ThoughtStorms Wiki

Quora Answer : What are the ideas of the future?

Oct 22, 2013

The future is basically a race. Between, on one side, exponentially increasing computing power and ubiquity, coupled with smaller and more fine-grained fabrication capacity (starting with 3D printing, robotics, moving on to MEMS, biotech and nanotechnology.) And, on the other, environmental destruction, resource depletion and peak everything.

One of two things will happen : we'll hit a crucial peak of some fundamental requirement (oil, water, helium, potassium); or global warming will cause major food chain collapse. And then civilization will effectively end.

Or, the improved fabrication technologies will make us ever better at managing resources and energy more efficiently, and we'll end up being able to sustain a steady-state population within the energy budget that the sun gives us each year, and with other important materials being continually cycled.

There is no third way : the stocks that the earth has aren't infinite, and we aren't even vaguely close to being able to pull resources from other asteroids, planets and stars. (Yes, we dream of it, no that's not going to be the front-runner in this race.)

So, basically the ideas of the future are going to be those that "go with the grain" of these two broad trends. Anything that uses ubiquitous computing / robots / microfabrication to make material production more efficient in terms of energy and materials is a big idea for the future.

Quora Answer : What do you think our technological achievements will look like in 100 years? Do you believe our future will be more post-apocalyptic, more Utopian or a mix of both?

Aug 23, 2018

Bit of both.

On the Utopian side we'll have unbelievable computer power (by our standards) and computers and robots working for us. We;ll have a range of extraordinary new materials which will do work supporting, filtering, monitoring "by magic". Things will literally "make themselves" out of inbuilt growth / unfolding capabilities. We'll have biotech and medicine that fix more of the injuries and diseases we suffer and extend our lives even longer.

On the apocalyptic side we'll have destroyed / consumed far more of the natural environment. Even if we've ducked mass starvation due to climate change we'll be eating a restricted variety of more "artificial" foods. Human freedom and dignity will be diminished. Privacy will be effectively eliminated altogether. And we'll live continuously monitored lives, with the constant awareness that some power will be able to "see" what we are doing (possibly even "thinking" based on AI's ability to predict such things from tiny behavioural clues). The powers that exist will be more entrenched and harder to challenge than ever. (Based on their total awareness of the population they can intervene to buy off or kill challenges early. Long before most people even become aware of them.) Political freedom and choice of government / governance may be dead.

Quora Answer : Will humans die off in the next 40 years? What species dominate Earth in 40,000 years?

Jul 5, 2020

What happens between the 40 and 40,000?

Obviously it's hard to tell.

A major die off of humans is not implausible. Particularly if climate change leads to catastrophic failure of wheat / rice crops.

We're very likely looking at millions dead. And I wouldn't rule out a billion plus humans dead within 100 years due to the various knock on effects, famines, plagues, draughts and wars etc. due to climate change.

BUT ...

humans are pretty hardy, very successful and very smart. The chances of us going extinct altogether is unlikely.

The main uncertainty is "do a billion die and 6 billion survive?" or "do 6 billion die and a billion survive"?

Either way ... that's still plenty of humans to keep our species ticking over for hundreds more years.

40,000 is a long time though ... and most likely we'll have been supplanted by some kind of cyborg species by then. (Human descendants who are more or less adapted to work with AI prosthetics.)

Quora Answer : Is there really anything to worry about?

May 30, 2019

Climate change - risks doing major damage to the complex food webs we depend on without fully understanding.

Information technology #1 - the issue here not self-aware AI robots : it's putting in place a surveillance system that knows so much about us, that we literally lose our sense of our own freedom. How much humanity do you have left when computers will be accurately predicting what you are going to think and want and do based on your Instagram likes?

Information technology #2 - but those AI robots, even when not self-aware might well be put to work to harm you by bad people. Tiny quadcopters and drones can get into places which humans can't. And all our security is based on keeping human sized / shaped threats out. What will you do when autonomous quadcopters are burgling your home or shoplifting from your store?

Resource crunches - "Peak oil" allegedly "went away" because basically we developed new fracking technologies that made "hard to reach" oil more accessible. None of that really changes the underlying problem, it just shifts it a few decades into the future. At some point we will still be running out of the cheap energy that our world depends on. There are other things too ... eg. helium etc. which we are consuming rapidly but will be gone. I'm sure there's loads of good stuff out there on asteroids. But we need to do a lot of further development if we're to get there. It's not simply there for the taking.

