Kiteba: A Futurist Blog and Resource

Knowledge Ideas Technology Ecology Biology Architecture

1 Comment

Podcast Special Edition: 2017 Emotion AI Summit

Great post from Mark Sackler on Emotion AI Summit:

Seeking Delphi™

“Rational thoughts never drive people’s creativity the way emotions do.”–Neil deGrasse Tyson

This special edition of the Seeking Delphi™ podcast provides a summary overview of the first Emotion AI Summit, conducted by Affectiva, Inc.. at the MIT Media Lab, Cambridge, MA, on September 13, 2017.   Interviews with participants were recorded on site, and include Affectiva co-founders Rana el Kaliouby and Rosalind Picard, Heartificial Intelligence author John C. Havens,  The Future of Happiness author Amy Blankson, and several others.

Podcast Special Edition:  2017 Emotion AI Summit

Related links and bios


MIT Media Lab

Rana el Kaliouby, PhD

Rosalind Picard, ScD

Cynthia Breazeal, ScD

Jibo, Inc.

Amy Blankson, The Future of Happiness

John C. Havens, Heartificial Intelligence

Seeking Delphi™ podcast #12 with Heart of the Machine author Richard Yonck

 Erin Smith

Subscribe to Seeking Delphi™ on iTunes 

Subscribe to Seeking Delphi™ on PlayerFM

Subscribe on YouTube

Follow Seeking…

View original post 9 more words

1 Comment

Age of Robots: First Look

Great post here from my Houston colleague Mark Sackler. Follow his blog at

Seeking Delphi™

We’re fascinated with robots because they are reflections of ourselves.–Ken Goldberg

My first publication as a futurist has appeared in the inaugural issue of Age of Robots. It’s based on my interview with Will Mitchell in Seeking Delphi™ podcast #14 and is reproduced below.

Volume 1 Issue 1

Science Fiction VS Science Fact
Replicating Machines
by Mark Sackler

Science Fiction vs. Science Fact: Replicating Machines

By Mark Sackler

Self-replicating machines have been a staple in science fiction since the 1940’s.  A. E. Van Vogt, Philip K. Dick and Arthur C. Clarke, along with many others, have used self-building robots as plot devices.    But just how realistic an idea are they?

As far back as 1980. NASA conducted an engineering study of concepts for a self-replicating lunar factory.  For decades, the study sat and collected dust.  But the concept of robotic explorers, builders, and miners that can land and copy…

View original post 2,852 more words

Leave a comment

Design Futures and the Strategic Planning Process

In the rapid-change business environment, innovation has become the holy grail in terms of competitive advantage. Defined by Merriam-Webster as “a new idea, method, or device,” innovation tends to inform all parts of the successful operation, from obvious areas like product development to unexpected areas like financial reporting. Because the sources of global business advantage have evolved from operational efficiencies, where now most businesses are able to achieve competitive parity through access to the same technologies and processes, to differentiation, where every opportunity to stand out from the competition can result in increased market share and profits, innovation is even more essential.

Innovation is nothing new, of course, but because other sources of advantage have been exhausted, as Tim Brown notes, business “leaders now look to innovation as a principal source of differentiation and competitive advantage” (2). In the search for innovation, several approaches for developing new ideas, methods, or devices have shown promise, and design futures, as a fusion of design thinking and strategic foresight, is one that organizations should consider incorporating into their innovation processes because it addresses a longer view, pluralizes the future, and engages multiple stakeholders in creating innovation.

Typically, corporate strategic planning processes look at more immediate horizons, usually less than three years. While, as Bradford notes, there should be a relationship between the planning horizon and “the future environment in which the organization will be operating,” the majority of organizations align strategic planning horizons with budgetary cycles, i.e. one year. There is no doubt tremendous value to reviewing and adjusting strategy on an annual basis, but one year is too short a view to address large-scale changes in the macro environment that present significant disruptive threats to product lines, regional markets, and overall competitive positioning. Because strategic foresight emphasizes longer horizons, as well as a broader view of the macro environment, it provides a much-needed complement to traditional strategic planning.

However, while strategic foresight in the most common form of scenario planning may provide useful views of the futures in which the business may operate, it may not necessarily activate the kind of intellection and creativity that will embed a view of the company into the future and thus help drive innovation. Because design futures can bring together design processes, particularly design thinking methods, with strategic foresight, and can bring to life scenarios in tangible ways, corporations should not only employ strategic foresight in the strategic planning cycle but also include exercises in design futures, particularly with product and marketing teams.

Additionally, because strategic foresight “pluralizes the future,” or seeing the future not as one fixed outcome, but rather multiple possibilities, it can provide tremendous value by stimulating conditional and “what-if” thinking in the strategic planning process (van Alstyne 70). With design futures, this pluralization of the future allows for the development of multiple tangible scenarios that can bring to life different product options, as well as different strategic responses to possible changes in the environment, whether those changes are competitive or social, economic, political or otherwise.

To even further imagine, for instance, opportunities for value chain innovation based on multiple contingencies in availability of resources, or environmental regulations, may lead to approaches that could provide differentiation. What if we source our raw materials differently? What if our products use different materials? What are the range of options if certain laws are passed or consumer values change? Such questions can drive innovative thinking, but when the organization can imagine answers to these questions in tangible prototypes, the design futures exercise can gain weight and organizational traction in ways a text-based futures exercise might not be able to do.

