Heavily inspired by a recent call for Human-Computer Interaction visions ("Call for Abstracts: CHI 2039: Research Visions and Speculative Futures"), my UCI colleague Birgit Penzenstadler put together a similar call for the upcoming ICT for Sustainability (ICT4S) conference. I think the call is interesting enough for it being published here on the blog:
Call for fictional abstracts for ICT4S 2029 - Contribute to our paper titeled "ICT4S 2029: What will be the systems supporting sustainability in 15 years?"
Research wants and needs to be inspired by visions of the future.
This can take on various narrative forms, and can fall anywhere along the spectrum from utopian to dystopian.
Even though we recognise the importance of such visions to help us shape research questions and inspire design space to be explored, the opportunity to discuss such visions is rarely given in a research context.
Imagine how civilization will have changes in 15 years.
- What is your vision for systems that will be supporting sustainability at that time?
- Which transformational changes will have occured in the mean time that allow for these systems?
- Is ICT even the right tool or does it contradict sustainability by making our world even more complex?
- How can we simplify systems and our societies by ICT4S?
At ICT4S'13 we (as a research community) have developed a set of recommendations that lead to questions including, but certainly not limited to, closure of material cycles to avoid hardware obsolescence, incentives for sustainable behaviour, evolution of education for sustainability, and systems for sustainability assessment.
Submissions are invited of fictional abstracts for papers on ICT4S systems that might appear at ICT4S'29. They will be compiled into a paper with the above title and submitted to the regular review proces of the upcoming ICT4S'14. Abstracts should be ≈ 150 words long [...] Abstracts will be selected for inclusion based on their ability to represent a diversity of guiding research visions, their excitatory or provocative potential, the space allotted by the ICT4S submission format, and the likelihood of engendering conversations about the future of ICT4S. The authors of the abstracts selected for inclusion would appear as coauthors on the paper.
I gave some feedback to Birgit on an earlier version of the call and suggested the call should be broadened to also welcome submissions with a more "dystopian" slant. In the end I wrote no less than four abstracts of which three share a more dystopian slant. I submitted my abstracts only two hours ago and was subsequently told that they were abstracts number 16-19 that she had received, i.e. Birgit had already received quite a large number of abstracts (with some hours remaining before the deadline). I assume that the abstracts that convey a tension between "good" and "bad" means and outcomes would tend to be most interesting to write and to think about, i.e. where the reader feels that "I like the part about X, but the Y stuff is horrible".
The challenge in this "exercise" was basically to:
1) think up a credible or at least possible (albeit not necessarily desirable) future society
2) think about some kind of "ICT stuff" that would be used for sustainability purposes in that society
3) shape the "ICT stuff" into a fake fictive research paper
4) squeeze all of the above into a 150 words long summary/paper abstract
I think that a few of abstracts below probably could work as a backdrop to a science fiction novel (or at least a short story). Vote by commenting on them. Who knows - I might write it up!?
I would assume that at least one of my abstracts will be accepted (taking into account that Birgit sits four meters away from me ;-) I would also assume that not all of my abstracts will be accepted. It will for sure be tough for Birgit to choose abstracts and put the paper together, but the fact that she told me she for the most part had received "utopian" abstracts will probably weigh in my favour. I very much look forward to seeing the end result! Below are my four abstracts (in order of inception) with a comment after each abstract:
Computing for all: A sustainable infrastructure in a time of needWith unemployment numbers exploding after the Potemkin-Aramco scandal of 2018, the 2020 Hindsight (great oil reserves) Writedown and the global flash-crash of 2023, the emergence of a "lost generation" has profoundly shaken all Western countries. These developments have had a profound effect on the ICT sector both in terms of usage patterns and R&D orientation (and budgets) in the 2020's. This paper outlines a broad research agenda for the development of a low-tech, low-cost and ultra low-energy computing infrastructure that can meet the computing needs of the swelling ranks of un- or underemployed consumers, while simultaneously decreasing the energy/CO2 footprint of our computing infrastructure by an estimated 68%. We draw on previous studies of marginalised groups' use of ICT in affluent societies (immigrants, the young, the poor, the unemployed) as well as studies of reverse technology transfer from underdeveloped to formerly-affluent societies (the "counter-ICT4D" movement). We conclude by suggesting an offensive strategy for the radical simplification of hardware, software and networking and propose the Freeternet - a "future-proofed" resilient low-cost, low-energy, limited bandwidth Internet infrastructure.
Comment: This abstract is written with inspiration from a master's thesis that I am advising and where the empirical material is collected this very moment in Madrid, Spain. With youth unemployment figures above 50%, there does indeed exist a "lost generation" of poor youth in Spain (e.g. university-educated people in their 20's who are unemployed and who live with their parents). We are interested in their use of ICT technologies and the thesis will be finished later this spring (I might write a blog post about it). Dmitry Orlov wrote a great essay (highly recommended!) about "products and services for the permanently unemployed consumer" in 2010 that has been important for my thinking on these issues.
