In a video posted to Kurzweil’s Singularity University Youtube account, the Google-employed futurist talks about how technology has already started to merge the world into a single, global culture.
He predicts that we’ve already passed the tipping point for the power of individual countries as the internet and international news spread to impact the planet as one. As this merging of culture, finance, and technology continue the face of the world is changing to be less focused on individual countries, he says. Perhaps, if singularity predictions turn out to be true, we’ll all be sharing a collective mind anyway.
“You can argue, and some people have, that the nation state has ended as we knew it, 20-30 years ago, pre-internet,” Kurzweil says to open the video. He points out that before the internet things like culture, finance, and news was pretty limited to a single country. When international news was reported it happens through a national paper. That isn’t true today, he says.
Something like a pension crisis in Italy has a major impact on the world economy, Kurzweil points out. And things like manufacturing or app development isn’t limited to a single country, but elements are made all over the world.
“It used to be like a century ago that the nation state was quite supreme, and things really were controlled within nations,” says Kurzweil. “We are very much becoming one world society.”
This doesn’t mean that national tensions no longer exist, or that we have moved beyond using nationality to define ourselves. But looking at today compared to 30 years or 100 years ago, Kurzweil thinks that these differences have already started to go away.
“We’re building up a world culture, a world legal system. Nations continue to be powerful, but I think they’re going to continue to get less influential,” Kurzweil says.
One of Kurzweil’s most famous predictions is for the singularity, which is when people will merge consciousness with artificial intelligence that has superhuman abilities. He has suggested that the singularity will happen in 2045. At that point, if people across the world have all merged minds with AI, it’s likely our understanding of nations will change entirely again.
It’s 2025, and 800,000 tons of used high strength steel is coming up for auction.
The steel made up the Keystone XL pipeline, finally completed in 2019, two years after the project launched with great fanfare after approval by the Trump administration. The pipeline was built at a cost of about $7 billion, bringing oil from the Canadian tar sands to the US, with a pit stop in the town of Baker, Montana, to pick up US crude from the Bakken formation. At its peak, it carried over 500,000 barrels a day for processing at refineries in Texas and Louisiana.
But in 2025, no one wants the oil.
The Keystone XL will go down as the world’s last great fossil fuels infrastructure project. TransCanada, the pipeline’s operator, charged about $10 per barrel for the transportation services, which means the pipeline extension earned about $5 million per day, or $1.8 billion per year. But after shutting down less than four years into its expected 40 year operational life, it never paid back its costs.
The Keystone XL closed thanks to a confluence of technologies that came together faster than anyone in the oil and gas industry had ever seen. It’s hard to blame them — the transformation of the transportation sector over the last several years has been the biggest, fastest change in the history of human civilization, causing the bankruptcy of blue chip companies like Exxon Mobil and General Motors, and directly impacting over $10 trillion in economic output.
And blame for it can be traced to a beguilingly simple, yet fatal problem: the internal combustion engine has too many moving parts.
Let’s bring this back to today: Big Oil is perhaps the most feared and respected industry in history. Oil is warming the planet — cars and trucks contribute about 15% of global fossil fuels emissions — yet this fact barely dents its use. Oil fuels the most politically volatile regions in the world, yet we’ve decided to send military aid to unstable and untrustworthy dictators, because their oil is critical to our own security. For the last century, oil has dominated our economics and our politics. Oil is power.
Yet I argue here that technology is about to undo a century of political and economic dominance by oil. Big Oil will be cut down in the next decade by a combination of smartphone apps, long-life batteries, and simpler gearing. And as is always the case with new technology, the undoing will occur far faster than anyone thought possible.
To understand why Big Oil is in far weaker a position than anyone realizes, let’s take a closer look at the lynchpin of oil’s grip on our lives: the internal combustion engine, and the modern vehicle drivetrain.
Cars are complicated.
Behind the hum of a running engine lies a carefully balanced dance between sheathed steel pistons, intermeshed gears, and spinning rods — a choreography that lasts for millions of revolutions. But millions is not enough, and as we all have experienced, these parts eventually wear, and fail. Oil caps leak. Belts fray. Transmissions seize.
And this list raises an interesting observation: None of these failures exist in an electric vehicle.
The point has been most often driven home by Tony Seba, a Stanford professor and guru of “disruption”, who revels in pointing out that an internal combustion engine drivetrain contains about 2,000 parts, while an electric vehicle drivetrain contains about 20. All other things being equal, a system with fewer moving parts will be more reliable than a system with more moving parts.
Current estimates for the lifetime today’s electric vehicles are over 500,000 miles.
The ramifications of this are huge, and bear repeating. Ten years ago, when I bought my Prius, it was common for friends to ask how long the battery would last — a battery replacement at 100,000 miles would easily negate the value of improved fuel efficiency. But today there are anecdotal stories of Prius’s logging over 600,000 miles on a single battery.
The story for Teslas is unfolding similarly. Tesloop, a Tesla-centric ride-hailing company has already driven its first Model S for more 200,000 miles, and seen only an 6% loss in battery life. A battery lifetime of 1,000,000 miles may even be in reach.
This increased lifetime translates directly to a lower cost of ownership: extending an EVs life by 3–4 X means an EVs capital cost, per mile, is 1/3 or 1/4 that of a gasoline-powered vehicle. Better still, the cost of switching from gasoline to electricity delivers another savings of about 1/3 to 1/4 per mile. And electric vehicles do not need oil changes, air filters, or timing belt replacements; the 200,000 mile Tesloop never even had its brakes replaced. The most significant repair cost on an electric vehicle is from worn tires.
For emphasis: The total cost of owning an electric vehicle is, over its entire life, roughly 1/4 to 1/3 the cost of a gasoline-powered vehicle.
Of course, with a 500,000 mile life a car will last 40–50 years. And it seems absurd to expect a single person to own just one car in her life.
But of course a person won’t own just one car. The most likely scenario is that, thanks to software, a person won’t own any.
Here is the problem with electric vehicle economics: A dollar today, invested into the stock market at a 7% average annual rate of return, will be worth $15 in 40 years. Another way of saying this is the value, today, of that 40th year of vehicle use is approximately 1/15th that of the first.
The consumer simply has little incentive to care whether or not a vehicle lasts 40 years. By that point the car will have outmoded technology, inefficient operation, and probably a layer of rust. No one wants their car to outlive their marriage.
But that investment logic looks very different if you are driving a vehicle for a living.
A New York City cab driver puts in, on average, 180 miles per shift (well within the range of a modern EV battery), or perhaps 50,000 miles per work year. At that usage rate, the same vehicle will last roughly 10 years. The economics, and the social acceptance, get better.
And if the vehicle was owned by a cab company, and shared by drivers, the miles per year can perhaps double again. Now the capital is depreciated in 5 years, not 10. This is, from a company’s perspective, a perfectly normal investment horizon.
A fleet can profit from an electric vehicle in a way that an individual owner cannot.
Here is a quick, top-down analysis on what it’s worth to switch to EVs: The IRS allows charges of 53.5¢ per mile in 2017, a number clearly derived for gasoline vehicles. At 1/4 the price, a fleet electric vehicle should cost only 13¢ per mile, a savings of 40¢ per mile.
40¢ per mile is not chump change — if you are a NYC cab driver putting 50,000 miles a year onto a vehicle, that’s $20,000 in savings each year. But a taxi ride in NYC today costs $2/mile; that same ride, priced at $1.60 per mile, will still cost significantly more than the 53.5¢ for driving the vehicle you already own. The most significant cost of driving is still the driver.
And here is what is disruptive for Big Oil: Self-driving vehicles get to combine the capital savings from the improved lifetime of EVs, with the savings from eliminating the driver.
The costs of electric self-driving cars will be so low, it will be cheaper to hail a ride than to drive the car you already own.
Today we view automobiles not merely as transportation, but as potent symbols of money, sex, and power. Yet cars are also fundamentally a technology. And history has told us that technologies can be disrupted in the blink of an eye.
Take as an example my own 1999 job interview with the Eastman Kodak company. It did not go well.
At the end of 1998, my father had gotten me a digital camera as a present to celebrate completion of my PhD. The camera took VGA resolution pictures — about 0.3 megapixels — and saved them to floppy disks. By comparison, a conventional film camera had a nominal resolution of about 6 megapixels. When printed, my photos looked more like impressionist art than reality.
However, that awful, awful camera was really easy to use. I never had to go to the store to buy film. I never had to get pictures printed. I never had to sort through a shoebox full of crappy photos. Looking at pictures became fun.
