The Social Will to Accelerate

April 09 2008 / by Alvis Brigis / In association with Future
Category: Culture   Year: General   Rating: 15 Hot

Exponential technology and information are poised to transform the world, but can the human species muster the social will to let that happen?

To date we’ve created amazingly fuel-efficient cars, robust water purifiers, revolutionary stem cell -based therapies, and better, cheaper light bulbs, all of which have met with great social and political resistance, greatly slowing the pace of their spread. This has caused many to scratch their heads in confusion, others to curse up at the sky, and some to chuckle at the naivete of their fellow meme-monkeys.

Take for example Dean Kamen, the Edison of our time who invented compact kidney dialysis, the Segway human transporter and most recently a water purifier that could save upwards of 5 million lives in under-developed nations if widely deployed. Kamen’s innovations have repeatedly encountered social barriers, causing him to proclaim that creating new technology is the easy part.

“I’m disappointed with every project I ever do. Because you work on something for years that you think should take hours. You finally get it done and you think, ‘Now the world’s going to be a better place,’ expressed Kamen in a recent Newsweek article, “Then you find out that as fast as technology moves, people move at the same slow, cautious pace they always did. If anything, people have gotten more cautious, more afraid of change, more skeptical, more cynical.”

Sloth-like technology diffusion is nothing new. The late great Everett Rogers taught us that all technologies except for Interactive Communication Technologies (ICTs) spread at an amazingly slow rate due to cultural barriers. Seasoned futurists all point out a consistent bias in favor of overly ambitious predictions and sternly warn their fellow prognosticators to avoid similar mistakes. And now Kamen has joined the ranks of those with enough experience to back up the notion. (cont.)

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Jack Uldrich on Senate Run and Need for Foresight in Government

September 11 2008 / by Jeff Hilford / In association with Future
Category: Government   Year: General   Rating: 8 Hot

Congratulations to best selling futurist and Future Blogger contributor Jack Uldrich who finished second in his bid for the Minnesota Independent Party nomination for U.S. Senate. Given his late entry into a 7 competitor field that included winner Dean Barkley, who served a short stint in the U.S. Senate as Paul Wellstone’s replacement in 2002, it was a very admirable effort. Barkley was also the endorsee of former Minnesota Governor Jesse Ventura, whose gubernatorial campaign he successfully managed in 1998. Jack easily finished ahead of the Independent party’s endorsed candidate and the rest of the field on his way to capturing 12.4 percent of the vote.

I caught up with Jack today to get his quick take on the role of foresight in the political process.

JH: What kind of response did you get as a futurist running for office?

JU: It didn’t help or hurt. I actually changed the description of what I do to ‘Business Technology Forecaster” to make it more accessible. People’s perceptions of futurists are sometimes more pie-in-the-sky than pragmatic, though in the long run, the impact of accelerating change will necessitate that we all become futurists.

JH: What role do you think foresight should play in politics?

JU: It’s absolutely critical. Look at all the big issues: energy, the economy, climate change, healthcare, social security – they’re all being dramatically impacted by accelerating technological change. Take energy for example – there are so many technologies that will be available sooner than people think that you can’t have a rational conversation without factoring these in. Social Security is another big issue. We have a 10 trillion dollar debt, but a 70 trillion dollar commitment to prepare for in the future. Given the life extension technologies on the horizon, even this number will rise significantly.

JH: How will the impact of foresight in politics evolve over the next four years?

JU: Washington needs to begin addressing these issues now. If they don’t, these issues will be hoisted upon them very quickly. Like an 800lb brick.

JH: How do you feel now coming off the campaign?

JU: I’m glad to have gone through the process, learned a lot and am very thankful to my supporters. I’m disappointed to not have the chance to face-off against Al Franken and Norm Coleman, as I feel that I could have elevated the conversation in a number of critical ways.

