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In a moment when the future increasingly feels like a foregone conclusion, Future Perfect brings actors from a variety of world-building disciplines (from art and fiction, to law and science) together to explore the uses, abuses, and paradoxes of speculative futures.

Curated by Data & Society artist-in-residence Ingrid Burrington, Future Perfect is an experimental one-day, invitation-only conference originating from insights of the institute’s regular Speculative Fiction Reading Group.

1:00 -2:15 PM

Come With Me If You Want To Live: Speculative Fiction in the Public Interest
Come With Me If You Want to Live explores contemporary uses of scenarios and prediction/modeling in what might be considered the “public interest.” Topics may include data-centric law enforcement technologies and the pursuit of “future-forward” policing (and what public interest they serve and/or harm); the application of scenarios and science fiction to journalism and narrative; and the use of of scenario planning and simulation in natural disaster and emergency management.


2:15-2:45 PM

Break

 

2:45-4:00 PM

Life Finds A Way: Bodies, Futures, Embodied Futures
Life Finds A Way broadly explores the tension between clinical and visceral notions of human bodies/nature/optimization in futures speculation. Topics may include transfeminist speculative narratives as a counterpoint to mainstream science fiction; experiments with ethnographic fields notes as genre for speculative study of genetic engineering; and the outsized influence of popular author Michael Crichton on biotechnology and science studies.


4:00-4:30 PM

Break


4:30-5:45 PM

In The Off-World Colonies: Speculation and Worldbuilding as Landscape
Off-World Colonies explores some of the material, spatial, and architectural dimensions of futures worldbuilding: When people imagine futures what kind of place are they constructing, and what are the tools used for constructing that place (in addition to narrative)? Topics may include architecture and urbanism in video game design; working between the worlds of science fiction and digital rights advocacy; the origins of Muzak as instrument of social regulation; and the ways in which ambient music is part of a larger history of technologies which are concerned with environmental and behavioral control.


5:45-6:00 PM

Farewell

Panelists bios

Elizabeth Angell (@kitabet)

is an anthropologist studying how people live with the prospect of impending disaster. Her research focuses on earthquake anticipation in Istanbul. She’s also written about industrial pollution, landscape archaeology, and the politics of infrastructure in Turkey and the United States.

Ruha Benjamin (@ruha9)

is Assistant Professor of African American Studies at Princeton University, author of People’s Science: Bodies and Rights on the Stem Cell Frontier (Stanford University Press), and 2016-17 fellow at the Institute for Advanced Study. Her work examines the social dimensions of science, technology, and medicine with a particular focus on the relationship between innovation and inequity. She earned her PhD in Sociology from UC Berkeley, completed fellowships at UCLA’s Institute for Genetics and Society and Harvard’s Science, Technology, and Society Program, and has received grants and fellowships from the American Council of Learned Societies, National Science Foundation, Ford Foundation, and California Institute for Regenerative Medicine among others. Her work is published in numerous journals including Science, Technology, and Human Values; Ethnicity & Health; and Annals of the American Academy of Social and Political Science. For more info visit: www.ruhabenjamin.com

Ada Cable (@drcab1e)

is an activist, designer and academic who works in the spaces around power, infrastructure, visibility and queerness. She has presented and exhibited globally on technology, power, and trans womens’ lives and is an activist with UK trans info and the non-binary inclusion project.

Farai Chideya (@farai)

has combined media, technology, and socio-political analysis during her two decades as an award-winning author, journalist, professor, and lecturer. She is a fellow at Harvard’s Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics, and Public Policy, studying political media and industry diversity. She is also a director’s fellow at the MIT Media Lab. Before that, she was a Senior Writer covering politics and data at ESPN’s FiveThirtyEight, and a Distinguished Writer in Residence at New York University’s Arthur L. Carter Journalism Institute. She is the author of six books, the most recent of which is 2016’s The Episodic Career: How to Thrive at Work in the Age of Disruption. With deep knowledge in a variety of disciplines, including the future of work, politics, culture, race, and technology, Chideya frequently appears on public radio and cable television, and has worked for CNN, ABC, and NPR, and appeared on numerous other networks. Born and raised in Baltimore, Maryland, Chideya graduated from Harvard University in 1990. She lives in Brooklyn, New York, and Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Jillian Crandall (@networkurb)

