Creating the God Globe

Creating the God Globe

 

In 1998, a column I wrote for The Futurist Magazine took issue with the state of computer displays. Viewing the vast and growing Internet through a little square box on our desk was, in my opinion, the equivalent of watching a baseball game through a knothole.

As a solution, I proposed we experiment with a variety of different shapes for displays starting with my favorite, a spherical display, well suited for viewing global activities ranging from travel itineraries, to animal migrations, to pollution flows, to weather patterns.

Even today, fifteen years later, we still find ourselves viewing the online world with primitive 2-dimensional flat displays. So when I heard about one satellite company’s vision for developing a real-time globe, with up to the minute live video feeds of virtually every square inch on earth, naturally it caught my attention.

It wasn’t just the spherical displays or video feeds of the earth that peaked my imagination, but the overall convergence of data. The number of sensory devices monitoring the earth is about to explode, and it occurred to me that a cross-pollination of data flows will radically alter our way of life.

  • Satellites monitoring the earth will grow from thousands to millions.
  • Embedded sensors will grow from billions to trillions.
  • Street cams, smartphones, wearables, and other connected “things” will grow from billions to trillions.
  • The amount of data generated will burst from petabytes, to exabytes, to zettabytes, to yottabytes.

Our growing number of data-generating devices will vividly increase awareness of the world around us. Increased awareness improves our ability to predict, and superior predictability will lead to greater control. Super awareness gives us the ability to pinpoint critical inflection points, and make changes before something serious happens.

But to do this, we will need a master command center strategically positioned at heart of this data streaming activity. As a way to visually imagine what this will look like, think of all global data streaming through one master console with a giant spherical display used to monitor it.

Yes, it will very likely unfold in a far different fashion than this, but I’d like to take you along on a journey into a scenario I call the “God Globe,” where we form a master command center for planet earth, and for the first time ever, begin to control nature’s greatest forces.

The Network Effect of Information

Crossing the streams is bad. We all learned this lesson in the movie Ghostbusters, but then they proceeded to do it anyway.

Most of the tech world has been defined by what has been called the “network effect,” a combined tech-social-business phenomenon defined by exponentially greater levels of value and influence associated with the number of people in a given network.

Companies like Apple, Facebook, Microsoft, eBay, and PayPal, have each soared to multi-billion-dollar valuations by leveraging the power of the network effect.

But what happens when data streams begin to cross-pollinate with other data streams. As an example, when video feeds from satellites get overlaid with sensor data on the ground, the resulting information suddenly contains exponentially greater value.

Each layer of information that gets added to the mix will give us far more ways of understanding how the world functions, extracting details, and even spotting the tiniest point of when and where something has changed.

In Search of Anomaly Zero

Anomaly Zero is a term I use for the theoretical earliest possible point where problems can be detected.

Whenever an anomaly occurs, it becomes an inflection point for change. If problems can be detected early enough, stopping them or altering their direction is easy.

For example, when a forest fire first begins, it’s relatively easy to put out the flames when it only covers a few square feet. Once it grows in size to several acres, typically the point where we spot it today, it becomes far more difficult to contain.

This applies to both human-based problems as well as the ones created by the forces of nature. So when relationships between counties or organizations begins to sour, red flags will instantly alert those monitoring the God Globe.

Once we have the ability to detect “anomaly zero,” we suddenly have the power to stop major catastrophes like wars, hurricanes, tornadoes, and major uprisings long before they get out of control and grow to full intensity.

Forming a Global Data Exchange

Real-time data feeds can be quite valuable if the information is accurate, dependable, and significant. But it becomes even more valuable when it’s combined with other feeds.

Data feeds today are hard to track down, and for the provider, hard to monetize. Every deal that’s cut is a one-off arrangement with wildly different terms and pricing schemes.

Sometime over the next few years, an enterprising entrepreneur will devise a service for both gathering and selling data feeds, with payment splits structured to compensate both the producers as well as those operating the exchange..

Think of it as YouTube, or maybe Spotify, for streaming data, only with a fair and standardized compensation plan.

This will likely start as a cottage industry, with hackers devising ingenious ways for unearthing new data streams, creating significant passive income along the way.

As an example, if a Mercedes mechanic takes it upon himself to add a series of 12 sensors to every vehicle he works on, he will create a unique data stream that he controls, one that many companies would be interested in subscribing to it.

