February 8, 2017

A New Look

You may have noticed that Open the Future has taken on a somewhat different design. You may also have noticed that I haven't been blogging lately. These are not unrelated.

I've been doing quite a bit of public speaking, all over the world -- from Sarajevo to Venice to Shenzhen in the last year alone, along with multiple locations here in the U.S. -- and a good amount of work with the Institute for the Future. I've also been doing occasional commentary pieces for New Scientist magazine.

So I've been active, just not active here. But since this is still the first place people go to learn more about me, it's not a good thing for it to appear to be abandoned. I needed OtF to do a better job of presenting me. Working on this redesign has rekindled a desire to do some blogging again, so it won't be completely static, but it will remain more of a highlight reel than an ongoing conversation. For those of you who will miss that, I'm sorry. I'll still be around, though -- I'm not going away, just doing a course-correction.

Time to get to work.

June 30, 2015

In the Press

MeNS0715Yep, pretty busy lately. I hope to have a book announcement soon, though.

I was asked to write a short opinion piece for New Scientist on the problem of filtering our reality, based on the success of the "Here Active Listening" system on Kickstarter. The piece is online, but sadly for now behind a paywall. This excerpt should give you a taste:

Critics have also noted an implicit class element in paying for the ability to block out other people's lives. This ambivalence will only grow as the technology improves. Political protests, styles of music, and even specific voices or words could be blocked or altered as digital processing becomes more powerful.

The desire to filter out what we find disturbing or unwelcome isn't new. In the online environment, it is possible like never before to repel opinions, ideas, or even facts that don't match our world views. The "real world" has been the stubborn holdout, confronting us with things that we may find insulting, offensive or blasphemous. That's about to change.

For those of you who have followed my exploration of the "Participatory Panopticon" concept, these conclusions are unsurprising. What is a bit more startling -- at least to me -- is that the first real reality filtering technology will affect what we hear rather than what we see.

This week also sees the publication of an article in Business Insider about the impact of self-driving vehicles, consisting entirely of an interview with me. This came as a bit of a surprise; the interview was actually done as a discussion about the Elon Musk Hyperloop concept, but it looks like the author/editor decided to shift the focus. No complaints here, except that the author quoted me accurately in a stream-of-words bit which included both a mis-statement and the immediate correction. If my main complaint is being quoted too accurately, I'll let it slide.

The full article is online (and only online, I believe), but here's an excerpt:

"It is going to be a more cultural shift even more than a technological shift because we have this romantic culture around cars and we are going to look back at that in the same kind of wistful way that we looked back at the relationship people had with horses," Cascio said.

"You will probably have school girls with all kinds of model cars around the room instead of model horses. You will have people who really enjoy personally owned cars, but for the same reason people own horses today. It's not a utility; it's something that is a romantic hobby."

That school girls with model cars around the room bit was a joke; I should really stop trying to make tongue-in-cheek references in interviews.

April 29, 2013

A Month of Silence


My most recent post here was on March 29. Today is April 29. What do I have to say for myself?

Production of the 2013 Ten-Year Forecast at the Institute for the Future -- up to and including the multi-day presentation conference -- took up pretty much all of the first half of April. Last week I spent in New York for the FastCompany "Innovation Uncensored" event, and then at IFTF's Future of Governance/ReConstitutional Convention affair.

I slept, too.

It's funny, in a way: I spent several years doing nothing but blogging every day, several times a day; now I discover (much to my chagrin) that I've gone a month without any entries. It's not surprising, given the changes in my life over the past decade, but it's still notable.

And the audience has changed, too, both in terms of who reads my stuff and the ways in which they seek out and devour ideas.

So a few options present themselves.

I could try to return to a much-more-frequent blogging pattern, a rate similar to the early days of OtF (even if nowhere near the peak Worldchanging rate). This is the most challenging of the options, and the one with the highest level of risk -- has the audience for that kind of blogging moved on (or died out)?

I could allow Open the Future to decline gracefully into a promotional site, with the links to talks and interviews given more prominence alongside links to articles published elsewhere, but no original content showing up on OtF itself. My original pieces would show up on Co.Exist, ENSIA, and various other platforms (with much larger audiences). This is the direction things seem to be heading, but not yet irreversibly.

Or I could just continue as I have of late, with original pieces showing up every now and then (sometimes five or six in a month, sometimes just one), links to talks and such mixed into the feed (then living off on the side column). This would require the least effort, of course, but seems like it's just pushing off the need for something more substantive.

I'd love to get feedback from people who read this, either on Twitter (I'm @cascio), on Facebook/GooglePlus, or even in the comments here. I suppose the archaic email medium would work, too -- cascio at this domain.

March 19, 2013

Where's Waldo? (and by "Waldo" I mean me)

This has already been a busy year, and it's just getting more hectic.

Over the past couple of weeks, I've talked bioterrorism near DC and sustainability in the snows of Minneapolis. I'm now immersed in the Institute for the Future's annual Ten-Year Forecast production. A couple more quick talks (non-public, sadly) are on the calendar for the next month or so, too.

The Minneapolis talk was for ENSIA, the new environmental media project from the University of Minnesota's Institute on the Environment. I spoke about different scenarios of what a sustainable future could look like -- one driven by politics and control, one driven by community and resilience, and one driven by experimentation and technology. There will be a video of the talk real soon now, and the audio will be made available by Minnesota Public Radio. Links to come.

In the lead-up to the talk, I was interviewed by Midwest Energy News (one of the sponsors of the ENSIA Live! events); it's a brief but good conversation, with (unsurprisingly) a bit of a focus on energy. It can be found here.

[MWEN:] When many of us think about the future, we extrapolate out from today’s conditions. But if you look back over the last couple of decades, you can see numerous events that few people expected, such as the Internet boom, smart phones, or the natural gas boom. How do you, as a professional futurist, go about predicting the future better than the rest of us?

[Jamais:] Actually the term "prediction" has become something of a dirty word in the futurist community because of the implication it has of telling you the one thing that will happen. The term most of us tend to use these days is "forecasting," which is a parallel concept, but the implications are less precise. You hear about a weather forecast, and you know going in that it’s not telling you what will happen, but that it’s a best estimate based on everything that we know.

More critically, most professional futurists these days talk in terms of scenarios, of multiple possible futures. It’s irresponsible to say, here’s the one thing that you know will happen—end of story. You can only talk about multiple possible futures because of this potential for surprises, for complex interactions of disparate dynamic forces.

In addition, a few months ago the comic book author Brian Wood asked if I'd be willing to write an introduction to the trade paperback collection of the first six issues of The Massive, his new graphic novel series taking place after a global environmental catastrophe. It's an intense story, and worth reading. The collection will be available April 2. My intro essay, "Life After the Apocalypse," is available now as part of Wired's interview with Brian. Here's a taste:

The Massive gives us a different, and essentially unique, take on the story of the end of the world. It doesn’t revel in destruction; when scenes describing the planetary crisis show up, they make clear that this was a true disaster, not a disaster movie. Millions have died, in dirty, tragic, and decidedly noncinematic ways. Instead, The Massive is a story of the necessity of resilience. While it leads us through the catastrophic aftermath of the Crash, we soon see that survival here is not the purpose in and of itself -- it's survival with the hope of making things better, even while recognizing that the old world's legacies (in materials and ideologies) yet remain.

But it’s a hope of making things better, not a guarantee[…] The old ways will fight to retain a stranglehold on civilization, no matter how pathological their effects. While Ninth Wave reminds us that this isn’t the only option, it too has to contend with a world coping with collapse. Compromises are inevitable— but compromise isn’t the same as surrender.

Lots of fun stuff on the horizon, including a (likely) trip to Kosovo!

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!

December 31, 2012

End of 2012

Odd year. Didn't do as much travel as I had in recent years, in terms of number of trips, but I did take the longest trip distance-wise I'd ever taken, to Kazakhstan. Quite a few interviews, but no significant long pieces in the media. Not many posts here, but pieces here hit topics likely of great importance over the next decade.

My favorites from 2012:

  • The Future Isn't What It Used To Be, arguing that we pay too much attention to technological shifts, missing the critical changes in society. This is probably my favorite post of the year. If you're going to read only one of these, read this one.
  • Got the Time, about the massive challenges facing the global environment.
  • Opaque Projections, about deception and control in a world lacking privacy.
  • The Pink Collar Future, about the unexpected implications of an increasingly roboticized future.
  • Nine Meditations on Complexity, arguing that complexity is the combination of complication and interconnectedness.
  • Lies, Damn Lies, and Twitter Bots, looking at how easily social media could be used to intentionally disrupt the economy.
  • I'm Just a Love Machine, about the unintended results of the emergence of "sex bots."

    Over at The Well, Bruce Sterling is engaged in his annual "state of the world" discussion. This is always worth checking out, and this year is covering everything from art to the quantified self. My favorite bit, so far, is his piece describing why ethnic/political enclaves desiring independence might just want to rethink their goals. Here's a small(!) taste:

    However, as somebody who's spent a lot of time in a region [Serbia] where such a devolution was actually carried out in real life, I need to warn Catalans about a few consequences of such a victory.

    First, you're never going to unite all the ethnic Catalans on some definite patch of ground. You're sure to create new minorities who share your ethnicity outside whatever patch you successfully claim. These abandoned guys are going to be a lot of trouble for you. There's also going to plenty of woe from multi-ethnic families, families newly divided by new borders, and so on.

    Also, you'll have new non-Catalan national minorities inside your own area. Naturally you think you're going to be really nice to them, much nicer than they were to you when they were the majority, and ruling over you. That isn't true. In a national secession, the sweet-tempered, nice guys are not going to win. Otherwise they would have already been nice and sensible in the statehouse in Madrid.

    Your former fellow-citizens are suddenly going to become foreigners. Places that you used to visit casually, properties you own, will become alien territory. Towns and cities on the new national borders will be economically strangled. Long-established businesses will pull out or shrink in size. Expect property courts clogged for decades.

    […] As soon as you're a nation, you'll have a new "national language." You'll have to change all the names on the street-sign, the school textbooks, re-write and republish the ancient classics, harass guys who blog without the proper spelling, insist that the EU translate all previous documents into your lingo, and so forth. You will never complete this orthographic reform work. It's impossible. The more energy you waste on it, the more you're going to look like chintzy, niggling fanatics.

    Bruce is eloquent and insightful, and worth your time.

    See you next year.

  • December 11, 2012


    I've been unusually quiet here of late. I knew that I was heading into an especially busy period work-wise, but I wasn't planning on a few non-work-related crises appearing all at once. Above and beyond reasonable expectations kind of stuff. Anyway, I'm trying to get focused again.

    September 28, 2012

    Momentum Interview

    Shortly after the Aspen Environment Forum, Momentum, the journal of the University of Minnesota's Institute on the Environment, interviewed me by phone. That interview is now available in the latest issue (Fall 2012) of Momentum (Flash version here, PDF version here).

    The main thrust of the interview is the process of foresight and futurism, and I get to trot out some favorite ideas, such as "legacy futures." As is typical for phone interviews, I could have phrased a few things more elegantly, but by and large I'm happy with the result.

    Here's a taste of the conversation:


    Cascio:There’s certainly a role for governments and government institutions. They are ultimately the ones who make policy into laws, and there has to be buy-in at that level for anything to be able to move forward because they can really get in the way. But more importantly, they’re one of the handful of institutions that have the potential to have a longer term perspective, an institutional memory that lasts longer than any one person. Religions are one example; universities are another and governments are yet another. So there’s definitely a role.

    Now, that doesn’t mean governments are the perfect source. And it certainly doesn’t mean they can’t become problematic. I think we’re at a particularly pathological era in American government, but that doesn’t have to last. It can’t last.

    Thank you to the IoE and UMinn's Jon Foley for the platform!

    June 6, 2012


    I was 13, and a freshman in high school (that would make it, um, 1979). A local community college, Mt. San Antonio College ("Mount Sac" -- funny that I didn't realize at the time how dirty that sounds), announced a science fiction writing contest, to be judged by special guest Ray Bradbury. My mom encouraged me to write something.

    A short story. Very short -- maybe 1500-2000 words, tops. A "twist" ending you could see coming a mile away.

    And I won. At this point -- 33 years later -- I don't remember whether I won the "under-18" group, or came in 3rd overall; I know I didn't win the whole contest, but I did well enough to meet Mr. Bradbury. My most vivid memory of the event is walking alongside him, outside, looking up at him and grinning like a fool.

    A few days later, my English teacher offered to read the story to the class. That twist ending? Wasn't so obvious to other 13 & 14 year olds. My other vivid memory of this moment in time is hearing Mr. Brechbiel (the teacher) finish the story, then a beat of silence, then one of the other kids saying "Ooooh!" in realization of what the ending meant.

    That second, that sound, that excitement of witnessing the reaction... it told me, with no uncertainty, that words have power. That what I write can make people think, affect their emotions, change their ideas. That "Ooooh!" put me on the path to where I am today.

    And Ray Bradbury, by giving a bit of attention to a 13 year old me, pointed me in that direction.

    Thanks, Ray. Rest in peace.

    November 22, 2011


    Just a quick update: after much complaining from people who wanted to comment but didn't like the authentication methods I had enabled, I've turned "anonymous" (i.e., enter an email address that doesn't get published) commenting back on. I'll have to filter more spam that way, but I'll persevere.

    June 17, 2011

    Still Alive (June 2011 Edition)

    It's been a frustrating last couple of months, in that I've been working on very interesting projects, but couldn't talk about any of them. That's (finally) starting to change.

  • As the image above shows, I had the ridiculously good fortune to have been asked to contribute a short essay to SVK, a graphic novella written by Warren Ellis and drawn by Matt "D'Israeli" Booker. Did I mention the introduction by William Freaking Gibson?

    Warren describes SVK thusly:

    SVK is about… well, SVK stands for a few things, including “Surveillance, Very Kafka.” In one meeting I also described the book as “Franz Kafka’s Bourne Identity,” which seems to have stuck.

    The story, concerning a recovery agent and a thing lost that should probably never have been made, is set in London. So it has to be about surveillance at some level, as London is probably the most surveilled city in the world, one estimate pegging the level at one CCTV camera to every eight people. At any one time, in fact, a fifth of the world’s CCTV cameras are live in the UK.

    SVK will only be available via mail order, and will be on sale very soon. Get on the mailing list for the announcement.

  • I've also been asked to serve as an external expert for the latest Shell Global Scenarios. The Shell scenarios are as close as it comes to the gold standard of scenario-based foresight, so being asked to participate is officially a Big Deal. And given how influential the Shell scenarios often are (it's not uncommon to see them cited in government foresight work), it's a real opportunity to speak to decision-makers who otherwise would not be expected to listen to perspectives like mine.

  • I'll also be speaking in Italy later this year. Possibly twice. While there are clearly rewards to doing this kind of thing, I'd actually like to have more work that doesn't require an overnight flight.

  • The Ongoing Book Project has unexpectedly morphed into the Ongoing Books Plural Project. The second book -- which has been written, and now awaits illustrations(!) -- is something that the people who know me the best would be the most surprised by.

  • May 5, 2011

    In the NY Times: How 10 Billion Can Survive


    The New York Times "Room for Debate" series brings together a half-dozen or so experts to offer diverse opinions on the news. I was asked to contribute to the conversation about the new UN report claiming a global population of 10 billion people by 2100, and my piece is now up.

    Population projections 90 years out – even 40 years out – are risky. There are big challenges to human civilization already under way this century, such as climate disruption and food sustainability, and more on the horizon. If any of them hit as hard as we fear, or if our responses are insufficient, there’s little likelihood that Earth’s population would get to 10 billion people. In a way, getting there would be a sign of successful navigation of this century’s problems.

    It goes on from there.

    I'm particularly pleased with the point made in the last sentence of that paragraph -- it's a reframing of the issue that I haven't seen elsewhere. But it's true: given the scale of the challenges we'll face this century, if we do end up with a planet of 10 billion people in 2100, it can only be because we've successfully managed the cascading crises. Ten billion in 2100 is a positive sign, not a negative one.

