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.

Posted in Imperial collage, Science and fiction map, Science fiction writing | 2 Comments

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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An emerging inactivity crisis (with no real friends)

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Spoiled for choice today. First, a study by Oxford University suggests that the average Facebook user has 155 friends (close to the ‘Dunbar number’ of 150, which anthropologists suggest is the maximum number of friends that humans can maintain relationships with). However, the study also says that the average user has mere 4 friends that are any use. ‘Any use’ is my phrase, but the study found that only 4 friends can be relied on to help in a real crisis.

Meanwhile, a study conducted on behalf of the British Heart Foundation says that 9 out of 10 ‘iPad toddlers’ are not physically active enough to be healthy. 84% of pre-school children in the UK do not even manage 1 hour of exercise per day. As Steven Ward, of UK Active comments: ‘The fact is that the current generation is hunched over screens from an early age and the iPhone has become the dummy of today’s society”.

Obviously I’m writing this hunched over a screen and tethered to an iPhone….

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Digital vs Human – early testimonials



Here are the first testimonials for my new book Digital vs Human.We are in the process of editing these down so they can be used on the cover, which I’ll be sharing with you shortly.

“A highly readable, witty and wise book, richly informative, sharply critical but balanced, an excellent investigation of the achievements and predictions of digital technology.”
Theodore Zeldin, author of The Hidden Pleasures of Life

“The issues he addresses are pertinent, the questions he asks are incisive, and the ideas he assembles are tantalising.”
Dr Jules Goddard, Fellow, London Business School

“In a culture obsessed with the kind of skills and performance that could turn the next generation into second-rate automata, Watson readjusts the focus to what really counts: feelings and relationships of all kinds. He presents a truly persuasive case for his claim that: ‘It’s not the internet that should be at the heart of things, but the human heart”.
Professor Susan Greenfield, author of Mind Change

“A remarkable and important book, which examines our possible futures with great humanity and a clear eye. Everyone should read it.”
Lavie Tidhar, author of A Man Lies Dreaming

“Richard Watson doesn’t write like your average futurist. He’s interested in people, not machines, and so his analysis of the way our world is changing has a very human and accessible quality. Most futurists seek to sell you a vision of the future, but Richard’s there to help show you the way.”
Antony Funnell, presenter of ABC Radio National Future Tense

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In a crisis would you be prepared to deal with a smart machine over another human being?

Over Christmas I unfortunately had to call the emergency services at a friend’s house. Suffice to say that I was somewhat anxious. The operator on the end of the telephone was wonderful. She had one of those slow silky voices that was not only calming, but which somehow demanded complete obedience.

So here’s the thing. A week or so later my mind started wandering off as it does and I began to wonder whether one day the emergency services might be tempted to replace human call centre operatives with synthetic voices (in other words fully automated digital systems). It wouldn’t be that difficult to do and the cost savings would be significant. In a moment of sci-fi imagining I even wondered whether it might be possible to select celebrity voices to converse with, much in the same way that you can select celebrity voices to add to your in-car GPS navigation system.

Weirder things have happened…


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Digital vs Human (final fiddle)

Back page text

It’s hard to believe, but the book goes on. Days away from printing now, but still trying to get the cover right and also re-writing the back cover text at the last minute. The key thing here is obviously to convey what the book is about for people that haven’t read it (and one supposes don’t have more than about ten seconds to do so before they move on to another book). The current words are below, with the first pass below that. The key point, for me at least, is not that the book is about digital systems, robotics or artificial intelligence, but the looming battle between human and digital minds. More specifically, it’s about what a small group of people is arguably imposing on the rest of the human race. This has shades of the 1% (or the 99%), but also the banking crisis. This is an observation that’s been picked up by one of my favourite columnists at the Financial Times, Gillian Tett. Prior to 2007/8 banking was run by a tiny group of people and nobody else really understood what they were doing. IT at the cutting edge is much the same. It’s a small group of experts and almost nobody else has a clue about what they are doing or what the longer-term consequences might be.

