In a fascinating installment of the IEEE Techwise podcast [MP3], Rice University Computational Engineering prof Moshe Vardi discusses the possibility that robots will obviate human labor faster than new jobs are created, leaving us with no jobs. This needn't be a bad thing -- it might mean finally realizing the age of leisure we've been promised since the first glimmers of the industrial revolution -- but if market economies can't figure out how to equitably distribute the fruits of automation, it might end up with an even bigger, even more hopeless underclass.
I think the issue of machine intelligence and jobs deserves some serious discussion. I don’t know that we will reach a definite conclusion, and it’s not clear how easy it will be to agree on desired actions, but I think the topic is important enough that it deserves discussion. And right now I would say it’s mostly being discussed by economists, by labor economists. It has to also be discussed by the people that produce the technology, because one of the questions we could ask is, you know, there is a concept that, for example, that people have started talking about, which is that we are using, we are creating technology that has no friction, okay? Creating many things that are just too easy to do.
Slate, the New America Foundation and Arizona State University have kicked off a new podcast called "Future Tense," hosted by Internet scholar Tim Wu. The inaugural episode is an interview with Neal Stephenson wherein Neal and Tim talk about where the future has gone -- why we no longer seem to dream of jetpacks and instead focus on fiddly mobile phones. Stephenson gets some very good points in on the lack of predictivity in science fiction, and what sf really contributes to the future.
There are six installments in all -- coming episodes include conversations with Margaret Atwood and me!
Bruce Sterling's speech from NEXT Berlin is a blast of cold air on the themes of startup life, disruption, and global collapse. Bruce excoriates the startup world for its complicity with the conspiracy of the global investor class to vastly increase the wealth of a tiny minority, and describes the role that "design fiction" has in changing this.
Over at Fast Company, our pal Chris Arkenberg wrote about how advances in synthetic biology and biomimicry could someday transform how we build our built environments:
Innovations emerging across the disciplines of additive manufacturing, synthetic biology, swarm robotics, and architecture suggest a future scenario when buildings may be designed using libraries of biological templates and constructed with biosynthetic materials able to sense and adapt to their conditions. Construction itself may be handled by bacterial printers and swarms of mechanical assemblers.
Tools like Project Cyborg make possible a deeper exploration of biomimicry through the precise manipulation of matter. David Benjamin and his Columbia Living Architecture Lab explore ways to integrate biology into architecture. Their recent work investigates bacterial manufacturing--the genetic modification of bacteria to create durable materials. Envisioning a future where bacterial colonies are designed to print novel materials at scale, they see buildings wrapped in seamless, responsive, bio-electronic envelopes.
Boing Boing friend Marina Gorbis is executive director of Institute for the Future, a non-profit thinktank where I'm a researcher. Marina has just published a compelling, provocative, and grounded book about how technology is enabling individuals to connect with one another to follow their passions and get stuff done, outside of large corporations, governments, and the other institutions that typically rule our lives. Marina calls it "socialstructing." I call it making the future better than the present. The following is an excerpt from Marina's book, "The Nature of the Future: Dispatches from the Socialstructed World." - David Pescovitz
Putting the Social Back Into Our Economy
by Marina Gorbis
My mother never heard the term social capital, but she knew its value well. In the Soviet Union, where she lived and where I grew up, no one could survive without it, and she leveraged her social capital on a daily basis. It enabled her to provide a decent life for her family, even though she was a widow without much money, excluded from the privileged class of the Communist Party. We never worried about having enough food. My sister and I always wore fashionable clothes (at least by Soviet standards). We took music and dance lessons. We went to the symphony, attended good schools, and spent summers by the Black Sea. In short, we enjoyed a lifestyle that seemed well beyond our means.
How was my mother able to provide all these things on the meager salary of a physician in a government-run clinic in Odessa, Ukraine? Social connections were a powerful currency that flowed through her network of friends and acquaintances, giving her access to many goods and services and enabling our comfortable, if not luxurious, lifestyle.
