Design and Existential Risk

Parsons The New School for Design: Fall 2010 Lecture series

Design and Existential Risk

All events recorded and streamed online at UStream and Vimeo: [LINK]

As we enter the second decade of the 21st Century, we are challenged by unprecedented planetary scale events:  resource wars, climate change, emerging diseases- which increase in frequency and pose unprecedented problems for mapping and design. What can the role be for design when the reality that faces us is more extraordinary than the worlds we have imagined in science fiction?

Design and Existential Risk is a series of conversations with leading thinkers, designers, authors and educators, critically questioning how the practice of design can imagine and prepare for extreme existential risks.  Each event will explore the ways design thinking engages sustainability and indeed our very survival across near term [5 years], mid term [20 years] through very, very long term [tens of thousands of years and longer] time frames.

Today, due to everyday revolutions in communications, computation, biotech, and nanotech, we face, statistically speaking, a range of existential risks that could transform or eradicate humanity and irrevocably alter all the systems on our planet. Indeed, along with massive geopolitical transformations catalyzed by energy and resource scarcity and systems management issues, we face constant social upheaval as a consequence of technologically driven globalization.  From fast-forward cultural hybridization to nearly lifelike, esoteric economic instruments [and their spectacular collapse], we can sense an advance wave that heralds ever more extraordinary disruptive phenomena, including truly ubiquitous computation or even embryonic artificial intelligence systems. Farther a-field, off world, there is the risk of global catastrophe, through asteroid impacts or greater cosmologically scaled disasters.

Part of the design challenge we face is relatively simple and pragmatic: how can we predict, prepare for and react to such extreme situations. But another more urgent question parallels our work to design for these unstable futures: can we even conceive of some of the risks we may face as our technological capabilities accelerate every day and become increasingly hard to map and comprehend? An unprecedented evolution, transmutation, and erosion of scientific process [and the basic frameworks of mind ] has put at risk our ability to imagine systems in a space and time outside of the contexts we are familiar with. We are rapidly approaching an epistemological event horizon, beyond which we can barely speculate.

-Ed Keller, coordinator/moderator

Fall 2010 Lecture series
Parsons The New School for Design
Kellen Auditorium, 66 Fifth Avenue
6 PM – 8.30 PM
Free; no tickets or reservations required; seating is first-come first-served

Pictured above is the first image ever taken of the Earth from the Moon. The image was taken in 1966 by Lunar Orbiter 1 and heralded by then-journalists as the Image of the Century. It was taken about two years before the Apollo 8 crew snapped its more famous color cousin. Recently, modern technology has allowed the recovery of higher resolution images from old data sources such as Lunar Orbiter tapes than ever before. Specifically, recovery of the above image was initiated 20 years ago by Nancy Evans, and completed recently by Dennis Wingo and Keith Cowing who lead the Lunar Orbiter Image Recovery Project. Lunar Orbiter Image Recovery Project.

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