To spark a grounded techno-optimism, we believe in the value and necessity of creating a pluralistic store of possible futures. With Atlas Futura, we propose a guild for cosmotechnicists that treat expanding the collective imaginary as a public good. The guild would bring together artists, philosophers, technologists and scientists to collectively speculate what futures could be, and release “world drops” to share the visions as artwork. In this proposal, we provide an execution pipeline and a series of potential “world drops” for Atlas Futura -- a map collection of futures.
This proposal was our submission to the Gitcoin Public Goods RFP in the summer of 2021. Although the three of us did not eventually work on a project exactly like what we proposed, we have continued to explore similar directions in our own ways. Jasmine worked on A Declaration of the Interdependence of Cyberspace, and is a core steward of the collective, Verses, that emerged from the core group that created the Declaration. Lila has been furthering her studies in media, psychology and speculative fiction in college. Wendi made speculative art for ecodao’s initial NFT release and is pursuing more worldbuilding projects.
We believe that this proposal still holds value as a witness of our intellectual and creative growth. We’re self-publishing the piece for anyone who might be interested in exploring a similar model of collective imagination. If you want to reach out, please contact us via Twitter: Jasmine, Lila, Wendi.
A New Kind of Public Good: The Collective Imaginary
Wendi Yan. New media artist, documentary filmmaker, History of Science student at Princeton. Her research and creative practices revolve around the construction of reality, entangled selfhood and post-anthropocene technologies.
Lila Shroff. Cognitive science and creative writing student at Stanford. Fascinated by the power of narratives to shape human behavior and the future of digital worlds.
Jasmine Wang. Maker and poet, part of Verses, Editor-in-Chief at Kernel Magazine. She is interested in the phenomenology of agency, the preservation of the sacred, and simulating what past and future philosophers might say about the way we live, act, and are today.
Thank you to the friends who helped us in our iteration process:
David Phelps, Miguel Opeña, Lani Trock, Nicolas Grenier, Kelsey Chen
We live in a time of increasing nihilism, weakening social fabric, and flagging optimism in our institutions. Those most involved in architecting the future largely come from backgrounds in technology, whilst those imagining the future often don’t feel empowered to execute on those visions. We believe that creating an interdisciplinary collective able to both dream and execute could spark a grounded techno-optimism, and that our work is a public good in several ways:
We believe that lengthening the collective imagination is a prerequisite for increasing the Buxton Index: the length of the period, measured in years, over which the entity makes its plans. The Buxton Index is important for societal decision-making aligned for the long-term. ‘Zooming out’ in this way also helps contextualize one’s own work and allay individual ennui: Baumeister finds in Meanings of Life that a short motivational narrative for an action is associated with feeling dissonance with the ends of that action. For example, a thief who believes herself to be ethical will not think about the futures entailed after she picks the lock; she focuses only on the task of picking said lock;
We also believe that it is powerful to concretize futures. By doing so, we shorten the psychological ‘distance’ to them, interfering with our natural bias to discount the future in favour of the present. Trope and Liberman found in 2010 that the fidelity of the mental construction of an object affected prediction, preference, and action;
And, finally, we believe that increasing the pluralistic store of possible futures is a public good. It has been often proposed that crypto lays the groundwork for the metaverse. In Anarchy, State, and Utopia, Robert Nozick defines a utopia as a world that every inhabitant believes to be the best possible world (e.g. there is no world they would rather be in). Since there is probably no single world that meets this criteria, it follows that a true utopia is actually a meta-utopia, or one in which many worlds are possible. If we accept this definition of utopia, the question becomes how we end up in a world where the largest possible set of worlds are available. Nozick’s answer was right-libertarianism, but digital worlds where people can mint surplus out of thin air potentially do not need to be bound by market logic. The imagining of worlds that do not need to immediately capture and sustain their own maintenance and creation economically is crucial. One is unable to choose one world over another if one does not have the language in order to do so; for example, think of how horrified we (the Western technologically savvy elite) are to learn of North Koreans not having access to internet, or the legal case where Amish parents were allowed to keep their children from finishing junior high because they were worried about how exposure to a different world would change their value systems. We understand intuitively that awareness of possible, achievable worlds is good. The set of possible worlds available to the collective imagination is a public good: they are non-excludable and infinitely viewable. In fact, the more people participate in and encounter the worlds that we create, the more useful they become: it becomes more possible to discuss and build towards alternative worlds.
