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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The Eight Biggest Over-reactions to Technology of All-Time

October 07 2008 / by Mielle Sullivan / In association with Future
Category: Culture   Year: 2008   Rating: 11 Hot

Nothing gets humans up in arms like a new technology. Will it cure our ills and save us from destruction? Or end the world in one cataclysmic Earth-shattering moment? Clearly, no invention has accomplished either, but try telling that to the fanatical, hysterical or just plain irrational among us. Now, with technology advancing at an ever quickening pace, rational thinking is in short supply. Here then, to prove this point, are eight of the biggest freak-out moments in technology history:

Writing Will Make us Forget – Socrates

The written word and the ability to understand it is considered one of the most important developments ever achieved by mankind and a defining step for any civilization.  But not everyone was always a fan. Even that hero of western philosophy, Socrates, once argued that writing would make people lazy and forgetful!

“The fact is that this invention will produce forgetfulness in the souls of those who have learned it,” said Socrates, “They will not need to exercise their memories, being able to rely on what is written, calling things to mind no longer from within themselves by their own unaided powers, but under the stimulus of external marks that are alien to themselves. So it’s not a recipe for memory, but for reminding, that you have discovered.”

Sound familiar? It is the same argument that some people nowadays are directing at both Google and the World Wide Web.

Given that pretty much every major advancement subsequent to the birth of writing is built on writing itself (collectively we have advanced much faster through the use of writing) it certainly did anything but make people lazy. Forgetful? Perhaps, on an individual level.  But I sure am glad Plato broke out his quill to write down Socrates’ teachings, lest I couldn’t “remember” to complain about him now.

Get Out of the Way, Here Comes the Train!

Reportedly, when the Lumiere Brothers showed their films for the first time at the Grand Cafe in Paris in 1895, audience members ran out of the room in a panic. Why? To avoid being hit by the image of a train pulling into a station!

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Dust Off those Notebooks — Treasure Abounds

September 29 2008 / by John Heylin / In association with Future
Category: Energy   Year: 2008   Rating: 10 Hot

It is amazing when one considers how the very technology needed to save our world from utter destruction might indeed be fifty or more years in the past.

For instance there’s the Stirling Engine patented in 1816 by Robert Stirling who pretty much had no idea how the thing worked, only that it worked. Amazingly, it ran off of heat alone. “it can be driven by any convenient source of heat.” It’s only recently that intense investigation and testing of this technology has occurred.

Most recently, we have a “new” type of refrigerator developed by Albert Einstein and his student Leo Szilard in 1930 which requires no electricity or moving parts.

“Malcolm McCulloch, an electrical engineer at Oxford, is trying to bring Einstein’s refrigerator back. McCulloch explains that the design is environmentally friendly and could prove especially useful in developing countries, where demand for cooling appliances is quickly increasing.”

The usefulness of such a device in our current landscape would be incredible, not to mention the endless benefits for countries in sub-Saharan Africa where electricity can be hard to come by. The ability to refrigerate food would not only help in the storage of food items, but also in the health of the people who often eat unsafe food. Refrigeration is just the thing needed to curb Cholera, Typhoid, Giardia and Amoebic or Bacterial dysentery in these developing countries.

If Einstein was able to throw that together using 1930’s technology, imagine what could be done today.

via Physorg and The Guardian

U.S. Loses High-Tech Dominance

October 27 2008 / by DSMason / In association with Future
Category: Technology   Year: 2008   Rating: 10 Hot

Cross-Posted from The End of the American Century

For most of the 20th Century, the U.S. was the world leader in science, technology, and innovation, with the best scientists, the best universities and the most advanced research and development programs. But all of that has begun to change as other countries and regions have become more advanced and more competitive and increasingly challenge U.S. dominance “

A recent article in the New York Times addressed the U.S. technological decline, and the ways Senators Obama and McCain have approached the issue. This story includes some eye-opening statistics about the loss of U.S. primacy in technology, innovation and R&D. At the top of the story, the Times points out the importance of this sector for America’s economy and role in the world:

For decades the United States dominated the technological revolution sweeping the globe. The nation’s science and engineering skills produced vast gains in productivity and wealth, powered its military and made it the de facto world leader. Today, the dominance is eroding.

One sees this in multiple indicators, but perhaps the most important is the country’s high-technology balance of trade. Until 2002, the U.S. always exported more high-tech products than it imported. In that year, the trend reversed, and the technology trade balance has steadily declined, with the annual gap exceeding $50 billion in 2007.

The U.S. has also fallen behind in spending on research and development, which drives high-tech innovation and development.

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The Chronicles of Extreme Future Part 1: On Demand Medicine

May 05 2008 / by Fictionthis / In association with Future
Category: Technology   Year: 2015   Rating: 9 Hot

Steve has had a long day. He is tired despite having taken the anti-fatigue pill “Alert” to get through the last web conference on the company’s newest video unit.