    May 4, 2011


    A while back I was asked by Dan Schneider to do an interview for the website COSMOETICA, a somewhat eclectic arts and culture website that's been around since early 2001, apparently without changing the layout of its pages. Schneider has, over the years, interviewed quite a few folks I consider to be world-class thinkers, (such as Dan Dennett, Steven Pinker, and Jack Horner) so I was pleased and amused to be in such company. The interview was done as a long set of questions in a Word doc, without any limits to how long my answers could be.

    The full text of the interview is now available at the COSMOETICA website.

    A few notes before you read it.

    This was an odd interview. Some of the questions were quite good, and gave me a chance to think through why I think the way I do. Other questions were more problematic, containing errors of fact that I couldn't just ignore. Unfortunately, Mr. Schneider chose to respond to me without giving me a chance to reply in turn; more importantly, his responses seemed to be just doubling-down on his positions, even when they were categorically erroneous.

    There isn't a comment section attached to the interview there, so if you want to reply, feel free to do so here.

    December 31, 2010

    Another One Down, Ninety More to Go

    And so 2010 draws to a close.

    I managed only fifty posts this year, a side-effect of having spent so much time traveling, preparing to travel, or recovering from travel. I ended up spending about three months out of the country this year, mostly in five to seven day increments. It gets tiring, and one of my resolutions for 2011 is to travel less. We'll see how well I do with this decision.

    2010 felt a bit like a pause year, at least in comparison to the media frenzy of 2009. I need to get back in the game next year; the brutal reality of a freelancer's life is that (as I've been told) invisibility is death.

    I did manage to come up with some good ideas and essays this year, even if they were sporadic.

    My favorite "fun" piece was my essay on Augmented Fashion Reality for Fast Company:

    I remember the first time I saw an AR outfit. I did a double-take, because I could have sworn that the woman had been wearing a fairly bland dress when I saw her at a distance, but suddenly she was wearing a sparkling gown that I could swear was made of diamonds. A few minutes later, I took off my arglasses to get something out of my eye, and *poof* her dress was back to the simple beige shift. That bland outfit was actually carrying a half-dozen or so specialized smart tags, providing abundant 3D data that my arglasses--and the AR systems of everyone else around her--translated into that diamond dress.

    A bit more substantial was my piece "Your Posthumanism is Boring Me" for io9:

    What happened with Louise Brown and IVF will be replicated across the spectrum of technologies that we now celebrate or decry as leading to our posthuman future (the title, by the way, of conservative social critic Frank Fukuyama's book on how the technologies of human augmentation will lead to the collapse of society). Fear is replaced by familiarity. And unlike IVF, the spread of the Internet and easy communication will mean that most of us will have heard about these technologies as they develop. By the time they arrive, they'll already be boring.

    My most practical offering was the three-part series on how to create scenarios, again for Fast Company:

    Foresight exercises that result in a single future story are rarely as useful as they appear, because we can't predict the future. The goal of futures thinking isn't to make predictions; the goal is to look for surprising implications. By crafting multiple futures (each focused on your core dilemma), you can look at your issues from differing perspectives, and try to dig out what happens when critical drivers collide in various ways.

    Whatever you come up with, you'll be wrong. The future that does eventually emerge will almost certainly not look like the scenarios you construct. However, it's possible to be wrong in useful ways--good scenarios will trigger minor epiphanies (what more traditional consultants usually call "aha!" moments), giving you clues about what to keep an eye out for that you otherwise would have missed.

    My most informative piece was apparently my explanation of just what the Ventner team had and had not accomplished with its synthetic genome, "Give My Creation... Life!":

    "Synthetic" here doesn't mean artificial, by the way. The DNA of the synthetic genome comprises the same base pairs and nucleotides as a natural genome, but was synthesized in the lab rather than replicated from an earlier cell. The best analogy I can think of is if, rather than copying the MP3 of your favorite song, you pulled together a really sophisticated music creation application and reproduced the song yourself, exact in every detail. It's the same, but a synthetic version.

    If that sounds like a lot of work to get something that is essentially the same as the natural/original version, you're right. But this step was never the real goal -- it's just preparation. The real goal is to create an entirely novel life form, comprising both entirely new DNA and an entirely new cell. That's still to come.

    The piece that will probably have the most lasting impact, though, is Neodicy:

    The practice of foresight needs within its philosophical underpinnings a similar discourse that treats the fear of dangerous outcomes as a real and meaningful concern, one that can neither be waved away as pessimism nor treated as the sole truth — a "neodicy," if you will. Neodicies would grapple with the very real question of how we can justifiably believe in better futures while still acknowledging the risks that will inevitably arise as our futures unfold. Such a discourse may even allow the rehabilitation of the concept of progress, the idea that as a civilization we do learn from our mistakes, and have the capacity to make our futures better than our past.

    And, of course, Worldchanging saw its final days:

    We weren’t the only ones who saw the zeitgeist, but for a time we were the ones who had figured out how to say what needed to be said in ways that people wanted to hear. The language and the arguments we used went quickly from being niche perspectives to being cornerstone ideas of a new (or revitalized, take your pick) view of a sustainable, resilient, desirable world. Over time, with great effort and generous contributions of time and money from hundreds of people, we fought our revolution... and won.

    May your futures always be better than your past. See you next year.

    Photo on 2011-12-31 at 12.55 #3.jpg

    December 20, 2010

    World, Changed.

    WC SunIt seemed a little thing, at first.

    “Hey, let’s start a blog.” I don’t know whether it was Alex Steffen or I who said it first (he was always more proactive, I was always more techie), and it undoubtedly wasn’t said in those exact words, but still. Alex had been living in the SF region for a short while, back in 2003, and neither of us had a real job. We’d known each other for close to a decade at that point, but had never really done a big project together.

    The way I remember it, we had initially imagined that the blog would be something to work on while we figured out what we really wanted to do. Kinda future-y, kinda green-y, a place to kick around ideas before putting them in front of a “real” audience. A place to write without worrying about deadlines or last-minute editorial fiats.

    Some of the ideas behind Worldchanging were worked out as Alex put together what ended up being the last issue of Whole Earth magazine. We bounced arguments off each other, and the lengthy essay I wrote for the issue ended up articulating a perspective on the world that, at its root, I still hold. Alex assembled an amazing set of contributing writers, and the issue was all set to rock. But it never saw print, because the foundation behind the magazine decided that the funding just wasn’t there. We started Worldchanging, in part, to get past that — to have a place to write that wouldn’t be yanked away at the very last minute because somebody ran out of money. (As the saying goes, irony can be pretty ironic sometimes.)

    But even before Worldchanging really got started, we could sense that we were onto something big. There’s an electricity that comes from seeing the zeitgeist form in front of you. The core idea of Worldchanging — that the world’s a mess, but it doesn’t get fixed by just complaining about it, so let’s focus on what will make it better — made immediate sense, and everyone we told about what we were going to do got excited at the prospect. We knew that we had to do it. Worldchanging didn’t just seem to be a good idea, it seemed to be a necessary idea.

    For us, this necessity wasn’t just a belief, it was visceral reality. In our pre-Worldchanging work, Alex and I had each independently stumbled across a surprising and troubling truth. Few, if any, of the organizations we’d worked with as consultants (on business strategy, on environmental strategy, on their own futures) could articulate a plausible positive scenario. They couldn’t imagine what the world would look like if they were successful, only what might happen if they failed. They didn’t have the language with which to describe a realistic world that worked. We knew that had to change.

    With the clarity of hindsight, the scale of the task we had made for ourselves was rather daunting. We were trying to transform how we — as a world — saw the world, to create a paradigm that was at once grounded in deep traditions and eager to innovate, to start a revolution. We knew that we couldn’t do it alone, but we could damn sure try to be one of the sparks that set it off.

    And we did.

    We weren’t the only ones who saw the zeitgeist, but for a time we were the ones who had figured out how to say what needed to be said in ways that people wanted to hear. The language and the arguments we used went quickly from being niche perspectives to being cornerstone ideas of a new (or revitalized, take your pick) view of a sustainable, resilient, desirable world. Over time, with great effort and generous contributions of time and money from hundreds of people, we fought our revolution... and won.

    Not in the sense that the ideals that Worldchanging embraced are now universally accepted, or that the goals we fought for have been accomplished, of course. Rather, we won in the sense that the Worldchanging perspective — that complaints aren’t enough, that we need to focus on solutions, that a better world isn’t just possible, it’s here if we want it — is now widely seen to be as obvious and necessary as Alex and I saw it back in 2003. For the Worldchanging concept, spectacular visibility wasn’t the real goal; what we wanted was invisible ubiquity.

    So when I get word that Worldchanging has ended its run, I don’t see it as a sign of failure, not by any means. Instead, it’s a recognition of success, that the efforts and contributions paid off. Ultimately, if Worldchanging no longer offered a unique voice, it wasn’t because Worldchanging had lost its way — it was because Worldchanging’s voice had become a global chorus.


    August 2, 2010

    Diesel Sweetness

    I know that I'm a success, now that I've been immortalized as a comic strip character. In the Friday, July 30 edition of r. stevens' Diesel Sweeties, there appeared:


    ...and that difference? Head over to Diesel Sweeties to find out (and to see it in its full, glorious size)!

    Thank you, Richard!

    June 7, 2010

    Hey, Look

    I was asked awhile back to put up a list of my favorite pieces; I've finally gotten around to doing so (and, in the course of the clean-up, making some long-planned modifications to the layout of the OtF home page).

    However, I am well aware that what I found most interesting or fun to write may not match with what other folks particularly liked.

    So -- what's wrong with the list? Is there a piece that you're just stunned I didn't include? Is there an item that you're baffled as to why I thought it was worth reading in the first place?

    Tell me.

    April 24, 2010

    What I've Been Up To Recently...


    My talk at UC Santa Cruz went well. Video may be available at some point.

    My talk at Social Business Edge went very well -- I'll have video as soon as it's available.

    2010-04-19 21:35:15: @cascio just said like five excellent things in 2 sentences and i can't keep up. #sbenyc #smartpeoplerule via randomdeanna (Deanna Zandt)

    IFTF Ten-Year Forecast meeting starts tomorrow evening.

    I speak at LIFT10 in less than two weeks, and have been asked to speak at Activate2010 in London on July 1.

    Fast Company

    Earth Day post at Fast Company: "Earth Day 2020" -- a set of four scenarios of what we might be doing in 10 years...
    Scenario #2: "Signs of Desperation"
    Unlike scenario #1, in this world the signals of looming environmental chaos are unmistakeable, and the sense of desperation is palpable. Unfortunately, what results is even greater political and social friction, as the dynamic changes swiftly from denial to blame. There are more Congressional hearings on the role that energy and transportation companies played in suppressing debate about the climate than there are hearings to figure out what to do. Environmental scientists are regularly attacked by TV pundits for not doing enough to make people believe that a crisis was at hand. Advocates for a wide variety of quick-response schemes come out of the woodwork, trying to take advantage of a fearful society.

    Also, Futures Thinking: A Bibliography at Fast Company.

    Other Articles

    "Bouncing Back: Building a Resilient Tomorrow," for the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, Zurich, International Relations and Security Network.
    At the core of the resilience concept is a simple argument: Failure happens, so we need to be ready. Yet strategies that depend upon complete, ongoing success – and that collapse under pressure – are distressingly common. We saw it in Iraq war planning that paid insufficient attention to the potential for post-war instability and in financial models that assumed that home prices only go up; we see it now in environmental arguments that assert that our only option is an immediate, complete cessation of carbon emissions. This way of thinking – call it the “aspirational” model – has us ask one big question: “What can we do to maximize our results?” When everything works as desired, this approach can be quite efficient and sometimes enormously successful.

    But what if things don’t go as planned?

    "The Potential and Risks of Geoengineering," for The Futurist (World Future Society) -- part of the "20 Forecasts for the Next 25 Years" series.

    It’s hard to exaggerate the sheer complexity of the situation. If the great obstacle to our continued survival and prosperity as a species were “just” global warming, achieving success would be tricky but doable. The challenge we face is global warming plus resource collapse plus pandemic disease plus post-hegemonic disorder plus the myriad other issues.

    Nonetheless, there are reasons for optimism.

    (Some of the essay might sound familiar; I was encouraged to go ahead and re-use bits to streamline the process of writing it.)


    February 24, 2010

    Time Enough

    I've been blogging for over six years. (Yes, blogging about blogging is a sin; I am aware of all Internet traditions.)

    My first post, at WorldChanging, was on October 2, 2003, linking to a BBC story about an "Earth Simulator" computer system in Japan. In fact, you can look at the handful of posts I put up that first month and see the early moments of a set of interests that have remained with me: nanotech, biotech, green tech, open source, social networking, ethics... These first posts were mostly just pointers with excerpts, and without much analysis, but these are the seeds from which larger things grow.

    Although my six-to-nine months of blogging had a pretty sporadic pace, by late 2004 I was on a much more frequent schedule, and in 2005 I don't think I had much in the way of a day off of any kind -- if I was healthy enough to pick up a laptop, I was blogging. After I left WC in April of 2006, and started Open the Future, I went back to a less-frequent blogging calendar. And in recent months, the emphasis has definitely been on the "less" rather than on the "frequent."

    This isn't an announcement that I'm stopping now, nor is it a promise to post more frequently. It's more of an acknowledgement that Open the Future isn't as lively as it might once have been, and is largely pointing to Things I've Done. I have this vague feeling that I should apologize for that, but OtF has always been a place for my brain to get some exercise. I do still need to play with ideas, and I'm glad I still have this platform. I'm not going to stop doing that, and -- as I finally get this damn book proposal rewrite finished -- I hope to use it much more actively while writing my next book.

    So there we are.

    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!)

    Continue reading "Sprechen sie Deutsch?" »

    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 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!

    November 30, 2009

    Foreign Policy 100 Top Global Thinkers

    About two months ago, I was notified by the editors at Foreign Policy magazine that they had selected me as one of their "top global thinkers," to be announced on November 30. I was asked to not say anything about it until then, and, frankly, I wouldn't have had much to say. A search of the FP archives showed no previous iteration of this list, so I had no idea if it was just a list of people who had interesting articles in an issue over the last year or some such.

    So when the new issue of Foreign Policy went live on the web on Sunday Nov 29, I was stunned to discover that it was a list of the 100 "most influential" thought leaders shaping 2009... and that I was #72. Even more surreal was what they said:

    72. Jamais Cascio

    for being our moral guide to the future.


    Climate change is coming, and geoengineering -- the prospect of artificially manipulating the world's climate -- may seem like an easy save. But in fact it's threatening and ethically complex, putting a literally earth-shaking power in the hands of a few, says Cascio in his new book, Hacking the Earth, the most subtle analysis so far on the subject. This year, Cascio, guru of all things on the horizon and founder of the website Open the Future, agitated to strengthen the global financial system through decentralization; argued passionately that resilience, not sustainability, must be the new goal of environmentalists; and has become a leading thinker on robot ethics.

    "Our moral guide to the future." No pressure.

    It's a very odd list, mixing the usual institutional suspects (e.g., Bernanke, Obama, the Clintons, Cheney(!), Petraeus, Friedman) with a much more interesting (to me) group of more obscure scientists, writers, activists and thinkers. It's a list of "most influential," not "best," so there's a healthy mix of "yay!" and "no way!"

    As part of the process, FP asked the listed folks to answer a set of questions about the world; about half did so (you can do it, too). The more personal items show up with the entries (and you can read mine there), but the more global issues got added up as survey results. But in the spirit of full disclosure, my answers to those questions can be found the extended entry.

    But thank you to the editors at Foreign Policy for putting me on your list. I'll try to live up to those expectations.

    Continue reading "Foreign Policy 100 Top Global Thinkers" »

    November 18, 2009

    Radio Silence

    Talk Talk

    Sorry for going quiet for the last few days -- I've been in Vienna, Austria, giving a talk at the "Future Space" event. That bit is done, but now I'm off to another project.

