« December 2009 | Main Page | February 2010 »

Monthly Archives

January 30, 2010

New Fast Company: iWorry

MosesPadclip.png(Well, "new" in the sense of it's the most recent; it actually went up earlier this week, I just didn't get around to linking to it here. Ahem.)

"iWorry" is my foray into the iPad discussion, focusing less on the product and more on its support infrastructure:

But the iPad isn't a phone; it is a general purpose computer. It does email and Web and documents and presentations and games and all of the other kinds of things we do with our "regular" computers. Yet it will suffer under the same restrictions as the iPhone--prohibition of any application that Apple doesn't like, for whatever reason. Sometimes that means the application uses undocumented features, but startlingly often it just means "duplication of features"--the application does something that Apple's own software does, but does it differently. (This raises the uncomfortable question as to whether the Kindle app for the iPhone--which works quite nicely, actually--will run on the iPad.)

These restrictions aren't going to hurt Apple's bottom line, and admittedly will probably make for a more comfortable user experience on the device itself. But the risk -- and the source of my worry -- is that the locked-down app model moves from these kind of appliance systems to the kinds of devices that have historically been open. If the next version of the MacOS insists that you use a "MacOS App Store" to get the software you want, I'll be moving to another platform.

I brought up a similar point in a conversation with Annalee Newitz, who wrote about her own concerns about the iPad for io9.com, Why the iPad is Crap Futurism. I think her summary of my point following the quote gets it exactly right.

As futurist Jamais Cascio told io9:
This is Apple's big push of its top-down control over applications into the general-purpose computing world. The only applications that will work with the iPad are those approved by Apple, under very opaque conditions. On a phone, that's borderline acceptable, but it's not for something that is positioned to overlap with regular computers.

The iPad has all the problems of television, with none of the benefits of computers.

If I get one, it will be for the hands-on experience of seeing what kinds of uses I would have for a device that sits between a smart pocket device and a notebook computer. But I promise not to like it.

Doom & Gloom

IEET's Mike Treder interviewed me on Bloggingheads.TV this week, and the video is now available. It runs about 45 minutes.

Egad, it's depressing. Sorry about that.

First time I've done one of these, and something that leapt out at me was that I can't seem to sit still. So, question for the viewers -- should I try to make a point of keeping still during something like this, or is being more "animated" a good thing?

January 21, 2010

New Fast Company: Vampire Loads, White Roofs, and the Quest for Efficiency

Latest Fast Company is now up: Vampire Loads, White Roofs, and the Quest for Efficiency gives a shout-out to the newly-retired head of the California Energy Commission, Art Rosenfeld, and the benefits his policies have provided to California and, as other states adopt them and manufacturers adhere to them, the rest of the US.

Rosenfeld was, until his retirement, the head of the California Energy Commission, a state organization that shapes the rules surrounding electricity production and use in California. During Rosenfeld's 30-year tenure at the CEC, he made energy efficiency the overriding driver of regulatory policy, creating rules for everything from refrigerators (which now use only a quarter of the power that their less-fancy 1970s ancestors did) to "vampire loads" (the power still consumed by devices when turned off) to--most recently--the power consumed by flat screen televisions, which by some reports now account for nearly 10% of the power consumption in California.

And in doing so, is directly responsible for this remarkable fact: despite an explosion of consumer electronics, mobile gadgets, and personal computers of all types, energy use per-capita in California is the same as it was 30 years ago.

There are a couple of ways to look at this data point. You could say "See! With all of the effort we put into efficiency, people just find ways to keep using that power -- things never get better!" Or you could say "See! Through increasing efficiency, we can keep improving our quality of life without increasing the impact we have on the world!"

Which one is more persuasive depends on what kind of mood I'm in.

The Return of El Niño

I've been awakened several times this week at 4am by 30+ mile-per-hour winds ripping through the bushes in the backyard, pushing the soaked metal table around on the stone patio. The rain is loud, but the wind somehow more disturbing, foreboding. And there's at least another week more of this to come.