Current re-write.
From the author of the international bestseller Future Files comes the one book you need to prepare for tomorrow.

Life has never been better. By most measures our physical lives have improved greatly in recent years. So why do we feel that all is not well? As technologies developed by a tiny handful of designers and developers are changing our lives, we are beginning to question whose interests are being served. Are they here for our benefit? Or are we here for theirs? Richard Watson hereby extends an exuberant invitation to look more closely at the world we’re creating and think more deeply about who it is that we want to be.

Original text including my edit comments (in bold)
The blurb may require cuts to fit into the back cover design. Our current proposal is the following: Surely there is room at the front or more likely the back to run or repeat all the quotes?

From the author of the international bestseller Future Files comes the one book to help you prepare for tomorrow.

On most measures that matter, we’ve never had it so good. Physically, life for humankind has improved immeasurably over the last fifty years. Yet, spreading across the world, there is a crisis of confidence in progress. Jumps….
(Do we even need most of the above? How about simply starting with the below and creating room for more testimonials? For example…

From the author of the international bestseller Future Files comes the one book you need to read to prepare for the world of tomorrow. (Still jumps?) To a large degree, the history of the next fifty years will be about the relationship between people and technologies created by a tiny handful of designers and developers. These (their?) inventions will undoubtedly change our lives, but just what are they capable of, and — as they transform the media, the economy, healthcare, education, work, and the home — what kind of lives do we want to lead?

Richard Watson, the author of the international bestseller Future Files, hereby extends an exuberant invitation for us to think deeply about the world of today and envision what kind of world we wish to create in the future. (for tomorrow?).

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How LED Lights Stole Christmas

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Rather bizarrely, one of the most popular blog posts I’ve ever written concerned colour. Specifically, why grey is the new black. Given that I’ve obviously acquired a readership amongst colour consultants, decorators, architects and members of the Pinterest community, I’ve got something related to say and it’s something that hasn’t been commented on elsewhere. At least this was true until Christmas when Tyler Brule, writing in the Financial Times Weekend magazine, made the following astute comment:

“For the past two weeks I’ve been in South Tyrol hosting family, stocking up on wines from local producers and watching my mother hand-paint 1,500 LED Christmas lights in order to create the right seasonal effect indoors and out. (“Do people not see how bright and ugly LED lights are and that they’ve completely changed the spirit of Christmas?” she told me. “These are the lights they should be banning!”)”

His mother is right. LED lights have ruined Christmas and much else beside. The problem, I think, is that LED lights are too bright. There is no subtlety to LED lighting and, one might add, no soul. ‘White’ LEDs are the biggest problem though, because they aren’t really white at all. They give off a slight green hue, which makes me think of refrigerated meat well past its use by date. I’m told this problem is being addressed, but until it is it’s perhaps it’s time to get out the candles.

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Staying human in an age of automation

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I thought this, via Aeon, would be interesting, although when I watched the video (7 minutes here) I wasn’t so sure. Is he saying that we need to ‘gamify’ all aspects of work so that people are more engaged and have more fun? Why does work have to be fun all he time and surely some aspects of work need a level of deep thinking and attention that screens, constant movement and distraction destroy. Moreover, shouldn’t humans focus on what humans do best and use machines to amplify this?

Personally I think that some aspects of gaming could be useful to apply to real world situations, including work in some instances, but overall I think the negatives far outweigh the positives and that the argument is weak. Surely, this is yet another example of digital solutionism. Screens and games are fine, but they shouldn’t remove us, distract us or distance us from physical human contact or thinking that is deep, sustained and reflective.

This is worth a read too if you are pro, although again I don’t agree with it.

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Digital Vs Human – show me the money (final)

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Given what’s going on in China I thought I’d share the edited version of the chapter on the economy while there’s a vague chance of me being prophetic. For those readers that are new to this I had huge problems with this chapter and it underwent several re-writes.

The older versions were posted here and here and here and here. (Runs from newer to older versions).

Final version is here (23 pages, PDF)

Digital vs Human_4_Economy

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