Visions of a Sustainable Future interview
(text) March 2013
Talking about apocalypse gets dull...all apocalypses are the same, but all successful scenarios are different in their own way.
The Future and You! interview
(video) December 2012
Bad Futurism talk in San Francisco
(video) December 2012
Inc. magazine interview
(text) December 2012
Any real breakthrough in AI is going to come from gaming.
Singularity 1 on 1 interview
(video) November 2012
(text) September 2012
One hope for the future: That we get it right.
Doomsday talk in San Francisco
(video) June 2012
Polluting the Data Stream talk in San Francisco
(video) April 2012
Peak Humanity talk at BIL2012 in Long Beach
(video) February 2012
(text) January 2012
Our tools don't make us who we are. We make tools because of who we are.
Hacking the Earth talk in London
(video) November 2011
(text) May 2011
The fears over eugenics come from fears over the abuse of power. And we have seen, time and again, century after century, that such fears are well-placed.
Future of Facebook project interviews
(video) April 2011
Geoengineering and the Future interview for Hearsay Culture
(audio) March 2011
Los Angeles and the Green Future interview for VPRO Backlight
(video) November 2010
Surviving the Future excerpts on CBC
(video) October 2010
Future of Media interview for BNN
(video) September 2010
Hacking the Earth Without Voiding the Warranty talk at NEXT 2010
(video) September 2010
We++ talk at Guardian Activate 2010
(video) July 2010
Wired for Anticipation talk at Lift 10
(video) May 2010
Soylent Twitter talk at Social Business Edge 2010
(video) April 2010
Hacking the Earth without Voiding the Warranty talk at State of Green Business Forum 2010
(video) February 2010
Manipulating the Climate interview on "Living on Earth" (public radio)
(audio) January 2010
(video) January 2010
Homesteading the Uncanny Valley talk at the Biopolitics of Popular Culture conference
(audio) December 2009
Sixth Sense interview for NPR On the Media
(audio) November 2009
If I Can't Dance, I Don't Want to be Part of Your Singularity talk for New York Future Salon
(video) October 2009
Future of Money interview for /Message
(video) October 2009
Cognitive Drugs interview for "Q" on CBC radio
(audio) September 2009
How the World Could (Almost) End interview for Slate
(video) July 2009
Geoengineering interview for Kathleen Dunn Show, Wisconsin Public Radio
(audio) July 2009
Augmented Reality interview at Tactical Transparency podcast
(audio) July 2009
ReMaking Tomorrow talk at Amplify09
(video) June 2009
Mobile Intelligence talk for Mobile Monday
(video) June 2009
Amplify09 Pre-Event Interview for Amplify09 Podcast
(audio) May 2009
How to Prepare for the Unexpected Interview for New Hampshire Public Radio
(audio) April 2009
Cascio's Laws of Robotics presentation for Bay Area AI Meet-Up
(video) March 2009
How We Relate to Robots Interview for CBC "Spark"
(audio) March 2009
Looking Forward Interview for National Public Radio
(audio) March 2009
Future: To Go talk for Art Center Summit
(video) February 2009
Brains, Bots, Bodies, and Bugs Closing Keynote at Singularity Summit Emerging Technologies Workshop (video) November 2008
Building Civilizational Resilience Talk at Global Catastrophic Risks conference
(video) November 2008
Future of Education Talk at Moodle Moot
(video) June 2008
(text) May 2008
"In the best scenario, the next ten years for green is the story of its disappearance."
A Greener Tomorrow talk at Bay Area Futures Salon
(video) April 2008
Geoengineering Offensive and Defensive interview, Changesurfer Radio
(audio) March 2008
(text) March 2008
"The road to hell is paved with short-term distractions. "
The Future Is Now interview, "Ryan is Hungry"
(video) March 2008
G'Day World interview
(audio) March 2008
UK Education Drivers commentary
(video) February 2008
Futurism and its Discontents presentation at UC Berkeley School of Information
(audio) February 2008
Opportunity Green talk at Opportunity Green conference
(video) January 2008
Metaverse: Your Life, Live and in 3D talk
(video) December 2007
Singularity Summit Talk
(audio) September 2007
Political Relationships and Technological Futures interview
(video) September 2007
(audio) September 2007
"Science Fiction is a really nice way of uncovering the tacit desires for tomorrow...."