California (and the western US as a whole) needs the rainfall, to be sure, but the intensity of the inundation in an El Niño cycle can itself be destructive -- flooding, mudslides, trees and power lines blown down, and so forth. California natives (like me) often joke about local news turing half an inch of rainfall into an OMGSTORMWATCH'010!!! environoia event, but when we're looking at getting close to a half-season's worth of rain over the course of a couple of weeks, the hyperbole is almost warranted. And rainfall arriving in torrential bursts doesn't soak in and store up as readily as slower, more spread out, showers.

And so our weather becomes a metaphor: we need the rain; the rain arrives, but it does so in a way that doesn't actually help much, and undermines other aspects of our lives. Sound like anything else going on these days?

Maintaining optimism when the storm is approaching its peak is difficult, at best. It's easy to fall victim to the 4am darkness. And, just maybe, it's good to let ourselves have that moment of despair. It's the despair, the fear, the sorrow that lets us truly appreciate the opportunities to act that will eventually come. The calm, clearing skies never look so good as they do after a terrifying storm; the tree limbs and broken fences littering the streets confirm the power of the wind and the rain, but in the breaking sunlight seem less like a nightmare made real, and more like a challenge to be cleared.

January 13, 2010

Speaker Circuit

My 2010 calendar is filling up already!

  • February 4: The Earthquake Engineering Research Institute's 2010 Annual Meeting (PDF). Morning keynote. San Francisco.
  • Also February 4: State of Green Business Forum -- "Hacking the Earth Without Voiding its Warranty." San Francisco (just down the street from the previous conference, fortunately).
  • February 13: Information Technology Senior Management Forum 2010 Symposium on Green IT. San Jose.
  • Mid-March: NASA-sponsored project on sustainability, coinciding with shuttle launch. Cape Canaveral, Florida. (No public link yet.)
  • April 19: Social Business Edge, Show 1. New York City.
  • April 26-27: Institute for the Future Ten-Year Forecast. San Francisco.
  • May 5-7: Lift10. Geneva.


  • January 6, 2010

    New Fast Company: Innovation as Resource

    I'm back to blogging at Fast Company, and my latest piece is now up: Innovation as Resource and China's New Magnetism.

    The U.K.'s Independent reports that China has been gradually cutting the amount of rare-earth elements it exports, now down 40% from seven years ago. China now exports only 25% of the rare-earth elements it mines. [...]

    So what are our options? We (as in, the non-China parts of the industrialized world) could try to pressure China to sell more, but that's unlikely to work--and China tends not to respond well to even mild criticism. We could try to rapidly reopen the now-closed rare-earth element mines, but mining is, frankly, an environmental nightmare and incredibly dangerous--hardly a sustainable practice.

    Our best option is to innovate our way out of the problem.

    China, and to a lesser (but increasing) extent India, can be seen as "leapfrog superpowers" -- undergoing a rapid shift in global status, a shift which remains incomplete. China has more influence and importance on the global stage than it is willing to admit (preferring to call itself a developing nation), but not nearly the power that some fear.

    The question is, does the immense potential power of China (and India) make a leapfrog transition easier or harder?

    January 4, 2010

    Sprechen sie Deutsch?

    When in Vienna a couple of months ago, I was interviewed for their newspaper Die Presse; that interview was finally published (although sadly/fortunately absent any of the pictures they took of me).

    Futurologe: Die Zukunft passt wie angegossen

    I suspect that the Austrian dialect of German is rather idiomatic, as the Google Translate version of the piece is especially nonsensical (in ways that you can't blame me for!). Anyone out there want to give a rough translation a shot?

    (Update: We now have one translation from Torsten Meier in the comments, and other from Carmen Tschofen in the extended entry. Between the two of them, you should have a pretty good sense of the interview. Thanks, folks!)

    Futurologist: The Future is a tailored fit

    The US- futurologist Jamais Cascio detects trends like others as a good business. He spoke with the Press on Sunday about the joy of hacking and designing at the push of a button.

