Get the Skinny on the Future

May 22 2008 / by juldrich / In association with Future
Category: Culture   Year: General   Rating: 6 Hot

By Jack Uldrich

Cross-posted from

This morning as my daughter was leaving for school she asked if she could watch the “fat, chunky” movie this weekend. I gave her a perplexed look and replied that I’d never heard of it. I probed a little further and although it took me a few moments to determine what she was talking about, I eventually understood that she wanted to know if she could watch a VHS-format movie.

This incident, along with another this past weekend where she gazed unknowingly at a record player that was for sale at a garage sale, has gotten me to thinking about what else might seem “fat and chunky” to her in the future.

Already televisions, phones and iPods are impressively thin and are likely to grow more so in the future. Alas, it won’t stop there.

A few months back, I wrote about solar energy’s long-term potential and one reason I’m so optimistic about its potential is that I believe thin-film photovoltaics are only going to grow more efficient and cost-effective over time. Among other things this implies that today’s bulky silicon solar cells are likely to fade away.

The field of nanotechnology is also leading to thinner and more effective materials. Therefore, walls made out of aerogels; car panels constructed of new nanocomposites; and automobile batteries (which utilize various nanomaterials) should also become thinner. As will lights, which will take advantage of advances in organic light emitting diodes. (cont.)

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Can the Singularity Save Us From Ourselves?

May 22 2008 / by AlFin / In association with Future
Category: Culture   Year: General   Rating: 13 Hot

Cross-posted from Al Fin’s blog.

The abstract concept of a Technological Singularity (TS) was made most famous in the recent past by inventor Ray Kurzweil. The concept has several overlapping meanings, but I like George Dvorsky’s definition best: The Singularity is a blindspot in our predictive thinking.

Humans are only evolved primates-monkeys and apes-with a limited conceptual vocabulary. We are easily impressed by our technological accomplishments. In networked opportunity societies, creative and inventive persons are able to feed off each others’ ideas so that during periods of economic surplus, the pace of innovation will take off. In dark ages, totalitarian societies where information is compartmentalized and otherwise restricted, innovation slows.

The Singularity is most often seen as a threshold into ever-accelerating change precipitated by the development of a machine intelligence with the ability to design its own cognitive enhancement -something of a runaway positive feedback cognitive entity. This development is often referred to as the “tipping point,” the point of no return.

The more sanguine examiners of the tech singularity concept are less likely to see The Singularity as inevitable. Many developments within society and government could short-circuit The Singularity, sending into terminal mode. Imagine a world government ruled by a Vladimir Putin, Josef Stalin, or Mao. Imagine world science, academia, media, and governance being taken over by dysfunctional post-modernist irrationality. Imagine the default human society-stratification by wealth, knowledge, power, and a profound inertial resistance to change. (cont.)

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Vision of a Future Suburbia

May 20 2008 / by memebox / In association with Future
Category: The Home   Year: General   Rating: 4 Hot

MemeBox illustrator Ian Kirby has composed this vision of a suburban future chock full of lawn-mowing robots, roofs covered in solar panels and hover cars. By when do you believe most of the elements contained in his illustration will become feasible for the average person?

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Is Evolution Exponential?

May 09 2008 / by juldrich / In association with Future
Category: Culture   Year: 2020   Rating: 10 Hot

Jack Uldrich

Cross-posted from

When Charles Darwin first proposed writing his landmark book on evolution, The Origins of Species, his editor suggested writing a book on pigeons because, in his words, “Everyone is interested in pigeons.” Fortunately, Darwin chose to ignore the advice. I am reminded of the story because even though Darwin’s theory was proposing only that species make modest, incremental changes over long periods of time, it was – and in many circles still is – a revolutionary idea.

What then happens if evolution is not just incremental in nature but rather exponential? That, too, is a revolutionary idea – especially since it could impact us within our lifetimes.

Well, we are now approaching a time when this exponential theory of evolution will be put to the test.

If you accept the notion of evolution, you will agree that the earliest life appeared on earth approximately 4 billion years ago. Complex cellular organisms showed up 2 billion years ago, and the first multicellular organism about 1 billion years ago. The first reptiles and dinosaurs made their appearance 300 million years ago; the first primates 40 million years ago; homo sapiens appeared 160,000 years ago; Cro-Magnon man 40,000 years ago; and modern civilization as we know it began about 10,000 years ago.

Thinking about this much progress over such an extended period of time is difficult. Years ago, Carl Sagan, the famed astronomer, offered up a “cosmic calendar” to make such progress more comprehensible to the layperson. He asked that they imagine the entire history of the universe as being compressed into a single year. (cont.)

