Alan N. Shapiro, Senior Lecturer, Art and Design University, Offenbach, Germany

Blog and project archive about "computer programming for artists" and media theory

Learning to Love Androids: The Wondrous World of the Universal Scholar Alan Shapiro, by Florian Fricke

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Learning to Love Androids: The Wondrous World of the Universal Scholar Alan N. Shapiro

by Florian Fricke

Florian Fricke is the winner of the 2010 German Environmental Media Prize

translated from the German by Lenny “Nails” Dykstra

Bayerischer Rundfunk Radio, ZÜNDFUNK

Broadcast: June 13, 2010, 22:05 – 23:00

The American Alan N. Shapiro is a technologist and futurist, on the basis of philosophy and sociology. As a programmer, he calls for a new sociological and aesthetic valuation of software, in order to bring humanity forward in a fantastic way: software should become autonomous and capable of learning. Cars, for example, are for Shapiro already intelligent and have consciousness. With new technologies like speech conversation and animation, they could be raised to a new level. He is inspired by the TV and film series Star Trek, about which he wrote his major work Star Trek: Technologies of Disappearance.

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Star Trek Titelmelodie

„Space, the final frontier…“, nach Text loopen

“Space… the Final Frontier. These are the voyages of the starship Enterprise. Its five-year mission: to explore strange new worlds; to seek out new life and new civilizations; to boldly go where no man has gone before.”

“Space… endless expanses: we are writing the year 2200. These are the voyages of the starship Enterprise, which, with its 400-man strong crew, is on a 5-year mission: to explore new worlds, new life, and new civilizations. Many light-years away from the Earth, the Enterprise penetrates galaxies where no human being has gone before.” (German version re-translated into English)

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1966 in a living room somewhere in New York. Together with his brother, the ten-year-old Alan is allowed to watch television. An episode of Star Trek: The Original Series is on, known in Germany as “Raumschiff Enterprise“. The Enterprise is a ship of the United Federation of Planets, traveling to alien star systems, to make contact with unknown civilizations. Star Trek is the gaze of desire of Producer Gene Roddenberry into a utopian future. The reality of the 1960s speaks a different language. The superpowers USA and Soviet Union are engaged in a relentless Cold War of two systems. The conquest of space at that time is less the fulfillment of a romantic dream than much more a tough-talking horse race of ideologies. In 1966 the USA is a nose ahead. With the Mercury and Gemini capsules of NASA, courageous astronauts like John Glenn and Virgil Grissom have already been in outer space. Soon the first humans will walk on the moon. The era of travelers to the stars has already begun. [Contrary to what some leftist academic commentators have claimed,] Star Trek provides an ideology-free science fiction.

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Alan N. Shapiro: Star Trek had a very deep impact on me immediately when I saw it, and it’s very difficult to say why. And when I wrote my book about Star Trek, which I wrote between 1997 and 2003, it took me about 6 years to write it, I was able to really think about this question why did I love Star Trek. Star Trek represents a more advanced consciousness about our identity in space and time than the relations to space and time that we have now. Most of human history, people were only aware of their immediate physical location. If you were a peasant in France, working your whole life on a farm, you were just aware of the village and town where you lived. Later we had explorers who went to India and America, and we started to have a consciousness of the whole world. Now we try to live together, knowing that there are many people, countries, nationalities, religions. Star Trek is about expanding that consciousness again, to the existence of other intelligent civilizations on other planets in the galaxy. I believe that Star Trek is an expression of our collective consciousness like Karl Gustav Jung said and wrote about. The exploration of outer space, the idea of making contact with aliens from other civilizations, is very important.