I asked my interviewer what Kodak thought of the rise of digital; she replied it was not a concern, that film would be around for decades. I looked at her like she was nuts. But she wasn’t nuts, she was just deep in the Kodak culture, a world where film had always been dominant, and always would be.
This graph plots the total units sold of film cameras (grey) versus digital (blue, bars cut off). In 1998, when I got my camera, the market share of digital wasn’t even measured. It was a rounding error.
By 2005, the market share of film cameras were a rounding error.
In seven years, the camera industry had flipped. The film cameras went from residing on our desks, to a sale on Craigslist, to a landfill. Kodak, a company who reached a peak market value of $30 billion in 1997, declared bankruptcy in 2012. An insurmountable giant was gone.
That was fast. But industries can turn even faster: In 2007, Nokia had 50% of the mobile phone market, and its market cap reached $150 billion. But that was also the year Apple introduced the first smartphone. By the summer of 2012, Nokia’s market share had dipped below 5%, and its market cap fell to just $6 billion.
In less than five years, another company went from dominance to afterthought.A quarter-by-quarter summary of Nokia’s market share in cell phones. From Statista.
Big Oil believes it is different. I am less optimistic for them.
An autonomous vehicle will cost about $0.13 per mile to operate, and even less as battery life improves. By comparison, your 20 miles per gallon automobile costs $0.10 per mile to refuel if gasoline is $2/gallon, and that is before paying for insurance, repairs, or parking. Add those, and the price of operating a vehicle you have already paid off shoots to $0.20 per mile, or more.
And this is what will kill oil: It will cost less to hail an autonomous electric vehicle than to drive the car that you already own.
If you think this reasoning is too coarse, consider the recent analysis from the consulting company RethinkX (run by the aforementioned Tony Seba), which built a much more detailed, sophisticated model to explicitly analyze the future costs of autonomous vehicles. Here is a sampling of what they predict:
Self-driving cars will launch around 2021
A private ride will be priced at 16¢ per mile, falling to 10¢ over time.
A shared ride will be priced at 5¢ per mile, falling to 3¢ over time.
By 2022, oil use will have peaked
By 2023, used car prices will crash as people give up their vehicles. New car sales for individuals will drop to nearly zero.
By 2030, gasoline use for cars will have dropped to near zero, and total crude oil use will have dropped by 30% compared to today.
The driver behind all this is simple: Given a choice, people will select the cheaper option.
Your initial reaction may be to believe that cars are somehow different — they are built into the fabric of our culture. But consider how people have proven more than happy to sell seemingly unyielding parts of their culture for far less money. Think about how long a beloved mom and pop store lasts after Walmart moves into town, or how hard we try to “Buy American” when a cheaper option from China emerges.
And autonomous vehicles will not only be cheaper, but more convenient as well — there is no need to focus on driving, there will be fewer accidents, and no need to circle the lot for parking. And your garage suddenly becomes a sunroom.
For the moment, let’s make the assumption that the RethinkX team has their analysis right (and I broadly agree): Self-driving EVs will be approved worldwide starting around 2021, and adoption will occur in less than a decade.
How screwed is Big Oil?
Perhaps the metaphors with film camera or cell phones are stretched. Perhaps the better way to analyze oil is to consider the fate of another fossil fuel: coal.
The coal market is experiencing a shock today similar to what oil will experience in the 2020s. Below is a plot of total coal production and consumption in the US, from 2001 to today. As inexpensive natural gas has pushed coal out of the market, coal consumption has dropped roughly 25%, similar to the 30% drop that RethinkX anticipates for oil. And it happened in just a decade.
The result is not pretty. The major coal companies, who all borrowed to finance capital improvements while times were good, were caught unaware. As coal prices crashed, their loan payments became a larger and larger part of their balance sheets; while the coal companies could continue to pay for operations, they could not pay their creditors.
The four largest coal producers lost 99.9% of their market value over the last 6 years. Today, over half of coal is being mined by companies in some form of bankruptcy.
When self-driving cars are released, consumption of oil will similarly collapse.
Oil drilling will cease, as existing fields become sufficient to meet demand. Refiners, whose huge capital investments are dedicated to producing gasoline for automobiles, will write off their loans, and many will go under entirely. Even some pipeline operators, historically the most profitable portion of the oil business, will be challenged as high cost supply such as the Canadian tar sands stop producing.
A decade from now, many investors in oil may be wiped out. Oil will still be in widespread use, even under this scenario — applications such as road tarring are not as amenable to disruption by software. But much of today’s oil drilling, transport, and refining infrastructure will be redundant, or ill-fit to handle the heavier oils needed for powering ships, heating buildings, or making asphalt. And like today’s coal companies, oil companies like TransCanada may have no money left to clean up the mess they’ve left.
Of course, it would be better for the environment, investors, and society if oil companies curtailed their investing today, in preparation for the long winter ahead. Belief in global warming or the risks of oil spills is no longer needed to oppose oil projects — oil infrastructure like the Keystone XL will become a stranded asset before it can ever return its investment.
Unless we have the wisdom not to build it.
The battle over oil has historically been a personal battle — a skirmish between tribes over politics and morality, over how we define ourselves and our future. But the battle over self-driving cars will be fought on a different front. It will be about reliability, efficiency, and cost. And for the first time, Big Oil will be on the weaker side.
Within just a few years, Big Oil will stagger and start to fall. For anyone who feels uneasy about this, I want to emphasize that this prediction isn’t driven by environmental righteousness or some left-leaning fantasy. It’s nothing personal. It’s just business.
 Thinking about how fast a technology will flip is worth another post on its own. Suffice it to say that the key issues are (1) how big is the improvement?, and (2) is there a channel to market already established? The improvement in this case is a drop in cost of >2X — that’s pretty large. And the channel to market — smartphones — is already deployed. As of a year ago, 15% of Americans had hailed a ride using an app, so there is a small barrier to entry as people learn this new behavior, but certainly no larger than the barrier to smartphone adoption was in 2007. So as I said, I broadly believe that the roll-out will occur in about a decade. But any more detail would require an entirely new post.
In an interview with the Washington Post, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos reveals what he thinks will be the future of humanity when we eventually colonize space. He talks about a plan for colonizing our solar system with nuclear reactors in space, populations in the millions, and more.
While Elon Musk’s SpaceX is the public face of the private space industry, there are other major players trying to bring humanity closer to the stars. Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic has been working on its own rocket technologies, and Jeff Bezos, CEO of Amazon, has been revealing more on the work they’re doing over at Blue Origin.
The previously secretive Blue Origin has been announcing more of its milestones in its space ambitions. It successfully landed the same rocket four times in a row, with the end goal of reusable rockets that will lower space travel costs.
The company has unveiled its own rocket, the “New Glenn,” which dwarfs any of the rockets being developed today. Bezos announced that the Glenn will be ferrying astronauts by the end of the decade.
Along with the engineering developments Blue Origin has announced, Bezos has also shared his predictions on human colonization of space, in an interview with The Washington Post.
Human colonization of space
In the interview, Bezos sees humans spreading out across the Solar System. He envisions “millions of people working and living in space.” But to do this, Bezos notes that we will have to figure out how to extract and manage the resources we can get from space, since Earth alone won’t be able to provide the materials for space colonization.
Bezos also says we will have to figure out how to harness nuclear technology in space, citing it as a viable alternative to solar power that will dim out as you move farther from the Sun. In fact, moving out into space would not just be a dream, but an imperative. We will have to move heavy industry outside of Earth, in order to preserve it. He envisions the Earth being “zoned” as residential and light industrial.
But does he think we will see space colonization in our lifetime? “Not in the near term… Eventually Mars might be amazing. But that’s a long way in the future.”
How many things do we own, that are common today, that didn’t exist 10 years ago? The list is probably longer than you think.
Prior to the iPhone coming out in 2007, we didn’t have smartphones with mobile apps, decent phone cameras for photos/videos, mobile maps, mobile weather, or even mobile shopping.
None of the mobile apps we use today existed 10 years ago: Twitter, Facebook, Youtube, Instagram, Snapchat, Uber, Facetime, LinkedIn, Lyft, Whatsapp, Netflix, Pandora, or Pokemon Go.
Several major companies didn’t exist a decade ago. Airbnb, Tinder, Fitbit, Spotify, Dropbox, Quora, Tumblr, Kickstarter, Hulu, Pinterest, Buzzfeed, Indigogo, Udacity, or Jet.com just to name a few.
