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San Diego Sci-Fi Author Imagines Megamalls From The Future

Credit: fdecomite / Flickr

This is a parking lot of a shopping mall in Edmonton, Canada before it opened, May 9, 2008. It is based on a new concept where no slots are defined, letting people choose how and where to park their car.

Aired 5/24/16 on KPBS Midday Edition.

San Diego Sci-Fi Author Imagines Megamalls From the Future

GUESTS:

Sheldon Brown, director, UC San Diego's Arthur C. Clarke Center for Human Imagination

Vernor Vinge, science fiction author

As department stores become less of a draw for consumers, developers are expected to spend $1 billion to rebuild San Diego malls over the next three years. But an event at UC San Diego Wednesday is dreaming up what malls will look like in the far more distant future.

The university's Arthur C. Clarke Center for Human Imagination will explore what a megamall from 2080 could look like, with experts in cognitive science, architecture and even science fiction weighing in.

While malls may not be essential civic spaces, thinking about futuristic malls leads to questions about what human interaction and commerce will look like 60 years from now, according to Sheldon Brown, the center’s director and a UCSD professor of digital media.

Vernor Vinge, an award-winning science fiction writer and former San Diego State University computer science professor, said he once found it too difficult to imagine what could be inside a future mall. In one story, he had a character drive by a mall instead of going in to avoid having to come up with a detailed description. But Vinge will be one of the speakers designing a megamall onstage Wednesday.

He sees augmented reality playing a large role, with wearable displays or ocular implants overlaying images on what we see in the world around us. Blank walls could turn into interactive storefronts and fitting rooms could show us what outfits look like in other colors, Vinge said.

Just as ads for shoes or other items can follow us around online long after we’ve made a purchase, Vinge sees the potential for personalized data to follow us in physical stores too. What is “moderately creepy” on a computer could be very creepy in real life, the author said.

“As a science fiction writer, we often specialize in talking about how bad things can get,” Vinge said. “A medium scary vision of this is that the information that you’re talking about is still there. The problems that we have with spam and intrusive advertising are still there, but now they’re mediated by the internet of things.”

Brown and Vinge share more of their concepts of future malls on KPBS Midday Edition Tuesday.

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