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Alan Neil Shapiro is a technologist and futurist. He studied sociology and philosophy. He wrote a book with the title Star Trek: Technologies of Disappearance. It is the book of a scientist. An engagement with quantum physics. But it is also a book of a fan who has the insolence to claim that Star Trek is on the level of Homer, Shakespeare and Goethe. Shapiro tries to interpret the present from the perspective of the future. He is not interested in the fantastic potential of utopias, rather, he is driven by the will to implement them in reality. Shapiro knows his Marx, and he has read Marx carefully to gain insights into today’s work world. He has been involved with C.G. Jung’s analytical psychology and with Sigmund Freud’s theories. He is a follower of the French thinkers Jacques Derrida and Jean Baudrillard. He studied Werner Heisenberg. He writes cultural studies essays about casino gambling and baseball in America. He publishes studies about the Car of the Future. He wants to create a new software that is based on quantum physics. But, above all, Alan Shapiro calls for a new interdisciplinary thinking on a wide front. Only in this way can the rational-thinking “economic man” (homo oeconomicus) obsessed with his well-being in a narrow way, transform himself into a creative, playful living entity pursuing happiness. Only through the activation of the play drive, according to Shapiro’s thesis, can human beings reach a higher stage of development. This third segment of the Generator Utopia series is dedicated to this more advanced stage of human development.

Titel: Learning to Love Androids: The Wondrous World of the Universal Scholar Alan N. Shapiro

by Florian Fricke

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Titelmelodie Star Trek

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Space – endless expanses. Somewhere in the middle of the Milky Way lies our solar system, infinitesimally small; even the comparison with the head of a pin is insufficient to give an idea of just how tiny it is. Once in a while, we send out a space probe, gliding forever and ever through the galaxy, a silent messenger of our civilization, a post card sent into outer space. Each time written with the hope that someone might read it, and maybe even write back. If humanity will ever in fact get the chance to shake the hand or other extremity of a representative of intelligent alien life – a peaceful or an aggressive visitor – is just as unknown as it was in the times of Jules Verne or H. G. Wells.

Let us stay in the year 2010, on the Earth. In Star Trek, is space not also a metaphor for the endless expanses of our consciousness and of our possibilities? Only – are we really developing and living our potential? Where is the United Federation of Humanity, whose thinking- and ideas-spaceships are searching for knowledge and solutions in the here and now? Even though star systems inhabited by intelligent civilizations are light-years away, humanity seems in any case to be often more interested in the conquering of extraterrestrial territories than in the development of our own cerebral potential. But is the possibility not obviously closer at hand to reach the next phase of human consciousness through the intensive use of our heretofore neglected brain capacities than to hope that somewhere out there exists intelligent life?

In his book, Shapiro asks the question: what is the meaning of the modern mythology of Star Trek?

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What is the role of the Star Trek “culture industry” in elaborating the “fully coherent universe” [of absorbing characters and manifold alien species; streamlined outer space travel and the harmonious United Federation of Planets; or admirable creed of liberal humanism and multiculturalism that is optimistic about the future]? What is the nature of the original creativity of seminal Star Trek stories that the “finished mythology” is built on? What is the fan’s subjective experience as a viewer then “reteller” of a specific Star Trek story or episode that especially touches and moves her, and which is such a vital piece of the making of a “consummate myth” or forceful fiction? These three elements are indispensable to any attempt to seize the internal and basic logic of Star Trek.

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Like his Star Trek hero, the android Data, Alan Shapiro is himself a well-equipped researcher into human consciousness and the human psyche. He is searching for truths that can bring humanity forward. In Shapiro’s case, however, one must use the term “truth“ with caution. Shapiro does not demand definitive, inherent truths. He is too much a follower of quantum physics to believe in anything like that. According to quantum physics, nothing retains its apparently fixed position. The idea of matter in itself is an illusion. Shapiro’s thinking world is always in movement. It is like an array of open source projects and ideas, the permanent exchange of ideas with many individuals, the opposite of an “idea monopoly.” As a consequence, he calls for a more open interpretation of concepts and terms in contemporary use in our language.

