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  Notes: Alex Steffen + Bruce Sterling (Keynote Conversation)  
Posted 2005-03-15 by Tony Walsh
"[Alex] Steffen and [Bruce] Sterling have some pretty strong ideas about how new technology can positively impact the future of the planet. Listen to their vision of a greener tomorrow." And what a vision it is. Very dynamic and inspiring. Notes follow...

- [talks about his party tonight... plugs sponsors...]
- [whips out a snazzy glasses-case to show how cool some of the design is where he's teaching in Pasadena]

There is a sense that solutions to world problems are developing rapidly, although there is a race... is the world getting better fast enough

- 14 chronic problems [lists environmental and economic issues]... these are on a slow timeline, not quickly solvable... an infrastructural problem, an engineering problem... these problems will likely be defeated in the 2060s... the most interesting people in our society will be the people tackling these problems... they are not conventional environmentalists... starting to collaborate... "living in each other's labs"
- we are seeing protocrats, people developing new tech ahead of the curve
- "the actual is the new virtual" [produces a series of objects printed from a 3D fabricator and throws them into the audience]... calls these objects "fabjects"... the product of an object-processor [like a word-processor]
- references Second Life, says you can build objects inworld and fabricate them in real life [WHAT!???!?! I'll have to ask Linden Lab about this one]

[Steffen: talks about ecological footprint, how American are outstripping their sustainability]... how do we give people a good lifestyle sustainably? how can we redesign profitability? ...because objects are being designed with computers we can make them better and more quickly... designed to be cool or designed to be better?

- fabs are a major, breakthrough invention... [produces a fabject made from a person's hand which was scanned in 3D]

... stuff itself is getting smarter... you can begin to track and share objects... people are looking at how they can share things...

- we are looking at a world-population of 9 - 11 billion people, mostly in urban areas...
- things can't be built in the old ways, we need radically-different objects

- we are building a city the size of Seattle every 5-7 days... there are cities larger than New York [in the world] that Americans have never heard of...
- how do you build systems around this to solve fundamental problems?
- how do you provide these people food?

- smog could go in pretty short order... highways need to be moderated a lot better... housing is critical, green megacities are not going to work unless we break off from the old models... need to understand and monitor current problems--we have the ability to monitor stuff now we didn't have in the 20th-century.

[Steffen: discusses "leapfrogging" concept, e.g. cell phones leaped over landline-based system]
- if you live somewhere there is no power grid, why set it up oldschool... some of the most interesting innovations are coming from the developing world...

- interested in leapfrogging...
- [talks about how SBC is trying to kill free WiFi]
- treefrogging: trying to find ways of living [] that suit your current situation... hopping to a different way of doing things [metaefficient]
- mindful lifestyle
- sustainable alternatives will become more affordable
- it's now possible to hop

- all of us have time to give attention to good ideas...
- people can make good choices in design, communicate it to others

- [discusses solar backpack] ... it's e-couture... the inventor made a dozen or so of these and gave them to bloggers, word was spread quickly...
- not difficult for us to disintermediate the established base and move quickly

- design imitating nature

- this is part of a larger industry movement towards design based on natural systems and forms
- one of our biggest problems is that we make things that are incredibly toxic... we are all wearing it, covered in it...
- can you design a non-toxic, biodegradable society...

- what is your most intimate relationship with a bought object? objects wear out due to friction... where do the worn-out particles go? into our lungs... these particles are bio-accumulative, our bodies pick up this matter and build with it... this is our most intimate relationship with these objects...

- breast-milk studies shows substances like rocket fuel, lead...

- we need to understand the mimetic nature of our own body, and not build technology that is integrated into our own bodies
- we're turning our bodies into dumps

- the stuff that we use is just the tip of the iceberg compared to our pollutants... [references a can of soda] ... can we design a system that gets the soda to my mouth without harming the planet...

- toxins are becoming easier to detect in human bodies... what happens when we know how much we accumulate every day? your reaction would be to want to know who had spread the pollutants...
- need to keep track of what's been abandoned
- we will be mining dumps for their useful material by the middle of the 21st-century
- NEOBIO AND BIOMIMETICS: if you lose it, it rots [and doesn't impact environment]
- BUILD MONUMENTS: build things that last forever
- LABEL EVERYTHING AND DIGITALLY TRACK IT: start the process from concept to deployment... design for disassembly... we need an internet of things... [talks about on-demand production-- no object made without being requested]... every object you buy has a web page, can be searchable...
- predicts that when we are old we will be surrounded by trackable objects
- when we are doing a search for a work of our own, we Google it... even when it's on our local computer...

- huge leaps will happen no matter what we do
- we can choose the future we want
- need to design something that is better than what we have

- "Our society needs a victory condition."
- changes will happen over a slow, chronic period
- remove dependencies on oil, need to invent our way around it
- the time has passed for us to sit on our hands
- our world is unimaginable and unthinkable... we need to push the unimaginable to the limit
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Comment posted by liam
March 15, 2005 @ 9:47 pm
This sounds like one of the most interesting panels at the whole conference. I especially like the idea of technology "leapfrogging" to newer more sustainable models. I hope it truly will help less tech-abundant countries and communities take advantage of what's on offer while building a greener future.
Comment posted by Tony Walsh
March 18, 2005 @ 2:35 pm
Yeah, this was one of my favourite panels. Definitely one of the most energetic and inspirational.
Comment posted by johnperrybarlow
March 14, 2006 @ 7:28 pm
Hey, is this going to be going on for a bit?
Comment posted by Tony Walsh
March 14, 2006 @ 8:18 pm
Hi John,
I'm not sure I understand the question, so I'll throw out some potential answers:
- If you mean will this post be online for a while, the answer is yes.
- If you are asking whether this panel will be going on for a while, it ended last year. I didn't take notes from Sterling's talk at SXSW2006 (although I was in attendance).
Hope that helps, but if it doesn't, please rephrase your question, thanks!
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