Ten years ago very few people were talking about crowdfunding, the sharing economy, social media marketing, search engine optimization, app developers, cloud storage, data mining, mobile gaming, gesture controls, chatbots, data analytics, virtual reality, 3D printers, or drone delivery.
At the same time we are seeing the decline of many of the things that were in common use 10-20 years ago. Fax machines, wired phones, taxi drivers, newspapers, desktop computers, video cameras, camera film, VCRs, DVD players, record players, typewriters, yellow pages, video rental shops, and printed maps have all seen their industry peak and are facing dwindling markets.
If we leapfrog ahead ten years and take notice of the radically different lives we will be living, we will notice how a few key technologies paved the way for massive new industries.
Here is a glimpse of a stunningly different future that will come into view over the next decade.
Also known as additive manufacturing, 3D printing has already begun to enter our lives in major ways. In the future 3D printers will be even more common than paper printers are today.
1. 3D printed makeup for women. Just insert a person’s face and the machine will be programmed to apply the exact makeup pattern requested by the user.
2. 3D printed replacement teeth, printed inside the mouth.
3. Swarmbot printing systems will be used to produce large buildings and physical structures, working 24/7 until they’re completed.
4. Scan and print custom designed clothing at retail clothing stores.
5. Scan and print custom designed shoes at specialty shoe stores.
6. Expectant mothers will request 3D printed models of their unborn baby.
7. Police departments will produce 3D printed “mug shots” and “shapies” generated from a person’s DNA.
8. Trash that is sorted and cleaned and turned into material that can be 3D printed.
The VR/AR world is set to explode around us as headsets and glasses drop in price so they’re affordable for most consumers. At the same time, game designers and “experience” producers are racing to create the first “killer apps” in this emerging industry.
9. Theme park rides that mix physical rides with VR experiences.
10. Live broadcasts of major league sports games (football, soccer, hockey, and more) in Virtual Reality.
11. Full-length VR movies.
12. Physical and psychological therapy done through VR.
13. Physical drone racing done through VR headsets.
14. VR speed dating sites.
15. For education and training, we will see a growing number of modules done in both virtual and augmented reality.
16. VR and AR tours will be commonly used in the sale of future real estate.
Drones are quickly transitioning from hobbyist toys to sophisticated business tools very quickly. They will touch our lives in thousands of different ways.
17. Fireworks dropped from drones. Our ability to “ignite and drop” fireworks from the sky will dramatically change both how they’re made and the artistry used to display them.
18. Concert swarms that produce a spatial cacophony of sound coming from 1,000 speaker drones simultaneously.
19. Banner-pulling drones. Old school advertising brought closer to earth.
20. Bird frightening drones for crops like sunflowers where birds can destroy an entire field in a matter of hours.
21. Livestock monitoring drones for tracking cows, sheep, geese, and more.
22. Three-dimensional treasure hunts done with drones.
23. Prankster Drones – Send random stuff to random people and video their reactions.
24. Entertainment drones (with projectors) that fly in and perform unusual forms of live comedy and entertainment.
Driverless technology will change transportation more significantly than the invention of the automobile itself.
25. Queuing stations for driverless cars as a replacement for a dwindling number of parking lots.
26. Crash-proof cars. Volvo already says their cars will be crash-proof before 2020.
27. Driverless car hailing apps. Much like signaling Uber and Lyft, only without the drivers.
28. Large fleet ownership of driverless cars (some companies will own millions of driverless cars).
29. Electric cars will routinely win major races like the Daytona 500, Monaco Grand Prix, and the Indy 500.
30. In-car work and entertainment systems to keep people busy and entertained as a driverless car takes them to their destination.
31. In-car advertising. This will be a delicate balance between offsetting the cost of operation and being too annoying for the passengers.
32. Electric car charging in less than 5 minutes.
Internet of Things
The Internet of things is the network of physical devices, vehicles, and buildings embedded with electronics, software, sensors, and actuators designed to communicate with users as well as other devices. We are currently experiencing exponential growth in IoT devices as billions of new ones come online every year.
33. Smart chairs, smart beds, and smart pillows that will self-adjust to minimize pressure points and optimize comfort.
34. Sensor-laced clothing.
35. “Print and Pin” payment systems that uses a biometric mark (fingerprint) plus a pin number.
36. Smart plates, bowls and cups to keep track of what we eat and drink.
37. Smart trashcan that will signal for a trash truck when they’re full.
38. Ownership networks. As we learn to track the location of everything we own, we will also track the changing value of each item to create a complete ownership network.
39. Self-retrieving shoes where you call them by name, through your smartphone, and your shoes will come to you.
40. Smart mailboxes that let you know when mail has arrived and how important it is.
Even though healthcare is a bloated and bureaucratic industry, innovative entrepreneurs are on the verge of disrupting this entire industry.
41. Hyper-personalized precision-based pharmaceuticals produced by 3D pill printers.
42. Ingestible data collectors, filled with sensors, to give a daily internal health scan and report.
43. Prosthetic limbs controlled by AI.
44. Real-time blood scanners.
45. Peer-to-peer health insurance.
46. Facetime-like checkups without needing a doctor’s appointment.
47. Full-body physical health scanners offering instant AI medical diagnosis, located in most pharmacies
48. Intraoral cameras for smartphones for DYI dental checkups.
Artificial Intelligence (AI)
Much like hot and cold running water, we will soon be able to “pipe-in” artificial intelligence to any existing digital system.
49. Best selling biographies written by artificial intelligence.
50. Legal documents written by artificial intelligence.
51. AI-menu selection, based on diet, for both restaurants and at home.
52. Full body pet scanners with instant AI medical diagnosis.
53. AI selection of movies and television shows based on moods, ratings, and personal preferences.
54. Much like the last item, AI music selection will be based on moods, ratings, and musical tastes.
55. AI sleep-optimizers will control all of the environmental factors – heat, light, sound, oxygen levels, smells, positioning, vibration levels, and more.
56. AI hackers. Sooner or later someone will figure out how to use even our best AI technology for all the wrong purposes.
Future transportation will come in many forms ranging from locomotion on an individual level to ultra high-speed tube transportation on a far grander scale.
57. Unmanned aviation – personal drone transportation.
58. 360-degree video transportation monitoring cameras at most intersections in major cities throughout the world.
59. Everywhere wireless. With highflying solar powered drones, CubeSats, and Google’s Project Loon, wireless Internet connections will soon be everywhere.
60. Black boxes for drones to record information in the event of an accident.
61. Air-breathing hypersonic propulsion for commercial aircraft. Fast is never fast enough.
62. Robotic follow-behind-you luggage, to make airline travel easier.
63. Robotic dog walkers and robotic people walkers.
64. Ultra high-speed tube transportation. As we look closely at the advances over the past couple decades, it’s easy to see that we are on the precipices of a dramatic breakthrough in ultra high-speed transportation. Businesses are demanding it. People are demanding it. And the only thing lacking is a few people capable of mustering the political will to make it happen.
As I began assembling this list, a number of items didn’t fit well in other categories.
65. Bitcoin loans for houses, cars, business equipment and more.
66. Self-filling water bottles with built-in atmospheric water harvesters.
67. Reputation networks. With the proliferation of personal information on websites and in databases throughout the Internet, reputation networks will be designed to monitor, alert, and repair individual reputations.
68. Atmospheric energy harvesters. Our atmosphere is filled with both ambient and concentrated forms of energy ranging from sunlight to lightning bolts that can be both collected and stored.
69. Pet education centers, such as boarding schools for dogs and horses, to improve an animal’s IQ.
70. Robotic bricklayers. With several early prototypes already operational, these will become common over the next decade.
71. Privacy bill of rights. Privacy has become an increasingly complicated topic, but one that is foundational to our existence on planet earth.
There’s a phenomenon called the Peltzman Effect, named after Dr. Sam Peltzman, a renowned professor of economics from the University of Chicago Business School, who studied auto accidents.
He found that when you introduce more safety features like seat belts into cars, the number of fatalities and injuries doesn’t drop. The reason is that people compensate for it. When we have a safety net in place, people will take more risks.
That probably is true with other areas as well.
As life becomes easier, we take risks with our time. As our financial worries are met, we begin thinking about becoming an entrepreneur, inventor, or artist. When life becomes too routine, we search for ways to introduce chaos.
Even though we see reports that billions of jobs will disappear over the coming decades, we will never run out of work.
As humans, we were never meant to live cushy lives of luxury. Without risk and chaos as part of our daily struggle our lives seem unfulfilled. While we work hard to eliminate it, we always manage to find new ways to bring it back.