    You are someone who believes that the world can be changed positively, without rejecting considerations of the darker side. Do you think people can learn from history?

    I fight against the idea that we’re all lost and that we’ll be paralyzed by shock and say ,“Oh, God, there’s nothing anyone can do.” Because: In most cases, one can do something. It is really easy to get caught up in the idea that people are simply dumb and aren’t able to learn. But look at history and how society has changed. Particularly in the West, in the USA, Europe, or countries like Japan: Life has become so much more free, so much richer—not only from a material perspective, but also from a social perspective. We have more options that ever before in history, we have access to more information than ever before. This small device in my pocket has more power than all the computers there were used to send a man to the moon combined. It may not always look like it, and we don’t always learn the right lesson, but we learn above all from our constant mistakes.

    Failure was [perhaps] forbidden before?

    In depends on the region: Where I come from, in Silicon Valley, San Francisco, where most of the computer executives work, you aren’t viewed as a good company leader as long as you haven’t completely fallen on your face once. Ok, you tried it, you made a great big mistake, everything’s falling apart, and you learn a lot from it, and you don’t make the same mistake again, but instead will create something better. And this approach has been around for a while, particularly in regions with a high degree of innovation and where there’s lots of room from experimentation.

    In the USA, creativity is required even in failure. Will the negotiation with “ideas” and “creativity” determine the economy of the future in the post-industrial society?

    Yes, and for a whole lot of reasons: one reason is the rapid development of technology and how this technology changes our economy. Creative ideas are the catalyst for this transition [change], in that our whole system is based on innovation. In addition, in the meantime there are already many production mechanisms and processes that increasingly allow the small business, individual businessperson, or small collective to produce their own products that once required large industrial production.

    Can you give a specific example?

    For example, there are now 3-D printers. You might not have them here now, but these things have been on the market for almost ten years. At first they were primitive machines that only produced strange forms, only good enough to create models. Today, due to new plastics [polymers] that these printers use as ink, it’s possible to create products that are really usable. And they keep getting cheaper. It’s possible that within the next ten years families will have a printer like this at home and will be in the position to create their own special items at the push of a button. And where does one get the design for such things? There will be a lot of new occupations and educational opportunities coming out of this “idea.” One can put the designs online or sell them on iTunes or similar platforms.

    Isn’t it true that through technology we’re losing [forgetting] our natural abilities: for example, memorizing [remembering] telephone numbers, finding our way through a city by car, or writing by hand?

    I think it was Socrates that complained bitterly that his students learned to read, thus losing that ability for oral recitation of stories. And in a way he was right: the students didn’t learn one thing, but what they got instead was huge. And the same is happening with modern transitions [changes]: We give up something, but in exchange the technology gives us the opportunity to do more, to experience more, to learn more and to connect us better than ever before in history.

    Would you say that technology inspires our creativity? Anyone can film and edit a movie, everyone can create animations or produce music.

    There have always been very many people out there who had talent and ideas, but simply didn’t have the money and the chance to express these ideas. In that this ability to express [yourself] creatively, at this level [amount], with these options, becomes democratized, the pile of complete shit that’s being produced grew. Every day millions of videos are uploaded to YouTube, and 99 percent are crap. But that also means that we have a growing number of products that are quite good. And again here a completely new industry is created, focusing on information filtering and methods that help users to find what they’re really looking for. That can be new software, but it can also be people, who can sort and rate the Net [information] on what’s good and what can be ignored.

    This trend can be linked to personalization: Do we feel so lost in the mass society that we want to make [put] our mark on every item [product]?

