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The Internet of Things, Ubiquitous Computation and the Evolutionary Future of Objects

Here is a short slide presentation on a possible technological future. As humans at this point in time, we are in the midst of and agents of evolutionary forces—and these forces are driving us toward a future of smart objects everywhere. Matter wants to be conscious, and we will help it become so.

Here’s the presentation:

Lots of challenges ahead, but the suggestion here again is that in the anthropocene, humans and our technologies become the transformative evolutionary forces. Things that adapt and fit into the ecosystems we are building will flourish in the future, but things that do not will most likely perish. It’s unfortunate, but some organisms will become extinct.

However, this possible future includes the idea that through pervasive computation every object, from a pen to a desk to a mountain, will be transformed into smart matter that will eventually attain intelligence and then consciousness. A form of technological hylozoism, a new natural world.

The final argument here is that, given that this is the direction evolution is flowing, wouldn’t it make sense to flow with it by investing in and working on the technologies that get us there?

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Gerd Leonhard’s Technology vs. Humanity

Futurist Gerd Leonhard has a new book out called Technology vs. Humanity. According to the site, “Technology vs. Humanity is a last-minute wake up call to take part in the most important conversation humanity may ever have. Will we blindly outsource and abdicate big chunks of our lives to the global technology companies – or will we take back our autonomy and demand a sustainable balance between technology and humanity?”

Leonhard is asking what I agree are the big questions for us here and now. This short video sums it up:

At the end of the video, the big questions/issues/forces: Datawars and Privacy; Exponentiality; Transhumanism; Singularity: Heaven or Hell; The Internet of Things; Artificial Intelligence; Towards Abundance; Digital Ethics; Ego to Eco; Algorithms to Humarithms; Digital Obesity; Sustainable Capitalism; Networked Society; and Robot Love.

Check it out. You can read a sample previous at the book site at Technology vs. Humanity.


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Futurist Event in Tempe, AZ: Minority Report and Inventing the Future, November 17 and 18

If you’re in Arizona, here’s a great (free) futurist event next week. Two days of cool SciFi and Futures related stuff:

Hollywood Invades Tempe presents “Inventing the Future All Over Again,” a special two-day event about imagining the world 50 years from now. The event includes a discussion with Minority Report producer Walter Parkes, a screening of the film and Q&A with the team behind the movie, and a two-part idea summit looking 50 years into our future. The idea summit features the team behind Minority Report, ASU leading-edge professors and ASU students. RSVP at hollywoodinvadestempe.com.

Thursday, Nov. 17

• 12–1:15 p.m. – Discussion with Minority Report producer Walter Parkes at Old Main

• 6:30 p.m. – Special screening of the film at Harkins Valley Art Theater, followed by a Q&A with the minds behind the magic

Friday, Nov. 18

• 9:30 a.m.–12:30 p.m. – 50 years into the future idea summit, session one, at Old Main

• 2–5 p.m. – 50 years into the future idea summit, session two, at Old Main

See locations and times here: https://asuevents.asu.edu/content/hollywood-invades-tempe-minority-report-and-inventing-future-all-over-again

Some folks from the Arizona Chapter of the World Future Society are going to be there, all or part of the time. If you’d like to connect, hit our meetup page for the event.


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The Tantalus Paradox: A Possible Reason We Haven’t Met Aliens

My 13-year-old son and I recently went to the excellent 20th Annual Earth and Space Exploration Day at Arizona State University. Later, we were chatting over dinner, talking about space, and we kind of hit on an interesting possible explanation for why we very curious and industrious earthlings haven’t met any aliens yet. So let me develop our thinking here … we’re calling it the Tantalus Paradox.

First of all, it’s related to the Fermi Paradox. Originating with Enrico Fermi, the basic idea is that given the probabilities of life and technological development in the universe, it stands to reason that the universe should be teeming with civilizations. Yet, as Fermi is reputed to have quipped, “Where is everybody?”

Of course, we get answers like everything’s really far apart in the universe, life is pretty rare in the universe, and so on. Yet, we are finding new planets every day, new galaxies every day, and the odds are greater every day that there has to be intelligent life out there somewhere. And still where is everybody?

So my son and I came up with what we’re calling the Tantalus Paradox, after the character in Greek fable named Tantalus. Tantalus cooked and served one of his children and was sentenced by the gods to be trapped in water he couldn’t drink and with food dangling always just beyond his reach.

The Tantalus Paradox is intended to add a possible companion explanation for the Fermi Paradox and to stimulate thought. Here it is in rough argument form:

  1. The evolution of a technologically advanced civilization, no matter how alien or exotic, anywhere in the universe, requires at least two essential things: 1) the pressure of competition (first between species and later within the dominant species) which stimulates intelligence and problem-solving; and 2) abundant and available local resources (first on the home planet and later the home system, as a civilization evolves from Kardashev I to Kardashev II). The confluence of these two things is rare, but not impossible.
  2. The transition from a local system civilization to an interstellar civilization (Kardashev II to Kardashev III transition) requires a tremendous amount of within-species collaboration and lots and lots of available local resources.
  3. By the time any given civilization reaches the Kardashev II (K2 for short) stage, intense internal competition has become ingrained in the civilization, making large-scale collaboration difficult if not impossible, and local resources have been over-exploited. These two assets, competition and resources, are what got the civilization to this K2 point, but these things won’t get them to K3. We can call the transition from a Kardashev II civilization to a Kardashev III civilization the “K2-K3 chasm,” and it’s a huge leap that will be technically tough to cross anyway.
  4. Because evolution is what it is, any civilization anywhere in the universe, no matter how alien and exotic, will likely reach the K2-K3 chasm after having exhausted the means to cross it. Not only that, but destructive competition and resource exploitation will likely have brought about a crisis point that must be addressed—the survival of the species in question will require new approaches.
  5. Therefore, the vast majority if not all civilizations in the universe hit the K2-K3 chasm and either perish from resource over-exploitation or find some cooperative, resource-light way to persist, stuck in K2. Either way, interstellar travel, which may be possible in the abstract, is no longer possible in reality because the very evolutionary principles and availability of local resources that put it within a civilization’s grasp now prevent it from being attainable. Like Tantalus, civilizations are competitive, eat their futures, get stuck, and thus can’t reach the K3 bounty that would fuel further evolution and expansion.

So simply put, the paradox is that intense competition evolves intelligent civilizations but it also results in over-exploitation of resources, leaving civilizations stuck in their own systems, staring at the stars. That’s the idea in a nutshell. Not sure if it’s already out there. Of course, it assumes the non-existence of X-files–style conspiracies, secret space programs and other stuff like that. If we think about our own future, the cooperation and resource usage requirements kind of make sense, and a suggestion here is that solving for collaboration and smart resource usage may be essential, but they’re going to be tough challenges anywhere, not just here on Earth.

Anyway, I welcome any further thoughts on this Paradox.