Finally, if executed properly, design futures exercises can bring multiple organizational stakeholders together to collaborate on innovation in a very hands-on fashion. One of the challenges with innovation as practiced in many organizations is that innovation is considered the exclusive work of product developers or engineers; everyone else is excluded from the exercise of and responsibility for innovation. Such attitudes do not create the culture of innovation that mark the most successful companies. If instead people from marketing, product, finance, sales, and operations can collaborate on prototyping multiple future scenarios in a robust way, in a way that illustrates possible futures that can be experienced, as good design futures scenarios should do, it not only infuses a broader stake in innovation, it paves the way for the broad organizational cooperation that will make new initiatives more successful.

In conclusion, in order to better differentiate and innovate, organizations need to look at longer horizons and the broader environment. Strategic foresight provides the tools to do so, but in order to really engage an organization in innovation and differentiation, design futures provides probably the most useful set of tools because design futures is tangible, plural and can engage multiple stakeholders in hands-on collaboration.


As an interesting, if imperfect, example of a business-oriented design futures exercise, consider this exercise by Pamela Duque for Zara.




Bradford, Robert W. “Strategic Planning Horizon: How Far Out Should You Plan.” Center for Simplified Strategic Planning.

Brown, Tim. “Design Thinking.” Harvard Business Review. June 2008.

Merriam-Webster. “Definition of innovation.” Merriam-Webster Online.

Van Alstyne, Greg. “How We Learned to Pluralize the Future.” Creating Desired Futures: How Design Thinking Innovates Business. Basel, 2009, pp. 69-72.

Leave a comment

World Future Society AZ Event: Tom Lombardo on Science Fiction: The Golden Age to the Singularity and Beyond, June 27, 2017

Join the Arizona chapter of the World Future Society on Tuesday, June 27, from 6:30 to 8:30 pm at the Scottsdale Civic Center Library for an engaging presentation on Science Fiction and the Future. Tom Lombardo will be continuing his lecture from last month’s meeting, with Science Fiction: The Golden Age to the Singularity and Beyond. RSVP here. I hope you can join us!

Science Fiction: The Golden Age to the Singularity and Beyond

Speaker: Dr. Tom Lombardo

Science fiction is the most visible, influential, and populous contemporary form of futurist thinking and imagination in the modern world. For an immense number of people science fiction has become a way of life. It is the evolutionary mythology of the future.

Following Tom Lombardo’s stimulating presentation last month tracing the history of science fiction from ancient times to the cosmic visions of “Doc” Smith’s seminal space operas and Olaf Stapledon’s evolutionary sagas of future humanity and the universe, in this follow-up talk Tom will continue and complete his journey forward, chronicling the subsequent decades of consciousness-expanding thought and imagination in science fiction up to present times.

Beginning with the Golden Age of science fiction in the 1940s, including Heinlein, Asimov, van Vogt, and Clarke, Tom will successively cover: the Silver Age, with the “explosion” of science fiction cinema, the fantastical psychological science fiction of Alfred Bester, and the meta-realities of Philip K. Dick; the New Wave and the “Dangerous Visions” of the 1960s and 1970s, sex, drugs, and the psychedelic in science fiction, and the rise of popularity of women science fiction writers, such as Ursula LeGuin and James Tiptree, Jr.; “How Science Fiction Conquered the World” in the 1980s, comedy and satire, computer technology and  AI, and the emergence of Cyberpunk; Steampunk, Watchmen, ecological and bio-tech science fiction, and mind-blowing experiments in reality in the 1990s; and stories of global consciousness, the “New Weird,” alternative realities and universes, passing through the technological singularity, and a thousand Sci-Fi movies (with super-heroes and anti-heroes galore) since the beginning of the new Millennium.

Please Note: If you missed the first talk, you can enjoy and get into this second talk without any problem.

About Tom Lombardo

Thomas Lombardo, Ph.D. is the Director of the Center for Future Consciousness and The Wisdom Page, the Managing Editor of the online journal Wisdom and the Future, and Professor Emeritus and retired Faculty Chair of Psychology, Philosophy, and the Future at Rio Salado College, Tempe, Arizona. He has published seven books and over fifty articles, and given an equal number of national and international presentations on diverse psychological, philosophical, and futurist topics. A member of numerous futurist organizations and contributing editor to futurist journals, his newest book Future Consciousness: The Path to Purposeful Evolution has been described as a “masterpiece” and “truly breathtaking,” “a deeply wise book for a wise future…challenging us to take our everyday thinking to a whole new epic scale.” He is presently working on a new book series Science Fiction: The Evolutionary Mythology of the Future, covering the history of science fiction from Prometheus to the “Singularity” and beyond.

Leave a comment

World Future Society AZ Event: Tom Lombardo on Science Fiction: The Evolutionary Mythology of the Future, May 18, 2017

Join the Arizona chapter of the World Future Society on Thursday, May 18, from 6:30 to 8:30 pm at the Scottsdale Civic Center Library for an engaging presentation on Science Fiction and the Future. Tom Lombardo, who was recently honored as a World Future Studies Federation Fellow, will be previewing his forthcoming book, Science Fiction: The Evolutionary Mythology of the Future. RSVP here. I hope you can join us!

