17 May

Kevin Drum wants to welcome our new robot overlords

Kevin Drum is playing with futurism and science fiction here in Mother Jones:

“THIS IS A STORY ABOUT THE FUTURE. Not the unhappy future, the one where climate change turns the planet into a cinder or we all die in a global nuclear war. This is the happy version. It’s the one where computers keep getting smarter and smarter, and clever engineers keep building better and better robots. By 2040, computers the size of a softball are as smart as human beings. Smarter, in fact. Plus they’re computers: They never get tired, they’re never ill-tempered, they never make mistakes, and they have instant access to all of human knowledge.”

(Via Welcome, Robot Overlords. Please Don’t Fire Us? | Mother Jones.)

I have to say it has been interesting watching all this mainstream worry about robots of late.

07 May

Old tech declines, and we’re much too focused on new gadgets

Interesting look at the length of time technology stays with us, and how it’s replaced:

“‘The replacement of the car is probably out there,’ Cohen adds. ‘We just don’t fully recognize it yet.’

In fact, he predicts, it will probably come from China, which would make for an ironic comeuppance by history. The car was largely developed in America to fit the American landscape, with our wide-open spaces and brand-new communities. And then the car was awkwardly grafted onto other places, like dense, old European cities and developing countries. If the car’s replacement comes out of China, it will be designed to fit the particular needs and conditions of China, and then it will spread from there. The result probably won’t work as well in the U.S., Cohen says, in the same way that the car never worked as well in Florence as it did in Detroit.

We’re not terribly well positioned right now to think about what this future will look like. Part of the challenge is that, culturally, we’re much more accustomed to celebrating new gadgets than thinking about how old technology decays.”

(Via What the Steamship and the Landline Can Tell Us About the Decline of the Private Car – Emily Badger – The Atlantic Cities.)

17 Apr

Microsoft building the city of the future

In this link via Brandon Rhodes on twitter, a hint of Bruce Sterling’s spimes and the internet of things here, in Microsoft’s networked campus.

“The software that he and his team built strings together thousands of building sensors that track things like heaters, air conditioners, fans, and lights – harvesting billions of data points per week. That data has given the team deep insights, enabled better diagnostics, and has allowed for far more intelligent decision making. A test run of the program in 13 Microsoft buildings has provided staggering results – not only has Microsoft saved energy and millions in maintenance and utility costs, but the company now is hyper-aware of the way its buildings perform.”

(Via 88 Acres.)

17 Apr

None of the world’s biggest bussiness would be profitable with externalities priced in


“The notion of ‘externalities’ has become familiar in environmental circles. It refers to costs imposed by businesses that are not paid for by those businesses. For instance, industrial processes can put pollutants in the air that increase public health costs, but the public, not the polluting businesses, picks up the tab. In this way, businesses privatize profits and publicize costs.

While the notion is incredibly useful, especially in folding ecological concerns into economics, I’ve always had my reservations about it. Environmentalists these days love speaking in the language of economics — it makes them sound Serious — but I worry that wrapping this notion in a bloodless technical term tends to have a narcotizing effect. It brings to mind incrementalism: boost a few taxes here, tighten a regulation there, and the industrial juggernaut can keep right on chugging. However, if we take the idea seriously, not just as an accounting phenomenon but as a deep description of current human practices, its implications are positively revolutionary.”

(Via None of the world’s top industries would be profitable if they paid for the natural capital they use | Grist.)

14 Apr

Some futurist optimism from Ramez Naam

Ramez has an essay (with charts) up a the Business Insider:

“The remarkable thing about this decline in this cost of solar power is that it’s been going on since the invention of solar cells in the 1950s – roughly 60 years now. If solar keeps dropping in price (even at its slower, long term pace) for another 10 years, we’ll have solar power as cheap as fossil fuels – but with available energy thousands of times greater. If the trend continues for another 20 years, or even 30 years, we’ll have solar power a half or a quarter the price of current fossil fuels – a resource that would boost economic growth worldwide. That’s a big if, but it does look as if we’ll at least achieve parity with fossil fuel prices in the next decade.”

(Via The World Is Not Headed For Disaster – Business Insider.)

12 Apr

Unevenly distributed technological futures with the Iran notebook viral tumblr

Wild. A stolen MacBook. The owner is able to still access it, and creates a tumblr of photos taken from it of who he thinks are thieves. But:

“They had nothing to do with stealing his laptop. As Mashable pointed out yesterday, there’s a big black market for stolen laptops in Iran, where international sanctions block the import of computers and other consumer electronics.”

(Via Owner of Stolen MacBook Found in Iran Apologizes for Viral Tumblr.)

Stolen laptop black markets. Virtual control of the laptop. Privacy issues. Developing world. Cross-cultural assumptions (that thieves keep what they steal, therefore people using the item must be guilty), etc etc. A lot of stuff going on on multiple levels in this story.

08 Apr

Paging Charlie Stross: cops recording everything, and effects…

If you haven’t read Halting State, by Charles Stross, this is going to seem wild:

“Now, some police departments are using miniaturized video cameras and their microphones to capture, in full detail, officers’ interactions with civilians. The cameras are so small that they can be attached to a collar, a cap or even to the side of an officer’s sunglasses. High-capacity battery packs can last for an extended shift. And all of the videos are uploaded automatically to a central server that serves as a kind of digital evidence locker.”

(Via Wearable Video Cameras, for Police Officers – NYTimes.com.)

Even with only half of the 54 uniformed patrol officers wearing cameras at any given time, the department over all had an 88 percent decline in the number of complaints filed against officers, compared with the 12 months before the study, to 3 from 24.

Rialto’s police officers also used force nearly 60 percent less often — in 25 instances, compared with 61. When force was used, it was twice as likely to have been applied by the officers who weren’t wearing cameras during that shift, the study found. And, lest skeptics think that the officers with cameras are selective about which encounters they record, Mr. Farrar noted that those officers who apply force while wearing a camera have always captured the incident on video.

03 Apr

FDA Clears Ingestible Sensor

A swallowable sensor. Take two and the computer will diagnose you in the morning…

“Proteus Digital Health, Inc. announced today that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has cleared its ingestible sensor for marketing as a medical device. The ingestible sensor (formally referred to as the Ingestion Event Marker or IEM) is part of the Proteus digital health feedback system, an integrated, end-to-end personal health management system that is designed to help improve patients’ health habits and connections to caregivers.”

(Via Proteus Digital Health Announces FDA Clearance of Ingestible Sensor – Proteus Digital Health.)

29 Mar

A large chunk of America will be freelancers by 2020

Another way in which the baby-boomers are not getting our world ready for the upcoming demographic changes:

“The debate over telecommuting that Yahoo has spurred raises an important issue, but it’s not simply about workplace flexibility or telecommuting, but rather the fundamental nature of work itself. By 2020, more than 40% of the US workforce will be so-called contingent workers, according to a study conducted by software company Intuit in 2010. That’s more than 60 million people.

We are quickly becoming a nation of permanent freelancers and temps. In 2006, the last time the federal government counted, the number of independent and contingent workers—contractors, temps, and the self-employed—stood at 42.6 million, or about 30% of the workforce. How many are there today? We have no idea since 2006 was the last year that the government bothered to count this huge and growing sector of the American workforce.”

(Via 40% of America’s workforce will be freelancers by 2020 – Quartz.)