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?

Read the rest of this entry »

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.

Read the rest of this entry »

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.

Read the rest of this entry »

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.

Read the rest of this entry »

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. 

Read the rest of this entry »

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.

Read the rest of this entry »

33 Dramatic Predictions for 2030

Posted by FuturistSpeaker on December 18th, 2013

Humanity will change more in the next 20 years than in all of human history.

By 2030 the average person in the U.S. will have 4.5 packages a week delivered with flying drones. They will travel 40% of the time in a driverless car, use a 3D printer to print hyper-individualized meals, and will spend most of their leisure time on an activity that hasn’t been invented yet. 

The world will have seen over 2 billion jobs disappear, with most coming back in different forms in different industries, with over 50% structured as freelance projects rather than full-time jobs. 

Over 50% of today’s Fortune 500 companies will have disappeared, over 50% of traditional colleges will have collapsed, and India will have overtaken China as the most populous country in the world.

Most people will have stopped taking pills in favor of a new device that causes the body to manufacture it’s own cures.

Space colonies, personal privacy, and flying cars will all be hot topics of discussion, but not a reality yet.

Most of today’s top causes, including climate change, gay liberation, and abortion, will all be relegated to little more than footnotes in Wikipedia, and Wikipedia itself will have lost the encyclopedia wars to an upstart company all because Jimmy Wales was taken hostage and beheaded by warring factions in the Middle East over a controversial entry belittling micro religions.

Our ability to predict the future is an inexact science. The most accurate predictions generally come from well-informed industry insiders about very near term events.

Much like predicting the weather, the farther we move into the future, the less accurate our predictions become. 

So why do we make them? 

In the segments below, I’ll make a series of 33 provocative predictions about 2030, and how different life will be just 17 years in the future.

I will also explain why predictions are important, even when they are wrong.

Read the rest of this entry »

Technology’s Threat to the Future of Sports – Part 1

Posted by FuturistSpeaker on December 11th, 2013

Recently I returned from a trip to Seoul, Korea where I was asked to speak at the Global Sports Marketing Forum on the “future of sports.” This event was part of a series being planned to draw attention to the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, Korea.

Here’s how I began my presentation in Seoul. 

In 1980, Carnegie Mellon University announced the formation of the $100,000 Fredkin Prize, named after computer pioneer Edward Fredkin, for anyone who could develop a computer capable of beating a world chess champion. In 1997, IBM’s Deep Blue team took up the challenge and proceeded to beat Gary Kasporov, the reigning world chess champion.

In 2011, IBM waged a similar battle on the TV game show Jeopardy. This time they pitted their Watson Computer against Ken Jennings and Paul Rudder, the all-time top Jeopardy champions. Again the computer came up the winner.

So if computers can win at chess and Jeopardy, are we about to see similar contests between robots and basketball players, driverless cars and NASCAR drivers, or robots and golf champions? More importantly, do we run the risk of automating these sports out of existence?

Yes, we will see many more human-vs-machine staged competitions. But no, this won’t jeopardize the sporting industry. We’re asking is the wrong question.

Even though the human-vs-machine competitions won’t be an issue, there are several possible threats around the corner for professional sports. Here’s why.

Read the rest of this entry »

Optimizing Evil

Posted by FuturistSpeaker on November 12th, 2013

 

Would the world be a better place if Adolph Hitler never existed?

While many people will argue over who exactly was the worst of the worst, with names like Pol Pot, Josef Stalin, Idi Amin, Ivan the Terrible, Genghis Khan, Nero, Osama bin Laden, Attila the Hun, and Hirohito entering the conversation, it’s easy to attribute a face to the evil we all despise.

But when we take a more philosophical approach and ask what the world would have looked like if our own poster child for evil had never existed, we begin seeing human progress in a whole new light.

Rest assured, I’m not a fan of Hitler or any of the other psychopaths who’ve splattered blood over the pages of history. But evil does play an important role, and often times, a positive one.

As an example, some of our biggest advancements in science and industry happened during World War II when our backs were up against a wall and the word “deadline” actually referred to the time when more people would die. 

Similarly, many drawings from DaVinci and Archimedes were dedicated to creating better war machines, which also gave us much of our foundational thinking for advancing mathematics, physics, medicine, and engineering.

Our ongoing struggles with evil are never ending, and it’s up to us to stop it wherever and whenever possible. And it may be ludicrous to think we’ll ever be in danger of having “too little” evil. But knowing that we are driven by adversity, and that hardship and difficulty often brings out the best in us, is it reasonable to think there may be ways to actually “optimize evil?”

Read the rest of this entry »

The Future Favors the Bold – 8 Backcasting Scenarios for Understanding the Future

Posted by FuturistSpeaker on October 4th, 2013

 

Did you hear about the spy who was caught stealing huge amounts of data by hiding it in the DNA of his skin? Officials couldn’t find any trace of the information on him so they eventually had to let him go.

If you haven’t heard of that story, it’s because it hasn’t happened…. yet. The technology is still a few years away from being viable, at least at a price anyone could afford. As an emerging technology, DNA storage, with it’s ability to store over 2 petabytes of information on a gram of DNA, may not be practical for another decade or so.

However, knowing that it’s not only possible, but also likely, even with this brief mention of it, changes our understanding of the future.

Ideas are like pixels floating in space. With only a few, they look like random dots on a thousand mile canvas. But with the right lens these ideas can form recognizable patterns, turning random dots into clear visions of what’s coming next.

The clarity with which we see into the future is directly related to the number of idea fragments we manage to piece together.

Once our ideas reach critical mass, that’s when the fun really begins. Idea pixels, properly arranged, create a working model of the world to come, along with a roadmap for both business and personal strategies. 

But here’s the most amazing part. Those with the clearest vision of the future will naturally rise to the top, becoming critical influencers, industry leaders, and voices of authority.

The future favors the bold! Are you sufficiently well-informed to act boldly?

If not, here are a series of backcasting scenarios specifically designed to help you start connecting the dots and add to your own understanding of what the future holds. 

Read the rest of this entry »