Syllabus of the Fall 2015 class
Instructors: Joost Bonsen and Dan Novy
Faculty Advisor: Joe Paradiso
Meeting Time: Tue 7-9 in E15-359
FALL TERM — (Tuesday, Sept. 15, through Tuesday, Dec. 15)
11 Tuesdays + Final Exam Presentation.
‘Pataphysics (French: ‘pataphysique): The science of imaginary solutions.
‘Science Fiction is not predictive, it is descriptive.’ — Ursula Le Guin
‘A good science fiction story should be able to predict not the automobile but the traffic jam.’ — Frederik Pohl
Far more than escapist fantasy or Saturday morning ray gun serials, Science Fiction has become the ambient ideaspace of our time. An author’s words or a director’s vision can inspire a generation of designers and engineers to work on the “Big Problems” of an age or to tread lightly as they wield the great power of science and discovery. From Mary Shelley’s “Frankenstein” to SynthBio’s programmed life-forms; from Star Trek’s Communicator to the StarTAC Flip Phone; from William Gibson’s Cyberspace to the Internet of today; Science Fiction is the medium where new ideas are born, prototyped, and become technological reality.
With a focus on the creation of functional prototypes, this class combines the analysis of classic and modern science fiction texts and films with physical fabrication or code-based interpretations of the technologies they depict. Topics will include the future of Matter, Energy, Medicine, Food, Cities, Brains, Emerging Nations, Sex/Gender, Money, War, Transport, Aging, Entertainment, Design, Religion, and more. Students will be exposed to concepts of digital fabrication, machine vision, speculative design, blockchain technology, interface design, machine learning, neuroscience, and synthetic biology to explore how tales of the future can inform cutting edge technology today. Guest lecturers and representatives from sponsor companies working in these areas will contribute to select project critiques. Students should have at least basic experience with fabrication techniques and/or coding skills. We especially encourage students participating in How To Make (Almost) Anything and other skillbuilding fabrication, electronics, coding, and similar classes to consider taking Sci Fab concurrently. Our emphasis is on exploring and finding the most interesting and compelling things to prototype — in our case, as inspired by Science Fiction. We require you to commit to regular readings and/or viewings, active participation in class discussions, to have an open mind, to work on in-class design and other exploratory exercises, two iterations of project prototypes during the first and second month, and a final project.
Grading will be based on attendance, thoughtful participation in class discussion, design exercises, project critiques, and how successfully class projects incorporate concepts addressed in readings (30%). Participation includes speaking during class, being attentive and engaged, as well as posting, commenting on, and critiquing online materials at the class website. Two iterations of project prototypes will be required (15% each). The final project will be worth 40% (including documentation). Projects may be done alone or in collaboration. Collaborations must document the full extent of each participant’s contribution and equal effort is expected per collaborator. The final project may build on a previous class exercise or earlier prototypes. Each unexcused absence will result in losing one letter grade. Each failure to do the assigned readings or activity will result in a 5% loss of total points.
One week each. Reading selections, topic, topic order, and guest speakers may change. Each class will contain in-class Design Exercises related to the reading.
Intro and Expectations (Sept 15)
GUEST: Jason Pontin from Technology Review
Design Exercise: Class discussion of favorites SF or Speculative Fiction Literature, Film, Video Game, etc.)
Assignment: “What have you always wanted to see become real?”
Sketch (on paper, in legos, with clay, papier-mâché, laser cut cardboard, Sculpey, foam, arduino, openframeworks, etc) a prototype inspired by your favorite Science Fiction storyworld or artifact. Be prepared to explain what it is, what it does, how it works, and how it could be done today, i.e. what parts and processing exist today that would allow you to make it.
> Read the chapter of The Diamond Age by Neal Stephenson entitled “Nell learns to work the matter compiler; youthful indiscretions; all is made better.” (Page number will depend on chosen format.)
