Tag Archives: Singularity

Anticipation. Start by working with the future.

 

 

A couple of blogs ago I wrote about my experiment with the notion of ubiquitous surveillance. I chose this topic because in many ways surveillance is becoming ubiquitous. It is also the kind of technology that I see as potentially the most dangerous because it is slow and incremental and it grows through convergence.

Technological convergence is the idea that disparate technologies sometimes merge with, amplify and/or enfold other technologies. An example often cited is the smartphone. At one time its sole purpose was to make phone calls. Meanwhile other technologies such as calculators, cameras, GPS devices, and video players were each separate devices. Gradually, over time, these separate technologies (and many more) converged into a single hand-held device, the smartphone. Today we have a smartphone that would blow the doors off of a laptop from 15 years ago. The downside to technological convergence (TC) is that these changes can be very disruptive to markets. If you were in the business of GPS devices a few years ago you know what this means.

TC makes change much more rapid and more disorderly. Change becomes unpredictable.

The same concept can be applied to other technological advancements. Biotech could merge capabilities with nanotechnology. Robotics could incorporate artificial intelligence. Nanotech for example could enable many of the technologies formerly in our devices to be implanted into our bodies.

Google’s Chief of Tech and noted futurist Ray Kurzweil is a someone I follow. Not just because he’s brilliant, nor because I agree with his aspirations for future tech, but because he’s often right with his predictions; like 80% of the time. According to Peter Diamandis for singularityhub.com,

“’In the 2030s,” said Ray, ”we are going to send nano-robots into the brain (via capillaries) that will provide full-immersion virtual reality from within the nervous system and will connect our neocortex to the cloud. Just like how we can wirelessly expand the power of our smartphones 10,000-fold in the cloud today, we’ll be able to expand our neocortex in the cloud.”

I’ll let you chew on that for a few sentences while I throw out another concept. Along with all of these “technologies” that seem to be striving for the betterment of humankind, there are more than a few disruptive technologies that are advancing equally as fast. We could toss surveillance, hacking, and terrorism into that pot. There is no reason why these efforts cannot be advanced and converged at an equally alarming and potentially unpredictable rate. You can do the math.

Should that keep us from moving forward? Probably not. But at the same time, maybe we should start thinking about the future as something that could happen instead of something impossible?  

More to think about on a Friday afternoon.

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Behind the scenes, The Lightstream Chronicles Episode 136

Episode 136

Clearly,  the Techman is out cold, probably has a whopping headache and some tingling extremities. No problem. Keiji-T has equipment for this. Rubbing his fingertips together, Keiji-T can emit a chemical odor akin to our current day smelling salts. Aromatherapy from the fingertips, however, is a standard feature built into most synths. As we saw back in season 3, Keiji was bragging about the various scents he could conjure up.

In 2159, pheromone implants are also a common human augmentation. A quick trip to the infusion store and you can pick up a nano-endocrine emitter (NEET) that you apply to the skin and it absorbs through the pores. The emitter synchs with your master chipset and can generate or regulate certain hormonal activity.  The most popular varieties are either axillary steroids or aliphatic acids that act as a potent attraction to the opposite sex or as enhancements to intimacy. There are many other options available including repellent scents, stimulants, and relaxants. They are also an optional feature for the enormously popular fingertip implants (luminous implants) that nearly everyone has. This option, however, is not available on earlier fingertip models like one’s that Techman uses.

You can read more about a host of 2159 technologies and augmentations by visiting the glossary part 1 or part 2.

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Why Kurzweil is probably right.

 

Some people tell me that I am a pessimist when it comes to technology. Maybe, but part of my job is troubleshooting the future before the future requires troubleshooting. As I have said many times before, I think there are some amazing technologies out there that sound promising and exciting. One that caught my attention this week is the voice interface operating system. If you saw the film Her,  then you know of that which I speak. For many Silicon Valley entrepreneurs, it has been the Holy Grail for some time. A recent WIRED magazine article by David Pierce highlights some of the advancements that are on the cusp of being part of our everyday lives.