Quora Answer : In the last 50 years do you think the world has gotten better or worse?

Jun 26, 2015

It's got better in many ways.

Including the most important of all : human "thrivability". This is directly measurable in terms of human population (more of us are around) and lifespan (we live longer). That's because medicine has improved spectacularly. Violence is way down. And our ability to produce food is way up. We've reduced a lot of discomfort and improved productivity too, due to an exponential acceleration in technological innovation.

These gains, though a net positive, have created their own problems, some of which look fairly hard, and urgent to solve.

In particular we have :

  • the climate noticeably changing due to human activity, with very little concrete idea of how bad the disruption will be. The uncertainty is NOT the climate science. We actually have some reasonable models of how the climate will behave. The uncertainty comes from our far less good models of how human societies and economies will cope.
  • peak everything. Having built fantastically effective systems for extracting various natural resources more quickly and cheaply than ever, we're finding ourselves within sight of pretty much consuming them entirely. (There'll always be a dribble that's too hard to get at, but the majority of the cheap and easily accessible stuff will soon be gone).

This is well known in the case of oil. But is true for a whole range things that our complex techno-society depends on, from helium to phosphorus to forests and fresh water in some areas. With so many people around, clamouring and scheming to get their share of the remains of those resources, figuring out how to husband them and manage a transition to alternatives is a major difficulty.

  • surveillance technology. Information technology has been an extraordinary boon to humanity. We can process so much information, to discover knowledge that no-one even 50 years ago could dream of accessing. We have the most creative exchange of ideas in history through the largest web of mass conversation in history.

But we've turned that technology into a world-wide surveillance operation where powerful corporations and governments have access to every detail of our personal lives and are building increasingly sophisticated models that can predict our desires and our actions. So far, no-one has really gone out of their way to use this knowledge for evil. But as corporations get larger and greedier, and as governments get more paranoid and defensive, their tolerance for taking advantage of these capacities increases.

We are in a world where the most civilized government in the world, the US, is violating its own Constitution and is willing to extra-legally assassinate its own citizens that are suspected of "terrorism". It operates mass covert surveillance on the communications of its citizens. And has openly endorsed torture as a viable intelligence tool.

Meanwhile, we're on the verge of mobile phones which can scan, model and understand the contents of your room, from a company with a proven willingness to start scanning without asking permission. Camera drones are now under $50. And parents are putting tracking devices on their children so that a third-party corporation can follow their every whereabouts. Oh, and mind-reading does keep improving.

Privacy is nearly dead.

Large corporations will be able to triangulate between what you tell them about yourself, what your friends tell them about you and what an array of casual sensors in the "internet of things" picks up and pattern matches against you. And they will mine this knowledge for every advantage. Governments will cement their right to access this colossal database whenever they believe they have an interest. Your school, your employer and your neighbour will be constantly watching you. Criminals will watch you for opportunities to exploit. Police will watch you for signs of criminality or subversion.

We have no idea how, for want of a better term, the "human spirit" is going to adapt to such a world. Can "democracy" or "liberty" survive when every complaint or challenge to existing authority is spotted and neutralized (either bought-off or exterminated) before it has time to fully form? Will we be reduced to the catatonic dullness of zoo animals, unable to hide from a gawking crowd? Unable to even develop our own individualities and quirks in the face of a constant bombardment of public negative feedback?

Ultimately, I'm neither an optimist nor a pessimist. I subscribe to Gramsci's maxim of "Pessimism of the intellect, optimism of the will". Recognise the bad and push on towards the good. There are always two futures ahead of us : a worse one and a better one. We have the freedom and responsibility to choose. If we want it, the better future is available.

But we should understand what the issues are and what's at stake.

Transcluded from TenTrends

Quora Answer : What are the top 10 technology and management trends all CXOs need to be aware of?

May 18, 2012

Things that are going to be significant in the world in the next 10 years :

1) Desktop manufacturing. Not just the 3D printers which are the sexy part, but also the entire ecosystem of laser-cutters, CNC machines, MEMS, startups focussing on creating fablabs and hackspaces, tool libraries, online sharing of 3D models and designs. Open source design. "Design piracy." etc.

With this new generation of manufacturing technologies we are roughly where microcomputers were in the late 1970s. We should now see an explosion of small-scale, local, on-demand manufacturing capacity equivalent to the explosion in small-scale and personal computing capacity in the 1980s.

