Futurist Thomas Frey of the DaVinci Institute has posted a thought-provoking avatar roadmap detailing an increasingly critical and symbiotic relationship between man and this progeny of ours. Frey argues that this increasing reliance on avatar extensions will change our fundamental values, eventually leading to a great blur of humans and avatars.
Frey: With each generation of avatar, they will become more life-like, growing in realism, pressing the limits of autonomy as we become more and more reliant on them for experiencing the world. The avatar will become an extension of ourselves. The pain that we feel is the same pain that they feel, and vice versa. Like symbiotic twins separated only by a dimension or two, we are destined to become one with our avatars.
Is that a fair frame and likely prediction, or are we already indistinguishable from our technology and environment? Are we destined to merge with our avatars? Are we already avatars generated by Gaiia or the Great Simulator(s)?
60 Minutes recently aired a program on the future of coal power featuring Duke Energy CEO Jim Rogers (an advocate of longer term 'Cathedral Thinking' carbon reduction) and leading climate scientist James Hansen (an advocate of a moratorium on building coal plants).
The CBS report was solidly mainstream in framing coal as central to the conversation on energy, environment and global economic development- but it failed to move the conversation beyond ideas that have existed for several decades.
Time for Big Ideas, not Big Battles Coal is the world's fastest growing source of energy due largely to growth outside the United States. And despite all the rapid growth rates expected with wind and solar, coal is likely to gain global market share in the years ahead.
So this is not just a conversation about US policy and US-based utilities! And there is no way to just 'wish' coal away. We must develop low cost carbon solutions that can be applied around the world within existing power plants. And everyone agrees - these low cost solutions do not exist today!
CBS Producers missed an opportunity to introduce more advanced non-geoengineering strategies to carbon neutralization and left viewers stuck at ringside watching the same old 'pro' vs 'anti' battle.
Carbon's Molecular Dance between Oxygen and Hydrogen Carbon is a 'sticky' molecule that interchangeably binds with oxygen and hydrogen based on its journey through biochemical pathways or via human induced energy conversion (e.g. power plants and combustion engine).
Human beings have a choice to approach carbon solutions through geo-engineering (shoving it underground), or as bio-engineers who can bind carbon with hydrogen for use as a hydrocarbon fuel (for transportation or onsite electricity generation) or a bio-feestock for industrial applications. CBS viewers would have been better off understanding the long-term view of carbon rather than watch a debate without a viable solution. (Continue Reading Below).
To scale and dominate as quickly as Google has, a new company will need to generate serious end-user value, monetize effecively, and take a new web-based approach to human resources. One such structure might be an organization specializing in prosumer-based quantification (structured crowd-sourced info mining) that can expand and contract quickly by paying citizen quantifiers for quality content that they input (think adsense, but more structured and directed from the outset). I imagine that this sort of company could catalyze big, fast economic growth and play an important role in generating positive-sum network value as we move further into the acceleration era.
To get the discussion of such a possibility rolling here's a speculative timeline of such a company (2011-2015) that I've cleverly dubbed "Quantification Company":
2011 - Launch: A logical outgrowth of flash mobs, open mapping parties, and steadily rising prosumerism, the Quantification Company (QC) was created in 2011 with the mission of "organizing and accelerating the comprehensive quantification of Earth's most valued systems." The for-profit organization relied on a small core of programmers, salespeople and community managers to catalyze quantification cascades, better known as Data Swarms, for a large variety of clients, but mostly municipalities and large corporations. Early efforts were kept simple and focused mostly on the rapid and/or real-time HD video mapping of U.S. cities, national parks, and other under-quantified areas of interest. Traffic-based fees were paid out to citizen quantifiers who captured and uploaded the best geographic footage and/or commentary. Though they were slightly nervous at the ambition and direction of the QC, competitors like Google, Yahoo and Wikipedia were happy to see traffic and content flow through their systems.
A joint study by Sandia National Laboratories and General Motors speculates that non-food crop resources (with help from corn) 'could sustainably replace nearly a third of US gasoline use by the year 2030.'
The 90 Billion Gallon Study [PDF], which focused only on starch-based and cellulosic ethanol, found that an increase to 90 billion gallons of ethanol could be sustainably achieved by 2030 within real-world economic and environmental parameters 'assuming technical and scientific progress continues at expected rates.'
The Study assumes 75 billion gallons would be ethanol made from nonfood cellulosic feedstocks and 15 billion gallons from corn-based ethanol.
The set of non-food crop resources explored include: agricultural residue, such as corn stover and wheat straw; forest residue; dedicated energy crops, including switchgrass; and short rotation woody crops, such as willow and poplar trees. Competitive pricing models include costs of producing, harvesting, storing and transporting these sources to newly built biorefineries.