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I think that, with respect to the classical knowledge of the humanities – philosophy, sociology, history – we are in a paradoxical situation. We have to both take philosophy and sociology very seriously, but also see that they are obsolete. What I take from Heidegger is his insights about time. The model that we think about time – past, present, and future, and that past, present and future are three separate modes of time – is a mistake. We need to change our thinking about time. History is the queen science of the humanities, and history says that only the past is true knowledge. We can only make definite statements about the past, and we are more or less lost in our understanding of the present and the future. This is obsolete, and this is why I have focused in my work on science fiction. But we have to be very careful there because the classic idea of what science fiction is is also wrong. The conventional view is that science fiction is about the future, and that remains within the classic idea of past, present and future. I believe that the great science fiction novels and films and TV are really about the present. The future is, in any case, unknowable because there are many possible futures, and we don’t know which one of them will happen. And that will be affected by our actions in the present. So what’s really important is to live in the present, and the choices of action that we make in the present. And great science fiction is about the present, presented in metaphors and stories about the future, but those are only metaphors and stories. Science fiction is telling us truths about the present in ways that the dominant ideologies and way of thinking prevent us from seeing. The question is how do we live and act in the present, based on our understanding of the future and/or the past. The competition is between the old history-dominated view and the new science fiction-oriented idea of how to live in the present. As Hans-Peter Dürr says, we have a prejudice about knowledge that only knowledge that is greifbar – graspable, tangible – is real knowledge. That’s a mistake. The world and reality are now too complex to respect only tangible knowledge. We need to have more respect for intuition and feeling. We need to develop our intuitive knowledge to help us to live better in the present. So I call myself a technologist and a futurist, instead of a philosopher and a sociologist.

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When the first Star Trek series started in 1966, its creator Gene Roddenberry had to overcome enormous resistance. The USA was in the middle of the Cold War, the victory over Japan was only 20 years in the past, racial segregation in the southern States was still a grim reality. Roddenberry wanted to oppose a utopia against these dark forces. And so it was that, close to the All-American Captain James T. Kirk, an international, inter-galactic crew was on the bridge of the Enterprise: the Japanese-American Lieutenant Sulu, the Russian Ensign Chekov, and the First Officer Spock from the planet Vulcan. Nichelle Nichols, as the Kenyan communications officer Uhura, was one of the first African American actresses in a major television series not playing a domestic. In one episode, Uhura and Kirk dared to kiss. In the changing racial climate of the mid-1960s, this was a calculated provocation.

INSTRUMENTAL KURZ HOCH

After The Original Series, followed four more Star Trek series: The Next Generation, Deep Space Nine, Voyager, and Enterprise. There have also been 11 Star Trek films. In the most recent film (2009), simply entitled Star Trek, J. J. Abrams, the producer of Lost,  undoubtedly added the gift of pop cultural ennoblement to the series. What fascinates Alan Shapiro and many fans is the deep moral impetus that is immanent to Star Trek. On a deep level and in fact, even when the vast majority of American Trekkers are not allowed to become aware of it, Star Trek offers the fulfillment of communism (with a small “c”):  humanity is united, there is qualitatively less  war, there is qualitatively less racism and poverty, capitalism and money as economic institutions have been radically reformed. Together with other sentient species from the Alpha Quadrant, Earth has rallied to the banner of the United Federation of Planets. The goal is First Contact with the otherness of alien civilizations, mutual recognition and sharing of knowledge to expand our horizons.

Alongside the beloved Original Series crew around Kirk, Spock, Bones McCoy and the chief engineer Scottie, The Next Generation also has many fans. The cool-headed Captain Jean-Luc Picard comes across in his deliberate manner as more erudite than the shirt-sleeved Captain Kirk, and would make a good UN Secretary-General. Maybe Picard is so even-tempered because he has so many female officers around him who can provide a female perspective. And he has Lt. Commander Data. Data is an android. Shapiro sees in this human-resembling robot the personified technical utopia: technology with sentience, Artificial Intelligence, sovereign and free. A friend of, but not subservient to, humanity. As long as humanity sees technology as only utilitarian, this utopia will not be possible to realize.

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When is the moment that the apes become human beings? It is the moment when they discover how to make tools, which they can use to gain power over their environment. That’s how we have thought about technology, as a tool. But now we need to change that.

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The allegory for the Fall of Man into homo technicus is the famous clip in Stanley Kubrick’s masterpiece 2001: A Space Odyssey. The bone of an animal hurled into the air, which a horde of prehistoric humans has just discovered can be used as a weapon, morphed into an early 21st century spaceship. From the beginning, we have used tools as weapons. Of course, the general banishment of technology is not an option for securing peace in the 21st century, any more than it was in the twentieth. Shapiro therefore asks that technology be given a soul. The design of androids is for him less a metaphor for the technical, and more a metaphor for the emotional and moral.