2) Retailers become Fabricators One thing I kind of expect, as a consequence of these new technologies is that the more forward looking online retailers (eg. Amazon) will start offering fabrication on-demand. Essentially these retailers will start competing with and squeezing out their own suppliers by cutting deals directly with industrial designers for new products that they can make at their warehouse, shortly before shipping to the customer. This is already apparent in Amazon's shifting relationship with publishers and authors. Amazon offer both print on demand books and "publishing" of Kindle eBooks. There's no reason the same can't be true next year for jewellery designers. And in five years time ... who knows what else?

From another angle, high street / main street shops may also find it makes sense to revert to making more things on the premises.

3) Unemployment There's a standard assumption that any technology destroys one lot of jobs and creates new ones. But this new manufacturing technology, is part of an accelerating tsunami of automation (including advances in robotics and practical applications of AI) which is outstripping our capacity to discover new jobs for people who are displaced by it. People in employment (including CxOs) are going to continue losing their jobs as companies continue to fragment and automate. This is also true in places like China where those hoping to climb the ladder from rural poverty to a factory job and the beginnings of a middle-class lifestyle will find their way increasingly blocked by cheaper, faster, tireless robots.

Unemployment will be an increasingly big social and economic problem. The question is whether the politicians are up to the challenge of finding a way forward.

4) Drones This may seem an esoteric issue. It isn't. Don't underestimate the significance of drones in the near future. In the next 5 years we'll be able to make sophisticated, autonomous flying machines for the same price as a smart-phone. (In fact, much of the technology will be the same.)

Thinking of the next generation of drones as flying iPhones puts things into perspective : high resolutions cameras? Check. GPS? Check. Speech recognition? Check. 4G connection to the internet - including access to maps and other off-board intelligence? Check. A market of thousands of developers writing "apps" which teach them new tricks? Most likely.

That has a lot of implications. Of course there's the Big Brother question of the government watching us. But there's also the question of "sousveillance" : of the rest of us watching each other. And there are potentially huge industrial espionage issues for the CxO. Most security planning is based on the idea of keeping human sized and shaped things off your premises. Not something with the size, shape and behaviour of a small bird that might be flying into your office carrying a camera, a pendrive or a bomb.

5) Crowdfunding Unquestionably, Kickstarter is a success. Both in terms of enabling people to raise money and enabling projects that couldn't have happened in other ways. And people continue to be keen to support projects. They might well get the taste for directly investing their money in other kinds of enterprise via such distributed mechanism rather than on the stock market or through funds. Already VC Fred Wilson has been discussing whether, say, the VC industry is particularly good at allocating money or good value for investors.

We may well find ourselves moving into a world where product making becomes more like the music business. "Hit products" are designed by individuals or small groups at home and prototyped in the local fab-lab. The first generation gets funded by a Kickstarter-like campaign and, if popular, the product gets "signed to a major label" ie. picked-up by Amazon or Walmart who manufacture it individually, or in small batches, as and when customers demand.

How does the traditional investment community engage with this world? What kind of businesses get built?

6) Co-working Small-scale personal technologies like PCs and laptops already allow the workforce to fragment into swarms of startups and freelance professionals. This technological trend will only continue. Smaller and more fluid organisations can't and won't get locked into long-term expensive office rental agreements with landlords, and so we'll see the continuation of the rise of co-working spaces ranging from work-friendly coffee-shops to desk-rentals to fab-labs and other shared workshops for technical freelancers.

I expect even established companies to start divesting themselves of their long-term contracts for office-space and exploring the use of dedicated co-working facilities. (And also home-working)

7) The War Against General Purpose Computing CoryDoctorow coined this term, and it's a good general umbrella for a number of related trends we'll see exacerbated in the next few years.

The poster-child here is Apple, which has successfully convinced people to swap their computers (over which they theoretically have full control) for iPads, ie. tethered devices, rented from the phone company, over which Apple has the final say as to what software you put on it. Seeing how successful this strategy has been for Apple, all the other major players want to be in on the game. Cloud computing is another example of this : computing increasingly sold not as an product but as a metered and (quality-) controlled service.

So while it seems that the technology is allowing us increasing freedom, we're also, individuals and companies, becoming increasingly dependent on and locked-in to a few network behemoths : Apple, Google, Amazon, Facebook, possibly Microsoft, possibly Samsung. These companies are going to have a hell of a lot of power. And I guess the CxO's strategy depends largely on where she or he is located with respect to them.