Not forgetting the real problem: The Combustion Engine Tapping biological pathways to capture carbon and create usable forms of energy is a good idea. But we must not lose site of the real problem: our dependency on the combustion engine and its requirement for liquid fuels. Energy industry pundits are always quick to raise the problem with the oil market's lack of substitutability.
As long as the combustion engine lives we cannot put electrons from solar, wind or nuclear inside the gas tank. It might not be the 'end game', but next generation biofuels are the only viable substitute liquid fuels on our our horizon.
Committing Ourselves to Enabling Disruptive Science & Technologies Given the dynamics of the global energy sector we can expect that nothing is going to change quickly, but when changes do happen - they could be potentially disruptive to how we produce, store and distributed energy.
Incremental solutions are not going to solve US or Global energy and environmental challenges. We must enable disruptive science and technologies that can 'do more with less' in fundamentally new ways. While we cannot pick winners, it is clear that the cross-disciplinary nature of science at the nanoscale will be paramount in all areas of energy from making hydrocarbons cleaner, lowering the costs of renewables, scaling up next generation bioenergy solutions, managing 'smarter grids', and creating storage solutions. Maybe a new framework for research collaboration is what we need to enable the 'new energy economy'!
Once nanotechnology, stem cell research, and genetic engineering were able to converge upon the same laboratories it became clear that a wide variety of deadly and debilitative diseases share their origin: damaged or failing tissues, organs and bodily systems. Some are chronic due to aging, others are more acute, but they have correlated pathologies after all. The interrelationships between the biggest 20th century killers of humankind became astonishingly clear, as did the road to the regenerative medicine to cure nearly all of them.
Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg today announced that "150 million people around the world are now actively using Facebook and almost half of them are using Facebook every day."
This brings Facebook to just over 2% total global penetration in just under 5 years time (the company was founded in February 4, 2004) and, based on the shape of this diffusion curve, confirms its status as a major Interactive Communication Technology, as defined by communication scholar Everett Rogers.
Furthermore, it lines up nicely with the history of ICTs, as demonstrated by business and comm professor Vijay Gurbaxani, in which the diffusion of subsequent ICTs gets steadily sharper (telegraph, telephone, web connections), which supports the conjecture that either Facebook, a mirror technology (MySpace, Linked In, Microsoft Live, Orkut, iGoogle), or a combination thereof (most likely) will quickly attain much greater adoption. Obviously this ongoing trend has some serious deep-rooted consequences for the near-term accelerating future.
Equally as interesting is Zuckerberg's observation that, "If Facebook were a country, it would be the eighth most populated in the world, just ahead of Japan, Russia and Nigeria."
While I'm sure the statement was carefully considered and is meant to innocuously communicate the significance of the milestone, it also reveals the immense power inherent in social networks. These structures are among the primary drivers of a flattening world, exerting change on existing culture as they permit a new form bonding across distances, generations and (in just a few years) across language barriers. As such, they are in fact a new type of Massive Meta-Nation that transcends borders and increasingly affects law-making, behavioral norms and personal identity (just as international companies have done for many decades).
Enter Serious Value Creation/Facilitation: If you think the Facebook and social networking phenomenon is just peripheral to real culture and business, you are dead wrong.
What went wrong? Everyone has their own reasons for why automakers are failing: Labor costs, oil, management, credit markets, et al. All have valid points. And, obviously there are multiple problems, not one issue.
But I have a very different theory and set of presriptions.
The problem isn't oil, it's the combustion engine and its legacy liabilties of intensive manufacturing, limited design and obsession with 'new car' sales paradigm.
Our great opportunity? The problem is based on how we build and sell cars, not how we fuel them. So let's focus on the platform of a post-combustion engine era of mobility.
How do we get there? You cannot summon the future on demand with band-aid solutions, you must enable it and wait for it to change.
Our priority should be to enable a multi-decade long transition that changes how cars are bought, sold, driven and upgraded.
21st Century Vehicles: Focus on Wheel-based Electric Motors, Energy Storage and Software...
In 1972 a team of futurists published the book Limits to Growth which explored long-term forecast models based on rapidly expanding global economic and population growth against finite natural resources.
While most people assumed that growth could continue unabated, Limits to Growth offered a shocking alternative scenario - overshoot and collapse. Their future? The modern industrial economy would expand beyond the legacy resource capacity of the planet as supplies plateaued and depleted faster than expected. The 'Overshoot and Collapse' future scenario was mostly ridiculed by mainstraem economists and political leaders.
