A few weeks ago, Chris Dixon tweeted something thought-provoking:
What were the last Hollywood movies you saw about technology & the future that were optimistic? They seem to be systematically dystopian.
I happened to be sitting in a movie theater waiting for Iron Man 3 to start, so I tried to come up with a good counter-example. It’s a lot harder than I thought it would be. Then the pre-movie trailers starting playing. The new Will Smith (and son) flick, After Earth: dystopia. The new Guillermo del Toro flick, Pacific Rim: dystopia. Even the new Superman flick, Man of Steel, could be classified as a technological dystopia (more below).
Sure, there are some films — mainly smaller indies — that in some ways are starting to buck the trend. But overall, Dixon (and Peter Thiel, who Dixon says he got the idea from) are right: Hollywood seems to hate technology. Why?
My initial thought is simply that dystopia sells. It’s the same reason why the mainstream media covering technology tends to harp on the downsides of new tech, sometimes to the point of fear mongering. They are tracking you! They want to know your location! They want to record you going to the bathroom!
Most people are predisposed to fear what they do not understand. Hollywood’s futuristic films are simply playing to this fear in the same way that horror films are packed with moments meant to startle you.
This is nothing new. In 1927, Fritz Lang’s Metropolis — the very first feature-length science fiction film — told of a 2026 where the lower class workers power the technology for the upper class. In 1951, The Day the Earth Stood Still saw aliens bring a giant robot to Earth that would destroy the planet if humans couldn’t get their act together. The 1960 version of The Time Machine (based on the H.G. Wells book) had technology (nuclear weapons) destroying civilization. 2001. A Clockwork Orange. Soylent Green. Alien. Blade Runner. The list goes on.
The difference is that we now live in a society where advanced technology permeates all of our lives. Nearly everyone now walks around with computers in their pockets that are far more powerful than the computers that filled up rooms just a few decades ago. Nearly the entirety of human knowledge is now just a few clicks or swipes away at any given moment. The vast majority of our recent technological breakthroughs, I think everyone would agree, have been overwhelmingly good for society.
And yet, Hollywood still seems sure that this is going to change. That at some point, our meddling with technology will create HAL 9000 or Skynet, and technology will turn on us.
Gene Roddenberry’s guiding vision of the Star Trek franchise was, famously, that it would offer an optimistic vision of humanity’s future.
And that largely held true through The Next Generation television series:
The Soviet Union collapsed a couple of years into the filming of The Next Generation, and the show’s optimistic future became startlingly coterminous with the optimistic present of the George H.W. Bush administration. Where else but space could you find a thousand points of light? The grand adventure of the NCC-1701-D was no longer to spread civilization, or even defend it; it was just to keep the machinery oiled. Remember 1991, America?
But the recent Star Trek films are a bit different. While I always liked how plot of Star Trek First Contact revolved around making sure a man takes the first flight at warp speed in space to usher in an era of peace on Earth, the actions are kicked into motion by the threat of the Borg — perhaps the ultimate in dystopian technology — taking over the Earth.
The latest Star Trek franchise seems to take a mainly glitz and glam approach to technology — bright white decks on giant starships accentuated with lens flares galore! But there also exists plenty of tech that is also horribly destructive. “Red Matter”, for example.
I saw the latest film, Star Trek Into Darkness, last week. While I enjoyed it, many Trekkie diehards did not. Certainly there are plenty of elements that are more Top Gun than the idea of using technology for exploration. I mean — minor spoiler alert — we have some sort of ultra weapons developed in secret and powered by some vague futuristic technology. And the man with the most technological know-how gets booted off the ship at one point for not wanting to mess around with these things.
Iron Man is another interesting example. It’s seems to be about technology used for good — but only to combat technology used for evil. So it’s basically neutral.
