I attended the 2012 Humanity+ conference this year and had an amazing experience. I got to meet and chat with a bunch of cool people: successful founders, bright young people, professional writers, and groundbreaking researchers. It was a very small conference with probably less than 150 attendees. The quality of presentations was excellent overall. I am still struggling to absorb all the information that was put forth. I tried to strike a good balance between socializing and listening to speakers. I could still kick myself for missing Jaan Tallinn’s talk at the Singularity Summit 2012, so I didn’t want to miss another great talk like that.
The theme of this conference was “Writing the Future” so there was a focus on writers and communication. One major theme was how to convince the public to seriously consider the risks and opportunities of emerging technologies. This is extremely appropriate for myself who is trying to learn to write about the future. I don’t feel bad that I probably am not doing it well, since the general consensus was that the media does a terrible job of covering science in general, let alone futurist topics like AI or life extension. There is a lot of sensationalism and little evaluation of the confidence we should have in new discoveries or proposed technologies.
The first speaker of the conference was David Orban, but I am no morning person, so I missed the beginning of his talk. He apparently did a similar talk called “Network Society: The Coming Societal Phase Change” at TedX Bologna recently so you might check that out (turn on the Closed Captioning for English subtitles). The gist of it seems to be that the coming network society will move away from centralized control toward more distributed control. He offers examples of distributed solar energy and distributed food generation. He also suggests that BitCoin might represent a move away from centralized banking. 3d printing could do the same in the manufacturing space, allowing us to produce objects locally as we need them as suggested in the Diamond Age and other science fiction novels.
None of these ideas were new to me. What did attract my interest was Orban’s assertion that our society is comprised of goal seeking structures that constrain the actions of our leaders. These structures prevent the adoption of solar energy or the dismantling of central banks for example. I am not sure how seriously Orban meant to apply this anthropomorphism of our cultural institutions. I might prefer to say something like change is contingent on topology or state vector. That is, I would prefer to say something like that if I had a proper understanding of dynamical systems theory.
Orban also offers this sage advice to aspiring futurists: to determine if some event will come about, find the opposing forces. He asked what the opposing forces to Tesla’s free charging stations might be. One non-obvious consequence of free transportation energy is the tax impact. Fuel is heavily taxed in Europe, even more than the US. Governments themselves might oppose free fuel for cars.
He also pointed out that hackers will rule this new networked society. I tend to agree with him there. As more and more objects and systems get connected to the internet and controlled by computers, the real owner of an asset will be whoever can hack it. And unfortunately, the current state of computer security is woefully unprepared to stop this. Hacking hasn’t destroyed the value of credit cards or online banking yet, but what will happen when your prosthetics can get hacked?
This is Part 1 on an N part series of posts on the 2012 Humanity+ conference. Here is Part 2. Stay tuned for more.