Now the world's leading oil forecasting agency is hinting that this future is closer than expected with regard to our conventional oil supplies. They are calling for an 'energy revolution'.
For those who have followed the 'peak oil' conversation evolve, this is the most shocking admission on record from a leading global oil analyst. Birol acknowledges that the major differences between the IEA's World Energy Outlook report from 2007 were based on the 'wrong assumptions' of oil field decline rates. He admits that, until 2008, no organization has ever done a comprehensive global oil field decline rate survey.
Monbiot's annoynance with the IEA's failure to back their forecasts with actual data is priceless, and scary given the implications of IEA's role in providing governments with accurate oil forecasts. In 2007 the IEA said the decline rate asumption was 3%, now in 2008 they say data support 6-7%. At that rate, the world's conventional oil production plateau could happen between 2020-2030.
Birol says that the current path is "not (economically) sustainable" and the IEA is now calling for 'an energy revolution'. We think this should certainly start with global leaders pushing to Kill the Combustion Engine and taking away the liquid fuel fed energy device that makes us so dependent on oil.
What to watch: Peak Oil is about to go Mainstream The broad implications of peak production in conventional oil resources?
In his 2005 book FAB, author Neil Gershenfeld introduced the world to the possibilities of our potential near future.
If I could talk to TED, I would remind them of this and point out that there is likely to be a longish wait for whole-object fabrication technology to be affordable and reliably available to the general public. And, that it isn't really necessary to wait for that happy day either. We humans are long established tool users already, so how unreasonable is it to seek to develop the fab technology to create replacement parts for our existing technology and simply replace the worn bits as necessary? The technology already allows for the used parts to be de-constructed on-site for re-use in later fabrications as well.
If I could talk to TED, I'd remind them that guys like me, in our 50's now, along with our wives and children are the initial target market for this technology to achieve ultimate universal acceptance and application. I would suggest to my fellow TEDsters that a useful mechanism for achieving that goal would be a video campaign that visually demonstrates the technology and its application process to any potential additional user. I would also point out that there is a wide-spread lack of understanding of why adoption of new scientific advances takes so long to come to market; watching as the early attempts fail, and explaining the complexities involved, will be an express objective of this video campaign also, with the eventual objective of showing ultimate success of course.
In the past, the mere mention of an idea system or establishment in this blog has lead to a barrage of complaints and corrections from advocates and opposition alike. So, it is with much apprehension that I attempt to discuss technocracy.
A technocratic society has the goal of: Producing optimum quality goods and services at the lowest possible energy cost, and distributing the maximum amount of goods and services to everyone.
Our broken economy has so far prevented this from being possible. The constant need for money has forced producers to continually produce poor quality goods, essentially, in order to keep the consumer buying. If you have to keep buying, you have to keep working. In today’s developed world, we have far more than our parents did, yet we still continue to slave away, even massively increasing our debts to own more and more.
Essentially, all we really need is:
- Clean Water - Food - Shelter - Basic Clothing
Secondary needs are:
- Consumables - Electricity - Comm infrastructure - Transportation
At some point in the not-so-distant future, somewhere on planet Earth…
Beta Bogdanovsky’s Italian Cācio-model translator spoke with a decidedly male monotone, and had the vocabulary, albeit in 13 languages, of a 3rd grader. Her dog’s translator was nearly as well spoken. Then again, Tóse was a smart dog, an Illyrian sheepdog whose eyes expressed more care than those of most people, and he almost certainly had the capacity to communicate on levels beyond the short sentences programmed into his collar.
“Iz vee NEH tuh,” she said in Bulgarian to a rotund bearded man blocking access to the window seat next to him. A roundish silver and gold box hung from a beaded chain around her neck, and a small bas-relief profile of the Roman god Mercury spoke the Greek, “Syghnomi.”
The man’s posture shifted to make way even before he looked up, and when he did lift his head he was eye to eye with Tóse. Expressionlessly he made a symbolic attempt to scoot his plastic bags out of the aisle, and Beta sided into the seat, setting her gear on the floor between her feet. Tóse sat on his haunches in front of them both. Beta wondered why it was that people could not seem to rein it in in crowded public places and on trains.
As the ARMA Speed Tram pulled away from the passenger bay, the lights in the tramcar faded slightly as they always did between stations, and Beta closed her eyes and relaxed her neck, as she always did when she was commuting. Bitoli was five stops from the sea, as the tram tunneled through the Korab and Pindus Mountains, and then there were six more on the other side of the water before reaching Monopoli. This trip would be an opportunity to shut her eyes for approximately 2 hours, which was a very good thing, because Beta’s eyes were very tired.