Then there’s the forthcoming Man of Steel. You might think this has little to do with technology (or at least what we commonly think of as technology), but as The New York Times reveals in a profile of the film’s director:
The film also emphasizes the world of Krypton before its annihilation — a bleak, utilitarian planet with sophisticated if downright creepy technology — and the treachery of the Kryptonian villain Zod (Michael Shannon), who finds Kal-El on earth. The result is an unapologetic science-fiction spin on Superman, and while that may shatter audiences’ expectations for pure, unalloyed realism in “Man of Steel,” Mr. Snyder said this approach was built into the DNA of the character.
Why is Superman on Earth? Because technology has led to the destruction of his home planet. I can’t wait to see what the author views as “downright creepy”.
Minority Report is one of my favorite recent sci-fi films. While the future envisioned there doesn’t seem so bad (and the filmmakers went out of their way to make the futuristic world as feasible and realistic as possible), the underlying premise is still pretty dystopian. Also: eye-scanning tech to show you ads. Spider-like robots that scan everything. This sure sounds like The New York Times’ idea of hell.
Another Spielberg film, A.I., paints a peaceful, yet melancholy future where technology tries to but can’t quite replace elements of humanity. It’s far from Utopia. Especially when you consider that ultimately — again, spoiler alert — all our technology can’t save the human race from extinction at the hands of another ice age. Even though our technology, the robots, live on!
Speaking of robots, one of the best sci-fi films I’ve seen recently is Robot & Frank. It’s a decidedly smaller type of science fiction that focuses on an elderly man’s relationship with his caregiving robot. The film is actually quite sweet, but again, hardly a full-on endorsement of technology.
In Gattaca, we again find a fairly peaceful and advanced futuristic society. But the core technology of the film, DNA sequencing — something rapidly becoming a reality in our actual world — has led to a world with a whole new level of prejudices.
The Matrix, Avatar, Prometheus, now I’m just looking over films I own that fit the mold. All are either dystopian or a net-negative for technology. The most positive one I can find is Contact, which still has plenty of negative technological elements (and this is a film based on a book written by perhaps the quintessential science/technology optimist, Carl Sagan).
Where is the It’s a Wonderful Life set in 2150? Are a few scenes from Back to the Future Part II really the best we got?
Again, I think the answer is that we already live in a technological utopia of sorts. No, the world isn’t perfect, but the recent advances in technology have given us so much. And people go to the movies to escape reality. It’s just too bad that science fiction films have essentially become horror movies.
Oh, Kim Dotcom. You just never stop surprising us.
Just hours after Twitter finally rolled out its long-awaited Two-Factor authentication feature to protect accounts, the Megaupload founder is claiming to have invented the entire mechanism… and he’s got a patent to prove it.
“But they won’t even verify my Twitter account?!”, he says.
The patent in question can be viewed here. Filed for in 1998 and published two years later, it lists a Kim Schmitz — Dotcom’s name before he changed it in 2005 — as the sole assignee.
For the unfamiliar, two-factor authentication is a mechanism intended to make it more difficult for hackers to access accounts that aren’t their own. When a user attempts to log in to a service from an unrecognized computer, the service sends a one-time password to an alternative device (like, say, a cell phone) known to belong to that user. At least theoretically, hacking a user’s account would thus require access to that device in addition to their password.
Google, Facebook, Twitter, and countless other monstrous sites all use two-factor authentication to protect user accounts, and Kim Dotcom’s tweets suggest that he hasn’t seen a cent from any of ‘em for the alleged “massive IP infringement.”
Google, Facebook, Twitter, Citibank, etc. offer Two-Step-Authentication.
Massive IP infringement by U.S. companies. My innovation. My patent—
Kim Dotcom (@KimDotcom) May 22, 2013
So, will he sue?
