The clip below may look like a trailer for the new Call of Duty video
game, but it’s not. It’s a powerful promotion by the U.S. Army
demonstrating their Future Combat Systems network, a
collection of troops, robots, unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) and
satellite-guided visualization systems all linked in real-time. The
video presents an impressive war scenario that really gets the
juices flowing (great for recruitment, annoying to pacifists), but
also serves as a great vision of what’s about to be possible on and
off the battlefield in the very near-future.
The interactive real-time, super-detailed graphical interfaces
of combat zones are nothing short of amazing and remind me of many
of the video games that I’ve played. When implemented, it’s obvious
that such systems will provide U.S. troops with an edge over
virtually any conceivable opponent (which is why they’ve been made
public, I’m sure). The coordination capabilities such a system
affords are formidable, resulting in battlefield optimization that
truly will save many lives while more effectively taking
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
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.)
Energy is the life-blood of America – it affects our economy, standard of living and national security. And our prime current energy source – oil – is a product we can no longer afford.
High gas prices, air pollution, and global warming are part of the problem, but more important are the tensions brought about with countries that supply this non-renewable energy. For decades, these tensions have directly or indirectly been at the root of most global conflicts.
In a “Wired Magazine” article, Peter Schwartz and Doug Randall say concerns about oil supply are indirectly responsible for our wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and have caused strained relationships with our allies. And clashes with the Muslim world, mired in oil interests, finally brought the unthinkable to our shores – the “9-11” World Trade Center and Pentagon attacks.
Schwartz and Randall believe there’s only one way to insulate the U.S. from oil’s corrosive power. “We must develop an alternative energy,” they say. “Hydrogen stores energy more effectively than batteries, burns twice as efficiently in a fuel cell as gasoline does in an internal combustion engine, and leaves only water. It’s plentiful, clean, and capable of powering cars, homes and factories.”
Today’s energy situation is reminiscent of Soviet cold war times. In 1957, Russia launched the first satellite into space, and in 1961, Yuri Gagarin became the first human in orbit. Afraid Soviet space domination would make our country unable to defend itself, President Kennedy announced Apollo, a 10-year, $100 billion program (in today’s dollars) to land a man on the moon. Eight years later, Neil Armstrong made his “giant step for mankind” and America quickly regained world leadership.
Schwartz and Randall believe we face a similar threat today from foreign oil dependency. “As President Kennedy responded to Soviet space superiority,” they said, “Our next president must respond to foreign oil by making energy independence a national priority to be achieved within 10 years.”
In a closed session with reporters last Friday, the leader of
the country’s Justice Department stepped up to the plate,
exclaiming, “I’m surprised by how surprised I am.”
“It’s surprising how varied [the threat] is, how many directions
it comes from, how geographically spread out it is,” he said.
My first reaction to this went something like: “Are you kidding
me? Have you never heard of accelerating change, discussed the
concept of a flattening world, or noticed how quickly technology is
letting people all over the globe do more with limited
Of course, such statements are likely nothing more than
political hyperbole intended to drum-up public support for the big
telecom immunity battle currently shaping-up in Washington, in
which case it’s at least something I can comprehend and chalk up to
politics. But if Mukasey, the Attorney General, is being remotely
serious, it indicates a frightening blind spot for accelerating
change and possibly a deeper lack of strategic thinking throughout
our government, which would not altogether come as a surprise.
Human progress is a double-edged sword. Social evolution
constantly allows us to “do more, better, with less”, as systems
John Smart puts it. We can direct these new capabilities at
improving our economy, finding new cures for new illnesses,
improving the quality of human life, or use them to plot more
effective terrorism, more quickly destabilize systems, or hoard
more resources. The sword can cut both ways.
Last night on CBS’ 60 Minutes Pulitzer Prize winning reporter Bob Woodward cryptically let it be known that much of the recent U.S. success, or lack of failure, in Iraq should be attributed to a “new operational capability” that enables the identification and monitoring of enemy leaders of various ranks and affiliations. Woodward likened this breakthrough to the advent of the tank, which transformed war as it was deployed.
Check out the video for yourself, and please pardon the ad:
As one of the guys who broke Watergate, Woodward’s credibility is impeccable. He cites conversations with members of the Joint Chiefs and President George Bush himself as sources, but does not describe further what this new operational capacity might be.
So, if indeed this is not disinformation, what might this futuristic technology consist of? Super-fine satellite imaging? Microscopic aerial “bugs”? Micro-seismic audio sensing? An aerial drone sensor net? A new laser array?
Let’s hear your best guesses futurists. That is, unless you are actually in the loop, in which case please don’t spill the beans here…
Copenhagen has admitted
Danish warships were responsible for the sinking of the Russian
frigate Czar Putin in the Arctic Sea. The commander of the Danish
Frederik declared the vessel was in Danish territorial waters
off the coast of Greenland and had ignored multiple warnings.
