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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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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When Unusually Rapid Improvement Becomes Usual

June 17 2008 / by juldrich / In association with Future
Category: Business & Work   Year: 2020   Rating: 4 Hot

By Jack Uldrich

An Opinion/Question Piece

It was reported last week that US life expectancy topped 78 years as a variety of diseases – including heart disease, diabetes and flu – decreased this past year.

More interestingly, life expectancy – which has been increasing about two or three months from year to year – jumped an impressive four months this year. This caused one demographer to note that the increase was “an unusually rapid improvement.”

It was “an usually rapid improvement,” but I’d like to argue that such rapid improvements will become “usual” for the foreseeable future. If one tracks the amazing rate of progress in biotechnology, genomics, stem cell research and nanotechnology; it is hard – barring a devastating calamity that kills thousands or millions of people – to envision how life expectancy will do anything but continue to increase at an accelerating rate.

It seems only prudent, therefore, that we should at least begin preparing for life expectancies in the neighborhood of 100 within the next few decades.

Given the existing pressure on such social programs as Social Security and Medicare, I believe one implication of this “unusually rapid improvement” is that these systems will need to be radically overhauled in order to survive this new demographic reality.

I’d be interested in hearing from other Future Bloggers and readers what you think should be done to modify these systems or whether you think that they will simply collapse under their own weight?

Develop a Future Bias

April 25 2008 / by juldrich / In association with Future
Category: Culture   Year: General   Rating: 3 Hot

By Jack Uldrich

In my new book, Jump the Curve, I make the case that one strategy for “jumping the curve” and helping your organization innovate into the future is to “develop a future bias.”

A future bias is the opposite of “hindsight bias” and hindsight bias is, quite simply, the idea that after an event occurs most people take credit for believing that the idea was pre-ordained and that they “knew” it would happen. For instance, by 1920, most citizens claimed they knew that man would “always” fly.

Unfortunately, this isn’t true. Most people were completely blind-sided by human flight. Lord Kelvin, the world’s most renowned scientist claimed in 1899 that “Heavier than air machines are impossible,” and no less an authority than the New York Times wrote in an editorial in December 1903 – just two weeks before the Wright Brother’s historic first flight – that human flight would not be achievable for “1 to 10 million years.” My guess is that if a poll had been commissioned at the beginning of the turn of the 20th century the overwhelming consensus among the American public would have subscribed to similar opinions or, alternatively, something along the lines of “If God had intended man to fly, He would have given him wings.”

In the future, as a result of exponential advances in technology (see above chart, source – Collapsing Geography), many things that sound impossible today are, in fact, not only going to be possible they are going to be commonplace. Therefore, in order to embrace this future, it will be necessary to think exponentially – and not linearly – about the future. As Ray Kurzweil says in his book, The Singularity is Near: When Humans Transcend Biology, in the 21st century humanity will experience the equivalent of 20,000 years of change (using the 20th century’s rate of change). What he is trying to do in an indirect way is to get people to develop a future bias. (cont.)

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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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