It’s a Fantastic Universe… so why aren’t we outside?

Minority report

Steven Spielberg's "The Minority Report," 2002. Production still.

Paradoxes and alternate realities propel our imaginations, as demonstrated in our creative expressions – art forms, texts and experimental technologies. In 1956, Philip K. Dick published The Minority Report (first published in Fantastic Universe) and the story was adapted into a film by Steven Spielberg in 2002. Less than ten years after Tom Cruise performed Spielberg’s version virtual 3D worlds entered the mainstream and mobile technologies became widespread. The place where these worlds or realities meet (convergence) was the initial inspiration for this blog.

In the gloomy half-darkness the three idiots sat babbling. Every incoherent utterance, every random syllable, was analyzed, compared, reassembled in the form of visual symbols, transcribed on conventional punchcards, and ejected into various coded slots. – Philip K. Dick, page 8

Jack Kilby and Robert Noyce are credited for the integrated circuit (1958) which reduced the cost of electronic functions by a factor of a million to one. Noyce went on to found Intel which invented the microprocessor and in 1960 the first computer game was created. They say that Philip K. was ahead of his time but I disagree. I see a continuum and I’ve been following the latest part of the sequence here since 2008. At some point many of the fictions of the 1950s and 60s became a reality, or multiple realities – physical, virtual, alternate, augmented – following advancements in science, technology, engineering and math. I felt that this development was best represented by the development of the HUD or heads-up display… which has evolved to become augmented reality (AR).

Iron Man hud

Jon Favreau's "Iron Man," 2008. Production still – the present HUD or heads-up display.


Wanuri Kahiu‘s, "Pumzi," 2009. Production still – the HUD in post-apocalyptic Africa.

There are three major display techniques for AR: head–mounted displays, handheld displays and spatial displays.

Head mounted display

Head mounted displays.

Handheld displays

Handheld display.

Spatial display

Spatial display: 555 KUBIK Facade Projection.

The idea behind 555 KUBIK was: “How it would be, if a house was dreaming”. Daniel Rossa was responsible for the art direction and used visualisations of the inside of the building together with other animations that were projected onto the building’s facade.

Another imagining of this manifests in Christoper Nolan’s film Inception and theorized in Joseph Nechvatal’s Towards an Immersive Intelligence (of which I wrote about in a post via Art21). The Inception App explores augmented sound.

Inception The App transports Inception The Movie straight into your life. New dreams can be unlocked in many ways, for example by walking, being in a quiet room, while traveling or when the sun shines. You will get realtime musical experiences, featuring new and exclusive music from the Inception soundtrack composed by Hans Zimmer.

So my answer to the question (why aren’t we outside?) is: “WE ARE.” We are crossing boundaries between here & there (then & now, inside & out), blending realities and exploring paradoxes now, as ever before. Also, the question (why aren’t we outside?) came to me earlier while debating Rethinking How We Teach The ‘Net Generation’ with a colleague on Facebook. He wrote,

Technology changes humanity in as much as humanity changes technology. If the internet were an atom bomb we wouldn’t be so gung-ho to incorporate it into every aspect of our lives.

He asserted that creativity and critical thinking are severely impaired because of our constant filtering of life through an illuminated screen. In a sense this is my response and I’m finding other sources of inspiration, as well. It all starts with finding the raw (natural) material…

Garden of the Gods

Garden of the Gods, Colorado Springs - it's fantastic!

A few years ago I hiked through Garden of the Gods on the lookout for a tree for my painting. I found the perfect one, photographed it and later it became the focal point of my work.

GOG tree

Tree, Garden of the Gods (the tree I found looked similar to this one).

Heritage Tree

My "Heritage Tree" painting, inspired by my hike through Garden of the Gods.

Seeing the real thing brought up lots of unanswered questions like, “How old was it?” and “What type of tree was it?” or “Why are the roots exposed?” What might this scene look like with an AR overlay, like if I could not only take a snapshot to bring home but also point the camera-enabled device and get information from the physical object?

Garden of the Gods tour app sketch

Garden of the Gods tour app sketch

HUDs and AR technologies are just tools, much like paints and brushes are. It’s what we do with them, how we use them to extend our creative ideas that make a difference. It’s about seeing lots of possible answers to questions and to think in multiple ways about a subject. Most of Philip K’s collection of stories (i.e. The Minority Report) have been adapted for film and, arguably, these fictions (ideas) challenge scientists, scholars, and artists to go further.

Pumzi 2

Another production still from Pumzi, 2009.

Concerning the universe, Philip K. had this to say:

“The universe is information and we are stationary in it, not three dimensional and not in space or time.”

In my writing I even question the universe; I wonder out loud if it is real, and I wonder out loud if all of us are real. – Philip K. Dick

We can be outside in nature and now we can bring these technologies with us to investigate the world and go deeper… further. We can impose divergent thinking on the virtual and augmented worlds we imagine as extensions of the natural world – the fantastic universe!

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