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Best of 2007

Here are the posts from Open the Future 2007 that, for me, rank as the ones I'm happiest to add to my cv. They aren't all necessarily the finest pieces of prose, but they each offered me an opportunity to wrestle with some of what I believe will be the most critical issues of the coming years.

If you're so inclined, please let me know which of the posts from 2007 you found to be the most provocative, interesting, and/or fun...

May 2: The Lost Hegemon (pt 2): The End of Conventional War

The reasons for this obsolescence are clear: conventional military forces appear to be unable to defeat a networked insurgency, which combines the information age's distributed communication and rapid learning with the traditional guerilla's invisibility (by being indistinguishable from the populace) and low support needs. It's not just the American experience in Iraq (and, not as widely discussed, Afghanistan) that tells us this; Israel's latest war in Lebanon leads us to the same conclusion, and even the Soviet Union's experience in Afghanistan and America's war in Vietnam underline this same point. Insurgencies have always been hard to defeat with conventional forces, but the "open source warfare" model, where tactics can be learned, tested and communicated both formally and informally across a distributed network of guerillas, poses an effectively impossible challenge for conventional militaries.

June 12: The Accidental Cyborg

I expect that, over the next decade, hearing aid technologies will have improved enough that most of the drawbacks will have been rectified, and I'll have access to hearing capabilities better than ever before; over that same time, we may see biomedical advances that can fix deficient hearing, restoring perfectly functional natural hearing. Augmentation for therapy slides inexorably into augmentation for enhancement. Should I give up my better-than-human hearing to go back to a "natural" state?

August 29: The Problem of Cars

To be clear, I'm not dismissing urban redesign and greater access to public transit & walking out of hand; the former is a terrific medium-term goal, and the latter is certain to be part of the solution to the looming climate disaster, especially as better urban designs make non-car transit more efficient. But demands for the immediate adoption of these approaches seem blind to the underlying reasons why the automobile culture is so deeply entrenched in Western society, and why it has become so attractive to nations seeing rapid economic development. [...] One way of re-examining this subject is to stop thinking about cars as "cars," and to start thinking about them in terms of the services they offer. This sort of abstraction is commonplace in the business consulting field -- it's not a carpet, it's a floor covering service. Surprisingly, that simple shift in perspective can sometimes elicit novel ideas. But it's important that new services that replace the old can replicate or improve upon the capabilities of the previous model.

October 13: Solving the Climate Crisis

The most important element, though, is time: the longer we delay, the harder it will be to avoid the worst effects of global warming. We simply can't wait until the big problems start happening -- at that point, we'll have committed ourselves to even greater peril over the coming decades, even with a crash preventative effort. This kind of long, slow problem is outside of our common experience, but (as I've argued) is increasingly a key characteristic of the challenges we face as a civilization. We can't count on our problem-solving habits to get us out of this one; we need to learn how to integrate foresight and forethought into our policies and everyday lives.


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