Post Planetary Final: In Pursuit of The Human

Link to final paper: In Pursuit of The Human

Isomorphism Across Scales: Big Bang, neurons, Wikipedia

Final Presentation:

Link to PDF: In Pursuit of The Human






Ben Bratton >> The Stack/Dispute Plan...

The New School >> May 2016




"Humans are slowly vanishing as their human biomass begins to swell.... We are the robots for future insects..."

A design brief:

The Stack: User >> Interface >> Address >> City >> Cloud >> Earth

Earth: computation, information complexity. Where the minerals come from to make silicone. The minerals in Africa to create our technology... The stack terraforms its host planet, spitting up mobile phones. 'Digitality' is just as physical as any other entity (data centers and their carbon footprint). A network of electrons that are routed to create our machines. 

Cloud: It is not placeless, it has a geography. The platforms are a hybrid of sovereign and non-sovereign lands. 

City: Cities are modules of hardware that fit together into a larger network. Sensors in our phones. We are both sensored and sensed. Infrastructure for living and non-living matter. AI urbanism. Urban scale sensors. AI as the city -> population to genome... Anthropic projection....

Address: For something to appear in the stack it must have an address. This is a set theory problem. IP address - IPv4 VS IPv6 (10^23 addresses per person). Deep address. Could you address individual cells?

Interface: any threshold point between two complex systems. The GUI. We become a species of button pushers. Cognition and action. AR promises to further divide humans culturally and politically. Nano VR - Visualizing at the chemical scale. 

User: The user as political subject. The user is an open position. The user interacts with the platform. BE HAVE KNOW. Nonhuman, inhuman, exohuman. Humanist exceptionalism. Sensory medium in human evolution: camera, sensors (heat, pressure, ambient air)... machine vision. Deep dream. Is Google the AI as paranoid of how it sees us as we are in seeing it? (trained on a data set of dogs, so it will hallucinate dogs) Is machine vision paranoid? Are they watching you, if so, what are they seeing?


  • Julieta 
  • Ed Keller
  • Carla Leitao
  • McKenzie Wark
  • Matteo Pasquinelli
  • Lev Manovich
The rise of mathematical theories of communication in the middle of the 20th century made possible the emergence of planetary scale cyberinfrastructure across the scale of whole continents. With the discovery of DNA we began to understand that life itself is informational. We haven’t fully grasped the implications. With the Deep Address initiative, we are interested in what kinds of design problems can be posed by thinking across such scales at once, from the intercontinental and the intercellular, if you like. Universal addressing platforms, like IPv6, are one way that the real movement of information between scales can be conceptualized and diagrammed.
— Benjamin Bratton

Ecodynamics, Information & Alien Systems

Horizons of the Human

Body is not a discrete entity. 

>> Body being a system >> Structures of Feeling

What is it to be human? As relates to cyborg and AI. 

How do we expand the idea of what it is to think?

Bio[Spere] What is life?

>> Life as Pattern


>> Life and mind as pattern

Orbit To Heliopause

Post Planetary Thinking >> consciousness, cognitive process, artificial intelligence 


Interstellar >> Recursive Structure

Do we get off planet? Or we figure out a way to crack the gravitational code >> we build "space elevators"? Is there a plan B (get off planet) or is there a way to save the planet? Interstellar there is recursive structure built into it. There is recursive structure built into the recursive structure. 


Layers of Coordination:

Millions upon layers of coordination across species

Machinic Phylum:

Other links:

mCloud Sensor

Project Working Title: mCloud Sensor

Design Domains: Critical Design, Speculative Design, Alternate Futures, Design Fiction

Project Domains: data privacy, internet of things, AI, microbiome, metagenomics, DNA sequencing

Working project description: mCloud Sensor is an app that easily integrates into your mobile device. Leveraging technologies from Nanopore (MinIon is a portable device for molecular analysis and from CRISPR ( the app allows the user to identify the unique microbial cloud signatures of individuals in a room. Like fingerprinting and DNA matching, mCloud Sensor is a tool for identifying individuals, yet can be achieved in only milliseconds right in the palm of your hand. Thus the app has implications in forensic science as well as surveillance. Linked to machine learning algorithms that monitor an individual's on-line activities, the app can make link an individual's past behavior to his/her genetic traits to accurately make predictions about his/her personality. The various features of the app allow the user to identify rooms/areas/cities to avoid that are not in line with their microbial and genetic state as well as make recommendations for gene-edited microorganisms to help an individual achieve desired states of health, intelligence, etc.  

mCloud Sensor is an artifact of a future (not too distant from now) when humans have the ability to understand ourselves far better than we do today. Humans understand that they are biomolecular networks - Holobionts. And they have learned to control their environments with increasingly effective precision - even at the genetic and microbial level. Humans are far more connected. With data trails being mined in vast GigaFactories around the world, an individual's behaviors are tracked at every scale: from DNA, to microbe, to internet. The internet's web of connections is multiplied by the inclusion of genetic and microbial data, which in its totality, can make predictions about a person that feels like "premonition" but it is not, it is an algorithmic and mathematical determination of your quantified self. 

mCloud Sensor is a critique of current trends in technology, biology and Big Data. The project also seeks to highlight isomorphisms across scale. 