Steve has had a long day. He is tired despite having taken the anti-fatigue pill “Alert” to get through the last web conference on the company’s newest video unit. A happy hour beer-fest at an Alfa lounge sounds tempting, but just after leaving the building; a sharp chest pain stops him mid step. The pain finally subsides, and he quickly speaks to his cell phone, activating his personal health record by uttering the word, “Emergency”.

Immediately, Steve is routed via the internet to his health plan’s Clinical emergency centre for diagnosis. This Involves answering a series of yes or no questions about the symptoms and vital signs asked by a Med-Tech on duty computer. Steve places a finger on the screen of his cell phone where his bio-signature converts his bio-scan signals and sends them instantly to the Emerg-Med Team via virtual Net Centre many time zones away.

The GE Cyberdoc decides that Steve’s condition maybe acute cardiac ischemia and dispatches a clinic mobile to his exact location. En route to the nearest emergency-care unit, a battery of tests, including another bio-scan, are performed and transmitted immediately through a wireless devise in real time to a lab for interpretation. (cont.)

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Chronicles of Extreme Future Part 5: Utopia

May 02 2008 / by Fictionthis / In association with Future
Category: Transportation   Year: Beyond   Rating: 8 Hot

Underwater cities have been a dream of futurists. Starting from Atlantis to the evasive Captain Nemo.

The first underwater built city in Dubai was a scientific breakthrough. Located just off the coast of the man made “World” islands, it was the first under water facility capable of sustaining prolonged life under water. It was built in the shallow waters, merely ten meters from the surface allowing plenty of natural light to seep through.

At first air was pumped from the outside until a new air harvesting technology called “air farming” was adopted in 2020. Air farming is literally a network of fields of sea plants, saturated with pumps and filtering systems, extracting and transporting air to the underwater city. The switch from external to internal air came in 2022 which introduced a new era of development under water. It was later discovered that air produced and extracted straight from the ocean was so beneficial to human health that the underwater cities quickly became the preferred choice for the rich and famous. Nicknamed “Utopia”, it became the centre of the scientific advancement. (cont.)

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Your Fingertips -- Micro Tech Hubs of the Future

September 10 2008 / by John Heylin / In association with Future
Category: Technology   Year: General   Rating: 7 Hot

An amazing concept coming out of the Design Incubation Centre is the Touch Hear. In effect, a computer is implanted, glued or bonded onto a fingertip and ear which could then decipher foreign languages, look up definitions of unknown vocabulary, and even tell you how to pronounce the words correctly.

“By touching a word or phrase in a particular piece of reading material, the user can listen to its related information, like its pronunciation or its meaning.”

Consider it a dictionary/Wikipedia/Babel Fish all at the tip of your finger.

If something this powerful can be put into your fingertips, what else could the future possibly cram in there?

Cell Phone — Something I’ve always thought about is implanting a cellphone into the hand. The pinky finger would be the mic, the thumb the speaker, and the dial pad on the palm of your hand. Would it look silly? Heck yes, but at least you’ll just look crazy as opposed to the bluetooth headsets that make you look like a Star Trek villain). Of course the radiation of having a phone implanted into your hand (especially when you have to re-charge it or replace a broken part) might be a little on the invasive side. But that’s the cost of progress!

Projector — Besides the fact that you could endlessly pester any teacher of yours by shooting a laser light from your fingertips, you could also project other images or even movies. Granted you’d have to keep your hand perfectly still if you plan on avoiding the wrath of your fellow theater goers. By hooking it into the mind we could possibly see our thoughts projected onto the wall as well, great for when you’re trying to explain an object to someone who just can’t picture it. The only problem would be controlling your mind so well that the passing supermodel doesn’t interfere with your presentation on black holes. Whoops, that’s embarrassing.

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Obama And Conversational Government

January 19 2009 / by Jeff Hilford / In association with Future
Category: Government   Year: 2009   Rating: 7 Hot

One of the most exciting things about the promise of the Obama administration is their commitment to employing interactive communication technologies in an effort to better their stewardship of the country.


It was the utilization of these tools that spurred him to victory in a daunting primary process and pushed him to a convincing win in the general election.  At a simple level, what he really did was engage anyone he could in conversation.  That is the hallmark principle of web 2.0 and also of a good politician.  I think this concept is at the center of why people (a whopping 79% approve of his handling of the transition) are so optimistic about what type of leader he may be.  While it's true that we are in the midst of very difficult times and that will prod more folks into being open to and hopeful that Obama may lead us out of here,  I think it is his continued commitment to conversation and engagement that offers the most potential upside.

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The Chronicles of Extreme Future Part 2: The Strength Suit

May 06 2008 / by Fictionthis / In association with Future
Category: Technology   Year: Beyond   Rating: 6 Hot

It was the summer of 2022 and I was invited to go rock-climbing with some friends. I had never attempted this exercise before, so naturally, I was concerned.