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When we go on with this idea of robots for Artificial Intelligence, we impede our growth as human beings. We stay fixated on the idea of production. We are not really living life or enjoying it. We are just homo oeconomicus, and we think we need robots to increase our efficiency. If we view technology through the metaphor of androids - technology as alive, intelligent, and sentient - that will help human beings to grow and develop, because we will have interaction and dialogue with technology. And then we will discover a new essence of humanity, to finally get beyond homo oeconomicus and come to a new reality: humans are creative. Creativity is what defines us as a species. We are free to make our lives however we want and be creative. Not just go through life more or less sleeping. This is the fundamental idea of Freud. Most people are just sleepwalking through life, because most of what they have lived is hiding in their unconscious. [We are not as far from Artificial Intelligence as many scientists believe. My position is that Artificial Intelligence is already implicit in the object-oriented paradigm of software engineering.]

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Earth time: May 2010. Place: Frankfurt/Main. Here Alan Shapiro lives and works, here he seeks contact with like-minded persons from all disciplines, to exchange ideas, and perhaps even bring them to fruition. Among Shapiro’s soul mates are not only androids. One representative of the human species whom Shapiro values highly is the Frankfurt ballett dramaturg Steve Valk. Valk is an exemplar of the inter-disciplinarity that Shapiro so often praises. Dramaturg is not a sufficient title for Valk’s activities: he is also a director, stage designer, and performer. In Frankfurt, he founded an agency for social choreography named R.I.C.E.

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Steve Valk: “Is it possible to make an Event with people from different social spheres, with artists, with other people, in a beautiful place, to make celebrations, exhibitions, where all kinds of people come together, and no one understands: where are we now? What is this? How did this come about? Because, in principle, the old ways and places, and how our society is divided into its separate spheres, is all simply no longer comprehensible. To make confusing social events, but confusing in a positive way, events which radiate a certain euphoria, because established borders are  being trespassed upon. For example, people found themselves on the seventh floor of a homeless shelter and they had no idea that that’s where they were. Euphoria is released.”

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Shapiro sees in Valk’s creative spectacles analogies to the Star Trek universe: confusing encounters with other civilizations, but confusing in a positive way. Shapiro believes that Valk is taking on tasks and responsibilities that the State and Society have neglected for too long. Shapiro does not have much hope that the state institutions that manage and process the have-nots of society will undertake creative initiatives to help different layers of society come closer together. Unless they make the attempt to understand Steve Valk’s vision and engage R.I.C.E. as a partner in doing projects.

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Steve creates communication among different sectors of society. There should be more projects like his. We need that. The Welfare State was invented by Franklin Roosevelt in the USA in the 1930s, to compensate for the brutal social reality of homo oeconomicus. It helped people survive. But now we need a fundamental change from the Welfare State to a cultural society. We need to rethink our definition of prosperity. All politicians want growth and prosperity, but they have a very narrow concept of what wealth is. We need social mechanisms for generating cultural and creative wealth, untapping the wealth that already exists in everyday life and in  ordinary people. Steve’s work is at the center of the societal change from homo oeconomicus to a culture of creativity.

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R.I.C.E. stands for Radical Institute of Cybernetic Epistemology, das radikale Institut für kybernetische Epistemologie. That sound intellectually provocative, and so it should be. R.I.C.E. wants to achieve a balancing act between the simplicity of a grain of rice and a social choreographical concept that can hardly be grasped.

During World War II, President Roosevelt initiated the Manhattan Project. Many scientists were brought together around the physicist Robert Oppenheimer in the research center in Los Alamos, New Mexico to build the American atomic bomb. In the evening, the tired bomb builders wanted to use their free time in a different and meaningful way. Hanging around the bar, they came up with the idea of a bet: who among them could invent a new science? Each scientist gave a lecture about his own field of specialization. It became apparent that all of them, whether astronomers or molecular scientists, structured their statements around the idea of systems. So who or what is steering or adjusting these systems, either at the molecular level or at the level of planetary star systems? Cybernetics concerns itself with the regulatory behaviour of systems, for example, the way in which the brain adjusts our body temperature or a thermostat adjusts the heating system in response to the external environment. But what is cybernetic epistemology?

