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.

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.

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.

Catfish Infrastructure

In Japan, there is a company employing hundreds of actors to be bit players, or even featured roles, in your life. Fathers, coworkers, you in an embarrassing yet anonymous situation, what ever role you need an actor to be in your life you can find by a call sheet. But apparently conditions of contracts sometimes state that EVERYONE has to continue the ruse indefinitely.

I have seen this posted a few places with the general implication of “people from different cultures are weird. And stupid.” But this has real implications that are a symptom and an evolution of societal rules. People are more isolated, but connected in weird and superficial ways. I know people I don’t actually know. They are a presence in my social feeds, either as a “why not?” Facebook add or maybe as a friend of multiple friends who seems to show up regularly in pictures and comment threads. I find out a lot about them, supposedly.

For any number of reasons people fake things on social media. If you have been telling parents or friends that you are in a relationship and you are not, it would help to have an actor to take some pictures with and show up at events as this non-existent partner. We now keep up with the Joneses not by faking our liquid assets, but faking social capital.