G'Day World interview
(audio) June 2007
(audio) June 2007
Take-Away Festival talk
(video) May 2007
(audio) May 2007
Changesurfer Radio interview
(audio) April 2007
(audio) July 2006
FutureGrinder: Participatory Panopticon interview
(audio) March 2006
TED 2006 talk
(video) February 2006
Commonwealth Club roundtable on blogging
(audio) February 2006
Personal Memory Assistants Accelerating Change 2005 talk
(audio) October 2005
Participatory Panopticon MeshForum 2005 talk
(audio) May 2005
This does not seem like a good combination:
Anyone want to place a wager on how many months it will be after the XBox One is released before there's a "XBox Spying" scandal?
Time for another thought experiment. Or, rather, a puzzle without a good answer yet.
We're getting pretty good at building extremely powerful telescopes. The Kepler planet finder orbiting telescope may have gone functionally offline, but Hubble keeps plugging along, and the James Webb infrared telescope is on the calendar. And when we look out in the universe, we're seeing some pretty amazing stuff.
But what if the stuff we're seeing is even more amazing than we think?
Imagine, if you will, a very high technology non-human civilization living in two star systems (reasonably close to one another, say half of a light year, to make colonizing moderately feasible; that's close enough to share an Oort Cloud) about 10,000 light years from us. About 10,000 years ago, they split into three factions:
The first wants to go full upload, transcend into post-Singularity bit-liness. They've decided to disassemble their entire planetary system into Computronium, creating a web around their home star to absorb energy to support their digital lifestyle. (Charlie Stross describes this process in the later chapters of Accelerando, required reading for anyone who follows this blog.)
The second likes the idea of tearing things apart, but it less enthusiastic about the whole "turn ourselves into software" upload thing. They make use of similar tools to disassemble their own planetary system to create a Dyson Sphere. (The Star Trek: The Next Generation episode "Relics" is probably the best visualization of a Dyson Sphere around.)
The third faction says "the hell with this noise" and wants to bug out. They build a fleet of modified Alcubierre warp-drive ships to zip around the galaxy. This apparently plausible system uses exotic matter to compress a bubble of space-time around the ship, allowing it to travel effectively faster than light, even though within the bubble the ship is still traveling at a reasonable sub-light speed. None of these ships heads to Earth, but some of them head roughly in our direction, such that photons from the ships arrive along with those from the Computronium conversion and the Dyson Sphere construction.
Okay, got it? Three groups, each doing something different, with the light from their ultra-tech activities just now getting to Earth.
What do we see?
What would the disassembly of planetary systems look like? A Dyson Sphere, by definition, blocks out the home star; what would it look like as the Sphere came together? A Computronium web, conversely, need not block the entire star, but would consume quite a bit of energy; would that radiate differently than a "normal" star?
And just what would a warp-bubble-drive ship look like in action? It may only require a ton or two of "exotic matter," but that still translates into enormous amounts of energy being used to push around spacetime like a middle-school bully.
How would we know we're seeing something artificial, rather than a bizarre natural phenomenon?
Ask any reputable modern futurist to make a prediction, and you'll nearly always get the same general reply: futurists don't make predictions, we talk about scenarios, implications, and forecasts -- structured narratives about future possibilities that make clear the uncertainty and contingency of outcomes.
But push a little harder, and you might hear something a little different: it's always fun to get one right.
So it's with all due humility that I quote the opening of this CNN/Fortune article:
As Wall Street predictions go, Jamais Cascio had a good one. A little less than a year ago, Cascio, a distinguished fellow at think tank Institute for the Future, in a blog post, predicted that retweeting Twitter bots combined with a fake news story posted by hackers on a major media website would cause a market crash. That's pretty close to what happened.
The post in question was "Lies, Damn Lies, and Twitter Bots" from last August. My blog post argued that it would likely take a bunch of twitter bots/hacks acting in concert to shift stock market activity, but it turned out that it only took the temporary hijacking of the Associated Press twitter feed. I guess I over-estimated how risk-averse high-frequency trading systems would be.