> Read Ch. 1 & 9 of Engines of Creation by Eric Drexler
MAKE (Material Progress) (Sept 22)
Design Exercise: Sputnik0!’s Awesome Design Fiction Exercise
Diamond Age / Matter Compilers
Transmetropolitan / Warren Ellis
Star Trek / Replicators
Heinlein / Solar
Asimov / I Robot
Butlerian Jihad / Dune
Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? – Philip K. Dick
Rachel / Larissa Lai
The Lifecycle of Software Objects / Ted Chiang
Assignment: Learn how to program DNA and create a new life form:
Watch the following video: https://youtu.be/_eqp2BmEEGU
Read the following several times and watch where necessary: https://readfold.com/read/jpahara/learn-synthetic-biology-synbiotas-rainbow-factory-NPeboFiq
Read Synbiota’s Protocols for Rapid DNA Prototyping.
Go online and design a plasmid in the software section of Synbiota’s Rainbow Factory kit.
Reading Assignment: Read selection from:
Ch. 22 – “THE BAZAAR OF THE BIZARRE” from Nexus by Ramez Naam
Ch. 7 – 11 of Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood
Pg. 121 -169 of Evolving Ourselves by Juan Enriquez and Steve Gullans
HEAL (Health & Physiology) (Sept 29)
Guest: Andrew Hessel, David Kong
Design Exercise: Synbiota Synthetic Biology Hacking
Truth Machine / Lie Detection, Neuroailments
Blood Music / Greg Bear
First Immortal / Cryonics, etc
“Flowers For Algernon” - Daniel Keyes
Mindplayers / Pat Cadigan
Diamond Age / implants, tats, ractives
Oryx and Crake
Nexus / Ramez Naam
Diaspora / spectrum of uploads & AI’s
The Girl Who Was Plugged In / Tiptree
Starship Trooper’s – Forever War – Old Man’s War/ Protective Suits
Heinlein / Waldos
Sketch, again in your preferred medium, a “napkin prototype” that uses the organisms we created in the workshop. How could they be inputs/sensors? outputs/displays? etc. Extra points if you build it.
Explore the IGEM Catalog of Parts. Become familiar with some of the most current “winners” of the competition.
Reaching further, What “Oryx and Crake” like creature could you see being beneficial to humanity? Medical? Military? Entertainment? What would be its drawback?
“Fast Times at Fairmont High” by Vernor Vinge
“TAP” by Greg Egan
Read the sections of “The Diamond Age” entitled
“Hackworth departs from Dr. X’s laboratory; further ruminations; poem from Finkle-McGraw; encounter with ruffians.”
“From the Primer, a visit to Castle Turing; a final chat with Miss Matheson; speculation as to Nell’s destiny; farewell; conversation with a grizzled hoplite; Nell goes forth to seek her fortune.“
Forever War / Sim tank
None So Blind / Neuromod
Matrix / Spinal Tap
TAP / Greg Egan
Babel-17 – Samuel Delany
Diamond Age / Primer
The Veldt/ Bradbury
Minority Report / Gestural
Diamond Age / Ractives
Snow Crash / VR
Neuromancer / Cyberspace
Hitchhikers Guide / Bablefish
Ready Player One/ The Oasis
Assignment: Take one of your or a classmate’s ideas generated during play of The Thing from the Future game and sketch it out in more detail. If it’s an easily buildable object, build it. If it’s an app or a site or a Processing sketch, code it. Document in detail on the class WordPress what the object is (object), how it works (mood + terrain), and how it fits into the future world from which it comes (arc).
Finish “The Diamond Age“, (go back and read any parts you missed. Then read until the end.) Pay particular attention to the description of cities, mobility, and fuels (Feed vs. Seed)
Read “The Infinite Resource” by Ramez Naam.
FUEL (Enviro & Planet) (Oct 20)
Blade Runner / LA
Fifth Element / NYC
Diamond Age / Shanghai etc
Snow Crash / LA Burbclaves
Star Wars / Corcusant
Foundation / Trantor
District 9 / Jo’burg
Rainbows End/ Library
Anathem/ Clock of the Long Now
Snow Crash / YT’s Skates
Snow Crash / Rat-thing
Back to the Future / Hoverboard
Heinlein / Roads Must Roll
The Windup Girl / Paolo Bacigalupi
Oryx and Crake/ Atwood
Dhalgren / Samuel R. Delany
“Speech Sounds” / Octavia Butler
Kim Stanley Robinson / Red Mars/Green Mars/Blue Mars
Frank Herbert / Dune
Accelerando / Charlie Stross
Lords of Light / Zelazny
Assignment: Finalize your project choice and begin building it.