Yes, we’re working towards a better world ahead, but only marginally better. That’s where we do our best work.
One of the most intriguing public discussions to emerge over the past year is humanity’s wrestling match with the threat and promise of artificial intelligence. AI has long lurked in our collective consciousness — negatively so, if we’re to take Hollywood movie plots as our guide — but its recent andvery real advances are driving critical conversations about the future not only of our economy, but of humanity’s very existence.
In May 2014, the world received a wakeup call from famed physicist Stephen Hawking. Together with three respected AI researchers, the world’s most renowned scientist warned that the commercially-driven creation of intelligent machines could be “potentially our worst mistake in history.” Comparing the impact of AI on humanity to the arrival of “a superior alien species,” Hawking and his co-authors found humanity’s current state of preparedness deeply wanting. “Although we are facing potentially the best or worst thing ever to happen to humanity,” they wrote, “little serious research is devoted to these issues outside small nonprofit institutes.”
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Let’s review. Two years ago, the world’s smartest man said that ungoverned AI could well end humanity. Since then, most of the work in the field has been limited to a handful of extremely powerful for-profit companies locked in a competitive arms race. And that call for governance? A work in progress, to put it charitably. Not exactly the early plot lines we’d want, should we care to see things work out for humanity.
When it comes to managing the birth of a technology generally understood to be the most powerful force ever invented by humanity, exactly what kind of regulatory regime should prevail?
Which begs the question: When it comes to managing the birth of a technology generally understood to be the most powerful force ever invented by humanity, exactly what kind of regulation do we need?
Predictably, last week TheEconomist says we shouldn’t worry too much about it, because we’ve seen this movie before, in the transition to industrial society — and despite a couple of World Wars, that turned out alright. Move along, nothing to see here. But many of us have an uneasy sense that this time is different — it’s one thing to replace manual labor with machines and move up the ladder to a service and intellectual property-based economy. But what does an economy look like that’s based on the automation of service and intellect? TheEconomist’s extensive review of the field is worthy reading. But it left me unsettled.
“The idea that you can pull free physical work out of the ground, that was a really good trick.” That’s Max Ventilla, the former head of personalization for Google, who left the mothership to start the mission and data-driven education startup AltSchool. In an interview for an upcoming episode of ourShift Dialogs video series, Ventilla echoed TheEconomist’s take on the shift from manual labor to industrialized society and the rise of the fossil fuel economy. But he feels that this time, something’s different.
“Now we’re discovering how to pull free mental work out of the ground,” he told me. “(AI) is going to be a huge trick over the next 50 years. It’s going to create even more opportunity — and much more displacement.”
Hawking’s call to action singled out “an IT arms race fueled by unprecedented investments” by the world’s richest companies. A future in which super-intelligent AI is controlled by an elite group of massive tech firms is bound to make many of us uneasy. What if the well-intentioned missions of Google (organize the world’s information!) and Facebook (let people easily share!) are co-opted by a new generation of corporate bosses with less friendly goals?
As you might expect, the Valley has an answer: OpenAI. A uniquely technological antidote to the problem, OpenAI is led by an impressive cadre of Valley entrepreneurs, including Elon Musk, Sam Altman, Reid Hoffman, and Peter Thiel. But instead of creating yet another for-profit company with a moon-shot mission (protect humanity from evil AI!), their creation takes the form of a research lab with a decidedly nonprofit purpose: To corral breakthroughs in artificial intelligence and open them up to any and everyone, for free. The lab’s stated mission is “to advance digital intelligence in the way that is most likely to benefit humanity as a whole, unconstrained by a need to generate financial return.”
OpenAI has managed to convince a small but growing roster of AI researchers to spurn offers from Facebook, Google, and elsewhere, and instead work on what might best be seen as a public commons for AI. The whole endeavor has the whiff of the Manhattan Project — but without the government (or the secrecy). And instead of racing against the Nazis, the good guys are competing with … well, the Valley itself.
One really can’t blame the big tech companies for trying to win the AI arms race. Sure, there are extraordinary profits if they do, but in the end they really have no choice in the matter. If you’re a huge, data-driven software business, you either have cutting-edge AI driving your company’s products, or you’re out of business. Once Google uses AI to make its Photos product magical, Facebook has to respond in kind.
Smart photostreams are one thing. But if we don’t want market-bound, for-profit companies determining the future of superhuman intelligence, we need to be asking ourselves: What role should government play? What about universities? In truth, we probably haven’t invented the institutions capable of containing this new form of fire. “It’s a race between the growing power of the technology, and the growing wisdom we need to manage it,” said Max Tegmark, a founder of the Future of Life Institute, one of the small AI think tanks called out in Hawking’s original op-ed. Speaking to the Washington Post, Tegmark continued: “Right now, almost all the resources tend to go into growing the power of the tech.”
Who determines what is “good”? We are just now grappling with the very real possibility that we might create a force more powerful than ourselves. Now is the time to ask ourselves — how do we get ready?
It’s not clear if OpenAI is going to spend most of its time on building new kinds of AI, or if it will become something of an open-source clearing house for the creation of AI failsafes (the lab is doing early work in both). Regardless, it’s both comforting and a bit disconcerting to realize that the very same people who drive the Valley’s culture may also be responsible for reigning it in. Over the weekend, The New York Times op-ed pages took up the issue, noting AI’s “white guy problem” (it’s worth noting the author is a ( female researcher at Microsoft). Take a look at the founding team of OpenAI: A solid supermajority of white men.
“It’s hard to imagine anything more amazing and positively impactful than successfully creating AI,” writes Greg Brockman, the founding CTO of OpenAI. But he continues with a caveat: “So long as it’s done in a good way.”
Indeed. But who determines what is good? We are just now grappling with the very real possibility that we might create a force more powerful than ourselves. Now is the time to ask ourselves — how do we get ready?
Can a small set of top-level researchers in AI provide the intellectual, moral, and ethical compass for a technology that might well destroy — or liberate — the world? Or should we engage all stakeholders in such a decision — traditionally the role of government? Regardless of whether the government is involved in framing this question, it certainly will be involved in cleaning up the mess if we fail to plan properly.
Back when AI was in early development, its single most powerful critique was its “brittle” nature: it didn’t work because it failed to be aware of all possible inputs and parameters. Now that we stand on the brink of strong AI, we’d be wise to include a diversity of opinion — in particular those who live outside the Valley, those who don’t look and think like the Valley, and those who disagree with our native techno-optimism — in the debate about how we manage its impact.
An East Coast blizzard howling, global temperatures peaking, the desert Southwest flooding, drought-stricken California drying up—surely there’s a common thread tying together this “extreme” weather. There is. But it has little to do with what recent headlines have been saying about the hottest year ever. It is called business as usual.
Surface temperatures are indeed increasing slightly: They’ve been going up, in fits and starts, for more than 150 years, or since a miserably cold and pestilential period known as the Little Ice Age. Before carbon dioxide from economic activity could have warmed us up, temperatures rose three-quarters of a degree Fahrenheit between 1910 and World War II. They then cooled down a bit, only to warm again from the mid-1970s to the late ’90s, about the same amount as earlier in the century.
Whether temperatures have warmed much since then depends on what you look at. Until last June, most scientists acknowledged that warming reached a peak in the late 1990s, and since then had plateaued in a “hiatus.” There are about 60 different explanations for this in the refereed literature.
NOAA’s alteration of its measurement standard and other changes produced a result that could have been predicted: a marginally significant warming trend in the data over the past several years, erasing the temperature plateau that vexed climate alarmists have found difficult to explain. Yet the increase remains far below what had been expected.
It is nonetheless true that 2015 shows the highest average surface temperature in the 160-year global history since reliable records started being available, with or without the “hiatus.” But that is also not very surprising. Early in 2015, a massive El Niño broke out. These quasiperiodic reversals of Pacific trade winds and deep-ocean currents are well-documented but poorly understood. They suppress the normally massive upwelling of cold water off South America that spreads across the ocean (and is the reason that Lima may be the most pleasant equatorial city on the planet). The Pacific reversal releases massive amounts of heat, and therefore surface temperature spikes. El Niño years in a warm plateau usually set a global-temperature record. What happened this year also happened with the last big one, in 1998.
Global average surface temperature in 2015 popped up by a bit more than a quarter of a degree Fahrenheit compared with the previous year. In 1998 the temperature rose by slightly less than a quarter-degree from 1997.