About Science Fiction: The Evolutionary Mythology of the Future


Science fiction is the most visible and influential form of futurist thinking in contemporary pop culture. Why is science fiction so popular? Similar in myriad ways to the great myths of the past, science fiction speaks to the whole person—intellect, imagination, emotion, and the senses—providing expansive narratives that enlighten, motivate, and engage. Facilitating the holistic psychological development of what I refer to as “future consciousness”—our integrative awareness of the future—science fiction has, for many people, become a way of life and a way of experiencing reality and creating the future.

As futurist narrative, science fiction encompasses the future of everything, and even extends beyond into alternative and higher dimensional realities. This presentation, introducing my new book series, offers a sweeping overview of the evolution of science fiction—from Prometheus and the ancient Greeks, to H. G. Wells and Olaf Stapledon’s Star Maker, and into the present with Star WarsWatchmen, and transcendence through the “Singularity”—highlighting the importance of mythic consciousness within the human mind. We will consider how science fiction has emerged as the most powerful and relevant mythology of contemporary times, informing and inspiring futurist thinking in our modern world. We will examine how science fiction advances the purposeful evolution of future consciousness, and why it is the evolutionary mythology of the future.

What Others are Saying about Science Fiction: The Evolutionary Mythology of the Future  

“For those interested in science fiction, cultural history, or the interplay of myth, science, and literature, Tom Lombardo has given us a veritable cornucopia of fascinating and enlightening information about science fiction and its place in the story of civilization. For those of us interested in the history of ideas and especially the role played by science fiction in the evolution of consciousness and our awareness of the future, Lombardo’s work will be the touchstone for many years to come.”

— Allan Leslie Combs, Ph.D., CIIS Professor of Consciousness Studies

“Professor Lombardo’s encyclopedic assessment of science fiction as a uniquely evolutionary art form is mind candy of the highest order — must reading for serious fans of the genre. ”

— Oliver Markley, Professor Emeritus, Graduate Studies of the Future, University of Houston-Clear Lake

“Tom Lombardo dives into some of the eternal questions of science fiction, its relationship with tomorrow, with the universe, and with the vastly more complex realm within each human brain and heart.”

— David Brin, Author of Startide Rising, The Uplift War, The Postman, and Existence

About Tom Lombardo

Thomas Lombardo, Ph.D. is the Director of the Center for Future Consciousness and The Wisdom Page, the Managing Editor of the online journal Wisdom and the Future, and Professor Emeritus and retired Faculty Chair of Psychology, Philosophy, and the Future at Rio Salado College, Tempe, Arizona. He has published seven books and over fifty articles, and given an equal number of national and international presentations on diverse psychological, philosophical, and futurist topics. A member of numerous futurist organizations and contributing editor to futurist journals, his newest book Future Consciousness: The Path to Purposeful Evolution has been described as a “masterpiece” and “truly breathtaking,” “a deeply wise book for a wise future…challenging us to take our everyday thinking to a whole new epic scale.” He is presently working on a new book series Science Fiction: The Evolutionary Mythology of the Future, covering the history of science fiction from Prometheus to the “Singularity” and beyond.


Short Fiction: A Life Pod at Riverton

Speculative fiction has always been a great way to imagine the future. The following is a short climate-related piece I wrote.

A Life Pod at Riverton

“When we look at biological analogues,” Jane began, lifting the cover off the evap system and dropping to one knee, “we see the many ways in which large organisms are vulnerable when climate push comes to climate shove.”

The sun hovered in an infinite sky, bright, blanching out any atmospheric color. It was spring, and the air was warming, with a sweet sugar breeze.

Jane lifted a hand to shadow her eyes.

“Elephants, lions, cows, all the big mammals,” she said, then gestured in the direction of several grassy mounds that rose from the prairie. “Too big, too slow, too pack-oriented. Vulnerable.”

Then, she reached into the evap unit and pulled out a length of rotten rubber hose.

“So too all the networks dependent on leaders,” she went on. “Bees and the like. Vulnerable.”

“And now mostly gone,” I added, handing her a wrench.

“Yep,” she reached into the opening at the base of the evap unit to screw down a new hose. “Humans in our old hierarchical mode as well. You know what almost happened to us. It’s amazing to think that the principles that gave us such tremendous adaptive benefits in the past would lead us to disaster.”

“The greed, the dependency, the consumption,” I agreed.

It seemed everyone was talking this way now, I thought to myself, after ten years of utter madness. A sudden sanity had taken hold and was spreading across a ravaged world.

It was a simple idea, a small idea in a way, but the life pod concept did it; it catalyzed the clarity, the life-affirming sanity that had begun to sweep over us all.

I had been unrooted for several years, waiting on various waiting lists. They were difficult years, but in late March, I was offered a pod in this section of the plains, and so I had made my way by foot and auto from the east coast to this new Midwestern place, Riverton. After everything went down, and society fell apart, we all abandoned the old places, the cities and towns, just left them behind where they were. We made new places, like Riverton here.

