The Singularity and Our Collision Path with the Future

Posted by FuturistSpeaker on April 17th, 2014

Google’s Director of Engineering, Ray Kurzweil, has predicted that we will reach a technological singularity by 2045, and science fiction writer Vernor Vinge is betting on 2029, a date that is ironically on the hundredth anniversary of the greatest stock market collapse in human history.

But where the 1929 crash catapulted us backwards into a more primitive form of human chaos, the singularity promises to catapult us forward into a future form of human enlightenment.

The person who coined the term “singularity” in this context was mathematician John von Neumann. In a 1958 interview, von Neumann described the “ever accelerating progress of technology and changes in the mode of human life, which gives the appearance of approaching some essential singularity in the history of the race beyond which human affairs, as we know them, can not continue.”

Since that first cryptic mention half a century ago, people like Vernor Vinge and Ray Kurzweil have begun focusing in on the exponential growth of artificial intelligence, as a Moore’s Law type of advancement, until we develop superintelligent entities with decision-making abilities far beyond our ability to understand them.

Cloaked in this air of malleable mystery, Hollywood has taken license to cast the singularity as everything from the ultimate boogeyman to the penultimate savior of humanity.

Adding to these prophecies are a number of fascinating trend lines that give credence to these predictions. In addition to our ever-growing awareness of the world around us brought on by social media and escalating rates of digital innovations, human intelligence shows a continued rise, every decade, since IQ tests were first invented in the 1930s, a phenomenon known as the Flynn Effect.

We all know intuitively that something is happening. IBM’s Watson just beat the best of the best at their own game, Jeopardy. With computers beginning to generate their own algorithms, and more cameras adding eyes for the Internet to “see,” amazing things are beginning to happen.

Tech writer Robert Cringely predicts, “A decade from now computer vision will be seeing things we can’t even understand, like dogs sniffing cancer today.”

So what happens when we lose our ability to understand what comes next?

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Which Requires More Faith, Science or Religion?

Posted by FuturistSpeaker on April 10th, 2014

For the past several months I’ve been wrestling with this topic, and how to discuss it from a centrist viewpoint.

In an era where the science vs. religion debate has become an increasingly polarizing issue, we see both sides using their own brand of logic as the weapon of choice to gain what they assume will be the higher moral ground.

There are no “separation of church and state” policies between science and religion. They struggle to coexist.

In many respects, the battle between them has denigrated into a “my logic is better than you logic,” arguments when in reality, there are more than enough foibles to go around. 

Religion isn’t going away just because some elite scientists say it doesn’t make sense, and science isn’t going to change just because it flies in the face of church doctrine. 

No, there hasn’t been anyone put to death because they believed in gravity, although Galileo came very close. And yes, holy wars are the cause of much of the world’s strife and the number of people who have died or been abused in the name of religion are more numerous than any plague.

Even though they employ radically different approaches, both science and religion offer the promise of a better future ahead. They offer hope. And inside each of these promises of hope is a subtle, and sometimes not-so-subtle, request to have faith.

Faith is what bridges the gap between what we know and where we hope to be going. Faith helps us connect cause and effect, bad decisions with good intentions, and everything we think and hope to be true.

Most of our decisions in life have some degree of faith hovering in the background, and science is no exception.

The reason I feel this is such an important topic is because much of our future is being formed at the intersection of science and religion. So join me as we explore bridging the chasm between the here and now and what comes next, and that innocent little thing we call faith.

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The Great Barrier Backlash

Posted by FuturistSpeaker on April 3rd, 2014

My wife Deb and I just returned from a weeklong trip to South Korea where much of our travel inside the country involved riding on the high-speed KTX Train (Korean Transit eXpress) from city to city.

The train is designed for speeds up to 350 km/h (217 mph), but currently tops out at 190 mph. Our final trip from Changwon City in the southern tip of Korea to Seoul in the far north took just 3 hours.

The entire country is 20% smaller than my home state of Colorado, but has a population of over 50 million people, greater than California, Arizona, and Colorado combined.

