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 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 science fiction writer 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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162 Future Jobs: Preparing for Jobs that Don’t Yet Exist

Posted by FuturistSpeaker on March 21st, 2014

Last week I was speaking at an event in Istanbul. As usual, once I landed at the airport, I made my way to the customs area where I was greeted by no fewer than 1,000 people in line ahead of me.

Long lines in airport customs is not unusual. But as I waded through this 45-minute process I couldn’t help but do some mental calculations surrounding the massive waste of human capital throughout this whole process. Since there were two separate customs areas at the Istanbul airport, my rough calculations came out to well over 10 million man-hours a year wasted at this one single airport.

It’s not unusual for governments to waste people’s time over what they like to phrase as “the greater good.” However, this entire security process will eventually be automated down to a fraction of the time it takes today, eliminating the need for over 90% of all customs agents.

The same goes for TSA-like security agents on the front end of airports. Within the next decade, 90% of those jobs will be gone as well. All of them, automated out of existence.

A recent article in The Economist quotes Bill Gates as saying at least a dozen job types will be taken over by robots and automation in the next two decades, and these jobs cover both high-paying and low-skilled workers. Some of the positions he mentioned were commercial pilots, legal work, technical writing, telemarketers, accountants, retail workers, and real estate sales agents.

Indeed, as I’ve predicted before, by 2030 over 2 billion jobs will disappear. Again, this is not a doom and gloom prediction, rather a wakeup call for the world.

Will we run out of work for the world? Of course not. Nothing is more preposterous than to somehow proclaim the human race no longer has any work left to do. But having paid jobs to coincide with the work that needs to be done, and developing the skills necessary for future work is another matter.

Our goal needs to be focused on the catalytic innovations that create entirely new industries, and these new industries will serve as the engines of future job creation, unlike anything in all history.

I have written in the past about future industries. This time I’d like to focus on many of the future jobs within these industries that currently don’t exist.

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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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Creating the God Globe

Posted by FuturistSpeaker on February 19th, 2014

 

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.

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Why the Tiny Home Movement May Not be So Tiny

Posted by FuturistSpeaker on February 13th, 2014

Tiny Homes – Redefining the simple life 

Most of us hate feeling cramped. We hate being stuck on a crowded plane, stuck in congested traffic, and wading through packed concert halls. We like to be able to stretch out, get casual, and relax, but we can’t do that when people are invading our space.

Over the past century, space has become synonymous with wealth, status, and luxury. Naturally the most important people have the biggest houses, biggest cars, biggest boats, and work at the biggest corporations.

In 1900, the average house in the U.S. was a mere 700 sq. ft. with an average of 4.6 people living inside. A hundred years later, the average home had mushroomed to 2,500 sq. ft. with only 2.5 residents.

As a society we’re caught up in a self-perpetuating make-money-spend-money loop that blinds us to other possibilities. We’ve been in a race to the top and a tremendous number of service organizations have cropped up that both heighten our fear of missing out and provide quick financing to buy the “good life” today with tomorrow’s money.

But the recent recession delivered a sobering gut-check to life as usual. Easy money has caused housing prices to spiral out of control, and all of the things we thought were so important, suddenly became less so.

Out of this has sprung a low carbon living crusade as a natural follow-on to the green and renewable energy movements. But it tends to be less about solving the world’s ills and more about people taking control of their own destiny.

At the heart of this movement are a new breed of tiny homes that are comfortable, efficient, often portable, and most important, mortgage free. They represent freedom, freedom from debt, freedom from conspicuous consumption, and freedom to live a life of passion.

Here’s why the tiny home movement is likely to be far more than a tiny blip on the radar screen of change.

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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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The Quantified Self, the Great College Killer

Posted by FuturistSpeaker on January 14th, 2014

Who are you as an individual? 

As part of a family, you are measured by your domestic life and the relatives closest to you. As a prospective employee, you are evaluated by your skills, talents, and knowledge. As part of a community, you are gauged by the kind of relationships you build and maintain. As an athlete you are assessed by your physical strengths, your reaction times, and your determination.

Whatever kind of lens or filter we place over our lives we use different systems for measuring those key differentiators. And while we all think we are the world’s foremost expert on ourselves, we actually know very little.

That’s about to change.

The Internet of Things is already comprised of over 10 billion moving parts, and by 2020 that number will grow to over 50 billion.

These “things” have a way of gathering information about ourselves in ways we never imagined were possible. Not only will we be able to monitor the quantity and quality of food we eat, the air we breath, and our daily activities, but we will also be tracking the information we consume, our moods, our level of engagement, and what undertakings we find most stimulating.

In addition to charting the normal inputs and outputs for our mind and body, we will also be evaluating the context in which we exist. Whether it’s an emotional context, environmental context, or spiritual context, each plays an important role in determining who we are. In the future, it all becomes measurable. 

The “quantified self” is all about building a vast and measurable information sphere around us. As we get better acquainted with the Delphic maxim “know thyself,” we will become far more aware of our deficiencies and the pieces of learning needed to shore up our shortfalls. And that’s why this will have such a tremendous impact on colleges.

Compensating for these deficiencies won’t be about getting bachelor or master degrees. Rather, they will be about gaining experiences, reading books, meeting people, or working as an apprentice. At most, it will be about taking 1-2 courses at a university, but not an entire degree package. Here’s why. 

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