So was the point of the hack to get the stock market to undergo a brief crash, allowing someone to make a bunch of money? It's unclear, but the utility of the twitter-driven-flash-crash is now abundantly clear. This won't be the last time something like this happens.
California state Senator Leland Yee wants to stop people from being able to print out firearms with 3D printers. Like many other folks, Yee was startled by the work of Defense Distributed, a group working on designs for guns that can be produced by the 3D printers. A few months ago, Defense Distributed crafted a grip and lower receiver for an AR-15; more recently, they produced a fully-functional handgun. Yee's not the only official trying to put a stop to this: NY Senator Chuck Schumer wants legislation to explicitly outlaw 3D printed guns, and the US Department of Defense recently ordered Defense Distributed to remove the plans from their website while the government sorts out whether they violate weapon export rules. To the surprise of nobody who pays attention to the Internet, the Pirate Bay has already returned the weapon blueprints to the web.
To be clear, these two designs are not world-shaking developments. While the AR-15 grip and receiver are critical parts of the semiautomatic rifle, they're not sufficient to make a working weapon on their own. Conversely, the handgun – called “Liberator” by Defense Distributed – is a nearly-complete design (needing only a penny nail for a firing pin), but it can manage only a few shots before falling apart. It’s essentially a 3D printed zip gun. Nobody's going to start an army with 3D printed weaponry... today.
Tomorrow is a different story: within the decade, it's entirely likely that we'll see a completely functional, high quality semiautomatic (or even fully-automatic) rifle being produced via 3D printing. Many people would consider that to be a bad thing, or at least something requiring close supervision. But what are the realistic options?
Here's the core problem: you can't just tell a 3D printing system not to make a gun. You might be able to tell a system that it can't print out a specific design or file, assuming that you can lock down to printer's operating system so that it can't be altered. But in that scenario, how would you stop the design of a firearm made up of printed components that don't look like gun parts? And even if you could somehow restrict the ability of a printer to make a weapon, any 3D printer able to produce a high-quality firearm would almost certainly be able to print out another 3D printer, this time without the restrictions. This is by no means an outrageous or speculative proposition. Among the earliest-available low-cost 3D printers was (and is) the RepRap -- the Replicating Rapid-Prototyper (an older term for 3D printer).
Senator Schumer seems to be pushing to add 3D printed guns to the existing prohibition on firearms that can't be detected by metal detectors. This would focus on the possession of the weapon, and seems reasonable. State Senator Yee, however, may have bigger ideas:
He’s concerned that just about anyone with access to those cutting-edge printers can arm themselves.
“Terrorists can make these guns and do some horrible things to an individual and then walk away scott-free, and that is something that is really dangerous,” said Yee.
He said while this new technology is impressive, it must be regulated when it comes to making guns. He says background checks, requiring serial numbers and even registering them could be part of new legislation that he says will protect the public.
It's ambiguous, but Yee here is probably talking about checks, serial numbers and such for printed guns. However, he may be referring to the printers themselves as needing controls. And even if Yee isn't yet taking that step -- he has yet to introduce the legislation -- someone else will. But how can you control something that can replicate and evolve?
Thought experiment: imagine you've been taken, somehow, and dropped into a big city in another place, with comparable technological and economic development, somewhere you don't speak the language. Here's the twist: it's also time travel. How long would it take you to notice that you've been shifted in time as well as space?
I've been thinking more lately about how it is we (as a collection of societies) respond to the world evolving around us. I've written before about the banality of the future -- the idea that changes that seem mind-boggling and transformative from the perspective of today would seem utterly boring to people who have lived through the development and slow deployment of those particular changes. There's also William Gibson's famous line, "the future is here, it's just not evenly distributed." I'm fascinated by the idea that our perception of "the future" is contingent upon where and when we live.
At the Institute for the Future's 2013 Ten-Year Forecast event, I offered the concept of the "fuzzy now" -- the stretch of time before and after the present day in which there seems to be little if any significant change. The length of the fuzzy now period corresponds to how much disruptive, dislocative change is taking place. Which brings us back to the thought experiment: if you're within the "fuzzy now," you may not realize that you've traveled in time for days.
