Today Seamus speaks with Distinguished Professor Genevieve Bell AO. She’s a cultural anthropologist who spent two decades at Intel and is known as one of the most important thinkers on technology and culture. She returned to Australia in recent years to create an entirely new school of research at ANU, named 3Ai.
We explore the aims of the new school, why it matters, and what the big issues are for technology in society today. And like any conversation with Professor Bell we get anecdotes from the past to help us understand that where we’re going next isn’t all that new… if only we can learn from the history lessons that can help pave the way…
One year ago to the day, I stacked it getting off a bus. Tripped over. Had a fall. It hurt.
I jumped up quickly, looked around embarrassed, dusted myself off and wandered off.
Half an hour later my shoulder was pretty sore. 10 hours later I was in agony and took myself to emergency.
The story has a few more twists and turns. To get to the point, I had a broken collarbone and, shortly thereafter, a very badly frozen shoulder. I’d never had anything like it. The collarbone took three weeks to heal, the shoulder has taken all year.
In those first weeks I couldn’t sleep. I’d wake up in agony if I tried to lie down, even with a heavy dose of prescription painkillers. It literally ruined Christmas, and my summer was turning into a waking nightmare.
Bob Ross hosted a TV show, The Joy of Painting, that ran on US public broadcasting for 31 seasons from 1983 to 1994. The final episode aired on May 17, 1994, and sadly Bob died due to complications from lymphoma on July 4, 1995.
His show was designed to encourage others to paint, and to show that anyone can create landscape art through his use of a wet-on-wet oil painting technique. But its popularity was thanks to Bob’s incredibly positive, joyful presence, his soothing voice, and the way the whole experience becomes repetitive in both its warmth and pleasantness.
When the show ended, the web was still just emerging. Six months after the show ended, Netscape 1.0 launched. When he passed away, the idea of watching video streamed online was a pipe dream. As far as he would have known, his impact on the world was limited to a devoted but niche audience of American viewers who would admire his legacy of spreading happiness through art.
On what would have been Bob Ross’s 73rd birthday, 20 years after his death, streaming platform Twitch.tv launched its Twitch Creative platform with a marathon stream of every episode of The Joy of Painting. Over nine days, 5.6 million viewers tuned in to enjoy the stream and ever since the twitch.tv/bobross channel has streamed seasons of his show every weekend as well as running marathons again most holidays.
The channel now has 1.4 million followers, and a devoted community of fans who tune in each weekend to chat as if Bob was still with us, streaming in real-time.
While I hunted for anything to help me rest, I ended up propped on the couch at night, looking for shows, videos and streams to soothe my brain a little if sleep was not going to find me.
It turned out Bob Ross was the salve I was looking for.
His voice – so calm, silky smooth, deeply comforting. I’d seen Bob before. He was a meme well before I’d spent any serious time actually watching his show. But to let Bob wash over me, one pleasant 30 minute episode at a time, was a balm for my brain.
Alongside his wonderful voice, it was also the way the recordist on the show also picked up every brushstroke. Tapping, swishing, gliding sounds as the bristles crossed the canvas.
I suddenly realised Bob Ross is like an OG ASMR guru. And I was far from the first to grasp that idea. It turns out the custodians of his legacy at Bob Ross Inc were well ahead of me.
“He’s sort of the godfather of ASMR,” says Joan Kowalski, the president of Bob Ross Inc. “People were into him for ASMR reasons before there even was an ASMR.”
Bob soothed my mind and sent me into a kind of meditative state. I felt rested as I dozed in and out of conscious thought. Part painkillers, part dulcet tones and sounds coming from the TV.
But the marriage of Bob Ross and Twitch was essential to my bliss.
Every episode of Bob Ross is available on YouTube. And there are some collections of episodes available on Netflix. But both of these put the onus on me to choose something I want to watch. Where do I begin? Which episode? Which season? I don’t want to see the same thing every time, so I have to actively make a choice.
Bob Ross on Twitch is a stream in the same soothing way Bob talks about painting a stream. When you need it, it’s just there, ready to flow over you and refresh the mind. Sliding into stream, finding Bob in full flight is exactly what I needed. Not choosing what to see, just being surprised by whatever it was that weekend had to offer.
The internet needs more serendipity in this algorithmically controlled era. Everything is being programmed to immediately serve our taste for active engagement.
Bob is serendipity incarnate – the perfect passive engagement. The thing I didn’t choose, that wasn’t pre-programmed to suit my specific algorithmic tastes. It was the thing I never knew I needed and wasn’t being asked to lean into.
For the first 10 weeks of my recuperation, three nights a week Bob carried me to rest. Sleep was still fleeting, but Bob placed my mind into a meditative ASMR space that helped me get up in the morning and feel like I had enough energy to participate in life.
Now my whole family adores Bob. We tune in for at least an episode or two most weekends. We quote him when we’re not watching. But when we do, we sit back, we smile, and we let the Bob Ross experience wash over us.
No build up. No hype. Just a wonderful sneaky release that means you can get it in your iPhones and iPads immediately. The best kind of surprise!
Annapurna Interactive has released the classic PlayStation 3 game ‘Journey’ for iOS. More than any other, the beautiful game is lauded as one of the greatest examples of a game that is a true art experience.
If you’ve had the pleasure, here’s a great excuse to carry it with you wherever you go, pushing it into the hands on unsuspecting doubters.
If you’ve never played it. Get it now. Then set aside a movie worth of time to play it start to finish. It’s the perfect way to play it.
If a robotics company closes its doors, but its servers are still on, are its robots alive or dead? My lame 21st Century zen kōan is actually a three-month and counting reality for owners of Vector.
Anki, the company behind a range of entertaining toy robots with some clever cloud-based features, is gone. Yet its biggest initiative ever, its cloud-based Alexa-friendly Wall-E-like robot Vector (which only launched in October 2018), is still out there. Still driving around coffee tables and kitchen benches. Still recognising faces, telling its owners the weather, answering Amazon Alexa queries.
Anki’s Vector servers remain. For now. But the Vector community is worried. It’s scrambling to reverse-engineer Vector, to find a way to make Vector ready to talk to personal servers they could start running when the official Anki servers eventually switch off. That’s an interesting technical project for those with the skills to do so.
But what about everyone else? Those who bought a fun – and expensive – toy robot that just needs an app to do its thing? When those servers go dark and Vector’s cute little eyes stop responding, can they demand a refund?
But most of all – is it OK to keep selling Vector when all this looms over the product’s future? Read on…
Incredible as it may seem, the end of March marks 20 years since the release of the first film in the Matrix franchise directed by The Wachowski siblings. This “cyberpunk” sci-fi movie was a box office hit with its dystopian futuristic vision, distinctive fashion sense, and slick, innovative action sequences. But it was also a catalyst for popular discussion around some very big philosophical themes.
“Hey, let’s make a new coin for Stephen Hawking that honours his life by portraying the beauty of a black hole that can be carried around in someone’s pocket.” Someone kinda said that and actually pulled it off. It’s gorgeous!
All those videos of engineers abusing robots to show how stable or agile they are really might bite us in the butt in the future, according to one ethicist. So let’s scrub the record, and their brains, and start over again being as friendly as possible, yes?