Without El Niño, temperatures in 2015 would have been typical of the post-1998 regime. And, even with El Niño, the effect those temperatures had on the global economy was de minimis.
Our investors, some of whom are large investment and commercial banks, are making a major investment in Digital Asset to help us develop solutions that will address reducing risk, reducing cost, improving transparency and offering new sources of revenue…
Rregulators were understandably initially concerned about the potential for blockchain applications to bypass certain controls, their thinking has evolved…
They are learning that distributed-ledger technology brings many benefits and efficiencies to wholesale financial markets, including reduced cost, reduced counter-party risk, reduced latency, enhanced security, increased transparency, ease of reporting, and reduced errors. These are all important to regulators.
This technology is offering regulators a bird’s-eye view into activity in certain markets that they never had before. As such, distributed-ledger technology is actually an enhancement to transparency, rather than a mechanism for bypassing it.
Bitcoin operates on an extremely dangerous platform for those seeking anonymity.
Today’s economies are dramatically changing, triggered by development in emerging markets, the accelerated rise of new technologies, sustainability policies, and changing consumer preferences around ownership. Digitization, increasing automation, and new business models have revolutionized other industries, and automotive will be no exception. These forces are giving rise to four disruptive technology-driven trends in the automotive sector: diverse mobility, autonomous driving, electrification, and connectivity.
1. Driven by shared mobility, connectivity services, and feature upgrades, new business models could expand automotive revenue pools by about 30 percent, adding up to $1.5 trillion.
2. Despite a shift toward shared mobility, vehicle unit sales will continue to grow, but likely at a lower rate of about 2 percent per year.
3. Consumer mobility behavior is changing, leading to up to one out of ten cars sold in 2030 potentially being a shared vehicle and the subsequent rise of a market for fit-for-purpose mobility solutions.
4. City type will replace country or region as the most relevant segmentation dimension that determines mobility behavior and, thus, the speed and scope of the automotive revolution.
5. Once technological and regulatory issues have been resolved, up to 15 percent of new cars sold in 2030 could be fully autonomous.
6. Electrified vehicles are becoming viable and competitive; however, the speed of their adoption will vary strongly at the local level.
7. Within a more complex and diversified mobility-industry landscape, incumbent players will be forced to compete simultaneously on multiple fronts and cooperate with competitors.
8. New market entrants are expected to target initially only specific, economically attractive segments and activities along the value chain before potentially exploring further fields.
Automotive incumbents cannot predict the future of the industry with certainty. They can, however, make strategic moves now to shape the industry’s evolution. To get ahead of the inevitable disruption, incumbent players need to implement a four-pronged strategic approach:
Self-Driving Cars are predicted to be taking over the US highways by 2020; however, they may be facing some regulations from the government according to a story in Futurism.
At the North American International Auto Show, US Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx will announce plans for the development of self-driving cars. Ultimately, the government aims to speed up the process of having autonomous cars on the roads as, to date, only a few states are currently allowing these self-driving cars, which include Michigan, California, and Nevada.
The goal is to ensure that there are federal laws regarding the development of the tech.
It has been reported that the regulatory framework is scheduled to be set before President Obama leaves his office at the end of 2016.
How will this impact the plans of Car Manufacturers?
The executive director of California Foundation for Independent Living Centres, Teresa Favuzzi, believes that the Department of Motor Vehicles was discriminating people with disabilities the ability to use these vehicles.
Despite all the grey areas, this announcement is definitely a gigantic step for the future of autonomous vehicles.
Futurism’s article on Hydrogen Fuel Cell provides insight into the future practicality of the cell.
A fuel cell is a device that generates electricity via a chemical reaction. This chemical reaction involves positively charged hydrogen ions (protons) and oxygen (or another oxidizing agent).
One great appeal of fuel cells is that they generate electricity with very little pollution, as much of the hydrogen and oxygen used in generating electricity ultimately combine to form a harmless byproduct—water. The technology, however, has been elusive.
Now, researchers from the University of Dundee Oxford are working with the Harwell Innovation Centre to solve the problem with fuel cells. In their work, they discovered how bacteria splits hydrogen apart to produce energy. They believe that this new finding will be a significant step towards a more efficient hydrogen economy.
The bacteria are able to split the hydorgen using a nickel-iron (NiFe) hydrogenase. The enzyme splits hydrogen gas into protons and electrons and recombines them to form hydrogen. A similar process is used in fuel cells, but with platinum; however, nature has come up with a way to do it with nickel and iron, which are both less costly.
The researchers tested the natural process by subtly changing the amino acids in the part of the enzyme where the hydrogen reaction occurs. They removed a nitrogen atom at its heart, one that was essential to make the hydrogen reaction work. Through x-ray crystallography using the Diamond Light Source, the researchers compared the altered enzyme against the original.
Then they confirmed that reduction in activity had to be due to chemical, not physical, changes.
It was found that a Frustrated Lewis Pair applies to the enzyme. A normal Lewis pair is composed of different chemicals that are keen to interact with each other and would so given the opportunity. In the NiFe hydrogenase, these are the atoms of nickel and iron together, and a particular nitrogen atom built into the enzyme. The “frustration” part is due to these entities being positioned close, but not close enough to interact fully. This produces an area of tension between them. A hydrogen molecule placed into this area of tension is split apart.
The next step for the researchers is to observe the actual reaction.
Google has filed for a patent for a needle-free blood draw device that can be incorporated into a wearable, such as a smartwatch, and monitor blood glucose levels.
Google’s New Patent Application
At present, if you have diabetes, you have it for the rest of your life. But although there is no cure, it can be managed—there is treatment. To stay healthy, people who have this condition have to regularly monitor their blood glucose levels and administer insulin. This typically means at least three tests a day, everyday.
The tests require individuals to draw blood from themselves. It’s not a lot of blood; it’s just a small finger prick. But then you have to put the blood on a strip, insert it into a machine, wait to see what your levels are like, and then administer the required insulin.
Not the end of the world, but definitely not a convenience. Now, Google may have a way to change.
Current personal electronic devices already do much more than what the original versions did in yesteryear. For example, smartwatches do more than just tell time. They can also collect data about heart rate, how much exercise you do, and your stress levels. Google seems to intend to add another novel feature—taking your blood.
The tech giant filed a patent application for a “needle-free blood draw” device that can be implanted in a wearable
As shown in the patent, the proposed device makes use of a gas-powered microparticle that it fires into the skin. It then draws a small vial of blood into a pressurized container. The device comes in different configurations, such as a the aforementioned wearable smartwatch, and it can be used to measure glucose levels.
This may be a better way to take blood than some current methods, as for many people, pricking themselves can be bothersome. In order to lessen the pain involved , very small needles are used in some devices. Unfortunately, they may fail to completely pierce the skin, resulting in a slight prick but no blood. This is why Google suggests the use of microparticles propelled by gas.
However, there is no telling if the device will actually be realized. The company told The Verge that they “hold patents on a variety of ideas—some of those ideas later mature into real products or services, some don’t. Prospective product announcements should not necessarily be inferred from our patents.”
Columnist Mohamed A. El-Erian writing for Bloomberg, republished in Marketwatch
Technical innovation is all around us, yet countries including the U.S. don’t know how to adapt to change.
Mohamed El-Erian: ‘Western political and economic structures are, in some ways, specifically designed to resist deep and rapid change, if only to prevent temporary and reversible fluctuations from having an undue influence on underlying systems.’
One of the most difficult challenges facing Western governments today is to enable and channel the transformative — and, for individuals and companies, self-empowering — forces of technological innovation.
They will not succeed unless they become more open to creative destruction, allowing not only tools and procedures, but also mindsets, to be revamped and upgraded. The longer it takes them to meet this challenge, the bigger the lost opportunities for current and future generations.
Self-empowering technological innovation is all around us, affecting a growing number of people, sectors, and activities worldwide. Through an ever-increasing number of platforms, it is now easier than ever for households and corporations to access and engage in an expanding range of activities — from urban transportation to accommodation, entertainment, and media. Even the regulation-reinforced, fortress-like walls that have traditionally surrounded finance and medicine are being eroded.
This historic transformation will continue to gain momentum as it expands in both scale and scope. But its benefits will not be fully realized unless governments take steps to empower the forces of change, ensure that the massive positive externalities are internalized, and minimize the negative impacts. Unfortunately, this is proving extremely difficult for many advanced-country governments, partly because the failure to recover fully from the recent crisis and recession has undermined their credibility and functioning.