But it’s more complicated than that. Each of the sensors would have to be placed in the exact same place on every vehicle, with the same level of accuracy. The data would have to be consistent, reliable, and somehow authenticated. Think in terms of adding a reputation management system to every one of these data streams.

At the same time, as technology improves, these data streams will have a limited shelf life. Over time, old ones will be replaced with newer ones, and what will likely start out as a cottage industry, will quickly turn into big business.

Creating the God Globe

In addition to the obvious business applications that come from an information convergence like this, there will be many “global governance” opportunities that also come to light.

Again, for the purpose of this scenario, I’m envisioning a major global command center with a giant spherical display as a way to represent information geographically. Hence the name – God Globe.

With nearly infinite levels of detail available on the globe-screen, whenever an anomaly occurs, the team would first isolate and zoom in on the problem. Once the problem is understood, corrective actions will be put into play.

As an example, if weather conditions suddenly change near a heavily populated area, the God Globe will instantly calculate early-stage formation of a hurricane and map out the path it will be taking.

This information will in turn cause corrective actions to begin involving everything from redirecting space-based solar arrays to heat ocean waters, to fighter jet flyovers to disrupt airflow, to sonar cannons being used to blast cloud formations.

Since the very early stages of hurricane formation are easily disrupted, simple actions like this can have a profound effect. After each intervention attempt, the action will be automatically reviewed by the God Globe to determine if its been effective.

If we can solve problems before they occur, don't we have a moral obligation to do so?

"If we can solve problems before they occur,
don't we have a moral obligation to do so?"

Final Thoughts

One of the most important features of the Internet, that rarely gets discussed, is the heightened level of awareness it has afforded us. But we’ve only scratched the surface of where it will eventually take us.

Over time, we will be able to use this added awareness to halt some very negative things from happening. In this context it becomes easy to visualize a far better early warning system for detecting:

  • Natural Disasters
  • Corruption
  • Health Issues
  • Disease Outbreaks
  • Infrastructure Failures
  • Environmental Dangers
  • Deviant Behavior
  • Much more

When it comes to spotting deviant behavior, we have the potential for intervening and removing the worst of the worst very quickly.

As awareness grows, so will our ability to predict, and once we can better predict, it becomes money well spent to intervene. Spending $1 million on an intervention could easily eliminate the billions it takes to clean up afterwards.

Some of you may be inclined to brush this off as little more than a scene from some future science fiction novel. But the potential for solving major problems seems far too important to ignore.

So please, let me know your thoughts on this matter. Is it realistic to think we will have a God Globe in our future? And if so, who pays for it, controls it, and who is in charge of curbing potential abuses?

By Futurist Thomas Frey

Author of “Communicating with the Future” – the book that changes everything

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22 Responses

  1. Tom, Enigma (www.enigma.io)is a new service that is bringing together thousands of public databases and normalizing the data for resale. This new service fits into the development of the God Globe you describe.

  2. Jay Swartz

    This sounds like it could be an extension of Google Earth, and a likely direction for Google to continue heading.

    As with all powerful technologies, this level of detailed knowledge will need mechanisms to prevent abuse. For example, once you can reliably stop natural disasters you will likely have the ability to start one.

  3. Gavin

    Needs a name change and a good PR firm. Unless its for your secret lair Thomas.

    I agree with you Thomas this is where data is going and hopefully it will be a good place.

    Society needs to open up about itself so it can improve the environment, personal interactions and relationships.

    I had the idea for example an AI would monitor peoples mental health formally every month. If they needed help with stress, maybe marriage counseling or the many other problems humans face the AI would pre-empt the problems and genuinely help. Think about the drop in murders, suicides, bullying and abuse etc.

  4. Christopher Imhof

    Mr. Frey,
    Love the article – my father-in-law – Dr. Alexander “Sandy” MacDonald head of NOAA climate systems in Boulder Colorado, is the inventor of “Science on a Sphere” the projected earth systems you see in many museums like the Smithsonian today. When he was first working on it, he wanted to create a tool that one could see climate on an a sphere, seeing a larger perspective of systems instead of what was viewed on a flat 2 dimensional screen. Since it was first launched, hundreds of programs have been written to show everything from the tracing of airline transportation on a daily basis – to a depiction of human migration over time. I think your ideas for the “God Globe” are spot on and a way to make such a thing available to everyone is key to making the greatest impact!

