Future Highs

I have been amazed by what a little legalization has wrought in the way that people smoke marijuana. Even for an outside observer to the marijuana scene like myself, it is hard to miss the proliferation of edibles and oils in the states with legalized recreational marijuana. Even that in a pocket of prohibition like my home state, professionals young and old seem to have all manner of scentless vaporizers in their pocket for discreet highs in all manner of locations.

This story on the engineering of yeast to produce THC and CBD is intriguing in several ways. Yeast engineering for production of alternative chemicals has a long history. With our mores around marijuana intoxication in flux, what changes start to happen when THC/CBD production requires much less energy, space and resources?

Finding Lost Rivers

In the opening pages of Neal Stephenson’s classic story of a nanotech future The Diamond Age, Stephenson relates

ecosystems were especially tiresome when they got fubared, so they protected the environment with the same implacable, plodding, green-visored mentality that they applied to designing overpasses and culverts

This came to mind when reading about the reclaiming of lost streams. The bottling of streams in concrete and metal is a common practice in development of neighborhoods and cities. This “fubars” the system, to use Stephenson’s parlance, and causes environmental and health issues. New waves of civic planners and infrastructurists are opening up these lost rivers to counter many of these issues. This also calls to mind a story from last year about the redesign of cities that may be possible when a majority of vehicles are autonomous. These two trends could easily dovetail, leading to increased reclamation of natural green spaces and ecosystems in urban environments.

New Food

Soylent in glassWhen I was young I was incredibly picky. I still am weird about a few things. Maybe because of the anxieties attached with eating as a youth, I think a lot about food now. I think about declining trace nutrients in vegetables. I think about complicated interplay about class and food. I think about the fragility of the supply chain. I think about the environmental cost of meat or big agriculture in general.

For breakfast since June, I have been drinking Soylent, primarily the caffeinated varieties with a couple of Stoks added. I am a two case a month guy. I like it. I feel it is generally decent nutrition, is filling, and is easy. With subscriber discounts it isn’t crazy expensive.

There is a sci-fi trope of highly processed nutrition of the future. Initial food from billed as from the space race such as freeze dried ice cream did nothing to slow that trope down.

Soylent is getting more popular, pushing into chains and replacing food altogether for those on the bleeding edge.

I know I am already on the wagon, and fully adjusted to this food model. With a Soylent for breakfast and a protein bar at lunch, I can go nuts at dinner and still maintain a good calorie count. Is this the beginning of the science fiction future of food? From here on out, do I eat more nutrient dense, nutritionally balanced, grab and go food? Do more people? The maker of KetoChow posted in a Reddit thread on r/soylent that he just bought 38,404 kg of protein. This is a manufacturer of an even more niche meal replacement than Soylent.

People will not eat less of this sort of thing. What does it mean if we all start eating more of this primarily vegetarian cuisine? Will real food become the luxury of the rich?

Lens Scratches and Gyroscopes: “People You May Know” on Facebook

Facebook Panopticon
CC image by Flickr user Joelle L

A few months ago I was at the gym taking a class with a guy that I tangentially work with. We knew each other vaguely, and had a couple of mutual friends. After the class met a couple of times, he showed up in my “People You May Know” feed on Facebook, for what I believe was the first time.

I assumed this was the fact we had a couple of mutual friends and our phones with Facebook installed were in the same room together for an hour. Apparently not, according to this Gizmodo article.

But the factors Facebook leverages (or is attempting to leverage) to determine who you may know are fascinating.

It might assume two people knew each other if the images they uploaded looked like they were titled in the same series of photos—IMG_4605739.jpg and IMG_4605742, for example—or if lens scratches or dust were detectable in the same spots on the photos, revealing the photos were taken by the same camera.

This is only the beginning of seemingly innocuous things being used as tracking devices, and it won’t be limited to Facebook.

This Driverless Ride will Include a Stop at……

The Atlantic posits something that should seem obvious but something that needs to be considered in light of current models. Many are discussing the idea of an autonomous Uber fleet evolving to a subscription based driverless car service but this article posits that you can get that free ride in an autonomous vehicle as long as you include a stop at this store that fits your shopping profile on the way. These microtargeted stops would have a lot more marketing traction than a banner ad or a typical poster. Will a two tier service emerge, including a high end subscription service and another that stops at every Starbucks on the way?

