A highlight of IABC World Conference 2018, held earlier this week in Montreal, was the morning keynote by Futurist Anab Jain who warned the more than a thousand communicators gathered of the dangers of taking refuge in data and she implored the audience instead to “embrace uncertainty”.
Anab is a designer, futurist, filmmaker and educator. She is the co-founder and a director of Superflux, a design studio which focuses on the challenges and opportunities of the 21st Century.
She explained how she and her team imagine and build future worlds so that we can experience them now. The idea is to challenge us to look critically at the decisions and choices we make today. This way, she explained, “We can move from being disenfranchised to feeling empowered.”
Jain cited how facial recognition software is inaccurate 90 per cent of the time and how Swedish workers are implanting microchips in their hands to replace cash cards and ID passes as just two examples of advanced technologies that impact us now, but are harbingers of the future.
“What does it mean to live with such systems?” she asked the crowd. “The world around us is increasing in complexity, but our understanding of it is diminishing.”
She described a world where robots are replacing people at work and states are becoming more Orwellian. “Reality is becoming science fiction, and people are seeking refuge in data,” she explained, “But, it is becoming clear that with acceleration of advances in technology, static models become redundant as soon as they are made. They blindfold old us.”
Jain highlighted the Drone Aviary project conceived by her team for London’s V&A Museum. It aimed to give a glimpse into a near-future city where people co-habitate with intelligent, semi-autonomous networked flying machines. The drones continuously collect data and perform tasks, making decisions and influencing people’s lives. Here’s the video:
As an opening session for IABC 18, Jain’s talk presented a dark and forboding look at future life and communication. The talk reminded some audience members (including me) of the “Black Mirror” Netflix series. The comparison is apt.
Jain warned, “The tools we are creating to master the world are, in fact, remastering us. Human agency cannot be in isolation of the machines we interact with. We must interact with them not as tools, but as inherent parts of our economic systems.”