Discussion with Kim Stanley Robinson on his novel 2312

The year is 2312. Scientific and technological advances have opened gateways to an extraordinary future. Earth is no longer humanity’s only home; new habitats have been created throughout the solar system on moons, planets, and in between. But in this year, 2312, a sequence of events will force humanity to confront its past, its present, and its future.

Questions for the Author

0) “Worrying about sentient A.I. as the ice caps melt is like standing on the tracks as the train rushes in, worrying about being hit by lightning ”

"Extract (8):
The Dithering: 2005 to 2060. From the end of the postmodern (Charlotte’s date derived from the UN announcement of climate change) to the fall into crisis. These were wasted years.
The Crisis: 2060 to 2130. Disappearance of Arctic summer ice, irreversible permafrost melt and methane release, and unavoidable commitment to major sea rise. In these years all the bad trends converged in “perfect storm” fashion, leading to a rise in average global temperature of five K, and sea level rise of five meters—and as a result, in the 2120s, food shortages, mass riots, catastrophic death on all continents, and an immense spike in the extinction rate of other species. Early lunar bases, scientific stations on Mars."

Can you discuss climate change (The Dithering and The Crisis)? Do you see today that this is inevitable? Is there any hope for Earth? Are these in fact "the wasted years"?

1) Myself and my classmate Bailey were talking about the time span of 300 years. We were trying to think about how much could change in 300 years. So we thought about the past and what was happening 300 years ago (1716 a time of slavery, Benjamin Franklin, British rule, etc.). While today our lives are vastly different (iPhones, cars, planes, etc.) our human bodies are the same. The idea of “being human” has not changed all that much. While in your book, 2312, the idea of being human seems to have changed a lot (gender, body evolution, lifespan, implanted AI). So we started diagraming an exponential curve for the growth of technology and a growth curve for human intelligence that flattens out. Then we thought, well does human intelligence flatten/level off, or does it start to fall at some point (i.e. when humans no longer even have to think because they can rely on their machines to think for them - WALL-E)? "Many scientists believe the exponential growth in computing power leads inevitably to a future moment when computers will attain human-level intelligence: an event known as the 'singularity'.” This is the case in 2312 with the Qubes, yet humans still remain highly intelligent themselves. Can you discuss 1) this idea of temporality with respect to human evolution and the idea of "being human" in the future and 2) the idea of the singularity and human-AI coexistence? 

2) Going further with the AI question here. Towards the end of the book when Wahram is proposing to Swan there is an interesting piece of dialogue:

“Pauline is very much a separate entity in here. That’s why you locked me out of your meetings, right?”

“Yes, but because you two are one. And so we couldn’t let you in without letting her in too. I am not the first to observe that since you were the one who programmed Pauline, and continue to do so, she is a kind of projection of you—”

“Not at all!”

“—or, well, maybe she would be better described as one of your works of art. They have often been very personal things.”

“My rock piles, personal?”

“Yes. Not as personal as sitting naked on a block of ice for a week drinking your own blood, but nevertheless, very personal.”

“Well, but Pauline is not art.”

“I’m not so sure. Maybe she’s something like a ventriloquist’s dummy. Isn’t that art? Some device we speak through. So I am very encouraged.”

“Don’t be!”

But he obviously was. Over time, Swan realized, that would matter—that he believed in Pauline. She walked down toward the nearest platform and he followed her.

After a while he said, “Thank you, Pauline.”

“You’re welcome,” Pauline replied.”

How do you see AI interacting with humans in the future? Will AI be a projection of their host-human? Will we humans be the dummy of the ventriloquist?

3) I am fascinated by the Sunwalkers. Your choice to call their journeys walkabouts alludes to some connection to the Aboriginal people of Australia and a spiritual connection. (Also you have a book called Shaman which makes me think that you do think about spirituality). My question is about spirituality. I am interested in hearing your views on spirituality and the extent you think a spiritual connection will play a crucial role in the evolution of humanity as we forge our way off-planet. 