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Steve Valk: “Epistemology has to do with the roots of knowledge: how do we know what we know? If one considers the question of knowledge, and the question of knowledge of knowledge, one has an almost unimaginable construction of consciousness, wobei es darum geht: what do we know about the systems in which we are living? A forest is a system. So are weather patterns, and our body, and our cells. We live in social systems. There are many cybernetic beings. The car, the human being, technology. This complex science of adjusting, combined with the question, what do we know at all? And when one brings these two nearly impossible challenges together, one has this new scientific field called cybernetic epistemology.”

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The ZüNDFUNK-Generator is engaged today with the universal scholar Alan N. Shapiro. Universal scholar – not an easy job in a modern world that is becoming more complex every day. Which seemingly offers us every possible freedom. We have limitless communications possibilities. We can telephone from Katmandu to Houston. We can have encounters in forums and chats with surprising strangers or their avatars, to discuss the soccer games of Bayern München or the theory of everything. We follow real and would-be catastrophes in real time, even when we are on vacation at the beach. The game console is permanently on and in use. In the morning we trudge to work, it might even sometimes be fun. In the evening, the Late Nite Show is waiting for us. The French philosopher and media theorist Jean Baudrillard saw our world as determined by formulae, models, codes, and maps. His main idea was: we have created a hyper-reality, a simulation. A related idea of simulation is presented in the film Matrix. Our reality is like a virtual reality computer program. Modern man is and acts like a procedural program: he is always executing or carrying out some process. As living beings, we are reduced to our genetic code.

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Man and the world are a construct held together by structures and rules. Why do we cling so much to tangible knowledge? To answer this question, Alan Shapiro refers to the work of the quantum physicist Hans-Peter Dürr. Dürr believes that, through our desperate clinging to graspable knowledge, we want to seize the possibility of manipulating reality according to our wishes. Shapiro, a hitchhiker or trekker among the disciplines, regards quantum physicists like Dürr, Buddhists like the Dalai Lama, and the postmodernist apocalyptic thinker Jean Baudrillard as all saying more or less the same thing: there is a Realität, and there is a Wirklichkeit (two words in German for the English reality, as Dürr points out). Realität is the tangible, graspable things around us, what we perceive we our senses, the hard facts. Wirklichkeit is something deeper, intangible, as quantum mechanics describes it. According to quantum science, there are only potential possibilities, and no fixed positions. If the observer perceives a fixed position, this is merely his current observation. It has, in any case, no general validity. Each observer creates his own reality. Background activity strips us of all valid cognition. Many Anglo-Americans believe that this privileging of so-called reality gives them license to easily reach definitive conclusions. The economic superpower America knows only hard facts. Shapiro’s paradoxically pragmatic conception of mystical truths - or the reality behind things - is diametrically opposed to the prevalent reductionist pragmatism. Here he refers to the spiritual teachings of the Dalai Lama.

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The Dalai Lama says: the problem with the West is that you have privileged the head and not the heart. The way that we understand and relate to everything is through an intellectual construction. Through our rational grasping. We need to develop the heart, which is underdeveloped in the Western system. What does it mean to develop the heart? It has more than one meaning. The heart is about love. The heart is about centering oneself more in the entire body, which makes us more grounded. A sense which the Dalai Lama did not intend, but can be developed further. For example, I have written about casino gambling and baseball in America. One can ask the question: What is the heart and soul of America? Jacques Barzun, the French thinker who lived in America said: the heart and soul of America is baseball. And I think that’s true. And what is the heart and soul of baseball? Most baseball fans are obsessed with statistics and performance, as in all sports now. But really the heart of baseball or any sport is playfulness and the spirit of the game.

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We have had quantum physics knowledge for 100 years, but quantum physics has not significantly touched our world of thinking, work, academic disciplines, the digital world. That is understandable, because quantum physics describes a reality that even physicists can hardly explain. Man latches onto graspable, tangible formulae for comprehending his world. This also explains his love for dividing the world into binary oppositions: good-evil, black-white, male-female. The list of binary oppositions is infinite. Dividing the world into binary oppositions is comfortable and easy. Entire computer programming languages are built on zeros and ones. If humanity is really intent upon reaching a higher stage of development, it must say goodbye to the system of zeroes and ones and strive to create a new computer science, Shapiro thinks.