Dropped into a new place, your first clues that you're in a different year would come from the gross physical environment: transportation types, building size/materials/designs, clothing design. You'd also be looking at what people are doing as they go about their business -- if they are fiddling with mobile phones, for example. Are there cues in terms of social behavior around ethnicity, gender, or sexual orientation? (Of course, if you spot an abundance of Zeppelins in the sky, you know immediately that you've moved to an alternate universe.)
Clues would come in two broad categories: things that should be there, but aren't; and things that shouldn't be there, but are.
If you were to be sent back ten years (2003), for example, you might not immediately recognize that you were in a different year. Clothing, building, and automobile designs would be familiar enough, and the lack of the most recent items wouldn't be instantly apparent (especially if you factor in being in a different country, where such differences would be masked by cultural/market variations). One possible clue you might notice soon is the fewer number of people using mobile devices, the complete lack of any kind of "tablet," and that the mobile phones in use are essentially all the old "feature phone" with buttons and tiny screens. Nobody has an Android or the like -- the iPhone wouldn't be coming out for another five years. Depending upon where you were, you might also see more public telephones and newspaper boxes. And once you saw that, you'd likely start picking up all sorts of other clues, especially about technology and media.
In short, we can say that ten years back is probably just beyond what we'd consider the "fuzzy now" -- you wouldn't notice immediately (as you would if you were bounced back a hundred years, or probably even 25), but you'd very likely pick up on it within an hour or two. Five years, conversely, would almost certainly be well within the "fuzzy now;" you'd eventually pick up on the shift, but it might take a day or more.
What about if you were shifted forward in time ten years, not back? I'd hazard a guess that you'd notice much more swiftly that something was very, very wrong. Why? Because while the physical objects, designs, and media of ten years ago might seem dated, they would also seem familiar; decade-old stuff is often still in active use. New stuff would be a surprise, especially if the overall appearance was distinctive from anything back in your home time. Some of it you might discount as being in another country, but seeing big signs for electric vehicle rapid-charging stations, or bunches of people walking along the street wearing the descendants of Google Glass, or just about everyone wearing hats for sun protection, these would quickly stand out, especially in combination.
A five year forward jump probably wouldn't be detected as quickly, but -- depending upon what kinds of developments we see -- could start to feel weird and wrong within an hour or two. This parallels the depiction of ten years back: the changes may not immediately be noticeable, but would not remain hidden for very long. This could actually be more dizzying than a jump in time that's immediately visible -- your sense of safety, already compromised by the unexpected shift in place, gets steadily undermined by the gnawing sense of wrongness. A bigger shift in time, conversely, is like ripping a bandage off -- shocking, but all at once.
The observation that a five year forward jump might parallel the effects of a ten year backwards shift suggests that a "fuzzy now" might extend twice as far back as it does forward. The you from 2013 would likely feel at home anywhere from (say) 2008 to 2015/2016, perhaps going for days without realizing that you've moved in time as well as space.
There's a futurist adage that to get a sense of the changes we face, you need to look back twice as far as you look ahead. My suggestion of the structure of the fuzzy now seems to align with that, at least superficially. But what needs to be clear is that I'm not saying that we'll change twice as much over the next ten years as we did in the last. Rather, it's that we are more sensitive to the emergence of the new than to the persistence of the old.
This has a few implications for foresight work.
It's a useful way of explaining the "banality of the future" idea. It's all about perspective. We may think of developments happening eight or ten years from now as being wildly disruptive, but for people living eight or ten years from now, today (2013) seems only marginally different at best.
It also offers a language for thinking about how different parts of the world experience change. A stable part of the developing world may have a broader fuzzy now than a place going through conflict or environmental destruction. Similarly, it's a way of articulating the disruption arising from different kinds of changes or events -- do they (temporarily?) shrink the fuzzy now period? Does a global economic downturn make the fuzzy now period expand?
