Some are blessed with talent, some with connections, some with intelligence and foresight, and others with luck and fortune. Some have it all, and that is the story of ADAPT speaker and conceptual designer Syd Mead, who leapt to prominence in 1982 with his work on Blade Runner and TRON. Often billed as a “Visual Futurist”, Mead’s work has influenced decades of design work in film, and in life.

“Visual Futurist,” Mead explained, “is a name I invented for myself. I got a call from New York; they were doing end rolls for Blade Runner, the second movie I’d ever worked on. I’m not a member of any of the Academy categories such as production designer, art director, so forth, so I had to make something up on the fly. Visual futurist was a kind of convenient, short description of dealing with the future, which I most often do as a design request, and visual, because I can paint and draw and do all those wonderful arty things. So Visual Futurist was… sort of vaguely specific,” Mead said with a laugh.

Mead gives a rare depth of consideration in his work, elevating an attractive design with function to an art form with a purpose, and his passion for finding what might be beyond imagination is tempered with one who takes responsibility for the ideas he implants. “The danger we have now, and I see it as a danger, is the proscenium, the line, between reality and illusion. Artificially created illusion is becoming more and more blurred, and there’ll be a time in the very near future where you simply won’t be able to tell the difference. And we don’t know psychologically, or culturally, how to approach that yet.

When you start to be able to embed chips or do EKG broadcasts that directly address the processing centers of the brain, you have crossed that immersive in-out proscenium between [reality and illusion]. Brain chemistry is extremely complex, and science is now perfecting the method of picking up an EKG signal and people being able to move prosthetic arms and things like that, so that’s already happening.”

The implications were disturbing, and I asked him what he saw as the best and worst case scenarios. “Well, we’ll have to invent an alpha-curve or beta-curve or something that you can pick up to find out at what level the person exists. Remember, your brain is in the dark. Your eyes are direct nerve stretch links to the brain itself, and whatever you see around you is audited by what you think you can see, so reality is transient. They’ve proven this over and over again. If you start tampering with that deliberately, I don’t know what’s going to happen. I don’t think anybody does. The people with AI, and the psychological experimenting with technological extensions, I think they are desperately trying to figure it out because it could either be a tool, a science fiction staple, absolute domination of a population- or freeing up the spirit to create new horizons in creative thinking and imaginative problem solutions.”


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