Pierce tells how in 1979 during a visit to Xerox PARC, Steve Jobs was blown away by something called a graphic user interface (GUI). Instantly, Jobs knew that the point, click and drag interface was for the masses.

One of the scientists in that Xerox PARC group was a guy named Ron Kaplan who tells Pierce that, “‘The GUI has topped out,’ Kaplan says. ‘It’s so overloaded now.’”

I guess I can relate. Certainly it is a challenge to remember the obscure keyboard commands for every program that you use. One of my mainstays, Autodesk Maya, has so many keyboard options that there is a whole separate interface of hotkeys and menus accessed by (another) keyboard command. Rarely, except for the basics like cut, paste, and delete are these commands or menus the same between software.

If there were a voice interface that could navigate these for you, (perhaps only when you’re stumped), it would be a great addition. But the digital entrepreneurs racing in this direction, according to Pierce are going much further. They are looking, “to create the best voice-based artificial-intelligence assistant in the world.”

The article mentions one such app called Hound. It not only answers questions faster than Siri but with remarkably less overt information. For example, you could ask two different questions about two different places and then ask, “How many miles between those two?”  It reads between the lines and fills in the gaps. If it could see, I’m guessing it could read a graphic novel and know what’s going on.

Apparently there are quite a few well-funded efforts racing in this direction.  As Pierce says,

“It’s a classic story of technological convergence: Advances in processing power, speech recognition, mobile connectivity, cloud computing, and neural networks have all surged to a critical mass at roughly the same time. These tools are finally good enough, cheap enough, and accessible enough to make the conversational interface real—and ubiquitous.”

That’s just one of the reasons why I think Kurzweil is probably right in his Law of Accelerating Returns. (You can read about it on Kurzweil’s site of read a previous blog – one of many). Convergence is the way technology leaps forward. Supporting technologies enable formerly impossible things to become suddenly possible.

Pierce goes on to talk about a gadget called Alexa, which is now a device known as  Amazon Echo, which uses something called Alexa Voice Service. The Echo is a, a black tube with flashing blue LEDs designed to sit in some central location in your space. There, it answers questions and assists in your everyday life. Pierce got to live with the beta version.

“In just the seven months between its initial beta launch and its public release in 2015, Alexa went from cute but infuriating to genuinely, consistently useful. I got to know it, and it got to know me… This gets at a deeper truth about conversational tech: You only discover its capabilities in the course of a personal relationship with it.”

Hence, part of developer’s challenge is making an engaging, likable, and maybe even charming assistant.

But Pierce closes the article with realization that such an agent is

“…only fully useful when it’s everywhere when it can get to know you in multiple contexts—learning your habits, your likes and dislikes, your routine and schedule. The way to get there is to have your AI colonize as many apps and devices as possible.”

So, this technology is coming and probably nearly here. It may well be remarkable and rewarding. I wouldn’t be doing my job, however if I didn’t ask about the emanating ripples and behaviors that will inevitably grow up around it. What will we give up? What will we lose before we realize it is gone? It is marvelous, but like it’s smart-phone cousin (or grandparent), it will change us. As we rush to embrace this, as we most likely will, we should think about this, too.

 

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Is it a human right to have everything you want? 

The CBC recently published an article online about a new breakthrough in vision improvement that could provide patients with 20/20 vision x3. Like cataract surgery today that removes an old yellowed lens from the eye and replaces it with a new, plastic optometric-correct lens, the inventor, an optometrist from British Columbia, says the 8-minute procedure will give recipients better than 20/20 vision for the rest of their lives no matter how old they are.

bionic-lens-20150518
Better than 20/20. Maybe it starts here.

