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May 29, 2009

Hacking the Earth -- Now at Amazon, and on Kindle!

My publish-on-demand book on geoengineering, Hacking the Earth, has been picked up on Amazon.com. This is happy-making for a couple of reasons. The first is that this means people who have heard about the book and go looking for it on the world's biggest online bookseller (what a crazy idea) now will find it. The second is that it means that I could do a Kindle version quite easily. So here you go:

Hacking the Earth in print at Amazon.

Hacking the Earth for the Kindle.

Note that the Amazon print price is a bit higher than the Lulu direct price. However, Amazon shipping is cheaper, so it more-or-less balances out.

May 28, 2009

Participatory Panopticon: The Official Version

The Institute for the Future's 2007 Ten-Year Forecast included, as one of the forecast items, the Participatory Panopticon. IFTF is now making past Ten-Year Forecast materials more readily accessible to the public, and I was pleased to see that the Participatory Panopticon document (including a discussion between David Brin and myself) is now available for download (PDF).

A highlight from the Brin-Cascio conversation:

Jamais: Historically, we haven’t done a very good job at making village communities that allow their members to do and become the things that they want. Overwhelming observation has, by and large, been more often used to suppress outside-the-mainstream behavior than to go after the powerful and corrupt. How do you see this emerging world differing?

David: You and I are examples of the sort of people who were burned at the stake in almost any other culture. Yet, in this one, we are paid well to poke at the boundaries of the “box.” I’m pretty grateful for that, and for the millions of others like us, who are allowed and encouraged to bicker and compete and criticize. It is a noisy, noisome civilization and its imperfections may yet kill us all. But is so vastly beats all of the neat and tidy ones that came before.

Now we’re entering a new era when the village seems about to return. With our senses and memories enhanced prodigiously by new prostheses, suddenly we can “know” the reputations of millions, soon to be billions, of fellow Earth citizens. A tap of your VR eyeglasses will identify any person, along with profiles and alerts, almost as if you had been gossiping about him and her for years.

It’s seriously scary prospect and one that is utterly unavoidable. The cities we grew up in were semi-anonymous only because they were primitive. The village is returning. And with it serious, lifelong worry about that state of our reputations. Kids who do not know this are playing with fire. They had better hope that the village will be a nice one. A village that shrugs a lot, and forgives.

I have to say, that last line may be my favorite thing that David has ever said or written.

Fast Company: The Transparency Dilemma

Last week's and this week's "Open Future" columns for Fast Company make up a two-part examination of the dilemmas surrounding transparency.

In "I Can See You," I wrote:

We leave digital footprints everywhere we go, and those footprints are becoming easier and easier to track. Although many of us believe that sunlight is the best disinfectant, and that transparency is generally a good thing for a society, the lack of control over what you reveal about yourself is often troubling. The ease with which abundant personal info can be used for (e.g.) identity theft creates a situation where we have many of the dilemmas of transparency without enough of the benefit. [...]

We live in a world of unrelenting transparency. What can we do about it?

I do believe that transparency is, on balance, a social good. But it would be naïve at best to believe that this social good is unalloyed. Greater transparency -- particularly a kind of transparency that's both incomplete and hard-to-control can create enormous problems for individuals, without offering reliable solutions.

Now, in "Managing Transparency," I continue:

What are the strategies we can use to deal with unrelenting transparency? Fight it. Accept it. Deceive it. [...]

The last strategy, deception, boils down to this: we may be able to watch each other, but that doesn't mean what we show is real.

Call it "polluting the datastream"--introducing false and misleading bits of personal information (about location, about one's history, about interests and work) into the body of public data about you. It could be as targeted as adding lies to your Wikipedia entry (should you have one) or other public bios; it could be as random as putting enough junk info about yourself onto Google-indexed websites and message boards. Many of us do this already, at least to a minor degree: at a recent conference, I asked the audience how many give false date-of-birth info on website sign-ups; over half the audience raised their hands.

The goal here isn't to construct a consistent alternate history for yourself, but to make the public information sufficiently inconsistent that none of it could be considered entirely reliable.