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Transhumanism vs. Trans-Systemism

May 09 2008 / by Alvis Brigis / In association with Future
Category: Culture   Year: General   Rating: 4 Hot

An editorial piece.

Fueled by accelerating change, transhumanism (H+), the belief that humans can and should consciously evolve past our current limitations, is on the rise. It’s a safe bet that over the coming years this budding philosophy, or memeplex, will make its way into the minds of millions of humans, maybe more. However it lines up with reality, transhumanism will exert a big impact on our future (barring a near-term cataclysmic event, of course).

Certain aspects of transhumanism appeal to my logical and emotional parts. Logically, I can see that accelerating change will transform the human body and the human brain, perhaps enabling immortality, telekinesis, teleportation, possibly even “transcendence.” Emotionally, I like the idea of establishing greater control over my environment in order to best externalize my imagination (fostering peace, health, happiness), transform my existence and, essentially, play in the universe however I damn well choose.

However, when attempting to simulate the future, particularly a hyper-fast Kurzweilian future or Ted Modismoderately slower future , I’ve found that I cannot embrace a wholly transhumanist-compatible view of the years to come because transhumanism, unsurprisingly, fails to provide an adequate definition of the term “human”. (cont.)

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What Does the Future Smell Like?

May 08 2008 / by juldrich / In association with Future
Category: Culture   Year: General   Rating: 9 Hot

By Jack Uldrich

Cross-posted from

What will the future smell like? On the face of it, it sounds like a silly question but I believe that by thinking about the question we might be able to glean some insights into the future.

The other day I was in Las Vegas to give a speech to the Food Marketing Institute and it was my good luck to have the opportunity to sit in on a presentation by Martin Lindstrom who is one of the world’s leading branding experts.

His talk was absolutely fascinating and he spent a good deal of time discussing how important the sense of smell is in branding. (To this point, if I say “Crayola” crayon or Play-Doh my guess is that many of you can almost smell those products’ unique scents).

More interesting, however, Lindstrom discussed how certain smells conjure up different emotions for people of different generations. For example, if you were born before 1930 you are likely to enjoy the smell of hay and manure; and if you born before 1960 the smell of freshly cut grass conjures up positive feelings. (cont.)

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Extinction Timeline Through 2050

May 05 2008 / by Accel Rose / In association with Future
Category: Culture   Year: Beyond   Rating: 7 Hot

Wondering when national currencies, intimacy, natural childbirth and Rocky films will go the way of the dodo? Here’s a fun timeline of extinction events for the 1950-2050 range by futurist and Future Trends Book author Richard Watson:

Our Accelerating Future

May 03 2008 / by juldrich / In association with Future
Category: Culture   Year: General   Rating: 10 Hot

By Jack Uldrich

Cross-posted from

The other day I explained why society doesn’t always absorb new technologies as fast as early advocates often believe will happen. As with almost every issue, there is another side to the story and I’d now like to argue why emerging technologies will be adopted at an ever accelerating rate.

Ray Kurzweil addressed this issue in his outstanding book, The Singularity is Near, when he noted that the rate of “paradigm shift” is doubling every decade. As a historical analogy, he noted that it took 35 years before 25% of the population adopted the telephone. The radio took about 31 years; the television 26 years; the personal computer 16 years; the mobile phone 12 years; and the World Wide Web only 10 years.

Since then Google, Wikipedia and a number of other social networking applications have been adopted in an even shorter amount of time. This acceleration, however, has not been limited to only communication-related devices. Robotics are being adopted at an accelerating rate. In 2005, only 1% of all prostatectomies were performed by robots. Today, over 50% of all such operations are performed using a da Vinci surgical robot.

The fields of rapid prototype manufacturing and systems biology are also experiencing acceleration. To this end, I encourage you to watch the short two-minute video on the fab@home project (an open source rapid prototype manufacturing platform) as well as read this excellent interview with biotechnology guru and system biology advocate LeRoy Hood.


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Future Technology and the Ability to Absorb It

April 29 2008 / by juldrich / In association with Future
Category: Culture   Year: General   Rating: 7 Hot

By Jack Uldrich

Cross-posted from

I spend a great deal of time documenting how exponential advances in semiconductors, data storage, bandwidth, gene sequencing, brain scanning technology, robotics, algorithms and nanotechnology will fundamentally alter the business environment in the next decade. I am, however, aware of the fact that technology is already outpacing society’s ability to adapt to it. As such, I am always careful to temper client’s enthusiam about how quickly many of today’s emerging technologies will be incorporated into the fabric of our lives. (Frequently, I need to temper my own enthusiam as well).

To this end, I would like to offer this short history lesson which I pulled from Pip Coburn’s informative book, The Change Function: Why Some Technologies Take Off and Others Crash:

—The first mobile phone in the U.S. was available in 1946.