Ultimately, it's a way of articulating the shock that can accompany big disruptions. We rely on the comforting knowledge that tomorrow will be pretty much like today. That seeming stability -- the spread of the fuzzy now -- actually allows us to think about the future. We don't have to look at our feet when we walk, figuratively speaking. But if you're accustomed to the present feeling like the last five or six years, and the next few years likely to seem like more of the same, suddenly having that perception of the present reduced from years to weeks, even days, can be enormously debilitating. Suddenly, we have to watch our feet.
A disruptive, cataclysmic future doesn't goad us into action, it eviscerates our ability to look ahead.
My most recent post here was on March 29. Today is April 29. What do I have to say for myself?
Production of the 2013 Ten-Year Forecast at the Institute for the Future -- up to and including the multi-day presentation conference -- took up pretty much all of the first half of April. Last week I spent in New York for the FastCompany "Innovation Uncensored" event, and then at IFTF's Future of Governance/ReConstitutional Convention affair.
I slept, too.
It's funny, in a way: I spent several years doing nothing but blogging every day, several times a day; now I discover (much to my chagrin) that I've gone a month without any entries. It's not surprising, given the changes in my life over the past decade, but it's still notable.
And the audience has changed, too, both in terms of who reads my stuff and the ways in which they seek out and devour ideas.
So a few options present themselves.
I could try to return to a much-more-frequent blogging pattern, a rate similar to the early days of OtF (even if nowhere near the peak Worldchanging rate). This is the most challenging of the options, and the one with the highest level of risk -- has the audience for that kind of blogging moved on (or died out)?
I could allow Open the Future to decline gracefully into a promotional site, with the links to talks and interviews given more prominence alongside links to articles published elsewhere, but no original content showing up on OtF itself. My original pieces would show up on Co.Exist, ENSIA, and various other platforms (with much larger audiences). This is the direction things seem to be heading, but not yet irreversibly.
Or I could just continue as I have of late, with original pieces showing up every now and then (sometimes five or six in a month, sometimes just one), links to talks and such mixed into the feed (then living off on the side column). This would require the least effort, of course, but seems like it's just pushing off the need for something more substantive.
I'd love to get feedback from people who read this, either on Twitter (I'm @cascio), on Facebook/GooglePlus, or even in the comments here. I suppose the archaic email medium would work, too -- cascio at this domain.
The talk I gave earlier this month at the University of Minnesota is now viewable at the Ensia website, on YouTube, and embedded below. (Wherever you watch it, I encourage you to open up a full-screen view window, for reasons illustrated by the image above.) It runs about 36 minutes, and covers three different scenarios of a sustainable future.
As always, questions and comments are more than welcome.
My latest piece at Fast Company's Co.Exist site is now up. I gave it the title "A Futurist Bestiary", but they went with the more informative title of "3 Reasons Why Your Predictions Of The Future Will Go Wrong." (I've really got to get them to stop using the "P" word.)
Futurism is a richly metaphorical body of thought. It has to be; much of what we talk about is on the verge of unimaginable, so we have to resort to metaphors for it to make any kind of sense. Not all of the metaphors we use are complex: It struck me recently that there are several common futurist metaphors that take a relatively simple animal shape: the Dragon; the Black Swan; and the Mule.
[...] These days, “here be dragons” is a broadly-understood metaphor for something both dangerous and uncertain. And it seems that the future is full of dragons, considering how frequently I’ve heard the term.
Dragons are things we should know about, but don't want to -- questions that we should ask, but we're afraid to hear the answers. Black Swans are, as you probably know, things we could know about, if we asked the right questions -- but we probably won't. And Mules are... well, if you've read the Foundation trilogy, you know who the Mule was.
If you haven’t, here’s a quick recap (and a spoiler for a set of novels published in the early 1950s): a brilliant “psychohistorian” named Hari Seldon--essentially a futurist with above-average math skills--successfully plots out a way for the dying galactic empire to get through a dark age much more quickly than it otherwise would. But after a couple of hundred years, Seldon’s predictions, which all along had been completely accurate, suddenly start going wrong. The reason? The emergence of a mutant able to control human minds, a mutant who called himself the Mule.
In this short essay I've made the Mule a metaphor. Fear me.
