Wednesday, 26 April 2017

Future: is already here - it's just not very evenly distributed

"The future is already here - it's just not very evenly distributed" ~  William Gibson

William Gibson's quote is usually taken to mean that the new technologies and ideas of the future are present in some form today - usually found in small numbers among leading edge innovators. It can be associated with Everett Rogers Diffusion of innovations theory about how innovations spread through society from a small leading edge of innovators who try out new stuff and then a slightly larger group of early adopters or "opinion leaders" and "trend setters" who are followed by the majority. Innovations diffuse through society - they become mainstream and normalised an the cycle repeats for each next new thing. We can see this cycle repeating in throughout history ... just think about how the automobile or the mobile phone have spread through societies in modern history.

 Everett Rogers Diffusion of innovations 

If we look around today we should be able to see the future among us in small numbers among the innovators - small experiments, pilots or examples of what might be. Today is one of the most exciting times I can think of in terms of nascent new technology among us - AI, VR, AR, robotics, 3D printing, wearable tech, IoT. Not all new things have a future ... in fact most will fail .. at least in the present ... and may stay as seeds that grow better at a later time when conditions  are more compatible - we see this today with AI and VR whose seeds were sowed decades ago but only now is the technology infrastructure available for these technologies to develop and diffuse.

Today AI is bubbling over with potential - every large tech company is investing time, money and effort to get on the AI bandwagon - there seems to be too much money at stake now for it to fail to take root and all the early adopter demonstrations and pilots indicate that it will take root and grow.

“The real problem of humanity is the following: we have paleolithic emotions; medieval institutions; and god-like technology." ~ E. O. Wilson

There is another interpretation of Gibson's quote - its about human nature and repeats through history.

Resources have always been unevenly distributed and concentrated among a lucky few - today the richest 1% now has as much wealth as the rest of the world combined and the richest 62 people as wealthy as half of world's population.

The other interpretation of Gibson's quote about the future is that human nature will play out into the future as it plays out today and in the past and that resources will continue to be unevenly distributed and concentrated among a small number of rich and powerful.

Technology amplifies human capabilities ... it also amplifies human nature - both good and bad but in terms of wealth and power I fear technology will simply amplify inequality in the future ... as we enter an information revolution of exponential technology development could we also be entering an age of exponential inequality - the exponential amplification of inequality.

I am reminded of the film Elysium where the majority of people live in poverty and enslavement to a small rich and powerful "elite" who live in a luxury hi tech off-world space habitat. Technologies could be shared and diffused to everyone but they choose to keep the magic of new the technology to themselves and protecting their have and have-not need for identify and entitlement.

Technology combined with human nature can create a chasm - not in the sense that Geoffrey Moore meant but in the sense that a powerful "elite" will always seek to exploit the innovations at the leading edge using technology to amplify their advantage and as an unintended or even intended consequence amplifying inequality. The chasm is a barrier protecting the exclusivity of rich and powerful ... a sort of semi-permeable membrane - impermeable to the large majority to ever cross but through which small innovations osmotically diffuse to the majority as long as the rewards and power flow back to the elite.

In the drive to technologise everything do we risk amplifying inequality - amplifying the power of a "technology" elite ... we need to ask this question now every time we are offered a technology "solution" ... in education for example .... where will what I call "hard" Ed Tech lead us - the type of edtech that will spin out AI backed automated teaching systems. 

Science fiction is great at asking "what if" ... and in Walkaway Cory Doctorow asks "what if" the diffusion of innovation was reversed ... what if innovation happened with the majority first? 

"The mega-wealthy have fixed things for themselves by moving into fortified homes on high ground (and hiring private security armies to keep everyone else out). The masses are left to hustle for the dregs of what's left in the ultimate dystopian version of the "gig" economy. Yet technology—created under the aegis of the United Nations to help the displaced—has made "printing" all of life's basic necessities possible. Scrambling for the scraps left by the wealthy is increasingly unattractive.