“I get it now,” she said, flipping the master switch on my life pod, “It took me a while. The problem was always the grid systems. Millions, billions of people depending on these artificial networks — agriculture, economy, power — that others control, that bunched up masses of people. Exploitation was inevitable.”

The machinery within the life pod woke up and began to hum its soft, green-power hum. Water condensing from the air, circulating in the grow systems. Photovoltaics and wind turbines charging batteries. Air scrubbers.

Jane had been one of the earliest Riverton residents, she told me, and now it was her turn to welcome me, the newest resident.

As we waited for the life pod to flush its air and water circulators through the three rooms, the garden terrace, the aquaponics, Jane offered me a glass of water from a bottle dangling from her belt. We sat on a bench in front of the main door.

“I met Sam Turner once,” she said, then laughed at my surprised expression. “He came through here seeding the pod plans, the 3D printers, helping us put it all together. I’ve been here since the beginning.”

“Wow,” I said, sipping from the cup of water. It was fresh and clear. “They say he’s disappeared.”

“Well, he moved on from here. But the pods are everywhere. They’re how we live now.”

I nodded.

Yeah, it was a small idea, a simple idea. Just give everyone a life support system, a life pod. Provide each person with an automated domicile that produces water, fish, vegetables, fresh air, security. One integrated life support system, complete in itself, powered by itself, easy to build with surviving technology, easy to maintain.

And the repercussions were simple too: no money, no economy, no deprivation, no starvation, everyone with their own place, with the freedom of guaranteed sustenance. You owned a life pod, and it’s all you could own, all you needed to own. The small barter markets of goods and services were for entertainment, diversion. Nobody’s life depended on them.

That was Turner’s gift to a world that needed both liberation and healing.

After a few minutes, the light on the front of my life pod toggled from red to green with an audible click.

“Well, here you are,” Jane smiled and patted my knee. “Welcome home.”

She stood and walked off into the bright April day, waving at me. I waved back and looked again at the rising mounds to the east, now luminous with spring grass.

Here I am.

Leave a comment

Tomorrow’s Yesterday is Today; or History of/and/or/in the Post-Information, Post-Truth Age; or A Dispatch from a Computer Simulation Beyond the Time Singularity that Just Happened, Whenever that Was

The following is a speculative piece, or screed or manifesto perhaps, that purports neither to be true nor to be real-time.


Part One: Just Take Those “Old” Records Off the Shelf

I wanted to begin with the suggestion that, in “2015,” something deep and fundamental changed in our world. I wanted to write, also, for the first time in history — it’s such a rare opportunity that one gets to use those words in that order — so I wanted to write, for the first time in history, old music outsold new music (Pugsley). But qualifications are always in order. “History” here means the time period during which relevant sales records were kept, extending presumably back to the first time “music,” by which we must mean recorded music, was first packaged for sale in the United States. These sales figures exclude streaming music, paid or otherwise, which would probably not change the results anyway. As it is, it’s an amazing anomalistic “fact,” and “true,” though we will have to keep qualifying quotes around those words for “now,” by which I mean the duration of this narrative. So yes, I wanted to present that significant “fact,” i.e., the comparative statistic that people in the United States bought more old music than new music for the first “time” ever in “2015,” and I thought it would be useful to develop what such a historical occurrence might mean from a social change perspective.

So pursuing this line, I would go on to say, for one thing, that this soundscan inversion means in “fact” that, in “2015,” and I’ll explain those quotes later, our collective ontological base shifted as we pushed past the point where music as physical object, and thus physical constraint, had anything to do with physical consumption, because it’s almost fully digital “now,” of course, “bits” in our terminology here, and thus no longer embodied or constrained in “atoms” that must be “produced” or “shipped” rather than “copied” or “downloaded.” Now, the music industry, such as it is, may wring its collective hands over what it may think this old-music-outsold-new-music “fact” says about the quality of the new music available, as if there’s some talent shortage, among performers or consumers, one’s not sure exactly which, if not both, but even if there were universal shortages of talent, which from other evidence seems quite possible, that’s not what’s happening to music sales. Something very different explains the transactional triumph of back catalogs over, well, front catalogs.

Here it is, then, and it’s obvious — back in the previous analog world, when recorded music was a physical good embodied in atoms of vinyl, or later polycarbonate plastic, and distributed through physical stores, only so much music could be economically produced and distributed in significant quantities. And well, the people wanted “new” music, and the music industry wanted “new” music, which was inherently riskier but more exciting for all parties concerned. There was a systemic bias toward “new” music, in other words, when it was embodied in atoms. You could find “old” music then, but it was not as easy as finding “new” music; you had to commit to searching for “old” music in the delightfully crepuscular world of bargain bins and used record stores. “Now,” however, the systemic paradigm has shifted fully with the nature of the recorded music object itself, from atoms to bits. In the post-atomic ontological paradigm, in which all media is digital, and thus wholly intangible, and the distribution channels themselves are digital, again, nothing material needs to be produced, and thus there is zero marginal cost to every piece of music sold, “new” or “old,” high-demand or low. Plus, all that “old” music is actually “new” music to all the people who have never heard it before, suggesting that the power to define or decree what is worth listening to has shifted, or distributed, from a centralized authority to a decentralized everyone and anyone, with interesting broader relativistic implications we can’t pull this essay over to inspect just yet. Anyway, in the digital paradigm, all music is “now” available for consumption at all “times,” free or paid, and because there is more “old” music than “new” music, and this is more “true” every year, it will not stop, and nothing like it will stop, because the entire ontological context of cultural production, and thus the largely digital-mediated reality in which the vast majority of human beings currently exist, is shifting from atoms to bits right before our eyes, with everything that implies, and the repercussions are enormous and everywhere.

