“From Now” Recap: The Future Lives in Vancouver

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The next best thing about living in the future is to talk about it today.

For about 250 of us, the discussion of the future and its possibilities were enough to keep us inside on a beautiful Saturday. The From Now conference took place on June 7 inside East Vancouver’s Make design studio/meeting space. The creation of Nikolas Badminton, a British-born digital strategist with an eye fixated on technology and how it impacts our society and culture, From Now turned out to be a fascinating day-long experience. Think of it as a more accessible TED, one where you can be a participant in the learning (and also drink a beer with one of the panelists.)

Nikolas Badminton kicks off the From Now conference, June 7 2014.
Nikolas Badminton kicks off the From Now conference, June 7 2014.

A Toilet That Tells You Things

From Now’s line-up of speakers covered the spectrum of the bleeding edge of tech and the discussion of how it’s transforming ourselves and our relationships with each other. Toronto native Nora Young began the talk in the morning with a vivacious look at how a city might have its own distinct digital culture, just as there’s a different look and feel in realspace between a Vancouver and a Winnipeg, Halifax or Montreal. That’s an idea that might seem out there to you right now, but within the space of five years it may have snuck up on us.

Nora Young talks about the digital city and what it needs to be for its citizens.
Nora Young talks about the digital city and what it needs to be for its citizens.

As the host of CBC Radio One’s show about technology, the “Spark” host talked about “the Internet of Things” and how some of the world’s cities are already beginning have their own digital identity: streetlights that can tweet at you, or a public restroom that can tell you if you’re pregnant or sick as you’re washing your hands. This is the road that we’re on right now, Young said, and each digital city of the future will need to reflect and identify with its citizens in its own special and distinctive way. “The city will need to be fun, a place where we can interact more with each other and discover new chances for opportunity and exploration,” Young postulated.

Sex & the Singularity

Badminton gave his own talk about sex and tech, and how one is influencing the other – I’m just not sure which one is leading the other. People are using gadgets to get off, and as the complexity and sensation capabilities of the hardware grows (no pun intended), more of us will be entering virtual and augmented worlds to have sex. We’ll be having sex with each other, with robots, with software that imitates a human being, and sometimes even experiencing sex the way that our partner does.

Nik Badminton gets dirty with the crowd during his presentation about sex and the singularity.
Nik Badminton gets dirty with the crowd during his presentation about sex and the singularity.

The Singularity is a point that’s predicted to come around 2045 when technology evolves faster than our ability to adapt to it. So, at that point are we all living in “Star Trek” holodecks and having sex with computer programs that seem like real partners? Possibly, but a more likely scenario on the near event horizon would be experiencing sex through something like the Oculus Rift, a device which slips over your head and immerses you with sound and visuals. Put on an Oculus Rift and your brain will not be able to tell that what you’re seeing isn’t really happening to your physical body. Now imagine wearing an Oculus Rift while a pornographic program is running. What happens to real-world relationships and intimacy when you can have a richer fantasy life, albeit one that’s an illusion?

Some might even say that’s happening right now. That’s why these discussions are vital to have today – before we’re living in the time when it’s no longer a “what if”, but a “what now?”

Make a Future Plan

Judging from the Q&As that followed each talk, these ideas and extrapolations are intriguing, disturbing and thrilling to many of us. Whether it was University of Nottingham’s Jonathan Tallant and his presentation about how time might really work to Ayogo founder Michael Fergusson showing the potential for using play using technology to improve the health of billions, a lot of us want to talk about the future before it happens.

From Now attendees were greeted by this striking wall installation by designer Afshin Mehin. People were invited to write and share their predictions for the coming 20 years.
From Now attendees were greeted by this striking wall installation by designer Afshin Mehin. People were invited to write and share their predictions for the coming 20 years.

Badminton, his team at DesignCultureMind and Afshin Mehin’s WOKE studio created a wonderful atmosphere of enthusiasm, entertainment and intelligent open discussion. From what Nik tells me, the event was recorded and a video will be made available in short order. If you enjoy watching TED talks, then I strongly endorse spending 20 to 30 minutes watching each of the talks from the six speakers. You’re going to want to go to the next one.

A few of the predictions people think will happen between 2025 to 2030.
A few of the predictions people think will happen between 2025 to 2030.

DigiVan covers Vancouver’s burgeoning start-up, technology, new media and digital scene. Work at a local company that’s developing something cool? Contact Patrick Sauriol on Twitter @ Arcane_Bimmer.

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DigiVan covers Vancouver's burgeoning start-up, technology, new media and digital scene. Work at a local company that's developing something cool? Contact Patrick Sauriol on Twitter @Arcane_Bimmer.