WTF?: What’s the Future and Why It’s Up to Us

Author Tim O’Reilly says the central theme of this book is understanding how algorithmic systems shape our society. If that’s what you’re after, I recommend two books by Kevin Kelly: The Inevitable: Understanding the 12 Technological Forces That Will Shape Our Future and What Technology Wants. Then I’d read Homo Deus and Sapiens by Yuval Noah Harari. I’m sorry, but Mr. O’Reilly’s ideas just didn’t flow. The book felt… patchy. And he seemed overly proud of his personal contribution to the Internet, to Web 2.0, and a bunch of other “innovations.” I don’t question his contributions but isn’t it better if other folks acknowledge them? Anyhoo, here are some passages I underlined:

Our experience is shaped by the words we use.

Abstractions – the process by which reality is transformed into a series of statements about reality.

“For all practical purposes, there is now only one computer.” — Clay Shirky

The first principle of Web 2.0 was that the Internet was replacing Windows as the dominant platform on which the next generation of applications was being built.

Another key to what distinguished the web applications that survived the dot-com bust from those that died was that the survivors all, in one way or another, worked to harness the collective intelligence of their users.

“Global consciousness is that thing that decided that decaffeinated coffee pots should be orange.” — Computer scientist Danny Hill

Once an event occurs, all possibilities collapse into the one reality that we call the present, and then, in an instant, the past. But even the past, seemingly fixed as it appears, is an illusion constantly updated by new knowledge from the present.

A key lesson for every entrepreneur – Ask yourself: What is unthinkable?

“Apps can do now what managers used to do.” — Finnish management consultant Esko Kilpi

More than 63 million Americans (roughly half of all households) are now enrolled in Amazon Prime. Amazon has more than 200 million active credit card accounts; 55% of online shoppers now begin their search at Amazon, and 46% of all nine shopping happens on the platform.

A company is now a hybrid organism, made up of people and machines.

There are more than 2 million apps for the iPhone and they have been downloaded 130 billion times. App developers have earned nearly $50 billion in revenue.

With the rise of GPS, we are heading for a future where speeding motorists are no longer pulled over by police officers who happen to spot them, but instead automatically ticketed whenever they exceed the speed limit. We can also imagine a future in which that speed limit is automatically adjusted based on the amount of traffic, weather conditions, and other variable conditions that make a higher or lower speed more appropriate than the static limit that is posted today.
One of the simplest algorithmic interventions Facebook and Twitter could make would be to ask people, “Are you sure you want to share that link? You don’t appear to have read the story.

Subscription-based publication have an incentive to serve their readers; advertising-based publications have an incentive to server their advertisers.

We are increasingly creating an economy that is producing too much of what only some people can afford to buy.

“The job” is an artificial construct, in which work is managed and parceled out by corporations and other institutions, to which individuals must apply to participate in doing the work.

“There may need to be two kinds of money: machine money, and human money. Machine money is what you use to to buy things that are produced by machines. These things are always getting cheaper. Human money is what you use to buy things that only humans can produce.” — Paul Buchheit (creator of Gmail)

The rich still live in a world where doctors make house calls and personal tutoring is the norm.

“If you want to understand the future, just look at what rich people do today.” — Hal Varian, Google’s chief economist

In a connected world where knowledge is available on demand, we need to rethink what people need to know and how they come to know it.

More than 100 million hours of how-to video were watched on YouTube in North America during the first four months of 2015.

Who will buy the products of companies that no longer pay workers to create them?

Distraction

I’m re-reading Distraction by Bruce Sterling. Published in 1998, it is/was frighteningly prescient.  Here are a few of my favorite excerpts (does that first one remind you of anyone?).

“He’s like a not very bright child who can be deceived and managed, but not reasoned with.”

