Extreme Futurist Festival Pre-Party with Dorkbot SF, 11-30-2012, Part 3

This is Part 3 of a three-part review of the XFF pre-party.  See Part 1 here.  See Part 2 here.

The next speakers were part of DorkbotSF, which I had never heard of, but seems like a cool thing that us futurists should all check out:

dorkbot-sf is a spinoff of dorkbot-nyc which is
“a monthly meeting of artists (sound/image/movement/whatever), designers, engineers, students and other interested parties from the new york area who are involved in the creation of electronic art (in the broadest sense of the term.)”

the purpose of dorkbot is to

  • give artists/programmers/engineers an opportunity for informal peer review
  • establish a forum for the presentation of new art works/technology/software/hardware
  • help establish relationships and foster collaboration between people with various backgrounds and interests
  • give us all a chance to see the cool things that our neighbors are working on
Filmmaker Tiffany Shlain started out the DorkBotSF portion of the program by showing some of her film studio’s “Cloud Filmmaking:”
They invite people from all over the world to send in art work and videos, they mash it all together and make films that they then invite people to help translate.  The Moxie Institute then makes free customized versions for non profits all over the world.
Three of these short films have now been released from the series “Let it Ripple: Mobile Films for Global Change.”
I found the videos to be very moving, but I am a sucker for this stuff.  One of her primary themes is that people should recognize and embrace the concept of global interdependence to temper our Western tendency toward independence.  This thread of her presentation expanded on Rothman’s theme of a social singularity.  In fact, one film that she sneak-previewed for the audience addressed the idea of a Friendship singularity. As our list of “friends” on social media sites continues to grow exponentially, we will be friends with every living person at some point:  The Friendship.  This is actually a logical extension of Pinker’s Better Angels thesis.  It’s hard for me as a natural pessimist to get my head around, but I do take comfort in the idea.
Arts producer and executive, Amy Critchett gave a presentation on “The Bay Lights: World’s Largest LED Light Sculpture:”


The Bay Lights is an iconic light sculpture designed by internationally renowned artist Leo Villareal. This stunning fine arts experience will live for two years on the San Francisco Bay Bridge West Span, starting with the Grand Lighting on March 5, 2013.

However, I was busy chatting with folks and hearing a cheerful analysis that modern Russia is like America in the 1930’s except the top gangsters have nukes and computers.  Ah, just what I needed to extinguish the warm fuzzies brought on by considering a friendship singularity.
Next up was Ken Goldberg who talked about his Bloom project:
Ken has developed several projects that use a live feed of seismic data from the UC Berkeley Seismology Lab. One example is Ballet Mori, a performance to commemorate the 1906 San Francisco Earthquake, where SF Ballet Principal Dancer Muriel Maffre responded to a musical composition modulated by real-time seismic data.
I personally wasn’t much interested in this art project.  But, I found his comments about Heidegger’s “Question Concerning Technology” to be interesting.  I don’t really understand it, but I guess that Heidegger was asserting that modern science reduces everything in the environment to a resource.  Goldberg went on to suggest that with modern mobility technology, we have made ourselves into a resource that is always available.  This called to mind Rushkoff’s idea that we should unplug more often.  However, there seemed to be some tension between this and Shlain’s more positive view of mobile technology.  Nonetheless, this is one of those cases where the underpinnings of the artwork seem more interesting than the actual product.  But then, I can be a philistine sometimes.
My favorite speaker of the evening was Mark Pauline of Survival Research Labs.
Mark constructed and designed dozens of large, complex robots and machines for use in these performances and has trained and supervised the efforts of over 400 assistants in the art of machine performance.
I had never heard of SRL, but I was blown away by the videos that Mark showed at the end.  It struck me as an incredible mashup of deviant performance art and robot wars.  I don’t have much further to say about it, but I look forward to the XFF and I am definitely going to bring some serious hearing protection.

Extreme Futurist Festival Pre-Party with Dorkbot SF, 11-30-2012, Part 2

This is Part 2 of a three-part review of the XFF pre-party.  See Part 1 here.  See Part 3 here.

This party was held at RallyPad which is “an incubator and workspace for non-profits and social entrepreneurs.”  It was a decent space I guess.  I like that location down on 2nd Street near Market.  I’ve had some clients down there.  It’s very vibrant during the day with all the office workers milling about.  You can grab organic salads at Harvest & Rowe for lunch.  It’s civilized.

After the cyberpunk panel, I went milling about and talked to people.  One fellow asked if we had met at a Ribbonfarm event, but I had never heard of it.  It turns out to actually be a blog by a fellow named Venkatesh Rao.  I haven’t had a chance to look it over much, but Rao wrote a book called Tempo: timing, tactics and strategy in narrative-driven decision-making and the subtitle alone convinces me that he must be cool.  But I was having a hard time understanding how you have an event at a blog.  I guess that’s a thing bloggers do now.   I have my own Futurist Meetup so I can see how that could work.  But my group is more of an informal discussion group.  I also bumped into Michael Anissimov and he told me about a recent blog entry in which he defends “Thinkism” from Kevin Kelly’s critique.  I look forward to reading this and pitching in my own opinion from the peanut gallery, but that is for another post.