The open source hardware and software capable of converting the wreckage and waste of the old world into the essentials for a new one has been hacked and enhanced to go far beyond that. Those enhancements have inspired an increasing number of people to walk away from "the default." They become post-scarcity pioneers who are creating a new world where intellectual and physical property rights have no hold."

If a radical new technology that could change everything happened with the majority first ... abundance ... anyone and everyone could have anything ... in such a reversal it would be the elite across the chasm who would be the disadvantaged - living with the scarcity they have defended for so long ... the fairy tale castle the elites live in across the chasm becomes more a dark castle prison of their own making.

Monday, 24 April 2017

Future Imperfect

Guerilla Gardening
"Did you make it yourself?"

There is a part of Stephen King's Cujo story that has lodged in my memory - its where a a richer brother or cousin is showing off about something in his house - the poorer relative just can't understand why he's going on about it - its just something he had bought after all .. he asks "did you make it?" Reading this was like an epiphany for me and has stayed with me ever since .. I understood just how shallow consumerism and consumer culture is. I can understand someone being proud of something they have spent time making but not about being proud of something you have simply gone out and bought ... or clicked to buy on-line - I guess all this says something about character.

Is consumerism normal or is it a product of economic conditioning to keep the wheels of industry turning. Product 
obsolescence has become normalised ... we are not surprised that things just don't last ... obsolescence is designed and built in ... our brains love new stuff anyway and obsolescence is a great excuse to throw away and replace with new.

Is there an increasing tendency to "productise" everything ... a sort of "learned helplessness" not to be able to do something unless you can buy a product to do it?

Juicero.... do we really need a $400 WiFi-enabled tabletop machine that squeezes juice ... out of a bag of Juicero-brand juice?

What happened to just bodging, tinkering, making, doing it yourself, fixing things, maintaining things ... this takes time but all our time is spent on the work - consume treadmill - we have become the product, the planet has become the product ... we are being consumed, the planet is being consumed - this is not sustainable!

Robots and factories can mass produce perfectly standardised products, what you make may not be perfect but it will be individual, it will have character and you will know it and you will be able to support, maintain, repair and sustain it.

"Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack, a crack in everything

That’s how the light gets in."
Leonard Cohen ~ Anthem,” from the album "The Future"

Perfection is manufactured, it isn't natural - there is no room for improvement, it has no where to go, it can't adapt and evolve ... it has to be replaced.

Future fully automated factories may mass produce but "who will buy their wares" when robots have replaced so many jobs or driven wages down. What will be the meaning of life and how will people define their identities without being able to consume. 

Is it too late, have we forgotten or is it up to the next generation ... the generation who will have to live through what we have wrought to find another way to live - a more meaningful and sustainable way.

We are not perfect - leave perfection to the machines - lets look to a future with character - lets look to a future that is human.

Don't plant fake plastic trees ... plant the real thing!

Saturday, 22 April 2017

Future Perfect

The Well Oiled Machine

Decisions, decisions decisions .. "what do I do next" ... choice and freedom can be stressful - freedom can be a burden ... "let the train take the strain" ... get with the program, follow the program  ... let the machine take your burden.

Zimbardo and Milgram showed just how susceptible the majority of people are to following the program - something that has been demonstrated more recently with robots and algorithms as the authority figures - the machine is rule bound and predictable - it doesn't have tantrums or grudges.

The machine is also efficient - a robot can schedule your work to be most effective - the algorithm will route you around obstacles - you never need experience frustration or failure if you follow the program.

In education the robot teacher and managed learning environment will drip feed your personalised content at exactly the right level and right pace - learn from success ... everyone is a winner!

The world will be a "well oiled machine" efficiently scheduled, organised and programmed by all knowing machines that always have the correct answer - the world will be perfect - you will be free.

Friday, 21 April 2017

How Shall I Remember The Future?

The act of prediction is an act of extrapolation .. we take new discoveries and trends and project them into the future. The act of prediction is an act of projection ... coloured with some imagination and wishful thinking.

