The Future of Consciousness

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On the off chance that anyone out there lives in Arizona!

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Trends are not where the future is found

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I’ve had a bit of an epiphany. I was talking to someone last week about what the future of retail might look like…in 2020. That’s right, how the future will look in 48-months. Such a timescale automatically pulls anyone back into now and the projection of current trends and technologies forward. This is when reality destroys your thinking. I was polite and hopefully helpful but that’s me done. I’m no longer interested in the year after next or anything less than a decade away. As far as possible I am going to stop using trends as an excuse to talk about the future and think about the real future instead. From now in it’s timescales of 2030, 2040 and 2050 .

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London’s best thinking spaces?

Just been thinking about the best places in London to host a small discussion about the far future. Places that are inspiring and which open minds.

I’ll come back on a short list of places soon. In the meantime a quote for Friday (appropriate because I’m also in the early stages of helping to organise an panel discussion about science and science fiction).

“One alien is a curiosity, two are an invasion.” Ursula K. Le Guin.

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VR

A post from Matt, who is usually hidden behind a screen…

Virtual reality systems have been around since the late 1960s, but the technology is now reaching a tipping point. In 1991, a complete Virtuality headsets-and-gloves VR system would set you back up to $73,000. In contrast, when it launches next year, the highly-anticipated, Facebook-owned Oculus Rift VR headset is likely to cost around $1,500 for a complete system, including the PC. Not to be outdone, Sony’s Playstation VR headset — also due out next year — is slated to cost around $400. Moving further down the price scale, by the time you read this you should be able to pick up a Samsung Gear VR headset for just $99 (though you’ll need a high-end Samsung phone to power it). But for a “cheaper than chips” option, you can’t beat Google Cardboard: a cardboard-box headset into which you slot your smartphone. You can buy pre-made ones for less than 20 bucks, or even make your own out of some card, a couple of lenses and magnets, some strips of velcro, and a rubber band.

 
Now that virtual reality is affordable for anyone, it just needs some killer apps for it to take off. Games are the obvious one, but they may just be scratching the surface of VR’s potential. Coming next year, The Martian VR Experience is a tie-in with Ridley Scott’s hit movie The Martian. The 20-minute VR adventure puts you in the lead character’s shoes as you try to survive solo on the Martian surface. Movie fans will also be excited by 20th Century Fox’s plans to bring over 100 movies to the Oculus Rift and Gear VR headsets. Titles so far include Alien (if you dare), Die Hard, and Office Space.

 
Another exciting development is Jaunt, A Silicon Valley startup that provides an end-to-end cinematic VR system for filmmakers, from a custom 3D camera and editing tools through to apps that run on the Google Cardboard and Oculus Rift platforms. They already have some pretty impressive demos that you can try today, from immersive news reports and sporting events through to rock concerts and documentaries. Other future boom areas for VR include education and training, urban design, and even therapy for anxiety disorders and phobias. At this point, virtual reality still has some drawbacks and challenges to overcome, including motion sickness, balance problems, and possibly even addiction. But as VR has become affordable for almost everyone, and VR applications are starting to take off, the technology’s future over the next few years looks very bright indeed.

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Brainmail # 100

I’m planning a series of drinks parties to celebrate the 100th issue of brainmail in a few months time. Likely locations are London, Sydney and New York. Register your interest below using the comments section below – I don’t especially need your name, although this would be nice, just put which city you are based in to help me with the planning.

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If something works, you’re not trying hard enough

I should have posted this a few weeks ago. There was a widely accepted story at my secondary school that this person had carved their original name into a school desk. Some people claimed to have found it. I never did.

“People are so fucking dumb. Nobody reads anymore, nobody goes out and looks and explores the society and culture they were brought up in. People have attention spans of five seconds and as much depth as a glass of water.”

“Speak in extremes, it’ll save you time. ”

“There’s a terror in knowing what the world is about”

“I’m always amazed that people take what I say seriously. I don’t even take what I am seriously.”

“If it works, it’s out of date.”

“I’m just an individual who doesn’t feel that I need to have somebody qualify my work in any particular way. I’m working for me.”