  5. FuturistSpeaker

    Jay,

    You’re absolutely correct. Countries could even use hurricanes, tornadoes, and earthquakes to destroy their enemies. The potential for abuse is very high.

    Thomas Frey

  6. The good news is that the “God Globe” will be very helpful with things like forest fires and traffic jams. The bad news is that to monitor “deviant behavior” someone will have to define the term. For instance, is voting “independent” a form of deviance? The God Globe sure looks like the end of privacy.

    Peter G. Miller
    http://www.OurBroker.com

  7. FuturistSpeaker

    Ray,

    Thanks for filling me in on Enigma. Another one I just learned about is Space Curve (http://spacecurve.com/) built for real-time big data. I’m sure there are others as well, but we’re just getting started.

    Thomas Frey

  8. FuturistSpeaker

    Gavin,

    How did you know about my secret lair?

    You’re right about the benefits of a more open society, but the black-hacker mindset is still alive and well and living in the online world. We need a good system to assure protection before this can be totally unleashed.

    Thomas Frey

  9. FuturistSpeaker

    Christopher,

    Thanks for filling me in on the “Science on a Sphere” project. Terrific idea and I’ve seen some of the early versions of it. With more real-time data and greater connection speeds, its capabilities should grow exponentially. Can’t wait to see what it will look like 10 years from now.

    Thomas Frey

  10. FuturistSpeaker

    Peter,

    Good point. In fact we’ll even have to define “normal” and how many standard deviation point we can vere to the left or to the right and still fall into the “normal” range.

    Not sure if it will mean the total death of privacy, but keeping secrets will definitely be a challenge in the years ahead.

    Thomas Frey

  11. Bryan

    Thomas,

    All the data and potential sounds like a huge candy store for those of us who salivate at the opportunity to identify and utilize information relationships. But a few major hurdles:

    1. People don’t really get along. Spotting a war about to start would mean being privy to malevolent or grandiose thought and conversation on the part of the overambitious or overly greedy. Will you monitor the machinations of Mr. Putin to detect the tipping point when his interference in Georgia goes from thought and plot to actual war? The list of examples is only limited by the extent of our knowledge of history.

    2. Are you sure you want to control the weather? On a very crass level, have you seen (I know you have) Bruce Almighty? I realize that we have much that will be learned in coming years, but call me a skeptic.

    3. Do you want a ruler of earth, whether individual or council? Whomever would control the God globe would rule the earth. I certainly prefer local input and determination. Our current federal is already overbearing for just our country, let alone every country.

    4. Sensors every few square inches would certainly obliterate any of the semblance of privacy we currently cherish. Just the potential for monitoring inherent in the move to “smart” clothes and connected appliances should give pause to anyone concerned about access to personal information. What happens when the state health department dictates the proper diet for diabetics, all for the greater good by virtue of lowering the cost of healthcare? All too easy to monitor our food purchases to determine if we’re cooperating. In fact the NSA today could direct it’s resources to monitor the word “sugar” to begin identifying those most at risk to ruin their health. To think humankind is so inherently responsible as to exercise restraint when presented with such opportunity for dictating control is refuted daily in the news.

    When all is said and done, many thanks to you for your work and all the food for thought.

    Bryan Tillman

  12. Christina

    NO! NO! NO! Sorry Tom. No vote from me for controlling this generation or any to come. History is full of wonderful courageous souls (always the minority and deviant or as you indicate – cottage cheese) who defeated the world order systems(not from God) antisipated in this writing. Thanks for letting us know how ordinary people could be turned into puppets of the “rich and famous”. If it wasn’t for cottage cheese woman would not have been able to vote yet. Don’t be fooled. It sound good but the effects will be lethal.

  13. Mark

    Thanks Tom–an interesting read, as usual. The question is not one of if but only of when something like this is put in place. The prospect is a little unsettling to me when considering who might control such power. We live in an age where science is denied if it doesn’t conform to a particular religeous or political agenda; short term “benefit” is chosen over the long term right or sustainable choice. The potential for positive results is tantilizing, but the dark side, the very real, large and looming downside potential of this equation is staggering.

  14. Charles Sorensson

    Another great read Thomas!