On the unique human ability to imagine the future, Karl Popper wrote "let our conjectures, our theories, die in our stead!" In other words: let us imagine our failures so we do not live them.
For much of human history, our conception of the future was not all that varied from the present. It wasn't until the publication of Edward Bellamy's Looking Backward that the genre of time travel—one that permeates so much media today—really came to be. But now, as the pace of scientific progress accelerates, the rate of sociological progress does not keep up, there is a need for the type of sociological imagination and ideation we hope to encourage with Atlas Futura.
Atlas Futura is a speculative creative collective of artists, philosophers, technologists, and scientists united by a desire to expand the collective imaginary of our shared futures.
The goals of the collective are to:
- Release WORLD DROPS at a regular interval (á la MSCHF). WORLD DROPS are experimental works of public art, collaboratively created and intended to push both the boundaries of the collective imaginary of our future and the boundaries of interactive, Web3-native public artworks.
- Unite a diverse community of individuals eager to imagine futures that have yet to be envisioned. Technology is not deterministic and our belief is that only a tiny sliver of potential futures have been envisioned—and those that have been surface to the collective imagination come often from the same communities. Our community will be intentionally built to push back on this precedent and bring forth new perspectives.
- Fund the community envisioned futures. Not only do we wish to imagine more, better futures, we also plan to help realize these futures through financially supporting organizations and individuals at the forefront of this work with funds raised through NFT sales.
Example WORLD DROPS
Note: WORLD DROPS are not intended to be positive or negative renderings of our imagined futures. Rather, they are meant to serve as neutral playgrounds for ideation.
Fungi has become an intimate component of our technological system, in a spacetime with radically personalized and autonomous data tracking. A paradigm shift in science has given rise to a new generation of organic technologies enabled by breakthroughs in biological research. Intimate technologies are embedded in our daily reality: one such set of technology is fungal facewear paired with graphene tattoos for decentralized biometric data collection.
This WORLD DROP provides a series of fungal facewear that can be worn by individuals through AR lenses. The 3D model of each facewear is an NFT.
#2 Jewelries From the Machine Learning Glitches
ML algorithms have learned to make up humans, but their humans never wear the same jewelry on both ears. Occasionally, weird shapes and materials emerge on their humans’ faces. These jewelries, born out of the ML “glitches,” become the identifiers between “real” and “fake” humans.
This WORLD DROP provides pairs of jewelries in AR filters, and sells pairs corresponding to each ML-generated human as NFTs.
#3 Moon Residency Catalogue
Let’s say commercial space flights are available to the public, and a residency calls for creators of all kinds to live on the Moon. What projects could they make?
- A group of architects builds an architectural installation designed specifically for watching earthrises on the Moon. VR cameras are set up there at multiple locations for people on Earth to experience immersively. In fact, this is the first major tourist attraction on the moon for commercial astronauts.
- A printmaker prints the shadows of her body on a long piece of fabric, which has been chemically treated specifically to react to the sunlight on the Moon.
- A perfumer collects various materials from the Moon and extracts scents from them. The perfumer makes a collection themed around the relationship between the Moon and the Earth, mixing a variety of scents from both planets.
- A jeweler makes casts of crevices of the Moon, and turns them into various body jewelry.
The WORLD DROP website will be designed as a residency project catalogue, with images “collected” from the “artists” for their “projects.” Atlas Futura will make the renderings and/or digital 3D assets for these speculative creative works, which will be minted as NFTs.
#4 Cerebral Cybernetics, Inc.
You are a brain wandering in the liminal space between two life cycles. You stumble upon a shop displaying all sorts of cognitive enhancement products. From eye drops that give you more color sensitivity, to gummies for better sonic hedgehog growth factors, you get to pick a few things for your next life. What would you take?