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The most intelligent thing on the Internet now is the programmers, the people who are developing and maintaining these fantastic technologies, the ones who are developing and maintaining WordPress or the more sophisticated CMS website-making platforms like Drupal or Joomla, or the iPad, or Twitter, or the multimedia sports technologies. That’s where the real intelligence is. Unfortunately, it’s a very narrow engineering intelligence. My father was a structural engineer. He made skyscrapers in Manhattan. He had a very intensive engineering intelligence. I have myself worked 20 years as a software engineer, and I studied at MIT. I respect engineering intelligence, we need to respect and preserve that. But now we must consider the growth capability of humanity. We have to grow now. We have to take this engineering intelligence and expand it, and start to include other disciplines, especially art and sociology. I believe that the sociological and aesthetic dimensions of software are very important. This is where I see hope in our terrible crisis situation. This is what I call the New Computer Science. Look at the strongest, most intelligent area that we have today, which is computer engineering. There we see the opening, the Heidegerrian clearing in the woods, the opening of a window, of a Huxleyian door of perception. We are now mature enough in our development that we don’t need any more to separate art and sociology away from the engineering intelligence. We can create a new interdisciplinary computer science, and start to be intelligent again, instead of making a fetish of the technologies where everyone wants to be involved and identified with the newest thing, if it’s Twitter or Skype or whatever. This obsession with Facebook or LinkedIn or MSN once again illustrates the profound truth of the first principle of media theory (Marshall McLuhan) that the medium is the message. This principle is applicable today more than ever. Or, as Jean Baudrillard said, we are in the reign of the simulacra, the signifiers without content. My view is that nobody has done any real thinking about the situation of humanity since 1968. Although we have had a lot of great ideas in film and TV, but they have not been analyzed outside of film schools. Now the chance is there to start thinking again.

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Shapiro’s apartment in Frankfurt is in the heart of the university quarter in Bockenheim. Leipziger Straße is a narrow, one-way street that probably hasn’t changed since the late Middle Ages. Pedestrians have to walk on narrow sidewalks and squeeze past each other and the parked cars. This is a street where the “Car of the Future” would solve many problems. Shapiro worked together with the concept designer Nick Pugh to produce sketches of the Car of the Future. As radical as these sketches are, they look like they could have been the result of a brainstorming session on board the Enterprise.

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Cars should be vertical instead of horizontal. Then you can decrease the width of the street. Streets can be made narrower, and the extra space given back to the human community. If you go to India or Asia, you see that cities are designed for cars only. I was in Trivandrum, which is the second largest city in the region of Kerala. There are no sidewalks at all. The street is only for cars, right up to the edge of the buildings.

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The figure of Odo the shapeshifter from Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, and Japanese transformer toys, inspire the futuristic design of Shapiro’s vehicles to come. Depending upon where they are at the moment, cars can change their shape: sleekly horizontal on the highways, space-savingly vertical in the city. Another Nick Pugh sketch foresees cars that expand and contract. Yet another sketch applies the Japanese paper-folding art, Origami. Shapiro also believes that cars on two wheels are possible. ”Form follows function” becomes ”form follows action”. Of course, cars will be guided by Artificial Intelligence, and they will communicate with each other via advanced self-aware software. Traffic lights become redundant, since traffic flows like a flock of birds or a school of fish.

A second futuristic application regards the car as a game console or Holo-car. This completes the circle of technology as a friend of humanity. The Holo-car is related to the Holodeck of Star Trek: The Next Generation. In the Holodeck of the Enterprise-D,  any virtual world can be created via Holographic technology. When we drive a car, we perceive the environment like a film, a film where we are the star. Shapiro picks up on these tendencies and foresees their radicalization. Beyond the Transformer sketches, he imagines a new kind of sensual-virtual experience, which is no longer mobility in the classical sense.

