Sunday, February 22, 2009

Science fiction invention tracking

Science fiction has served as inspiration for real world design so many times that it would be useful to have a wiki with a rigorous index of innovations proposed in science fiction and a column for tracking their appearance in real life. At minimum, it could inspire the realization of imagined technologies not available yet. There is occasional anecdotal mention of the implementation of SciFiTech but no comprehensive list of ideas.

Everyday life is replete with examples, conceptual if not all fully realized. Heinlein’s remote communications device is the cell phone. Stephenson’s metaverse is virtual worlds like Second Life, where teleportation is possible. The molecular synthesizer or nanofabber is imagined for every home like Stephenson’s matter compiler, but no solution is envisioned yet for the deke (matter decompiler/recycler). The Internet was conceived in many science fiction tales (including Vinge’s “True Names”). The space elevator. FTL (faster than light travel). Immortality. Uploading and rembodiment. Distributed intelligence (Accelerando, Slant, Permutation City). Post-material scarcity. Transhumanism, posthumanism (To Hold Infinity). Multiple self-copies (Golden Age, Kiln People). A deeper contemplation of multiple permanent self-copies (digital or otherwise) and their interactions would be interesting, as would a more profound examination of the struggle for resource control across the universe informed by the ways in which society is currently evolving.

Concepts contemplated in great depth in science fiction (for example, Karl Schroeder’s (Lady of Mazes) rich virtual reality narratives with full upload copies of friends and family available for consultation and communication) become simplified in the early stages of their real life realization (Karl Shroeder’s narratives become Charlene Li’s “you’re friends are with you all the time [via Loopt, Latitude]”).

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Daemon's bot-mediated reality

In the entertaining and new paradigm-defining ARG thriller Daemon, Daniel Suarez makes some interesting philosophical claims at a broader level. One is that democracy may not be viable in a technologically advanced society. This could be the case, but is more likely to be true due to other tweaked and adjusted political models, hopefully with the support and participation of a larger portion of the population, superseding the special-interest group democracies of today.

Power and counterbalances evolve in lockstep
The claim in Daemon regarding democracy and more generally about a society composed of unmodified humans is that individuals or small groups wield too much ability to destroy. This could be true, terrorism is a familiar current example, where a few people can impact many others, but a more likely possible future is that responses and countermeasures evolve in lockstep with any new power-wielding phenomenon. For example, top-down and bottom-up ubiquitous satellite surveillance, cams and sensor networks are problematic in many ways but a potential counterbalance to terrorism. Another classic example is that a society in which a nanovirus could circulate worldwide and dissolve all rubber tires overnight (a rather dramatic response to petroleum dependency!) might also have the norm of downloading open-source security patches from the web for quick printing via personal nanofab.

Childhood's End theme: bot-mediated reality
A second interesting aspect of Dameon is the exploration of the ‘Childhood’s End’ theme – that humans in their present state are incapable of operating a sustainable society and that order can only be achieved through outside intervention, also that present humanity is just a step in the evolutionary chain on the way to the next tier of intelligence. In Daemon there is a new kind of order which is more distributed and possibly sustainable but not really different in providing a better society for all but just in installing new hierarchies of video game-style leveling–up together with the usual story of enfranchising the disenfranchised, as ascribed by one person. Individual actions are snapshots and disconnected from their import.

Forget Reality TV - nextgen is Augmented Reality TV: botnet replaces Judge Judy, ARG players determine real-life actions and events
New world order in our hands
Daemon is laudable for taking on the grand challenge of envisioning how a new world order could evolve though a mediated narrowly intelligent botnet and artificial reality gaming overlay to the physical world. The key point is that we are already steps away from this world and that the building block pieces are in place now (e.g.; GPS networks, pervasive botnets); it is up to us to determine whether the future incarnation is positive or negative, whether it reinforces or destabilizes current interests and influences and how societal and individual actions are motivated and executed.

Sunday, February 08, 2009

Show me the hardware apps!

There is a lot of energy focused on hardware hacking and composable controllable ubiquitous computing but there do not seem to be any usable consumer applications yet. Paul Saffo is somewhat of an ideological leader for the movement in calling ubiquitous sensors the next wave of infotech innovation, on the order of the PC revolution. Mashup culture is becoming more pervasive and the hardware hacking community is getting busy tinkering, inventing and collaborating online and IRL, particularly through Make, Hacker Spaces (165 worldwide), Dorkbot (80 worldwide), Fab Labs (26 worldwide), RepRap and the TechShop.

Where can I get some stuff to try it myself?
Hardware componentry and kits are available from many vendors such as Bug Labs, SparkFun Electronics, Gumstix, MakerSHED, Adafruit Industries and Digi-Key. Some standard building blocks include the Arduino computing platform (which even has a microcontroller board for wearables, the LilyPad) and the BUGbase Hiro P Edition. The TikiTag also looks quite interesting as an RFID reader that can be used to create web services linking physical world objects with the Internet.

Hardware hacking is reinventing everything
The best thing about hardware hacking is that every aspect is up for reinvention, including at minimum, interfaces, signal processing, form factor and power. Additional interfaces are coming, voice (earlier this week, IBM announced a synthesized voice that is nearly indistinguishable from human), haptic (like Anarkik3D) and projection are the most obvious. Another novel interface could be a hack for the rudimentary manipulation of household objects with the Wii hand-held controller. Signal processing could include more options for shifting between and integrating digital and analog signals, Paul Saffo suggests a return to analog computing but hybridization and rapid switching could become standard. Form factors in various stages of maturity include any range of computing via implant (brain-computer interfaces), wearable, adjacent or distributed architecture. Power is a challenging problem to solve; some interesting innovations could emerge from energy-harvesting techniques such as piezoelectronics, optical Wi-Fi and thermoelectrics, converting, respectively, sound waves, light and heat to energy.

Sunday, February 01, 2009

Youth mentoring adults

As Don Tapscott suggests in Grown Up Digital, for perhaps the first time in history, youth knows more about something - social media and other technologies - than adults. So it could be quite valuable for youth to mentor adults, despite the issue that most adults do not perceive a need for this. Adults may start to think that they should hire a social media consultant for business purposes, e.g.; “How should I be using The Twitter for my product?” or “Oh, virtual worlds are for more than gaming? I could actually run my worldwide customer community groups at an in-world sim for about 300% lower cost?” but most adults have not yet appreciated the pervasive personal and professional impact that social media could have on their lives.

Mentoring 2.0
A more experiential concept and format of mentoring than it is traditionally conceived together with the conventional 1:1 conversations could be most effective. Traditionally, it would certainly be informative to hear youth’s views on all manner of personal, community and global concerns, and to learn from the way youth makes decisions; one example is contemporary youth having many more options and a deeper consideration of the trade-offs between options (e.g.; work on my Internet startup or my homework; stay working for a startup or go to college).

Experiential mentoring

The new mentoring’s interaction medium should be experience not dialogue.
For example, the venue could be a café setting with youth and adults and their laptops, mobile and other devices with Wi-Fi and refreshments. Everyone is just hanging out, not formally interacting, not in 1:1 match-ups but in small groups where everyone might feel more comfortable. Adults could see what tech is being used and how, and ask youth about it and try to understand it and install and try the apps on their machines and think about how they would apply it to their personal and professional contexts. The mentoring could be two-way, with both groups benefiting.