Can you grab that? - Towards the Realm of Materiality

An essay on the design of power, obfuscation, speed and complexity in control centres and the enduring legacy of the gestural interface from Minority report. Features as part of the collection ‘Towards the Realm of Materiality’:

Philip K. Dick, one of the most prolific and visionary authors of the 20th century, crafted compelling visions of possible futures and dystopian realities teeming with humans, artificial intelligences, and more. Yet, the Dickian universe is more than just its characters—it's a realm intricately built with technological devices, machines, and objects entirely conceived by this brilliant mind. How did Philip K. Dick envision these technologies, and through them, the future? And now, decades after his time, how should we perceive and interpret these tools? More intriguingly, how can we decode and reconstruct the creative process that led to the creation and "materialization" of these devices? Grounded in a multidisciplinary framework, this volume explores alternative designs and projects for some of the non-existing technologies described in Philip K. Dick's oeuvre.

A short excerpt:

Look again at the gestural interface from Minority Report as a glowing centrepiece of the police’s control centre which information is funnelled in and through, and decisions are made. Functionally, the police unit in Minority Report could perform the same task with a receipt printer tucked in a corner that printed out the name of the soon-to-be-guilty culprit like an old fax machine. This would, however, undermine the cinematic qualities of the piece. In turn, and by the same rationale, we should look at spaces like Cybersyn and the Operations Centre in Rio as cinematic spaces, designed and photographed to project power. In fact, specifically in the case of gestural interfaces, many have argued and continue to argue that they are generally unsuitable for everyday tasks, requiring more effort and giving less nuanced control than a keyboard and mouse. Yet, gestural interfaces remain a symbol of power because they are ‘highly cinemagenic [and] rich with action and graphical possibilities.’
Last updated: 05.2020