What will the world be like in 50 years time?

Back in the 1960s my projections of the 21st century were all Jetsons like flying cars and moon stations ... they were projections of what I would call "industrial technology" ... there wasn't any "information technology" - no one predicted digital cameras, smartphones, the Net and the Web ... although Sci Fi like Star Trek did feature handheld devices like the communicator and although we did predict robots like Robbie I don't think anyone predicted self driving cars.

The future rarely (if ever) pans out the way it is predicted ... if we take the long way round and live each day to the future then events nudge and bump our direction - the only thing we can't predict is the future!

Its 2017 ... what should I write down to be remembered as my prediction for 2067 - how shall I remember the future - what trends, hopes and fears of today should I project into the future.

On the one hand there are disturbing trends:

The rise in right wing populist protectionism and the talk of walls.

Rapid developments in machine intelligence and robotics and the threat to jobs 

The rise in "big brother" surveillance using the Net

The "technologisation" of everything and the replacement of labour with capital.

Endless meaningless "app for that" to help the privileged have a nice day.

Environmental "vandalism" of our lifestyles - A 'conveyor belt' of plastic is polluting the Arctic Ocean and even the Mariana Trench, the remotest place on earth, is polluted with radioactivity, chemicals, plastic bags and tin cans 

All this leads me to think about the future as a dystopia ... a sort of neo-feudal dark age Elysium styli but far, far worse ... where a privileged 1% live in extreme luxury and 99% of humanity live in extreme poverty. If Elon Musk has his way with Neurallink or Mark Zuckerberg with the Facebook brain-computer interface then the future may be less Star Trek and more Borg

On the other hand there are positive trends 

The arguments for ethics and regulation of machine intelligence and the arguments for basic universal income.

Positive and meaningful technology developments such as a machine creates water from air using the power of the sun and a possible treatment for dementia - technology that can help people lead better lives rather than simply help a few privileged people have a nice day and a few technologists make more money.

All this leads me to think that the future will be one of leisure - where technology has eliminated famine and poverty and we are looked after by "machines of loving grace" and free to pursue the meaning of life ... a future similar to what Iain M Banks imagined in The Culture.

The future is probably somewhere between dystopia and utopia and the details are probably something unimaginable today.

One question that bothers me .. .why is thinking about the future dominated about thinking about tech?

Our present and our future isn't determined by technology .. its at most a combination of technology and human nature ... the thing is though ... while technology changes, human nature remains the same .. the future will be a case of history repeating

The real problem of humanity is the following: we have paleolithic emotions; medieval institutions; and god-like technology." ~ E. O. Wilson

Thursday, 20 April 2017

With What Shall I Remember The Future?

Fifty years ago I thought about today ... the 21st century and how it would be - I wish I had written it down so that I could see what I actually thought rather than try to remember what I thought ... with all the construction and interpretation involved with that.

I wonder what the world will be like 50 years from now - what will life be like in 2067!

I'd like to record what I think life will be like in 2067 but how should I do this?

Recording to remember and communicate is an act of technology .. a use of signs and language - either spoken, written, or drawn ... I'm wondering if acting something out physically comes into this but even that uses the language of gestures etc.

"With What Shall I Remember The Future?" ...  asking the question is a reflection of today .. there are so many options available BUT there is so much uncertainty about the future of all those options .. .about the permanency of any technology we have today. 

Making thought physical ... making marks on physical objects (cave drawings, tablet chipping, marks on paper) or making physical objects - artefacts, pottery sculpture etc has a degree of longevity and permanence but is slower to communicate. Recording things virtually using electronics is faster to communicate but is far more ephemeral ... electronic and magnetic symbols (e.g. hard drive magnetic polarities, types of ROM and flash memory) fade over time unless refreshed (just like my memory) and then there is the problem of accessing them in the future ... who can access a 12in floppy disk today or a vinyl record, cassette tape or even a VCR tape. Then there are the "platforms" - Facebook, Google, Tumblr, Wordpress, Medium, Linkedin etc ... but will we be able to access these in the future .. will Facebook be around 50 years from now? Those involved with surveillance technology say that nothing is ever forgotten on the web but will our memories be ours or will the platforms that host them change, be bought and sold and will walls be erected and we have to pay to access them .. a bit like paying a cryogenics company to preserve and resurrect us in the future.