is a Registered Architect, urbanist, and researcher focused on local and global networks in infrastructure, building systems, and urban design. She has worked on the design and construction of several civic projects in the New York City metropolitan region. As a writer she is focused on theory and analysis, as well as speculative and experimental fiction. Combined with her love of games and belief in the power of gaming experience, she created the blog and podcast “Worlds of Gamespace” to explore the overlaps and productive tensions between video games, architecture, urbanism, and evolving modes of inhabitation. You can find her at jilliancrandall.net and worldsofgamespace.com.

Alexander Huggins

is a composer, writer, and performer based in London, Ontario. Alexander is a graduate of the MA Musicology program at the University of Western Ontario where he researched the role of music and technological systems in shaping real and virtual communities. Alexander also holds a BMus in Music Theory & Composition from the University of Western Ontario, where he studied with Dr. David Myska. In his compositions, Alexander is interested particularly in exploring principles of timbre and acoustics as the basis of musical harmony and structure, as well as works which integrate human, instrumental, and programmed systems. Alexander also writes and performs electronic music independently and occasionally in collaboration with local musicians.

Ava Kofman (@eyywa)

reports on technology and edits The New Inquiry. Her work has appeared in The Intercept, The Guardian, The Nation, and elsewhere.

Deji Bryce Olukotun (@dejiridoo)

is the author of two novels and his fiction has appeared in three different book collections. His novel Nigerians in Space, a thriller about brain drain from Africa, was published by Unnamed Press in 2014, and a sequel will be published in September 2017. He works at the digital rights organization Access Now, where he drives campaigns on fighting internet shutdowns, cybersecurity, and online censorship. Before that, he fought for free expression and the defense of writers around the world at PEN American Center with support from the Ford Foundation. His work has been featured in Electric Literature, Quartz, Vice, Slate, GigaOm, The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times, The Los Angeles Review of Books, the Wall Street Journal, National Public Radio, The Atlantic, and Guernica.

Joanna Radin (@JoannaRadin)

is Assistant Professor of the History of Science and Medicine at Yale where she teaches feminist and indigenous STS and the history of biomedicine and anthropology. Before receiving her PhD in History and Sociology of Science at UPenn she studied science communication at Cornell and worked as a risk communication specialist. She is the author of Life on Ice: A History of New Uses for Cold Blood, (University of Chicago Press, 2017) and a co-editor of Cyropolitics: Frozen Life in a Melting World (MIT Press, 2017). Radin is currently writing a book about science fiction, subjectivity, and biomedicine.

Future Perfect: Why Now?

The past year has been marked by frequent commentaries comparing the present moment to works of dystopian literature and speculative fiction. The sentiment that science fiction futures can’t keep up with present-day developments pervades discussions of policy, technology, and culture. But the extent to which fictional futures exercise power over our present is, in some cases, by design.

For example, the influence of the 2002 film Minority Report on gestural interfaces, surveillance technologies, and automation isn’t an accident of history–the future envisioned in the film was created in close consultation with technologists and academics actively working on products that the film imagines in real-world settings. An entire industry of speculative designers and futures consultants continues to actively construct dystopian futures on behalf of corporations and governments, transforming TED talks and architectural renders into self-fulfilling dystopian prophecy.

Tie-in programming around the institute will offer conference guests the opportunity to encounter unscripted performances, interactive modules, and other creative interpretations of conference themes including, but not limited to:

  • The history and political economy of the future (subtopics here might include divination, scenario planning and war games, and predictive modeling)
  • Analyses of specific SF works that have uniquely influenced technology, politics, and/or aesthetics
  • Challenges to dominant future narratives in popular culture and representation in speculative fiction
  • Why Silicon Valley venture capitalists seem to think Snow Crash was a playbook for the next twenty-five years and not a dystopian hellscape
  • That one scene in Minority Report with the cereal box that is literally the only really important part of the film

The conference will be livestreamed and documentation of participating talks will be posted online.