As soon as clinical trials are complete and the regulatory hurdles are leaped the articles says the implant could be available in as early as two years. Let me be the first to say, “Sign me up!” I’ve had glasses for 20 years and just recently made the move to contacts. Both are a hassle, and the improvement is anything but consistent. Neither solution provides 24-hour correction, and you’re lucky to get 20/20. So, rationally speaking, it’s a major improvement in vision, convenience and probably your safety. On top of that, the CBC article concludes noting the inventor/optometrist has set up a foundation,

“…Which would donate money to organizations providing eye surgery in developing countries to improve people’s quality of life.

“Perfect eyesight should be a human right,” he says.”

Now I hate to break the poignancy of this moment, but it’s my job. Should perfect eyesight be a human right? How about perfect hearing, ideal body weight, genius IQ, super longevity, cranial Internet access, freedom from disease, illness, and perfect health? It’s hard to deny that any of these are good. If you follow my graphic novel, The Lightstream Chronicles, you know that society has indeed opted for all of it and more: enhanced mood control, faster learning, better sex, deeper sleep, freedom from anxiety, stress, worry, bad memories, and making stupid comments. They are all human rights, right? Or is it just human nature to have unlimited expectations and demand instant gratification? It begins with one implant (not unlike the first nip or tuck or a new tattoo) and then becomes an endless litany of new and improved. But if you posit the argument that these enhancements are desirable, then you are also acknowledging that the current state of humanness is not. Are our shortcomings, disappointments, pain, testing, and struggles to be jettisoned forever? Once we can control everything about ourselves that we don’t like, where will we stop? Will we be happier? Or will there alway be that extra thing that we simply must have. Perhaps this is the real definition of human nature: never satisfied.

G.K. Chesterton said, “Meaninglessness does not come from being weary of pain. Meaninglessness comes from being weary of pleasure.”

As I have written about before, all of this is a small section of a greater organism that is growing in technology. So as complicated as the whole idea of human augmentation is to think about, it’s much more complicated. While we cobble together new additions on the old house, there are technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI) that will surpass our shortcomings better than our replacement part enhancements. If you haven’t read Kurzweil’s Law of Accelerating Returns, you should. We are rapidly approaching a time when the impossible will be possible and we will be staring at it slack-jawed and asking how we got here and why? It can paint a dismal picture, but it is a picture we should look at and study. These are the questions of our time.

And so, I create fictional scenarios, firmly convinced that the more disturbing and visceral this picture the more we will take notice and ask questions before blithely moving forward. This is where I see the heart of design fiction, speculative futures, and—I think the more powerful—experiential interventions. It will be something to talk about in a future blog.

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Season 4 begins. The plot thickens.

Each week I post a blog congruent with what is happening on The Lightstream Chronicles. Sometimes it is tightly related, other times it might be a bit of a stretch. At any rate, this week we are launching Season 4, and as is customary, we are starting out the season with a bit of context that can help to situate you more comfortably in 2014. That’s a stretch, I realize, but the more you understand about this world the more you are likely to relate to the story, the characters, and the drama.

That being said, we examine the idea of a space station, or in this case a space resort, tethered to earth by no less than a space elevator. Your first thought is science fiction fantasy, but not so fast. The idea of a space elevator actually dates back to the 19th century and a good deal of speculation has been done on how this might actually happen. The critical element that makes this plausible is carbon nanotubes; super strong, super light. Do your homework (ibid).

NVCinsert
Dream on.

 

 

Hence, in 2159 we have an orbiting space resort tethered to a space elevator. Hong Kong 2, though slightly outside of the equatorial ideal zone won the bid. It turns out that mathematical calculations can render almost any location acceptable for an elevator, though Hong Kong remains the only existing site. Plans are underway for Sri Lanka and Rio de Janeiro with new space resorts.

New Vega City could be compared with a 21st century cruise ship. In fact, it was a cruise line that made the initial investment in NVC. Not unlike 21st century cruise ships, passengers choose state rooms based on the view. There are beaches, wave pools, casinos, restaurants that serve non-rep food—the options are impressive. It remains one of the few experiences that rival the V.