It seems he has at least considered it:
I never sued them. I believe in sharing knowledge & ideas for the good of society. But I might sue them now cause of what the U.S. did to me—
Kim Dotcom (@KimDotcom) May 22, 2013
But he quickly switched to a different approach; instead of getting into a legal battle with a bunch of giants, Dotcom would prefer that Google, et al. continue to use “[his] patent for free,” in exchange for financial assistance in his ongoing legal battle:
Google, Facebook, Twitter, I ask you for help. We are all in the same DMCA boat. Use my patent for free. But please help funding my defense.—
Kim Dotcom (@KimDotcom) May 22, 2013
All of our assets are still frozen without trial. Defending our case will cost USD 50M+. I want to fight to the end because we are innocent.—
Kim Dotcom (@KimDotcom) May 22, 2013
Given the rather broken state of software patents, it’s not impossible to imagine that there’s at least one other person or company out there that can claim to have invented it, with patent in hand. This patent held by Dynapass Inc., for example, was approved in 2006 for “Use of personal communication devices for user authentication.” We’re searching for other instances of similar patents.
As strange as it may seem for those who only know him as the founder of a file uploading site that was raided by the FBI last year, it would actually make quite a bit of sense for Dotcom to have security-related patents. His first brush with notoriety came in 1994, when he was arrested in Germany at the tender age of 20 for hacking calling cards. Those who spend their lives looking for security holes are often the same who come up with the solutions.
An epic, dreamlike electropop sounding remix from Swedish duo Korallreven of the Johan Reinhold track “Ghost”.
Fresh from closing its purchase of newsreading app Pulse, LinkedIn has made another acquisition to dive deeper into the mobile space. TechCrunch has found out, and confirmed, that the social network has aqui-hired Maybe, the social polling startup founded by Omar Hamoui — the man who set up, ran and then sold mobile ad company AdMob to Google for $750 million.
All staff from Maybe, except for Hamoui himself, are now at LinkedIn and working in its mobile division. That includes four engineers and one designer, LinkedIn has told us. Meanwhile, Maybe itself has now shut down. Financial terms of the deal are not being disclosed.
Maybe was one of the contenders in the area of polling startups — an area that has seen some other M&A activity, specifically with the acquisition of GoPollGo by Yahoo. Others include Seesaw, Fashism and Thumb.
It’s not clear why Maybe closed up shop so fast. Maybe because the polling space is so crowded? Maybe because Hamoui is working on something else? Maybe because LinkedIn made Maybe an offer it couldn’t refuse? LinkedIn is not commenting further, and we have not yet heard back from Hamoui himself. Maybe we will update when we do.
Update: Hamoui has now responded to confirm the acqui-hire as well, and explain a little more of what went on:
“After a number of different product directions we didn’t feel that what we were building was having the impact we wanted,” he says.
Putting aside competitive pressures in the polling space and startups in general looking for just the right product for the market, there is a connection between LinkedIn and Admob: Kevin Scott, SVP of Engineering at the social network, was previously VP of Engineering at AdMob. TechCrunch understands that after Hamoui and his two co-founders, Haider Sabri and Wayne Pan, met with him, they all decided it would be a natural next step for the mobile-focused team that they had built up.
“Although we had plenty of cash of in the bank, we were really impressed with the team and vision at LinkedIn,” says Hamoui. “Having the excellent mobile focused team we had built join them was clearly a way to have the kind of impact we were hoping for.”
Hamoui says the his own next steps “aren’t locked down yet.” We’ll definitely keep you posted with what we find out.
Vampire Weekend @ Roseland (more by Robert Altman)
"Vampire Weekend's Modern Vampires Of The City has entered the U.S. album chart at #1, selling nearly 135,000 copies since its May 14 release on XL Recordings.
This is the second time Vampire Weekend has achieved such an historic feat: Its sophomore album Contra also debuted at #1 in 2010, making this the first time an independent rock band has entered at #1 with two consecutive releases.
Modern Vampires Of The City also shatters the previous record for first week vinyl sales, moving nearly 10,000 units on vinyl alone and debuting at #1 on the Soundscan Vinyl Charts. Additionally, the band charted #1 at Indie, Alternative, Digital and of course the top 200."Browse our Vampire Weekend tag for much more.
