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March 2018



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Dr Who

New Aesthetic Render-Ghosts

I was reading From Beyond the Coming Age of Networked Matter a short story Bruce Sterling wrote for the Institute for the Future. Bruce Sterling makes me feel old. He is so bleeding edge I had to google half the terms he uses just to figure out what he is talking about: Shapeways Nervous-System lamps, fondleslab, phablet, New Aesthetic render-ghosts, Wolfram cellular computrons*.

The story is a deliberate Lovecraftian horror. But really, from my point of view that was just because the characters weren't mentally prepared for what they saw. Any mystic will tell you physical reality is just an illusion, that doesn't make it horrible.

Anyway, when I googled New Aesthetic Render-Ghosts I found this interesting video of James Bridle’s closing keynote from Web Directions South 2011 Waving at the Machines

What he means by the New Aesthetic is exactly that. He is talking about how digital media and computer rendering are changing fine art, architecture, design, and commercial art. It's a simple observation about how technology is changing how we look at the world and how we express this new vision in our creative arts. Like how photography changed painting. He give several good examples from fine art, architecture, design, and commercial art to illustrate what he is talking about. It wouldn't surprise me if the academic art critic community took to calling this new aesthetic the digital aesthetic. It is quite interesting how the digital world is changing how we see the real world and it is worth looking at, and talking about, those changes.

I also really liked what he had to say about how, while we are looking at computers, the computers are looking back at us. He also talked about people using makeup to fool facial recognition software. Tactical and Technological Defenses For Facial Recognition Technology

Render Ghosts are something else. When I first saw the term I thought it referred to the transparent and distorted people who show up in panoramic pictures that are stitched together from several pictures. Ghost Rendering can be an undesired artifact of the process or a deliberate feature of the process.

But that isn't what James Bridle is talking about. He is talking about the fake people that artists and designers put in their drawings to give scale or add realism, to give the viewer a sense of what these imagined spaces will look like when they are actually populated, architect people. They are part of the set dressing of architecture and design, and as James Bridles mentions the images are sold by the same people who sell images of bushes and lamp posts. They pre-existed the digital age so I think Mr. Brindle is making a bit much of them. Although he is correct that they are the imaginary inhabitants of imaginary alternative futures. Like the people in The Gernsback Continuum. (Making Sense of the Gernsback Continuum by Dr. Andrew Wood)

His conclusion was:
So this is the last slide. Technology wants to be like us, and we kind of want to be more like it. And we’re going through a period now of incredible uncertainty and a huge ethical negotiation of how technology and us see the world and how that changes. But the essence is that we now live in a world that we share with the render ghosts, that we share with the technology, to some extent that we’re building, but it to a huge extent is also shaping the way we behave. And the thing to bear in mind is that we want this. We want to live together with these new beings, this new form, this new culture.

And my only message is that some of this stuff is completely awesome, and you should always remember that, but also that we should go out there with this willingness and friendliness to engage with technology, to engage with all these technologies while understanding how they shape our behaviours and our feelings and our culture all the time. These things are radically transformative. We are creating a new nature in the world. It’s going to be really exciting. Please make it more exciting. Make it better. Thank you. That’s it.

Anyway, after reading several articles about how the digital world is changing us I decided to pick up "Be Love Now" by Ram Dass and finish reading it. After having my mind blown with ideas about how we look at the world and how the world looks at us, I found "Be Love Now" incredibly boring and pedantic. Bruce Sterling and James Brindle made my mind whirl and fly with possibilities and ideas about what it means to exist in this world. Ram Dass just bored me. Yeah, yeah, yeah, cosmic consciousness, love everyone. That's old news. Thousand of years old news. I want to read books that make my mind fly with new possibilities and ideas that are just out of my reach, so I have to stretch to reach them. I want books that challenge me, not books that bore me. Book Group is really boring me and the next book (about Sufism) looks just as boring. I would rather watch TV with Anne and have a pleasant conversation with her.

*I still haven't actually looked up "Wolfram cellular computrons".


I don't begin to understand half of what you posted, but I just spent 20 minutes reading about cellular automata.

Wolfram cellular computrons

The wikipedia page on Cellular Automaton is very informative. It is not as complicated as I thought it would be. I thought he was talking about nanobots. I played Conway's Game of Life in high school. It came up as a minor point in Glory Season by David Brin. It was a game they played on shipboard when they were traveling.

Re: Wolfram cellular computrons

I have not read Glory Session. I like Brin so I probably should.

Re: Wolfram cellular computrons

An amazingly well written feminist utopia. All the more amazing for having been written by a man. I quite liked it.
The use of the terms you were quoting will leave Sterling's short-story very dated. Shapeways allows people to upload 3d printed models and if you see something you like, SHapeways will sell you a print. Nervous-System is a particular modeler who sells lamps via Shapeways. Fondleslab is UK slang; I've never heard it before. Phablet is a failed marketing term for large-screen smartphones, introduced and pushed by Samsung. My phone was one of the first phablets. No one takes the term seriously, except in the utterance "'Phablet'?!? Seriously?!?"

Yes. I did say I had googled them. And I also thought that using terms that hadn't settled into common usage was a good way to date a story.
I dated a story once. We had a nice prologue and several lovely chapters together, but one night we reached the climax of our relationship and afterwards it was just a denouement before we closed the book on it.
*clap* *clap* *clap*
Very well done.