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The experience of driving should not any longer be defined only as the physical movement of getting from point A to point B. Driving can be experienced virtually. When we look out the windows of the car, we can see virtual landscapes and virtual outsides. Make windows of the car into video screens, project a three-dimensional experience. This will be the new game platform and the way to experience virtual reality. The Holodeck is the future of all our entertainment media, like television and the Internet. Now when you watch television it is a passive experience, where you are watching with your eyes. There is a boundary, a clear separation between  viewer and viewed. You are a spectator, passively viewing. On the contrary, we all want to participate in that experience.

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Intelligent software and the Car of the Future – Shapiro wanted to explore projects of this kind with his company in Frankfurt. The first attempt to create the company, in 2009-2010, failed. It did not get beyond the stage of a think tank. It is a long road until fantastic ideas can be transformed into economic reality, especially in these times.

Utopia needs credit. Companies and banks, which already have difficulties investing in reality, do not easily engage in sponsoring the future. But Shapiro will not give up believing in the realization of his projects. For that, he is already too much of an android…

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In The Next Generation episode The Offspring, the android Data creates a child named Lal. Lal is at first genderless, then she chooses the appearance of a human girl. The story of Lal ends sadly. She dies after just a couple of weeks, because she makes the mistake of wanting to exactly resemble human beings. On the Enterprise, she goes to school and has contact with human children. But she very quickly feels and experiences that she is an outsider. She doesn’t understand humour, and the other children make fun of her.  Starfleet Command demands to take possession of the new android. It wants to separate Lal from Data. Deep fear and sadness overcome her, leading to breakdown of her positronic brain.

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Data explains to Lal that it’s a mistake for an android to try to become human, because what an android is is a teacher of humanity. We need to  learn from androids, or from technology. And we need to fundamentally change our understanding of what it is to be human. The mistake that we are making is that we want to be completely safe. That’s the wrong idea of homo oeconomicus. Homo oeconomicus wants to accumulate money and stuff and become rich in an economic sense, so that he is protected from death and from dangers. That won’t work and it’s obsolete. It’s a paradox, because the person who lives longer is going to be the person who accepts danger, who accepts the risks. That’s why I’m interested in gambling, being in a way close to death. Not so much to protect yourself in a bubble of safety and of life against death. If you live as a homo oeconomicus, then when you are 50 or 55 years old, your life is more or less finished. You either cannot function any more in the business world that demands that you work 10 or 12 hours a day, or you are not allowing to continue functioning because you are replaced by a younger model. All you did your whole life is to sell your labour power in exchange for money and you have no creative activity of your own. At a very early age you are exhausted and finished. Whereas if you live as an android, you are living more with uncertainty, and you are living with the question of what is real and what is fiction. Living with imagination and even craziness. Don’t repeat what everyone else has already done. So the reason why Data as an android survives and lives, and Lal, his daughter, does not survive, is that Data has understood that he is not human, that he is an android. And I think that we should all start to think more like androids.

To Lal’s question, ”Why do you still try to emulate humans? What purpose does it serve except to remind you that you are incomplete?” Data replies:

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“I have asked myself that many times as I have struggled to be more human, until I realized it is the struggle itself that is more important. It does not matter that we will never reach our ultimate goal. The effort yields its own rewards.“ – Lt. Commander Data in the episode „The Offspring.”

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To think more like an android: this is Shapiro’s postulate. At the same time, he admits that he is himself not entirely certain what that means. But he has a hunch, and, translated into quantum physics, having a hunch means the potential of possibilities: embracing risk or thinking the unthinkable. Alan Shapiro has taken these steps, which have also catapulted him outside the economic security of a fixed job. He does not suffer from this. The technologist and futurist prefers to be free in his thinking rather than cramped in a putative affluence.

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ZUSP TITEL

Sprecher:

Ton und Technik:

Produktion und Musikauswahl : Rainer Schaller

Redaktion: Katja Huber

The playlist and links to the broadcast are on the web at bayern2.de and Zündfunk. There you can download this and other Generator broadcasts as podcasts. In the next part of the Utopia series, next Sunday, June 20, Birgit Frank asks the question: can alimentation with awareness (still) save the planet?

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