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Technobiophilia: Sue Thomas, The Future of Cyberspace, Professorial Lecture, De Montfort University, 26 April 2012


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The act of entering cyberspace was, along with the entering of outer space, one of the most profound experiences of the twentieth century. In 1969, humans landed first ‘on’ the moon (July), and then ‘in’ cyberspace (September) with the connection of the first two nodes of the internet. Today the mountains of the Moon remain neglected and unexplored, but cyberspace has evolved into a deeply familiar habitat whose geography has been shaped by those who built and used it. This talk explores the evolution of the landscape of cyberspace from its creation as an unpopulated wilderness through its exploration, colonisation, cultivation, settlement and growth, and offers some predictions for the future of this most exotic place.

Sue Thomas is Professor of New Media at the Institute of Creative Technologies in the Faculty of Art, Design and Humanities. She has written several books including the novel 'Correspondence', short-listed for the 1992 Arthur C Clarke Award for Best Science Fiction Novel, and most recently the 2004 non-fiction cyberspace travelogue 'Hello World: travels in virtuality'. She has written about computers and the internet since the 1980s and is now working on 'Nature and Cyberspace: Stories, Memes and Metaphors', a study of the relationships between cyberspace and the natural world, forthcoming with Bloomsbury Academic. She co-directs the influential Transliteracy Research Group and the DMU Transdisciplinary Group, and is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts.

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Technobiophilia: Sue Thomas, The Future of Cyberspace, Professorial Lecture, De Montfort University, 26 April 2012

  1. 1. The Future of Cyberspace @suethomas Professor Sue Thomas Professorial Lecture, De Montfort University, 26 April 2012 #technobiophilia
  2. 2. What is this place?
  3. 3. Electricity “Is it a fact -- or have I dreamt it -- that, by means of electricity, the world of matter has become a great nerve, vibrating thousands of miles in a breathless point of time?”(Nathaniel Hawthorne,The House of Seven Gables. 1851)
  4. 4. The Domain of Cyberspace Internet of Things 1999 Materiality World Wide Web 1984 Software Arpanet/Internet 1969 Hardware
  5. 5. The Internet of Things
  6. 6. Ninja block
  7. 7. Going organic
  8. 8. lo
  9. 9. Biophilia “The innate tendency to focus on life and lifelike processes’ Edward O Wilson 1984
  10. 10. Cyberspace• A consensual hallucination...• Unthinkable complexity. Lines of light ranged in the nonspace of the mind, clusters and constellations of data. Like city lights, receding... Gibson 1984
  11. 11. Terrain
  12. 12. Frontier“Your legal concepts of property, expression, identity, movement, and context do not apply to us. They are all based on matter, and there is no matter here.” Barlow 1996
  13. 13. Farming“Topsoil grows at a rate of an inch every 100 years. You can grow fabulous plants quickly in that soil, but the soil itself is a product of slow time.” O’Reilly 2000
  14. 14. Bugs“the wolf spider is active at night and catches its prey by pursuit rather than by creating a web and waiting. The Lycos search engine emulates this by skipping from server to server gathering documents as it goes.”
  15. 15. The Stories• Creation, Birth, Parenthood• Wilderness, Frontier, Camping, Navigation• Physicality, Flora, Fauna, Body• Settlements, Farms, Gardens, Tools• Mind, Spirituality, Buddhism, Shamanism
  16. 16. But what does it mean?
  17. 17. Biophilia “The innate tendency to focus on life and lifelike processes’ Edward O Wilson 1984
  18. 18. Bjork Biophilia ‘app album’ Bjork, 2011 Voiceover, Sir David Attenborough
  19. 19. Biophilia ResearchExperimental Psychology (Kaplans) Social Ecology (Kellert) Behavioural Science (Ulrich) Biology (Wilson) Zoology (Orians)
  20. 20. How biophilia soothes us
  21. 21. Directed Attention• Without directed attention you may be rash, uncooperative and less competent• But too much directed attention leads to DAF – Directed Attention Fatigue. Symptoms include aggression, intolerance, and insensitivity to social cues. Such people have also been found to be less likely to help someone in need.
  22. 22. Resting Directed Attention• “Increasing specialisation has meant that each of us spends longer hours pursuing a single activity, as opposed to the variety of tasks pursued by our ancestors. Such persistence requires discipline, which depends heavily on directed attention.”• The solution is to find ways to rest your directed attention with the use of restorative settings
  23. 23. Nearby Naturepromises a continuation of the world beyond what is immediately perceived
  24. 24. Nearby Nature Screensavers?
  25. 25. Being Awayin which the setting is physically or conceptually different from one’s usual environment
  26. 26. Soft FascinationA setting which evokes mental processes which engage attention effortlessly but still leave room for reflection
  27. 27. Drifting in the stream
  28. 28. Interval Shifts
  29. 29. So where are we?• We (unconsciously) brought nature into cyberspace as it evolved• The reason may lie in biophilia• Biophilia seems to influence the way we inhabit cyberspace. It makes us feel more comfortable.• In a technological environment, this could be reshaped as technobiophilia
  30. 30. Technobiophilia (2013) The innate tendency to focus on life and lifelike processes as they appear in technology
  31. 31. So what lies ahead?
  32. 32. Bionanoprotonics?Digital devices from bacteria & DNA Transistors from protons
  33. 33. The Singularity?“I set the date for the Singularity - representing a profound and disruptive transformation in human capability - as 2045. Technical progress will be so fast that unenhanced human intelligence will be unable to follow it Kurzweil2005
  34. 34. Gaia?• It may be that one role we play is as the senses and nervous system for Gaia.• The earth is more than just a home, its a living system and we are part of it. James Lovelock
  35. 35. Hylozoic Architecture
  36. 36. The Future of Cyberspace @suethomas Professor Sue Thomas Professorial Lecture, De Montfort University, 26 April 2012 #technobiophilia
  37. 37. Links from the talk• The Internet of Things IBM• Ninja Blocks• Biophilia, Bjork, promo video iPhone app:• Net Smart, 2012, Rheingold, H. Book:• Scientists create computing building blocks from bacteria and DNA, Imperial College News Release, 18 Oct 2011• Breakthrough: proton-based chips that communicate directly with living things, Angelica, A., Kurzweil Blog, 21 Sept 2011• Hylozoic Ground at the Venice Biennale 2010, Philip Beesley
  38. 38. Sample Biophilia BibliographyI’ve found the following helpful in beginning to understand biophilia:• Kaplan, R., & Kaplan, S. (1989). The Experience of Nature. New York: Cambridge University Press.• Kellert, S. R., Heerwagen, J. H., & Mador, M. L. (2008). Biophilic Design. Hoboken: John Wiley.• Kellert, S. R., & Wilson, E. O. (1993). The Biophilia Hypothesis. Washington DC: Island Press.• Orians, G. (1986). An ecological and evolutionary approach to landscape aesthetics. In E. Penning-Rowsell, & D. Lowenthal, Landscape meanings and values (pp. 3-22). London: Allen & Unwin.• Ullrich, R. (1984). View through a window may influence recovery from surgery. Science 27 April Vol. 224 no. 4647 , 420-421.• Wilson, E. O. (1984). Biophilia. Cambridge: Harvard University Press