At FromNow conference hackers, pols, media and designers brainstorm city's digital future

"The best way to predict the future is to invent it."
                                                       –– Alan Kay

Biohacking, smart cities, and sex with robots

Nora Young
Nora Young discusses the digital city at the From Now conference. (Photos by Jordan Yerman)

"We come to the city because we want to get up to no good." So said Nora Young, host of CBC's Spark in her keynote address at the From Now conference.

From Now, organized by Nikolas Badminton of DesignCultureMind, brought together hackers, designers, media professionals, politicians, and straight-up geeks to brainstorm on how we can make the future a bit more... human. We learned that play is serious, cities can be smart, and sex with robots is already a thing.

DIY City

Young told us that we are at a pivotal point in Vancouver's history, as its digital persona remains unformed. Just as cities have physical personalities, they will also form personalities based on how they catch and release data. An ideal digital city, she said, should engage the creativity and brain-power of the people who live there.

The Internet of Things (a term you've perhaps been hearing a lot lately) is already here: you can communicate with your car, your household appliances, or –– as we'd later see–– your own body. Examples include the Nest thermostat and Car2Go. The digital city, she said, "is a platform we can build off of." The trick is to make that digital city a healthy –– and fun–– place to be, without smothering it with overly-planned municipal initiatives: "Nobody ever moved to a city because it was orderly."

Nora Young
Nora Young

Young pointed out that our favorite urban moments are those which are not planned: finding something previously unknown. We need room for adventure, so how do we develop our cities to be more data-friendly without killing all those little mysteries?

Young also warned that "the digital city would be the perfect panopticon," a nosy government's dream come true. Besides the erosion of privacy, we also face the growing problem of digital noise, just as the Industrial Revolution spelled the end of silence in the city, so our interconnectedness subjects us to constant bombardment from advertisers and oversharing friends. How, wondered Young, will we deal manage all this digital noise?

Furthermore, there is a disconnect between the grassroots nature of technological development and the distribution of political power. “It sucks,” Young conceded.

The digital city is not a utopian fantasy, but a phenomenon that's taking place right now. We can all build the tools, but who gets to make the rules? Young said, "It's more than just a technical issue. It's a political issue, it's a moral issue, and indeed it's a spiritual issue."

Banging bots

"Sex is an incredibly interesting topic," said Nik Badminton, uttering the most English sentence of the day. His talk explored the intersection between technology and human intimacy.

Nik Badminton
Nik Badminton

He noted that, on average, kids are exposed to digital pornography at age 11. "Porn stays with you," said Badminton, "it's an indelible mark."

We've already app-ified sex with tools such as Spreadsheets, which uses your phone to build a TMI-catalogue of your boot-knockin'. Achievement unlocked, indeed.

SpreadsheetsSpreadsheets: Measuring up

Virtual reality sex is already happening, said Badminton: ""Oculus Rift that jerks you off." Furthermore, virtual reality also allows you to swap genders with your partner.

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