A Manifesto on Futurology?

Based on both the idea behind the Manifesto of Futurist Architecture by Antonio Sant’Elia (member of The Futurists) and Adam Rothstein’s The Cities Science Fiction Built on Motherboard (VICE), I envision a method/plan that could bring a critical analysis of ‘smart’ technologies together with a somewhat curated science fiction body of work.

Science fiction has proven to be important not only to our collective view of the future but also to actual, real technology advancements. It is not unusual to catch an old Star Trek episode and see that some of their proposed futuristic technology is a reality for us now. Likewise, just a couple of days ago I got the chance to revisit Fritz Lang’s Metropolis and what struck me this time around (besides the usual awe at their hyper-urbanized landscape) was the videophone scene which is almost an early ‘Facetime’ prototype that is around 90 years old.

Metropolis’ ‘Facetime’ clip

What Rothstein showcases in his article is how, even though the future sci-fi imaginaries these movies present dream of distant and creative futures, they do not dream too far off our present either. Their futuristic metropolis and worlds are still rooted in what we see now, which gives us an ideal entry point into criticizing where we are and where we are heading.

What Antonio Sant’Elia did through the Manifesto, was to develop a set of rules (or a ‘proclamation’) of what the future means to him and where architecture trends should go. There is a strong critical approach in his Manifesto, he touches upon a ‘nostalgic’ understanding of architecture, an approach that we need to dispose of if we want to really look into the future. He also mentions transience as key, “(…) fundamental characteristics of Futurist architecture will be its impermanence and transience. Things will endure less than us. Every generation must build its own city. (…)”

I don’t believe that his proclamation necessarily applies to the way ‘smartness’ is developed for the ‘smart city’. There is a sense of transience of course, a sense that technology moves faster than we could ever imagine…but that doesn’t mean we completely dispose of previous technology or of our sense of nostalgia. If anything, these new technologies build on that too. To Sant’Elia’s credit though, I’d argue that the disconnect between nostalgia (our past) with new technologies and futurism is becoming more and more evident. In a sense, his ‘manifesto’ might be an indicative of where we are going on a more theoretical level.

Star Trek vs. Google Glass

Building on that and on Rothstein’s article, I believe that there is a better way to imagine our future, a better way to produce our own ‘manifesto’. Metropolis and Star Trek are only two of hundreds of art pieces that go far and beyond the silver screen[1] and that introduce us to different ‘futures’ where we can wonder at the technology, infrastructure, architecture and cultures (both dystopic and utopic), where we can imagine ourselves inserted. Through science fiction, we can develop a space where we can critique specific things in our time; unpacking and looking at specific themes in these works of art can develop a sense of critique of our present reality too, a critique that looks to humanity both at present and in the future.

This conjunction of themes could be pulled out of a curated set of science fiction works, much like Rothstein starts to present in his article. This could be developed as a ‘futurology kit’ that would include the tools we need in order to have an inclusive way of imagining the future.

For that curation, we would extract audio/text/video/images from different works of science fiction and separate them by theme, some examples could be (links to clips are included):

A hyper-social-media future (Nosedive | Black Mirror)

Artificial Intelligence Police in 2154’s Los Angeles (Elysium)

Architecture and Transport in 23rd Century New York City (Fifth Element)

Renewable clone work force in 2144’s Neo Seoul (Cloud Atlas)

Through curated material, we could enter on a broader discussion about the technologies we see now. I envision a conversation on the evolution of artificial intelligence, taking it to the extreme of policing by artificial intelligence (as envisioned in Elysium). How would that work? How can we talk about that and relate it to the face-recognition software installed on the cameras the Link NYC project is developing throughout New York City? Can’t we think about the future ramifications of the existing ‘smart’ technologies around us using science fiction as a backdrop?

I believe that a futurology manifesto could be developed. A manifesto that pushes us to follow certain guidelines and that provides a sci-fi toolbox that would be helpful towards starting conversations about our own future and the ‘smartness’ surrounding us. This could be an interesting re-imagining of Saint’Elia’s original idea.

[1] There is a myriad of existing media; books, poems, tv shows, paintings, maps, etc.

1 Comment

  1. Hi Francisco, thank you for your wonderful piece. I really like your proposal for a methodology to engage in a critical analysis of ‘smart’ technologies through science fiction. Using the endless materials produced in the sci-fi genre we can start to create an index or library or amazing resource to engage with the possibility of futures already imagined for us. As you show, many future predictions in sci-fi work become a reality, so either sci-fi authors are incredible forecasters or reality takes from their imagined futures.

    As you point out, the engaging with, and experiencing of possible futures fosters the capacity of ourselves to critically engage with what one can call our preferred future. This idea has been brought up in both Design Fiction, Speculative Design, and the experiential turn in Futures Studies. What could be a valuable addition to your database / index / method is a tool to help non sci-fi writers create possible futures, so we can add and grow the database of possible futures.

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