    The trip included the surreal experience of being interviewed by Die Presse, Austria's newspaper-of-record -- an interview which, of course, included photographs. And the photographer got a bit... artsy.

    Posting will pick up again next week.

    November 1, 2009

    Carbon Footprint T-Shirts (& Stuff)

    414625691v8_350x350_Front_Color-White.jpgWarren Ellis' new "t-shirt a week" project, using Cafe Press, reminded me that, waaaay back in the early days of Open the Future, I tried out a Cafe Press shop just to get a couple of items of OtF stuff for myself. That stuff is all gone -- it used the logo from two iterations ago -- but the shop remained. It only needed new content.

    By far the most popular item I've ever done here is the Carbon Footprint of a Cheeseburger, and I still get requests to use the graphic that I made to accompany the piece -- a mockup of a "carbon facts" chart mirroring the common "nutrition facts" found on nearly every food item in the US. As a result, I had little hesitation about which image would go on a new Open the Future shirt.

    At this point, the Open the Future storefront has the Carbon Footprint image on organic t-shirts (both "male" fit and "female" fit), as well as on a tote bag (perfect for shopping at the local organic food market), a large coffee mug, and -- I couldn't resist -- on a barbecue apron.

    If anyone decides to pick one of these up, please send along a picture of yourself wearing the shirt/apron (or holding the bag/mug).

    August 17, 2009

    New Fast Company: Rust Never Sleeps

    Ug99 is a scary fungus that could DESTROY THE WORLD... well, actually, could devastate global wheat crops, which is a pretty fair approximation if you dislike famine. It started in Uganda in 1999 (hence Ug 99), but is now being found in Afghanistan and Pakistan, on its way to India and China.

    And who might save the day?

    So here's where Bill Gates steps in.

    In 2008, the Gates Foundation donated $26.8 million dollars to the Durable Rust Resistance project, a multinational effort to track the spread of stem rust, and to quickly develop resistant strains of wheat. Cornell University coordinates these efforts, and the project is now starting to see results. Earlier this year, researchers found a gene complex that seems to kill Ug99.

    If Bill Gates manages to head off global famine for what amounts to pocket change (for him), all is forgiven.

    Except Clippy.

    August 13, 2009

    What's Going On

    Okay, it's time for a confessional. I'm well aware that I haven't been blogging as frequently I used to, and too much of what gets posted here simply points to stuff I've done elsewhere. While I have made the occasional foray into blogging more, and do still get some new stuff unique to OtF up here, Open the Future circa mid-2009 simply isn't what it was even a year ago.

    Here's why.

    I'm busy, yeah, and I've been doing a lot of traveling, yeah, but what it comes down to is that my health sucks. I was diagnosed with a form of rheumatoid arthritis ("palindromic rheumatism") back in 2001 (at 35, fun), but managed to control the occasional flare-ups with relatively simple treatments. About a year ago, the flare-ups started happening more often, regardless of the treatments; about three months ago, the flare-ups started hitting multiple joints at the same time, something that hadn't happened before. This would leave me literally unable to walk, and in constant pain. If you haven't had the pleasure, constant pain is not very good for the thinking process. Moreover, the drugs that I take to beat down the flare-ups just make me want to sleep all day.

    I'm going through one of these episodes right now.

    I'm shifting to a new treatment regimen, but that will take a couple of months to settle in. In the meantime, I'm doing what I can. This means that some days I'll get stuff up, but many days I won't. It doesn't mean I don't want to, it just means that I simply don't have the energy.

    I am not posting this in a bid for sympathy. If you choose to reply, in comments or email/twitter, I would be much more appreciative of a simple "thanks for letting us know" acknowledgement than of well-intentioned words of comfort. This is an incredibly frustrating experience, but I just felt that it was important to talk about what was happening, rather than just shutting up and disappearing.

    July 30, 2009

    New Fast Company: Autonomy Sans

    My latest Fast Company essay is up: Autonomy without Intelligence asks what "high-frequency trading" says about the future of military robots.

    But that situation--humans on one side, humans + computer/robot systems on the other--won't last. And when both sides of a conflict have digitally-augmented combat systems, the side that keeps humans too much in the loop is at a distinct tactical disadvantage. We could easily find ourselves giving our military robots the power to make the kill decision not because we think it's wise, but because that may be the only guarantee that they can act in time.

    Think of it as an add-on to the "That's Impossible!" clip from a couple of weeks ago.

    July 22, 2009

    New Fast Company: Kindle and Orwell and Clouds

    Oh my.

    New Fast Company essay is now up: Head in the Clouds looks at cloud computing in light of Amazon's nuking of purchased Kindle copies of 1984 and Animal Farm.

    Now, the Kindle is not a cloud computing system, but the Amazon-Whispernet-Kindle infrastructure mirrors many cloud features. More importantly, this incident is indicative of what kinds of trouble can emerge when we reframe "content" as "service." As numerous pundits have noted, the physical book analogy would be Amazon breaking into your home and taking away a book you'd purchased (leaving you a refund on your desk, of course). But a Kindle book isn't a physical book--it's a service, one that (as the Kindle license makes clear) you don't really own.


    At least with the Kindle, you can make a backup of your downloaded files; if the Kindle was truly a cloud device, where the book file itself lived online, you may not even have that option. In either case, since Kindle books (even free ones) are wrapped in DRM, you can't legally read them on anything else anyway. And all of this points to the real risk: when your work is treated not as content but as a service, and is subject to centralized control, it can be altered or deleted at any time. For legal reasons, for "local standards" reasons, by mistake, by malice, or simply when the system owner decides to discontinue that service.

    Now, as I've mentioned a few times, I have a Kindle. I'm reasonably happy with it, and I bought it with open eyes about the implications of the DRM (no "right of first sale," for one thing). This was a foolish move by Amazon, however, and is exactly the kind of thing that guarantees people will work to break the Kindle DRM simply to protect themselves.

    It's a perfect example of an organizational "auto-immune disorder" response.

    July 10, 2009

    For the Record


    ...a derivative object which retains ornamental design cues to structure that [were] necessary in the original...

    More on this soon.

    June 12, 2009

    Big Media

    This next few days sees a big print media splash the likes of which I've never experienced. The July/August issue of The Atlantic Monthly, now on sale, has my long-awaited (at least by me) article on cognitive augmentation, "Get Smart." The Atlantic website will be updated with the new issue Real Soon Now, I'm promised. And on Monday, my cover story for the Wall Street Journal's Special Report on the environment, "It's Time to Cool the Planet," hits both the streets and the web.

    I'll have links to both when available, of course, but didn't want to bury this over the weekend.

    Holy Crap, It's Real!

    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 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 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.

    April 28, 2009



    So, it's been quiet around here. Too quiet.

    I can explain. I've been sick the past four days or so, and have been keeping down. But since I had to make a one-day run down to San Diego for a meeting just before I got sick, there was a minor flurry of concern that this really bad cold/flu wasn't just a really bad cold/flu. Fortunately, a check-in with my doctor confirmed that I'm not a victim of the Aporkalypse.

    So that covers the last few days. How about earlier? The Institute for the Future's Ten-Year Forecast event, where we present the year's work over the course of several days, took place last week. Many weeks of increasingly frantic work culminated in a big affair, rolling out the Superstruct results, along with some ancillary content that wasn't directly Superstruct-driven but very much in alignment.

    I had three presentations to give -- one on geoengineering, one on intelligence and evolution, and a big one for the opening night: The Human Crisis. This was the presentation of the Fifty-Year Scenarios, a set of three timelines I crafted for the Institute, taking us from 2009 to 2059 (with a preview of 2060).

    Here's the first of those timelines to be released, The Long Crisis (5mb PDF). IFTF put it out in concert with the first bit of content coming from Superstruct. Check it out. I suspect that you'll find much to argue with.

    The presentation was exhausting to do, both physically (in the way that giving any presentation in front of a crowd can be) and emotionally. These are not happy scenarios, as the first one -- which is by no means the scariest of the three -- will attest. Living with those three worlds over the past few months has been draining.

    There was a fourth scenario in my presentation, though. Let me quote the brief description:

    In this fifty year period, a massive depression, coupled with the collapse of a key resource, undermines traditional economic models. Even as the global economy recovers, a global war erupts, a horrifying accident triggered by political systems overwhelmed by increasingly rapid communications, a tragedy multiplied by the almost casual use of chemical weapons. The end of this war coincides with the emergence of a pandemic the likes of which the world has never seen, killing millions upon millions -- and, combined with the war, almost eliminating an entire generation in some parts of the globe.

    After the pandemic ebbs, a brief, heady economic boom leads many to believe the worst has ended. Unfortunately, what follows is a global depression even more massive than the previous one, causing hyperinflation in some of the most advanced nations, and leading directly to the seizure of power by totalitarian, genocidal regimes.

    What follows is perhaps predictable: an even greater world-wide war, nearly wiping out a major culture and culminating in a shocking nuclear attack.

    At this point, you’ve probably already realized that this scenario covers the end of the nineteenth century through the end of World War II.

    Fun stuff. To my surprise, only about half the audience caught that it was the first half of the 20th century before I "flipped the cards" in my slide, showing period-appropriate images for each major event. But whether or not they saw through the very light deception, the reaction was uniform: they were stunned. This was the after-dinner entertainment, and people just left quickly afterwards. I usually have a handful of folks come up after a talk to ask questions or press me on various points, but this time, nothing. A few people even avoided eye contact as they hustled out.

    The next day, after people had an evening to digest it, I got the questions and comments. But clearly this set of stories -- including one about our own recent history -- rocked them. The scenarios certainly had done so to me, and I wrote them.

    And to go from a multi-day meeting that focused on Superstruct (with its "Quarantine" threat) to a real-world proto-pandemic was just too much. Still is, really. I think I need a bit more down time.

    See you soon.

    April 15, 2009

    New Fast Company Column: Social Networks and the Brain

    This week's Fast Company column is now up: Social Networking and the Brain: Continuous Partial Empathy? asks whether the way we use social networking technologies is ultimately making us better people -- or worse...

    Social technologist Linda Stone talks about "continuous partial attention," a condition of modern life where we need to pay ongoing attention to multiple streams of inputs, but can only provide limited degrees of attention to each. Superficially similar to multitasking, the real point of continuous partial attention is that it's continuous--it's not just a workload issue. While we may be able to handle the demands of continuous partial attention for awhile, it eventually becomes exhausting, and even the limited levels of attention suffer.

    What Damasio's work suggests to me is that there's a point where an insufficient amount of attention given to a potentially moving encounter means that little or no empathy--compassion or admiration--will result. And while paying attention to another person is important, offering empathy is much more critical. Social numbness simply can't be healthy for a functioning society.

    Let me know what you think.

    April 9, 2009

    New Fast Company Column: Machine Ethics

    My latest Fast Company column is up. "Machine Ethics" explores the question of what kinds of responsibilities we have with regards to the increasingly autonomous systems we create. It's based on the "Laws of Robotics" talk I gave a few weeks ago.

    You don't have to be a science fiction aficionado to appreciate the importance of the latter narrative. All you need to do is look at this past week's headlines: "ADAM," a robot scientist, making discoveries about genetics; "CB2" ("Child robot with Biomimetic Body") learning to recognize facial expressions and developing social skills; and battlefield robots taking on an increasingly critical role in American military operations. Autonomous and semi-autonomous systems are becoming extraordinarily complex, and our relationship with them differs significantly from how we use other technologies. How we think about them needs to catch up with that.

    [...] We may not fully realize just how profound the ongoing introduction of autonomous systems into our day to day lives will prove to be. These aren't just more gadgets, or dumb tools, or background technologies. These are, increasingly, systems that -- despite being mechanical, created objects -- operate in the same emotional and social-intelligence space as animals and even people.

    I hope that this proves to be a jumping off point for a good discussion...

    April 7, 2009

    Quick Update -- New Hampshire & Australia [Updated]

    Lots going on.

    Tomorrow (Wednesday) morning, I'll be interviewed live for New Hampshire Public Radio's "Word of Mouth" show; I think it's carried outside of New Hampshire, so if you happen across it (I'll be on 12:08-12:15EDT/9:08-9:15PDT), let me know what you think. I'll be talking resilience and sustainability (and a little bit of Superstruct).

    This will be a somewhat unusual experience, in that nearly all of my radio appearances of late have been pre-recorded and edited, cleaning up the "ums" and "ahs." I'll have to be on the ball -- let's hope I'm awake enough. I'll also try to avoid any gratuitous swearing, but no promises.

    [UPDATE: Audio of the interview can be heard here.]

    On a completely different note, I'll be presenting at an event in Sydney, Australia, in late June. My talks (which, unfortunately, are not open to the public) will be on Wednesday June 24 and Thursday June 25, but I'll be in town through Saturday the 27th. Any AU readers who'd like to meet up should give me a shout.

    April 2, 2009

    Resilience and Robots

    My second column for Fast Company is now live: "Resilience in the Face of Crisis: Why the Future will be Flexible" is a "let's talk about resilience" piece for people who haven't encountered the argument before. Although it echoes some of the points I made in the "Resilience Economy" post here at OtF, it's more of a discussion as to why the concept itself is important.

    One reason why the idea of resilience resonates with those of us engaged in foresight work is that, as troubling as it may be to contemplate, the current massive economic downturn is likely to be neither the only nor the biggest crisis we face over the next few decades. The need to shift quickly away from fossil fuels (for both environmental and supply reasons) may be as big a shock as today's "econalypse," and could easily be compounded by accelerating problems caused by global warming. Demographic issues--aging populations, migrants and refugees, and changing regional ethnic make-ups--loom large around the world, notably in China. Pandemics, resource collapse, even radically disruptive technologies all have the potential to cause global shake-ups on the scale of what we see today... and we may see all of these, and more, over the next 20 to 30 years.

    Also new is a conversation for the CBC radio show "Spark," talking robots -- in particular the empathetic and emotional interaction we increasingly have with robots. You can play the streaming version on this page, or download the MP3 for the show; my part starts around 11 minutes in, and lasts about five minutes. But check out the Spark page anyway -- the picture of the kitten and the Roomba is sure a sign that the kitty singularity is upon us.

    March 24, 2009

    New Column Kicks Off

    Starting today, I have a ~weekly column at Fast Company, covering technology, ethics and the environment, and innovation, all from a futures perspective. My editor, Noah Robischon, asked me to kick off the column with a topic near-and-dear to my heart: what happens to social relationships when we live in the era of immersive visible data.

    When 'Mad Men' Meets Augmented Reality

    ...The more top-down control there is in the digital world, the less spam and malware we'll see -- but we'll also lose the opportunity to do disruptive, creative things. Consider Apple's iPhone App Store: Apple's vetting and remote-disable process may minimize the number of harmful applications, but it also eliminates programs that do things outside of what the iPhone designers intended.

    Blended-reality technology could play in a limited, walled-garden world, but history suggests that it won't really take off until it offers broad freedom of use. This means, unfortunately, that ads, spam, and malware are probably inevitable in a blended-reality world. We're likely to deal with these problems the same way we do now: Good system design to resist malware, and filters to limit the volume of unwanted ads. All useful and necessary, but there's a twist: Filtering systems for blended-reality technologies may allow us to construct our own visions of reality.

    All familiar stuff to long-time readers of Open the Future, but hopefully a nice bit of provocation for the Fast Company audience.

    March 11, 2009

    Twitter FAQ

    (I'll re-post or re-link to this every time I get a flood of new followers on Twitter.)

    So you've decided to follow me on Twitter. Thank you! I'll try to make the experience an enjoyable one.

    So, don't take this the wrong way, but who are you? I just added you because [other Twitter user] suggested it.
    I'm Jamais Cascio, and I write/speak/consult about emerging ideas and issues, all with a strong future-focus. My bio is here, if you're interested in the details.

    What kinds of things do you Twitter about?
    A mix of surreal commentary, short observations about world events, links to new posts on the Open the Future blog, interesting Twitter posts that other people have made, replies to questions, and whatever else pops to mind.