The emergence of anti-establishment and non-traditional political parties and candidates on both sides of the Atlantic is complicating even the most basic elements of economic governance, such as enactment of an active budget in the United States. In this context, taking the steps needed to upgrade economic systems, including infrastructure in the U.S. and the incomplete union in Europe, or to meet historical challenges like the refugee crisis, seems all but impossible.
In fact, Western political and economic structures are, in some ways, specifically designed to resist deep and rapid change, if only to prevent temporary and reversible fluctuations from having an undue influence on underlying systems. This works well when politics and economies are operating in cyclical mode, as they usually have been in the West. But when major structural and secular challenges arise, as is the case today, the advanced countries’ institutional architecture acts as a major obstacle to effective action.
The political influence of financial donors and lobby groups add to the challenge. Rather than promoting actions aimed at improving the long-term well-being of the system as a whole, these actors tend to push micro objectives, some of which help the traditional, often wealthy elements of the establishment maintain their grip on the system. In doing so, they block the small and emerging players that are so vital to upgrading and transformation.
All of this serves to complicate an imperative that is relevant not just to governments, but also to companies and individuals that must adapt to changing circumstances by upgrading their structures, procedures, skills, and mindsets. Few are eager to self-disrupt, a process that takes us out of our comfort zone, forcing us to confront our long-standing blind spots and unconscious biases and adopt a new mindset. But those who wait until the disruptions are unavoidable — easy to do when governments do not mount a timely response — will miss out on the huge advantages that technology offers.
Even when governments decide to implement policies that enable economic upgrading and adaptation, they cannot do so in isolation. With technology enabling unprecedented mobility and connectivity, the jurisdictional power of nation-states is being eroded, meaning that a truly effective response — one that unleashes the full benefits of disruptive technologies — is impossible without multilateral cooperation and coordination.
But multilateralism is undergoing a transformation of its own, driven by doubts about the legitimacy of existing structures. With reforms of the traditionally Western-dominated institutions having stalled, there have been moves to create alternatives; China’s Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, for example, competes directly with the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank in some areas. All of this makes global-level responses more difficult.
Against this background, a rapid and comprehensive transformation is clearly not feasible. (In fact, it may not even be desirable, given the possibility of collateral damage and unintended consequences.) The best option for Western governments is thus to pursue gradual change, propelled by a variety of adaptive instruments, which would reach a critical mass over time.
Such tools include well-designed public-private partnerships, especially when it comes to modernizing infrastructure; disruptive outside advisers — selected not for what they think, but for how they think — in the government decision-making process; mechanisms to strengthen inter-agency coordination so that it enhances, rather than retards, policy responsiveness; and broader cross-border private-sector linkages to enhance multilateral coordination.
How economies function is changing, as relative power shifts from established, centralized forces toward those that respond to the unprecedented empowerment of individuals. If governments are to overcome the challenges they face and maximize the benefits of this shift for their societies, they need to be a lot more open to self-disruption. Otherwise, the transformative forces will leave them and their citizens behind.
Mohamed A. El-Erian, chief economic adviser at Allianz and a member of its International Executive Committee, is chairman of U.S. President Barack Obama’s Global Development Council and the author, most recently, of “When Markets Collide.”
Portland residents can now generate green electricity simply by turning on their water taps and flushing their toilets. Fast Company reports that the Oregon city is using a state-of-the art system to capture energy from water flowing through the city’s pipelines. Small turbines installed inside the pipelines are turned by the flowing water, sending energy into a generator and off into the power grid.
“It’s pretty rare to find a new source of energy where there’s no environmental impact,” Gregg Semler told Fast Company. Semler is the chief executive officer of Lucid Energy, the Portland start-up behind the new system. “But this is inside a pipe, so no fish or endangered species are impacted. That’s what’s exciting.”
According to Semler, water utilities tend to use large amounts of electricity, so the new power generation system can help cut the cost of providing drinking water to cities. Utilities can decide whether to use the power for their own purposes, or sell the energy as a source of revenue.
“We have a project in Riverside, California, where they’re using it to power streetlights at night,” Semler notes. “During the day, when electricity prices are high, they can use it to offset some of their operating costs.”
As for Portland, one of its main water pipelines uses Lucid’s system to generate power, and though the system can’t make enough power for the whole city, the pipes can produce enough to run an individual building like a school or a library.
Unlike other forms of green power, like solar or wind, the Lucid system can produce power at any time of the day because the water is always flowing. The only hitch is that the turbines can only produce power where water is naturally flowing downward with gravity. Lucid’s pipes contain sensors that can monitor the quality of the water flowing through the pipes, making them more than just a power generating technology, which can be valuable just about anywhere.
If there’s one constant among the vast majority of solar panel designs, it’s flatness; while solar panels can be equipped to tilt to follow the sun’s path through the course of the day, there are still significant efficiency limitations to this basic design. V3Solar’s rather elegant photovoltaic Spin Cell cones aim to address that, and their current prototype was recently third-party verified as capable of generating “over 20 times more electricity than a static flat panel with the same area of photovoltaic cells.”
The V3 Spin Cell was developed through collaboration with industrial design team Nectar Design. The company believes that the Spin Cell could be a game-changer in its market. On their website V3 explains that if one places a 20x solar concentration on a flat, static solar panel then “the temperature quickly reaches 260 degrees F, the solder melts within ten seconds, and the PV fails. With the same concentration on the Spin Cell, the temperature never exceeds 95 degrees F.”
The one meter-diameter cones feature a layer of hundreds of triangular photovoltaic cells positioned at an angle of 56 degrees, encased in a “static hermetically-sealed outer lens concentrator.” The photovoltaic cone spins with the assistance of a “small amount” of its own solar-generated power which feeds a Maglev system, intended to reduce the noise generated by the cones as well as any required maintenance.
While an “array” of V3′s Spin Cell’s can occupy a very small space, relative to conventional flat panels, V3 has also conceived of a “Power Pole,” to support even greater even solar power generation in a small space, the designers explain “This is a pole that holds 10 Spin Cells, or 10KWp, in a footprint of 10 SF. The spin cells are placed with mathematical precision to make sure no Spin Cell shades another. This not only creates significantly great power density, but also removes the concern of floods and mitigates the environmental impact.”
Additionally, V3 hopes that with the dramatically reduced physical footprint of the solar cones, they might be able to “dramatically reduce the [total cost of ownership of solar farms] making more projects economically viable.” See one of the Spin Cones in action here.
Advances in nanotechnology will be a key enabler of technological advance in the next decade. The integration of information technology, biotechnology, materials sciences, and nanotechnology will generate a dramatic increase in innovation. Read this Alert to see how your personal and business life might be affected pretty soon.
What is changing?
Older technologies will continue lateral ‘sidewise development’ into new markets and applications .
Current high-visibility investments and technology breakthroughs will be needed to realize the full potential of nanotechnology.
Technologies like nanotechnology will be used to establish a maintenance free environment (i.e. self -cleansing glass, self-repairing concrete).
Nanotechnology will produce new goods with new properties at a smaller scale that may use far less resources.
Future uses of genetic data, software, and nanotechnology will help detect and treat disease at the genetic or molecular level.
Modern healthcare technologies and prevention strategies will have the potential to extend the life expectancy of people.
Molecular ‘robots’ could be designed to enter the body and eat plaque.
Nanotechnology will enable lives to be saved by digestible cameras and machines made from particles 50,000 times as small as a human hair.
Smart nano-materials will facilitate the development of textiles that detect biotoxins.
The global market for nanotechnologies will reach $1 trillion or more within 20 years.
Progress in nanotechnology will depend heavily on R&D investments.
Expect the greater use of new materials with an emphasis on not just boosting performance but also improving efficiency.
Materials and nanotechnology will enable the development of new devices with unforeseen capabilities.
Nanotechnology will replace most current wearable technology.
Discoveries in nanotechnology will lead to unprecedented understanding and control over the fundamental building blocks of all physical things.
Nanotechnology could be used to help reduce battery weight and lighten other products.
The U.S. Air Force believes that nanotechnology will have a direct application for both flight and space travel.
Nanotechnologies will pave the way for developing hybrid energy solutions.
Nanotechnology could provide solutions for sensing.
Nanotechnology will also spawn new technologies for manipulating DNA.
Biotechnology and nanotechnology will provide greater potential for destruction.
To find the sources and more resources on Shaping Tomorrow about ‘The Future of Your Workplace’ some of which were used in this Trend Alert, ‘Small is beautiful – Nano futures surround you’, or ask us for a customised, in-depth GIST report on this or any other topic of interest to you. Also, click here to find out how Shaping Tomorrow can help your organization rapidly assess and respond to these and other key issues affecting your business.
