We're just a month into 2009 and it already looks like Jeff Hilford's prediction that the future will become a big media topic this year is coming true.
Hilford: The present stinks and people will turn their attention elsewhere. While many will pine for a return to the past they will be forced to look ahead. The doom and gloom of the economic meltdown and global warming combined with the incredible pace of technological change provide a fertile backdrop for projection.
Watching last night's Superbowl with a group of friends, my fractured attention was thoroughly captrured by the following GE ecomagination commercial featuring non other than a "wired" version of The Wizard of Oz's scarecrow dancing atop an electric sub-station:
From the Spot: Smart Grid technology from GE will make the way we distribute energy more efficient simply by making it more intelligent.
The ad succeeds at bridging technology with familiar non-threatening themes already loaded into our cultural consciousness. Clearly it is meant to sychronize with the Obama administration's recent and mounting rhetoric about smarter national infrastructure and influence how the latest $900 billion economic stimulus dollars will be spent.
It's also indicative of an impending shift to new industry that players like Google, IBM, Cisco and Johnson Controls (add GE = The Futuristic 5?) have been chomping at the bit for.
According to Peter Kafka over at All Things D, The Obama administration has taken yet another intelligent step toward web-mediated government by hiring Googler Katie Stanton as, get this, "Director of Citizen Participation".
The move to bring in a social media expert (tempered by a finance nd foreign relations background) signals growing awareness of crowd-sourcing as an effective means of value generation. With a mind like Stanton's in the mix, we can safely assume the President is looking to 1) continue exploring the various (and exploding) social media tools available on the market, and 2) to build out a comprehensive social media apparatus that will maximize its efforts in this arena.
My respect for IBM CEO Sam Palmisano continues to rise. As myriad unimaginative lemming financial pundits continue to explain away the present economic crisis as solely a failure of consumer confidence, Palmisano is making the rounds, advocating the construction of more intelligent infrastructure. His latest audience? None other than newly elected Barack Obama.
During a rountable discussion between Obama and various corporate CEOs (including Google CEO Eric Schmidt), Palmisano presented a summary of his thoughts on the United States' economic stimulus strategy. (video here)
Palmisano: There is clearly no reason we believe to undertake projects just for the sake of activity. We need to undertake projects that actually create jobs that will make infrastructure, make our country much more competitive for the long term.
[W]e need to invest and to build a more modern and more competitive infrastructure for the future.
It may be obvious, but it's also VERY refreshing to see that such messages are piercing the static and reaching the brains that need to hear them.
When discussing accelerating change I often remind people that technology is a double-edged sword. Reinforcing this mantra, a new bill, the Camera Phone Predator Alert Act, that would ban silent picture-taking via mobile phones to combat child exploitation has been presented to the U.S. House of Representatives.
The problem is legitimate and therefore requires what futurist John Smart would call an "immune system response", which may come in the form of a social, technological or hybrid solution.
But the proposed bill is invasive and a bit naive (not accel-aware) considering the quickly dropping component costs fueling an explosion in small devices sporting sophisticated cameras, video cameras and audio recording devices.
In other words, the problem is actually MUCH BIGGER than Rep. Pete King (R-N.Y.), the author of the legislation, recognizes at this time.
In just a few years we'll have micro-devices capable of always-on, persistent video streaming. Many will argue that these are critical to their health (longitudinal life logs for doctors and software to analyze, prosthetic sensing for those who need it - or even those who don't), business (reality TV x 10, regional quantification efforts, selling feeds), education (process capture for superior feedback), social life (symbionts, real-time dating services), entertainment (mixing real-time feeds with other content, critical component of augmented reality), right to document history for future purposes and so forth.
On the flipside, this will further expand the abilities of predators, criminals and other social griefers. They'll be able to remotely operate arrays of micro-cams (a world of bugs), stalk people in new ways, hack massive amounts of personal data, etc.
Should we create back-ups of websites due to be deleted for historical purposes?
Lynne Brindley, head of the British Library makes the case for preserving the web for future generations:
If websites continue to disappear in the same way as those on President Bush and the Sydney Olympics - perhaps exacerbated by the current economic climate that is killing companies - the memory of the nation disappears too. Historians and citizens of the future will find a black hole in the knowledge base of the 21st century.
But isn't that a moot point? Aren't companies like Google and other info aggregators backing up all of this data on their servers? Brindley says that's not the case:
People often assume that commercial organisations such as Google are collecting and archiving this kind of material - they are not. The task of capturing our online intellectual heritage and preserving it for the long term falls, quite rightly, to the same libraries and archives that have over centuries systematically collected books, periodicals, newspapers and recordings and which remain available in perpetuity, thanks to these institutions.