A new generation of gardeners are interested in growing their own food, and The Patch, a new self-watering planter, helps guide newbies through the process. The planter, which is designed for urban gardeners, solves the most common challenge for novice gardeners: over-watering. The Patch Planter is an easy, self-watering and flat-packable planter that addresses this issue by providing the plant with the perfect amount of water at all times — yielding more nutritious and delicious food. The planter is currently in the beta stage, but Let’s Patch is raising funds through Kickstarter to take its manufacturing process to the next level.
The article above was submitted to us by an Inhabitat reader. Want to see your story on Inhabitat? Send us a tip by following this link. Remember to follow our instructions carefully to boost your chances of being chosen for publishing!
Aligning itself aesthetically more along the lines of social networks like Facebook and Google+, LinkedIn has introduced a new navigation bar to its website. The aim is in line with the company's simplification efforts, which so far have included redesigns of the homepage and profile pages and as an overhaul of its mobile apps and the discovery news page LinkedIn Today.
The company released this video that details how users can best use the new navigation addition:
by Bill Pearis
People Get Ready @ MHOW, 2/1/2013 (more by David Andrako)
Art pop combo People Get Ready have a new EP, Zelda Maria, out now. The title track comes from last year's self-titled debut and a video for that song has just been released as well. Working with acclaimed choreographer Tere O'Connor and video artist Ty Flowers, the clip is retrofuturistic without relying on old VHS-style tropes. You can watch it below.
The band, who are equally known for occasionally doing special, highly-choreographed lives shows (watch one below), recently played Crossing Brooklyn Ferry and are currently opening for The National (in more traditional rock band mode) on a few dates. While that does not include The National's show at Barclays Center, People Get Ready are also playing Tropfest in Prospect Park on June 22 with Chairlift and Bear in Heaven. Free tickets are still available.
Tour dates are listed, along with videos, below...
Gulf Coast oil refiners and chemical processors say that a lot, but regulators are doing precious little to rein in what the industry euphemistically calls “upset” emissions.
Upset emissions are inadvertent releases of chemicals by industrial operations when something goes awry. And things seem to go awry awfully frequently. An ExxonMobil refinery in Baton Rouge, La., was averaging two accidental releases every week during one grim stretch.
That’s according to an analysis by The Center for Public Integrity, which found that upset emissions are more prevalent than industry admits or government knows. Some highlights from the center’s investigative report:
[A 411-barrel chemical leak last year] has played out again and again at the sprawling, 2,400-acre ExxonMobil Baton Rouge complex, which encompasses an oil refinery and a chemical plant, and dwarfs the Standard Heights community. The leak marks the 1,068th upset emissions event at the compound in the last eight years, according to a database of incident reports compiled by the Bucket Brigade. Of these events, 172 involved benzene, a carcinogen that can trigger headaches, dizziness and rapid heart rate.
Exxon’s chemical plant had 265 of all incidents. At the refinery, the data show 803 accidental releases over these years; at its height, the facility averaged two a week. …
The steady hazards extend far beyond Baton Rouge. In the Gulf states of Texas and Louisiana, the vast number of plastics, power and gas plants provide an on-the-ground case study of a national problem.
“Non-routine” upset emissions have become regular occurrences at oil refineries, chemical plants and manufacturing facilities.
The upset emissions can pose serious health risks, but the oil and chemical companies say there’s nothing to worry about.
Dr. Mark D’Andrea, at the University of Texas Cancer Center, began tracking 4,000 residents exposed to the poster child of all upsets — the “40-day Release” at the BP refinery, in Texas City, which belched 514,795 pounds of benzene and 20 other pollutants throughout the spring of 2010. Earlier this year, D’Andrea unveiled preliminary data showing the residents have “significantly higher” white-blood cell and platelet counts than their Houston counterparts. The data suggests BP’s release may have increased their risk of developing such cancers as leukemia, the doctor says.