Read Philip Jose Farmer’s “Riders of the Purple Wage“
Read Finally, this Will Wright fansite page on SimCity and the link between Jay Forrester’s Urban Dynamics and the SimCity game — http://www.will-wright.com/willshistory4.php
Then read this New Yorker piece that focuses on Will Wright, covering the MIT Urban Dynamics history and putting it into larger context of God games — http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2006/11/06/game-master
Take a quick tour through this Strategy+Business piece which focuses on MIT Professor Jay Forrester, the guy who actually pioneered System Dynamics which is a form of psychohistory — http://www.strategy-business.com/article/05308?gko=35c59
Visit the Will Wright bibliography by Kottke which includes nice summary descriptions and links to greater detail — http://kottke.org/06/11/will-wrights-bibliography
Read the following article: http://quickbase.intuit.com/blog/2014/03/17/management-lessons-from-heinlein/
Read the following article on how to subvert any organization: http://svn.cacert.org/CAcert/CAcert_Inc/Board/oss/oss_sabotage.html
Read these sections of Isaac Asimov’s “Foundation” series
Read Methuselah’s Children Part 1, Chapter 8.
THE FIFTH ELEMENT (Civic & Societal Scale) (Nov 3)
Guest: Zander Rose of the Long Now Foundation
Design Exercise: Zwicky Box!
Future Commerce & Money
Riders of the Purple Wage – Philip Jose Farmer
The Culture Series / Ian M. Banks
Frank Herbert / Dune
Parable of the Sower / Octavia E. Butler
The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas / Ursula K. Le Guin
Sociodynamic Sensing & Modeling
Foundation / Psychohistory
The Culture Series / Ian M. Banks
Destiny’s Children Series / Stephen Baxter
Assignment: BUILD YOUR PROJECT! Upload your documentation PRIOR to class next week.
Reading Assignment: No new readings. BUILD YOUR PROJECT!
First Prototype Due (Nov 10)
Class Project Presentations.
Read Philip K. Dick’s original “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?“
Watch Ridley Scott’s “Blade Runner.”
Post to the WordPress your general impressions about the adaptation. List at least a single technology that was left out of the film adaptation and why you think that is. What technologies were particularly well done in the film that weren’t in the novel?
Offer a small critique of each prototype seen in Nov 10th’s presentations in this Google Doc.
REPLICANTS AND RUNNERS (Nov 17)
Thinking Tools: The Manufactured Normalcy Field
Assignment: BUILD or REITERATE YOUR PROJECT! Add the features you didn’t have time for the first time around. Look closely at the feedback given to you by your classmates. Accept or reject it, but know WHY you’ve made this choice. Be prepared to defend this choice. Upload your documentation PRIOR to class next week.
Reading Assignment: No new readings. BUILD or REITERATE YOUR PROJECT!
Second Prototype Due (Nov 24)
Class Project Presentations.
Reading Assignment: Read the Daniel Suarez, Paola Antonelli, and Bruce Sterling stories from Technology Review’s current edition of 12 Tomorrows.
Assignment: Create and napkin sketch an additional Science Fiction artifact that would exist in any one of these three worlds (Daniel Suarez, Paola Antonelli, and Bruce Sterling). Upload the design with an explanation and a 1 paragraph Science Fiction story that includes your artifact.
Enjoy your holiday!
Women Destroy Science Fiction! (Dec 1)
Reading Assignment: ALL READINGS HERE
Read or listen to “The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas” by Ursula K. Le Guin.
Read “The Girl Who Was Plugged In” by James Tiptree ( <—- not her real name)
Pick ONE short story from Lightspeed’s “Women Destroy Science Fiction!” anthology.
Post to the WordPress a short summary of the story you chose in “Women Destroy Science Fiction!” along with your thoughts. Did you like it? Hate it?
Pick a technology or idea from your story and napkin sketch it.
(Wednesday, December 16) – Final Project Presentations
9:00 to 12:00 noon in E15-359
Non-Fiction Readings, Film Viewings, Field Trips, and Author Visits will be assigned as needed.