The Next Great Space Race – Space-Based Power Stations

Posted by FuturistSpeaker on May 9th, 2014

Earth’s appetite for power continues to grow. Since the 1960s, power consumption has quadrupled around the globe, with many countries opting to build large oil and coal plants to meet the demand.

But for Japan, a burgeoning economy without large oil and coal reserves, after the Fukushima disaster occurred, an in-depth review concluded the most viable long-term strategy was to focus on spaced-based power systems.

For this reason, the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) recently announced its 25-year plan to build the world’s first 1-gigawatt power plant in space.

The vision of harvesting solar power from space and beaming it to earth has been around ever since Dr. Peter Glaser first proposed it in 1968. After considerable research in the 1970s, scientist concluded it wasn’t a viable concept just yet because technology hadn’t advance enough. The materials were far too heavy, and it would have required over 100 astronauts working with thousands of crude robots to create it.

Since then, technology has advanced in countless ways, not only making it doable, but for Japan, making it the best available option for controlling its own destiny.

What most people don’t realize is that solar panels in space are 10 times more efficient than those on earth because there are no day-night cycles, seasonal variations, or weather issues to contend with.

But here’s where it gets even more interesting. Many other countries won’t be comfortable with Japan having the world’s only expertise in building space-based power stations. Once the first one proves successful, it will become faster and cheaper to launch the next 10, or even 100 of them.

With Japan throwing down the gauntlet, they are effectively forcing China, Russia, and the U.S. to compete in an entirely new kind of space race. Here are a few thoughts on the massive implications of this JAXA announcement. 

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Betting on Your Future Self

Posted by FuturistSpeaker on April 30th, 2014

Every day we wake up different.

Moment by moment, our lives are changing. Much like a strobe light with flashes of memories jumping through our minds we randomly recall where we’ve been.

It happens something like this:

…and then I woke up
…and then I was eating food
…and then I was taking a shower
…and then I was in the office
…and then I was in a meeting
…and then I was driving
…and then I was staring at myself in a mirror
…and then I was getting on a plane
…and then I was speaking in front of a crowd of people
…and then I was sleeping again

Moments come and moments go. We have no idea where they come from, or where they go, but every moment changes us. 

The person we were as a baby is different than who we were as teenagers, and that person has morphed and changed a million times along the way. We don’t even look the same.

So when we think about ourselves in the future, we have to ask, “Is my future self going to be more valuable than my present self?”

Will the person we become five years from now be more talented, wealthier, healthier, better looking, better educated, or have a better circle of friends to network with? 

There are many things we can do today to improve our future self. We all intuitively know this, but sometimes we need to be reminded. We can read more, exercise more, take a class, find a better job, write a book, start a business, invent something, meet new people, expand our social network, or do many other things.

We are all placing a bet. Each of us is somehow betting on our future self. But here are a few things you may not have thought about.

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Disposable Houses

Posted by FuturistSpeaker on April 24th, 2014

 

Disposable housing will blindside the real estate industry
in virtually every country on earth

When it comes to doing something first, and winning the technology race, there are typically no official forms to fill out, no rulebooks, no judges, and certainly no deadlines.

In fact, when it came to using 3D printers to print an entire house, a process known as contour crafting, only a small number of people actually knew how important this race really was.

During the past few years, I watched as several groups worked feverishly to have their names emblazoned in the annuls of history, but I was surprised when an unknown company in Shanghai, China claimed victory using an alternative approach I hadn’t even considered.

While other groups were preparing to print their houses on location, the Chinese team came up with a modular approach, printing all of the components inside a large factory, and transporting and assembling the houses at their final destination.

With this approach, the WinSun Decoration Design Engineering Company not only printed a house in a day, they completed 10 houses in a single day using a massive printer that was 490 feet long, 33 feet wide, and 20 feet deep. 

The ‘ink’ used was made of recycled construction materials, industrial waste and tailings, and according to Architect’s Newspaper, each of these homes cost around $4,800. 

No, they’re not ornate mansions with lots of decorative trim. Some would even say they’re ugly. But they represent the first of an entirely new wave of housing – inexpensive, durable home that can be produced in only a few hours for very little money. This process is perfect for fabricating homes for the poor and homeless, a major issue in China, as well as virtually every other nation on earth.

Ugly or not, WinSun won the first phase of this undeclared competition, and is now putting together plans to build 100 factories in China to “collect and transform” construction waste into aggregate for its machines.

The most important feature, at least in my mind, is that these houses can just as easily be ground up a second, third, or fourth time, and be reprinted as an entirely new home. They are, in fact, disposable houses that will fit very well with the nomadic lifestyles of future generations.

Here’s why this will be such a massively disruptive technology.

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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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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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