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Our Robotic Future: Humans Need Not Apply

Here is a well-done and very lucid video on the impact of automation on future human employment from CGP Grey:

No doubt, big changes are coming in human labor, and coming fast. We will have to reflect, individually and collectively, on where and how humans can create and receive economic value in future economies. The one portion of the video above I find least compelling is the automated creativity section. Yes, bots and robots will be able to execute visual and textual tasks, but I remain optimistically convinced that the real opportunity for the human mind is still the big-picture creative stuff: platforms, large-scale architecture, vision, strategy, analysis, planning, innovation, inspiration.

I think we may need to get more “out there,” more visionary, to compete creatively with automation near term, for one thing, and we must never forget that automation, at this point anyway, is developed and deployed to suit human needs. Coordinating all this technological opportunity, at the micro and macro levels, will be a big task; humans will have to imagine it, design it, and realize it. But I definitely get that this hopeful attitude about the sustainability of human creative value may not prevent millions, perhaps billions, of human beings from one day groping about for their livelihoods, while the creative elites enjoy life in Elysium.

Yet, maybe humans need not apply … as in, they may not need jobs per se. If automation becomes sufficiently ubiquitous and cheap, we could see an eventual dissolution of the current post-industrial socio-economic framework that organizes the global society. It may be, then, that humans will no longer need “jobs,” as historically constructed, in order to survive; they may be able to engineer self-sufficient (off-the-figurative-macro-grid) lives with automated personal energy (solar), food (garden), and water systems that no longer require that they exchange their time and labor for currency to be exchanged with institutions that provide life resources at a profit.

That’s just one possibility. The jury is still out on how automation-driven unemployment (aka structural unemployment) will shake out, but it’s clear, as this brilliant video demonstrates, the disruption has begun.

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A Beautiful Shelter for a Nomadic Future

The future will be a different time and place, there’s no doubt, but tomorrow always begins today. Some geologists say we are now entering a new epoch, the anthropocene, a time in the earth’s history marked primarily by large-scale human impacts. These impacts, of course, are directly related to global population growth.

Check out the following:

We’re already past 7 billion and headed rapidly toward 9 billion. With all these people, it’s obvious there will be even more pressure on environments, societies, economies, and individuals. As resources become scarce, there will be more competition for those resources, and often conflict. One of the many unfortunate outcomes of conflict (and more generally the breakdown of traditional social and economic systems) is the displacement of populations from traditional homes, functional infrastructures and established communities.

The UNHCR estimated that at the end of 2012, there were over 28.8 million displaced persons in the world, and the numbers are on an upward trend. It’s not difficult to imagine, as some sci-fi writers have, a future where distinct and permanently nomadic refugee communities are a common feature of the global human geography. I think of Bruce Sterling’s novels, as one example, where resourceful nomadic tribes (like the “proles” in Distraction) appear in various forms, sometimes in the middle of the action, sometimes at the periphery.

The possible future reality and significance of a permanently nomadic population is demonstrated also by the fact that people are working on solutions and tools for present and future nomads. Often, the solutions aim to reduce displacement, but increasingly, solutions are being developed to help make nomadism work.

A particularly beautiful example is this structural fabric tent by architect and designer Abeer Seikaly. As Seiklay notes, humanity has a long history of alternating between settlement and movement, and with Seikaly’s background in Jordan and the Middle East, she’s certainly familiar with bedouin cultures who even today cling to a desert pastoral nomadism.

Although I don’t think they’re commercially available, these tents are stunning, and perfect for the modern long-term nomad — the concept includes sophisticated lightweight materials, a water management system, and a solar cell for power. It’s right out of a cyberpunk novel. Plus, these things fold up for quick and easy moving-on.

Check out the beauty of Seikaly’s design:

There are more photos, details and a powerful design story on Seikaly’s site here, so check it out. It’s definitely worth reflecting on the possibility of a nomadic future and the potential of design and basic technologies to inform it.

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FM-2030 and The Galactic Public Archives

Here’s an interesting futurist site: The Galactic Public Archives. The GPA focuses on the ideas of visionary futurists, especially the late Transhumanist FM-2030. To quote the words of the GPA:

The Galactic Public Archives (GPA) is an online web series that takes an in-depth look at visionaries of the 20th and early 21st century who presented compelling visions of the future. The GPA gives viewers a glimpse of the mind’s ability for foresight, but also, insight into the hopes, dreams and fears through the words and voices of those visionaries.      

