paper leaves for a Future Machine that tracks air quality

Oracles, Predictions, Positive Futures and Actions

The second workshop to take place at the Mixed Reality Lab explored the predictions and promises captured during The Prediction Machine exhibitions, alongside a presentation by Professor Esther Eidinow (Bristol University, Ancient History) introducing her research into Fate, Luck and Fortune and the Oracle.

This time a truly interdisciplinary group of academics took part alongside 3 students from a local secondary school doing a work placement at the University/Queens Medical Centre. Participants included academics from Art History, Geography, Respiratory Medicine, Psychology as well as Computer Science.

After a fascinating talk by Esther that revealed the ancient world of the Oracles, talking about the role of the Delphi in Ancient Greece, the different questions and interactions of the people (across all of society) to the Delphi and the nature of her responses (and the God Apollo talking through her). This led to interesting discussions around the nature of people’s concerns about the future, comparing the promises and predictions I have been capturing with the types of questions and the poetic (often cryptic) answers from the Oracle.

People tend to ask personal, localised questions that are about their day to day lives, predicaments and decisions to be made. Sometimes national, global, broad topics (such as should I invade another country or will becoming a vegan have an impact on climate change) or very personal (should i plant this harvest or should I ask my girlfriend to marry me).

Other more poetic questions, promises and predictions interweave more emotional forms of future thinking, such as “I will not turn my back on the people I love”, “I promise to protect this little blue dot from harm”. “to keep on loving” and random thoughts such as “I want the world to be just like Minecraft”, “Sinusitus”, “The world will be upside down”.

We discussed how promises and thoughts inputed to a machine effect the response – when someone has to respond in a few seconds without thinking is very different from writing a prediction in a workshop… or going through a ritual in a temple before asking a question of the Delphi – elements of presence, slowing down and creating obstacles to help people consider deeply what they are committing to. We also discussed how these rituals and strategies might be built into a technology based system. We also talked briefly about how the Delphi might be considered as a technological system in a sense of inputs, outputs, interactions and outcomes.

We also talked about issues of uncertainty. The Delphi dealt with uncertainty through her poetic and vague answers that could easily be interpreted in different ways and rarely told people exactly what to do. People also sometimes rephrased (or resubmitted) the question to get the answer they wanted.

How do we deal with uncertainty now as we look to the future, when scientific data is meant to give us evidence and absolute answers. How do we represent the unknown in a context where decisions are expected to be based on known ‘truths’? Particular now in a world where the role of evidence and knowledge are being questioned and words such as fake, truth, known and unknown are constantly being appropriated and deconstructed.

The participants were split into 3 groups and invited to create prototypes of their own ‘Future Machines’. The results were three beautiful concepts.

Fun/Fear Future MachineUntitled (Peter and Paul)
This group wanted to measure how much fun or fear emerged as the future unfolded. Using different data sources such as the news and social media and ways to collect emotional data of the user (possibly linked to facial recognition software). The machine would visualise these emotions with a slider of fun/fear feelings represented in the prototype by a character dressed in blue for fear and yellow for fun.

A clay sculpture of Zeus disguised as a garden gnome

Zeus the Gnome
A Future Machine sculpture designed for a community garden that registers how well your community garden is thriving. Zeus has detachable parts and members of the community garden must put him together based on the PH of the garden soil. People have to be in the garden to do it although a social media space manages the data. In order to make a prediction about the future of the garden everyone needs to be face to face in the garden interacting with Zeus.

A Future Machine paper tree with different coloured leaves

The Tree
A wireless system that is linked to 2 datasets – with information about air quality inside and outside the users home. The tree is connected to an app where you insert your location and time. The tree measures the accuracy of the data depending on the amount of blue and red leaves that light up, revealing the certainty and uncertainty in the data. Green and black leaves represent the pollution levels in the air. The app provides suggestions on how to improve the air pollution.