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Exploring thought, the future and science going awry

"Frankenstein" is theme of Emerge 2017, which features edible skin exhibit.
"The future is for everyone," ASU Emerge director says.
February 23, 2017

Emerge: ASU's annual transmedia art, science and technology festival comes to Tempe campus Saturday

Two hundred years ago, Mary Shelley imagined a doctor who created a new life form using lightning and stolen body parts.

Today, Ali Schachtschneider grows — and wears — edible skin.

The New York-based artist works with bacteria that she adds to a culture that ferments over time. The bacteria in the culture is mixed in with a tea called kombucha, allowing it to feed off sugar to make tiny strands of cellulose. They float to the top and accumulate in a thick mat that Schachtschneider fashions into garments.

Schachtschneider’s work combines lab-based research and fashion design to create extensions of the body. In the future, you might grow your own clothes. Fashion might be more personal and interactive than it is now.

“It’s something you can work to understand now,” she said. “I think about what the futures of materials could be, and I like to think about that through hands-on lab work.”

Thinking, the future and science going awry are among the themes explored at Emerge, Arizona State University’s annual transmedia art, science and technology festival, coming this Saturday at the Tempe campus (details below).

The festival’s 2017 theme is "Frankenstein," a timeless novel that embodies the question of scientific responsibility and foresight. In the age of gene drives, with the theoretical potential to unleash new life forms into the natural world, it’s a story with timely resonance, said Emerge director Cynthia Selin.

“Frankenstein is one of the most enduring stories about technologies we produce and our responsibility and unintended consequences,” Selin said. “Two hundred years ago, it was thought about. What kind of inventions are we making, and how do we control them? Or not?”

Selin is an assistant professor in the School for the Future of Innovation in Society and a social scientist who studies the future. She specializes in scenario planning.

“Scenarios are very much about storytelling,” she said. “In scenario planning, you treat the future as a set of different possibilities. Emerge is taking the art and science of foresight and taking them in totally different directions.”

The festival will feature dance performances, installations featuring experiments, films and exhibits such as Schachtschneider’s "Edibleskin." (No, she won’t be wearing it, and no, you won’t be allowed to eat it.)

All of the artists will be on site. “It’s not a normal pop-up exhibition where you go and look at something inert,” Selin said. “This is a lively and engaging experience.”

™ [Tomorrow’s Monster] will be a walk into an ASU lab in 2047, with the latest in artificial intelligence and robotics. The exhibit will include Hollywood props, including the Terminator’s head.

“It’s a way to dunk people into a future world, so they can ask questions about which technologies they might want to see and what technologies they might find problematic,” Selin said. “We’re trying to use art as a lens to look at technical innovation.”

Future applications of biotechnology will be envisioned at the festival.

"Stabilimentum" is a couture mask that filters air using live spiders and the electrostatic properties of their silk.

Fly Blimps is an installation consisting of helium-filled blimps whose movements are controlled by small collectives of houseflies.

“The flies exist in their own self-contained and self-sustaining worlds, collectively creating an amplified and exaggerated expression of group behavior,” the artist’s statement said.

Is it the responsibility of government or science to get ahead of emerging tech?

“With an event like Emerge, we want to make the case that it’s all of our responsibilities,” Selin said. “Emerge is an opportunity to include ordinary folks in the Valley but also faculty and students from all sorts of different departments around ASU to come in and play and experiment with the different installations we have lined up, to think about what are unintended consequences? What are the risks and benefits of these emerging technologies? Who decides which technologies are governed in which ways? … The future is for everyone. It’s not good enough to leave these questions to the experts.”

Details: Emerge 2017 will be held from 3 to 9 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 25, on the Tempe campus at the University Club and the Piper Lawn. 

Top photo courtesty of

Scott Seckel

Reporter , ASU News

Cronkite School, Mexico’s Centro de Investigación y Docencia Económicas partner for conference on journalism in the era of 'fake news'

February 23, 2017

Twitter tirades and trolls. “Fake news” on Facebook. Mainstream media missteps. 

A creeping mistrust of journalists and political institutions are defining a cultural moment in both the U.S. and Mexico, along with fueling cross-border misunderstandings and suspicions.  Cronkite-CIDE Shane Harris, Wall Street Journal senior writer, speaks about holding government accountable during the “Digital Tensions and Journalism in the Era of Trump” workshop in Mexico City on Thursday. Also pictured is Katherine Mangu-Ward (left), a Future Tense fellow and managing editor of Reason magazine and Lina Ornelas (right), head of public policy and government affairs for Google. (Photo by Jerry Gonzalez/ASU). Download Full Image

To provide perspective and seek a way forward, the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University and Future Tense have partnered with Mexico’s Centro de Investigación y Docencia Económicas and made the issue the focus if its second annual journalism workshop in Mexico City. Media experts and nearly 100 journalists, students and faculty participated in the day-long event Thursday.