Solar costs are set to drop with new technologies and manufacturing techniques. This will impact on the energy industry with relief of burden on coal, oil and gas sources of energy and their resultant impact on the environment. There will still be a need for electricity utilities but their role will be reduced.
Online education is already making rapid inroads into traditional education processes .at university and school levels. For government this is extremely challenging as technology is rapidly ripping central control away and placing it firmly in the hands of the consumer. Education costs will decline and we will witness the old institutions crumble in the face of emerging competition and new delivery methods.
Blockchain based technologies will make a huge impact on decentralizing and revolutionizing the way transactions in banking, finance and law happen. Not to mention computer programming, scientific research and communications. Blockchain technology came to public awareness with the emergence of Bitcoin. Its roots extend however from cryptography – the science of coding and decoding messages for the purposes of privacy.
Climate change will not be a social or political issue in the minds of the public within 5 years. That’s not to say that change does not need to happen – a lot still needs to change to improve the quality of environment and human and planetary sustainability. Emerging technologies will help a lot and education of people in the way they treat their environment will result in significant environmental improvement even in the next 6 years.
A digital healthcare revolution is commencing now where people will soon be able to monitor their own health and respond as needed. New technologies controlled from a smart phone will be able to monitor all major health aspects including ‘wet’ analysis of blood, heart, breath, urine and other sampling tests. If results warrant, your device will be able to recommend various responses including taking yourself to hospital if required or calling an ambulance in extreme cases. Once again competition and technology are making old modes of doing things irrelevant. Often these shifts are occurring where government has taken over an industry and underfunding and lack of adaption have made the industry inefficient and ineffective.
The coming global depression lasting 8 to 13 years commencing anytime between now and 2018. The coming together of many factors including the level of indebtedness of liberal democratic countries, aging demographics, the inability of global economic growth to accelerate and the crushing level of regulation facing most societies. Cyclically we are also witnessing the peaking of a cycle that spans the massive growth of the west – the Industrial Revolution. As this cycle peaks after some 230 years of growth so we enter the down phase of the cycle in which contraction and liquidation of all the dead wood of that growth phase gets swept away. Thus the path is cleared allowing the birth of a new phase of human growth and development. These cycles occur at many different levels of human existence – at the individual, societal, ethnic and nation state levels.
Here Comes Ethereum, an Information Technology Dreamed Up By a Wunderkind 19-Year-Old That Could One Day Transform Law, Finance, and Civil Society
Photo by Duncan Rawlinson, Flickr, Creative Commons License.
Ethereum, the brainchild of wunderkind software developer Vitalik Buterin, who was just 19 when he came up with the idea, is the most buzzed-about project right now in the cryptocurrency community. It has attracted an all-star team of computer scientists and raised $18.4 million in a crowdfunding campaign—the third most successful of all time. And now, according to the official Ethereum blog, it’s on the verge of being rolled out to the public.Ethereum’s developers use a rolling ticker tape of bold tag lines to describe what they’re creating, including a “Social Operating System for Planet Earth,” and “the Upcoming Decentralization Singularity.”
So what is it?
Ethereum is a programming language the lives on top of a “blockchain”—a concept invented six years ago with the launch of Bitcoin. A blockchain is essentially a database that’s jointly maintained on the personal hard drives of its users—sort of like a shared Microsoft Excel spreadsheet. But transactions recorded to a blockchain are time stamped, fully transparent, and protected from tampering by hackers and thieves through an ingenious system that utilizes cryptography and community consensus. Blockchains make it possible, for the first time in history, to participate in a complex marketplace without the need for a mediating third party. The blockchain is what allowed Bitcoin to become the first form of virtual money that can be exchanged without a bank serving as an intermediary. (Read Ron Bailey’s recent piece on the blockchain’s transformative potential.)
Ethereum is an effort to apply the blockchain to a broad range of uses, though it’s not the first such attempt. Projects like Counterparty and Colored Coins have come up with clever methods of tailoring Bitcoin to facilitiate projects like a blockchain-based stock market. But Bitcoin’s blockchain was designed to handle the exchange of money, and retrofitting it to other uses requires some programming jujitsu and has inherent technical limitations.
Ethereum tries to solve this problem by layering a powerful programming language on top of a blockchain, giving it all the versatility that Bitcoin lacks.
“If you think of Bitcoin as a decentralized version of Microsoft Excel, then Ethereum is a decentralized Excel where we’ve made the visual basic macros functional,” says Vinay Gupta, the project’s release coordinator. To expand on Gupta’s analogy: With the Bitcoin blockchain, each cell on this hypothetical Excel table holds just a number; on the Ethereum blockchain, each cell is home to an entire computer program.
So what’s the advantage of hosting computer programs on a blockchain? They become much cheaper to operate because no third-parties are required to oversee their operation, and they become essentially incorruptible because their functioning is fully transparent.
Photo by Duncan Rawlinson, Flickr, Creative Commons LicenseEthereum’s developers believe their project will lead to the proliferation of programs they call “smart contracts,” in which the terms of an agreement are written in code and enforced by software. These smart contracts could carry out the instructions of a complex algorithm based on data feed—such as a stock ticker. They could facilitate practically any financial transaction, such as holding money in escrow or dispersing micropayments among autonomous machines. They could be used to create a peer-to-peer gambling network, a peer-to-peer stock trading platform, a peer-to-peer social network, a prenuptial agreement, a will, a standard agreement to split a dinner check, or a public registry for keeping track of who owns what land in a city.Gupta predicts that these smart contracts will be so cheap and versatile that they’ll do “a lot of things that today we do informally,” and take on a lot of the “donkey work of running a society.”
There won’t be any big changes on the day—or year—after Ethereum is released, in part because many smart contracts will work best when the people using them keep their money in Bitcoin or other forms of programmable money. That’s because the fiat money world still depends on trusted third parties. For example, a will written as a smart contract can’t be fully automated if the money to be dispersed is entirely in U.S. dollars; a banker would need to cooperate. But Gupta predicts that fairly soon we’ll move to a world in which a critical mass of people maintain a wallet with at least a few hundred dollars worth of cryptocurrency, facilitating Ethereum’s rapid integration into the real economy.
Ethereum-based public databases, which don’t depend on widespread use of cryptocurrency, could have a more immediate impact, particularly in the developing world. Take land ownership. U.S. cities maintain software databases of who owns what land, and since our public institutions are relatively functional, these systems work well enough that there isn’t a pressing need for them to live on a blockchain.
But in the developing world, government’s basic functions are often hobbled by corruption and bureaucracy. So a public land database on a fully transparent and community-operated blockchain could make the real estate market functional in these cities. As with Bitcoin, the big challenge ahead for Ethereum is getting people to use it.
“Everything that can be decentralized, will be decentralized.” Ronald Bailey is the award-winning science correspondent for Reason magazine and Reason.com
The blockchain is a decentralized public ledger of all the Bitcoin transactions that have ever been executed. But blockchain technology is much more than Bitcoin, as the technologist and entrepreneur Melanie Swan demonstrates in her new book, Blockchain: Blueprint for a New Economy.
Bitcoin participants begin by creating a digital wallet that generates their Bitcoin address and their public and private keys. A person’s public key can be obtained and used by anyone to encrypt messages intended for that individual. The encrypted message can be deciphered only by using the recipient’s private key. Bitcoins are exchanged for products or services when someone encrypts a message thatessentially says, “I give the right to spend this money to the person who owns the private key corresponding to this address.” The blockchain then publicly records this activity.
The blockchain doesn’t have to be confined to tracking Bitcoin activity. Swan persuasively contends that the advent of the blockchain platform as “a universal, permanent, continuous, consensus-driven, publicly auditable, redundant, record-keeping repository” is a technological game-changer as significant as the creation of the Internet. Since it is a decentralized public ledger, the blockchain enables the trustless transfer and accurate recording of all transactions and documents.
The result is, in Swan’s words, “a new paradigm for organizing activity with less friction and more efficiency.” By cutting out the gigantic layers of government and corporate rules and bureaucracies devoted to tracking and authenticating identities, contracts, transfers of money, exchanges of tangible and intangible goods, and the ownership of property, blockchain technology can dramatically reduce the transaction costs of all sorts of activities.