    You're going to overload me with your Twitter posts, aren't you? I knew it.
    Heavens, no. I tend to post to Twitter just a few times a day, under normal circumstances.

    "Normal circumstances?" That sounds suspicious.
    I just mean that sometimes I'll find myself in a flurry of back-and-forth Twitter postings, but those are few and far between.

    So you're going to follow me back, right?
    Probably not. I tend to follow people that I know, for the most part. But engage me in conversation, comment on the blog, and there's a good chance that I'll add you.

    By the way, you keep using the term "Twitter posts." I thought they were called "tweets."
    Look, it's bad enough that the service is called "Twitter" -- yeah, let's give it a name that'll make it really easy to ridicule, what a great idea -- but I simply refuse to call the individual messages "tweets." That term lives in the uncanny valley between asinine and humiliating.

    So what's your Twitter account again?
    You can follow me at @cascio. Or don't. I'm happy either way.

    December 22, 2008

    2008 in Review

    (As a blogger, I'm contractually obligated to post one of these, you know.)

    As 2008 draws to a close, it's time to go through the piles of cognitive detritus left on my desk, and think back on what this year was like.

    Good: Lots of talks, lots of writing. Met some very interesting and fun folks in my travels. Finally accepted that I seem to know what I'm doing, at least part of the time.

    Bad: Poorly-juggled travel schedules. A few of the coolest projects got delayed into 2009, if they happen at all. My physiology decided that it hates me (warning, squicky medical images).

    Here are some of my favorite pieces from Open the Future 2008. Although I'm pretty sure I wrote fewer posts this year compared to last, there are more of them that stand out in my mind as potentially interesting. Let me know which ones you liked, disliked, or want me to revisit. And if I don't get around to posting again during the holidays, Happy Solstifestichrismakwanzakkah!

    The Big Picture: Climate Chaos -- wherein we look at how climate disruption mixes with a variety of other big issues.

    Please Don't Kick the Robots - on how biomimesis changes how we react to robot abuse.

    Roll +3 vs The Future - why Dungeons & Dragons made me what I am today (now you know what to blame).

    Pondering Fermi - boy, I seriously get my geek on here. As if the D&D post wasn't enough.

    Singularities Enough, and Time - waiting for a Singularity to save us isn't just a bad idea, it's actually beside the point.

    The Participatory Decepticon - how do you know that what you see on YouTube is really what happened?

    Making the Visible Invisible - augmented reality technologies mean an augmented reality society. And that may not be good.

    Tomorrow Matters - as much as today.

    This Changes Everything - giving you permission to slap a futurist.

    Legacy Futures - dead visions of tomorrow that still colonize our minds. GET OUT OF MY MIND!

    December 2, 2008


    Sorry about the lack of updates. Plenty of reasons, but all beside the point.

    Mulling what I want to write about; may end up just doing a series of quick list posts. I'm happy to entertain suggestions, however.

    November 21, 2008

    Still Alive


    Massive work period coming to a conclusion.

    May post this weekend, but blogging resumption by mid-week next week is probably more likely.

    A few things to follow in the meantime:

    October 31, 2008

    Buckminster Fuller Challenge Press Release

    (This is an amazingly cool project, one I'm deeply honored to be a part of. I know a lot of you out there have ideas that should be seen by this group -- the deadline for submissions is November 7, so get to work.)



    OCTOBER 31, 2008 NEW YORK CITY — The Buckminster Fuller Institute (BFI) has announced the members of the 2009 Buckminster Fuller Challenge jury. The jury will select the winner of the Challenge, to be announced to the public in May 2009. The jury will confer the prize at a public event at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago in June 2009.

    The members of this year’s jury are:

    ADAM BLY, named a Young Global Leader by the World Economic Forum, Bly is a powerful voice for science literacy in the 21st century. Founder and Editor-in-Chief of Seed magazine and Seed Media Group, winner of the 2006 Independent Press Award for Best Science and Technology Coverage;

    JAMAIS CASCIO, pioneering futurist and scenario planner, Co-founder,; Director of Impacts Analysis for the Center for Responsible Nanotechnology; Fellow at the Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies; Research Affiliate at Institute for the Future; Scenario Design Lead for Superstruct, the “massively multiplayer forecasting game;”

    EDIE FARWELL, respected systems thinker and sustainability expert, former Director of the Association for Progressive Communications and current Program Director of the Donella Meadows Leadership Fellows Program of the Sustainability Institute, which aims to apply systems thinking and organizational learning to economic, environmental and social challenges;

    HELENA NORBERG-HODGE, A passionate activist for biological and cultural diversity and leading analyst of the impact of the global economy on cultures around the world. A linguist by training, she was educated in Sweden, Germany, England, the U.S., and speaks seven languages. Founder and director, International Society for Ecology and Culture; Co-founder, International Forum on Globalization;

    JOHN AND NANCY JACK TODD (serving as a team), John Todd is a celebrated ecological designer and winner of the 2008 Buckminster Fuller Challenge, he has been named TIME’s Hero of the Planet among many other honors. Nancy Jack Todd is an accomplished author and the editor of Annals of Earth. Her most recent book is A Safe and Sustainable World: The Promise of Ecological Design;

    GREG WATSON, a renewable energy expert, community organizer, and educator. Watson founded the Dudley Street Initiative, served as Massachusetts Commissioner of Agriculture, and currently serves as senior advisor to the Massachusetts Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs.

    “As the news gets more troubling, the challenge to each of us gets more critical. My father anticipated many of these challenges and addressed his life’s work to solving them, now we hope to identify others, all over the world, who are doing the same. This year’s jurors will bring their own extraordinary work and experience to bear to select a design science innovator who is pushing the boundaries of what is possible to help us face these challenges. We are honored to have their participation and begin this important work together,” said Allegra Fuller Snyder, Buckminster Fuller’s daughter and Chair of the BFI Board of Directors.


    For the call for entries, instructions for how to enter, reference materials, and much more, visit

    To read about last year's winning entry, visit

    To view entries to the 2008 Challenge, visit the Idea Index

    Watch the Buckminster Fuller Challenge movie

    Contact: Matt Barron, Tel: 718.290.9283, Email:

    October 22, 2008

    If I'm Quiet...

    Here's my next month:

  • Ongoing until November 17: Superstruct (online)
      If you aren't playing, you should be: I'm already seeing some wildly innovative ideas about what can be done to deal with global problems.

  • October 24: Emerging Technologies Workshop as lead-in to the Singularity Summit. (San Jose, CA)
      I'll be on the Nanotechnology panel, and giving the closing keynote to the meeting. All tickets have been sold, but I'm sure there will be recordings/video made available afterwards.

  • November 3-11: Singapore (Nov 5-8) and Tokyo (Nov 8-10).
      I'll be giving a series of talks on forecasting, disruptive futures, and sustainable development to a variety of government officials, including the Deputy Prime Minister. Tokyo, I'm visiting a friend. (And, as the schedule above suggests, I'll be somewhere over the Pacific for most of election day.)

  • November 14: Catastrophic Risks conference. (San Jose, CA)
      I'll be talking about building a resilient civilization, a happy alternative to everyone else talking about us being DOOOOOOOMED! Tickets are still available, by the way.

  • November 16: Green Festival. (San Francisco, CA)
      I'll be giving the updated version of my Green Futures talk, laying out different scenarios of what a successful response to global warming could look like.

  • November 18-19: IFTF Technology Horizons Fall conference. (San Francisco, CA)
      Honestly, at this point, I'll be happy if I can just show up and say something coherent.

  • October 17, 2008

    Word Cloud of Me

    Bill Thompson inspired me to stick my bio into Wordle to see what I get. Yep, this is a pretty decent representation of who I am...


    September 18, 2008

    Anybody Home?

    I'm alive, recovering, and will resume blogging shortly.

    September 5, 2008

    Heads Down, Thumbs Up

    Sorry that OtF has been so quiet lately; I've been focusing on getting the scenario narratives built for Superstruct. I should have something more substantive to post this weekend.

    In the meantime, here's a newly-posted article at Discover magazine's website about Superstruct, including a couple of painful quotes from yours truly. I really need to learn to be less... colorful... with my phrasing when I talk to journalists.

    Oh, and the brilliant and subversive Richard Stevens -- artist behind Diesel Sweeties -- was kind enough to craft a portrait of me as the 8-Bit Futurist.


    The cheeseburger is going to haunt me 'til I die.

    August 6, 2008

    I'm In Ur Blog, Saving Ur World


    First fun tidbit of the day: the SciFi Channel's new group blog, How You Can Save the World, just launched. Contributors include heavy-hitters like Richard Branson, Michio Kaku, former CIA chief John Deutch, Esther Dyson, Dean Kamen, among many others. I'm there, too, one of the token "who the hell is this guy?" guys -- emphasis on the guys. Only two of the 19 current contributors are female; put another way, only four of the 19 aren't middle-aged or older white guys (and yes, I'm counting myself among the middle-aged group). I'll see what I can do about helping them change that mix.

    My initial contribution isn't yet up, but should be soon.

    July 18, 2008

    Needed: Game Masters/Community Leaders for Superstruct (Updated)

    UPDATE: We're no longer accepting applications for this position. But we do still need collaborators! If you'd like to be involved in Superstruct as more than a player -- for instance, if you'd like to throw a Superstruct party or workshop or camp; or if you'd like to organize a team of Superstruct players at your company, or your school; or if you'd like your blog to host a feed of advance game content; or if you'd like to rally your online community around a Superstruct theme; email and let us know! Jane and I and IFTF would love to collaborate with you.

    The Institute for the Future is hiring five community leaders/game masters for the upcoming future forecasting game Superstruct.

    It’s an eight-week position beginning September 8, 2008. You can be a game master from anywhere in the world, and it will require ~12 hours of online work per week. You’ll work very closely with Jane McGonigal (Avant Game) and me (Jamais Cascio, Open the Future). This is a non-profit game with no commercial sponsors; the position comes with a stipend of $2500.

    Skills required: Great forum writing skills; online storytelling experience (blogs, videos, photos, Twitter, etc.); curiosity about the future; some expertise in issues related to sustainability, global health, environmental or climate issues, global business, social networks, or anything else you think might be useful to solving the problems of the future. We're open to considering anyone with great writing skills and a desire to investigate the future! No technical skills required, just great Internet skills.

    Your job will be to lead a team of players (at minimum, hundreds of players; more likely, thousands of players) in creating a collaborative online forecast of the year 2019. The forecasting will take place through wikis, forums, videos, blogs, Twitter, online comics, photo sets, and whatever else our players use to depict and talk about the future. You'll be reading and watching lots of player-created content, in addition to making your own content. You'll give the players feedback, and you'll synthesize and summarize the most interesting things in a short weekly story. You'll be moderating forums and wikis dedicated to solving a particular future-problem. You'll have to help your community manage a careful balance between "wow, the future might be scary" storytelling to "you know what, we might actually be able to solve this problem before it kills us all" optimism. Because the game isn't just about imagining the future. It's about inventing the future. This game is a kind of working prototype for the year 2019!

    Each game master will focus on one of five "superthreats", ranging from a devastating disruption of the food supply chain, to a pandemic, to "global weirding" weather patterns to create millions of climate refugees. (Depending on your interest and area of expertise, we'll make sure you get the right topic!) In the two weeks before the game launches, we'll give you a crash course in the IFTF research that is guiding this game, so you'll be an expert on your area when the game launches on September 22, 2008.

    To apply: Send a letter to Jane at explaining why you want to join us on the Superstruct team. Mention any previous experience as a writer, or thinking about the future, playing or making games, running online communities, or being an interesting person online. Include a CV or resume if you think it will help explain who you are, but most importantly, in your letter, answer this question: It's the summer of 2019. You are yourself, but 10 years in the future. Describe where you are having for dinner, what you're eating, and what you're thinking or talking about. How did you wind up there, compared to where you had dinner most often in the summer of 2008?

    June 2, 2008

    Upgrades and Updates

    I've been fiddling with the Movable Type installation running Open the Future, and after a couple of missteps, the system seems to be operating correctly. There are a couple of side-effects of the changeover: the comment entry "password" is no longer required (although I'm looking for a replacement), and the handful of commenters who have been pre-authenticated to be able to post immediately will need to be re-authenticated. That's something I have to do, but don't be confused if suddenly your comments are back in a queue.

    This next week looks to be a busy one.

    On Wednesday, I fly to Washington DC to serve on a National Endowment for the Arts jury, selecting recipients for a sustainable design award. I'm the token "lay person" (shut up), and it should be quite an interesting process. The request letter emphasized that this is a solemn duty and a service to the country, which was oddly unsettling; I've never been terribly comfortable with group affinity as motivation.


    On Tuesday and Wednesday of next week, I'll be part of the "Moodle Moot," a conference in San Francisco focusing on the uses of the free/open-source education technology platform, Moodle. I'll be giving the Wednesday morning keynote, "Education 2018." The talk will take some of the work I've been doing for the past couple of years on both education futures and big picture drivers, and map out the kinds of unexpected changes that people in the education field should expect to encounter over the next decade, along with some new ways of thinking about and looking at education. I'll discuss design technologies, amplified sense-making, new literacies, and civic resilience. This will all go in a context of global warming, resource constraints, and a shifting political landscape.

    Should be fun. I'm really looking forward to finding out what I have to say.

    March 23, 2008

    It's not all about me...

    Geeze. I just noticed that all of the front-page posts on OtF right now are in some way self-referential, either linking to interviews or talking about travel (or physical infirmities). I didn't mean for this site to turn into a LiveJournal page.

    Blogging about actual, you know, ideas will resume shortly.

    March 10, 2008

    WIRED Interview

    Wired's Alexis Madrigal caught me and sat me down for a conversation today at SXSW -- and has already posted the results.

    Read the interview here -- and be prepared for shocking, shocking language.

    The road to hell is paved with short-term distractions. The biggest potential and actual crises of the 21st century all have a strong long, slow aspect with a significant lag between cause and effect. We have to train ourselves to be thinking in terms of longer-term results.

    Back in the 1500s, the culture that we had built in the west embraced multigenerational projects quite easily. Notre Dame. Massive cathedrals were not built over the course of a few years, they were built over a few generations. People who started building them knew they wouldn't be finished until their grandchildren were born.

    That's not a type of thinking we do very often because of the rapid pace of change. Yet the big problems around climate, transformative technologies like artificial general intelligence, energy and resources, all of these have long slow aspects. Decisions we make today lock us in for years, if not decades. And ignoring things today can have tragic effects.

    March 9, 2008

    Interview -- "The Future Is Now"

    The folks at the video blog "Ryan is Hungry" interviewed me recently on just what it means to try to change the world. Thank you to Lisa Rein for facilitating the connection -- and for providing the space.

    The Future Is Now: Jamais Cascio, Co-Founder of World Changing
    QuickTime | Flash | iPod | Ogg
    by: vPIP
    Embed (copy & paste):

    March 4, 2008

    Still Ill

    Whatever this is that has taken ahold of me -- plague 2.0, dinovirus, "the grippe," or just an awful, awful cold -- it's still hanging around, although today was the first day I felt like I could form coherent sentences again. Good thing, too, since I leave the house at 5:30am tomorrow to head off to the airport: Wisconsin (with a high of 25 degrees F), here I come.

    I'm doomed.

    February 28, 2008


    I've been down sick now for a few days, pretty much since getting back from London. This means no Future Salon talk tonight, and I'd damn well better be better before heading out to Wisconsin next week. (What's that you say? That Wisconsin is having its heaviest winter in modern history?)

    Feeling pretty miserable at the moment.

    February 25, 2008

    Back Home

    I'm home now from London, and will be here for a week or so. Posting will resume shortly. In the meantime, here's a shot I took of Tower Bridge in London, the location of the horizonTAL workshop I attended:

    Tower Bridge

    Here's the fun part: I took that picture with my phone.

    February 14, 2008

    Scenes from Six Degrees


    So, that's me on teevee, talking about global warming. It's actually from a scene late in Six Degrees where I argue that "we have an arsenal of solutions available to us." Just trying to keep on the positive.

