Innovation is pop
Our cultures are full of references to innovation. In movies, literature or even in video games, we stage scenarios for the future, we wonder about the impact of technologies on humans, we anticipate the drifts of an ultra-connected society. All (the more) reason(s) to ask ourselves if our relationship to technology can be influenced by our cultural background.
All these stories conveyed by pop culture play with our fears and enthusiasms. In our media-driven societies, they feed our imagination but also reveal our firmly-rooted myths and preconceptions.
The Prestige tells the story of two electrician magicians in the late 19th century with Nikola Tesla’s research into electricity as a backdrop.
Nikola Tesla is often portrayed as a lonely genius who experienced both glory and destitution. The story of the misunderstood genius, which can also be found with artists like Vincent van Gogh, is prevalent in our society. It pushes us to consider innovation as a solitary activity and to think of the scientist as an inaccessible star.
The movie The Prestige extends the myth: the choice made to embody the scientist is none other than rock star David Bowie.
No wonder Elon Musk named his brand of electric cars Tesla and launched one, named after the David Bowie song Starman, into space.The myth of the technological genius still has a long way to go!
Christopher Nolan, The Prestige, 2006, Warner Bros Pictures.
© Dickenson V. Alley, Restored by Lošmi, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons
Black Mirror is a dystopian TV show that explores the dark side of technology. Video games that are too immersive, social networks whose users rate each other, robot bees designed to restore ecosystems… Each episode features a technology that already exists and shows how it could evolve in the near future. It describes a dangerous technology, its ill-intentioned creators, and people who use it to manipulate, humiliate, enslave or kill.
Black Mirror highlights the human issues and ethical considerations related to the use of technologies such as privacy and countering hate speech.
Charlie Brooker, Black Mirror, 2011-2014 – 5 seasons, Channel 4 & Netflix.
1984 is a dystopian novel that is set in a totalitarian police state that is constantly at war. A society where freedom of expression no longer exists and where people are constantly monitored by cameras.
This novel, which confronts us with the possible excesses of a permanently monitored world, is a strong cultural reference. It has served as an inspiration for other futuristic books and films. It’s not uncommon to come across the famous sentence from the novel “Big brother is watching you”.
George Orwell, 1984, Secker and Warburg, 1949.
© Thomas Backa from Turku, Finland, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons
Star Trek is a successful science fiction TV show that has had an impact on a whole generation. It tells of the adventures of the crew of the spaceship USS Enterprise, whose mission is to explore the Galaxy in order to discover other life forms and civilizations in order to enrich human knowledge.
The idea that Star Trek changed the world may seem far-fetched, but the TV show has left an indelible mark on our perception of technology and has inspired a generation of scientists and inventors. For example, Martin Cooper of Motorola had the idea to design the first cell phones while watching an episode.
Gene Roddenberry, Star Trek, 1966-1969, NBC.
© NBC Television, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
In Naples’ Scampia district, as elsewhere in Europe, the post-WWII period saw the growth of large concrete housing blocks of brutalist inspiration. La Vela is a representative example of this type of architecture. Designed by the architect Francesco Di Salvo in the 1960s, it embodied the promise of a quality collective life. Construction defects, overcrowding, promiscuity, organised crime, social exclusion, dilapidation and humidity: the daily reality in this complex, now largely destroyed, was quite different.
In our collective imagination, La Vela embodies the « bunkerization » of housing and the disasters of prefabricated construction.
CC0 Public Domain – Vele di Scampia. Scampia is a district in old Naples.
Terminator is a science fiction movie whose plot plunges us into 2029 on an Earth ravaged by war. Machines are all directed by an evil artificial intelligence. However, in this chaotic context, the human resistance is about to win the battle against the machine. The other part of the plot takes place in 1984. A cyborg killer, the Terminator, is sent from the future to kill the mother of the resistance leader and thus influence the outcome of the war in 2029.
The Terminator embodies the paradox of the invention that wants to destroy its inventor. These deadly machines echo our collective fears of being overtaken by increasingly intelligent technologies.
James Cameron, The Terminator, 1984, Hemdale Film Corporation & Pacific Western Productions.
The plot of 2001: A Space Odyssey takes us to the year 2001, aboard the spaceship Discovery which is on its way to the planet Jupiter. The onboard computer, HAL 9000, is equipped with artificial intelligence and turns against the crew when it considers them to be endangering the mission.
This movie that marked a whole generation challenges us to think of a scenario where Artificial Intelligence can take control over human intelligence and destroy humanity.
Stanley Kubrick, 2001, A Space Odyssey, 1968, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.
The cover of the LP album with the sound track from the film ‘2001, A Space Odyssey’ (1968).
Doctor Who is the longest running science fiction series of all time. It follows the adventures of the Doctor, an alien who travels through space and time in a ship that has the outward appearance of a British police telephone box.
In episode 4 of season 4, the Doctor investigates the ATMOS satellite navigation system, which is capable of removing all carbon dioxide emissions from vehicles and is installed in over four hundred million cars. Unfortunately, the system is hacked and the cars are turned into weapons.
This episode brings us back to our own fear of the danger of developing autonomous cars and of the possible misuse of a widespread navigation system.
Sydney Newman & Donald Wilson, Doctor Who – S4E4: A.T.M.O.S, 2008, BBC 1.
© Mathis Biaujout, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
In Prometheus, a team of explorers discovers a clue to the origin of humanity on Earth. This discovery takes them on a fascinating journey to the darkest corners of the universe. There, a terrifying confrontation that will decide the future of humanity awaits them.
In the movie Prometheus, the spacecraft is equipped with a machine capable of automatically performing surgical operations. This suggests us to envision the medicine of the future with no personal contacts.
Ridley Scott, Prometheus, 2012, Brandywine Productions, Scott Free Productions & Dune Entertainment.
Blade Runner is a science fiction film from 1982 that takes us to 2019, on an Earth in ruins and in a polluted and over-exploited Los Angeles. It features a policeman in charge of eliminating a group of deviant humanoid robots. These androids are not mechanical robots, but living beings whose organs, manufactured independently and by genetic manipulation, are assembled to give them a human appearance.
Blade Runner shows us that the technical, cultural and moral worlds are intimately linked and that we cannot consider innovation without taking into account the human, political, ecological and economic values that they evoke.
Ridley Scott, Blade Runner, 1982, The Ladd Company.
© Dall-e 2, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
Neurocomic is a visually captivating adventure through the brain. It is populated by quirky creatures, bizarre landscapes and famous neuroscientists. The protagonist evades a vindictive colossal squid, negotiates mysterious trap doors, battles narcotic demons and navigates forests of neurons to take us on a rapturous journey through the most complex organic structure in the universe.
It embodies the capacity of a cultural work to change our vision of a scientific topic and to make it accessible.
Matteo Farinella & Hana Ros, Neurocomic, Nobrow, 2013.