“The American national character realty wasn’t suited for global police duties. It never had been. Tidy and meticulous people such as the Swiss and Swedes were the types who made good cops. America was far better suited to be the World’s Movie Star. The world’s tequila-addled pro-league bowler. The world’s acerbic, bipolar stand-up comedian. Anything but a somber and tedious nation of socially responsible centurions.”

“It always offended him to hear his fellow Americans discussing the vagaries of “white people.” There was simply no such thing as “white people. That stereotype was an artificial construct, like the ridiculous term “Hispanic.” In all the rest of the world, a Peruvian was a Peruvian and a Brazilian was a Brazilian— it was only in America that people somehow became this multilingual, multinational entity called a “Hispanic.”

“Political reality in modern America was the stark fact that electronic networks had eaten the guts out of the old order, while never finding any native order of their own. The horrific speed of digital communication, the consonant flattening of hierarchies, the rise of net-based civil society, and the decline of the industrial base had simply been too much for the American government to cope with and successfully legitimize.”

“Knowledge is inherently precious even if you can’t sell it. Even if you can’t use it. Knowledge is an absolute good. The search for truth is vital. It’s central to civilization. You need knowledge even when your economy and government are absolutely shot to hell.”

The Nature of Consciousness

“In this episode of the Waking Up podcast, Sam Harris speaks with Thomas Metzinger about the scientific and experiential understanding of consciousness. They also talk about the significance of WWII for the history of ideas, the role of intuition in science, the ethics of building conscious AI, the self as an hallucination, how we identify with our thoughts, attention as the root of the feeling of self, the place of Eastern philosophy in Western science, and the limitations of secular humanism.”

“Thomas K. Metzinger is full professor and director of the theoretical philosophy group and the research group on neuroethics/neurophilosophy at the department of philosophy, Johannes Gutenberg University of Mainz, Germany. He is the founder and director of the MIND group and Adjunct Fellow at the Frankfurt Institute of Advanced Studies, Germany. His research centers on analytic philosophy of mind, applied ethics, philosophy of cognitive science, and philosophy of mind. He is the editor of Neural Correlates of Consciousness and the author of Being No One and The Ego Tunnel.”

“Simply hold your phone to your neck for a minute or two”

In an experiment, the technique was found to be as accurate as a 45-minute echocardiography scan, which currently requires a trained technician operating an expensive ultrasound machine. The smartphone technique measures how much the carotid artery displaces the skin of the neck as blood pumps through it.

To test the app, clinical trials were conducted with 72 volunteers between the ages of 20 and 92 at an outpatient magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) facility. MRI is the gold standard in measuring LVEF but is seldom used clinically due to its high cost and limited availability. The measurements made by smartphone had a margin of error of ±19.1 percent compared with those done in an MRI. By way of comparison, the margin of error for echocardiography is around ±20.0 percent.

Full story

“World’s First Android”

Assuming this is an early glimpse of one possible future… how do I feel about it? Mixed, I think. If humans still have some evolving to do — and I sure hope we do — it seems likely such evolution will be in this direction. It’s tempting to slap a “good” or “bad” label on this but such value judgements are human tags and I’m starting to find them irrelevant. Perhaps with time and luck, we can make better versions of ourselves.

Nomophobia

“This “no mobile phone” phobia is an emerging term that some psychologists use to describe the fear people have of being without their smartphone. And the latest evidence suggests that it happens because these devices have become so personalized that they are seen as extensions of ourselves. […] While previous research has linked nomophobia to anxieties around an inability to communicate and a fear of missing out, the new research suggest that phone owners also form strong personal attachments to the devices themselves, due to the photos, messages and other data that they hold.”

World Economic Forum story »

The Rise of Exotropy

The following passage is from Kevin Kelly’s What Technology Wants.

Most hydrogen atoms were born at the beginning of time. They are as old as time itself. They were created in the fires of the big bang and dispersed into the universe as a uniform warm mist. Thereafter, each atom has been on a lonely journey. When a hydrogen atom drifts in the unconsciousness of deep space, hundreds of kilometers from another atom, it is hardly much more active than the vacuum surrounding it. Time is meaningless without change, and in the vast reaches of space that fill 99.99 percent of the universe, there is little change.

