media, or
this 3DPrinted open-source Swiss pocket watch?”  

Actual money and artistic credibility rides on this.  Not a whole
lot, but you know, some.

I’d certainly like to get better at it.  Who knows, maybe some day I
might have to teach it.
inkwell.vue.506 : State of the World 2019
permalink #168 of 209: Rip Van Winkle (keta) Sat 12 Jan 19 07:21
An interesting thing happened to me on my way through reading the
professor's course description linked in <166>.  Before I clicked on
the link, I could clearly see that Bruce had asked,

>So how do you assess them aesthetically? 

But by the time I was done, and had had many interesting thoughts in
response to both the question and the course description, I came
back and was completely surprised to see aesthetics - somehow I had
transformed the question to *ethics*.  I think there's something
instructive in that, and it's useful to answer the question you
didn't ask, as well as the one you did.

My short answer to how do you assess the ethics of creating
parametric objects is to look at the work being done on biomimicry. 
Biomimicry is industrial designers asking, "How would nature do it?"
and my suggestion is to google "Biomimicry ethics" and look at
pretty much anything that comes up for a good start.

What happens when you start trying to use nature as model is that
you may soon find yourself using nature as measure.  You're not just
looking for cool new tricks for better design, you're asking if what
you are designing fits in with the rest of life.  And then from
there, you eventually get to nature as mentor (which, if you go back
to my post <86> is an aspect of what keeps me up at night).
inkwell.vue.506 : State of the World 2019
permalink #169 of 209: Rip Van Winkle (keta) Sat 12 Jan 19 07:24
So now to try to respond to the actual question, what makes an
*aesthetics* of [parametric] objects?  From the professor:

>>A parametric object is a “meta-form”: a mutable or variable
object, produced by a set of rules, whose properties are governed or
articulated by the values of certain variables or parameters. Change
the values of the variables — and the form changes in response. 

The first still illustration reminded me of diatoms or coral.  The
first video illustration reminded me of a sea anemone - perhaps a
sea anemone learning "what works - what attracts something for me to
eat?" trying out variations.

So what is obviously missing there is an other half to an
evolutionary pair.  It's a picture of an antelope without a wolf to
make it faster.  That might suggest that the work is "calling" for
its predator or prey, and if so, the very presence of the viewer,
the one wondering if it is asesthetic or not is the answer to the
question.  The viewer and the piece make a pair, and if they stick
together that is a clue to is it beautiful.

That also got me to thinking about evolutionary cooperation and
groups.  The immediate practical context of the question is that you
are judging entries in an art competition for a festival.  The
answer to the aesthetics question is then in some ways, what will
grow the festival?  What will attract, provoke, cause to interact,
and cause to return a critically necessary number (or type?) of
people to allow the festival to continue?
inkwell.vue.506 : State of the World 2019
permalink #170 of 209: Rip Van Winkle (keta) Sat 12 Jan 19 07:57
Finally (and then I'll stop posting), there's also this from the
professor's opening:

>>Generative design is the activity of authoring the systems of
rules that generate parametric objects. Sometimes
designer-developers create a tool that generates forms, and then
give that tool to a user; other times, the designer-developer is the
sole intended user of her own tool.

That got me to thinking that this is all a special case of the whole
problem/challenge Stewart Brand <sbb>, articulated with his famous
quote, "We are as gods and may as well get good at it."  

A decade or so ago he updated it to "New situation, new motto.  We
are as gods and *have* to get good at it."

I'd suggest that there is something in the provocation and vision of
the first quote, and the New Dark urgency of the second quote that
parallels the progression of these annual conversations referenced
in <146>

>I'm very interested in the swing to "New Dark" by Bruce, and all
the talk of the Dark Mountain Project and Ivan Illich, especially in
a discussion led by the very founders of the Viridian Design
Movement. (For what it's worth, I think these are all important
sides of the environmentalist movement.)

And my guess as to why it's your instinct Bruce to poke so intently
at what might appear to be odd irrelevant things in the face of
unanswered Big Questions is an awareness that somewhere down there
in the details are clues to god-behavior.
inkwell.vue.506 : State of the World 2019
permalink #171 of 209: Jane Hirshfield (jh) Sat 12 Jan 19 09:22
That question of judging which piece is better than another has been
in the past a stumbling block for me with weighing certain kinds of
experimental visual art and/or words. If I can't make such a
judgment at all, I tend to turn away from the work.

There are times I can tell something's really *good* without
understanding what it's doing, or its principles of generation and
choice. Then the next question becomes, for me, an old-fashioned
humanist one: "Is it memorable? Will I want to return to it?" If the
answer is no, it's still good, but probably not what I'll choose for
a prize, unless nothing is better. 

The very theme of your festival this year goes straight to that area
of old-fashioned human meaning: "Ghosts" is resonant because it
evokes what haunts us, and what will not vanish even when it's
supposed to. To call something, anything, a ghost is to give it some
part of that augmented meaning, quiddity, exigency, before it's even
out of the gate. 

Titles, conceptual frames make an enormous difference. I look up at
anything in this room, try framing it as "ghost," and it takes on a
new resonance and depth. Mortality-awareness, time-transcending,
mystery, do that.

Good luck with the judging. You're quite right to be aware of how
much it changes lives to be chosen (or not).
inkwell.vue.506 : State of the World 2019
permalink #172 of 209: Paulina Borsook (loris) Sat 12 Jan 19 10:06
wrt the art in #166, my response to some of it  is 'perfectly fine
entry in the modernist genre of the last 100 yrs'. and some of it =

but does my neoclassicist human response matter? who is the art
inkwell.vue.506 : State of the World 2019
permalink #173 of 209: Tiffany Lee Brown (T) (magdalen) Sat 12 Jan 19 19:57

> they?re a consolation of some kind.

that's a lovely description of desk toys, bruce, and a lovely description
of most machine-generated art i've happened upon.
inkwell.vue.506 : State of the World 2019
permalink #174 of 209: Tiffany Lee Brown (T) (magdalen) Sat 12 Jan 19 19:58

keta, i like your suggestion of an aesthetic-ethical matrix via biomimicry.
it seems strange, though, that we mimic something we appear to be dead-set
on destroying. 
inkwell.vue.506 : State of the World 2019
permalink #175 of 209: Bruce Sterling (bruces) Sun 13 Jan 19 01:45
“Bruce I’d be very interested in any thoughts you might have about
posts 84 and 85.”

*Well, it’s pleasant to address those issues of enhanced human
capability, ubermenschen, and, basically, “having to get good about
being as gods because we seem to lack alternatives.”

As it happens, last year, I was teaching on this subject.  I was a
class advisor for an Art Center College of Design course on
“Posthumanism.”  Art Center College of Design (from Pasadena, CA)
are my favorite design school, my design alma mater really, and the
ones who first gave me my cherished title of “Visionary in

So I dropped by Berlin a few times to lecture with Art Center.  And
I did some offshored video consultations with the teams of students
as they worked on their portfolios.


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