Hope you enjoy the next four weeks of Season 4 Prologues and the rest of Season 4.

 

 

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More futurist predictions from The Lightstream Chronicles.

Last week I talked about the similarities between Faith Popcorn’s 2025 predictions and that many of these predictions were already included in The Lightstream Chronicles. Since TLSC takes place 134 years after Faith Popcorn’s predictions, a better term than predictions would probably be backstory. As I have written before, one of the reasons for choosing such a distant future is to allow for the dramatic improvements in artificial intelligence (AI). There is quite a debate on this in science fiction and in future studies: When will we break the true AI barrier? Some believe that we will leave our physical bodies behind and become one with the hive, a giant mind merger of shared thoughts and consciousness somewhere in the mid to late 21st century. Ray Kurzweil, and Martine Rothblatt would probably fall into this camp. Kurzweil believes that there is ample evidence to trust that exponential improvements in technology will make this possible. It appears as though Rothblatt is working on achieving this by what amounts to an accretion of your own data, thoughts, opinions, etc. over time producing what would be the ultimate Siri of yourself. The body it would seem is an afterthought, possibly unnecessary.

My scenarios hinge heavily on what I would call, my take on human nature. I think we like bodies. In fact, they obsess us. I can’t see us abandoning our physical selves for an enhanced neural connection to the Othernet, especially as we are on the verge of perfecting it, ridding it of disease, aging and disability. So enamored are we with bodies, we will insist that our robots be equally sleek and endowed.

And while many future predictions include a Singularity, where everything changes, an unrecognizable future ruled by AI, I think change will be more mundane. As I highlighted last week (and where Popcorn and I agree), I believe we will be heavily augmented. Here are some more:

  1. By nature of what I call endofacts, (implanted artifacts) we will become our own ultra-powerful computers. Our input output (I/O) will be built-in as in luminous implants; our user interface (UI) will be visible on our retinas.
Learning to use your new luminous implants. Click to enlarge.
Learning to use your new luminous implants.
  1. Our aging process cease with an outpatient procedure that stops telomere decay. 25-29 will be the preferred age for that.
  1. Because of the powerful transmission chips embedded in our chipset, we will be able to transmit thoughts and images from our mind or our vision to anyone, anywhere who is willing to receive it. It will be a lot like reading minds, but we will also have to invent brain-gate encryptions to keep others from hacking our thoughts. If you want to talk to me, (like a phone call) I have to give you permission.
  1. As with Popcorn, I believe that virtual reality will make physical travel less important, but I also believe it will rule the day. It will be the new drug with millions addicted to it as an escape from reality into their own programmable, perfect world. Once again, this is attributable to human nature. This, I believe, will be the biggest upheaval in the socio-techno future: the determination and separation of real from virtual.
  1. The Top City Spanner is the result of programmable architecture. It can replicate and rebuild itself based on our needs. It’s the same idea that nano technology promises but on a larger, life-size scale. The two technologies will merge.
  1. Replication is another big prediction. We will be replicating food and just about anything else by recreating its molecular structure. It will end starvation, food shortages and most farming.

There are a lot more if you drift through the pages of TLSC, which I encourage you to do.

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A Science Fiction Graphic Novel About Design and the Human Condition

Page 100

We’ve reached page 100 and in some cases, The Lightstream Chronicles is already longer than many graphic novels. Nevertheless, as meaty as the author has worked it to be, there is so much more in the developing story. I was asked recently, “Where is it going?”

Expect some intrigue, angst and an action packed climax, but as with most science fiction and even design fiction, it is about people.