Blockchain Identity

I saw a retweet of a Techcrunch article from a couple of months ago about using blockchain for identity. This article references Jerry Cuomo, the exec in charge of blockchain research for IBM, and quite a bit and his writings regarding blockchain give a good insight to the way the corporate giant is looking at blockchain. With bitcoin’s continuing climb, or is it a bubble, I need to beat the drum again: blockchain is too important to relegate to something as pedestrian as money. It is the future of group and individual identity.

Identifying the Future: The Horizon Beat Manifesto, v.1

Because the algorithms have me figured out, a TED playlist of alternative visions of the Future came through one of my feeds. I generally enjoy these sorts of mind experiments because it causes me to think and society as a whole to discuss possible paths that our developing technology and the global zeitgeist may evolve toward. Many times these ideas can be absurdly utopian and others bone-chillingly dystopian. We need to visualize these paths, as the future of great mass of humanity will lie somewhere between these poles. We have to decide what our cultural goals are, and then determine how our culture and society works and interacts in a heterogeneous population in a biosphere that seems pretty comfortable continuing along without big-brained, self-important apes.

The first TED talk in this playlist was from Anab Jain of Superflux, a video production company that visualizes possible futures based on emerging technology and creates representations of them. She believes that we must see these possible paths. First we eliminate the places we don’t wan to go and then analyze the opportunity costs of the ones that are left.

Charlie Brooker once described Black Mirror as:

 …they’re all about the way we live now – and the way we might be living in 10 minutes’ time if we’re clumsy. And if there’s one thing we know about mankind, it’s this: we’re usually clumsy.

Superflux is trying to let us proceed into the future sure-footed. We only can be so clumsy before we are danger to ourselves and will find out just how interdependent humans are. By visualizing these paths, we make better decisions.

I am an educator and this blog grows from my thoughts and discussions about the future of education. We must not only train students in STEM fields to develop our future technology, but the arts to understand humanity’s complicated relationships with our totems. Our individuals must read, not just for information but to understand the human condition. We must understand our shared history and why we function as we do as individuals and as groups. We must write and communicate and reflect and plan, plan, plan! Education is about facilitating the development of those who will shape our future.

We need to do much better and bring underrepresented voices into this discussion and these discussions must proceed in earnest and on a large scale now. The spectrum of human experience is one of our strengths and multiple viewpoints making judgments can only aid in finding our solutions.

This post is destined to be a static page. Be warned.

Robotic Eldercare

In my father’s last few weeks, we got him an Amazon Echo. We made playlists of his favorite music, taught him to ask it the time and weather, set up MyBuddy so he can ask for help if something happened.

And he talked to it. And asked it questions. And flirted with it.

Paro has been around for over a decade. The robotic seal companion is a favorite of many elderly people, giving them simulated companionship and not having that annoying feature of having to clean litterboxes or make sure they are fed. The affection that people feel for Paro isn’t just a joke in Master of None.

So when I saw this article on Salon on how the elderly will love their robotic eldercare, it clicked. A robot caregiver will definitely be welcomed by the elderly. Sometimes the elderly can be curmudgeonly or irritable, causing their care staff to loathe and avoid interaction. A robotic caregiver will hold no such biases. Also an interactive robot can be interactive, and it will not take a lot of interaction to make it enjoyable to a lonely older person. My father loved Alexa even though most of her responses were variations of “I don’t know what you mean.” If it listened (and possibly recorded for posterity or medical diagnosis) conversations with their patient and gave encouraging responses, as well as provided physical interactions, many would embrace it. If it provided the, ahem, release that nursing homes are sometimes notorious for, it may make for happier residents with none of the nasty social or medical repercussions attached to physical interpersonal relationships.

I think these bots are the future of eldercare, especially with millions of boomers marching through their late 60s and 70s. Of course, a problem enters from the point of view that thousands of people have bet their career future on elder care. Yet another job to be automated, displacing millions of workers.

Edit: one of my Facebook friends pointed out this link about how the Japanese and their notorious resistance to immigration are welcoming the bot nurse’s with open arms.