The Future

Roads? Where we’re going, we don’t need roads… or maybe we do, who knows? One person with some insight is Junta regular Lauren, who is working toward her Ph.D. in visual neuroscience and has had some exposure to the growing world of brain-machine interfaces – you know, things like linking two rat brains together. Which is great and all, but while we wait for the Singularity to arrive, we’re going to grow old, something which will hopefully be much easier in the future. Join us on March 20th to discuss with Lauren and some of her colleagues what might be in store for us.

The Future Junta
DOC Wine Bar, Williamsburg
Wed. 3/20 @8pm

Enter Lauren…

I study perceptual visual neuroscience, using computer-driven visual stimuli to examine human color vision. As a doctoral student, I’ve noticed how often the future is referenced with regard to the work we do in lab, the results we publish, and the effects of long hours huddled over computer screens and command windows. It’s not only the time-space wherein all of our efforts pay off and we finally get a pat on the back—it’s also where our work goes on to help others, through medicine and technology, where things like colorblindness, macular degeneration, and cortical agnosias can be treated or cured. The future, according to scientists and the grants we write, is a wonderful place, full of solutions to the problems we face right now.

It’s easy to forget that the future isn’t a discrete area designed to hold our solutions and next-best-things for use by strangers in a distant land. Indeed, there is a peacefulness that comes from such a distinct divide between what’s happening now and what will occur later, which I’m very content exploring through the likes of Bradbury or Dick and then putting back on a shelf for examination later on. The more weighty challenge for me is to consider the future as place I actually will live to see, not through the eyes of a hypothetical young academic or professional, but as an old person. Imparting this corporeal aspect—my own aging—really drives me to think of the future as a different sort of place.

Indeed, what will it be like to be 50 years older, 50 years from now? How will the old of the future differ from the old of the present? How do our current attitudes toward aging influence the future of the global community? Most developed countries are experiencing a population slowdown—what do more 65+ers mean for our economy, our welfare/social programs, and our access to technology and education? As people live longer, will education take longer? How will technology change our interactions with the world—will it make our physical bodies less (or more) relevant to existing in a society?

As we begin to examine how our physical bodies may exist 50 or 60 years from now, we can begin to see how the hand-waving of next-best-things will actually affect people and communities, since we too will be there to experience them. It suddenly becomes relevant to try as hard as possible to be aware of (and take responsibility for) the directions we take now. How will the far-fetched developments we embark on today—in medicine, defense technology, or cloud computing, for example—manifest into the truisms of the next several generations? Will bionics and prosthetics leave the laboratory to become normal medical procedure? Will defense weapons be able to be deployed with a joystick and a remote internet connection? What about brain structures that can access the internet?

And what does it all mean for us—the ones who may experience the entire breadth of shift from one paradigm to another?

Additional background info from cyberanthropologist Shreya:

Mark Hansen, Bodies in Code: He makes the claim that cyberspace is anchored in the body and that moving through virtual reality is only able to be felt and understood because of our corporal existence. “Virtual experiences are also profoundly affecting our very understanding of what it means to live as embodied beings.” How are we already sort of walking cyber-bio beings through our engagement with cyberspace?

Masahiro Mori: Japanese roboticist who published the essay The Uncanny Valley. To consider: When will the uncanny become the norm in terms of reconciling techno-human objects/beings in the future?

Stelarc: Is crazy – like swallowing “stomach sculpture“-crazy. His works could be a really cool way to discuss body-technology links and how art can predict the future.

Besides studying at SUNY College of Optometry here in NYC, Lauren is also a photographer. Her latest project, Anthropocene, examines the disputed epoch of human activity and the aspects of human experience that will not survive in the fossil record. It debuts in Blunderbuss Magazine in late March 2013.

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