8) Climate Change and Peak Oil The propaganda campaign to persuade people to ignore global warming has been phenomenally and horrifyingly successful, to the extent that many people seem to have given up worrying. But, as Randall might put it, "Gaia don't care, she don't give a shit". (About what the Koch brothers want you to think.) The bad weather is already happening and it will continue getting worse. Expect more droughts, floods, migration, food price instability, and losses and price-rises in the insurance market.

We're not running in out of oil in the next 10 years. But, once again, expect increasing volatility of prices and more random acts of geopolitical aggression around the world as countries try to lock in their access to the remaining oil (and other resources that are running scarce). The US will likely try to exploit its native, difficult-to-get oil and gas. How the economics of that work out is a race between the high cost per barrel of the increasingly hard to access fuels vs. technological innovation in the machinery for extracting it. Advances and massive deployment of automation may keep the price of this oil down. But the environmental cost will still be high. (Hence more insurance claims.)

Actually, I think that's a general principle for the next decade : improvements in automation will compensate for the increasing energy costs. (Which is one more reason unemployment will stay high. Energy will be the constraint that stops the economy growing fast enough to absorb all those unemployed people. ) If, and only if, we're lucky will we make breakthroughs in solar / wind generation that can make them commercially viable within the context of extremely chaotic markets for energy. So the story of the next decade isn't a major makeover in terms of energy generation and transmission.

CxOs need to consider how their organisation can continue to survive and thrive in this world of climate instability and energy price volatility. They might look into the growing "Resilience" movements and ask both how their own operations can be made resilient and how they can contribute to the resilience and welfare of the communities they are located in.

9 and 10) When I think of them ... internet of things / ubicomp might be there.

Quora Answer : What are some revolutionary things people should know about but most probably haven't heard of?

Jun 24, 2014

The BitCoin block-chain. (I'd say it's the biggest invention in finance since double-entry book-keeping.) Block chain - Bitcoin

The BitTorrent protocol. (BitTorrent)

The Onion Router (Anonymity Online)

Quantum Computing Quantum computer

Open Allocation Inside GitHub's Super-Lean Management Strategy–And How It Drives Innovation

Amateur biohacking You SHOULD be reading BioCoder

People have heard of drones, but haven't taken on board the implications (privacy / security) of what it's going to be like living in a world where everyone owns a couple cheap little flying smartphones (with video cameras) that few buildings are proof against.

Quora Answer : What technology in the next ten years will be pocket-sized and handheld?

Mar 27, 2012

You should probably distinguish "pocket sized" from "handheld".

A lot of technologies are going to shrink to pocket sized or less. But won't necessarily be handheld in everyday use.

1) your home server (whether that's where you keep your music and film collection or your important documents.) Could be a pocket-sized box but permanently plugged into the wall.

2) the biggest problem with iPads and other handheld mobile devices is how easy it is to lose them or for someone to steal them. I'm pretty sure the brains of mobile computing will be moving to wearable formats that are more tightly attached to the body : lanyards, watches etc. while tablets revert to being an I/O peripheral.

3) medical analysis devices including "chemistry lab on a chip" could be common in a few years.

4) pocket(able) drone. Drones will be cheap and ubiquitous. But that doesn't mean they'll fly along with you everywhere you go. However, many people will keep some kind of flying drone in their pocket, to launch as an emergency beacon, to scan for parking spaces, to guard something, to investigate a route you are about to take ...

Quora Answer : When will technological development slow down?

Jun 10, 2014

Technological development is a function of information flow. Things which accelerate the sharing of ideas : open-cultures, bigger cities, the printing press, universities, the internet etc. tend to make technological development accelerate. Because it's easier for creative people to hear about problems that need solutions, and for good ideas to find good people to back them (with both finance and labour)

So the bad news (from your perspective) is that we're just at the beginning of an explosion of technological development, enabled by the internet, which is only going to get "worse" in the forseeable future as more and more of humanity gets connected, and the various cultures of open-sharing are embraced more fully.

Only three things might derail that :

  • catastrophic ecological collapse (as climate change starts hitting the food-chain)
  • catastrophic economic collapse (basically due to oil / energy shocks)
  • the chilling effect of mass surveillance drives everyone away from public engagement and offline.

All three will be happening to some extent in the future, but it's an open question as to whether human ingenuity and, er, technoogical development, can come up with work-arounds to keep the whole show on the road.