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?

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?

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.

Enter the Drone Swarm

I know I will end up referencing Black Mirror a lot in this blog. In the episode Hated in the Nation, drone robot bees meant to pollinate plants after colony collapse are weaponized through social media. Dr. Stuart Russell, a UC Berkley Computer Science professor, in conjunction with the Future of Life Institute, an org working toward the mitigation of existential threats to humanity, created this video on miniature drones that can kill and work with facial recognition. The video (embedded above) is chilling and presents a future where no one is safe from targeted slaughter.

I am reminded of The Diamond Age, Neal Stephenson‘s novel set in a world with ubiquitous nano-tech. In the book these weaponized drones are more intelligent, more capable, and microscopic. To combat their threat, the various societies develop microscopic hunter drones to seek out dangers to their citizens floating through the air unseen and destroy them. Communities need immune systems to combat this sort of threat. I am afraid that there will be massive death tolls before that fact is realized.

Of Micropayments and Walking Simulators: Economics and Zen in Gaming

I am fond of saying that eventually we will be micropaymented to death. To Netflix, $9.99. To Hulu, $11.99. To Amazon $100 a year. To Google Play Music, $15 a month. Soon it all turns into the scene from Black Mirror’s 15 Million Merits where the toothpaste dispenser takes micropayments per cc of toothpaste.

At Intelligent Economist, there is an interesting article on how mobile games have brought about bad games, because the money isn’t found in the selling in the games but making the impossible parts of it possible if you buy a weapon or the in-game currency to get such things. As the economic questions of many markets are disrupted and they begin to land in these micropayment systems, what happens to art when the economics say leave people wanting the good stuff until they pay for the upgrades.

But on the other side there is a great article at Salon about “walking simulator” games. These are games that aren’t filled with action or repetition and have storyline and archs. While a large chunk of the gaming world are worried about how to turn game churn into a profit center, indie gamers are creating art. These games are redefining the narrative, immersive art and games themselves into an art for future generations.

Crypto-currency and the Smartphone Vote

Over on Medium there is an interesting article about a neophyte crypto-currency trader. It gave a quick overview of a new user stepping into the world of the unregulated maelstrom that is the crypto exchanges.

The thing that intrigued me about the article was the project Horizon State that is developing a crypto token that will be used to secure internet/mobile elections. As I have said, blockchain is too important to be relegated to something as boring as money.

For those who are still fuzzy about blockchain, the article also linked to Wired’s video explaining blockchain, which does it really well for the uninitiated.

Edit 11/20: Techcrunch has a list of 100 crypto and digital currencies, all described in 4 words. An interesting peek into the world.

Climate Change vs Haute Cuisine

Gimlet Media has been consistently producing high quality podcasts since their first days with the StartUp Podcast about the founding of the company. Some of my favorite podcasts *coughReplyAllcough* are Gimlet shows. One of their divisions is Gimlet Creative, which lets brands commission high quality narrative content as embedded advertising. I have listened to a few of these and really, several are of really interesting and well done, despite being a glorified commercial.

One of the latest is Why We Eat What We Eat, which explores the cultural reasons we eat what and the way we do (sponsored by Blue Apron, though I am not). The most recent episode explores the climate change diet, and the way our eating habits may evolve as the biosphere does in relation to climate change. In the episode, people commit to eating the obscure and interesting proteins that could become staples of a world that is a handful of degrees warmer than today and chefs work with making some of these things more elevated.

The City as Pedestrian District

Smart city design may lead to the marginalization of the single person car as much as the trend toward autonomous driver services. In South Korea, the two decade development of the International Business District (IBD) in Songdo is nearing a close. The entire area, roughly the size of Boston, is designed to marginalize the car and make it unnecessary. With well designed public transport and well thought out districts meant to facilitate walking and biking, it is possible to grow up without the single user automobile.

I see another digital divide coming. This sounds like a dream city for someone like me, who loves walking and biking and hates the reshaping cars do to cities. But it also seems like a high end sort of city, not a place where the working class can find affordable housing. If the low end and working class jobs are automated, this may be a dystopian vision of the future where the upper class mingle in a well designed and optimal future where poor people are never seen or thought about.

Livable Urban Planning through Anti-Terrorism Architecture

Cities use their architecture and design for societal goals. Paris was redesigned with wide boulevards to prevent a repeat of the Revolution era street blockades. Brutalism combined mid-century modern design with the medium of the age to portray the cities as a forward looking place where mankind can step into its’ own. Today, cities are designed to push our poorest from public spaces.

This article on the 538 talks about this interesting intersection of the safety of anti-terrorism architecture and the ways it can make a city more livable. While tastes evolve and the faults of architectural styles become pronounced over time, making cities facilitate human interaction and safer in an age where terrorism becomes more common (at least in the West) are both good goals.