If you know anything about the author, you know that I’m a designer, heavily ensconced in research in the area of Design Fiction, Speculative Design, and Design Futures. The Lightstream Chronicles is a foray into a future world where we, like it or not, have been changed by the design and technology that we have embraced over the years. We are different. Our behaviors and expectations have changed. This is what design does to society and culture. Don’t get me wrong; it is not necessarily a bad thing. Design is a product of which we are as human beings. It is a reflection of humanity. Hence, it will reflect both bad and good, something that I believe is not a “fixable” tweak in our DNA. It is the essence of our design. In many respects, without it, we cease to be human. We have the choice between good and evil and depending on what we choose, our design and the various manifestations of it will reflect those choices.

As I wrote,

“In The Lightstream Chronicles, the author creates a science fiction graphic novel and asks that the reader ponder the same self-rationalizing tendency as it applies to slick new enhancing technologies and the “design” decisions that fostered them. It looks at not only the option to make the decision, but the ethics of whether the decision should be made, as well as society’s competency to choose wisely.1”

Perhaps then, it becomes a graphic novel about the human condition. In a way then, it is like most fiction, but it is that and more. It also examines where we find meaning, especially when most of what we would consider our greatest fears—of death, disease, physical or mental decline, of enough food and water, sustaining the environment or having enough energy—have vanished. Is it enough to satisfy us, to fulfill us, and give us meaning or does it leave us wanting?

The only thing that seems to have survived the grasp of man and his ability to wipe it away is evil. The perfection of synthetic humans would seem to be the answer, though even then, man has found a way to twist them. And if we become the creators are not our creations still made in our image?

What do you think?

 

1.Denison, E. Scott. When Designers Ask, “What If?”. Electronic MFA Thesis. Ohio State University, 2013. OhioLINK Electronic Theses and Dissertations Center.
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Who is paying attention to the future? You’re standing in it. 

If you are familiar with this blog you can that tell that I am enamored of future tech, but at the same time my research in design fiction often is intended to provoke discussion and debate on whether these future technologies are really as wonderful as they are painted to be. Recently, I stumbled across a 2012 article from the Atlantic.com (recommended) magazine (Hessel and Goodman) that painted a potentially alarming picture of the future of biotech or synthetic biology, known as synbio. The article is lengthy, and their two-year-old predictions have already been surpassed, but it first reminds us of how technology, historically and currently, builds not in a linear progression, but exponentially like Moore’s Law. This is an oft quoted precept of Ray Kurzweil, chief futurist for Google and all around genius guy, for the reason that we are avalanching toward the Singularity. The logic of exponential growth in technology is pretty much undeniable at this point.

Hessel and Goodman take us through a bit of verbal design fiction where in the very near future it will be possible to create new DNA mathematically, to create new strains of bacteria, and new forms of life for good and for not so good. The article also underscores for me how technology is expanding beyond any hope of regulatory control, ethical considerations or legal ramifications. No one has time to consider the abuse of “good technology” or the unintended consequences that inevitably follow from any new idea.  If you are one of those people who, in an attempt to get through all the things you have to read by taking in only the intro and the conclusion. Here is a good take away from the article:

“The historical trend is clear: Whenever novel technologies enter the market, illegitimate uses quickly follow legitimate ones. A black market soon appears. Thus, just as criminals and terrorists have exploited many other forms of technology, they will surely soon turn to synthetic biology, the latest digital frontier.”

If you want to know how they dare make that assertion you will have to read the article and it is not a stretch. The unintended consequences are staggering to say the least.

Of course, these authors are only dealing with one of dozens if not hundreds of new technologies that because of the exponential rate of advancement are hanging over us like a canopy filling with water. Sooner or later, preferably sooner, we will —all of us—demand to bring these ideas into collaborative discussion.

In addition to my research, I write fiction. Call it science fiction or design fiction. It doesn’t matter to me. As dystopic as The Lightstream Chronicles may seem to my readers, in many ways I think that humanity will be lucky to live that long—unless we get a handle on what we’re doing now.

Some links for the incredulous:

http://www.genome.gov/sequencingcosts/

http://www.genewiz.com/index.aspx

http://mashable.com/2013/05/15/personal-genetics-resources/

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