Part 2: The Black Cat Crosses Our Path All Over Again

Well, I had meant to write all that stuff in Part One, and more in the same vein, to tease out those enormous, everywhere social-change implications of how we interact with digital media “now,” but then I looked at this “old”-music-outsold-“new”-music “fact” again and saw the black cat from The Matrix. Let me explain the metaphor. In the Wachowski Brothers’ “1999” film, the main characters inhabit a large-scale computer simulation, called The Matrix, which masks the reality that they are essentially enslaved by intelligent machines. At one point, the characters see a black cat twice, a déjà vu glitch that occurs when the computer code behind the simulation is updated or changed, usually to further some nefarious objective of the code’s architects. The “old” music sales “fact” is the same as seeing a black cat twice in The Matrix: it’s a small thing after all, not a big thing, but it coincides with and thus signals something else that is itself large-scale and profound. In foresight, we might call it a “weak signal,” I suppose. On one hand, the “old” music sales “fact” indicates that, as atoms shift to bits, as we’ve noted, all music that has ever been produced will be available to everyone everywhere all at once. On the other hand, as we haven’t yet noted explicitly, it means there are plenty of people who feel no reservations about consuming old music, people for whom old music is cool, which is in itself a social trend worth analyzing.

But, on another other hand, and here’s the big scary picture, this “fact” also suggests that sequential time may be breaking down, for all intents and purposes, and if so, this “fact” should be additional “evidence,” as if, after the various events of “2016,” one needs any more “evidence,” that, in “2015,” the technological singularity or something as pervasive and bizarre happened, yanking the ontological rug out from under humans on earth, and we are now living, as Elon Musk and other ostensibly reasonable people have suggested, in something like a sophisticated computer simulation (Anderson), specifically one in which all cultural artifacts exist, and are at the same time produced and reproduced, in the present all at once, with merely an illusion of sequential time that is in the end indistinguishable from variations in aesthetic style; and that we live in a simulation, or something indistinguishable from a simulation, in which all cultural artifacts are being slowly and permanently detached from any relationship to authoritative “reality,” “history,” or “facts.” In this indistinguishable-from-simulation “reality,” in other words, time-and-space flattens further with each computing cycle, or “year,” as everything gets edited and remixed and thus rendered continually anew, streaming timelessly in the present; temporal constructs hold less and less meaning; and perceptual time accelerates in some fashion similar to Terence McKenna’s time-wave-zero (Eden), collapsing all probability waves into an increasingly information-dense, inescapable and eventually eternal-present-moment. This is why, for one thing, I’m putting dubiousness quotes around “2015” and similar temporal concepts. But more on this Big Scary Picture later.

On yet another other but related hand, and this is the point we need to stop and inspect here in this section, what’s happening with music, and thus all cultural artifacts, signifies that history and derivationally also a certain sense of “truth,” as well as certain aspects of perceived “time,” are no longer what they were. Of course, we always knew that “history” and “truth” to a certain extent could be shaped by authority to support its ideological objectives, in the same way the music industry shaped the production and distribution system of music to suit its economic objectives, back in the days of atom-based musical artifacts. But in those “old” paradigms, there was an authority, a central and hegemonic body with a narrative that could be referenced and inevitably contested/resisted. What’s happened since in the code of “the Matrix,” both figuratively and literally speaking at once, is that authority may have finally and completely collapsed, and the transcendental signifier of authority and any associated dominant narrative may have fragmented completely, and long may it rest in peace. “Now” and going “forward,” then, “history” (and “truth” and perceived “time”) will likely no longer depend upon the atomic integrity of cultural artifacts, arranged in sequential narrative strata that both produce and reproduce cultural meaning; these concepts, rather, will continue to exist only in limited and provisional usages, essentially for the temporary fulfillment of human needs.

How so? When everything — music, books, movies, images, ideas, expressions, maps, relationships, conversations, and infinitely more — is digitized into bits, everything is curate-able, editable, re-mixable, spinnable, re-sequenceable, and when there is no authority, explicit or implicit, legal or normative, to preserve an ontological model of “what is real” and an epistemological model of “what is true,” ideological or otherwise, and everyone has access to the raw material of culture and the tools to curate, edit, and reinterpret, express anew, we’ve crossed a threshold of which “social change” seems like a modest, even quaint description. This is the hidden meaning behind the seemingly banal and circuitous title, “Tomorrow’s Yesterday is Today” — in crossing this threshold into this post-temporal future (tomorrow), we have rendered history (yesterday) fully and finally a product of our present activity (today). We are free to say anything happened, whenever we want to say it happened, in whatever way we want to say it, and the evaluative criteria for the validity or legitimacy of any production, reproduction, or consumption of a cultural artifact, by which we mean everything humans express or do, is not veracity, but will be rather other criteria, such as agreement, emotional content, aesthetics, originality, or whatever. Whether something “is” “true” or “really” “happened” is rapidly becoming irrelevant, and in blunt terms, it’s the “true” death of “history” as we knew it, or even deeper, the death of the supporting ontological and epistemological structures that made history what it was, both time- and score-keeper in an all-pervasive culturally constructed narrative context. The social impact is just beginning to express itself more broadly in what has been labelled the “post-information” or “post-fact” or “post-truth” era in which we “now” are presumed to live.