This is actually a point I explored in a bit of depth at Futuresonic earlier this month. In a world of partial transparency, where both total privacy and symmetric transparency are effectively impossible, it may be that deception is the most workable method of protecting one's privacy.

I didn't mention in the FC piece -- it runs long as it is -- but the technologies of the "participatory decepticon" have an interesting role here. Rather than using the various means of creating false images, videos, recordings and such to manipulate perceptions of political figures and other public targets, those tools could be used to easily create false histories for ourselves.


May 26, 2009

Topsight, May 26, 2009

Because this blog isn't just links to stuff I've done elsewhere. Honest!

• The Participatory Panopticon In Action

Police Slog Through 40,000 Insipid Party Pics To Find Cause Of Dorm Fire

From The Onion, of course. As tongue-in-cheek as this video report may be, it's also very indicative of the kind of impact this kind of ubiquitous documentation technology will have on how we view the world.

Thanks, Mr Judkins.

• Misty Nano-Structured Memories... of the Way We Were: One of the big problems with digital media, in parallel to those I mentioned yesterday in my Memorial Day re-post, is that they degrade easily. Magnetic and optical media are several orders of magnitude less robust than simple paper, degrading in years or decades instead of centuries. It's not simply a case of digital formats not lasting long, the very media upon which the files are stored are ephemeral.

That may change soon, if this report from UC Berkeley bears fruit. According to Nanowerk website:

The researchers describe development of an experimental memory device consisting of an iron nanoparticle (1/50,000 the width of a human hair) enclosed in a hollow carbon nanotube. In the presence of electricity, the nanoparticle can be shuttled back and forth with great precision. This creates a programmable memory system that, like a silicon chip, can record digital information and play it back using conventional computer hardware. In lab and theoretical studies, the researchers showed that the device had a storage capacity as high as 1 terabyte per square inch (a trillion bits of information) and temperature-stability in excess of one billion years.

(Emphasis mine.) It's basically a nanomechanical memory, pushing a particle back and forth. The bit density is actually better than current magnetic media -- so it wouldn't be a step back in that regard -- and its possible lifespan is so far beyond what we would hope for that it's essentially infinite.

Now to make it cheap and ubiquitous. (Via Foresight)

• Worse Than We Thought, Faster Than We Thought: I'm talking about global warming, of course. One of the most persuasive arguments for geoengineering is that we're very likely already past the point at which catastrophic impacts become inevitable, as every time our models get better, the situation looks much more dire than we previously had thought. This observation is underscored by a new item in The Washington Post entitled "MIT Model Predicts Accelerating Warming Trends":

The MIT model is said to be the only one that incorporates among its variables possible changes in economic growth and other human activities and draws on peer-reviewed science on the climatic effects of atmospheric, oceanic and biological systems.

After running the model 400 times with slight variations in the inputs, the new predictions are for surface temperatures to warm by 6.3 to 13.3 degrees Fahrenheit. The prediction is for a 9.4-degree increase in the median temperature, more than double the 4.3 degrees predicted in a 2003 simulation.

It's hard to overstate just how disastrous that would be.

• I Sell Out: It's official, so I may as well post about it here: The Wall Street Journal asked me to contribute an essay arguing for the need for geoengineering, to be published in their June 15th special environmental report. I've been told that it's a candidate for cover story, in fact (but no way of knowing that until it hits the newsstands). I gave this one a good deal of thought, as the WSJ editorial pages have been notorious in their denial of reality, but I got a strong affirmation by the editors for the piece that I can (and do) argue forcefully that aggressive carbon reductions are an absolute necessity, regardless of the use of geoengineering. Based on what I saw today of the near-final edit of the piece, that affirmation has been upheld.

May 25, 2009

Memorial Day (repost)

(Originally posted on Memorial Day, 2006)

Andrew Jackson Wickline, my grandfather, the man I was named for, died [six] years ago, shortly before Memorial Day; a veteran of World War II, he was given a military service on Memorial Day itself, 2003.