—The first video game was played in 1961

—The first personal computer was built in 1964

—The first e-mail was sent in 1971. (cont.)

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Let's Debate the Future, Please!

April 28 2008 / by juldrich / In association with Future
Category: Culture   Year: General   Rating: 10 Hot

By Jack Uldrich

(An opinion piece)

Cross-posted from jumpthecurve

Elizabeth Edwards, the wife of former Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards, recently had a thoughtful opinion piece bemoaning the media’s lack of meaningful coverage of today’s important issues. To emphasize her point, she noted that many American’s can now tell you Barack Obama’s bowling score but can’t recite one major plank in his health care plan.

It is a valid criticism and I wholeheartedly agree with her critique but Edwards, the candidates, and the media are missing another serious issue – the accelerating pace of science and technological change.

More specifically, no candidate is approaching today’s important issues of health care, education, the environment and war from the perspective that the near-term future of all of these issues will almost certainly will be different – and perhaps radically so – because of the accelerating pace of technological change.

Let me provide just a few recent examples. Late last year, the Pentagon reported that it had begun arming robots with guns for the first time ever. It then announced, to little fanfare, that it intended to triple the number of robots in battlefield situations by 2010. And by 2015 – a date that would place it near the end of the next president’s second term – the Defense Department has publicly stated that it expects one-third of the U.S. fight force to consist of robots. (cont.)

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Develop a Future Bias

April 25 2008 / by juldrich / In association with Future
Category: Culture   Year: General   Rating: 3 Hot

By Jack Uldrich

In my new book, Jump the Curve, I make the case that one strategy for “jumping the curve” and helping your organization innovate into the future is to “develop a future bias.”

A future bias is the opposite of “hindsight bias” and hindsight bias is, quite simply, the idea that after an event occurs most people take credit for believing that the idea was pre-ordained and that they “knew” it would happen. For instance, by 1920, most citizens claimed they knew that man would “always” fly.

Unfortunately, this isn’t true. Most people were completely blind-sided by human flight. Lord Kelvin, the world’s most renowned scientist claimed in 1899 that “Heavier than air machines are impossible,” and no less an authority than the New York Times wrote in an editorial in December 1903 – just two weeks before the Wright Brother’s historic first flight – that human flight would not be achievable for “1 to 10 million years.” My guess is that if a poll had been commissioned at the beginning of the turn of the 20th century the overwhelming consensus among the American public would have subscribed to similar opinions or, alternatively, something along the lines of “If God had intended man to fly, He would have given him wings.”

In the future, as a result of exponential advances in technology (see above chart, source – Collapsing Geography), many things that sound impossible today are, in fact, not only going to be possible they are going to be commonplace. Therefore, in order to embrace this future, it will be necessary to think exponentially – and not linearly – about the future. As Ray Kurzweil says in his book, The Singularity is Near: When Humans Transcend Biology, in the 21st century humanity will experience the equivalent of 20,000 years of change (using the 20th century’s rate of change). What he is trying to do in an indirect way is to get people to develop a future bias. (cont.)

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Can religions survive into a "magical future" time?

April 22 2008 / by futuretalk / In association with Future
Category: Culture   Year: General   Rating: 7 Hot

By Dick Pelletier

At the center of our civilization lies culture – and the core of our culture has traditionally been religion. More than any other factor, religion provides a perception of reality by explaining the origins of the universe and giving meaning to history as well as humanity’s place in it. Religion defines the nature of good and evil and creates reward and punishment images of life after death.

The world’s major religions share their values but not philosophies, and conflicting ideologies have prevented peaceful coexistence in many of our societies for thousands of years. No single religion dominates Earth’s 6.5 billion people, as the following list shows: Christianity 2.1-billion, Islam 1.3-billion, Secular, Agnostic, Atheists, Freethinkers 1.1-billion, Hinduism 900-million, and Judaism, 14-million.

Most religious traditions include seeds of compassion and harmony, but some tend to promote conflict. While the world benefits from religious leaders like Pope Benedict XVI and the Dalai Lama who try to promote peace and benevolence, others like evangelical Christian James Dobson and Taliban leader Mullah Omar cause strife with their “I’m right and you’re wrong” mantra. This negative stance often inspires terrorists that try to weaken or supplant nations through fear, violence and intimidation.

Forward-thinking spiritual leaders understand that religions must change if they want to fill the needs of a civilization about to experience overwhelming science and technology breakthroughs at exponential speeds. Futurists predict that by mid-century or before, biotech, nanotech, infotech, and cognitive sciences could ‘morph’ the world into a global community enjoying the benefits of a high-tech future. (cont.)

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