“Once you lose that sense of wonder at being alive, you’re pretty much on the way out…”

All David Bowie (except the headline).

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Quotes about Technology, Computers, AI, Robots and humans

Some quotes lifted from my forthcoming book Digital Vs. Human, including a great quote that didn’t quite make it.

Opening quotes

‘The real problem of humanity is the following: we have palaeolithic emotions; medieval institutions; and god-like technology. And it is terrifically dangerous, and it is now approaching a point of crisis overall’ – Edward O. Wilson

‘Anything that gets invented after you’re thirty is against the natural order of things and the beginning of the end of civilisation as we know it until it’s been around for about ten years when it gradually turns out to be alright really.’ – Douglas Adams

Chapter heading quotes
‘Everybody has a plan until they get punched in the face’ – Mike Tyson

‘Computers make it easier to do a lot of things, but most of the things they make it easier to do don’t need to be done’ – Andy Rooney

‘One of the best protections against disappointment is to have a lot going on’ – Alain de Botton

‘If you have something that you don’t want anyone to know, maybe you shouldn’t be doing it in the first place’ – Eric Schmidt

‘The idea of the future being different from the present is so repugnant to our conventional modes of thought and behaviour that we, most of us, offer a great resistance to acting on it in practice’ – John Maynard Keynes

‘What if the cost of machines that think is people who don’t?’ – George Dyson

‘Logic will get you from A to B. Imagination will take you everywhere’ – Attributed to Albert Einstein

‘What’s wrong with education cannot be fixed with Technology’ – Steve Jobs

‘The lucky few who can be involved in creative work of any sort will be the true elite of mankind, for they alone will do more than serve a machine’ – Isaac Asimov

‘Technology is everything that doesn’t work yet’ – W. Daniel Hillis

‘Heralds don’t sing about men who lived in orthodoxy or played it safe, they sing about men who lived an uncertain future and took enough risks to make your head spin’ – Evan Meekins

‘It took humans four million years to evolve the hand axe, another two million years to somewhat improve it. And then, within a mere 20,000 years, a geological blink of the eye, they created art, agriculture, the wheel, computers and spaceships’ – George Zarkadakis

Quotes from the main text
‘There’s ‘no upside to being socialised by a robot’ – Sherry Turkle

(The internet is) ‘amazing in the same way a dishwasher is amazing’ – Evgeny Morozov

‘The error that evangelists make is to assume that the internet’s open, decentralised technology naturally translates into a less hierarchical or unequal society’ – Andrew Keen

‘I think all tech people are slightly autistic.’ Douglas Coupland

(The internet is shaping behaviour in) ‘what is broadly a more autistic direction’ – Tyler Cowen

‘Personal identity is increasingly defined by the approbation of a virtual audience.’ Susan Greenfield

‘Social networks erode previous social structures and reintroduce tribalism into our post-industrial societies’ – George Zarkadakis

‘What should the role of “extra” humans be if not everyone is still strictly needed?’ – Jaron Lanier

(Virtual reality) ‘is a way to escape the world into something more fantastic’ – Palmer Luckey

(Computer games) ‘provide an escape from purposelessness’. – Olivia Metcalf

(Young people are) ‘the miners’ canaries of society, acutely vulnerable to the peculiar hazards of our times’. – Richard Eckersley

‘Ours may be a time of material comfort and technological wonder, but it’s also a time of aimlessness and gloom.’ – Nicholas Carr

‘There is almost an injunction on today’s youth to lead fascinating lives. But if we fail, and most of us are doomed to, we’ll be considered losers.’ – Astrid Berges-Frisbey

(The internet) ‘encourages and even promotes insanity’- Larry Rosen

(Facebook and sites like it create) ‘ephemeral connections between imaginary identities’ – Susan Greenfield

‘It is in dialogue with pain that many beautiful things acquire their value’, and ‘People only get really interesting when they start to rattle the bars of their cages.’ – Alain de Botton

‘Social media ‘is an architecture of human isolation’ – Andrew Keen

‘The internet itself is in an incredibly elitist concentrator of wealth in the hands of the few while giving the appearance of voice and the appearance of democracy to people who are in fact being exploited by the technologies.’ – Jonathan Franzen

