The Future of Technology is Here, and It’s Sensitive
The future of technology is here, and it’s sensitive. Like don’t touch me down there, I’m not ready quite yet sensitive. Like I have serious feelings, dripping from my eyes to the pit of my stomach, and I can convey that for you sensitive. Amidst this waterfall of rapid technological innovation, a much bolder front follows shortly behind: human value, emotive functionality, and design aimed at allowing human creativity to flourish and not stifle behind elaborate electronic rigs.
We saw this in everything while scooting around Asheville at Moogfest this April. Our brains got heavier and our feet moved faster across the hilly downtown area- everything was walkable from our central Sweet Peas Hostel. The Gaslamp Killer’s transcendental set, Shigeto’s emotionally weighted drumming and MIA’s trio of fierce, main-staged dancers carved our nights into relentless dance parties and sweaty circles of new friends. Daytime activities included Dan Deacon’s durational patching performance, Neil Harbisson’s talk about using wearable technology to expand our sensory potential, Janelle Monae and The Electric Lady’s panel citing that “The future is already here, it’s just unevenly distributed,” and the Modular Marketplace, a space to discover and play on some of the most creative modular machines on the boutique analog market today.
A number of encounters provoked this never-ending flow of technology-driven sensory stimulation, though the feeling of pure human connection was what we left beaming about. In the face of electronic music, intelligent visual accompaniment, and panels about the future of technology, our own burrowing forms of human creativity stretched their legs, spilling pastels and gorgeous deformities out onto the wavelengths of everything; it became clear that there was no divide between artists and attendees. By experiencing what had been created with the people who had created it, we found a direct connection to our own potential. Moogfest inspired our sensitivity to the human energy that powers great technology, and we now understand that all great technology is sensitive at its core, welcoming unique minds to discover their individual and collaborative creative selves through it.
9-year-old Veronica stumbled upon a Bleep Labs mini-modular machine, boasting a wide-eyed curiosity that led to her jam with 23-year-old Patrick, another wandering Mooger taking musician form inside the Modular Marketplace. Maintaining the wonder and intuitive exploration of a child, festival attendees of all ages bunkered down to learn all types of synthesizers at Moogfest. The best reception went to those machines that catered their design to simplicity for beginners, while still hosting an interface that allowed expert operators to navigate more complicated sound manipulations. As Google Creative Lab lead Alexander Chen iterated in a discussion on the future of creativity, technology interfacing is almost as important as the technology itself. A keyboard with hundreds of immediate and visible functions isn’t sensitive to the human creative experience, instead it overwhelms and represses the organic flow with which creativity thrives most naturally beside.
Sensitive Science Technology
Technology should be sensitive to the fear we have of it. What we create should be positively self-aware. As Moogfest keynote speaker Nick Bostrom insists, if we want to minimize existential risk on our path to a roboticized world, our technology must first build solutions to potential problems that certain progress can later incite. In a survey of 100 topic experts, half believe that by 2040, Human Level Artificial Intelligence will be reached through efforts to reverse engineer the brain (splice a post-mortem brain, examine under microscope, photograph in ultra hi-res 3D, stack prints, program human brain neuron structure, and combine in a machine). As humans, what values do we plant in manufactured super-intelligent programs- how do we keep ourselves at the core value of intelligence that we create? How do we program love in C++? Bostrom’s discussion at Moogfest expressed the dire need to staff the philosophical intelligence to decide these things at a quicker rate than technologies can advance, as well as the need for technological government to deliberate necessary changes as we go. To avoid inadvertently outsourcing ourselves, sensitive technological development in the scientific arena is hugely important.
Sensitive Music Technology
Music production is at the forefront of our binge affair with technology. With methods to create and manipulate sounds growing rapidly through homegrown modular machine designs, it seems as if there is no cap on the potential for what an instrument can be. There is however a growing divide between using hardware and using software to produce sound; downloading packaged stock sounds onto your music production software versus creating and recording physical actions on an analog instrument for use in later software arrangement. Did that tree-bending crackle noise derive from your modular experimentations, is it from an effects catalog, or did you hear it in another song and loop the sample? The end result may be the same and all routes require a musician’s ear and choice form of ingenuity. However, as musicians, critics, and fans, we’ve come to appreciate original sources of sound used in music, because it feels more human, more personal- and in an age of abundant and programmable music, we’re sensitive to that.
On Sunday afternoon we experienced Conductar, an app that translated your brain waves into music while painting a digital spread of Asheville’s buildings with your current EMG stats. From the outside looking in, those wearing Conductar looked like cyborg artists, the like-minded crew of Neil Harbisson. But from the inside looking out, this wearable headpiece was simply an extension of our own human creativity. As Marshall McLuhan famously noticed in 1977, “In this electronic age we see ourselves being translated more and more into the form of information, moving toward the technological extension of consciousness.” Immersed in wires and this unreal innovation, we sought meditation, yoga and a return to human connection to relax our stimulation and calm the music that we were both effecting and affected by. Every encounter with hyper-innovative technology at Moogfest reminded us to remain most strongly moved by nature, the innermost desires of our intuition and heart, and connection with the people around us.
The inexplicable act of writing tones and rhythms that share moods- ache and excitement in fair and equal respect- is and quite possibly has always been the true purpose of music. As Kurt Vonnegut so notably wrote, “If I should ever die, God forbid, let this be my epitaph: The only proof he needed for the existence of God was music.” God in this sense being any form of felt spirituality or connectivity with the world existing outside of ourselves, being a flow so gorgeous that moments of former triviality feel mystical and vivid as they always should have been.
If the transistors of our machines aim to supportively reflect and mold to the neurons of our brains, continued human imagination will duly stand at the forefront of technological innovation. Existing side by side with our growing technological companions, progression will always contemplate forms of regression, and sensitivity will find home in the heart of our most successful machines.
Check out our full festival photo gallery here.