    I finally got to see the program today, and I was amused and startled to discover that they included a stunt double of me taking a bite out of a cheeseburger. I had told them at the outset that I didn't want to eat a cheeseburger on camera -- it seemed a bit hypocritical. I guess they wanted the scene enough to do it as an "insert," using someone else who looked enough like me in a very quick edge-of-the-scene profile to make it work. TV producers use inserts to show a close-up of a character doing a bit of business, such as fiddling with keys; more often than not, the person on camera is not the real actor, but some intern or production assistant or visitor pulled in to help out.

    More pictures (including the infamous "latex glove" scene and getting a freezer door slammed in my face) in the extended entry.

    Continue reading "Scenes from Six Degrees" »

    February 13, 2008

    (Oh, And...)

    Yeah, my laptop is finally back up and running. Hooray for up-to-date backups & AppleCare!

    February 8, 2008

    Six Degrees: A Request

    This Sunday night, at 8pm Eastern/9pm Pacific, the National Geographic Channel will show Six Degrees Could Change the World, a documentary based on Mark Lynas' book, depicting what could happen to the planet as global temperatures increase. The NGC team interviewed me for the show, and -- based on the appearance of cheeseburger references in early reviews of the program -- it looks like that interview made it in. Yay me.

    Two issues:

  • The first is that I'm going to be in San Diego on Sunday night, at a reception for the next day's Campus Energy Efficiency conference, so won't be able to watch.

  • The second is that I don't get the National Geographic Channel on my cable lineup at home, so I can't even Tivo the show.

    Some of you should have NGC access, and an interest in the program. It's getting good reviews, so even if you're so over the whole cheeseburger footprint thing you're ready to go out and eat a dozen quarter-pounders just to spite the planet, you should still find it interesting to watch. So here's my request:

    As I noted last year, they filmed me in a variety of locations, doing a variety of silly and not-so-silly things. I have no idea what they included, and would really appreciate a description of how I'm portrayed, and -- if possible -- a screenshot.

    They tell me that they're going to send me a DVD at some point, so I will eventually see for myself, but I'd appreciate knowing just how much I'm going to have to explain and apologize for next week.

  • February 7, 2008

    Uh Oh

    I was going to be posting the next in the Big Picture series today... but a total hard drive crash kind of put a crimp in that plan. I can post this with the Nokia n810, but I wouldn't want to use this for writing essays.

    January 28, 2008

    Happy Birthday, My Love

    Don't get exhausted, I'll do some driving. You ought to get you some sleep.

    I love you forever, Janice

    January 20, 2008

    ...And Boy Are My Arms Tired!

    [insert boilerplate "boy, I've been busy" text here]

    Extra-long meetings at Institute for the Future, covering both the Ten-Year Forecast program and IFTF's own organizational forecasts.

    Helping a new innovation consultancy called Collective Invention formalize its methodologies and client-facing media.

    And the usual conference calls, last-minute meeting changes, and the like.

    Upcoming Events:

    • Writers with Drinks, San Francisco. Saturday, February 9. (open)
    • Alliance to Save Energy "Energy Efficiency Summit," San Diego. Monday, February 11. (ticket needed)
    • Technology Horizon-Scanning event, London. February 19-20. (I will be in London from Feb 17 to Feb 24) (closed)
    • Bay Area Future Salon, San Mateo. Thursday, February 28. (open)
    • Better Buildings:Better Business Conference, Wisconsin Dells. Thursday, March 6. (ticket)
    • South-by-SouthWest, Austin Texas. March 7-11. My poster session ("The Whole World is Watching") is on Saturday @5pm; my two panels ("Futurists' Sandbox: Scenarios for Social Technologies in 2025" and "Visualizing Sustainability") have yet to be given definite schedules. (ticket)

    There are a couple of other items bubbling for this spring, but these are the ones that are all confirmed. If you're in the area, please come by and say hi!

    January 6, 2008

    Not Dead Yet

    Going through another cluster of consuming work. I do have some blog items lined up, though, so I'll be overloading your RSS feed soon enough.

    January 1, 2008

    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.

    December 27, 2007

    What the Heck?

    Taking a quick scan through my logs, I noticed something odd. Like many blogs, much of my traffic comes from people searching for particular terms. Normally, the searches that lead OtF are for topics I've written about (geoengineering, metaverse, etc.) or specifically about OtF/me. But over the past couple of months, one phrase in particular has leapt up the charts:


    "End of the world" has moved from an occasional search subject early in the year to one of my top search terms.

    It's even more dramatic when compared to other searches for potentially-related concepts:


    As you can see, an initial bit of attention about last year's Eschatological Taxonomy died out quickly, and searches for subjects like being hit by asteroids and climate disaster vary without any real pattern. (Update: also note that, while my overall traffic has increased slightly over the year, the increase for "end of the world" is significantly disproportionate.)

    This is a distant, early warning of something. I don't know what, but it probably isn't good.

    November 29, 2007

    Subscribe by Email

    I am occasionally asked if there was a way to get the updates to OtF by email, rather than try to remember to come here and check to see if I've decided to post, or to fiddle with an RSS app.

    Now there is:

    Subscribe to Open the Future by email.

    I've added the link to email subscriptions to the sidebar, as well. If you decide to give it a try, do let me know how this works for you. I'm particularly curious how well the feed works for people on Blackberries, iPhones and the like.

    October 21, 2007

    RSS Trouble?

    I've received reports that the Feedburner feed for this blog's RSS may be broken. I've fixed what appears might be an error, and this post should poke Feedburner to get the new feed.

    Word on whether the feed is now working from those of you following via RSS would be greatly appreciated!

    (Update: All seems to be well now. Thank you!)

    October 10, 2007

    The Pharyngula Mutating Genre Meme

    There are a set of questions below that are all of the form, "The best [subgenre] [medium] in [genre] is ...".

    Copy the questions, and before answering them, you may modify them in a limited way, carrying out no more than two of these operations:

    *You can leave them exactly as is.

    *You can delete any one question.

    *You can mutate either the genre, medium, or subgenre of any one question. For instance, you could change "The best time travel novel in SF/Fantasy is..." to "The best time travel novel in Westerns is...", or "The best time travel movie in SF/Fantasy is...:, or "The best romance novel in SF/Fantasy is...".

    *You can add a completely new question of your choice to the end of the list, as long as it is still in the form "The best [subgenre] [medium] in [genre] is...”.

    You must have at least one question in your set, or you’ve gone extinct, and you must be able to answer it yourself, or you’re not viable.

    Then answer your possibly mutant set of questions. Please do include a link back to the "parent" blog you got them from, e.g. Open the Future to simplify tracing the ancestry, and include these instructions.

    Finally, pass it along to any number of your fellow bloggers. Remember, though, your success as a Darwinian replicator is going to be measured by the propagation of your variants, which is going to be a function of both the interest your well-honed questions generate and the number of successful attempts at reproducing them.


    My great-grandparent is Pharyngula.
    My grandparent is Metamagician and the Hellfire Club.
    My parent is Sentient Developments.

    1. The best Post-Singularity Novel in SF/Fantasy is...
    Feersum Endjinn by Iain Banks

    2. The best romantic movie in Comedy is...
    Groundhog Day

    3. The best sexy song in rock is...
    In This House That I Call Home by X

    4. The best cult novel in serialized graphic storytelling (comic books) is...
    Transmetropolitan by Warren Ellis & Darick Robertson

    I shall attempt to disseminate my seed to:

    Amor Mundi
    Green LA Girl
    In Situ
    On Lisa Rein's Radar
    The Skeptical Futuryst

    Anyone else who wants to accept my meme can also join in the game.

    September 29, 2007


    I'm heading off to Budapest for the next week. I'm not sure what kind of Internet access I'll have while there, so posting may be sporadic or worse until next weekend. If I can, I'll post pictures from the trip to my Flickr page along the way.

    September 24, 2007

    CRN Leadership Team Expands

    CRNlogo.jpgPress Release

    The Center for Responsible Nanotechnology (CRN) is adding two new members to its leadership team. Jamais Cascio will become CRN’s Director of Impacts Analysis, and Jessica Margolin will take on the role of Director of Research Communities, effective October 1, 2007. CRN co-founder Chris Phoenix will begin his scheduled sabbatical in October. Co-founder Mike Treder will continue to serve as Executive Director of CRN.

    Since its inception in December 2002, CRN has significantly contributed to better public understanding about molecular manufacturing, a specialty area of nanotechnology associated with extremely high risks and returns. CRN promotes awareness and education, and the development of effective recommendations to maximize benefits and reduce dangers.

    “I’ve been looking forward to this opportunity for some time,” said Phoenix. “With growing recognition about the importance of molecular manufacturing, with Jamais and Jessica, two extremely talented people, coming on board, and with Mike’s ongoing leadership, I feel comfortable taking a sabbatical.”

    Jamais Cascio is a writer, blogger and futurist covering the intersection of emerging technologies and cultural transformation. He speaks about future scenarios around the world and his essays about technology and society have appeared in a variety of print and online publications. He is a fellow at the Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies, as well as a research affiliate at the Institute for the Future. He also works on a variety of independent projects including serving as a lead author of the recent Metaverse Roadmap Overview report.

    “I’ve admired CRN’s work for a long time,” said Cascio, “and in recent months I’ve become more actively involved. Now I’m extremely pleased to be joining the team in a leadership capacity.”

    In 2003, Cascio co-founded, a Web site dedicated to finding and calling attention to models, tools, and ideas for building a ‘bright green’ future. Cascio authored nearly 2,000 articles during his time at WorldChanging, looking at topics such as energy and the environment, global development, open-source technologies, and catalysts for social change. In 2006, he started as his online home.

    “My understanding of technology development and societal change lead me to conclude that molecular manufacturing will be hugely disruptive,” added Cascio. “I’ve said before that if we manage to get through this century with our civilization intact, CRN's work will bear much of the credit. I hope I can make a worthwhile contribution to that effort.”

    Jessica Margolin is an entrepreneur who consults in the area of purposeful conversations and messaging systems. Her professional background includes industry roles in financial analysis, business development, organizational design, and marketing strategy and communications; her education includes an MS in Materials Science in the area of nanotechnology, and an MBA.

    “It's important to ensure all voices are heard during periods of profoundly rapid scientific innovation,” said Margolin. “Many nanoscale technologies are poised to be disruptive, and CRN focuses on what is potentially the most disruptive of all. I look forward to accelerating the development of the community surrounding CRN's work.”

    Currently a research affiliate at Institute for the Future, Margolin synthesizes her professional experience in the financial and internet industries as well as her philanthropic work to address problems concerning the design of organizations, institutions, and communities.

    “I’m ecstatic about the opportunity to work closely with both Jamais and Jessica as we move forward in the important cause of ensuring safe development and responsible use of advanced nanotechnology,” said Treder.

    The Center for Responsible Nanotechnology is a research and advocacy organization concerned with the major societal and environmental implications of advanced nanotechnology. CRN is an affiliate of World Care, an international, non-profit, 501(c)(3) organization. The opinions of CRN do not necessarily represent those of World Care.

    August 26, 2007

    "You Really Need to Write a Book"

    Reason for no posts over the last week: busy & blogger-blocked.

    Reason for blogger-block (possible): trying to figure out just what I should write a book about. I've been told yet again this past week that I really need to write a book. I agree. I just can't quite figure out what to write about.

  • A book on meal footprints? I'm pretty tired of the cheeseburger meme, but it's far and away the most visible idea I've come up with. It would probably be an easy sell to a publisher, and clearly the idea has some popular appeal. However, I suspect that my being tired of the topic would show through.

  • A book on futurism, in general?

  • A book on dealing with this century's likely challenges, especially human-caused? It would be essentially a book-length version of the Apocalypse Scale. This is the one that I think would be the most interesting, but is probably the one that would be the hardest to sell to a publisher.

    Anyone have a better idea?

  • August 5, 2007

    Not Missing, Just Tired

    Sorry about the blog silence for the last few days; I'm still playing catch-up from the previous week. I have a few items that I'm mulling for later posting, but they don't seem to be suited to pithiness.

    I'll post more, soon.

    July 31, 2007

    Quick Links, City Lights & CBFP

    Two very quick updates:

    If you missed the event at the City Lights Bookstore last week, NeoFiles has put the first half of the conversation up as a podcast:

    True Mutations Live! at City Lights (Part 1)

    If you listen closely, you can hear me swear on the interwebs.


    Woohoo! Independent confirmation!

    Akifumi Ogino of the National Institute of Livestock and Grassland Science in Tsukuba, Japan has published a paper in Animal Science Journal, calculating the environmental impact of the production of Japanese beef. New Scientist summarizes the findings:

    The team looked at calf production, focusing on animal management and the effects of producing and transporting feed. By combining this information with data from their earlier studies on the impact of beef fattening systems, the researchers were able to calculate the total environmental load of a portion of beef.

    Their analysis showed that producing a kilogram of beef leads to the emission of greenhouse gases with a warming potential equivalent to 36.4 kilograms of carbon dioxide. It also releases fertilising compounds equivalent to 340 grams of sulphur dioxide and 59 grams of phosphate, and consumes 169 megajoules of energy.

    36.4 kg of CO2e per kg of beef, at 2.2 pounds per kg and assuming a quarter-pound of beef per burger, works out to ~4kg of CO2e from beef per burger. The number I used in my estimates for the entire burger? 4.35 kg CO2e per burger. Definitely in the same ballpark.


    July 27, 2007

    Cheeseburger Footprint Goes To Hollywood

    Capturing the CameraScenes from a day in Colorado:

    I'm sitting on a camera suitcase on a grassy hill along highway 25, a few miles south of the Wyoming border. Cars and trucks whiz by at 80 miles per hour or so, while I'm instructed to gaze at the old-fashioned (but still functional) oil derrick a few dozen yards away. I'm pretending to take notes... on what, I'm not certain, so I end up just drawing the derrick.


    I'm at a burger joint in Denver, using a wooden ruler to measure the burgers on the grill for the camera.


    The cattle in the field watch me warily, moving away as I approach. Cued by the director, I pull on a latex glove with a snap, then look back at the camera with a "mischievous grin."


    I'm informed as we break between scenes that: firstly, the producers at National Geographic told the director that, while looking at the script for Six Degrees (the global warming special for NGTV), they were most looking forward to seeing the cheeseburger footprint segment; secondly, my segment was being filmed in between filming NASA's James Hansen and filming RMI's Amory Lovins. No pressure.


    DerrickMore at the derrick. After sitting in one spot for about 20 minutes, I move to the other side of the camera, take the same position, and gaze off in the direction that the derrick would be if I were back where I started; this will give the illusion that the camera has moved to the other side of me, I'm told.


    Retrieving the Stuck EarbudThe sound engineer swaps his earbuds for headphones as we start, then lets out a shout: one of the earbuds has broken off deep in his ear. The crew scrambles around, looking for a set of tweezers or something to extract it. Within a few minutes, the director's assistant manages to use a set of needle-nosed pliers to remove the offending object.


    We spend nearly three hours filming me at the burger joint. The majority of scenes are of me skulking around "surreptitiously" taking notes of the burgers being grilled, including one point where I'm asked to hide behind a counter, then slowly lift up to appear behind a tray of burgers, and one point where a worker finds me in the meat refrigerator, then slams the freezer door in my face.


    I can't decide whether the crew thinks that I clearly don't take myself too seriously, or that I clearly don't have any sense of shame.

    Six Degrees will be on National Geographic TV in February of 2008; the 12 hours or so of filming (including about an hour of interviewing me) will be boiled down to about 3-4 minutes for the show.

    (More pictures from the day here.)

    July 23, 2007

    Hell Week

    Posting likely to be sporadic at best this week. I'm over-booked pretty much every day through Friday, evenings included. On Wednesday night, I fly out to Denver for National Geographic Television, spend Thursday talking cheeseburgers, and fly home on Friday. If I'm very lucky, I'll have time and space to do a blog post or two in the hotel and/or on the plane.