According to CNet reporter Stephen Shankland it's rather likely that Google will announce the new monster app next week at a star-studded Google Earth event:
Gore is set to join Google Chief Executive Eric Schmidt and Marissa Mayer, vice president of search products and user experience, at the on February 2 event at the California Academy of Sciences, San Francisco's newly rebuilt aquarium, planetarium, and natural history museum. But it's another speaker's name that gives the tip-off about what the event might be about.
Quantify: To determine, express, or measure the quantity of. - Merriam-Webster
Why do we compulsively quantify?
An army with a map of the battle terrain is more formidable than an otherwise equal opponent without access to that knowledge. It can more quickly make decisions that will best optimize its chances for success. So it's no surprise that good mapping, or quantification, has been essential to human warfare, and that armies nowadays work to create the most comprehensive real-time maps that technology will allow.
But quantification isn't just essential to effective warring (unless you view life as a perpetual war or game). It's also critical to human decision-making on all levels. Whether we're taking short-cuts on the walk home, contemplating a new diet, planning to send our kids to college or writing software code, we're making these decisions in the context of systems maps (aka quantifications) that we run in our brains. Thus we can reduce the amount of Space, Time, Energy and Matter that we waste (a process related to what Evo Devo philosopher John Smart calls STEM Compression), avoid situations that threaten our well-being and generate max value by taking advantage of opportunities to control resources and our environment.
In short, quantification is an essential component of knowledge and leads to efficiency as we strive to survive, multiply and thrive.
Furthermore, quantification appears to be "rigged" into the game of life. As organims evolve and life's complexity increases, new species with brains capable of greater quantification and abstraction emerge at a regular clip. Over time, these organisms discover ways to expand their knowledge by communicating (actively or passively) information to one another and letting the network manage their quantifications and decisions. Then, eventually, the higher-level organism figure out how to extend their knowledge into the environment through technology that allows them to communicate and retrieve it more easily than before. This is accomplished directly through technologies like language, writing, or classical maps, and indirectly through the hard-technologies like spears, paint, and paper that critically support knowledge externalization.
To my mind, it seems likely that wherever life is found in the universe, it is required to steadily improve its ability to manage knowledge, lest it be overtaken by chaos or other organized life. This, of course, requires the systematic quantification of its complex environment.
MySpace and the Wall Street Journal are running a promotion that will send one MySpace user to the influential World Economic Forum Davos Conference as a "citizen journalist". Though the contest may seem like a novelty at this point in web history, it does mark one small step toward more official respresentation for the prosumer and web networks of the near-future.
Selected by an all-star panel of judges based on their compelling and heartfelt video submissions, the 5 finalists are all women with clear and well-stated messages for our world leaders. Each has garnered a community feedback score of between 72% and 88%, which means that they pass the public likability test. I am particularly struck by how well-rounded and inspiring the candidates come across.
Expecting a steady increase in prosumer behavior, proliferation of web-based economic clans and the growth of value generated by such, I imagine that contests such as this one will expand in coming years as participants in different social nodes gradually begin to demand more rights.
Already, the Chris DeWolfes (MySpace), Mark Zuckerbergs (Facebook), and Philip Rosedales (Second Life) of the world are regularly invited to speak at big events about the sizable online nations they lead. But how long will it take before web-based prosumers unionize and demand representation to the external world?
If you enjoy futuristic gadgets and evolution then this Saturn-commissioned steampunk commercial should be right up your alley (hi-def version here):
Though I'm sure it's primarily intended to wow, I enjoy the robotic take on evolution because of how it removes the emotional animal component and places the emphasis on basic form. It's very transhuman in spirit. Unfortunately the sky does not open wide to a transcendent singularity at the conclusion of the video, which would have made it super-viral among the growing singularitarian community, but I'm sure that we'll see newer, more philosophically advanced car commercials in the near-future. ;)
For those of you still wondering about the awesome power of open-source software and web apps, which some forecasters believe will comprise 40% of all IT jobs by 2020, the Open Street Map (open version of Google Maps) editorial timelapse above is an illuminating demonstration of how individuals scattered across the globe can work together to quickly assemble a complex information graph.
Still doubting the power of digital altruism? Consider that over the next few years we'll move closer to always-on, hi-def, GPS-enabled life-logging devices, which will make contributing rich information to such 3D wikis much easier, if not nearly automatic. Mix in some smarter software that understands where to contextually arrange data and we're likely looking at serious acceleration of open-source graphing projects, which would help explain why the % of open-source jobs is expected to rise so significantly.
The Global Brain is hard at work. Emerging technology, software, information and social norms are speeding up its top-down, bottom-up and hybrid knowledge generation.