Swan acknowledges that this technology is not yet mature, but her survey of some of the exciting new tools that are being explored and exploited by developers will give readers a good idea of its potential. “Smart property,” for example, refers to physical property whose ownership is registered in the blockchain and thus controlled by whoever has the private key. In other words, property rights can be cryptographically defined and self-enforced by code. The owner can sell it simply by transferring the private key to another party.
Swan also envisions that physical properties registered on the blockchain could become “smart matter” embedded with sensors, QR codes, NFC tags, iBeacons, and the like. Access to property could be implemented using smartphones to unlock doors to houses, hotel rooms, or rental cars by affirming a user’s digital identity as encoded in the blockchain.
RileyThen there are smart contracts. The startup Ripple Labs envisions contracts coded on the blockchain in which parties agree that specified transactions take place when certain inputs are received by ” smart oracles.” The oracles consist of code that can sign a cryptographic key pair if or when a contractual condition is met. Smart contracts require less trust between parties because they are autonomous, self-sufficient, and decentralized. (The science-fiction writer Daniel Suarez envisioned a set of smart contracts operating autonomously and taking over the world in his brilliant novel Daemon.)
The blockchain ledger and the archives registered on it must be able to be stored and communicated when needed. Storj is just one of several peer-to-peer encrypted storage network services that enables users to transfer and share data without relying on a third-party data provider. Storj works by paying community members to store encrypted files on their extra hard drive space. Storj estimates that it can drop of the cost of data storage by a factor of 10 to 100. Meanwhile, the Proof of Existence virtual notary service anonymously and securely stores an online distributed proof of existence for any document.
Swan goes on to explain the operation of decentralized applications (DAPPs), decentralized autonomous organizations (DAOs), decentralized autonomous corporations (DACs), and decentralized autonomous societies (DASs). The Bitcoin blockchain is a good example of a DAPP. The ongoing development of an open-source blockchain that aims to enable the ridesharing service LaZooz is example of a DAO. It is an entity without owners and without central servers, existing on the smart phones and computers of its community of users.
A DAC might be thought of as an automated nexus of contracts that can engage in activities such as leasing assets, hiring people, and securing debt or equity to achieve the goals set out in its mission statement. Notionally, DACs operating under a set of publically available business rules would be incorruptible and more trustworthy than human-run firms. As Dan Larimer of Invictus Innovations explained in The Economist: “Although DACs can still be designed to have a robotically inviolable intention to rob you blind, to enter the open source arena they must be honest about their plans to do so.”
Blockchain technology can also empower people to make end runs around oppressive governments. As Swan notes, blockchain technology facilitates pseudonymous transactions outside the visibility, tracking, and regulatory purview of states. Anti-censorship applications are being developed. The Alexandria DAPP, for example, “preserves the integrity of the historical record. It taps into collective, on-the-ground reporting by scraping Twitter as events unfold and prevents after the fact censorship by archiving the information on a blockchain.” Namecoin is an alternative domain name system registration process that cannot be controlled by any government.
And the DAS? Swan gets a bit vague here about what she means by “the idea of putting the nation-state on the blockchain,” largely because blockchain technology has not yet been implemented by government agencies. Indeed, federal functionaries will hate some of the proposals that Swan mentions, due to their libertarian implications. Still, services now offered by governments that could be moved to the blockchain include “an ID system based on reputation, dispute resolution, voting, national income distribution, and registration of all manner of legal documents such as land deeds, wills, childcare contracts, marriage contracts, and corporate incorporations.”
Swan evidently believes that a modern world transformed by the wide application of increasingly autonomous blockchain technologies will become ever more productive without the need for human involvement. Hence her interest in “national income distribution,” in which the earnings from autonomously operating blockchain enterprises are divvied up among citizens. Blockchain government would also be a lot smaller and cheaper, since most commercial activities would be overseen, regulated, and resolved on the blockchain. Ultimately, as blockchain venture capitalist David Johnston declares, “Everything that can be decentralized, will be decentralized.”
There is much more in this slender book, including speculations about how blockchain technologies could be used to monitor public health, crowdfund projects, provide community supercomputing, upload personal mindfiles, and even birth artificial intelligences. Swan acknowledges that many of the projects she outlines may well never really get off the ground. Nevertheless, she makes a strong case that we are at the dawn of a blockchain revolution.
When my boys were young, I once asked each of them what would they ask for if they could have anything in the world. Sean, eight years old, a very pragmatic soul with five planets in Taurus, responded, “a million dollars.” Aquarian Colin, on the other hand, age six, and now inventor of the Garden Tower Project, piped up, “A magic wand!”
Humanity is facing a problem. Our immediate environment is riddled with pesticides. They are making us unhealthy faster than we can study the effects. In addition, these pesticides play large roles in the massive bee deaths and decline of soil health. The companies that profit from making these pesticides have made it clear they won’t stop. Our petitions to the EPA and FDA are mostly ignored due to revolving door leadership between pesticide makers and government regulators. Is there an answer? Yes there is!
Paul Stamets, the world’s leading mycologist, filed a patent in 2001 that was purposely given little attention. In the words of pesticide industry executives, this patent represents “The most disruptive technology that we have ever witnessed.” The biopesticides described in the patent reveals a near permanent, safe solution for over 200,000 species of insects and it all comes from a mushroom. After what is called ‘sporulation’ of a select entomopathogenic fungi (fungi that kill insects) the area becomes no longer suitable for any insect(s) the fungi are coded for. In addition, extracts of the entomopathogenic fungi can also steer insects in different directions.
This literally is a paradigm shift away from the entire idea of pesticides. Instead of having an aim to kill all problematic insect, a farmer could simply disperse a solution of pre-sporulation fungi amongst the crops. The insects would then simply live their lives around the crops paying no attention to them. This simple idea flies in the face of the current, poorly thought-out, practice of spraying ever increasing amounts of pesticides on resistant bugs. Going further, this biopesticide would also eliminate the need for round-up ready GMO seeds and BT seeds that grow the pesticides in the crop needlessly endangering us, the consumer. Perhaps the most enticing element of this biopesticide fungi is that it’s essentially free. According to the patent, it can be “cultivated on agricultural waste.” We are looking at a 100% safe, natural technology that literally can end all GMO and pesticide manufacturers overnight with a new class of SMART Pesticides.
“The matrix of pre-sporulating fungi can optionally be dried, freeze-dried, cooled and/or pelletized and packaged and reactivated for use as an effective insect attractant and/or biopesticide.” –Paul Stamets Patent for Mycoattractants and mycopesticides
Even if we stop pesticide spraying now, scores of new research is confirming that our environment, food, soil, and bodies already carry traces of the chemicals. If the chemicals are so bad for us, there would be signs by now right? These are two common rebuttals from pesticide companies and individuals that don’t care to do their research. It’s okay, there just happens to be a patent to help with those issues as well. The US patent filed in 2003, once again from Paul Stamets, describes the utilization of a fungal delivery system for the purpose of
“ecological rehabilitation and restoration, preservation and improvement of habitats, bioremediation of toxic wastes and polluted sites, filtration of agricultural, mine and urban runoff, improvement of agricultural yields and control of biological organisms.”
In addition, there are many out there currently providing solutions to remove/detox any potential pesticide chemicals from the human body. Strategies like community gardens, urban forests, and the resurgence of permaculture are springing up rapidly to pave the way towards a steadily growing number of pesticide free dinner tables and families.
Time to Make History
On a bigger scale, GMO food and pesticides are merely symptoms of an opposite consciousness that is rapidly changing. Put another way, these symptoms are the unwanted gifts from out of control corporations that, by definition, have no empathy towards the needs, health, or life of The People. As Neil Young mentioned in his Starbucks Boycott, pesticide companies like Monsanto are, for the most part, not public-facing companies. As we are witnessing now with GMO brands, a boycott can severely damage their bottom line (lifeblood) but will not eliminate their business model. Due to the fact that they spend untold millions lobbying (purchasing) our politicians and regularly operate revolving doors between public and private positions means that only a paradigm shift will eliminate the entire industry. At that moment, which is approaching, pesticide manufacturers can decide if they would like to cease being the problem and assist in the solution.
The good news is that whatever decision they choose won’t matter. A shift in consciousness around pesticide and GMO use eliminates their influence and knocks them off their fictitious monetary pedestals they believe to be sitting on.
Paul Stamet’s Patent: Pesticide & GMO Solution
Paul Stamet’s Patent: Agricultural Waste Solution
6 Ways Mushrooms Can Save The World TED Talk
Neil Young Starbucks Boycott Statement Organic Food Demand Exploding