Illustrative Interlude: The Curious Case of Boilerplate

In the online version of the Merriam-Webster dictionary, the word boilerplate has three definitions:

  • syndicated material supplied especially to weekly newspapers in matrix or plate form
  • a: standardized text
    b:  formulaic or hackneyed language <bureaucratic boilerplate>
  • tightly packed icy snow (Merriam-Webster)

If you click the link labeled “See boilerplate defined for English-language learners,” you get this very much more-to-the point definition: “phrases or sentences that are a standard way of saying something and are often used” (Merriam-Webster). Forgetting snow for now, let’s think of boilerplate as standardized language, often used in legal contexts, for the express purpose of saving time; boilerplate texts are shortcuts, linguistic organisms, if you will, bred to be widely reproduced through judicious cutting and pasting, but they’re often so successful at reproducing that they have apparently overwhelmed some linguistic contexts, stimulating the slightly pejorative definition 2b: “formulaic or hackneyed language.”

In the transition of cultural production and reproduction from atoms to bits, boilerplate language and things like boilerplate language, such as clichés and other overwhelmingly useful expressions, can be thought of as an analog to genetic, or better yet, memetic, material. They get spread around because they are useful and transmittable. Copy-paste. Similar cultural genetic/memetic material includes rhythms or beats, which get infinitely sampled and re-combined, iconic imagery, pleasing visual compositions, compelling conversations, commonplace situations. In short, in this new age in which ontology and epistemology as we knew them have collapsed into something entirely new, any cultural ingredient that can be edited, copied, and transmitted — the current apotheosis of which is now the internet “meme,” a picture with a little bit of text that hieroglyphically communicates a widely shareable idea, and which, when combined together, form a kind of metalanguage that has never existed before — any cultural ingredient, then, that can be copied is subject to continual redefinition and has thus lost any pretension to fixed or permanent meaning.

But now, meet another boilerplate, Boilerplate the Robot. Here’s a photo of Boilerplate with President Teddy Roosevelt after the battle of San Juan Hill, in “1898:”

And here’s Boilerplate sizing up boxer Jack Johnson, sometime around “1910:”

The product of Paul Guinan and Anita Bennett and their Adobe Photoshop license, Boilerplate the Robot appears in dozens of historical photographs, the robot itself a piece of cultural genetic/memetic material spliced right into the artifacts of history, artifacts now translated from atoms to bits, re-mixed with new time- and truth-independent content, and sent out into the digital distribution network that is the internet. Needless to say, Boilerplate has become a “steampunk” sensation, with an elaborate backstory developed in books and the potential of a film by none other than uber-geek director JJ Abrams (Zutter). Steampunk, incidentally, is a science fiction genre, general aesthetic, and subculture that imagines a fusion of advanced technology and the 19th century. It is a revisionist history, to most sensibilities, created in a crowd-sourced fashion for the entertainment of a devoted subculture; the steampunk narrative exists in parallel with the base historical narrative and projects both forward and backward in imagined “time,” an act which I call collapsing history, and creates a charming time dislocation, as we see in the photographs of Boilerplate.

So let’s get to the brass tacks of Boilerplate and things like Boilerplate, where cultural genetic/memetic material spills outside of the nicely organized sequential strata of the prevailing parallel historical narrative. These photos. Boilerplate. It’s not history, is it? Not “real” history? Not “true?” Or is it? For my part, I can hold the thought that it’s fiction in my mind; I know my way around Photoshop and know what it can do; yet I have never seen a photo of Teddy Roosevelt standing on San Juan Hill without Boilerplate standing there with him. I have never seen a photo of boxer Jack Johnson without Boilerplate clowning with him. Which is not to say such artifacts don’t exist, I will admit that possibility, but now that I’ve seen Boilerplate there, I can’t erase him. This new cultural artifact exists, contextualized among other cultural artifacts; it can’t be denied. It’s like old music and new music, coalescing and collapsing in the mix. What’s “true” doesn’t matter, and is rather a separate question, no? In Vintage Tomorrows: A Historian and a Futurist Journey Through Steampunk into the Future of Technology, futurist Brian David Johnson says Boilerplate is “better history than most ‘real’ history [co-author James H. Carrott] has seen — and that’s saying something” (Carrott and Johnson, 95).