KTX trains are amazingly efficient with each stop lasting only 3-5 minutes and hundreds of people getting on and off at each stop. Compared to the nightmare that airports have become, where the minimum time between a plane landing and takeoff is well over an hour, and highways that slow to a crawl during most of the day, these trains are breaking down barriers of time and distance all across Korea.

Next month, KTX will connect Seoul’s Incheon Airport with the rest of its network.

Their system works because it has broken down all the barriers – no security lines, no stoplights, no traffic cops, no passport checks or customs stations, just lightning fast trains.

In addition to high-speed trains, they are known for their high-speed networks. South Korea is also rolling out a 5G network in 2017, which is 1,000 times faster than today’s 4G LTE networks.

Yes, it helps to be a small country geographically. But pushing the limits on both transportation and Internet speeds, combined with reducing barriers along the way, makes for a potent combination.

Here’s why global competitiveness and emerging technology are forcing the hands of nearly every country to rid themselves of unnecessary barriers, something I call the Great Barrier Backlash.

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The Next Bold Step in Transportation: Personal Rapid Transit Systems

Posted by FuturistSpeaker on March 12th, 2014

Throughout history, speed has been synonymous with greatness. In sports, those who ran the fastest were heroes. In times of war, those with the fastest chariots, ships, planes, and weapons had a significant advantage. In the business world, a company’s competitive edge has typically been formed around speed – quickest delivery, fastest transaction times, or speed of information.

With the aid of technology, we’ve found ways to speed up communications – voice, text, email, social networking, and even delivery systems. But we’ve only been able to achieve minor advances in the speed of physically traveling somewhere.

As we look closely at the advances over the past couple decades, it’s easy to see that we are on the precipices of a dramatic breakthrough in ultra high-speed transportation. Businesses are demanding it. People are demanding it. And the only things standing in our way are a few people capable of mustering the political will to make it happen.

The change we’re alluding to is the introduction of large scale Personal Rapid Transit Systems (PRTs).

So how do changes like this ramp up to a global scale? The same way they always have, with a few unreasonable people, proposing unreasonable concepts enough times until it stops sounding unreasonable.

Currently four thought leaders are leading the charge for PRTs, each proposing a different solution to the world’s growing transportation problems – Elon Musk, founder of Hyperloop; Jerry Sanders, CEO of Skytran; Bill James, CEO of Jpods; and Daryl Oster, CEO of ET3.

The following is an explanation of what’s driving the need for PRTs and why they’re the logical next step in human and cargo transport.

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Passing the Fortune Cookie Test

Posted by FuturistSpeaker on March 6th, 2014

Yesterday my wife Deb and I had lunch at one of our favorite Chinese restaurants, and afterwards we’re given the typical fortune cookies that come with the bill. Jokingly I broke open the first one and asked, “I wonder if it’d be possible to create a real fortune sometime in the future and put it into these cookies?”

Naturally Deb gave me the standard “not again” look that I often get when asking weird questions like this.

I quickly countered with, “If someone were to combine information from smartphones and a few Internet of Things devices and tied it into an anticipatory computing algorithm, it might be possible to spit out some meaningful predictions.” 

Just when she was about to change the subject because she saw that I was about to enter brainstorming mode and she wanted no part of it, I added, “Maybe I should have gotten a fortune cookie that predicted I was about to invent the ultimate fortune cookie!”

It was at this point that she made the hand gesture that she wanted to strangle herself. That was her way of saying it may be a good idea but she had too much workload to entertain some random thoughts that would distract her from the all important task of balancing our checkbooks once we got back to the office.

It occurred to me that she would have thought differently if she’d gotten a fortune cookie telling her that balancing the checkbook was far less important than helping me with my idea, but I decided there are times when silence is the better course of action.

Those of you who know Deb will find it amazing that she and I could actually have a one-minute conversation without her saying anything, but I can remember one other time.

And so it was that I became sucked into the world of fortune cookies as I attempted to move this ancient delicacy into the digital age.

First a disclaimer. This is not an attempt to reinvent the fortune cookie industry (yes it is), or rid the world of badly written fortunes (all fortune cookie writers must have failed kindergarten), or even an excuse for me to eat more of them (I’m on my 2nd bag now). Rather, my goal is to show how the coming digital age will permeate even century old industries like fortune cookies (no it won’t) (yes it will). 