Green lifestyle lessons: Learning form green lead usersWith increasing acceptance of the assertion that we live in an age of decreasing returns of increasing society complexity (Tainter 1988), we urgently need to look for examples that can help us transition to simpler, more sustainable, low-energy "green" models of consumption. This paper summarises lessons learned from the decade-long research project "Green lifestyles for reduced energy consumption" (Pargman, Eriksson & Katzeff 2026). More specifically, we discuss 1) the results of early studies of "lead users" (primarily members of eight Transition Town initiatives in three different countries) who voluntarily and proactively chose to simplify their lifestyles (with an emphasis on attitudes, actions, computing habits and everyday energy consumption), 2) the design and development of concepts, prototypes and products that embody lead users' best-of-breed computing and energy-svaing behaviours and 3) the resulting services and products that were developed and marketed by project partner and global retail chain IKEA. We conclude the paper by enumerating the five most promising areas for wide scale energy and computing lifestyle changes.
Comment: I did hand in an application, "Green lifestyles for reduced energy consumption", three months ago (together with Eriksson and Katzeff), but it was rejected. This abstract is written as if our application had been granted and we had performed our project. Oh, and I also extended our 3-year project into a 10-year project above. Everything else is just as it was up to and including our cooperation with the IKEA and the Transition Town movement.
A policy perspective on emissions reductions through heating, lighting and electricity quotasWritten together with Baki Cakici
In this age of great hardship, there is a great need for (1) protecting the integrity of national borders in the face of mounting immigration pressure from "flipped" climate zones and failed states (c.f. Garrett Hardin's (1974) Lifeboat ethics) and 2) to strongly incentivise citizens to do their utmost in husbanding energy and other scarce resources. The first challenge has essentially been met through the development of third-gen drone-mounted search & purge technologies (e.g. OctoSurv). While Swedish CO2 emissions have decreased by 56% compared to the 2010 level of 10 tons of CO2e/capita, much is left to do before reaching the 1 ton/capital goal by 2050. In the face of intertial in citizen compliance with previous emission reduction plans, we propose a radical three-pronged plan for further emission reductions: 1) the introduction of a strict quota system for subsistence-level heating outside of city centers, 2) a general prohibition of lighting in both private and public spaces during non-productive hours and 3) a strict smartgrid-enforced 200 Watt ceiling of electricity usage per household during said hours.
Comment: I have been fascinated by Hardin's hardline (heartless?) attitude for a long time. His 1974 paper is entitled "Lifeboat ethics: The case against helping the poor" and it is accessible online. It is a rebuttal to the (in his opinion) unrealistic Kumbaya-ish vibes behind Kenneth Boulding's (and others') "Spaceship Earth" metaphor. The abstract is also written in order to be very disturbing (if not outright evil), but utilising sterile policy-speak. The picture should be one of Fortress Europe + draconian internal measures to reach climate goals.
Mother Svea Vigilant: Lessons learned from a nation-wide anti-waste initiativeWritten together with Baki Cakici
In this paper, we analyse the widely acclaimed "Mother Svea Vigilant" initiative aimed at eliminating wasteful consumption in Sweden. The initiative was funded by the Swedish state between 2021 and 2026 to recognise and classify consumption acts by automatically monitoring commercial transaction logs from all Swedish households and combining them with data submitted by citizens' smart-ID implants. From a technical perspective, we argue that automatic advisory methods such as scheduled comparisons of recycled mass versus the total mass of purchases in a given time period have created new possibilities of ensuring enthusiastic public commitment to monthly recycling quotas. We also analyse the success of social aspects of the Mother Svea initiative such as the "See some waste, tell with haste!" program and the community-enhancing "Tell (on) your neighbour" campaign. We conclude that Mother Svea and other comparable neo-Benthamite national ICT initiatives this far provide the only scientifically proven methods to stem CO2 emissions through the combination of powerful technical and social motivators.
PS (140224). I realize that I used Birgit's invitation to the paper in a strategic manner when I asked Baki if we should write an abstract together. We haven't worked together before but this was the easiest, most fun way possible to "write a paper" together. It was also a way to get a feeling for how the other person works, and if working together some time in the future would be a good idea. The exercise thus also worked as a screening device of sorts. These functions are moreover independent of the quality of the resulting abstracts and whether they get accepted or not is also irrelevant in relation to these functions. All of a sudden, I realise:
1). I could have sent the invitation to other people I would like to work with but haven't (it's sort of the academic way of saying "would you like to be my friend?").
2) This could be the seed of a great exercise in future MID4S team kick-offs or perhaps in a workshop or classroom exercise.
I have to file this idea for future use!