During the 2016 election one of my friends compared the candidates promises to those of a 2nd grader running for class president. They promise candy for lunch, naps every day after recess, and no more homework. Sounds great, but none of the promises have any substance to them because none of them are realistic. This was a telling moment in my adult life. I continued to find that most socialist and free market theories embody this idealist view of a 2nd grader. Simply all talk and no substance.
Whenever capitalism or socialism is blamed for creating an unequal or dystopic society I roll my eyes at the gross simplification. Yet even worse is when people claim they can be the foundations for a utopia. No society can stand on free market or social well fare alone. I would believe in having candy for lunch way beforehand. Therefore, I found it refreshing when Erik Olin Wright suggested that social alternatives can be evaluated by three different criteria: desirability, viability and achievability. This is a useful tool in evaluating socialist and free market dreams.
One of the greatest steps I believe America ever achieved towards socialism was the implementation of social security. It’s a huge program taking up 24% of the federal budget and almost everyone has access to it. Anyone over the age of 66 has access to the benefits- from those poverty stricken to billionaires. When the program was first created in the 30’s the idea of creating a version that only went to poor people was suggested, but president Roosevelt shut down the idea. He claimed that a program like social security can’t survive politically if it’s only implemented to poor people. It had to be for everyone. This enables the population to see the program as a right that they’ve all contributed towards instead of a hand out.
If we were to take Social Security and compare it to Universal Basic Income, as policy makers discuss it these days, Social Security could be seen as a successful precursor. The program is desirable, viable and achievable in ways UBI is not at the moment. UBI currently targets funding thought this type of Robin Hood Economics of take from the rich and give to the poor. Aside from fairy tails, its not a viable system. Social Security on the other hand is funded by taking a portion of your earnings and setting them aside for later in life- it’s a system that everyone can contribute towards. If UBI is to be desirable or viable it has to have a benefits transcending class lines.
In an article by Vox the idea of replacing all social programs with UBI is discussed. Unfortunately, the findings are not great.
Deep-Learning Networks Rival Human Vision
Computers are great at solving problems, however they’ve always struggled with visual problems. Recent breakthroughs in the field of deep learning (a stem of artificial intelligence) are giving computers the power to interpret complicated visual issues by drawing inferences from subtle, telling patterns. This new learning based approached is known as convolutional neural network (CNN).
The way this technology works is by analyzing thousands of images related to one topic and then storing the data in layers. By doing this they create a hierarchy within the categories of an image. On the lower levels of organization they learn simple shapes and edges. In the higher layers they learn complex and abstract concepts. They are then capable of making high quality inferences based off of this hierarchy.
This deep learning technology is one of the greatest advances we’ve made in recent years. Its power comes from its adaptability. Before this technology machines were only capable of following an objective set of tasks. Now technology is capable of learning and making predictions.
This new technology releases unlimited possibilities across almost every industry. They allow for self driving cars to be safer, security cameras to understand crowd behavior, prevent the spread of disease in crops, identify early signs of cancer and disease, and way more.
One of the most important things to remember as a designer is that design does not exist in a vacuum. Design is simply one of the many parts in a larger network of society working together. It’s easy to make a pretty poster, print it, sell it and send it out into the world claiming that it means something more than it does. However, design needs to be something more.
What “Dark Matter and Tojan horses” does well is identify the larger context design functions within. This larger context is referred to as “dark matter”- which at first sounds like a pretentious way of claiming that design has some sort of celestial power. However dark matter acts as an effective analogy for design with the premise that dark matter is an invisible substance making up 83% of the universe. It’s impossible to detect its true form, but its observable through its effect on visible objects. In a similar way, design functions within the organizations, culture, and structural relationships of society. These boundaries have an unquantifiable effect on design. This then implies that for design to be effective, it must consider the unquantifiable- the dark matter.
To be strategic in design is to see patterns, make connections, and understand the relationships at play. In the text, the example of New Castle is given as a way that a designer effectively saw the greater context of a problem and applied a strategic solution. In the wake of a mass migration to the suburbs the landlords of these newly empty buildings were not comfortable renting to small business, individual entrepreneurs, or artists. To solve this problem new rules and contracts were negotiated to enable new tenants to lease the spaces. This renegotiation saved the city center from deteriorating. This example struck home with me because a similar revitalization is happening within my hometown of Cincinnati. However, it’s not quite as picturesque of a story. Without delving too much into the politics, I can see the revitalization of Cincinnati a similar story of strategic design.
While attempting to research how design affects society I came across an enlightening piece in the design observer titled, “What is Design For? A Discussion.” In the piece Rick Poyer and Michael Bierut are interviewed about what they think is wrong and right with graphic design today. One of the issues Rick Poyer highlights is graphic designs capability of manipulation. When you begin to take a strategic look at design you can begin to see how the pieces and parts move within a society. This then creates power for the individual. When intentions are good the power can be used to help revitalize an area, when they are corrupt or warped they can displace a community of people for the intention of profit. Luckily I believe most designers have their heart in the right place, but unfortunately those good-hearted individuals have to keep the lights on somehow. When strategic design is sold to profit maximizing companies the capacity for corruption sky rockets. This then leaves me wondering how we can ensure strategic design is used for good?