    And a last reminder: if you're in the SF area, come out to the City Lights Bookstore tomorrow (Tuesday) night at 7pm for a special event with RU Sirius, David Pescovitz, and me (possibly among others).

    June 19, 2007

    Metaverse in Tech Review (and a small request)

    The latest issue of Technology Review contains a lengthy, very well-researched story on the Metaverse, written by Wade Roush. Wade interviewed me for the piece, and I have a couple of reasonably accurate quotes included therein; he also pulls from the will-be-published-any-second-now-I-promise Metaverse Roadmap report. It's a long article, but highly recommended -- he really does a good job of making the whole concept make sense.

    Second Earth (printer-friendly, all-on-one-page version)

    The initial link to me in the web version of the article goes to a brief bio at Wikipedia. Now, I was aware of the Wikipedia entry, but tried not to pay much attention to it. Now that a real journal is linking to it, however, I kind of think it needs to be cleaned up. It has all the signs of too many disconnected edits; weird grammar, awkward phrasing, and an odd balance of content. Thing is, it's not a good practice for the subject of a Wikipedia entry to go in and monkey with it, even in the name of fixing bad grammar. Any of you out there who have decent Wikipedia juju want to go in and take a crack at it?

    June 8, 2007

    A Couple of Updates

    Justin of Justin.tvThe RU Sirius Show with Justin (of JustinTV) and me is now available as a text transcript, for those of you who prefer the written word to the spoken word. A sample:

    JAMAIS: Have you run into any intellectual property disputes — recording something that someone else claims as their own copyrighted material?

    JUSTIN: Not yet. I guess if we were issued a takedown notice from someone who’s music I listened to… but we haven’t gotten anything.

    RU: It seems like the one thing that you need to avoid is watching a lot of other media.

    JUSTIN: Well, I don’t go to movies. And I think I’ve watched TV like one time in the past 56 days, and the camera wasn’t pointed at the screen. But honestly, the quality from the camera (recording other media) is such that you’re probably better off BitTorrenting it anyways.

    JAMAIS: That doesn’t matter.

    JUSTIN: I understand that it doesn’t matter from a legal perspective. But, for instance, I’ve been invited by ClearChannel radio stations to come in the station and listen to music. I think they view it more as a promotional tool.

    RU: But the music industry might start displaying their hunger for reward as this gets more distributed — just like they’re doing with internet radio. A lot of people who use your equipment are going to be listening to music all the time — or else they’re going to have to change their lifestyles.

    The photo above is a shot I took -- with a cameraphone, naturally -- of Justin during the recording of the show.


    The "Perspective" I recorded for KQED has now been scheduled to play this coming Thursday at 7:37AM (PDT) and again on Sunday at 7:37AM (PDT) on KQED radio (88.5 in the SF area, streaming radio elsewhere). An MP3 of the two minute bit will be available on the Perspectives web archive once it's been broadcast.

    May 28, 2007



    I've been traveling this long weekend, attending the wedding of our good friends Taylor and Jeremiah. I served as the wedding photographer (I've been doing photography for years, as a nice non-textual hobby).

    Normally I post about ideas and futures, but it is my blog. I thought Taylor looked so beautiful in this picture, I had to share it. Congratulations, you two!

    May 18, 2007

    Second RU Sirius Show Now Up

    The second podcast emerging from the conversation session with RU Sirius last week is now available.

    RU Sirius Show #109 (Weekend Edition): Why Big War is Becoming Obsolete: Jamais Cascio of WorldChanging fame leads us in a discussion about being good ancestors and why networked global guerrillas are rendering Big War obsolete.

    MP3 link.

    This is, of course, based on the "Lost Hegemon Part 2" piece from May 7.

    (In London. In the workshop. Suddenly amazingly jet-lagged.)

    May 16, 2007

    Back to the UK

    Waiting to LeaveAnd today, I'm once again chalking up the carbon debt, heading back to London for the next part of the Open University engagement.

    I normally fly British Airways, but I've been annoyed enough at their service (especially with regards to using accumulated FF miles for upgrades) that I decided to try Virgin. Gotta make sure that Sir Richard has the $25 million he needs for his geoengineering challenge, you know.

    Unless absolutely necessary, I don't fly United -- not since the engine caught fire on a flight to Philadelphia, while still on the tarmac, and because we were already late the crew didn't respond until quite literally the whole passenger cabin was yelling. Fool me once, shame on, shame on you, fool me -- can't get fooled again. Or something like that.

    May 15, 2007

    RU Sirius show with and me now up

    Just a quick note: one of the two podcast segments recorded this weekend with RU Sirius is now available at the MondoGlobo website:
    RU Sirius Show #108: Justin from Brings It Justin Kan has shared his view of the world with all of us… literally, since March 19, when he hooked a mobile camera to his hat and started streaming live video 24-7 (more or less) on his site. He joined us live in our studio for this program. And check out “Stereotypes” by Bos105, Justin’s brother!
    Here's the MP3 link.

    May 11, 2007

    Video of Video Presentation

    takeawaytalk.jpgGiven that the folks at the Takeaway Festival weren't recording the talks for posterity, I didn't expect to see how the Skype-video presentation I did on Wednesday turned out. It turns out, though, that British designer Cubicgarden brought his trusty videocamera to the event, and one of the talks he recorded was mine!

    The sound quality isn't all that great -- certainly more my fault than anyone else's -- and it's pretty clear that I'm coming in over a web cam... but it's another interesting example of using web tech to carry out work that previously would have demanded travel.

    Thanks for taping the talk, Cubicgarden!

    May 9, 2007

    Interesting Gigs

    takeaway.jpgThis is a busy week (aren't they all), but with some unusual events thrown in:

    Yesterday, I was an invited guest at a World Economic Forum meeting on global risks. The WEF personnel tasked the attendees with helping to figure out key focal points for next year's Forum in Davos. I can't say much more until the official report is out (soon, apparently), but to give you a sense of what the group works on, here's a link to the Global Risks 2007 document(pdf) published in February.

    Main conclusion I reached: the corporations represented in this meeting were all very cognizant of the risks coming from global climate change, and none of them tried to push back on the science at all. At the same time, they remained focused on the near-term implications, and seemed blind-sided by some of the suggestions of likely future results I offered. Nothing I said would have come as a surprise to regular readers of the leading green blogs, but there were some worried looks when I was done (all related to the policy implications, not the geo-science).

    Today, I spoke to the Takeaway Festival in London. I did so via Skype video, from the comfort of my home office.

    The positives: did not have to fly to London for a 20 minute presentation, a win-win-win for me (no 10 hour flight to deal with), for the festival (no international plane fare to pay for), and the Earth (far less carbon output from the videoconference than from a flight). I could sit comfortably (arthritis flare-up again today). Got a chance to try something new.

    The negatives: no way to get realtime feedback from the audience, whether in terms of confused looks, laughter or applause. Couldn't talk with my hands (i.e., gesticulate for emphasis or balance while I talk), because I was too close to the camera -- but if I pulled back enough to see my entire upper body, the graininess of the Skype video connection would have left my face indecipherable. Couldn't see the space, since the London camera was on a laptop stuck in the back of the room, blocked by a crowd of people standing.

    I don't think I'd want to do video presentations on a regular basis, but I'm glad I got a chance to do this one.

    Finally, RU Sirius has asked me to serve as co-host for this weekend's Neofiles podcast. The guest will be Justin, of Should be fun -- and I'll link to the audio file when it's up.

    April 26, 2007

    Cheeseburgers: In Florida; On the BBC

    gracehung07_sm.jpgIt's tempting to just stick a cheeseburger in the Open the Future logo.

    The Cheeseburger Steamroller continues its mighty advance, with two significant media hits this week: in the Florida Times-Union, out of Jacksonville; and on the BBC radio program, The World Today (RealAudio format).

    For me, the BBC hit is especially cool, since I have enormous respect for the BBC World Service and have been a listener for over 15 years. It's also pretty nifty that this isn't a drive-by comment on an otherwise tangential report, but an entire 3 minute segment devoted to the cheeseburger footprint, with multiple appearances by yours truly. Reporter James Fletcher is doing a series on carbon footprints, and has so far covered transportation and offsets; with the current piece, he looks at food.

    Fletcher's Footprints (RealAudio format)

    The Florida Times-Union article is the first print appearance of the cheeseburger footprint, and they do an admirable job of assembling the information -- including showing the calculations for energy and carbon broken down in detail. The two quotes from me are decent selections, although I wish they'd also used one of the bits about the gravity of the carbon footprint.

    Do you know your burger's carbon footprint

    (Click on the image for the link to the full-size graphic, made by Grace Hung at Cornell's Nutritional Science department. Great work, Grace!)

    April 7, 2007

    Heading Home Soon

    Looking forward to seeing the kitties and sleeping in my own bed.

    The meeting went very well; I'll have posts on it at some point soon. This week looks to be amazingly busy, though. As does the next. In fact, let's just call April done.

    Outside of work, I saw some friends I hadn't seen in quite a while, picked up Ken Macleod's newest book (The Execution Channel, which won't be out in the US until June), and unintentionally gained a better understanding of my physiology (and that's all I'll say about that).

    Most importantly, I had Janice along with me for our 15 year wedding anniversary.

    April 5, 2007


    So on the suggestion of Stowe Boyd, I've gone ahead and signed up for Twitter. I've added a small module on the right bar here showing my most recent Twitter post. I haven't been hooked up to anyone's network yet, though.

    April 1, 2007

    Interview for Changesurfer Radio

    Trinity College Professor of Healthy Policy James Hughes, founder of the Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies (of which I am a Fellow), runs a weekly Internet radio show called "Changesurfer Radio," covering a variety of topics related to building a more democratic (small-d) future. On March 31, Dr. Hughes interviewed me for his show; the result is now up on the Changesurfer website.

    "Technogaian Approaches to the Climate Crisis"

    (Direct link to the MP3)

    The connection apparently had a bit of noise at the outset, and it looks like James just zapped that part of the conversation -- which is why I don't say "hi" at the beginning, and his intro seems to go on awfully long. It was a fun conversation, though, and I look forward to the next time.

    March 30, 2007

    Expanding My Footprint

    ouchcarbon.jpgAir travel is the persistent dilemma facing a climate-conscious consultant. Plane flights are particularly nasty sources of greenhouse gases, in part because of the direct emissions, and in part because of where the gases are emitted. One round-trip between San Francisco and London puts out nearly as much carbon as a year's worth of driving my Honda Civic Hybrid.

    Or, um, eating a bit more than 300 cheeseburgers (@ 6kg per burger).

    Nonetheless, on Saturday evening I'm heading to the UK, on a project for the Open University. I'll have a very brief time to see some good friends, but it's primarily a work trip. Accordingly, blogging is likely to be spotty at best for a bit.

    March 15, 2007

    Home Is Where I Want To Be

    Just a very quick update: I am home from Austin, but am suffering the effects of a nasty flu virus picked up in that fair city. Nonetheless, thanks a ton to Jon & Marsha Lebkowsky for the hospitality, conversation and orange juice, and to Jerry Paffendorf, for putting me on his panel and getting me invited. I just wish I had been able to meet up with more of the folks I had intended to (and I'm especially sorry that we never got a chance to sit down, Julian!).

    March 8, 2007

    South by Southwest

    Leaving for Austin tomorrow. If you see me there, say hi!

    My panel is on Sunday (sadly, at the same time as Violet's panel).

    On the Edge of Independent User-Creation in Gamespace

    Room 9C
    Sunday, March 11th
    5:00 pm - 6:00 pm

    We've got the participatory web, Web 2.0, whatever you want to call it. Millions of amateurs now routinely use the web to create and distribute their own movies, mash-ups, blogs, custom widgets, interfaces, and the like. This wave of user-created content is swelling towards video games and virtual worlds. PC games can be modded and customized, console systems are really just powerfully networked computers in the process of opening up, and virtual world platforms are emerging that allow you to create completely personalized identities and environments. More and more the means of content creation are being offloaded from traditional top-down gaming companies to independent teams and individuals for self-expression, personal projects and profit. This panel will examine the trend towards user-creation in gamespace and focus on new opportunities exemplified by virtual world platforms like Second Life and Multiverse, software developer kits for the next-gen console systems (Xbox 360, Nintendo Wii, and PlayStation 3), 3D map and modeling platforms like Google Earth and Microsoft Virtual Earth, and the surrounding content creation tools, both currently available and on the horizon. If you've ever wanted into the game or virtual world space on your own terms, whether it's running around Halo looking like your real life self or getting your own vision for a virtual experience off the ground, the doors are beginning to open, you don't need a badge to get to work, and this panel is for you.

    Moderator: Jerry Paffendorf, The Electric Sheep Company

    Jerry Paffendorf The Electric Sheep Company
    John Bacus Prod Mgr, Google
    Jamais Cascio World-Builder-in-Chief, Open the Future
    Raph Koster Pres, Areae Inc

    February 21, 2007

    Up for Air

    Apologies on the spotty blogging this month; I really thought that February would be a chance to focus on the blog and book proposals. Instead, I have even more work on my table. This is not inherently a bad thing -- work is good, paid work especially -- but it does mean that some projects end up lower down the list than they should be.

    I have a metric buttload of items bookmarked for comment and link, so I'll try to get at least some of them up onto the site over the remaining days of the month.

    February 9, 2007

    Simple Comment Spam Filtering Enabled

    I use fairly aggressive filtering of incoming comments to hold back the spam storm, but that still leaves me deleting dozens of (unpublished, but in the system) spam comments every day or two. I'm now trying out a simple challenge-response method as a way of blocking automated spam.

    Every time you enter a comment you'll be asked to type in a particular word in a box below the comment entry.

    This word is static, so regular posters should feel free to let it auto-fill; I'll only change it if a spam system is able to figure it out.

    For now, I'm going to leave the hold-for-moderation on as a general rule, just to make sure everything is working as it should.

    February 8, 2007

    Caption Contest

    (Taken by Vlasta Radan at the Good Ancestor Principle 2007 workshop)

    February 3, 2007

    Still Alive... Just Busy

    Apologies for the lack of updates over the last few days. Meetings and deadlines are always fun.

    I'm heading out to the "Good Ancestor Principle" workshop today, so blogging may be spotty for a few more days. But check out this collection of essays by the participants in the workshop. Some really mind-bending stuff here.

    January 26, 2007

    Good Ancestors, and Heading South

    Looks like both February and March are going to be starting out with some travel.

    At the beginning of February, I'll be part of the Uplift Academy's Good Ancestor Principle workshop. This will be a small, invitation-only affair with some very cool folks in attendance (including David Brin, Vernor Vinge and Judith Rosen). What is the Good Ancestor Principle?

    Jonas Salk said, the most important question we must ask ourselves is, “Are we being good ancestors?” Given the rapidly changing discoveries and conditions of the times, this opens up a crucial conversation – just what will it take for our descendants to look back at our decisions today and judge us good ancestors?

    Any conference that includes as a major section "Towards a Positive Singularity" is one for me.

    If it's for you, too, you're in luck: video recordings of the various presentations will be made available at the Uplift Academy's "Better World Network."

    In early March, I will once again be speaking at South by SouthWest Interactive. This time, I'll be on Jerry Paffendorf's panel entitled "On The Edge of Independent User-Creation In Gamespace," talking about the Metaverse Roadmap Project. This panel is part of SXSW's "Screenburn" event, focusing on video games. If you'll be at SXSW and want to say hi, my panel is on Sunday, March 11, from 5pm-6pm. If you'll be at SXSW and want to say "happy birthday," catch me on Saturday, March 10.

    I'm particularly looking forward to SXSW because I'll be getting a chance to say hi in person to some folks I know only via bits. The list of speakers for Screenburn and SXSW Interactive in general is pretty amazing. This will be the first time since 1998 that's I've been to SXSW, so while I'll miss the old Bruce Sterling end-of-the-show house party, I'm really excited about seeing the festival again.