So there’s a thing called “better history” that is distinct from “real history,” and is generally preferable to it. Let that sink in. And tell me if this looks familiar:

Part 3 and Final: A User’s Guide to the Post-Information Age,
or the Infinite SimCity

Now, let’s get back to looking more directly at the significant social change field radiating out from the atoms-to-bits singularity. In an only-slightly-hysterical “2014” piece in The Guardian, media commentator Bob Garfield writes, “Facts are over, replaced by feelings and free-floating certainty … for everything that matters, as of now, we are smack in the post-information age” (Garfield). The piece is representative of many that have been written in a similar vein over the past two years. After citing several statistics that illustrate the power of self-serving beliefs triumphing in the face of what Garfield considers “facts,” he sums up the stakes from his point of view, “What makes this all so dangerous is that it not only corrupts policy debates, it undermines serious journalism – and science and history and all other rational disciplines – by rendering their output mere arguments, no more or less credible than someone’s dogma, superstition or gut hunch” (Garfield). The loss of respect for, or relevance of, or deference to, serious journalism, science, history, etc. — in other words, authority — is what Garfield and people like Garfield have confronted.

It might be easy to dismiss such frustrations as Garfield’s if they weren’t so widespread. Dismissing them would be, again, missing the signal. It’s also tempting to blame people who don’t accept “facts,” say they’re intellectually deficient, point out the “dumbing-down” of society and failure of public education. But that’s missing the point too. It’s not the players; it’s the game. Like it or not, my argument here implies, there has indeed been a significant social change, and human beings are doing what they have always done — live according to the values that work for them in the situations in which they find themselves. I’ve articulated it already here, but to sum up: as part of our ontological shift from atoms to bits, a corresponding epistemological shift is occurring (and perhaps even metaphysical, but we can’t get into that here). As human beings, our ontological being is built upon the objects we encode with meaning, and how we interact with those objects. Because digital artifacts are editable and easily duplicated, not fixed or distinctive, so too will everything that depends upon digital artifacts be editable and easily duplicated, and I am suggesting that these things are big fundamental, interrelated things like “history,” “time,” and “truth.” As virtual and augmented realities develop and become pervasive, digital objects will be everywhere and increasingly every thing we interact with. Pokemon Go was just a weak shot across the bow from the new paradigm. If we are honest with ourselves, concepts such as “history,” “time,” and “truth” are not ancient and eternal; they arose within the context of human evolution and human cultural development. In Western culture, when “rationality” replaced a largely religious/superstitious worldview during the Enlightenment period, we experienced an ontological and epistemological shift from a somewhat animistic/spiritual experience of existence to the materialistic world with which we are familiar “now.” If you believe in progress and/or evolution, you would most likely at least entertain the idea that this post-information age is something we’ve arrived at because it’s better in some way, but to be clear, there’s no necessary reason to believe in such things (unless it suits the objective of your narrative “now”).

How this new paradigm might be better is what’s eating at everyone, what everyone is trying to parse. The post-information age to which Garfield and others have referred has also been called the “post-truth” and “post-fact” age. The Oxford English Dictionary named “post-truth” the “2016” word of the year, defining it as “relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief” (Oxford). Here, as in Garfield, the concept is positioned within an existing rationalist framework: objective fact vs. emotion and personal belief. To be clear, I’m not denying the existence of either facts or beliefs as concepts; my point is that what matters is rather the actions one takes, and that a society collectively takes, in this new reality, where the ontological and epistemological paradigms have possibly shifted beyond immediate recognition. While there are certainly people in the world with a medieval animistic worldview, they do not define the larger global culture, and it does no good to stomp your feet and protest change. Yet, that is an open option. However, most of us will choose to deal with this post-truth reality “going forward.” The questions to ask are, what does the change mean, how will it manifest itself in the future? How will we live in this post-information age?

The answer to these questions may require another essay to fully explain, but here’s the short of it, and it derives from the Big Scary Picture already described: we can’t prove we’re not in a computer simulation; you “now” have the power to fabricate and edit your reality; let’s collectively and individually make it work for us. Whether or not we “really” crossed some strange time-and-space singularity where we fully entered an eternal computer simulation, there’s no reason not to live as though we did. An infinite SimCity. The cyberpunk future is here: you can hack your own reality. It’s now made of hackable bits, not atoms. If one embraces the new reality, which again might as well be a simulation, we have to face the possibility of unprecedented freedom and power at the individual level, which is both thrilling and frightening. Individuals “now” have the power to create their own complete realities. You are free, no matter how much that bothers the people who have in the past depended on controlling you. And it’s weird. And new. All this retreat from “facts” and “truth” is nothing short of a new paradigm, and the potential liberation of over 7 billion creators, free to write the endless futures of humanity.

Works Cited

Anderson, Mark Robert. “Elon Musk Says We’re Probably Living in a Computer Simulation — Here’s the Science.” The Sinularity Hub. June 23, 2016.

Carrott, James H. and Johnson, Brian David. Vintage Tomorrows: A Historian and a Futurist Journey through Steampunk into the Future of Technology. Sebastapol, CA, O’Reilly, 2013.

Eden, Dan. “Terence McKenna’s Time Wave Theory.” n.d.

Garfield, Bob. “Who needs facts? We appear to be in the Post-Information Age now.” The Guardian. January 3, 2014.