A short while before he died, Grandpa Jack gave me a box of old photos from the war. Over 500 pictures, taken by the company chaplain for the 80th Field Hospital, and offered to the men afterwards; Jack was one of very few who took copies of the pictures. I've scanned a small handful of them, and put them up on the web, but I really need to scan them all.

The photos are yellowed and clearly showing their age, but they are intact. Will the same be said in sixty years for the pictures we take today? My hard drive is full of images, taken by all manner of digital cameras -- but few have been printed out, and while I have multiple backups, digital media is inherently ephemeral. Formats change; people get sloppy. I have disks with essays from graduate school in formats that I can no longer read. How long until I can no longer read the image files found on some old CD I burned years ago?

Physical objects are not permanent, and I couldn't share the photos from the middle of the last century so easily without converting them first to digital form. I know the value and power of electronic media. I simply wonder how much of our future's past will be lost when locked into long-discarded formats and devices.

It is especially incumbent upon those of us who think about the future to remember what has gone before. The future doesn't just happen; events don't emerge fully-formed, like Athena from Zeus' head. The world in which we live is the result of myriad victories and mistakes, chances taken and decisions regretted, paths followed and options ignored, people loved and people forgotten. Too often, we pay attention solely to prominent names, the leaders and celebrities, and give them credit for creating the present. Artifacts like a box of old photos from a long-ago war remind us of how today's world was truly shaped, and the roles that everyday people played in making it come about.

I look at the people in my grandfather's photos, and wonder: did they know they were remaking the world? Were these simply snapshots to them, vacation photos with an edge, or did they recognize that they were documenting their roles in a monumental political transformation? How would our understanding of the second world war differ if everyone had carried a camera, not just one person out of hundreds, or thousands?

Under Mars, a site archiving soldiers' photos from the present Iraq War, gives us a hint. For some soldiers, the pictures are simply snapshots, a way to hang onto a moment with friends. For others, they are historical records, filtered not through the eyes of a journalist or through the official accounts, but anchored to their own perspective, their fear and elation and wonder and horror. These are the artifacts of a citizens' history of the world -- if we can remember how to view them.

Memories are imperfect, and photos -- digital or physical -- have an aura of authority, but are no less subjective. But in the gathering of myriad subjective stories and images, a collaborative truth emerges. The more memories that get added to this collection, the more powerful the truth; beware histories that are written solely by victorious leaders.

My grandfather, Andrew Jackson Wickline, gave me many gifts over the years, but this box of photos is an incredible legacy. Every time I look at them, I sense their gravity and power. I don't know what I'll do with them -- I'm very happy to listen to suggestions -- but I do know that I'll treasure them. They're tangible evidence that history comprises the lives of all of us, not just the great and the famous, and that all of our actions help to shape the world to come.

May 22, 2009

Amplify 09 Pre-Event Interview

I'll be speaking at Amplify 09 in Sydney next month, and in the lead-up to the event, the folks from AMP interviewed me about my presentation topic, and about the future of financial services.

I'll be kicking off the event (which is, unfortunately, not open to the public), and essentially free afterwards. If you'd like to meet up in Sydney (or if you'd like to have me give a talk to your organization there), ping me. I'll be available from June 24-June 27.

May 21, 2009

New Fast Company Column: I Can See You

My new Fast Company column is now up. I Can See You looks at the dilemmas surrounding mass transparency and the "culture of documentation."

With the rise of cheap, networked recording devices--aka, cameraphones--we're seeing the emergence of a culture of documentation, where individuals use their cameraphones to record and share unusual and often problematic moments. From events as amusingly scandalous as South Korea's "dog poop girl" to those as shocking and tragic as the New Year's Eve killing by an Oakland transit cop, citizens are using cameraphones to catch misbehavior and make it undeniable. What's particularly notable (although not especially surprising) is the availability of multiple perspectives on the same event, as personal documentation with a cameraphone becomes almost second-nature for many of us.

