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  • In our culture, talking about the future

  • is sometimes a polite way of saying things about the present

  • that would otherwise be rude or risky.

  • But have you ever wondered why

  • so little of the bright futures promised in TED talks actually come true?

  • Is something wrong with the ideas?

  • Or with the notion of what ideas can do all by themselves?

  • I write about the entanglements of technology and culture,

  • how technologies make certain compositions of certain worlds possible,

  • how culture in turn structures the evolution of those technologies.

  • It's where philosophy and design intersect.

  • And so the conceptualization of possibilities

  • is something that I take very seriously.

  • And it's for that reason that I, and a lot of people,

  • think that it's time that we take a step back

  • and ask some serious questions

  • about the intellectual viability of things like TED.

  • And so, my TED talk is not about my work, my new book,

  • the usual spiel,

  • it's about TEDwhat it is, and why it doesn't work.

  • The first reason is over-simplification.

  • Now, to be clear, I have nothing against the idea

  • of interesting people who do smart things explaining their work

  • in a way that everyone can understand.

  • But TED goes way beyond that.

  • Let me tell you a story.

  • I was recently at a presentation that a friend of mine, astrophysicist,

  • was making to a potential donor.

  • And I thought his talk was lucid, it was engaging...

  • And I'm a professor of visual arts here at UC San Diego.

  • At the end of the day, I know nothing about astrophysics.

  • The donor, however, said, "I'm going to pass, I'm just not inspired.

  • You should be more like Malcolm Gladwell."

  • Now, at this point I kind of lost it.

  • Can you imagine?

  • I mean, think about it: a scientist who creates real knowledge

  • should be more like a journalist who recycles fake insights.

  • This is not popularisation.

  • This is taking something with substance and value

  • and coring it out so that it can be swallowed without chewing.

  • This is not how we'll confront our most frightening problems,

  • this is one of our most frightening problems.

  • And so ...

  • So, what is TED?

  • TED is perhaps a proposition,

  • one that says if we talk about world-changing ideas enough,

  • then the world will change.

  • Well, this is not true either. And that's the second problem.

  • TED of course stands for Technology, Entertainment, Design.

  • To me, TED stands for: middlebrow megachurch infotainment.

  • The key rhetorical device at any TED talk

  • is a combination of epiphany and personal testimony.

  • The speaker shares some personal story of insight and revelation,

  • its trials and tribulations.

  • What does the TED audience hope to get from this?

  • A vicarious insight? A fleeting moment of wonder?

  • A sense that maybe it's all going to work out after all?

  • A spiritual buzz?

  • Well, I'm sorry, but this is not up to the challenge of the problems

  • that we are ostensibly here to face.

  • They are complex and difficult and not given to tidy just-so solutions.

  • They don't care about anyone's experience of optimism.

  • And given the stakes, having our best and brightest

  • waste their timeand the audience's time

  • dancing about like infomercial hosts is too high a price.

  • And it's cynical.

  • Plus, it just doesn't work.

  • Recently, TEDGlobal sent out a memo to TEDx local organisers

  • telling them to avoid booking speakers whose work spans the paranormal,

  • conspiratorial, new age "quantum neuroenergy" and so forth

  • what is called 'woo'.

  • They should book speakers whose work is imaginative but grounded in reality.

  • And, to be fair, TEDGlobal took some heat for this,

  • so the gesture should be acknowledged.

  • 'NO' to placebo science and placebo medicine.

  • Butthe corollary to placebo science and medicine

  • is placebo politics and placebo innovation.

  • And on this count, TED has a ways to go.

  • Perhaps the pinnacle of placebo politics was presented at TEDxSanDiego

  • a few years ago.

  • You're familiar, I assume, with the Kony2012 social media campaign?

  • OK, so, what happened here?

  • Evangelical surfer bro goes to Africa.

  • He makes campy video explaining genocide to the cast of Glee.

  • The world finds his epiphany to be shallow to the point of self-delusion.

  • The complex geopolitics of central Africa are left undisturbed.

  • Kony's still there.

  • The end.

  • You see, when inspiration becomes manipulation,

  • inspiration becomes obfuscation.

  • And if you're not cynical, you should be skeptical.

  • You should be as skeptical of placebo politics as you are of placebo medicine.

  • So ...

  • T – E – D.

  • First, Technology.

  • We're told that not only is change accelerating,

  • but that the pace of change is accelerating.

  • In terms of the computational carrying- capacity at a planetary level, it is true.

  • But at the same timeand in fact the two are related

  • we're also in a moment of cultural de-acceleration.

  • We invest our energies in futuristic information technologies,

  • including our cars, but drive them home

  • to kitsch architecture copied from the 18th century.

  • The future on offer is one in which everything can change,

  • so long as everything stays the same.

  • We'll have Google Glass, but we'll still have business casual.

  • This timidity is not our path to the future.

  • This is incredibly conservative.

  • And more gigaflops won't inoculate us.

  • Because, if a problem is endemic to a system,

  • then the exponential effects of Moore's law also amplify what's broken.

  • It's more computation along the wrong curve,

  • and I hardly think this is a triumph of Reason.

  • A lot of my work deals with deep technocultural shifts,

  • from the post-humanism to the post-anthropocene,

  • but the TED version has too much faith in technology,

  • and not enough commitment to technology.