We have already developed a 3D game for this world, where the brain (the player) gets a random amount of money each time playing the game. (View full product list here) With more time and funding, we want to develop an upgraded list of speculative neuro products with neuro engineers, meditators and philosophers, and release these speculative products as a collection of NFTs on speculating a future of paradise engineering.
#5 Information is not FREE
After a young martyr nearly succeeded in liberating all the universe's information, the State cracked down and began holding all information hostage in state-run cold storage Information Jail. Now, instead of taxes, State budgets are funded by the sale of locked information back to the public domain.
Immediately after the Great Information Jaling, fearing the death of Reason, the living populace was quick to reclaim the sciences and most of history before Truth vanished from memory. Unfortunately, the generations alive during the Great Information Jailing have all passed away and no one knows what's been left locked up—except you.
You were hired to work as a guard person at Information Jail #1618 and on your first shift, you were doing your nightly count to make sure no bits had escaped, when you realized all the cell names were completely unfamiliar to you.
Poetry. Song. Literature.
What do they mean? You have to know.
You ask the State if you can buy these so-called “ARTS” back into the public domain. You are shocked to learn that the information contained in these words is more expensive than you could ever imagine—much much more than the price of Biology or Chemistry or even Physics. Since you’ll never be able to afford them, you take it upon yourself to start releasing them—in pieces so infinitesimally small you won’t possibly be noticed.
Starting with poetry, each week you release 100 verses of original poetry verses (generated from a model trained on relevant texts, each verse to be released as an NFT), and people (who find verses hidden in this WORLD DROP’s playground) begin mashing verses together to create public works of poetry which are displayed on a WORLD DROP gallery website (and later, as projections in an IRL room that starts blank and is filled with poetry over time).
We envision our timeline as follows...
Drop #1 - Gauging Interest
- Brainstorm the details of Drop #1, recruit to the collective the necessary creative and technical talent for the first few drops.
- Launch first imagined future and engage the public in the first WORLD DROP experiment.
Drops #2 to 4 - Continued Drops and Brand Establishment
Continue with drops, grow core collective, and build community of active audience members and contributors.
- To help seed the early community with creatives and thinkers we find fascinating, we will maintain a “Request for Futures” board where members of the community can upvote the futures and collaborators they most eagerly want to see spotlighted.
- Onboard a few technologists who can help us with building mini-games with NFTs. They’d be in charge of creating customized smart contracts, building webVR spaces for world drops (with three.js).
- Establish organization reputation and cultivate interest in NFT sales through the concept of conspicuous giving / charity as status.
Drops #5 to n - To infinite futures and beyond!
- Once a culture of trust is established, transition to a DAO so that decisions regarding fund distribution and the production of future works can be made collectively.
- Continue with Drops, community building, and much, much more!
Extending Our Vision
What we have outlined above is a list of projects our core team has already started working on that can be modified into the initial WORLD DROPS. As we gather momentum in the upcoming months, we will expand our collaborative practice by working with a more diverse group of thinkers and creators, and making WORLD DROPS more complex in worldbuilding and interactivity design.
Imagine a restaurant for people on an algae-full diet. Humans have transitioned to the phytonutrient-rich food source that’s resilient in all weathers, and come up with creative ways to make algae food tasteful. We will work with biologists and gastronomists to provide a menu for the algae cuisine.
Imagine a world where every individual has their basic needs met and work is largely automated. Is this a world of leisure or is it one where individuals pursue their unique creative and intellectual ambitions in their entirety? Through an intelligently designed game simulation we call upon the public to explore outcomes.
Imagine an artificial organism whose actions are determined by NFT transactions on the site, and over a limited period of time, everyone can watch the organism mutate and evolve.
Imagine a dial where the rate of technological development can be adjusted by the population. Certain rates of development are more favorable for society than others, but determining the proper pace is difficult. 1000 NFTs at a fixed cost are created, each token representing 1/1000 of remaining future technological progress. The rate at which they are minted is the rate of this society’s technological development and website dashboard shows various indicators of societal and planetary health, as affected by this rate technological progress. It is the goal of the population to maximize wellbeing without irreversibly damaging planetary bounds.