I went back and checked out the speakers at some point and heard the end of Michael Keenan’s well presented take on robotic cars.  I understand that he was got a lot of info from Brad Templeton who is helping Google with their car now.  I saw Brad speak on this topic and got to hang out with him a bit at Foresight 2010.  The basic argument is that humans kill way too many people in car accidents and robotic cars would save lives.  Of course a lot of driving jobs will be eliminated by robotic cars,  but the police would also cut staff since so many resources are devoted to traffic related work.  Insurance and alcohol companies will push for their adoption while teamsters and motorheads will oppose it.  I’m with the bean counters on this one.

For me the highlight of the evening was H+ magazine editor Peter Rothman’s talk: The Singularity Already Happened.  Rothman started by outlining various opinions on the Singularity held by: Cosma Shalizi, Mark Pesce, Henry Adams, and Kevin Kelly.  We might draw from these views that either the singularity already happened or it’s meaningless.  Rothman himself makes an argument similar to Kelly’s that Kurzweil’s exponential charts are misleading, but I think they are splitting hairs.  Exponential growth means something even if the date 2035 does not.

Rothman goes on to make the point that multiple singularities in communication have already occured.  Humans presumably went from pre-linguistic, to spoken, then to written and finally to active (software) communication.  It was arguably impossible for humans prior to each of these changes to predict what would happen afterward.  Just as it will be impossible for us to predict the next paradigm shift.  We suspect that it’s AGI, but we may be like cavemen predicting that the future will simply be a progression of longer and more complex spoken words.

Rothman then suggested that the number of Facebook friends we all have is indicative that our intelligence must already be exploding ala the Dunbar number.  It takes more intelligence to handle larger social groups.  While this is born out somewhat by the Flynn effect, many pundits have pointed out that Facebook friends don’t involve the same level of engagement that traditional meatspace friends do.   There are a bunch of casual acquaintances in there.

But it’s an interesting idea that this greater social interaction is a sort of singularity.  No one predicted social as a killer app way back in 2002.  Building on this social singularity idea, Rothman showed a chart which plotted the growth of derivative patents.  That is to say, patents which referenced other patents grew dramatically which either suggests that we are running out of novel ideas and low hanging fruit or that we are becoming masters of collaboration.  The pessimist in me prefers the former, Rothman likes the latter.

Rothman went on to describe a bunch of military tech and his own involvement in air defense narrow AI.  This was really an amazing talk packed with history and data.  But the pièce de résistance was the idea that a malicious AGI might already be out in the wild now.  Rothman suggested that we follow strange flows of money, power, and ideas.  He cited crazy trades that drove Kraft’s price up, strange flows of wealth to the top 1%, massive energy consumption increases, and mystery NSA data centers.  This stuff was pure gold for a Sci Fi writer.  I kept wishing that Daniel Suarez was around to take notes.  I won’t bother to comment on less radical explanations of all these phenomenon.  Suffice it say that I would apply Hanlon’s Razor: Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity.  Nonetheless, it was a great talk and I look forward to Peter posting the slides so that I can review his many wonderful sources.

There is more to say about this amazing party and I still haven’t even gotten into the Humanity+ conference proper.

See Part 3 here.

A Conversation with The Institute for the Future with Michael Liebhold via VLAB

This video  to me via the VLAB mailing list: http://www.vlab.org/article.html?aid=450

Michael Liebhold talks about:
  • global supercomputing
  • combinatorial innovation
  • liquid data, augmented reality
  • ambient decisions
  • data visualizations
  • blending personal with clinical information ecosystems
  • datapalooza
  • RDF linked databases
  • predictive analytics on medical data sets
  • singularity skepticism “We don’t know what we are uploading”
  • data quality and providence
  • using retail space to window shop and then buy on eBay
    • ask me about my great start-up idea on how to capture the real value of brick and mortar
  • Keiichi Matsuda “Augmented City
  • personal ecosystems acting as contextual filters for data overload
  • Cognitive toolkit:
    • read SciFi: Sterling, Vinge, Rucker, Stross (the right Stross – hear hear!),
    • read over your head (even technical manuals),
    • social network like crazy,
  • collecting credible signals about the future (I would love to see this compiled forecast graph that he talks about around 31:20
  • AR is the web escaping from the screen into the real world,
  • by 2025 the children will never know a world not ornamented with big data
One thing that struck me is that he doesn’t talk about the risks associated with how big data will be filtered for consumption.  He says that data overload will be prevented by a filter based on you personal data ecosystem, but not who will control those filters.  Will people be fed only the information that sells more product?  Will it require hackers to break out of this matrix?