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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.]

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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.

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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.


Three Interesting New Social Robots for 2017

Social robotics continues to develop, and new robots are appearing on the market all the time. According to reports from this year’s Consumer Electronics Show (CES), robots stole the show. Typical of the reporting, USA Today wrote, “We saw robots to make your morning coffee, pour candy, fold your clothes, turn on and off your lights, project a movie on the wall, handle your daily chores and most impressively, look just like a human, or in this case, legendary scientist Albert Einstein, with facial expressions and movement.”

Turn on and off your lights? Well, all these little household applications may seem like small, even trivial steps along the way to the robotic future of our favorite scifi movies, but they are steps, and consumer demand for social robots, i.e., robots that interact with us socially and/or play predominantly social roles in our lives, I would argue, is key to the development of useful and human-supportive (as opposed to destructive) artificial intelligence.

Although I didn’t attend CES this year, here are three relatively new social robots that intrigue me:

Pillo, The Home Health Robot for Your Family

Offered currently on indiegogo, Pillo is one of several applications of social robotics to the provision of healthcare. As I’ve written before, as medicine becomes more and more automated, there will be value in the automation having some “bedside manner,” that is, exhibiting behavior that is informative, comforting, social and friendly.

Here’s the description of Pillo from its creators: “In today’s hectic word it can be easy to forget the things that truly matter, like the health & wellbeing of you & your loved ones. That’s why we created Pillo. Pillo can answer healthcare Q&A, connect with doctors, sync with mobile & wireless devices, store & dispense vitamins & medication, & can even re-order them for you from your favorite pharmacy. What’s more, his skills will grow as we build additional applications on Pillo’s platform. Stay healthy & discover true peace of mind with Pillo.”

Mykie, “My Kitchen Elf,” The Home Kitchen Assistant

From Bosch, Mykie is at this point a concept robot that was exhibited this year at CES, but as a kitchen robot type, he exhibits an IoT connectivity that is likely to develop further in the future, especially in smart home and smart city contexts. Mykie can suggest recipes but can also connect to a smart kitchen environment to optimize recommendations. As IEEE Spectrum wrote, “Bosch is hoping that a substantial amount of Mykie’s usefulness will come from the way it can integrate into the rest of your kitchen. For example, you can ask Mykie to come up with recipes that use the food you currently have in your smart fridge, and as you start cooking, the robot will preheat the oven to the right temperature for you at the right time. You can also use Mykie’s “virtual social cooking” to remotely attend cooking classes in real time, following along in your kitchen at home as both Mykie and a human instructor help you cook something that you might not otherwise be comfortable cooking on your own.”

Gatebox’s Virtual Home Robot

Last but not least is Gatebox’s Virtual Girlfriend, uh, I mean Virtual Home Robot. Gatebox claims to be “the world-first virtual home robot with which you can spend your everyday life with your favorite characters.” In the video, of course, the application is that of a romantic or emotional companion for a lonely male corporate worker. It may be a sad reflection of the increasing isolation in our increasingly digitized global society, but it’s clear that robots and tech in general will have a valuable role to play in caring about human beings in the future. An article from the UK outlet Daily Mirror asks whether Gatebox is “romantic or incredibly creepy?” But to paraphrase the Bard of Avon, the answer is likely all in the eye of the beholder.