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What Chaos Really Is

The pace of change in our hyper-connected, tech-driven world is unprecedented, and it’s only natural that from time to time we might feel a little disoriented. This disorientation is a prelude to fear, of course, so it’s not uncommon to hear in the press, or from our colleagues and friends, the suggestion that our world/society/industry/profession is descending into some degree of chaos.

I suspect that the chaos-mongers fall into one of at least two camps. There are the (usually older) folks genuinely alarmed by change, who usually have some stake in the status quo and who are afraid of and confused by new forces that threaten that status quo. Then there are the (usually younger) folks who would like to posit this sense of chaos as either a failure of the status quo or an entirely new paradigm which only they can reform/process/navigate.

As a futurist, and a student of sciences, statistics, and complex systems, I would argue that there is simply no such thing as chaos. Chaos, by definition, is a lack of order. The sense of unpredictability and randomness we perceive in our environment is not a lack of order. It is rather one of two things (or both): new patterns and structures or new levels of complexity in existing patterns and structures.

The fact that everything is bigger, deeper, faster and more interconnected certainly means that it’s more difficult to perceive the structure in the complexity, but that does not mean there is no structure.

Therefore, we would do best to think of our own individualized perception of chaos not as a reality of chaos in the world, but rather as our own (hopefully temporary) inability to perceive the underlying patterns and structures of what’s going on around us.

In other words, frankly, the perception of chaos is a confusion that comes from our own (again, temporary) ignorance, so the best approach any of us can take is a skeptical, learning approach: get the facts, study patterns, and don’t panic or fall for anyone else’s hysteria.

Our world is changing on an unprecedented pace and scale. It’s becoming more complex.

But it’s not chaos.

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Roboxotica 2012: A Cocktail Robotics Festival, December 6-9

My last post on human-machine symbiosis made the point that maybe we, as human beings, are starting to get more and more accustomed to having machines in our lives. That post also touched upon the more sophisticated and natural roles human-like (and increasingly smart) machines are beginning to play in servicing human needs, particularly around things like food and drink.

It turns out, believe it or not, that there’s a festival for human-machine symbiosis, food, and drink. Roboxotica 2012, which takes place in Vienna, Austria, this weekend (December 6-9, 2012) seems to be just that — an awesome social event dedicated to what the organizers call “cocktail robotics.”

Click on the image below for more information:

According to the official festival website, this event celebrates our silicon servants and computer-controlled companions:

“As robots have a growing number of different applications, the cases that involve interaction with an end-user are also growing. Progresses in the development of service-robots in the service of households and the elderly and also culinary proofs of concept, during the first decade of a new millenium, have been very promising.”

So it’s a celebration of service robots, and I’m delighted such an event exists, but I’m bummed I can’t be there. If you can’t be in Vienna this weekend either, please join me in a virtual toast to the service machines.