(Here's a tip for aspiring filmmakers: one way for an audience to see a spectacular event as "real" is for any crowd scenes surrounding the event to include at least 10% of the people there recording the moment with their phones. Disaster or science fiction movies set in the present day that don't include such mass documentation will increasingly look weird and dated.)

That last bit was inspired by seeing the preview trailer for a new science fiction TV show (the remake of "V", I think) that had crowds all over the world gazing in wonder at the big giant space ships floating over their cities.

And not a one of them was holding up a cameraphone.


May 16, 2009

Hacking the Earth Slides

Here are the slides I used for the Futuresonic 2009 keynote. I made the slides somewhat provocative in tone, but tempered the argument in my spoken presentation.

Feedback always welcome.

May 14, 2009

Heckling the Earth

So my keynote at Futuresonic 2009 went reasonably well, with two big caveats: my voice is still weak from the cold I've been fighting, so my infamously Vader-esque presentation baritone wasn't on display; and I had a heckler.

A drunken, global warming-denying, belligerent heckler.

Here's an audio clip that gives a little flavor of the evening:


I look forward to seeing what the video recording of the event shows...

May 13, 2009

In Manchester...

View from my room in Manchester

Now I'm in Manchester, and will be giving the opening keynote for Futuresonic tonight.

Wish me luck!

In London...

Was in London for a couple of days. Here's one thing I did:


In this video: Bill Thompson, Gareth Mitchell-BBC, Jamais Cascio

Another behind-the-scenes video at Digital Planet. Gareth and Bill are joined by futurologist Jamais Cascio. The discussion turns to the virtues of open source and the quest for an 'epiphany engine'.

It's just a short clip, but it's a fun little conversation. It's hosted on Facebook, but (as far as I can tell) non-Facebookers can watch it, too.

May 7, 2009



My latest Fast Company column is now up: "Should Creative Workers Use Cognitive-Enhancing Drugs?" (originally entitled "Me++").

We may face a choice between altering our brain chemistries and falling behind in the global economy.

And with that altered brain chemistry, are we sure that we're not losing something? Many of the cognitive enhancement drugs serve to increase focus and concentration. But "letting your mind wander" is very often an important part of the creative process. The "aha!" experience comes from the brain making connections between superficially unrelated subjects, and identifying a deeper link. How do enhancements that focus our attention affect this process? Is it possible that cognitive drugs enhance one aspect of knowledge work--productivity--while diminishing another--creativity?

Conversely, to what degree is the uproar over modafinil, ritalin, and the like just another example of futurephobia? There's a phrase I sometimes use when talking about this kind of issue: "Technology" is anything invented after you turn 13. That is, we tend to think of new disruptive innovations as being "technology," and hence disruptive, while ignoring older innovations that have become embedded into our larger environment, no matter how much they shape our lives.

Having been down with a flu for the past couple of weeks, with all of the brain-fogginess that entails, cognitive enhancement has definitely been on my mind.

May 4, 2009

Art Center Talk -- Future: To Go

acctalk.pngThe video of the talk I gave at the Art Center Summit on Sustainable Mobility a couple of months ago is now available. It runs about 40 minutes, and plays only through their site (which is why there isn't an embedded version here). They don't make a point of showing every slide in my presentation, so if you're interested, you can follow along at home with the slideshare version.

The talk weaves together several themes that run through much of my work -- resilience, intelligence as adaptation, scenaric thinking, and, above all, agency:

I want you to think through these three scenarios as lenses, to understand the choices you'll be making in your own designs, in your own businesses, in your own communities over the course of the next decade or so. Understand how the choices and the actions that you take fit with the choices and actions of others.

Because one of the critical things I want you to walk away with is the recognition that the future is not a destination, it's not some place we go to, it's a process, and we enter the future minute by minute. The worst thing you can do is to give up your power to create that future, to leave it to somebody else and say, "well, it's out of my hands." When you give up that kind of agency, when you give up your capacity to shape and recreate and transform your own future, you've really given up your role in civilization.

This is ultimately the most important thing you can do: to think through what you want to do, what you can do, to create the future you want.