‘We’re already halfway towards a world where algorithms run nearly everything. As their power intensifies, wealth will concentrate towards them.’ – Christopher Steiner

‘The best minds of my generation are thinking about how to make people click ads.’ – Jeff Hammerbacher

‘Real stupidity beats artificial intelligence every time.’ – Terry Prachett

‘The greatest heist in history wasn’t about taking money; it was about taking your information — and you agreed to all of it.’ – Terms and Conditions May Apply

‘At some point, automation reaches a critical mass. It begins to shape societies norms, assumptions, and ethics.’ – Nicholas Carr

‘The logic leading to fully autonomous systems seems inescapable’. Thomas Adams

‘A pilotless airliner is going to come. It’s just a question of when.’ – James Albaugh

‘I still believe that sitting down and reading a book is the best way to really learn something.’ – Eric Schmidt

‘Teaching is a human experience. Technology is a distraction when we need literacy, numeracy, and critical thinking.’ – Paul Thomas

(We) ‘are shifting from manufacturing massively replicated products … to producing personalised products and services distributed directly to customers’ – George Zarkadakis

‘It’s quite possible there are unique things about humans. But, in terms of intelligence, it doesn’t seem likely’ – Demis Hassabis

‘Bit by bit, our cells and tissues are becoming just another brand of hardware to be upgraded.’ John Rogers

‘Where technology pushes too far, society pushes back.’ – Bob Seidensticker

‘You have to have an idea of what you are going to do, but it should be a vague idea.’ – Picasso

‘By far the best way I know to engage the religious sensibility, the sense of awe, is to look up on a clear night.’ – Carl Sagan

(We are developing) ‘amnesia about everything except the immediate, the instant, the now’ – Andrew Keen

(By 2014) ‘Much effort will be put into the designing of vehicles with “Robot-brains” … Communications will become sight-sound … Mankind will therefore have become largely a race of machine tenders.’ – Isaac Asimov

I have seen the future, and it’s still in the future’ – .Jack Rosenthal

Unused quotes
‘Something funny I have noticed, perhaps you have noticed it, too. You know what futurists and online-ists and cut-out-the-middle-man-ists and Davos-ists and deconstructionists of every stripe want for themselves? They want exactly what they tell you you no longer need, you pathetic, overweight, disembodied Kindle reader. They want white linen tablecloths on trestle tables in the middle of vineyards on soft blowy afternoons … they want a nineteenth century bookshop … they want five-star bricks and mortar and DO NOT DISTURB signs and views of the park’. – Richard Rodriguez

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Solipsism in pop music

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Interesting, perhaps, that Love Yourself by Justin Bieber has been number 1 in the UK music charts and has been 1 or 2 for the last 10 weeks. Does this tell us anything? (cue endless Bieber jokes I’m sure…).

From Harvard Business Review Daily Stat. Link to research above here.

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When science and fiction collaborate

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I’ve been thinking about the science and fiction map again, and about a possible event looking at the connections between imagination and invention – and who exactly is influencing whom here?

Is it possible to write good science fiction without a good understanding of science and do the thoughts contained within academic institutions naturally permeate into the broader public consciousness, thereby creating a series of self-fulfilling prophesies? (if enough people think about something someone will write about it and then someone will eventually invent it). Perhaps a panel discussion one evening with a couple of academics and sci-fi writers?

Nice PBS (US) video on the subject here - 8 minutes.

Another nice link here.

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Digital vs. Human – who has the upper hand?

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Here, at last, is the cover for my new book Digital vs. Human. The debate we’ve been having is who has the upper hand – the humans or the machines? Actually that’s a little unfair as one of the key points I make is that the future must be Digital and Human, not Digital or human, but the debate is still a pertinent one. In an ideal world I would have had the robot hand top left, as this suggests that it’s the machines that are in control, which is nicely provocative. As it is it’s the human hand, or perhaps the hand of God, that seems to be in charge, although the human hand does look rather unsure of itself, which is also really good.

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