In a statement, BP says it does “not believe any negative health impacts resulted from” its 40-day release. “To our knowledge, the University Cancer Centers’ pilot study does not support a claim for any plaintiff alleging injury from that flaring and has no relevance to those claims,” the company wrote, referring to pending litigation filed by 47,830 residents and workers against BP alleging health ailments caused by the release. D’Andrea has not been hired as an expert witness for either side in the case, but has testified in pre-trial discovery.
For more, read the full report in all its grotesque glory.
Q: Hi! I have a very weird living room. I'm not sure where to put the TV, the fireplace is at an odd angle, and the walls aren't directly parallel. There are three different walkways into the living room that make it hard to arrange furniture. One thing I love about my home is how open it is, and I think that's the best feature so I don't want to cut off space by putting furniture in the middle of the room. Can anyone please help me with this?More
Ryan Hemsworth and the A$AP DJ’s battling it out in the booth at The Boiler Room NYC x W Hotels party.
yMusic at Carnegie Hall in January (more by Greg Cristman)
Contemporary classical sextet yMusic, who have worked with The National, Bon Iver, Dirty Projectors, My Brightest Diamond, and more, will be performing on Stage 2 at Rockwood Music Hall tonight (5/22), premiering works written by Sufjan Stevens, Timo Andres, and Marcos Balter, in addition to "less-new-but-still-pretty-new" works by Nico Muhly and Andrew Norman. Advance tickets for tonight's show are available. Doors are at 6:30. Did anyone catch them performing in a Harlem loft last night (5/21)?
yMusic are also performing with filmmaker Sam Green and The Quavers for a "night of outdoor music and cinema" on PIer 15 on June 20 as part of the River to RIver Festival and the Rooftop Films summer series.
Speaking of people performing works by Nico Muhly, that will also happen in November at BAM as part of the Next Wave Festival:In this ambitious, expansive reimagining of the art-song recital, the 21c Liederabend festival comes to BAM, featuring music by many leading lights from the international and New York contemporary new-music scenes.
Boasting 10 world premieres, this unique weekend event--which played to sold-out audiences in its last two incarnations--pairs video artists and lighting designers with new-music ensemble NOVUS NY, the Choir of Trinity Wall Street, and top soloists. The eclectic, impeccably curated lineup is different each night and includes a commissioned song cycle by British-born composer Anna Clyne and music by Nico Muhly, Missy Mazzoli, Eric Whitacre, Marie Incontrera, David T. Little, Olga Neuwirth, Judd Greenstein, Paola Prestini, Ted Hearne, and many others.Featuring compositions by: Thomas Cabaniss, Christopher Ceronne, Thomas Cipullo, Anna Clyne, Mohammed Fairouz, Judd Greenstein, Ted Hearne, Marie Incontrera, David T. Little, Tod Machover, Missy Mazzoli, Nico Muhly, Olga Neuwirth, Paola Prestini, Huang Ruo, Timur and the Dime Museum, Michael van der Aa, Alexandra Vrebalov, Julian Wachner, Holcombe Waller, Eric Whitacre, and Du Yun.Check out a video of yMusic performing the Annie Clark (St. Vincent)-penned tune, "Proven Badlands," for WYNC, below...
Read the rest of NBBJ Unveils Striking Biosphere Greenhouses for Amazon’s Seattle HQ
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Read the rest of The Best Green Designs from ICFF 2013 Day One!
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by Bill Pearis
Some of you may remember early/mid-'00s Detroit-area band Thunderbirds Are Now!, who are in semi-permanent hibernation at the moment. Singer Ryan Allen is now in Destroy This Place which he co-fronts with former New Grenada member John Nelson and the line-up includes Allen's Friendly Foes bandmate Sean Sommer on drums. The band just released their eponymous second album which roars with crunchy, anthemic indie (the Allen songs), and big riff rock (via Nelson, who sounds a skooch like Ozzy at times). You can stream the whole album below.
Destroy This Place gig a lot in Michigan but don't make it out of the area that often, but the band are going on tour this summer, including a stop in NYC on June 29 at Death by Audio with Turing Machine, Shark? and Your Skull. All tour dates are listed below.