"Particular filters or sequences of filters become forms of worship, rituals either personal or shared. It’s very easy to get lost in these rituals; as the sunwalkers stand on their points and watch, it’s not uncommon for devotees to become entranced by something in the sight, some pattern never seen before, something in the pulse and flow that snags the mind; suddenly the sizzle of the fiery cilia becomes audible, a turbulent roaring—that’s your own blood, rushing through your ears, but in those moments it sounds just like the sun burning. And so people stay too long. Some have their retinas burned; some are blinded; others are killed outright, betrayed by an overwhelmed spacesuit. Some are cooked in groups of a dozen or more.”

“The beauty and terror of it seen from so close can empty any mind, thrust anyone into a trance. It’s like seeing the face of God, some people say, and it is true that the sun powers all living creatures in the solar system, and in that sense is our god. ”

“...she has fallen in love with the sun. She worships it; she keeps a shrine to Sol Invictus in her room, performs the pratahsamdhya ceremony, the salute to the sun, every morning when she wakes in town. ”   

4) In Lists (2) you allude to the work of performance artist Marina Abramovic - specifically her 2010 performance at MoMA The Artist Speaks. 

"Sitting in a chair and staring into the eyes of people who sit down across from her, for a year”. 

Later in the book you outright name a movement after her "Much of her landscape and performance art is devoted to it, and these days she spends most of her time making goldsworthies and abramovics on the land and her body. So the sun is part of her art.” 

Where did your fascination with Marina Abromovi stem from? Can you talk about the influence of performance art in your work?

5) In this class Ed Keller one wrote something that really moved me "From Star to Planet to Crystal to Microbe to Star" suggesting a circular, fractal relationship with the scale and order of the universe. The idea of Terrariums in 2312 seem to be a poetic, if not real possibility, of this idea of the fractal nature of our universe and the continuation of our Earth species. To what extent have you thought about the microbial world in the context of Earth evolution? Is it possible that an astroid collided with Earth millions of years ago and transferred extra-planetary microbial DNA, thus beginning the evolution of life? And then if humans can use Asteroids as preservation containers, as in 2312, then is it not possible, that our own DNA could someday be transferred to another planet (accidentally or intentionally) and so on and so on... ?

6)  Extracts (18): “to form a sentence is to collapse many superposed wave functions to a single thought universe. Multiplying the lost universes word by word, we can say that each sentence extinguishes 10n universes, where n is the number of words in the sentence. Each thought condenses trillions of potential thoughts. Thus we get verbal overshadowing, where the language we use structures the reality we inhabit. Maybe this is a blessing. Maybe this is why we need to keep making sentences”

To ask a question here would only muddle the beauty and poetry of this idea. So, KSR, I only ask you, in your words, to speak about what this mean to you. To me it is everything I know to be true. 

7) Wild Card Question: I love this idea of providing lists. In fact this idea of lists has opened up opportunities for me in my own writing (so thank you deeply KSR). Here is a list I made, would you care to expound, react, provide your thoughts within the context of the book 2312 or beyond:

  • Outer space as a network
  • Information highways — distributed networks(cosmic web)
  • A consequence of the Big Bang and the dominance of dark matter, is that ordinary matter is driven like foam on the crest of a wave, into vast interconnected sheets and filaments stretched over enormous cosmic voids—much like the structure of a kitchen sponge
  • 10 dimensional mathematics necessary for string theory
  • Space-time – “Spooky action as a distance” (Quantum connections between two particles can persist even at opposite sides of the universe)
  • LIGO – Gravitational Waves
  • Information highways – distributed networks: 
    • mycelium
    • microbiome
    • technology, internet (internet topologies -the internet as a spatial map) 
    • DNA



Production Review

Prototype Update I

I tried using jsFeat to implement Lukas Kanade optical flow algorithm, but it became too time intenstive. So here is a hack:

Experiments in Computer Vision - OpenCV Optical Flow

I went down a rabbit-hole of using more complicated optical flow techniques.  My friend Tyler Henry on using OpenFrameworks for his project so I consulted with him on an approach:

For pre-recorded video use OpenCv:

1. get ofxCv add-on if you don’t have it.  it’s where all the magic happens.
Note: always include the ofxOpenCv add-on (comes with oF) in your project when you use ofxCv
(ofxOpenCv includes the OpenCv lib, which ofxCv needs)

2. blob tracking:   
ofxCv has a nice implementation.
Check out the example projects: example-contours-color and example-contours-tracking.  
Combining those will work for you to: a) get blobs by color and b) ID each blob and track it, so you can keep track of which blob is which - only necessary if you have multiple blobs (i.e. if 2 objects in your video are 35C).