    In this thread, I find myself surprisingly down-to-earth. This morning in our paper I read of the lady whose old truck was stolen. She posted the picture of the truck on facebook and, through her friends, caught up with the thief and truck 3 times before the police urged her to stop and let them do their job. My point is – this IS happening (and the police are going to have to mull over its consequences).

    Could the this concept be applied to the study of ecosystems? When I visited Panama as a guest scientst, I heard of a German fellow who did his Ph.D. research by living for two years high up in a tree on Barro Colorado Island, Panama (under auspices of the Smithsonian). As much as he undoubtedly learned, wasn’t his perspective just a tad myopic compared to the world you envision Thomas?

    I could imagine a future high school science class watching in real time the progression of a particular animal through the rain forest… and when a poacher or illegal logger comes into view – watch what happens next!

  15. So Tom, what might the picture look like if the real issue is that our human intellectual capacity to conceive an all knowing god (globe) far outstrips our ability to even remotely emulate its omnipotence, and our real salvation lies in copying the swarming tactics of ants or bees?

  16. Brian

    Thomas,

    There is nothing more inspiring than the future potentials you are talking about, especially the concept of “Anomaly Zero.”

    Over 60 years ago Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, a Jesuit priest, paleontologist and geologist (put those together) predicted a “Noosphere”–A single-thinking planetary layer that would bring together all knowledge in order to elevate us above our global challenges. I suggest to anyone who is inspired by the unifying, humanitarian potentials of the Web to dig deep into his words.

    In terms of Anomaly Zero, I believe this can be achieved through what has been referred to as “zero-degree of separation” which, in my opinion, will also represent “The Semantic Web.”

    With zero-degree of separation–between people and information resources that matter the most, i.e. The Semantic Web–peoples values and needs/problems and solutions would naturally self-organize.

  17. FuturistSpeaker

    Paul,

    Great question. There are many critical junctures along the way where this scenario can get derailed, with our fight for privacy being one of them. And if we ever get to the point of detecting Anomaly Zero, our desire to control things like hurricanes, wars, and earthquakes, may only result in a worse situation with super calamities.

    The law of unintended consequences is alive and well and living inside our best intentions.

    Thomas Frey

  18. FuturistSpeaker

    Mark,

    Some great comments here. The issue of control will indeed be a major one to contend with. Many checks and balance systems need to be put into place and they may still come up short.

    Is it worth the risk? Only time will tell.

    Thomas Frey

  19. God Globe with the purpose of using data to prevent wars/ conflicts and disasters that cost innocent lives is good. Money is not important here. Might not even be relevant when the time comes. But If it is a possible future project than we would all ‘chip-in’. Whether it may be B through sharing knowledge and/ or data.

    Control? That would be either humans or through AI or a mix of both.

    When the ‘God Globe’ is misused by manipulating/ extracting data for other than the preventive purpose of data consumption. It could really turn into a Death Star that needs to be destroyed.
    Than we would have to return to living by the Laws of nature instead of Law of man.

  20. Daniel Nathaniel

    I am reminded of Buckminster Fuller’s Geoscope and World Game combined.

  21. AJ

    Preventing wars/conflicts/disasters/crime (I’m assuming that’s what is meant by deviant behavior) sounds fabulous but it’s a false hope. Even if you could predict all these things to some degree of accuracy, the “solution” could be worse than the original problem as mentioned above (Minority Report and Gattaca – two great movies that explore this subject). It really boggles my mind to think of how many rights would have to be trampled in the name of protection.

    Thanks, but I’ll pass on the nanny-state. This comes down to control and power over “the masses” wrapped in a nice package with lots of pretty promises. The reality is “Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” -Baron Acton Which of course leads to “All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.” -George Orwell

    I also found it interesting in your article on 162 jobs for the future you listed “Fear Containment Manager” under the god globe section. If you need “fear containment” than there probably is a whole lot of fear in the average population and a percentage of that probably has good reason for the fear. Because if we look at this through the lens of history – what happens to those who dissent and don’t agree with this whole concept (which would require participation by all)? Those that wish to be “off the grid” as it were. Well, the same thing that’s always happened…they are elminated or “re-educated.”

  22. Thomas

    As cool an idea this is, it seems extremely usable in military action and in my opinion, there are very few things keeping the NSA from taking this over and continuously stalking us.

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