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Simulations Poised to Accelerate Learning

March 12 2008 / by Venessa Posavec / In association with Future
Category: Metaverse   Year: 2008   Rating: 7

It was recently announced that hospitals in Isreal have begun using virtual reality programs to diagnose and treat patients with brain injuries. The patient tries to catch a virtual tennis ball being thrown on a screen, their actual hand movements are recorded, and the information is fed into a computer program. The program then diagnoses whether the person has had a traumatic brain injury or stroke (with 90-98% accuracy!), and run a series of simulations to determine what will be the most effective treatment and rehabilitation methods.

This is a huge step in demonstrating the value of virtual environments and simulations to do real good in the world. For almost all of the decisions we make, we run simulations in our brain without even thinking about it. “If I do A, then B is a likely and desired outcome.” Through trial and error, our simulations get more accurate over time – we may call it “wisdom”. But, in some situations, such as the above brain injury example, even our best human guesses for the right course of action may be wrong. By running computer simulations, we can take that guesswork out. Instead of creating a rehabilition therapy that may not only be ineffective, but downright harmful, doctors will now be able to implement the most effective therapies according to the patient’s level of injury.

As computer processing speed continues to increase, and we methodically quantify the underlying systems that drive everything around us, we’ll see simulations popping up as tools for increasing efficiency in all fields. I can see this being used to improve learning and skill development in both education and the workplace.

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Enlarge Our Minds to an Idea that is Out of This World

May 01 2008 / by juldrich / In association with Future
Category: Business & Work   Year: Beyond   Rating: 6 Hot

By Jack Uldrich

Cross-posted from

(Editors Note: Earlier today, my colleague at Future Blogger, Dick Pellitier, had a thoughtful piece on the prospect of a space elevator. I would like to add my two cents to this debate. The following article was written this past fall and originally appeared on TechCentralStation).

In the fall of 1825, New York Governor DeWitt Clinton boarded the Seneca Chief and traveled 500 miles from Buffalo to New York City to mark the opening of the Erie Canal. It was the beginning of an enterprise of immense economic and political significance in that it expanded the reach of American commerce and established New York as one of the world’s leading financial centers.

It is easy, in retrospect, to think the canal’s success was ordained from the beginning. It wasn’t. In 1810, when DeWitt Clinton, then mayor of New York City, first proposed building the 363-mile, 83 lock canal, Gouverneur Morris, responded by saying “Our minds are not yet enlarged to the size of so great an object.” Another Founding Father, Thomas Jefferson, was more biting in his criticism, writing to Clinton, “It is a splendid project, and may be executed a century hence. It is little short of madness to think of it this day.”

Jefferson’s reasoning was solid. The project was budgeted to cost $6 million—a sum then equal to three-fourths of the federal government budget. In fact, the scale of the project was so massive that it was determined it would be the biggest public works project since the Great Pyramid and would consist of digging and removing over 11 million cubic yards of earth. It is no wonder that many decried it as “Clinton’s ditch.”

Fortunately, Clinton persisted and while he wasn’t able to persuade the federal government to support the idea, he did win over the citizens of New York and in 1817 the state legislature approved the funding for the project. (cont.)

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A Video for Your Mama: Futurist Jack Uldrich Breaks Down Exponential Growth

May 21 2008 / by memebox / In association with Future
Category: Technology   Year: General   Rating: 5 Hot

It is notoriously difficult to comprehend the compound growth potential of exponential forces driving innovations in computing, nanotech, and solar power, but pro futurist and regular future blogger Jack Uldrich does a great job explaining this counter-intuitive phenomenon in his latest book Jump the Curve . Therefore I was thrilled to come across this short & sweet video synopsis of exponential potential by the man himself:

By employing comprehensible metaphors and gradually relating accelerating change to our lives, Jack succinctly and effectively gets the idea that “the really big change is still ahead of us” across (no small feat). So if you’re looking for a link to send to your non Accel-aware buddies, co-workers or relatives, this is it.