The GPA specifically is focusing on a man named FM-2030. FM 2030 was at various points in his life, an Iranian Olympic basketball player, a diplomat, a university teacher, and a corporate consultant. He developed his views on transhumanism in the 1960s and evolved them over the next thirty-something years. He was placed in cryonic suspension July 8th, 2000.  

FM-2030 apparently once said, “I am a 21st century person who was accidentally launched in the 20th. I have a deep nostalgia for the future.” And so, the Galactic Public Archives site is presented as a future site that remembers the present as the future past.

Here are a couple of instructive videos relating to FM-2030.

First, Who is FM-2030?

Second, Are You Transhuman?

I remember reading FM-2030’s book Are You Transhuman? way back in the 1990s. It was the first I had ever heard of transhumanism, and it fit so well into that transformative era when the Internet was new and people talked about such things “dot-coms” and the “new economy.” Of course, the dot-com era, too, is future past, but FM-2030’s ideas remain relevant and engaging.

I encourage those interested in the future to check out The Galactic Public Archives.

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Science Fiction Workshop: Grand Rapids, Michigan, September 19-21

My futurist friend and colleague Tom Lombardo is conducting a three-day workshop titled Science Fiction: The Mythology of the Future in Grand Rapids, Michigan, September 19-21, 2014.

Tom’s workshop in Michigan is an extended reprise of the Master Course on the same topic he conducted at the World Future Society Annual Conference earlier this year.

About the workshop:

This personally transformative 3-day workshop offers a sweeping, intellectually stimulating overview of science fiction, from ancient times to the consciousness-expanding visions of contemporary cosmic science fiction. Topics include: Science Fiction Literature and Cinema; Science Fiction Art; Science Fiction and the Evolution of Human Culture; and the Science Fiction Community and Way of Life.

The workshop is perfect for:

  • SF Novices & Enthusiasts
  • Educators
  • Futurists
  • Film and Art Enthusiasts
  • Psychologists
  • Readers & Writers of Literature
  • Anyone interested in science, art, history, philosophy, myth, religion, space exploration, technology, and all dimensions of the future.

If you’re interested in registering, have questions, or would like more information, click here. It looks awesome, and I encourage you to check it out and contact Tom if you have any questions.

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Announcing The Confluence Project

If you’ve followed this blog, you’re aware that one of my persistent interests lies quite simply in how emerging technologies impact societies and the lives of individuals. Specifically, as humans become more technologically enhanced, and technology becomes more and more intelligent — in short, as humans and technology converge — everything about the human experience could be in for potentially radical change. Everything from ecology to economics to biology to consciousness.

This coming together of humans and technology is what my friend and colleague Tery Spataro has long called confluence. Tery and I have been discussing confluence for over a year now, and it seems to us that the most pressing questions regarding the future radiate from the confluence of humans and tech. Confluence became the touchstone for our thinking about the future, and we are very interested in engaging others on the topic.

So, we are pleased to announce that we have launched what we are calling The Confluence Project. The Confluence Project asks questions of the purpose of new technologies, the impact these technologies will have on humanity, the environment, society, and more. What is happening? What does it mean? What can we do about it?

Here is a slideshow/video about the Confluence idea:

We have launched a web site at The Confluence Project is on facebook and twitter too.

With The Confluence Project web site, we aim to present a set of discussions, in video, text and audio, and through a full-length documentary about the confluence of man and machine. Our objective is to engage experts from a wide range of disciplines, and people from all walks of life, in thinking and talking about the the potentially disruptive technologies emerging out of robotics, artificial intelligence, machine learning, biotech and automation. These technologies are gestating in early stage development around the world. Some of these technologies have already been deployed commercially and are affecting our lives today.

Additionally, we are facilitating monthly discussion meetups in the Phoenix area, which we are calling “Sushi and the Singularity.” If you’re interested in joining us for raw fish and the future, RSVP here.

Finally, The Confluence Project is a not-for-profit volunteer effort dedicated to exploration and education, discussion and deliberation. We have no specific agendas or preconceived notions. Our fondest hope is to facilitate a collective, decentralized meditation on the human-tech future.

We invite you to visit the site and join in the conversation by contributing ideas, reflections, funds, or whatever else helps us collectively explore what it all means.