On the one hand 50 years doesn't seem that long ... I remember the 1960s almost as if it were yesterday but by today's rate of change in technology 50 years is a long time.

"With What Shall I Remember The Future?" .. this exposes a classic problem today ...  fast communication for today and the near future Vs slower communication for the longer term future.

"With What Shall I Remember The Future?" .. asking this is almost symbolic of out time .. a time when we understand better than ever before how our actions have and will change the planet but a time when so many are willing to sacrifice the future for the present.

symbol of today .. ephemeral .. aware of future but selling it

Wednesday, 19 April 2017

This Is Not The future I Remember

I remember the future ... it was an age of prosperity ... it was an age health and leisure all looked after by machines of loving grace. There would be no war and no famine ... science and technology would enable everyone to have what they needed - there would be enough for everyone. There would be a base on the moon and people would be exploring Mars and the rest of the solar system.

This is how we imagined the future (the 21st century) in the 1960s ... an age of new freedoms, liberal thinking and life (not just "sex, drugs and rock and roll") when we were getting closer to stepping on the Moon and there were ambitious plans for science and technology to expand humanity into space and into the future. This is how we extrapolated the 1960s into the future.

Well ... here we are ... we took the long way into the future and had to live through 50 years of human nature to get here. Taking the long way to the future - I've lost the the optimism that comes with the innocence of youth, call it experience or maturity or a reality check but here we are and the long road to the future has led somewhere else - this is not the future I remember.

This future, our present, is a pretty depressing picture - war, famine, greed, inequality, poverty  - we haven't got a moon base .. the government show off about record levels of employment but and we all work longer, harder for less and are more stressed than ever.

Taking a shortcut to the future by extrapolating the present and the future looks pretty dismal.

But ... maybe there is hope ...  the short cut visions of 2057 may be as far off as taking the short cut to 2017 from 1967 ... the long way to the future may result in something very different and hopefully a lot better than the way I see it now.

Unless there is a major breakthrough in science and technology then I am unlikely to be around to remember the future in 2055 ... maybe this time I had better write it down so that someone might be able to remember it for me :)

Tuesday, 18 April 2017

Welcome to My Beta Blog

A Pile of ideas off-line

The Web We Lost
I started this almost 10 years ago in July 2007 with a post called "Web 2.0 In Education". Although I was late to get blogging there was a vibrancy around on the Web at the time that encouraged me to get more active on-line with bogging - 2007 is also the year I started with twitter, Facebook, Google Pages and a whole lot more.

Gravitational Effects
The web we thought we had in the naugties has been lost in the gravitational pull of establishment ... the greedy, the rich, the powerful, corporate interests etc - social media has crossed the chasm and lost its innocence and all human life is there now - Facebook Streams a Murder, and Must Now Face Itself

A Return To Innocence
"Don't care what people say
Just follow your own way
Don't give up and use the chance

To return to innocence."
~ Enigma - Return To Innocence

"Gravitational effects" had pulled my blogging away from Web Logging and back into "articles" .. I had tried to lighten my main blog last year announcing "Naked: Back To The Spirit Of Blogging" but while sticking to a spirit of being "naked" ... i.e. being honest and just writing stuff, I didn't recover the immediacy of blogging.

I has been scribbling down ideas on pieces of paper over the last year intending to write the ideas up in full in one of my main blogs but the ideas came faster than I could write them up in a "full fat" blog post so I have decided to get back to innocence with this "beta blog" ... the intention being to scribble my ideas here to share - you are welcome to use them and write something from them and then write them up in more detail at some time in one of my other blogs.

Welcome to My Beta Blog