My friends simply dismissed my unease, saying “rock-climbing is not what it used to be”.

They were right.

Body line pressurized suits have been in use since 2012; first in NASA spacewalks and then were quickly introduced to the public. At first they were simply pressurized and used as a space suit based wrap. It increased mobility and decreased its size. Since then electronic fibers were introduced to manipulate the structure of the “smart” fabric thus magnifying the strength of movement while wearing the suit. Making the user of it, astoundingly stronger. I knew that hours in the gym would not be needed for what would be a grueling rock-climbing trip, because my hire suit enhanced my strength five fold. The trip turned out to be great, getting to the top was definitely worth the now-easy trip. Next month we will go kite surfing, I think I might need hire the suit again.

The New Office: Your Lap

October 07 2008 / by Lani / In association with Future
Category: Culture   Year: General   Rating: 6 Hot

The office. It’s a dreaded workspace for many, for others it’s a grand tradition (and, for a few, it’s just a funny TV show). However you see it, the office as it exists now is evolving. Have a look at yours. Does it resemble the standard Dilbert-esque vision rife with miles and miles of identical cubicles, Sticky-Notes, and studded with those ever-flattering fluorescent tubes? Or is it simpler setup- a laptop on your lap?

These days, companies are rethinking the way we work. The new workspace, called non-territorial or non-assigned workspaces, resemble a modern version of musical chairs. Employees come to work and find their spot. This model works for Cisco Systems. At other companies, such as Bank of America, employees can reserve spaces or meeting rooms. Others (think IBM) don’t even have offices.

Mind you, the concept of the paperless office isn’t new. It’s been floating around since the 1940’s. The Atlantic featured a series on Memex machines, theoretical proto-hypertext computer systems that were to function as self-contained research libraries, in 1945. Life Magazine soon followed with illustrations. And, of course, we can’t forget gems like The Jetsons, or Brazil, or even Spielberg’s Minority Report.

Although, we’re not quite hovercraft bound, the future of the office is increasingly flexible and mobile. Employees will no longer be confined to the cubicle. The advent of wireless technologies, smartphones, teleconferencing and the Web 2.0 cloud has made the office as we know it, a thing of the past. Today, virtual is the way to go.

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The Technology Waiting Game

August 21 2008 / by John Heylin / In association with Future
Category: Technology   Year: General   Rating: 5

It seems like everyday we’re greeted with yet another energy-saving device that is not only more efficient, but cheaper to boot. A quick romp through the Future Scanner using the terms “energy” and “efficient” bring up more articles than you could digest in a single sitting. There are nano-crystals that increase thermoelectric power by 40%, low-cost super-efficient solar cells that may put current solar panels in the same bin with the 8-track, and even a dye that could increase solar efficiency by over 50%.

So with technology accelerating at such a fast pace, why do we spend money on soon to be outdated technology?

In California’s push towards responsible energy, they’re planning to build two solar power stations whose total wattage production will come out to a breathtaking 800 megawatts and will cover an estimated 12.5 square miles of land. This is part of the ground work the Golden State is laying in order to have more than 20% of its energy come from renewable resources. But are they wasting their time?

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How Non-Lethal Weapons Will Kill Public Protest

September 24 2008 / by John Heylin / In association with Future
Category: Culture   Year: General   Rating: 5 Hot

Authority figures sure have gotten a lot smarter in dealing with public protests. In the 60’s and 70’s, public protests were greeted with iconic backlash from police and national guard alike. With the television and camera able to record these protests, they became icons for whatever movement they were fighting for.

There was the Kent State shootings immortalized by the picture of Mary Ann Vecchio screaming over the body of slain protester Jeffrey Miller. Or the famous video of police blasting protesters with fire hoses as well as sicking their dogs on high school students in Birmingham, Alabama in 1963.

It was due to these images that the traditional way of dealing with protesters had to change radically. In his paper titled “From Escalated Force to Disruption Control: The Evolution of Protest Policing,” Alex Vitale, a former consultant to the ACLU and Assistant Professor at Brooklyn College, states the following:

“Prior to the 1970’s police relied on a doctrine of “Escalated Force” in responding to demonstrations. Following numerous reports, civil law suits, and media coverage criticizing the violence that often resulted form this approach, many departments developed a doctrine of “Negotiated Management,” which attempted to minimize violence through improved communication with demonstrators and greater tolerance of disruptive activity.” -Alex Vitale.

Tactics had to change — police could no longer use any force necessary in order to quell a public protest. It’s especially true in this day and age when even videos of earthquakes are posted on the internet within minutes of their occurrence.

A great report by the ACLU (co-authored by Alex Vitale) on the protests during the 2004 Republican National Convention detail how police used mass arrests, detentions, cheap zip-ties, horse charges, intense surveillance and limited access to combat the possible threat from protesters (no one wanted a repeat of the infamous Battle of Seattle of 1999). Tactics have changed, and as a result the voice of the protester is getting fainter and fainter.

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