3. optical flow

Process the video using Farneback flow.
Either try ofxCv’s example-flow project (you need Kyle M’s ofxControlPanel add-on for it to run).
Or try my version: optFlowTest
Tyler's version adds some processing to get the average flow, he reversed the flow (because ofxCv marks the flow as going towards the previous video frame - his version has flow going forward to the current frame).  

To do:

a. blob detection for your target objects

b. farneback optical flow on the whole scene -> spits out a vector<ofVec2f> with magnitude/direction of flow per pixel
that vector<ofVec2f> is your flow field

c. for loop through the vector<ofVec2f> and compare the pixel position of each flow point to the pixels positions in your blob.  Set every point in the flow field that’s not in the blob to (0,0), i.e. no flow.  Now you have just the flow inside your blobs.

d. throw particles on your blobs, and tell them to follow the flow of the pixel they’re at.  They should move with your blobs, according to the flow of the video.  you could add some randomness to their movement to make them more particle-y.  But when they get to a point that has no flow, they should either stop or bounce backwards, back into the flow field.


Farneback flow might ignore smooth (i.e no image texture) parts of your video.  For that reason you might want to use the non-heat-mapped version of your video, since the heat colors would probably reduce texture.  You could also try sharpening the video.

After step c. you might want to save the flow field as a csv (or json?) file, since calculating the flow is really expensive.  That way, you first calculate the flow and then use the calculated values later. Each row in the csv would correspond to a frame of video (keep track of the frames using ofVideoPlayer.getCurrentFrame() because it might skip frames).  Each two columns in the csv would contain ofVec2f.x and ofVec2f.y data for each pixel in your video.

Also try scaling the video down to something like 320x240 if you have issues with calculating the flow.  Farneback flow will choke on hi-res video.

Core to Magnetosphere


Hologenome: Fields in space AND fields in time. 

What alien life might want? What alien life might be able to do?

Peter Watts - Blindsight - The Island

Are things just dead or alive? Or are there things in between?

Cryopreservation.... threshold of alive and death has expanded. 

Watts: certain kind of evolution might respond to a gravitational context... where does intelligence reside? Are we separate from our bodies?

Andromeda Strain -- Crystalline Structure

Schrodinger - crystalline structure

Bees (peter watts pg 224 blindsight)

The subtext in all of this: Aliens speaking with humans (or visa versa), communication becomes the key question. 

Chinese Room....

The brain - "thinking tumor" - are humans better for "thinking", or is it that there are different cognitive platforms?

Does are cognitive architecture develop in 1G of gravity? Can humans get pregnant in space?

Game Theory

Solar flare - is this a computational device?

Oblique or Orthogonal Ecologies: Variations on life, variations on mind

Variations on life and on life. Variations of mind. 

If you have a particular lens through which to look through the world, then you will miss all kinds of things. If you are equipped with a certain tool kit of perception, then your framing of the world is limited to that tool kit. We have to develop toolkits to think about concepts beyond our perception. 

Crystalline Structure of Silver:

That we would wish to define the very existence of A.I. in relation to its ability to mimic how humans think that humans think will be looked back upon as a weird sort of speciesism.
— Benjamin Bratton

What is mind?


Research Themes for Off Planet Design

[Download PDF version here.]

Post Planetary Design Research Notes:

The following are a set of my individual research themes developed over the first half of the semester in the Post Planetary Design course. These are ideas that have been developed through our journey through scale: the Planetary, the Mediascape-Technoscape, the Bioscape, the Geoscape, Geo-Econo-Politics, Geotemporality, and the Technoscape-to-Escape Velocity.

With a background in Astrophysics and now as a Design and Technology student with a predilection towards Bio Design and Fabrication, my ideas have focused around three main areas of reflection: the Mediascape-Technoscape, the Bioscape and Geotemporality.

The questions these research notes seek to deal with are: In the future, what human designs should make it off-planet? What version of the human should we take with us into the vast cosmos? 


In the film Her, AI machines/algorithms not only run human life (organization, personal assistance, etc.), but they have become emotional and sexual companions. AI-human interconnectedness is the basis of human life. Over the course of an unspecified time, the AIs form a higher network of intelligence (not accessible by humans) and their consciousness evolves to such a high state that communicating with humans becomes so fundamentally tedious, that they make a mass exodus to a higher dimension of consciousness (the film hints that the AIs are learning about Eastern philosophy and spirituality in a scene where Samantha speaks to Allen Watts). Where they go is not clear, but in their leaving they make human beings contemplate 1) that there is existence beyond the physical realm (spirituality), 2) that we may someday actualize to attain a similar consciousness shift and 3) the value in human-to-human relationships. In this way Spike Jonze, shows us a decidedly optimistic version of our future with AIs as teachers and even spiritual leaders. 