The Danish press release also stated it regretted the sinking of
the ship and the loss of the Russian crew and that first shots were
meant as deterrence only. Once the Russians started returning fire
there was no other option than to target the ship itself, concluded
the press release. Russian warships of the Northern
Fleet are steaming up towards the area from bases all over
Russia while the US is doing the same to come the aid of their
Danish ally. (cont.)
If you think there’ve been dramatic changes in the world and in technology over the last ten years, you ain’t seen nothing yet. The race is on, and if you watched the Olympics, you know China’s going for the gold. – Mark Warner, last night at the DNC
The accelerating change meme finally hit the national stage last night at the Democratic National Convention when former Virginia Governor Mark Warner, who earned his fortune in the cell phone industry, framed the current Presidential contest as a “race for the future” that “won’t be won with yesterday’s ideas”.
This marks the first time in recent memory that any candidate for national office, barring of course Future Blogger favorite Jack Uldrich , who incidentally has been calling for high profile politicians to start debating the future , has directly appealed to voters on a national level by articulating the fundamental concept of accelerating change that most everyone on this site takes for granted.
I had been biting my nails during and after the primaries, hoping that the future, science and punctuated change would at last become election issues. And now I am relieved that this meme has finally infected enough minds to enter the popular debate. Whether you’re a transhumanist, singularitarian, trans-systemist, neo-luddite, or anything else inbetween, it’s essential that we as a society begin to tackle the reality of runaway techno-info-social change, first by acknowledging its existence, if we are to control our collective destiny in any meaningful way.
Now, I’m not sure that Warner or Obama will be able to deliver on promises to begin building “100 mile-per-gallon plug-in hybrid vehicles right here – with American technology and with American workers” in two years time, but it’s certainly not impossible. Such future-forward initiatives must be spearheaded by the likes of Presidential candidates like Obama and McCain lest another 4 years of opportunities pass us by as we journey deeper into the acceleration era.
With Comcast slowing Internet speeds and other companies slow to bring fiber optic cable to consumers, it’s starting to seem more likely that wireless internet will by-pass all of this. Why spend the cost of installing fiber-optic cable when wireless internet will do just as well?
It reminds me of the country of Niger. The country was so late to the technology game that new, cheaper technology have allowed them to skip decades of advancement and costly infrastructure. They went from land lines (circa 1940) directly to cheap cell phones (circa 2008).
In fact, this is how much of the world by-passed the US in internet speed with fiber-optics. While we spent a decade laying out cable, other countries spent only a few years laying down the latest technology (fiber-optics).
In an article about lagging internet speeds in the US, reporter David Gardner explores some of the amazing statistics out there involving US internet speeds. “The median download speed in the U.S. is 2.35 Mbps. Densely populated Japan has an eye-popping 63.60 Mbps, according to figures from the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation.” In other words, not only is the US behind most of the developed world, we’re really behind.
Spurred in large part by Barack Obama's unprecedented and extraordinarily successful new media campaign, other national politicians are quickly following suit by embracing YouTube's new dedicated channels for U.S. Senators and House Representatives.
Here's the official word from the YouTube blog:
As the 111th Congress kicks into gear, many of your elected leaders are starting their own YouTube channels. They're posting videos direct from their Washington offices, as well as clips of floor speeches and committee hearings alongside additional behind-the-scenes footage from Capitol Hill. And in conjunction with both the House and Senate, we're launching two new platforms that will help you access your Senator and Representatives' YouTube channels: The Senate Hub (youtube.com/senatehub) and The House Hub (youtube.com/househub).
Though this may not seem like something altogether world-changing considering the explosive use of YouTube, even among politicians, this transition to web content is a rather big deal for several reasons:
1. Selection of the Savvy: Just as the transition to television helped bring telegenic communicators like Kennedy to power, the transition to web video and social media will negatively impact those politicians that are slow to understand, adopt and maximize the use of new technologies. Suvival of the fittest politician will now require new media aptitude and staff atmposphere.
2. More Powerful Communities: National politicians have already figured out how to take advantage of fleets of interns (last time I visited The Hill on a video shoot Blackburn seemed to have 20+ interns at his disposal) that will work for reputation. Now imagine how that will scale online. Candidates who figure out how to build large communities of powerful supporters, idea generators and viral content drivers will have a big edge in campaigns and also in the governing process. Those that can grow the largest, most effective team (we're talking thousands of hard core supporters and interns) will first win the media wars and then the overall effectiveness wars.
In an attempt to show I’m not entirely in the tank for any particular nuclear energy provider, I direct your attention to the following. Via Jerry Pournelle’s Current Mail link for Tuesday (10/14/08) comes notice of this NRC map of new nuclear power stations in the construction approval process.
I note that Texas has four such new plants already. Given the depressing quantities demanded on my electric utility bill this just-ended atypically cool summer, and in anticipation of the amounts no doubt to be claimed during the upcoming winter, I can only encourage more and faster, please.