    January 22, 2007

    EZ in NS

    ezuck.jpgMy good friend and colleague Ethan Zuckerman shows up as this week's interview in New Scientist, talking about the way in which the increasing global use of the Internet is changing its nature. It's a good read -- and Ethan looks quite dashing in his pictures (not an example above) -- but unfortunately the online version is behind the subscriber wall. Here's a sampling:

    What are the effects of increased connectedness on our society?

    There's an optimistic take that says the challenges we want to tackle today are global ones. Pandemics, global warming and poverty are all inherently cross-border. The interesting problems are international ones. At the same time, the internet frees us from the limitations of where we're born and where we grew up. As we build networks and friendships that cross boundaries, it stretches our sense of identity. When I get off an airplane, I can find other bloggers. My social circle now includes young hackers in Cambodia, as well as media professionals in Bahrain. My life is richer for it, but it also helps me think about the problems I want to solve in a really different way. For years, the environmental movement said "think globally, act locally". Now we can think globally and act globally.

    The issue just came out (cover date January 20), so check it out now.

    January 11, 2007

    Cheeseburgers on the Radio

    Please read the updated and complete version of the cheeseburger footprint story, found here.

    thr.jpgThe Cheeseburger Steamroller continues, as I show up on Treehugger radio (playing online and on Air America) talking about the cheeseburger footprint story. The conversation is actually excerpted from a much longer description of how and why I undertook this investigation. The folks at TH tell me that they're going to put that longer audio clip up either later today or tomorrow.

    In the meantime, here's the official Treehugger Radio connection.

    Geeze, I talk fast.

    January 10, 2007

    Mash Notes

    cascio_greenstein.jpgIf you just can't get enough of the sound of my voice (so this may be a post meant only for my mother -- hi Mom!), I have a link for you.

    It's to talk I gave, with Howard Greenstein, at Meshforum 2006, waaaay back in May of last year. ITConversations has been running the various panels and presentations as occasional content, and they've finally gotten to (or dredged up, you decide) our conversation on mash-ups and "breaking networks." Here's how ITConversations describes it:

    A mashup is an application that takes data from one source and combines it with data from another source. Often, the result is a new use for the data or targets a new user group. A good example is Frappr, which lets users combine Yahoo map data with their own locations.The means by which a mashup accesses the data can be authorized by the vendor, as seen in the Google Maps API. But technically, it doesn't have to. What is visible, can be "mashed up".

    Jamais Cascio and Howard Greenstein present some examples of mashups and introduce some interesting questions: Who of the big data providers like Google, Amazon or others actively plays the game by providing APIs and who doesn't? Why? What are the legal issues? What role do the creators of mashups play? Are they stealing data or boosting innovation in Web 2.0?

    It's a bit Web2.0apalooza, and it feels like it might be kind of dated at this point, but overall it's not too bad. They had to yank out my example of a music mashup that I played at the outset, though (Lenlow vs. J-Lo vs. K-Co vs. S-Wo). Darn you, copyright laws!

    (Speaking of copyright laws, the picture is by my friend Jon Lebkowsky.)

    December 27, 2006

    Welcome, Treehuggers

    My post on the carbon footprint of cheeseburgers got picked up on Treehugger, so this little site is seeing a new flurry of activity. For new visitors who recognize me as the co-founder of WorldChanging, the topics I cover here overlap with WC, but are more focused on understanding the future possibilities of where we're heading as a planet and civilization.

    Other environment-related pieces here on OtF that Treehugging visitors may find interesting include:

  • Renewable Energy and Global Stability
  • Climate, Cancer and Changing Minds
  • Nature as an Information Economy
  • Terraforming the Earth, Now in the Spotlight

  • December 11, 2006

    Back, Alive and Staggered by the Backlog

    Seriously, I need to go on modafinil full-time and just forget about this whole "sleep" thing. Multiple topsight-style posts to follow, plus a long essay.

    (I got a chance to try modafinil last week, as it happens. Just a single dose, taken instead of coffee one morning while still adjusting to the time-zone change. The effects were subtle, but definite. It certainly woke me up better than coffee does, and without any of the "vibrating" effects that sometimes arise from caffeine overdose. This sense of being awake and clear slowly faded over the day, and I had no problem getting to sleep later that night.

    The one side-effect I noticed was a slight loss in inhibition about offering on-topic but sarcastic suggestions during the morning brainstorming exercise. None of the comments were entirely over-the-line, but most were ones that I would otherwise have framed a bit more diplomatically. Some were (apparently) funny, while others were presumably seen as "quirky" or "provocative."

    Great, just what I need: Uninhibited Snark in a Pill™.)

    December 8, 2006

    The Virtue of a Virtual Life -- Perfect Health

    Got back from DC late on Wednesday night, and woke up yesterday with the inevitable consequence of travel: a cold. I managed to drag myself to the WC event at the Commonwealth Club last night, but have spent all day today trying to get better. All of which is to explain why I haven't posted anything in a few days.

    In compensation, here's Stewart Brand's summary of Philip Rosedale's talk for Long Now last week:

    What is real life coming to owe digital life?

    After a couple years in the flat part of exponential growth, the steep part is now arriving for the massive multi-player online world construction kit called "Second Life." With 1.7 million accounts, membership in "Second Life" is growing by 20,000 per day. The current doubling rate of "residents" is 7 months, still shortening, which means the growth is (for now) hyperexponential.

    For this talk the founder and CEO of "Second Life," Philip Rosedale, tried something new for him--- a simultaneous demo and talk. His online avatar, "Philip Linden," was on the screen showing things while the in-theater Philip Rosedale was conjecturing about what it all means. "This is a game of 'Can I interest you more in what I'm saying than what's going on on the screen?'"

    He showed how new arrivals go through the "gateway" experience of creating their own onscreen avatar, explaining that because intense creativity is so cheap, easy, and experimental, the online personas become strongly held. "You can have multiple avatars in 'Second Life,' but the overall average is 1.25 avatars per person." The median age of users is 31, and the oldest users spend the most time in the world (over 80 hours per week for 10 percent of the residents). Women are 43 percent of the customers.

    The on-screen Philip Linden was carrying Rosedale's talk notes (handwritten, scanned, and draped onto a board in the digital world). Rosedale talked about the world while his avatar flew ("Everyone flies--- why not?") to a music club in which a live song performance was going on (the real singer crooning into her computer in real time from somewhere.) The singer recognized Philip Linden in the on-screen audience and greeted him from the on-screen stage.
    "More is different," Rosedale explained. People think they want total and solitary control of their world, but the result of that is uninteresting. To get the emergent properties that make "Second Life" so enthralling, it has to be one contiguous world with everyone in it. At present it comprises about 100 square miles, mostly mainland, with some 5,000 islands (all adding up to 35 terrabytes running in 5,000 servers). Defying early predictions, the creativity in "Second Life" has not plateaued but just keeps escalating. Everybody is inspired to keep topping each other with ever cooler things. There are tens of thousands of clothing designers. Unlike the aesthetic uniformity of imagined digital worlds like in the movie "The Matrix," "Second Life" is suffused with variety. It is "the sum of our dreams."

    The burgeoning token economy in "Second Life" is directly connected to the real-world economy with an exchange rate of around 270 Linden dollars to 1 US dollar. There are 7,000 businesses operating in "Second Life," leading this month to its first real-world millionaire (Metaverse real estate mogul Anshe Chung). At present "Second Life" has annual economic activity of about $70 million US dollars, growing rapidly.

    As Jaron Lanier predicted in the early '90s, the only scarce resource in virtual reality is creativity, and it becomes valued above everything. Freed of the cost of goods and the plodding quality of real-world time, Rosedale explained, people experiment fast and strange, get feedback, and experiment again. They orgy on the things they think they want, play them out, get bored, and move on. They get "married," start businesses with strangers--- "There are 40-person businesses made of people who have never met in real life." Real-world businesses hold meetings in "Second Life" because they're more fun and encourage a higher degree of truth telling.

    Pondering the future, Rosedale said that every aspect of the quality of shared virtual life will keep improving as the technology accelerates and the number of creators online keeps multiplying. ("Second Life" is now moving toward a deeper order of creativity by releasing most of its world-building software into open source mode.)

    Real-world artifacts like New York City could become regarded like museums. "As the fastest moving, most creative stuff in our society increasingly takes place in the virtual world, that will change how we look at the real world," Rosedale concluded.

    ---Stewart Brand

    December 4, 2006

    In DC

    I'm in Washington, DC, with spotty connectivity. I'm taking pictures with my phone, though, and uploading them directly to Flickr.


    The rest of the pictures are at my Flickr page, with more coming sporadically throughout the trip.

    November 29, 2006

    Say Hi

    Today through December 13, I'm interviewing Suzanne Stefanac, author of Dispatches from Blogistan, over at the public Inkwell conference at the Well. You don't have to have a Well membership to get involved -- come by and say hi!

    A sampling:

    As I began doing research for the book, the sheer number of bloggers all around the world seemed, well, boggling. I started looking back through history trying to make sense of it all. What was it that was driving the phenomenon? What I started to realize is that the urge is innate and that bloggers are just the latest in a long line of humans struggling to make their points of view known. That throughout history, new advances in technology would inspire, at least for a time, a flowering of open discourse. Repeatedly shut down by subsequent repressive regimes, these voices might lie dormant for a century or three, but again and again, as soon as there was an opening, a new mechanism for exchange, humans would leap at the opportunity to make their voices be heard, to find others with similar viewpoints.

    I'm crossing my fingers that this Inkwell interview goes better than the last, and Suzanne doesn't suffer from any personal traumas that leaves her unable to complete the conversation...

    Also, I'd be remiss if I didn't point out that the WorldChanging book tour is finally getting around to San Francisco. Hey, WorldChanging only started here. Anyway, perhaps in consolation, the Bay Area gets a double-helping of the WC crew. A party on December 5th at 111 Minna, and a Commonwealth Club panel on December 7th. Because of the IFTF project in Washington, DC, I won't be around for the party on the 5th, but I will be attending the Commonwealth Club panel. As an audience member only, of course.

    November 25, 2006

    Feel the Burn

    Along with some site design modifications, I've added a Feedburner link for my syndication (RSS/Atom) feed. The current RSS/Atom feeds will continue to work for a short while, but if you're already subscribing to one, please please please move over to the Feedburner version:

    (If you're not using a feed link, or don't even know what one is, don't worry about it -- this won't affect you in the least.)

    November 22, 2006

    Mr. Cascio Goes To Washington

    triptodc.jpgI will be heading to Washington, DC, in a couple of weeks, ostensibly to take part in a short workshop for the Institute for the Future. I'll be coming in a few days early, however, in order to hit a few of the sights (and to spend some time with a good friend). I'll be arriving late on Saturday, December 2nd, and will have free time available for most of Sunday and Monday.

    So: suggestions? There are obvious places to try to see, albeit briefly, but anything special or transitory I should make a point of getting to? Any "be sure to get a coffee/hamachi nigiri/blintz at..." ideas? Or "be sure to do [X] in front of the [Y], and get a picture!"

    It will be my first time to DC, but I recognize that two partial days is nowhere near enough time to see even a fraction of the features. That, plus the fact that it will be early December (and I'm a born-in-Southern-California boy), may mean a "just the highlights" visit, but I'd love to see something that hasn't already been shown in a million movies.

    November 18, 2006

    Clouded Futures (Updated)

    If you take a look over to the right sidebar (and scroll down a bit), you'll see a new addition to the Open the Future site structure: a "tag cloud." That's what I was trying to get working yesterday when all hell broke loose and I had to re-create my main page template.

    Most of you have probably seen tag clouds on other sites over the last year or so, but if you're not familiar with the concept, it's simply a weighted display of the various keywords (or tags) I've assigned to my posts. The more often a tag shows up, the larger the text appears in the cloud. It's a way of seeing, at a glance, the main topics under discussion. No surprises here, though: my primary tags appear to be Climate Change, Fabrication, Futurism, Global Politics, the Metaverse, Nanotech, the Participatory Panopticon and, um, myself (kind of an embarrassing revelation).

    I'll likely be fiddling with it over the next few days, and might turn off the display of tags that I've only used once. That would make the cloud much smaller and more precise, but would do so at the expense of indicating the breadth of discussion here. Any suggestions?

    (I have now gone ahead and disabled the display of the least-used tags; it does appear to be a bit easier to read now.)

    November 17, 2006

    Obviously a Major Malfunction (Updated)

    Apparently my backup of the site doesn't include backups of the templates. Unfortunately, a misbehaving plug-in appears to have overwritten my main index template. I've re-installed the default, and will be working on restoring some semblance of normalcy to the site.

    Okay, I managed to get everything more-or-less back the way it should be. Please let me know if you run across something that isn't working right.

    November 6, 2006

    WorldChanging Book

    wcbook.jpgWell, my contributor's copy of the WorldChanging book -- WorldChanging: A User's Guide for the 21st Century -- finally arrived today (albeit with mangled slipcover). I can't really review the book, of course; I'm way too close to the material (both as a direct contributor, and author of a significant portion of the WC posts that influenced book content). I will say that, if you like the WorldChanging website (especially in its current iteration), you'll like the book, no question. It's not as aggressively future-focused as I saw the WC site in my time, but that's probably appropriate: the goal is to show that (nearly) all of the solutions we need are available now, not in some future scenario we just decide to wait for.

    I find it hard to express the complex jumble of emotions I feel when I look through the 600+ pages of the tome, though. There's some pride, to be sure, along with sad nostalgia for a part of my life now ended, all mixed with what I can best describe as disconnectedness: much of the book comes from my words, yet they aren't, quite. I don't think any of my articles -- whether new pieces I submitted during the book's construction, or pieces derived from posts at the website -- survived the editing process intact. Sometimes the new versions sound like my writing, and sometimes they sound utterly alien (with recognizable phrasing remaining as memetic flotsam and jetsam); in a few cases, I even spotted familiar phrasing showing up under somebody else's byline (an understandable result of the hurried and dynamic editing process).

    I suppose this dislocation comes from encountering a new version of something I poured my life into for over three years. It's more than just the unfamiliar form, though. Considering how much of myself I put into WorldChanging, holding this book in my hands is like encountering an alternate-universe version of myself.

    November 5, 2006

    New Futurismic Column: Ethical Futurism

    My November column for Futurismic is now up, asking the question, what does it mean to be an ethical futurist?

    ...the first duty of an ethical futurist is to act in the interests of the stakeholders yet to come -- those who would suffer harm in the future from choices made in the present.

    I know that a number of professionals in the field read Open the Future occasionally, and I'd be quite interested to get your reaction in particular to the essay.

    October 26, 2006

    In Memorium


    WorldChanging Logo v1, 2004-2006

    My old colleagues at WorldChanging have unleashed the latest version of the site, and it's quite the change. The new WorldChanging is slicker and much more "pro" looking than earlier versions, and is set up to match the design of the WorldChanging book. (I have yet to receive my contributor copy of the WC book, but I saw it at Pop!Tech last week. It's a Mighty Tome, weighing in at over 600 pages. You could kill a man with this book.)

    The new WorldChanging site moves well away from the blog format, appearing more like an ultramodern version of a magazine website. (Are we in the era of the PostMagazine yet? The TransMagazine era?) The improved search feature is most welcome, and it's certainly a more attractive version of the WorldChanging site. Even if I have minor quibbles with some of the design choices, I still think it will serve the site well as the book hits the shelves.

    I will miss the original WorldChanging logo, however. Designed by Jeffrey Rusch, I thought it captured the dynamism and optimism of the WorldChanging concept better than anything I've seen before or since. It told a story in five simple images. This simplicity lent itself well to iconic uses -- the Bright Green Sun, the last image in the story, quickly came to symbolize WorldChanging and its goals.

    Still, change is the nature of things, and I don't begrudge the folks in charge their desire to link the site to the book (and to move swiftly away from its shameful bloggy roots). The Bright Green Sun may be gone, but the spirit remains.

    October 24, 2006

    Finally Home

    PopTech rocked, but it's now a distant memory. I'll spare you the travails of my flight home, but it should be enough to note that I finally crawled into bed at 1am on Monday morning, then woke up five hours later for an all-day workshop at the Institute for the Future.

