Brains Vs. Computers

Quote of the week

“If the brain were so simple that we could understand it, we would be so simple that we couldn’t.” Emerson M. Pugh

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Science and Fiction

Infinity loop - Final 2Couple of public events people may be interested in. The first is Hackstock this Friday. It’s at The Trampery, 239 Old Street in London and it’s part of the London Sci-Fi Festival. I’m in conversation with science fiction author Lavie Tidhar. The second event is on May 7 and it’s a panel death about what’s next in science and fiction. If you’re a fan of Sci-Fi you really should come along. I’m moderating.

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Digital Vs. Human (Reviews)

So the first review is in for Digital Vs. Human: How we’ll live, love and think in the future. It gets 9/10 and “Watson comes out fighting” from the Herald newspaper, which I’m more than happy to live with in the future.

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Screens vs. Paper

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I’ve just been going through a pile of paper torn out of various magazines over the past year. In the pile I found a single page torn from the New York Review of Books. I’m afraid I’m not 100 % certain who wrote this, but it’s likely to be from the Book of Numbers by Joshua Cohen.

“Computers keep total records, but not of effort, and the pages inked out by their printers leave none. Screens preserve no blemishes or failures. Screens preserve nothing human. Save in the fossiliferous prints left behind by touch. But a page – only a page can register the sorrows of the crossings, bad word choice, good word choice gone bad, the gradual dulling of pencil lead…A notebook is the only place you can write about shit like this and not give a shit, like this. Cheap and tattered, a forgiving space, dizzyingly spiral bound, coiled helical. ”

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How Digital Vs. Human was written

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If anyone is wondering how a book gets put together here’s how I did it. Firstly, I didn’t start with a title. In fact for the first 6-months this book was simply called ‘FF2’ (Future Files 2) and later More or Less Human. Eventually a number of key themes started to emerge, notably screens, the internet, phones, automation, robots and AI and eventually the final title (Digital v Human).

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As you can see I had an A4 yellow notebook that held all my ideas (not backed up!!!) and eventually I had the key thoughts for each of the chapters once the chapter list was sorted out. The chapter names took forever, but I think they work really well.

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So that’s it really. It started in September 2014 and was done by January 2016.

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Free chapter downloads and online ordering links here.

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Books and Bookshops

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Digital Vs. Human launches today in the UK. Free downloads and more here.

Meanwhile, here’s a little something I wrote on the future of bookshops for the Bookseller called Do bookshops have a shelf life?

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The Rise of AI

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Very good 9-minute film from PBS. Made in 2013. Link here.

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Why the future needs more people in it

Screen Shot 2016-04-07 at 10.29.38Last year Facebook launched a virtual assistant. It was called Moneypenny after the secretary in the James Bond books. Yet again, a vision of the future was shaped by the past, possibly with a nod to Walt Disney’s Tomorrow Land in the 1950s. Is this sexist or just a natural outcome of the fact that more than two thirds of Facebook’s employees are men? Whatever the reason, the future is generally shaped by white, middle-aged, male Americans. The majority of the World Future Society’s members are white men aged 55 to 65 years of age and when it comes to the media’s go-to guys for discussing the future they’re men too. What this means is that visions of the future are overwhelmingly created by – and to some extent shaped for – a tiny slice of society, one that’s usually in some way employed in science or technology and has not had to struggle too much.

This is perhaps why technological advances usually define the future and why portrayals of the future are almost always optimistic scenarios in which technology will solve all of mankind’s problems. In the future, for example, we’ll all live far longer, which is fine if you have enough money, but less fine if you are already struggling to survive in the present.

Is this a problem? You bet it is. For one thing a lack of diversity in terms of the people imaging the future means that we are missing out on vast networks and frameworks of perspectives, experience and imagination. Second, by focussing on technology we are missing out on the social and emotional side, not to mention the politics of futurism. Scientists and technologists are essential to explore what’s possible in the future, but as Alvin and Heidi Toffler pointed out in their book Future Shock in the 1970s, we also need people from the arts and humanities to explore what’s preferable. We need ethical code alongside computer code. At the moment a tiny minority of people has hijacked the future – less than 0.1 per cent of the world’s population perhaps. What the remaining 99.9 per cent urgently need to do is reclaim it and especially add a softer and more human perspective to the discussion.

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Loving this!

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Might suit a map on the future of gardening!

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A real scenario?

I was going to add this as book of the month in brainmail, but I figured it was a little depressing. Here is fine, of course! One for the scenario thinkers at the Ministry of Defence and MI5 perhaps?

A State of Fear: Britain after a Dirty Bomb by Joseph Clyde.

Joseph Clyde is a pseudonym of George Walden btw, a former diplomat and government minister. The book is a novel

Amazon link here.

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