Singularity University - It's Official

February 03 2009 / by Jeff Hilford / In association with Future
Category: Technology   Year: 2009   Rating: 5 Hot

The Singularity University, which our own Alvis Brigis got an early scoop on, was made official today.  The venture has the support of Google, NASA and an All-Star team of the singularity cognoscenti.  The announcement received widespread coverage in the media from the likes of Businessweek, AP and Forbes, which demonstrates just how far this meme has come over the years.


I'll never forget a great night owl session at the first Accelerating Change Conference held by John Smart's Accelerating Studies Foundation in 2003 with Ray Kurzweil holding court and about 20 of his most ardent fans (many of whose works I had read) in attendance.  Eliezer Yudkowsky, Ben Goertzel, John Smart et al were listening in earnest to what Ray had to say and it was pretty cool.  I heard sometime later that it was also a treat for Ray to have been in such an intimate setting with such a knowledgeable and passionate crew.

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Singularity by 2045 - incredible life in a tamed world

August 04 2008 / by futuretalk / In association with Future
Category: Other   Year: General   Rating: 4 Hot

By Dick Pelletier

Imagine living in an ageless, disease-free body with youthful looks, superhuman strength and a brain that can out-think computers. Now further imagine an affluent, happy, crime-free population residing in a world terraformed for comfort without dangerous storms, tsunamis, or unbearable weather.

This is the vision many forward-thinkers believe humanity can achieve during this century. Although life seems to rush by at rocket speeds today, the future will advance even faster. Author James John Bell, in his Exploring the Singularity article in The Futurist says, “We won’t just experience 100 years of progress in the 21st century – it will be more like 20,000 years.”

Scientists describe the Singularity as a point in time when technological progress becomes so rapid that it radically transforms humankind at a faster rate than anyone alive today can comprehend. Biotech, nanotech, infotech, and cognitive science will all interplay causing us to speed towards this Singularity.

Acclaimed futurist and author Ray Kurzweil argues in his book, The Singularity is Near, that we could experience this Singularity by as early as 2045.

Kurzweil predicts over the next 10 to 20 years, biotech scientists will learn to greatly slow aging and eliminate most diseases. In the 2030s, he says, nanotech will “finish the job” allowing for the redesign of the human body into an almost immortal form.

By mid-2020s, techno-enthusiasts claim pollution-free nano-replicators will be available to provide most food, clothing and household gadgets at little or no cost; and fully immersive virtual reality will create make-believe environments indiscernible from reality to satisfy even the most extreme entertainment desires.

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Your Balance in Times of Extreme Change - The Opinion of the Dalai Lama

October 22 2008 / by GuestBlogger / In association with Future
Category: Culture   Year: General   Rating: 4 Hot

Cross-posted from

The changes that we observe around us are accelerating, and in a positive feedback loop the successive cycles feed on the previous ones’ effects. The source of these changes is technology, as application of the increased knowledge we have of the world around us. As individuals, and as societies we have demonstrated to be very capable of adapting to the changes of our environment, but this necessarily has limits.

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What Could Be Better Than Free Money? Try Exponential Growth!

April 30 2008 / by juldrich / In association with Future
Category: Business & Work   Year: General   Rating: 2 Hot

By Jack Uldrich

Cross-posted from

As a result of my new book, I have been asked on a number of occasions to describe what I mean by the title: “jump the curve.”

It is a fair question and when answering it I like to recall the words of that old sage, Albert Einstein, who once said that if a person – especially a scientist or technologist – couldn’t explain what he or she was working on to an 8-year old child then that person was either a fraud or a charlatan.

It’s an excellent test and because I have both an 8 year-old daughter and a 6 year-old son, I decided to put the topic of my new book to this test. Liking a challenge, I decided to see if my youngest child could comprehend the idea of “jumping the curve.”

Without using an example in the book, I asked my son, who has yet to lose any of his teeth, whether he would rather receive a single dollar for every one of his 20 baby teeth or if he would instead prefer to receive a single cent for his first tooth and then have that penny double for the next 19 teeth?

Being fairly good at numbers and knowing that his dad often likes to trick him, my son selected the second option—the penny doubling. (cont.)

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