The workshop, “Digital Tensions and Journalism in the Era of Trump,” was held in the Casa Lamm Cultural Center and featured five different panels: journalism in a post-truth environment; surveillance vs. privacy; the need to hold opaque governments accountable; the challenge of covering the U.S.-Mexico border; and what journalists should do to protect themselves online

“Digital technology is taking us in an uncharted direction where we are only now beginning to see its impact and consequences,” said Christopher Callahan, dean of the Cronkite School. “We are very proud to join CIDE in examining the topic of ‘digital tensions’ in-depth through discussion panels with top professionals from Mexico and the United States.”

More than 20 speakers shared their insights, including policy analysts from Google and Mexico's Red de Derechos Digitales; journalists from The Wall Street Journal, Slate, Reason, Bloomberg News, NPR, Univision, El Universal and Horizontal. CIDE professors and Cronkite faculty members also participated.  

"It's essential to learn from each other across borders and to nurture a strong culture of principled journalism in both our countries,” said Carlos Bravo Regidor, associate professor and coordinator of the master's degree program at CIDE. 

The absence of principled journalism in some cases helped create the current “fake news” environment that has led to a rise in mistrust in mainstream media, said panelist and Future Tense editor Torie Bosch.  

“Misinformation and fake news, in the very strict definition of fake news, existed long before this election,” Bosch said.  “You could see it at the bottom of just about almost every American news website, links that said ‘promoted around the web’, and you would see a fake story about a celebrity, and we all ignored it because we didn’t think anyone really took them seriously.”

Panelists agreed that “fake news” isn’t new, but it’s risky to try to silence. Educating the public, encouraging the use of social media tools to identify less than credible parties and holding governments accountable are a better way forward. 

“Governments all over the world will say ‘this journalist is spreading rumors’ and ‘this is a threat to national security,’” said Emily Parker, a panelist and digital diplomacy advisor to New America. “We’ve seen this all over the world, but we’re starting to see the United States government accusing journalists of starting rumors and fake news. And in other countries, they’ve used that exact same reasoning to crack down on journalists.”

Now more than ever journalism is of utmost importance as a worrisome message has emerged with the U.S. president declaring the press as “the enemy of the people,” said panelist and Wall Street Journal reporter Shane Harris.  

“The goal of that is to undermine us in the free press as the source of truth, so that the administration becomes the source of truth,” Harris said. “We’ve seen this before in many other countries but haven’t seen it so much in ours recently.”

One of the hot topics was digital privacy.  The centralization of digital mediums, including social media, has created “choke points” where surveillance can occur more easily than in the past, said Dan Gillmor, professor of practice at the Cronkite School. 

“We have a major issue to think about if we’re going to have this freedom of speech, freedom to assemble and collaborate, freedom to innovate and all these other things I believe we should have,” said Gillmor, an internationally recognized author and leader in new media and citizen journalism. “It is difficult to see how we maintain those freedoms if everything is brought back to the center and a few highly powerful entities can restrict the things we should be taking for granted.”

The internet seems free, but there is a price that many don’t realize, said Jimena Moreno Gonzalez, professor and secretary general at CIDE

“Your information is valuable,” Moreno Gonzalez said. “Nothing is free.  When you build a profile, it generates information not just for commercial purposes but for political campaigns, for corporations, for telecommunications.  It’s valuable, and we don’t take into account the market value of it that makes a direct impact to many utilities.”

The gathering of experts from Mexico and the U.S. gave the audience valuable points of view on very relevant and timely topics from renowned professionals.  The workshop has become a unique tradition for ASU in Mexico. 

"We look forward to deepening our relationship with the Cronkite School to continue advancing these objectives,” said CIDE’s Bravo Regidor.     

Attendees agreed that this year’s workshop was beneficial and the topics were timely.

“It’s very important to have these type of events, in particular right now with what is going on with the U.S. administration and with the consequences that that we’re living with here in Mexico due to Donald Trump’s decisions,” said Hernán Sarquis, a journalist with Mexico’s La Política Online. “I think it’s important to maintain these ties between journalists of both nations to exchange points of views and share strategies.”  

Following the workshop, Future Tense hosted an additional talk that evening exploring the question of whether the internet will "free" us all. It featured some of the daytime speakers and other Mexican thought leaders. A reception followed with ASU Mexico alumni and other guests.   

Future Tense is a partnership between Arizona State University, Slate magazine and the New America think tank based in Washington. 

Jerry Gonzalez

Assistant Director, Media Relations and Strategic Communications