After billions of years, a hydrogen atom might be swept up by the currents of gravity radiating from a congealing galaxy. With the dimmest hint of time and change it slowly drifts in a steady direction toward other stuff. Another billion years later it bumps into the first bit of matter it has ever encountered, After millions of years it meets the second. In time it meets another of its kind, a hydrogen atom. They drift together in mild attraction until aeons later they meet an oxygen atom. Suddenly something weird happens. In a flash of heat they clump together as one later molecule. Maybe they get sucked into the atmosphere circulation of a planet. Under this marriage, they are caught in great cycles of change. Rapidly the molecule is carried up and then rained down into a crowded pool of other jostling atoms. In the company of uncountable numbers of other water molecules it travels this circuit around and around for millions of years, from crammed pools to expansive clouds and back. One day, in a stroke of luck, the water molecule is captured by a chain of unusually active carbons in one pool. Its path is once again accelerated. It spins around in a simple loop, assisting the travel of carbon chains. It enjoys speed, movement, and change such as would not be possible in the comatose recesses of space. The carbon chain is stolen by another chain and reassembled many times until the hydrogen finds itself in a cell constantly rearranging its relations and bonds with other molecules. Now it hardly ever stops changing, never stops interacting.

Awaken

“Awaken is a new feature documentary by Tom Lowe detailing humans’ relationship with technology and the natural world. The project was shot in over 30 countries during a five-year period, all while making use of next-level cinematography techniques such as time-dilation and underwater photography, ultimately providing viewers with a look at the universe like never before. No post-production effects have been used for the picture, as everything has been captured and thus showcased ‘in-camera.'” (Release in 2018)

Things I’m Older Than

I don’t recall when I first had the experience of looking around and realizing I was the oldest person in the room. It’s been long enough that I no longer notice but I had a bit of a flashback while hanging out on Mastodon.Technology. Am I — I wonder — the older person posting there? I then began ruminating on just how much technology is younger than I (3/8/48). A few examples:

  • Commercial Jets – “The British Overseas Aircraft Corporation (BOAC), the national British carrier, first introduced a commercial jet airliner into service. The 36-seat Comet 1, built by De Havilland, flew for the first time on July 27, 1949. BOAC inaugurated the world’s first commercial jet service on May 2, 1952.”
  • Color TV – “Color television had its beginnings in the late 1940s alongside black and white television. It was not a commercially viable until the early 1950s. At that time, two competing color mechanisms were being championed separately by CBS and RCA (which at the time was affiliated with NBC).”
  • The Honda motorcycle – “The first complete motorcycle, with both the frame and engine made by Honda, was the 1949 D-Type, the first Honda to go by the name Dream.”
  • TV Remote – “The first remote intended to control a television was developed by Zenith Radio Corporation in 1950. The remote, called “Lazy Bones”, was connected to the television by a wire. A wireless remote control, the “Flashmatic”, was developed in 1955 by Eugene Polley.” Before remotes, one walked up to the TV and turned a knob to change channels. As more and more became available, this knob was used more and more (a child was ordered to get up and change to channel x). These plastic knobs quickly stripped from constant turning and a pair of wire pliers had to be used. It was common to see pliers sitting on top of the living room TV in the ’50s.
  • Power Steering – “Chrysler Corporation introduced the first commercially available passenger car power steering system on the 1951 Chrysler Imperial under the name “Hydraguide”.”
  • Cable TV – “Cable television originated in the United States almost simultaneously in Arkansas, Oregon and Pennsylvania in 1948”
  • ATM – “It is widely accepted that the first cash machine was put into use by Barclays Bank in its Enfield Town branch in North London, United Kingdom, on 27 June 1967.” (Wikipedia)