Over twenty years, ten books, and multiple PBS documentaries bOING bOING pal and media theorist Douglas Rushkoff has proven himself to be a provocative pattern seeker with a mastery at connecting the dots between popular culture, technology, and the complex underpinnings of modern society. Inspired by the likes of Timothy Leary, Marshall McLuhan, Robert Anton Wilson, and Neil Postman, Doug's message has always been about the empowerment of the individual. He is a quintessential happy mutant. Whether he's writing about social contagions, video games, advertising, religion, or the Occupy Movement, his focus is on how narrative can be used by Control to coerce, and as a tool of resistance. William S. Burroughs once wrote, "Is Control controlled by its need to control? Answer: yes." And therein lies the secret to undermining it. Doug's new book is Present Shock, about how everything is happening now. Right now. As Doug said, "It is kind of panicked, untethered sensation that comes with living a real-time, always-on existence without past or a future, origins or goals. Just the present."
In Bruce Sterling's barn-burning closing keynote for SXSW 2013, he confronts the realities of disruption -- that disruption leads to destruction. Our wonderful things destroy other wonderful things. The future composts the past. We roast the 20th century over our bonfire, let's not shamefully pretend that we did it by accident. Let's eat our kill.
In April 1988, the LA Times Magazine published a cover article predicting what the spring of 2013 would look like for the typical Angeleno family. In a story that is bound to give you disconcerting flashbacks to Ray Bradbury's "There Will Come Soft Rains", a family of four (and their automated house full of whirring robots) goes about a full day — from mandatory staggered work times beginning at 5:15 am, to 11:00 pm, when the lady of the house sits down with her laser disc of The Collected Works of Jackie Collins. (Creepily, the story ends with the house catching fire. I'm not kidding about the Bradbury shout-outs.) Not all the predictions were totally off base, but, as a whole, it's definitely a neat example of how hard it is to look at current technology trends and correctly extrapolate them out to the future. — Maggie
Steampunk, a mashup in its own right, has gone mainstream, with music videos from the likes of Nicki Minaj; America’s Next Top Model photo shoots; and Prada’s Fall/Winter menswear collection featuring haute couture, steampunk style. Some steampunk fans revile this celebrity. But James H. Carrott, co-author of Vintage Tomorrows, says that’s just how cultural change happens. “Things get appropriated; they affect the culture in some way or another, and the people who are at the heart of trying to make that change move onto the next key idea.”
So what is steampunk, exactly, and why should we care? Carrott, a cultural historian, says “steampunk is playing with the past.” The world that steampunk envisions is a mad-inventor’s collection of 21st century-inspired contraptions, powered by steam and driven by gears. It’s a whole new past; one that has a lot to say about the futures we want to see.
In Vintage Tomorrows, Intel’s resident futurist Brian David Johnson (@IntelFuturist) joins Carrott (@CultHistorian) in a globe-spanning journey to dig beyond definitions and into the heart of this growing subculture. Through interviews with experts such as Margaret Atwood, China Miéville, William Gibson, Cory Doctorow, Bruce Sterling, and James Gleick, this book looks into steampunk’s vision of old-world craftsmen making beautiful hand-tooled gadgets, and what it means for our age of disposable technology.
When Veronique Greenwood went to college in 2004, she took a laptop with her ... and a videophone. In an engaging essay at Aeon Magazine, Greenwood writes about what it was like to grow up with a Futurist for a mom, particularly a futurist who, in retrospect, seemed to be more interested in premature technologies than in the sleek, widely adopted versions that eventually succeeded in the marketplace. Greenwood's mother loved the videophone. When Skype came along, free of dedicated hardware, she lost interest. — Maggie
A replica of the TWA Moonliner II -- centerpiece of the TWA Moonliner at Disneyland's Tomorrowland from 1955-1962 -- sits atop the old TWA headquarters in Kansas City, MO, at 1795 West Baltimore Ave. This is an important fact that no one brought to my attention in a timely fashion when I was in KC on the Pirate Cinema tour, for which I blame all of you.
It's the 50th anniversary of "There's a Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow," the theme from they Disney Carousel of Progress (which debuted at the 1964 World's Fair in NYC). Keith met Richard Sherman, part of the Sherman brothers songwriting team responsible for the song.
He sez, "Last month I had the great pleasure of singing 'There's a Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow' with Richard Sherman at his home. After we were done singing, he said to me, 'That's the first time I did that since Walt and my brother.' And yep, I filmed it! Coolest moment of my life. Wanted to share it with the whole world, basically."