Futurists discuss megamalls 2080 at UCSD Clarke Center event


In the future, say London 2080, the big problem according to science fiction writer Vernor Vinge, will be how to entice people to venture out of their self-contained homes (where they shop, socialize and are entertained by computer access) to visit public social spaces, like malls.

Vinge (”Upon the Deep,” “A Deepness in the Sky,” and “Rainbow’s End”) was one of the speakers at the second program of a two-part series called “London: 2080,” May 25, hosted by the Arthur C. Clarke Center for the Imagination in Atkinson Auditorium at UC San Diego.

Vinge was joined by architect Marjan Coletti, a teacher at the Bartlett School of Architecture in London, who spoke via a transatlantic Internet hookup.

Visual Art Professor Sheldon Brown, who is also the director of the Clarke Center, introduced each speaker and facilitated the dialogue. He said the series was created to give people an opportunity to speculate about what the future might be like and how we might organize public spaces in years to come, both here and in big international cities, like London.

A concept to keep in mind, Brown said, is if and when we reach the state of “singularity,” when computer intelligence reaches the level of human intelligence and man literally joins forces with machine to think through problems.

Coletti began by saying, it’s difficult to think about a future post-humanistic era of computer/man interface, “but since architects are considered to be seismographs who sense the future,” he felt it his duty to try. Coletti showed a video clip from French architect Philippe Stark’s TED Talk, where Stark discussed the many types of architectural vision, from the profit-oriented cookie-cutter apartment complexes of Paris and Seoul to the genius-like cathedrals of Europe, which he said elevated civilization, but can no longer be built as they once were by master craftsmen.

Coletti then turned to what he thinks is the first example of a futuristic megamall — Walt Disney’s Disneyland, built in 1952. He described the characteristics the highly malleable mall of the future might possess, “gelatinous, hybrid, jelly-like, kaleidoscopic, latent, emergent, mutant, neoplasmatic, ornamental, quirky, robotic, unpredictable, exuberant, zealous and poetic.”

Next up, Vinge said, “When you think about the future it’s best to have a lot of possible scenarios at your disposal.” One of his is that people will own wearable computers, prosthetics, sensors, eye implants and “smart glasses,” which will help them perceive more of the world around them. Vinge believes public spaces, like malls, will be highly malleable or alterable, depending on the season or event. People will be able to tap into and use their wearable computational devices to create even greater changing physical and social worlds of sound and image to please and entice.

Both rich and poor will have equal access to the changing interiors and exteriors of co-created worlds that are part actual and part virtual, and expandable upon demand into multiplicities — in the same way children can create different objects with Lego bricks, Vinge predicted.

The megamalls of the future will appeal to our cyborg post-human descendents and will replace current megamalls — Amazon, Google, and Ebay — where many people now do their shopping.

Artist Kirsten Zirngibl, in attendance, said she looks forward to the new malls where she can go shopping to “buy data because it would be fast and easier than downloading it online.”

Another attendee wondered aloud if people might eventually want to escape the fantastic virtual worlds of the megamalls with a return to good, old-fashioned sensory experiences in real environments, like “walking barefoot at the water’s edge on the beach at La Jolla Shores!”

Only time will tell.