« January 2013 | Main Page | March 2013 »

Monthly Archives

February 22, 2013


GoogleGlassGoogle Glass: a wearable heads-up display and camera, linked to your mobile device, able to do live recording, searches, route guidance, and more. Available soon for about $1500, and in "explorer" testing now. (The title hashtag -- #ifihadglass -- is how Google is picking testers.) Joshua Topolsky at The Verge got an extended try-out with the device, and wrote about his experience. In short, he found it useful and awkward and very much the possible start of something big.

But I walked away convinced that this wasn’t just one of Google’s weird flights of fancy. The more I used Glass the more it made sense to me; the more I wanted it. If the team had told me I could sign up to have my current glasses augmented with Glass technology, I would have put pen to paper (and money in their hands) right then and there. And it’s that kind of stuff that will make the difference between this being a niche device for geeks and a product that everyone wants to experience.

After a few hours with Glass, I’ve decided that the question is no longer ‘if,’ but ‘when?’

You'll forgive me if I'm not terribly surprised by all of this. This is pretty much a spot-on manifestation of the next phase of the Participatory Panopticon. The first phase used cameraphones -- ubiquitous and useful, to be sure, but reactive: you had to take it out and do something to make it record. A cameraphone isn't a tool of a panopticon in your pocket. But a wearable system, particularly something that looks stylish and not "tech," leads to very different kinds of outcomes.

Here's a bit of something I wrote in 2005 ("personal memory assistant" was my term for a Google Glass-like device):

But the world of the participatory panopticon is not as interested in privacy, or even secrecy, as it is in lies. A police officer lying about hitting a protestor, a politician lying about human rights abuses, a potential new partner lying about past indiscretions -- all of these are harder in a world where everything might be on the record. The participatory panopticon is a world where accusations can easily be documented, where corporations will become more transparent to stakeholders as a matter of course, where officials may even be required to wear a recorder while on duty, simply to avoid situations where they are discovered to have been lying. It's a world where we can all be witnesses with perfect recall. Ironically, it's a world where trust is easy, because lying is hard.

But ask yourself: what would it really be like to have perfect memory? Relationships -- business, casual or personal -- are very often built on the consensual misrememberings of slights. Memories fade. Emotional wounds heal. The insult that seemed so important one day is soon gone. But personal memory assistants will allow people to play back what you really said, time and again, allow people to obsess over a momentary sneer or distracted gaze. Reputation networks will allow people to share those recordings, showing their friends (and their friends' friends, and so on) just how much of a cad you really are.

In the world of the Participatory Panopticon, it's not just politicians concerned about inadvertent gestures, quick glances or private frowns.

And avoiding it won't be as easy as simply agreeing to shut off the recorders. Unless you schedule your arguments, it's inevitable that something will be caught and archived. And if you leave your assistant off as a matter of course, you lose its value as an aid to recalling details that pass in an instant or didn't seem important at the time.

Moreover, if you turn your recorder off while those around you are still archiving their lives, you place yourself at a disadvantage -- it's not knowledge that's power, it's recall of and access to knowledge that's power.

The recently-posted video interview includes some of my more recent thinking on the topic.

It's a really big deal. There are enormous intellectual property implications here, and undoubtedly issues around distracted driving and whatnot. But for me, the truly important aspect is how it changes relationships. And as this becomes more commonplace, it will change relationships -- between business partners, spouses, parents and children, everyone.

And that's with the relatively simple technology of something like Google Glass. When we add things like active visual filtering and face recognition -- just look at someone and get their Twitter stream or Facebook page in front of you -- we get the third phase of the Participatory Panopticon. All of that's still ahead of us -- but the advent of Google Glass makes it much more likely to happen.

And, okay, I admit it. Even though we very modern futurists (who pooh-pooh "predictions" as the stuff of astrologers and TV pundits) are loathe to admit it, getting it right is a thrill. Laying out a forecast that, in the subsequent years, maps to an emerging reality is neat stuff, especially when the forecast includes various social components yet to show up. Add a catchy name and... well, you have the makings of a nice bullet point for the always-inevitable "hey Mr. Futurist, what predictions of yours have come true?" question.