Pugsley, Adam. “Old Music is Outselling New Music for the First Time in History.”

Merriam-Webster. “Definition of boilerplate.”

Oxford English Dictionary. “Word of the Year: Post-Truth.”

Leave a comment

Disruptive Futures: A Workshop on the Future of Nuclear Weapons

Just recently, I noted the new president’s statements on nuclear weapons, in which he said the following: “It would be wonderful, a dream would be that no country would have nukes, but if countries are going to have nukes, we’re going to be at the top of the pack.”

The implication there, I suspect, is that “dream” is a code for impossibility, and thus Trump advocates expanding or somehow improving the nuclear capabilities of the United States. Perhaps it’s just a continuation of the trillion-dollar modernization program discussed by Obama or perhaps it’s a new global arms race. I don’t know for certain, and I wonder if anybody else does, including the President. With this uncertainty at the state level, and the increasing sophistication of terrorists, it reminds me, and should remind everyone, how nuclear weapons remain a tremendous existential threat to humanity and one that futurists should engage as much as possible.

To that end, this is a great occasion to showcase a extraordinary futures-related summit that happened in December of 2016, called Disruptive Futures: Nuclear Weapons Summit.

The Disruptive Futures: Nuclear Weapons Summit in Santa Fe, New Mexico, from December 4-7, 2016, was designed to engage a new type of discussion about nuclear security. Over the course of three days, 45 interdisciplinary leaders from across the country, including futurist fellows like myself from the World Future Society, were immersed in the history of nuclear weapons, discussed present day nuclear threats and — most importantly — explored ‘what if’ scenarios about the future of global security. To accomplish this innovative model for a convening about nuclear weapons Creative Santa Fe partnered with N Square, NTI (Nuclear Threat Initiative) and PopTech.

One of the unique aspects of the event was the degree to which the public in Santa Fe was engaged. Public events kicked off and closed the three day summit. The large public opening event was “A Conversation with William J. Perry and Eric Schlosser.”

Here is a full video of that conversation, as well as associated video content:

William Perry served as Secretary of Defense from 1994 to 1997, and in more recent years, he’s become a strong advocate for reducing the risks of nuclear weapons. Here’s Perry’s Nuclear Project site. Eric Schlosser is an American journalist, author and filmmaker known for investigative journalism, such as in his books Fast Food Nation (2001), Reefer Madness (2003), and Command and Control: Nuclear Weapons, the Damascus Accident, and the Illusion of Safety (2013).

As the final part of the futures process, the summit participants presented 2045 Future scenarios to the public at the Violet Crown theater in Santa Fe. The days in between the two public events were filled with past and present talks and tours, but also qi-gong and collaborative exercises designed by Rhode Island School of Design industrial designers.  The success of the summit is in large part due to the disruptive nature of the program itself.

Here’s is a video showing scenes from the final presentations:

One of Creative Santa Fe’s primary economic objectives is to shine an international spotlight on Santa Fe. They believe that Santa Fe can become a global destination for leaders to tackle some of the world’s most challenging issues by leveraging New Mexico’s key assets: art, culture, science, technology, environment, and heritage. To that end, they have launched Disruptive Futures, and there promise to be more futures-oriented events.

A hugely important topic. A powerful process. Futures in action. I encourage everyone interested in positive futures to engage with the nuclear issue at least enough to get a lot better informed than our president seems to be at this point.

The future may depend on it.

[Thanks to the folks at Creative Santa Fe for the videos and some of the event summary above.]

Leave a comment

ASU’s Emerge: A Festival of Futures, 2017

If you’re in the Phoenix area this Saturday, February 25, 2017, be sure to visit this year’s edition of Emerge: A Festival of Futures at Arizona State University’s University Club, from 3:00 pm to 9:00 pm.

Here’s the official description:

Emerge: A Festival of Futures

EMERGE is an annual transmedia art, science and technology festival designed to engage diverse publics in the creative exploration of our possible futures. The festival’s 2017 theme is Frankenstein, a 200-year old novel that still motivates us to think critically about our creative agency and scientific responsibility. This year EMERGE invites visitors into a house of wonder filled with speculative technologies, fortune tellers, music and film, and performative experiments that blur the boundaries between art and science. The festival revisits the past in order to reframe our sense of the present and inspire imagination of plausible futures, and asks what we can learn today by looking at emerging science and technology through the lens of art.

Held concurrently with Night of the Open Door, during which ASU invites the public into its laboratories and studios, EMERGE focuses a critical eye on the future implications of research taking place on campus and around the world. Visit us at the University Club and the Piper Lawn February 25th, from 3-9PM for installations and performances designed for all ages.
Every year, it’s awesome and FREE. RSVP here.

1 Comment

Great New Futurist Site: Seeking Delphi

Seeking Delphi is a great new blog from futurist Mark Sackler. Mark is a fellow Houston Foresight colleague of mine and a great thinker with a wealth of experience and perspective on key future issues.

With Mark’s permission, I’d like to showcase his great, ongoing podcast series here. So far, Mark has addressed longevity and fuel cell technology with engaging interviews of people in the know. Here’s a sample:

I highly recommend that folks in interested in the future check out future insights from Seeking Delphi.