If only I had a cookie that could end all these arguments! Anyway, here are some thoughts on creating the ultimate fortune cookie.

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A Journey into the Land of Epiphany

Posted by FuturistSpeaker on February 28th, 2014

I’ve always loved ideas and I think it stems from the fact that I’ve had so many to choose from. But it wasn’t about the sheer number of ideas I got to play with. Rather it was finding that one truly remarkable gem, the golden epiphany, hiding in amongst the others.

It’s hard to explain the epiphany experience, but it’s a euphoric high unlike anything else. Some have described it as “a orchestra from on high,” “a sudden realization,” “a epic breakthrough of the mind,” “an orgasm of the brain,” or “that Eureka moment!”

For me, I’ve become an epiphany junkie, always in search of the next great revelation. But there’s a big difference between a minor epiphany and what I refer to as a full category five epiphany – a mass-spectrographic, isotopic, double quad-turbo, full blown epiphany.

These are the ones people give half their kingdom for, but being part of the frequent-flier crowd for epiphanies, I’ve had the honor of dancing with them on a daily basis.

While this may sound like a braggadocios statement, rest assured, behind every idea junkie is a tortured soul. Every seismic shift in thinking is often preceded by days, months, even years of intellectual frustration waiting not-so-patiently for the next lightning strike to occur.

The epiphany phenomenon is also behind much of the surge in coffee and energy drink sales because caffeine and other stimulants can indeed trigger an “epiphanous” reaction. 

For this reason I’d like to take you along on own journey into the land of epiphanies, and offer you some rare insights into this mysterious world.

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The Disruptive Nature of the Sharing Economy: Finding the Next Great Opportunities

Posted by FuturistSpeaker on February 1st, 2014

Many of us suffer from a sinister and often contagious disorder, something I call just-in-case disease.

We own toolboxes full of tools, just in case we need to fix something. We have kitchens full of appliances just in case we want to prepare a meal. We have cars in our garages just in case we need to go somewhere. We even have closets full of clothes we know we’ll never wear just in case we get desperate.

Wealthy people suffer from an even more extreme form of just-in-case disease. They own yachts, summer homes, extra cars, fancy jewelry, snowmobiles, and even private islands just in case they need something to keep them entertained.

Many of these items are hugely valuable assets that only get used occasionally. In the grand scheme of things, they represent an incredible waste of natural resources – hardware, buildings, real estate, equipment, and art – all sitting around collecting dust.

We’ve all become stuffaholics, addicted to more, more, and don’t-stand-in-my-way because I want more!

When it comes time to get rid of our stuff, we suffer from another affliction, separation anxiety. When it comes time to say goodbye to our stuff, we find ways to avoid giving it the death sentence and actually throwing it away. 

As a result of our separation anxiety, we’ve created a massive self-storage industry to “age our stuff” just a bit longer. In the U.S. alone we have over 2.3 billion square feet of rentable storage space.

Nigel Marsh sums it up well when he says, “There are thousands and thousands of people out there leading lives of quiet, screaming desperation, where they work long, hard hours at jobs they hate to enable them to buy things they don’t need to impress people they don’t like.”

There is, however, a cure for this ailment, and its called the “sharing economy.” 

The sharing economy is creating some amazing business models around the use of “other people’s stuff.” Here’s why it will be such a disruptive force in our future, and some of the next great opportunities in this space.

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Nature is Not Human-Centric

Posted by FuturistSpeaker on January 22nd, 2014

At a recent event I posed the question, “Is the intelligence of nature greater than the intelligence of humans?”

After pondering this question, the audience responded with a mixture of “there is no intelligence in nature,” and “nature is not an entity with a singular intelligence.”

So exactly what is thing we call nature, and why do we hold it in such high regard? 

One of my pet peeves with the food industry has been the association of “all natural” with “good for you.”

Not everything found in nature is good for you. Things like poison ivy, hemlock, chrysanthemums, and rhododendrons are poisonous. Weather events such as tornadoes, hurricanes, and hailstorms can also be massively destructive. Even viruses and diseases can be considered “natural.”