    Three hundred years ago nearly everything was “personalized” because almost everything was made by hand—it even had a personal signature. Through most of the history of civilization products were totally personalized, meaning this type of production was slow and difficult. And then came the industrial revolution, and suddenly one could mass produce things. That was in some sense a wrong path in history, made possible by technology but one that wasn’t very humane. However, the profits were so large that it was impossible to give up this new type of production—and yet today technological development is going exactly in the direction of individualized work. And now it’s possible to offer the masses both individualized production processes as well as personalized products. It is a so-called democratization of personalization. In addition there is a whole new generation of people who have the desire and the ability, not just to passively consume things, but rather to work actively with products – to tinker, to hack the products and manipulate them. In the USA this is called the Maker Movement, with the motto: If I can’t take it apart, I don’t want it. For example, they don’t particularly like the iPhone, because it [isn’t open]. They want access to the source code or to be able to add new hardware features.

    So the new generation doesn’t only want to be presented with finished products?

    That is a very important and significant idea that will change a lot in the economy, because it means nothing less that a new conceptualization of the relationship between producer and consumer. It’s about a fundamentally different positioning: One doesn’t just want to be the consumer anymore, but rather an active co-producer. And when coupled with the opportunities, with the current changes in the economy, we will – I’d say in about 20 to 25 years—live in a world, in which pretty much every object we will use, from various products to computers, cars, advertisements, will be “personalized.” That doesn’t necessarily mean that your name will be on it, but it could be a chair that is able to fit itself exactly to your rear end.

    If everything is being made at home, who pays for what and why?

    This transition will be fundamental for the economy; industrial capitalism as we know it won’t exist much longer. And just because profit and efficiency were the only factors up until now on which everything was based, it doesn’t mean that it will stay that way. One possible accomplishment of this new creative world of the future could be, that uncontrolled growth will no longer be the requirement [assumption] for the system. When we can produce things at home, the pressure to earn money also drops.

    Next week: Mass customization: how personalized design works

    January 1, 2010

    The Old Year

    Sunset at 34,000 Feet

    (Updated - I knew that I had forgotten a couple of talks...)

    I've spent the last week or so just... sleeping. Relaxing. Not thinking. Trying to get myself rested and ready for what looks to be another heavy year.

    2009 ended on quite a high note, with my selection by Foreign Policy magazine as one of their "Top 100 Global Thinkers for 2009," and my being honored by the Institute for the Future as their second "Research Fellow," something that was previously bestowed upon Howard Rheingold -- so that's terrific company to be in.

    My work at IFTF continued unabated, focusing primarily upon sustainability futures and their annual "Ten Year Forecast" program, but being pulled in on everything from food futures to global health to the future of construction equipment.

    Here's what the rest of 2009 looked like for me:


    Pasadena, London, Manchester, Amsterdam, Sydney, Atlanta, Toronto, New York, Chicago, Vienna, Chicago, Irvine, Chicago.


    February: Published Hacking the Earth
    March: Column for Fast Company.com starts
    April: Article in Foreign Policy
    June: Wall Street Journal article
    June: Big Atlantic Monthly article
    July: Appeared on two episodes of History Channel's That's Impossible
    October: Second Atlantic Monthly article

    Public Talks

    February: Future: To Go at the Art Center College Sustainable Mobility Summit.
    March: Cascio's Laws of Robotics at the Menlo Park AI Meetup.
    June: Hacking the Earth at Futuresonic.
    June: Mobile Intelligence at Mobile Monday Amsterdam.
    June: ReMaking Tomorrow at AMPlify09.
    October: If I Can't Dance, I Don't Want to be Part of Your Singularity at New York Future Salon.
    November: The Next Ten Years at Futurespace Vienna.
    December: Biopolitics of Popular Culture closing talk.


    March: NPR/Day to Day
    April: CBC/Spark
    April: New Hampshire Public Radio
    May: Freedom Lab Amsterdam (last on page)
    May: AMP Sydney
    July: Tactical Transparency
    July: Wisconsin Public Radio/Kathleen Dunn
    August: Slate (video)
    September: CBC/Q
    October: /Message (video)
    November: Public Radio International/On the Media

    Here's hoping that your 2010 is less exhausting than mine will be!

    Jamais Cascio

    Contact Jamais  ÃƒÂƒÃ‚ƒÃ‚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


    Creative Commons License
    This weblog is licensed under a Creative Commons License.
    Powered By MovableType 4.37