Thursday, April 21, 2016


This is going somewhere, I want to comment on some moderately dunderheaded essays on The Future of Photography. Before I do that I need to set up some background.

Most of us have probably banged in to complex numbers at some point. This is the bit where you've got an "imaginary number", i, which is the square root of -1 (say whaaaaaaat?). Don't worry about it too much. The point is that complex numbers all have wonderfully aptly named parts, the "real part" and the "imaginary part". The numbers we're all comfortable with are the ones that have a 0-sized imaginary part.


The world is ruled by these things called differential equations, which are by themselves not very useful, but the solutions to them are useful. The differential equation just says how the factors involved interrelate, the solution tells us what actually happens. We'll see an example in a moment, hang tight. The thing is that the solutions are, almost always, some kind of complex valued function, which real and imaginary parts. These things are usually, in fact, complex exponential functions. Often the "real part" is pretty much some sort of exponential at the beginning, so there's a rapidly increasing rise in something or other. As time proceeds, however, other components of the solution rotate out of the imaginary realm into the real one, and the whole thing settles into a sinusoid. A rhythmic repetitive thing.

There is some fairly deep math here, which demonstrates that the sin() function (and its various friends from trigonometry) are sums of complex exponential functions. Exponential curves and sinusoids are, in a sense, the same thing, or at any rate closely related, weird though that seems. You can't see it without taking a little trip through the land of complex numbers, but there it's almost obvious. If you squint and have the right background.

Pull your child back on a swing. Haul her up. Now drop her. Her speed is zero at the moment you drop her, but she accelerates fast. Her speed increses exponentially, since she's in free-fall (roughly) for a moment. But then the swing kicks in, and her speed settles in to a sinusoid. Fastest at the bottom, zooooom! Then she rises up, up, up, slowing down, down.. stops. Reverses. Wheee! Back and forth.

This is, basically, how everything in the world works. Exponential change at the beginning, until damping factors start to kick in, and then dominate. Then the whole thing oscillates back and forth, roughly.

Almost every dumbshit trying to predict the future sees an exponential, and then tries to extrapolate directly from that.

These people see the child dropping from her parent's hands, and deduce that she will, in 20 minutes or so, pass through the center of the earth at approximately the speed of light. Which is idiotic, of course.

Now let us consider this idiot. Set aside the imbecile comparison with "time" which is not merely imbecile but factually incorrect. Matt Hackett quite literally assumes that the exponential growth of "imagemaking" will continue, ending only when every human is continuously broadcasting high resolution video.

Wearable cameras have all been dismal failures, adored by a handful of nerds and ignored or actively hated by everyone else. To first order, that is, ignored or actively hated by everyone. What makes Matt's essay so odd is that he's aware of this, even mentions it explicitly, with some vague dismissive verbiage that purports to (but does not) explain why these contradicting facts do not ruin his thesis.

This other idiot, who cites Matt's stupid remarks, gets the context more correct. She is correct that technology proceeds apace, that mighty changes are afoot. Where she goes off the rails is buying in to Matt's position, based on absolutely nothing whatsoever. Cameras are changing! Lots of new ideas! 3D! 360 degree capture! Computational Photography! watch closely this next bit is where things get sticky It therefore follows inevitably that everyone will be wearing always-on-cameras and broadcasting live, really soon now, how cool is that! The sticky bit of course is that it doesn't follow at all. There is literally no connection between the facts presented and the conclusion drawn.

Matt and his Silicon Valley ilk are under the impression that they're so interesting that when they generate a 24 hour live feed of everything in their lives, someone will want to watch. They're wrong. They also can't understand math. If their glorious dream comes to pass, and every single person on earth is broadcasting a live multi megabit sensorium feed, who the hell is going to consume this media? Is endgame one guy hiking through the Sierras, while 10 billion people experience and rebroadcast his hike to one another? That doesn't sound economically viable.

Yep, Facebook has a lot of photos uploaded every day. And nobody really looks at any of them, unless someone's tagged them in it. The damping factors exist, we just haven't really started to see them. And then the quantity of media uploaded and consumed starts to see-saw, rising and falling randomly according to fashion, the stock market, and sunspot cycles.

For some reason this dumb "everyone will record everything and it'll be, basically, a digital paradise" thing just won't die, even though it's patently stupid. I'm starting to fear the Silicon Valley is going to bring this particular future hellscape in to being by sheer force of bullheadedness. God knows the spooks would love a variation on this theme, and would definitely be supportive of legislation mandating always on always worn cameras.


  1. Thanks a lot for your rant!
    This kind of 'math'-talk is a special kind of pop science. Instead of pseudo-mystical bla bla, a pseudo-rationalistic attitude is assumed. No reality check intended.

  2. I think the important thing is to distinguish between two categories of futurologising idiots: those who enjoy scaring themselves with predictions of The Singularity and other such nonsense, and those who dream of inhabiting such a world. The latter need to be identified, hunted down, and neutralised (with extreme prejudice) before they screw things up for the rest of us by inventing thought-cameras.

    My favourite example of the banality of futurology is the 19th century prediction that, at current rates of progress, we should all by now have disappeared beneath the heaps of horse dung generated by the calculated future transport needs of society. Thank goodness for the horseless carriage! (Wait, what's that you say about faked emission tests?? Noooo...)


  3. We already have an always-on image capture/computational device with us at all times - our eyes and brain. We just need to learn to use them again.


  4. "What fresh hell is this?"-Dorothy Parker

  5. "Always in motion the future is." Yoda.

    With best regards,


  6. There is an UK episode of a ministeriale in which everyone records and store everything he sees, so che Can later re-watch it infinite time. But one of the uses is that in every airport and train/subway station there is a National Security checkpoint that download and check your recordings at a Superfast speed and match it with face recognition so they Can check if a particular person was caught in your field of view, where and when.

  7. People need to consume, in order to switch their brains out and not think. They called it Veg Out. They veged out to reality tv, documentaries, the weather channel, the young and restless. Or are you too young to remember? Today they call it binging, which is the same thing, maybe they don't like vegetables anymore. The binge watch tv series they stream into their computers. Yes, I really believe there are millions of earth inhabitants waiting for the 24/7 unedited streaming of someone's toilet visit. People need excuses to not use their brain. The future is bleaker than you believe