My friend Annalee Newitz, editor at io9.com, asked me a short while ago for some thoughts on the possible futures of human cultures. The piece (which also includes observations from folks like Denise Caruso, Maureen McHugh, and Natasha Vita-More) is now up, and is a fun read. And while I captures the flavor of what I said, here's the (slightly edited to fix typos) full text of my reply to Annalee:
A hundred years, hmm.
I think that for many futurists the default vision of social existence a century hence is one of expanded rights (poly marriage, human-robot romance, that sort of thing), acceptance of cultural experimentation, and the dominance of the leisure society (robots doing all of the work, humans get to play/make art/take drugs/have sex). Call it the "Burning Man Future." With sufficiently-advanced biotech, people can alter or invent genders & genital arrangements (think KSR's 2312); with sufficiently-advanced infotech, people can run instant simulations of social and personal evolution (think the last chapter or two of Stross' Accelerando); with sufficiently-advanced robo/nanotech, class and work-related identities are of dwindling or no importance. Social divisions likely to still be around are those around politics (power still matters), art (aesthetics still matters), and the legitimacy of choices (the Mac/PC religious war writ large).
A more nuanced version of the Burning Man Future would allow for the establishment of sub-communities with radically different norms, able to isolate themselves either physically or informationally. Systems of abundance mean that any kind of social configuration is at least plausibly sustainable, while the kinds of interfaces we'd be using (engineered/upgraded brains, etc.) would mean that any level of filtering or reality manipulation is possible, too. Imagine a city street where not one of the hundred people around you sees the same version of reality, the interface systems translating the physical and social environment into something interesting and/or culturally acceptable. (This would also be a remarkable tool for mind control in a totalitarian regime.)
The more extreme version of that would be one where all experiences are market-driven, where everything (including hearing music playing in a building or the appearance of a designer outfit) would require a micro-transaction to hear or observe.
There's also the question of how pervasive Gossip/Reputation Networks will be; my gut sense is that they'll be all over the place by mid-century, but seen as ridiculous and dated by the early 22nd*.
That raises a larger point: it's not just that by 2113 we'll have gone through another three or four human generations (depending on how you count them), by 2113 we'll have gone through a dozen or so technosocial-fashion generations. Smartphones give way to tablets to phablets to wearables to implantables to swallowables to replaceable eyeballs to neo-sinus body-nanofab systems (using mucous as a raw material) to brainwebs to body-rentals... and those are increasingly considered "so 2110." And with all of these (or whatever really emerges), there are shifting behavioral norms. Don't look at your phone at the dinner table. Don't replace your eyeball in public. Don't reboot your neo-sinus in church.
At the same time, many of the Big Socio-cultural Fights we're having now will seem as ridiculous in 2050 as the cultural angst in the 1960s over hair length, or the performance of an expressionist orchestral concert in 1913 leading to a riot in Vienna. Gay? Bi? Trans? Cis? What does it even matter? What *really* pisses people off these days is the use of real meat instead of fleshfabbers... Barbarians.
All of this strikes me as plausible assuming that we don't run into major catastrophic downturns, which tend to push us towards more tribal behaviors and demand strict adherence to norms (where threatening community stability also threatens community survival). So there's your choice: Burning Man or Walking Dead.
[And that's the extent of my "Walking Dead" reference, btw. No zombies here. :) ]
The Earth's Environment
"Some of the most thoughtful work on the topic of climate change..."
-- The Futurist (July/Aug 2009)
What do we do if our best efforts to limit the emission of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere fall short? According to a growing number of
environmental scientists, we may be forced to try an experiment in global climate management: geoengineering.
Geoengineering would be risky, likely to provoke international tension, and certain to
have unexpected consequences. It may also be inevitable.
Environmental futurist Jamais Cascio explores the implications of geoengineering in
this collection of thought-provoking essays. Is our civilization ready
to take on the task of re-engineering the planet?
Geoengineering would be risky, likely to provoke international tension, and certain to have unexpected consequences. It may also be inevitable.
Environmental futurist Jamais Cascio explores the implications of geoengineering in this collection of thought-provoking essays. Is our civilization ready to take on the task of re-engineering the planet?
Since November 11, 2007. Based on IEA averages.