Digital future from dead thinkers
Tuesday 5 November marks the annual Bonfire Night celebrations which were created following the arrest of Guy Fawkes on the 5th November following a failed attempt to create political change by attempting to assassinate King James I. There was no extreme political intent from the events in the new Library of Birmingham on the 5 November 2013 but instead a reflection on the power of ideas from Dead Thinkers shaping the digital future.
A project titled xHumed: How The Industrial Age Forged Our Digital Future saw historical figures of the industrial age resurrected or 'exhumed' using digital and social media, artistic and theatrical means to use their wisdom to look at the issues of the 21st Century, http://visitbirmingham.com/what-to-do/festivals-events/xhumed/.
The project is entitled "xHumed: Dead Good Thinking"® (xHumed®) and
- broadly speaking - it focuses on the concept of digital
xHumed® seeks to explore both the wealth of historical and cultural
archive content that already exists and that which we are all
habitually creating, uploading and sharing on a daily basis.
On both sides, there are huge and comparable issues: How is such
content digitised, classified, meta-tagged, stored, shared, used and
accessed? Who owns it and what rights do they have? Who bears the
costs of digitisation and storage? What are the hidden costs and is
it fair to say that those who take on the burden of digitisation and
storage should also have absolute freedom to reap the benefits of
The issues may be the same, but the debates are happening in
xHumed® seeks to bring the two sectors together – the cultural and
the digital and the past, present and future of archive – and,
crucially, to bring an audience into the mix as well.
This is about engagement in archive, in all its forms.
Two performances took place at 2pm and 7pm with live contributors Jon Bounds, the Tinder Foundation CEO Helen Milner and University of Bath's Dr John Troyer discussing the link between the past and future through the wisdom of past figures of the industrial age such as H.G Wells, Mary Shelley and Matthew Boulton.
A recording of H.G. Wells opened the event with words that were prescient despite being spoken over eighty years ago and with wisdom of foresight which saw a World Brain or what we would now consider the World Wide Web.
The historical figures all provided a fascinating link between past and future and how we face new forms of old problems and challenges but that with the wisdom of dead thinkers and the ingenuity of today's expertise and skilled individuals we can make real differences to peoples lives.
A fascinating look at Erasmus Darwin's Speaking Machine saw the evolution of the attempt to create artificial speech that has reached astounding developments with Dr Christophe Veaux from the Centre for Speech Technology Research and the Voicebank Project showing how technology allows us to create a unique voice identity so that in the face of medical challenges a unique voice identity can help to preserve who you are, http://www.smart-mnd.org/voicebank/about/home.html
Meanwhile the question of who you are after you have passed away saw a link from John Baskerville, who was exhumed three times and whose identity he was no longer able to control in death, to the future we all face of our demise but of how we seek to shape our legacies both temporal and digital. Dr John Troyer from Bath University's Centre for Death and Society, http://www.bath.ac.uk/cdas/, posed question on how we face our demise and what will become of our digital self.
This digital self and what remains was part of a question raised by Jon Turney in his presentation on Resurrection by digitisation and involving Frankenstein author Mary Shelley. With science making our longevity stretch ever further and the link between man and machine blurring with this possibility of an almost eternal life how do we use the digital self and the external to link between our identity.
Of course there is more to the world than the self and the story of Geraldine Southall Cadbury's involvement in youth social justice establishing England's first separate court for children in Birmingham provided a background to the potential of the internet to help shape and transform people's lives when it is likely the UK will fail to achieve the ambition of removing all children from poverty by 2020.
The event was a fascinating mix of past and future showing the opportunities and the ideas that Dead Good Thinkers can have today to help to address future problems and providing a rallying call to engage with opportunities to shape and transform people's lives.
More information, and links to the living speakers who spoke at the event, on the project can be found on the xHumed website: http://xhumed.co.uk/