Yes, we all know these things, but there remains a pervasive notion that nature has it right.

Nature didn’t have it right when it came to the woolly mammoth, the dodo bird, or the saber tooth tiger. Nor did it have it right for the Aztecs, Incas, or the Anasazi. 

Nature is neither our friend nor our enemy.

If something is considered part of nature, it generally refers to the phenomena of the physical world, and also to life in general. It ranges in scale from the subatomic to the cosmic.

But it’s critical to frame our thinking around the fact that nature is not human-centric. Here’s why that’s important.

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Eight Reason Why Future Computers will make better Decisions than Doctors

Posted by FuturistSpeaker on January 5th, 2014

…and eight reasons why we will still need doctors 

“2014 will be the year the ’quantified self’ goes mainstream.” Those were the words Silicon Valley prodigy Marc Andreessen used in a recent article to describe changes about to happen to American healthcare. 

The ‘quantified self,’ also known as lifelogging, is a trend toward gathering all possible data about our daily life, such as the food we eat, quality of the air we inhale, our mood, oxygen levels, as well as our physical and mental performance.

So what if you could cut your number of sick days by 80%, sleep better at night, be more alert, more efficient at work, and still have plenty of energy left for family and friends at the end of a busy day?

As we add an increasingly large number of sensors to our bodies and the world around us, our understanding of cause-and-effect health issues will grow exponentially.

This movement combines smart devices and the Internet of Things with health monitoring apps to give us a better idea of how to optimize virtually every metric associated with our lifestyle, health, and physical performance.

We are on the verge of crossing over from science hype to science reality, with the prospects of creating a tremendous upside. Yes, there will be more than a few battles fought along the way between doctors and health industry executives, but in the end, it doesn’t have to be a win-lose situation. Here’s why. 

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Top 13 ‘Futurist Speaker’ Columns in 2013

Posted by FuturistSpeaker on December 30th, 2013

2013 has been a year of considerable change for both me and the rest of our team at the DaVinci Institute. While most of what you see here on Futurist Speaker is about my research, thinking, and philosophy on the future, I thought this might be a good time to step back and fill you in on the people behind everything you’re reading.

The core staff at the Institute consists of Deb Frey (my wife), Jan Wagner, Nancy Slattery, and Steve Campbell. This is a truly amazing team working on all of the crazy projects we come up with, and we always seem to have something new lurking around every corner.

Last year we launched DaVinci Coders to teach those wanting to switch careers the fine art of programming. DaVinci Coders is what I’ve termed a Micro College because it’s oriented around immersive training done in the least possible time. And it’s been very successful. Our instructors, Daniel Stutzman and Jason Noble, are two of the best Ruby on Rails teachers in the world. Joining the team in 2014 will be Dave Woodall, a very talented instructor who will be focused on our newest course in HTML5, CSS3, and jQuery.

Earlier this year I worked with one of our Senior Fellows, Michael Cushman, to launch Vizionarium, a consulting arm of the DaVinci Institute focused on working with companies to develop Blue Ocean Strategies, or as we’ve termed it, Blue Ocean Futures. For those looking to reorient their business products and services around the needs of the future, we have an unusual process to help you uncover where you need to be.

As a professional speaker, my talks have taken me all over the world, and in the past couple years I’ve been to Moscow, Shanghai, Melbourne, Auckland, Sydney, Puerto Rico, Istanbul, Toronto, Brisbane, Vancouver, Seoul, and far too many places in the U.S. and Canada to list here. I’ve shared the stage with some amazing people at some amazing companies. While I do have some speaking topics listed, every talk is custom tailored to the audience I’m working with. I love working on unusual topics, provided they fall with my main focus of “technology-driven change.”

In 2014, I will be releasing my newest book. Much of the content for my book has been percolating inside my weekly columns on Futurist Speaker. Over the past year, these columns have touched a wide range of topics from future jobs, to future crimes, to futurist thinking. Some have attracted considerable attention, but others not so much.

With this brief into, let’s take a look at the most popular columns from 2013.

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