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Learning from Science Fiction with Greg Borenstein


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Presented at FITC Toronto 2014 on April 27-29, 2014
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For more than a century, science fiction has been both the conscience and the subconscious of the technology industry. Its authors have invented new ideas that became world-changing technologies and they’ve shaped the moral, philosophical and aesthetic lenses that we use to understand our changing world. We use an interface from Minority Report to operate our Star Trek communicators, in order to communicate over geostationary satellites invented by Arthur C. Clarke, to visit William Gibson’s cyberspace and experience the drifting identities and psychological dislocation described by Philip K. Dick.

As a designer, technologist and artist, Greg Borenstein has mined science fiction for storytelling tools that help communicate how new technologies feel and what they might mean to our world. In this talk, Greg presents projects that show some of what he has learned and outline ideas that may come in handy in your own practice.


Greg Borenstein is an artist, technologist, and teacher, creating illusions for humans and machines. His work explores computer vision, machine learning, game design, visual effects, and drawing as media for storytelling and design.

Greg is a graduate of the NYU Interactive Telecommunications Program ( and has worked for firms such as Makerbot and Berg London. He is the author of a book for O’Reilly about the Microsoft Kinect, titled ‘Making Things See: 3D vision with Kinect, Processing, Arduino and MakerBot.’

He is currently a researcher in the Playful Systems Group at the MIT Media Lab.

Published in: Technology, Education
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Learning from Science Fiction with Greg Borenstein

  1. 1. Learning from Science Fiction Greg Borenstein MIT Media Lab, Playful Systems
  2. 2. OpenCV for Processing
  3. 3. A good science fiction story should be able to predict not the automobile but the traffic jam. — Fredrik Pohl
  4. 4. “The abrupt jolt into other flesh. Matrix gone, a wave of sound and color . . . She was moving through a crowded street, past stalls vending discount software, prices felt penned on sheets of plastic, fragments of music from countless speakers. Smells of urine, free monomers, perfume, patties of frying krill. For a few frightened seconds he fought helplessly to control her body. Then he willed himself into passivity, became the passenger behind her eyes.”
  5. 5.
  6. 6. Design Fiction vs. Science Fiction
  7. 7. “the deliberate use of diegetic prototypes to suspend disbelief about change.” — Bruce Sterling
  8. 8. Keiichi Matsuda Domestic Robocop, 2010
  9. 9. Veronica Ranner Biophilia, 2011
  10. 10. Kevin Grennan Prototype Robot Armpit, 2011
  11. 11. BACKWARDS
  13. 13. Imagination -> Prediction ! Technology -> Storytelling
  14. 14. Technology -> Prediction ! Storytelling -> Imagination
  15. 15. Collaboration with John Powers 2H2K
  16. 16. 2H2KArtificial Labor
  17. 17. Supervised Learning
  18. 18. Martin Cuilla 1028 emails
  19. 19. All science fiction is really about the present. — Cory Doctorow
  20. 20. Sophia Brueckner Dan Novy
  21. 21. thanks. @atduskgreg