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Frankfurt Buchmesse (Book Fair) 2018 has a separate theme called The Arts+ that looks at technology — AI, AR, Holograms, Blockchain etc — and how it impacts culture. Multiple sessions I attended dealt with topics such as ‘Desirable Futures’, Can the machine Become the Curator of the future, can the machine create art and the role of humans in creativity.

What kind of future do we want when we wake up five, 10 or 15 years from now? In his book Hologrammatica, author Tom Hillenbrand talks about how holograms have taken over the word and they are everywhere. People are able to define their looks, gender, persona etc. Hillenbrand says in 10-15 years AI software will be able to do as humans please. Listening to him I was thinking that is a possible future because it is just an extension of social media sites where people always want to post the best and most flattering images of themselves. Hillenbrand says his book is neither utopic nor dystopic but just talks about a possible scenario. According to him most science fiction books depict a dystopic world where technology leads to everything negative and destruction. But what was needed was science fiction that look at technology realistically and gave alternate futures.

With such rapidly changing technologies, humans need to learn to deal with change. But it is possible to manage technology, said Harold Niedhart of Futur/io, The European Institute of Exponential Technologies & Desirable Futures. It would never be enough to say we don’t want the technology because it is everywhere. But the creative world can step up and define their visions of desirable futures. “Everyone is a futurist. We are all consumers. We make decisions everyday about what to purchase, make choices.” Futur/io is launching a short film competitions about desirable futures where anyone can make 60 second videos and upload.

But we can make choices if we are knowledgeable about what the purpose of the technology is and also its impact. I found value in the idea of highly democratized technology that needs to be transparent, as proposed by Dirk Heitmann, Chief Digital Officer at IBM. Heitmann said a lot of companies and consumers did not have any direct insight into the making of a technology. They look for non-invasive and elegant designs and products. But arts and design can only flourish when people are comfortable around what is offered. This can happen when the decision process of the technology is transparent for the end user, there is clarity on the motive behind the technology and also assurances that it cannot be misused.

In India, there is much discussion that is needed around the use of technology and its future. While AI, AR and blockchain seem a little distant, these will only become more sophisticated and also an integral part of our lives. As authors and illustrators, there is a huge scope for experimenting with technology as a theme in children’s and young adult books. Not the Star Wars kind of future but a more realistic future that these different technological innovations are leading us towards. As educators and librarians, it is our responsibility to educate ourselves on the spiraling technology changes so that we are better able to inform our children. We need to get over our discomfort with technology and give children freedom to experiment, understand and use technology responsibly. The use for technology as I see it, is to make the world a better place with multiple desirable futures!

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Swaha Sahoo Parag Reads 15 October 2018

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