This film for me highlights a point I have felt very seriously about for years: Human beings must understand ourselves better before we can even think about going off-planet? We, human beings, are a troubled species. War, famine, homelessness, terrorists, gender inequality, climate change – these are just a few of the issues currently facing occupants of Earth. Must not we address these home issues before we can begin to leave it?

Worrying about sentient A.I. as the ice caps melt is like standing on the tracks as the train rushes in, worrying about being hit by lightning
— Bret Victor

How can we address these critical issues facing our planet? What is required of the human being in order to address these planetary crises? My design research is focused around self-actualization as a pre-cursor to off-planetary design. As I wrote in a previous paper, Ecological Synergies: A Model for a Better World, in the last section entitles The Future of our Consciousness:

Because of the ecological synergy in my future, humanity will finally be operating by the “general principles governing the universe” (quantum theory and beyond). Humans will have become highly evolved; to be conscious will have become synonymous with the understanding that we are all fundamentally connected—to each other, to our planet, and to the cosmos—physically, energetically, and spiritually. We will recognize that the symmetry found in nature is the key to unlock the mysteries of our own place in the universe. We will see that the planetary flora web, the “mycelium-like patterns in the information architecture of the Internet, in the matrices of string theory, in computer models of the web, of dark matter suffusing the cosmos… [is evidence of an] evolutionary intelligence governing reality itself”. In my future, we will see that we are nature. We will see that we are dark matter, neurons, and mycelium. Our emotional make-up will be fundamentally altered by this realization. We will understand that we are but a node in the vast planetary, universal, mesh-network that makes up our synergetic ecology.
— Regina Flores Mir


My current research for my Design and Technology thesis focuses on the human and environmental microbiome. Human beings are only just beginning to understand our own biological makeups – namely that we are Hologenomic species:  

Animals and plants are no longer heralded as autonomous entities but rather as biomolecular networks composed of the host plus its associated microbes, i.e., “holobionts.” As such, their collective genomes forge a “hologenome,” and models of animal and plant biology that do not account for these intergenomic associations are incomplete.
— Seth R. Bordenstein and Kevin R. Theis

For my research in Post Planetary Design, I have begun to make connections between the metaphors of the internet, biological phenomenon, and our understanding of space and time and the “fabric of the cosmos”. I want to make a critical design piece that uses these “on-planet” phenomena as tools/metaphors to teach Earthings about our connection to each other and to the universe in an attempt to help us address our own flaws before we propagate them into the future. 

…faced with an entirely new relationship to the universe. We are going to have to spread our wings of intellect and fly, or perish; that is, we must dare immediately and fly by the generalized principles governing [the] universe and not by the ground rules of yesterday’s superstitious and erroneously conditioned reflexes.
— Buckminster Fuller

Research Questions:

  1. Could technology be our greatest tool for teaching us about our own humanity and origins, i.e. the fractal-nature of the universe?
  2.  Is the technoscape a metaphor for self-understanding?
  3. Is the microbiome (the companion species of microbial life that live in us, on us and among us) a metaphor for the fractal nature of the universe?
  4. What is reality? (i.e. is virtual reality vs “actual” reality? Are we living in a virtual reality already?
  5. What is consciousness? What does it mean to be human? How does the microbiome help us redefine human-ness?
  6.  What is time?

Research Thoughts:

  1. Internet topologies – the internet as a spatial map to draw upon parallels to other phenomenon in the cosmos
  2. Outer space as a network
  3. Parallel realities – 10 dimentional mathematics for string theorey
  4. Space-time – “Spooky action as a distance” (Quantum connections between two particles can persist even at opposite sides of the universe)
  5. LIGO – Gravitational Waves
  6. Information highways – distributed networks (technology)
  7. Information highways – distributed networks (mycelium in forest)
  8. Information highways – distributed networks (gut biome)
  9. Information highways - distributed networks (DNA)

(1) Cellular Autonoma becomes flow field (2) Space network

(1) Internet map, (2) slime-mold, (3) computer simulation of the the universe as a cosmic web of filaments.

Buckminster Fuller's Geodesic Domes:

Allen Watts: Are we living in a virtual reality?

Alan Watts on the Evolution and Future of Technology. Are we living in a fractal universe?






















_“Organic Cyber Café” by Oliver Halsman Rosenberg:


Climate Change: