Ask Jamais Cascio about the future of the world

At The WELL we’re having a discussion these days with Jamais Cascio. This is how Jon Lebkowsky presented this thinker:

In a followup to our State of the World discussion for 2013, we’ve invited Jamais Cascio to join us for a couple of weeks for more of a “future of the world” conversation. Selected by Foreign Policy magazine as one of their Top 100 Global Thinkers, Jamais writes about the intersection of emerging technologies, environmental dilemmas, and cultural transformation, specializing in the design and creation of plausible scenarios of the future. His work focuses on the importance of long-term, systemic thinking, emphasizing the power of openness, transparency and flexibility as catalysts for building a more resilient society. Among other things, Jamais is a master of scenario development.

You can participate via http://bit.ly/cascio-well.

The future is better than we think.

One of the big inspirations for the MixedRealities blog is the book Race against the machine, written by the MIT-researchers Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee. These last few days I’ve read another book about globalization and exponentially growing technologies, Abundance, The Future Is Better Than You Think, by the engineer and entrepreneur Peter H. Diamandis and journalist/entrepreneur Steven Kotler.

I wrote a column (in Dutch) about the book and the reaction of our newspaper community during a chat session, but here I’ll give more a ‘MixedRealities-take’.

Our brains are hard wired to be in constant alert, changes around us can always be catastrophic. This is useful when your life is constantly threatened by predators, but in a contemporary society it makes us far too pessimistic. It makes us look foremost at the dangers and the negative news while we downplay positieve news.

Cover of the book AbundanceIn the meantime we evolved from beings with a very local horizon and a linear technological evolution to people living in a world defined by global collaboration and an exponential evolution of key technologies. Diamandis gives a very positive, even exhilirating view on developments in sectors such as biotech and bio-informatics, nanotechnology, computer networks, robotics and sensors, pharma and education.

Small and highly innovative teams accomplish breakthroughs, eventually stimulated by prize competitions and with a considerable push in the back by techno-philantropists. But there’s also the ‘bottom of the pyramide’, the one billion poor who are doing better because of technologies such as mobile communication and microfinance-institutions. Those people represent not only a new market, but their needs lead to innovations which are applicable elsewhere (like the manufacturing of ultra-cheap cars or the use of distributed energy production).

Education, international collaboration, telepresence, knowledge networks and the organization of small teams of innovators are subjects about which MixedRealities wants to post on a regular basis. The blog starts about five years ago with a firm focus on virtual worlds, and I’ll continue writing about those environments but in the broader context I mentioned above.

Even though Abundance is exhilirating optimistic, the authors do recognize the challenges ahead. 3D printing can help small teams to engage in the production of goods on a worldwide level, challenging multinational companies. But it can also be used by other small teams to collaborate in the production of weapons of mass destruction. The same applies for biotech labs, which become ever more affordable, but also this DIY-revolution can be used for destructive purposes. Or nanotechnology, which could lead to massive destruction of matter – the grey goo scenario.

The solution for all this is not less technology, but more. The restrictions on stem cell research in the US did not end that research, it simply moved abroad. It appears to be impossible to stop the technological evolution – even world wars, revolutions and financial meltdowns don’t stop technology.

It’s easy to consider Abundance as a typical example of a naive American optimism. But in reality, it’s the only hope we have: advancing as rapidly as we can in the development of knowledge, science and technology, and enhancing worldwide collaboration. There are many, many very concrete examples of all this in Abundance.

Resources:
The site Abundance.
The twitterfeed and the hashtag #Abundance.
The sites of the authors www.diamandis.com and www.stevenkotler.com.
Diamandis is also co-founder and chairman of the Singularity University and chairman of the X Prize Foundation.
Here you can watch a TED-presentation by Diamandis:

The future of money

Facebook Credits becoming more important than the dollar? Not any time soon – but there are some thought-provoking elements in this discussion about the future of money (by Ross Dawson and Gerd Leonhard). Recently Ben Bernanke got the question whether gold is money. The answer was ‘no’. But maybe we’ll have to ask him whether Facebook Credits, Bitcoins or Linden dollars are money.

Gerd Leonhard reacted on Google+ that what he said about the dollar vs. Facebook Credits was meant more as a provocation than as serious prediction.

Previously we posted about similar ideas being presented by Sean Park: ‘The Sixth Paradigm

In the comments on my Google+ entry there’s also a discussion about what Linden Lab says regarding the Linden dollar (the famous ‘You acknowledge that Linden dollars are not real currency or any type of financial instrument and are not redeemable for any sum of money from Linden Lab at any time.’).

The sobering aspects of the cyber world – and our future

Yesterday the head of the British Secret Intelligence Service (SIS), better known as MI6, held a public speech – for the first time ever. He was dealing with ethical issues such as torture and secrecy.

I’d like to focus on some other aspects of the speech (full version here) by Sir John Sawers, which have to do with a networked world and future threats. I think these issues, even though depressing, are important if one wants to think about scenarios for the future.

Sawers briefly explained the structure of the security services. The Secret Intelligence Service, MI6, operates abroad, dealing with threats overseas and gathering intelligence mainly from human sources. The security service, MI5, works in the UK, protecting the homeland from terrorist attack and other threats. GCHQ produces intelligence from communications, and takes the lead in the cyber world.

These three specialised services form the UK intelligence community, and operate in a networked world. Technology plays an ever growing part in their work, for SIS as well as GCHQ, and the boundary line between home and abroad is increasingly blurred. So, they’ll have to collaborate more and more – also in order to make savings.

The security services are dealing with more than the classical terrorist attacks:

But our country, our democratic system, will not be brought down by a typical terrorist attack.

The dangers of proliferation of nuclear weapons – and chemical and biological weapons – are more far-reaching. It can alter the whole balance of power in a region.

The impact of cyber attacks can be devastating as well:

Attacks on government information and commercial secrets of our companies are happening all the time. Electricity grids, our banking system, anything controlled by computers, could possibly be vulnerable. For some, cyber is becoming an instrument of policy as much as diplomacy or military force.

A few weeks ago, GCHQ director Iain Lobban said UK’s critical infrastructure – such as power grids and emergency services – faces a “real and credible” threat of cyber attack. The threat posed by terrorists, organised criminals and hostile foreign governments was “real and credible” and he demanded a swifter response to match the speed with which “cyber events” happened, so the BBC reported. Another interesting quote from the BBC coverage:

“Cyberspace is contested every day, every hour, every minute, every second. I can vouch for that from the displays in our own operations centre of minute-by-minute cyber attempts to penetrate systems around the world.”

While 80% of the threat to government systems could be dealt with through good information assurance practice – such as keeping security “patches” up to date – the remaining 20% was more complex and could not simply be solved by building “higher and higher” security walls.

It’s a sobering thought that the same characteristics we usually like so much in cyberspace, such as the blurring of national boundaries and the dazzling speed of innovation and change, are also lethal menaces.

Roland Legrand