  • It's placebo technoradicalism,

  • toying with risk, so as to reaffirm the comfortable.

  • And so our machines get smarter and we get stupider.

  • But it doesn't have to be that way. Both can be much more intelligent.

  • Another futurism is possible.

  • A better 'E' in TED might stand for Economics

  • and yes, imagining and designing, new systems of valuation,

  • and exchange of accounting for transaction externalities,

  • of financing coordinated planning, and so on.

  • Because states and markets, states versus markets,

  • these are insufficient models, our thinking is stuck in a Cold War gear.

  • And worse is when economics is debated like metaphysics,

  • as if any real system is just a bad example of the ideal.

  • Communism in theory was an egalitarian utopia.

  • Actually existing communism meant ecological devastation,

  • government spying,

  • crappy cars, gulags.

  • Capitalism in theory is rocket ships,

  • nanomedicine,

  • Bono saving Africa.

  • Actually existing capitalism is Walmart jobs,

  • McMansions,

  • people living in sewers under Las Vegas,

  • Ryan Seacrest.

  • Plus ecological devastation,

  • government spying,

  • crappy public transportation,

  • and for-profit prisons.

  • And yet, the alternatives on offer range from

  • basically what we have plus a little more Hayek,

  • to what we have plus a little more Keynes.

  • Why?

  • The recent centuries have seen tremendous advances

  • in improving the quality of life.

  • But the paradox is that the system we have now

  • whatever you want to call it

  • is in the short term what makes these new technologies possible,

  • but in the long term it's also what suppresses their full flowering.

  • A new economic architecture is prerequisite.

  • 'D' — Design.

  • Perhaps our designers, instead of prototyping

  • the same "change agent for good" projects over and over again,

  • and then wondering why they aren't implemented at scale,

  • we should acknowledge that design is not some magic answer.

  • Design is very important, but for different reasons.

  • Getting excited about design is easy because, like talking about the future,

  • it's more polite than dealing with the real white elephants in the room.

  • Such as phones, drones and genomes.

  • That's what we do here in San Diego and La Jolla.

  • In addition to all of the amazingly great things that these technologies do,

  • they're also the basis of NSA spying,

  • flying robots killing people,

  • and the wholesale privatisation of biological life.

  • That's also what we do.

  • So you see, the potential of these technologies

  • is both wonderful and horrifying at the same time,

  • and so to guide them towards a good future,

  • design as "innovation" just isn't strong enough of an idea by itself.

  • We need to talk a lot more about design as "immunisation,"

  • actively preventing certain "innovations" that we don't want from happening.

  • So ...

  • As for one clear take away, one magic idea,

  • I don't really have one.

  • That's kind of the point.

  • Perhaps I might venture that

  • if our species were actually to solve its most dire problems,

  • perhaps a lot of us in this room would be out of a job, or perhaps in jail.

  • It's not as though we don't have a lot of important things to be talking about.

  • We need a deeper discussion about the difference between

  • digital cosmopolitanism and cloud feudalism.

  • And towards that, a queer history of computer science,

  • Alan Turing's birthday as a holiday.

  • I would like new maps of the world,

  • ones not based on settler colonialism,

  • legacy genomes,

  • and bronze age myths,

  • but something morescalable.

  • But TED today is not that.

  • Our problems are not "puzzles" to be solved.

  • This metaphor implies that all the necessary pieces

  • are already on the table, just need to be rearranged and reprogrammed.

  • It's not true.

  • "Innovation" defined as "puzzles",

  • as rearranging pieces and adding more processing power,

  • is not some Big Idea that's going to disrupt the broken status quo

  • that precisely is the broken status quo.

  • One TED speaker said recently about his work,

  • "Now that this boundary is removed, the only boundary left is our imagination."

  • Wrong.

  • If we really want transformation, we have to slog through the hard stuff

  • the history, economics, philosophy, art, the ambiguities, and contradictions.

  • Because focusing just on technology, or just on innovation,

  • actually prevents transformation.

  • We need to raise the level of general understanding

  • to the level of complexity of the systems

  • in which we are embedded and which are embedded in us.

  • And this is not about "personal stories of inspiration".

  • It's about the hard difficult work of demystification and reconceptualisation.

  • More Copernicus, less Tony Robbins.

  • At a societal level, the bottom line is that

  • if we invest in things that make us feel good but which don't work,

  • don't invest in things which don't make us feel good, but which may solve problems,

  • then our fate is that in the long run it will just get harder and harder

  • to feel good about not solving problems.

  • And in this case, the placebo is not just ineffectiveit's harmful.

  • Because it takes your interest, and energy and outrage,

  • and diverts into this black hole of affectation.

  • "Keep calm and carry on innovating" — is that the real message of TED?

  • To me it's not inspirational, it's cynical.

  • In the US, the rightwing has certain media channels

  • that allow it to bracket reality.

  • Other constituencies have TED.

  • Thank you for your time.

  • (Applause)

In our culture, talking about the future

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【TEDx】New Perspectives - What's Wrong with TED Talks? Benjamin Bratton at TEDxSanDiego 2013 - Re:Think

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    阿多賓 posted on 2014/08/29
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