    I should be returning to a regular blogging schedule soon (more IFTF fun tomorrow, though).

    October 12, 2006

    Pop! Goes the Tech

    I'll be out most of next week at Pop!Tech, an annual conference held in Camden, Maine. Similar in some respects to TED, Pop!Tech brings together interesting thinkers and speakers across a variety of subjects for a multi-day gathering. I'm not speaking -- this year -- but I am going at the invitation of the Pop!Tech curator, Andrew Zolli. I've known Andrew for a couple of years now, and will likely be working on a few projects with him in 2007.

    The speaking list combines familiar faces and new names, although it does seem a bit overly-weighted on the usual suspect side. For the first time, the talks will be streamed live, so if any of the speakers look interesting, you can catch them via the web. As usual, the audio will be made available on IT Conversations.

    If you're going, definitely let me know -- I'd be happy to see a friendly face there.

    October 4, 2006

    Twenty Years


    Happy Anniversary, my love.

    New Position

    I'm pleased to announce that the Center for Responsible Nanotechnology has asked me to serve as their Global Futures Strategist, and I have accepted.

    This is a volunteer position, so I'll still be doing my various other projects as before, but is easily one of the most important jobs I've had. The advent of molecular manufacturing nanotechnology will be a transformative development in 21st century history, and will change -- often in radical ways -- human economies, material capabilities, social communities, and political and military balances. Many of the problems that we face as a civilization will be readily solved in a post-MM world -- but nanomanufacturing will make other problems much more daunting, and we will face enormous new dilemmas.

    I strongly believe that understanding and preparing for imminent changes is the best way to see those changes happen safely and, well, responsibly. Chris Phoenix and Mike Treder, the principals at CRN, believe this as well, and want to make careful foresight part of the CRN toolkit. I am honored to be part of this effort.

    October 1, 2006

    New Futurismic Column Up

    My monthly column at Futurismic is now up: The Geoengineering Option. Those who are familiar with my pieces at WorldChanging on "Terraforming Earth" will find some of the content familiar, but the focus in this piece is on understanding geoengineering/terraforming as a last-ditch option.

    It starts...

    Here's the good scenario: we have maybe a decade, fifteen years on the outside, before we need start seeing a significant and sustained global reduction of greenhouse gases if we are to avoid absolutely catastrophic environmental results. You know the litany by now: unstoppable sea level rise, famine from loss of agricultural land, countless deaths around the world from the heat and opportunistic diseases, extinctions galore, and on and on. Ten years is enough time to implement significant improvements in our transportation and energy technologies, our consumption patterns, and the design of our communities. We know the pieces that we need to put into place, it's just a question of getting them assembled in time.

    Here's the not-so-good scenario: you know that decade we thought we had? It's more like a year or two. Good luck.

    September 29, 2006

    Busy Weeks

    Pardon the lack of updates, it's been a busy week. This next month looks to be pretty busy, too:

    Multiple meetings early in the week. Wednesday is the 20th anniversay of my first date with Janice Cripe, who is now my wife. A good friend who now lives in the UK is in town. More meetings late in the week. And the week after that, I go to Pop!Tech.

    Then there's the IFTF project work that looms ever larger. And sometime very soon, I need to prep my talk for Montreal in November.

    September 21, 2006

    Interview: Julian Dibbell

    I have started an online interview with Julian Dibbell, author of Play Money, over at the Inkwell conference at The Well. Inkwell is one of the visible-to-the-public sections of the Well, and web readers are encouraged to send in questions.

    Julian and I will be talking about virtual economies, the evolution of the metaverse, Chinese gold farming, and just how much you can get for your top-level character on eBay.

    Come on by!

    September 5, 2006

    New Futurismic Column: Awareness Windows

    My new column at Futurismic is up. "Opening the Awareness Window" uses the overlap of the Katrina and 9/11 anniversaries as a jumping off point for considering how best to respond to surprising disasters.

    In many ways, disasters pose the classic foresight problem: they're predictable in general form, but surprising in their specifics of time and location; they force us to balance costs of preparation against costs of recovery; and they tend to be big enough to change our ways of thinking, at least in the short term. Disaster management specialists refer to the period in which we are open to changed behavior and plans as the "awareness window." This window, typically lasting a few years, gives us a chance to implement improved systems and designs, but can have the drawback of an overly-narrow focus -- we rarely use the window to see how our new ideas might play out in other, seemingly unrelated, areas. But the big picture matters. The more wisely we take advantage of this awareness window, the better-off we'll be when the next disaster strikes.

    This column has more links to outside material than did my first one. I'm always a bit uncertain about how to approach links to my stuff on WorldChanging, though. I co-founded the thing, and was the primary writer from late 2004 through early 2006, but the site has continued to evolve in the months since I left. I don't want to look like I'm trying to take credit for great new efforts and ideas there, but neither do I want to disassociate myself (or be disassociated) from the site. I'm proud of my work there, and for my role in helping shape the site. Should I make a point of including a "...where I used to write..." disclaimer before links there? Or assume that anybody who's reading me now probably came here because of the WC connection?

    Home Again, Home Again (Redux)

    Back from Los Angeles, where I spent the weekend with the family celebrating my Mom's birthday. (Happy Birthday, Mom!)

    I'll be posting more this week than usual, and will be experimenting a bit with a design change -- individual Topsight posts rather than catch-alls, for simpler external linking.

    August 28, 2006

    Home Again, Home Again


    "Red eye" flights=fun!

    The trip went well, though; the folks at the UHMGCFS were great to work with. I'll have updates when I'm actually alive.

    August 15, 2006

    Honolulu Bound

    uhrcfs.jpgThe life of a consulting futurist can be trying. Take next week, for example: I'll be flying off to Honolulu for five days, a guest of the University of Hawai'i Research Center for Future Studies. While I'm there, I'll be giving a presentation at the Hawai'i Future Salon (on Thursday the 24th), and will be an observer at the kick-off event for the Hawai'i 2050 Sustainability Task Force (on Saturday the 26th), wherein the UHRCFS group will present an interactive, immersive exhibit illustrating multiple scenarios. When I'm not pontificating (or listening to others pontificate), my wife and I will be enjoying an unexpected trip to Oahu, undoubtedly involving doing a great deal of very little.

    Your sympathy is greatly appreciated.

    (More seriously, I'd be happy to entertain any suggestions of interesting sights or quick trips for the stay.)

    August 9, 2006

    You're On Notice


    August 7, 2006

    Futurismic, and Slashdot

    I'm now a regulary (monthly) columnist at Futurismic, and my very first piece, A Gadget-Free Futurism, is now up. This is, by and large, a good thing, and I'm happy to have the chance to do the column.

    The Futurismic editor submitted the post to Slashdot and, much to my surprise, it was accepted. There's something terribly surreal about seeing one's name as part of a Slashdot headline. Surreal in a different way is the level of vitriol coming from the Slashdot commenters. Not because of what I wrote, per se, but because I have a funny name, or because they had never heard of me before, or because they'd seen ideas something like those in my post before, or maybe just because somebody had pissed in their Lucky Charms. I've never had anyone actively hate me before, at least not in print, so to see such anger over so little provocation is a bit mind-boggling.

    Fortunately, I've been a Slashdot reader for years (four digit /. user ID), so I know just how much weight to give the comments.

    July 26, 2006

    Listen to Me

    RU Sirius interviewed me for his Neofiles podcast this past weekend, and the results are now available (MP3).

    A couple of corrections are in order, though:

    • I don't write for MSNBC (they did, however, talk about some of my writing).
    • The evolution case is "Kitzmiller."
    • Steve Mann's website is, not "wearables."

    The conversation was wide-ranging, and the experience as a whole was quite fun. Thanks, RU!

    July 22, 2006



    July 10, 2006

    Meme Therapy Interview

    Jose Gacia at the weblog Meme Therapy -- tagline, "Life from a Science Fiction Point of View" -- interviewed me recently on a variety of subjects. The first part of that interview is now up, covering a couple of questions on technology and politics.

    The function of blogging, and other political social network tools, is simply this: to counter-balance the official narrative, and to find the holes -- the failings and falsehoods -- in the elite worldview. That is to say, blogs serve the purpose of hyper- aggressive fact-checking, digging out even the most minute lies and misdirections, making it far more difficult for the political elites to construct a narrative about the world that reinforces their own power.

    There was much more to the interview, and I'll link to subsequent updates.

    (Meme Therapy has interviewed some very interesting folks in the recent past, including Dale Carrico on Technoprogressive Politics, science blogger Jennifer Griffin on the love of molecules, and science fiction author Alistair Reynolds. Check 'em out.)

    June 30, 2006

    My Big New Project

    This was a quiet week on the blog, but not for my work load. On Tuesday, I signed a contract with the Institute for the Future to serve as the guest editor of the 2007 Ten Year Forecast project. This project will run through the end of December, and will be published in March of 2007 (initially for the IFTF membership, although they will likely publish parts of it online later on). This is IFTF's big annual project, and this will be the first time they'll have used an outside editor -- in short, this is a big job, and a bigger honor. Part of being asked to work on this project includes joining IFTF's team of Affiliates, a network that includes such worthies as Howard Rheingold and Jerry Michalski.

    The Ten Year Forecast (TYF) is something IFTF has been doing for a couple of decades now; you can find a few of the earlier versions at the IFTF website:

    2005 TYF Perspectives (PDF)
    2004 TYF Perspectives (PDF)
    2003 TYF "Map of the Decade" (PDF)

    I'm excited about this project for a variety of reasons, but I'm especially happy because it will give me a chance to work hands-on with a foresight methodology that differs significantly from the GBN processes with which I'm most familiar. Foresight/"futurism" is still far more of an art than a science (although academic programs such as the University of Hawaii at Manoa's Research Center for Future Studies are clearly trying to create a formal process); in that spirit, I'm eager to learn new artistic styles.

    Best of all, this won't be a 24/7 project, so I'll still have time for other pursuits... such as Open the Future.

    June 6, 2006


    Suzanne Stefanac is writing a book called Dispatches from Blogistan and, like all good web-related authors, is doing so online, in front of everyone. The core of her book includes a variety of interviews of bloggers and social critics, now including yours truly. Suzanne has also interviewed Bruce Sterling (of course!), Cory Doctorow (of course of course!), Farai Chideya, Denise Caruso, and Craig Newmark.

    My interview was written and posted in one day, so please let me know if you spot any typos or grammaros. (Mmmm... grammaros... those are awfully good for breakfast!)

    May 31, 2006

    Why Am I Doing This?

    Readers (and there are a few of you out there, I've seen the server logs) who are familiar with my writing at WorldChanging may be thinking to themselves right about now, "when's he gonna start writing the kinds of stuff he used to?"

    Soon. Probably.

    Open the Future is a very different beast from WorldChanging. WC has a distinct revolutionary purpose: to change the minds of thousand (and, eventually, millions) of people and to open their eyes to the fact that, while the challenges are great, solutions are possible. OtF, conversely, is more evolutionary in its goals: to give me a place to explore not-fully-fleshed-out ideas, the kinds of subjects and concepts that may turn into something more important and powerful down the road. That I'm doing it in public is simultaneously a bit of exhibitionism -- after blogging at WC for two and a half years, it's now a bit difficult to think in private -- and a chance to get feedback from the clever folks who have found me here.

    I do miss some of how I wrote at WC, though, and I can feel the itch to post some interesting links and (hopefully) pithy observations at any moment.

    April 28, 2006

    May Day

    The month of May looks to be filled with events -- many of them asking variations on the same question: who am I?

    On May 1, I'll be at the Internet Identity Workshop, put together by Kaliya Hamlin, Doc Searls and Phil Windley. The event runs through May 3, but I'll only be able to make the first day. The agenda looks good -- and the logo is brilliant.

    As I mentioned earlier, May 5 and 6 finds me at the Metaverse Roadmap Project. The timing looks to be perfect for an event on this subject, as virtual worlds have hit the mainstream zeitgeist. I got a chance to talk for a bit with Robin Harper of Linden Lab (makers of Second Life) at a project I worked on for the Institute for the Future this week; I really should take the time to download and investigate Second Life. Its current participation numbers -- around 200,000 people, according to Robin -- pale in comparison to the 8 million people in World of Warcraft, but we Mac (and Linux) users know that numbers aren't everything.

    Coincidentally, my friend James Hughes (director of the Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies, among his many affiliations and titles) sent me a link to, noting that the participation rate in virtual worlds is on a classic exponential curve. He tossed out a term I'll make certain to use at MVRP: the MMOGularity.

    But no rest for the wicked: Meshforum 2006 starts on May 7, running through May 9. I had the distinct pleasure of speaking at the first Meshforum, which took place last year in Chicago. Luckily, this year's meeting is in San Francisco. I'll be at this one, too, on a panel with Howard Greenstein and Christopher Allen, talking about breaking networks. Jon Lebkowsky will be there, as well, along with Robert Scoble and Karen Stephenson. Should be fun.

    Spaces are still available.

    The subsequent Saturday, May 13, will find me at the Singularity Summit, held at Stanford University. A single day conference (thankfully) where I'll be a guest, not a speaker (thankfully), the line-up for the shindig includes both long-time Singularitarians and long-time skeptics and critics. I'm particularly interested in seeing what the reaction is to McKibben; I expect this to be a largely Singularity-friendly crowd. Will they give him a fair hearing?

    May 20th is the wedding of a dear friend, Iona Mara-Drita, and her delightful partner, Tom Berger. Congratulations are in order, of course, and I expect few of the reception conversations to include the phrases "metaverse," "singularity" or "nanoengineering."

    Finally (!), May 27 and 28 will find me at the Human Enhancement Technologies and Human Rights conference, once again at Stanford. Put together in part by the IEET, the meeting will explore many of the social, cultural and legal implications of various scenarios -- current and projected -- of technologically enhanced human capabilities. I will probably be speaking on the second day. Registration is still open for the conference, and there's a free public reception on the evening of Friday, May 26.

    April 25, 2006


    No posts until Friday, I'm on the road.

    April 22, 2006

    Still A Work In Progress

    Warren Ellis graciously linked over to Open the Future last night; for those of you who peek in as a result of that post, bear in mind that I'm still unpacking, figuratively speaking, and there's meatier content to come.

    April 21, 2006


    Bad bad arthritis flare-up the last couple of days, leading to very little sleep (with resulting loss of higher cognitive functions). I did manage to update the Writing page, including some links to articles I wrote 7 years ago. It's interesting to look back at that late-90s content--it's clear that I've been thinking about some of my pet issues for a very long time.

    Also, because I could never do this at WorldChanging: Friday Cat Blogging!


    I won't be making a habit of it, but I needed at least to get it out of my system. I blame the aforementioned degradation of higher cognitive functions.

    April 18, 2006

    What's This? What's This?

    New along the right side bar is a selection of some of the resources I used while writing WorldChanging, and continue to read for insights and early warnings. This represents about a quarter of the sites I would skim through on a daily basis.

    Also included is a small group of blogs belonging to friends of mine. If you think your blog should be on this list, you know what to do.

    April 17, 2006

    Moving Slowly

    After blogging pretty much every day for two years -- including vacations -- having some time away is a bit surreal. In some ways, it's like I'm missing a part of me; in other ways, it's like I finally have time to breathe. I did just under 2,000 posts at WorldChanging, 1100 in 2005 alone. It's no wonder I'm tired.

    That said, I will be adding new material (and links to old) on this site this week. I don't know how many people are reading this (if you are, say hi) -- I didn't expect there to be much traffic here yet, but my site logs show a steady trickle of activity. I don't intend to let you get bored.

    But as a special, shiny present for anyone who does wander by, here's a picture from TED2006 of me and Alex having a chat with a Mr. Al Gore:


    (Photo by Robert Leslie)

    April 12, 2006

    Coming Up For Air

    I've been startlingly busy since leaving WorldChanging. I just finished a draft of an article for PC World, spoke at Yahoo!, and attended the Institute for the Future's "10 Year Forecast" event. More stuff going on today, too.