As with most of my talks these days, it was done extemporaneously with the slides giving me a rough structure, so please forgive its sometimes elliptical language -- and my apparent inability to stand still.

May 2, 2009

Open Source Flu (updated)

In case you were curious:

        1 atgaaggcaa tactagtagt tctgctatat acatttgcaa ccgcaaatgc agacacatta
       61 tgtataggtt atcatgcgaa caattcaaca gacactgtag acacagtact agaaaagaat
      121 gtaacagtaa cacactctgt taaccttcta gaagacaagc ataacgggaa actatgcaaa
      181 ctaagagggg tagccccatt gcatttgggt aaatgtaaca ttgctggctg gatcctggga
      241 aatccagagt gtgaatcact ctccacagca agctcatggt cctacattgt ggaaacatct
      301 agttcagaca atggaacgtg ttacccagga gatttcatcg attatgagga gctaagagag
      361 caattgagct cagtgtcatc atttgaaagg tttgagatat tccccaagac aagttcatgg
      421 cccaatcatg actcgaacaa aggtgtaacg gcagcatgtc ctcatgctgg agcaaaaagc
      481 ttctacaaaa atttaatatg gctagttaaa aaaggaaatt catacccaaa gctcagcaaa
      541 tcctacatta atgataaagg gaaagaagtc ctcgtgctat ggggcattca ccatccatct
      601 actagtgctg accaacaaag tctctatcag aatgcagatg catatgtttt tgtggggtca
      661 tcaagataca gcaagaagtt caagccggaa atagcaataa gacccaaagt gagggatcaa
      721 gaagggagaa tgaactatta ctggacacta gtagagccgg gagacaaaat aacattcgaa
      781 gcaactggaa atctagtggt accgagatat gcattcgcaa tggaaagaaa tgctggatct
      841 ggtattatca tttcagatac accagtccac gattgcaata caacttgtca gacacccaag
      901 ggtgctataa acaccagcct cccatttcag aatatacatc cgatcacaat tggaaaatgt
      961 ccaaaatatg taaaaagcac aaaattgaga ctggccacag gattgaggaa tgtcccgtct
     1021 attcaatcta gaggcctatt tggggccatt gccggtttca ttgaaggggg gtggacaggg
     1081 atggtagatg gatggtacgg ttatcaccat caaaatgagc aggggtcagg atatgcagcc
     1141 gacctgaaga gcacacagaa tgccattgac gaaattacta acaaagtaaa ttctgttatt
     1201 gaaaagatga atacacagtt cacagcagta ggtaaagagt tcaaccacct ggaaaaaaga
     1261 atagagaatt taaataaaaa agttgatgat ggtttcctgg acatttggac ttacaatgcc
     1321 gaactgttgg ttctattgga aaatgaaaga actttggact accacgattc aaatgtgaag
     1381 aacttatatg aaaaggtaag aagccagcta aaaaacaatg ccaaggaaat tggaaacggc
     1441 tgctttgaat tttaccacaa atgcgataac acgtgcatgg aaagtgtcaa aaatgggact
     1501 tatgactacc caaaatactc agaggaagca aaattaaaca gagaagaaat agatggggta
     1561 aaactggaat caacaaggat ttaccagatt ttggcgatct attcaactgt cgccagttca
     1621 ttggtactgg tagtctccct gggggcaatc agtttctgga tgtgctctaa tgggtctcta
     1681 cagtgtagaa tatgtattta a

That's (Update:) one gene from the Influenza A virus (A/Texas/04/2009(H1N1)) to you and me. Follow the link for sequences from other key nucleotides and proteins from the virus. Collect them all!

(via Glyn Moody/Open...)

(Thanks for the correction, debcha!)

Jamais Cascio

Contact Jamais  ÃƒÂƒÃ‚ƒÃ‚ƒÃ‚¢Ã‚€Â¢  Bio

Co-Founder, WorldChanging.com

Director of Impacts Analysis, Center for Responsible Nanotechnology

Fellow, Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies

Affiliate, Institute for the Future


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