February 20, 2013

42 Minutes into the Future

Last December, at the Humanity+ event in San Francisco, I sat down with filmmaker Adam Ford for an extended interview on a wide variety of subjects, including the participatory panopticon, the possibilities around AI, geoengineering, even the role of art in human evolution.

Art doesn't just mean representational pictures. It means being able to ascribe meaning to something that doesn't have an intrinsically obvious meaning. To be able to construct a narrative and to tell a story that someone who wasn't involved in whatever you're illustrating can come up and see what you're painting and understand what you mean, and get something from it beyond simply "well that's a splotch of red on the wall that looks like a buffalo."

If you look at the course of human civilization, the emergence and development of human civilization, it's driven yes very much by the tools that we make, but it's also driven by the meaning we are trying to create.

It's actually not a bad interview, and I manage to refrain from doing too many goofy gestures. Mostly (please ignore 36:50-52).

Adam is now working on something called "Future Day," set for March 1st. Worth checking out (I do wish they talked about "futures" in the plural, and had photos on the site of more than conventionally attractive white people, but these are fixable problems).

February 12, 2013

New Chapters

I have two new written pieces out now, each at sites to which I will be regularly contributing.

The first, "5 Unexpected Factors That Change How We Forecast The Future," is my first essay for Co.EXIST, a FastCompany spinoff focusing on "world changing ideas and innovation" (world... changing... where have I heard that before?). It's a quiet sequel to the "how to do scenarios" pieces I wrote for FastCompany a few years ago, looking at the non-technology drivers that we need to keep in mind when building forecasts:

This is tricky, because a forecaster usually needs to avoid taking partisan positions in his or her work. But recognizing changing reactions to LGBT communities, for example, or the evolving role that religion plays in our lives is just being thorough. Another big one that’s too often missed: the transformation of the position of women in politics and economics.

Another “third rail” dynamic, this includes the impact of economic inequality (both across and within nations), the existence of marginalized (but not necessarily powerless) communities, even the change from a primarily rural to a primarily urban planet. Will the subject of your forecast change economic and political balances? Could it be used to hack the status quo, or make it stronger?

My stuff at Co.EXIST will be monthly initially, likely moving to twice/month this Summer.

The second new item, "Shaping the Anthropocene," is my first essay for Ensia, the new web magazine by the University of Minnesota's Institute on the Environment. I'll be contributing there a bit less frequently, but I'll try to make up for that with an effort to push my thinking.

The heroic narrative of fighting global warming implies that victory will mean getting back the Earth we know and love. But the reality of the situation is that significant damage has already been done; putting a stop to carbon emissions still leaves us with a planetary mess.

It’s useful to consider the alternatives we’ll have when the time comes to start the cleanup. It may seem premature to be talking about what to do after we’ve put an end to using the atmosphere and ocean as a carbon dump, but it’s often useful to consider one’s eventual destination even when still trying to figure out the map. When that time comes, we’ll face a choice between trying to accelerate the return to the equilibrium the world has known for millennia, trying to adapt ourselves and our environment to the new normal, or simply adapting ourselves and letting the new environmental conditions evolve on their own. It’s a sobering set of options.

Two bits of phrasing in the piece have already started to show up in people's comments about the essay: "Anthropoforming" and "the rats & kudzu future."

If you're in the Minneapolis area, by the way, I'll be speaking at UMN on March 14. Tickets are still available, and there's this:

Cascio’s presentation will be complemented by an aerial arts performance by Ribnic Circus featuring the eclectic stylings of musician and aerialist Kelsey Long and aerialist, dancer and contortionist Caitlin Marion.

Aerial arts and a contortionist!

February 11, 2013

Humanity Plus Talk, "Bad Futurism"

Here's the talk I gave a the Humanity+ conference in San Francisco last December. Entitled "Bad Futurism," it's a conversational version of this post.

The video runs about 20 minutes. The very first minute or two of my talk is cut off, but don't let that distract you.

"The best kinds of stories are about how you get from here to there, not just what there looks like."

(F-Bomb Count: 1)

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