It’s been a busy week! Clients, interviews, research, writing and prepping for a TEDx talk had me wearing many hats and keeping lots of balls in the air. (That’s either a mixed-metaphor or I’m in the circus. Perhaps it’s both!)
The week started with an interview for the RoboPsych podcast with Tom Guarriello and Julie Carpenter. A fun conversation with two super-smart people. (Tom’s doctorate is in existential-phenomenological psychology and Julie’s is in Learning (Cognitive) Sciences.) Her famous dissertation and research on human-robot interaction in militarized spaces had a definite influence on my own book, HEART OF THE MACHINE. You can listen to Episode #49 here.
Mid-week saw an interview I did a couple months ago included in a new Forbes article, “Is There A Robot ‘Friend’ In Your Future?” Written by a fellow classmate from the University of Houston, journalist Steve Outing explores the rapidly approaching future in which robots take on a number of the caregiving roles traditionally performed by humans.
Thursday found me in Longview, WA presenting at a meeting of the Washington State Board for Community and Technical Colleges Workforce Education Council. (Whew, no wonder they prefer the acronyms SBCTC WEC!) It was a fascinating conversation with the council as well as with my co-presenter for the session, economist Chris Mefford. We explored the impact of future technological change on education and labor needs. It was inspiring to see educators and administrators being so proactive in addressing the future of our rapidly transforming economy.
Today’s announcement of the detection of primordial gravitational waves is huge. The Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics gave a news conference in which it described the first ever detection of these waves which provides a window onto the very earliest stages of our universe. Gravitational waves were the last untested prediction of Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity. Using a specialized telescope, the research group on the BICEP2 (Background Imaging of Cosmic Extragalactic Polarization) project at the south pole gathered data which should only be observable from an event as massively violent as the Big Bang.
These primordial gravitational waves would’ve been generated a trillionth of a trillionth of a trillionth of a second after the Big Bang, during a period known as cosmological inflation. The inflation period would’ve expanded the nascent universe many, many times faster than the speed of light and led to an extremely, yet not perfectly, smooth and uniform cosmos.
This evidence isn’t only a direct window onto the very earliest stages of the formation of our universe, it gives us new tools for studying it. Additionally, it provides major support for what’s known in physics as the Standard Model. This indicates our understanding of the cosmos is very much on track, even though there is still much for us to learn.
So why is this important to futurists? After all, this all occurred an unfathomably distant time in the past. But because this evidence allows us to more accurately model our universe’s past, it will also let us better understand it’s most distant future. As a result of today’s discovery, the evolution and ultimately the fate of our universe can be far better anticipated than ever before. It’s a discovery that many consider worthy of a Nobel prize.
(I explore the BICEP2 project and cosmic inflation in greater detail in my upcoming article, “Making Waves in the Cosmos” in the July-August 2014 issue of The Futurist Magazine.)
Continuing on the topic of affective computing, I’ve cross-posted a piece at Psychology Today and on my World Future blog. “The Emotional Machine and You” examines the issues we may face when dealing with a technology that can read, act upon and manipulate our most basic human emotions. Such devices could become capable of eliciting responses that lead to emotional bonding without any hope of reciprocation. Such a “relationship” would leave us open to easy manipulation — whether for commercial, political or other types of gain. How do we deal with such a threat without excising our most human traits?
I recently had the opportunity to speak about our connected world and the Internet of Things at Ada’s Technical Books in Seattle. Ada’s has just moved into a terrific new location on Capitol Hill and I got to be their inaugural speaker. I want to thank Danielle, Alex and all the wonderful people at the store, as well as everyone who came out to listen, for making it a great success.
It’s interesting what inspires or motivates an article. It might be a conversation, a good book, a song from days gone by. Sometimes there’s just a deadline waiting to be met. In the case of “Playing the Long Game“, my latest article at H+ Magazine, it was a recent tweet by its editor, Michael Anissimov:
This is a sentiment I definitely share and it got me to thinking: Here we are, the one animal that’s capable of planning days, weeks, even years in advance. What is that keeps us locked into short-term thinking? Why aren’t we making better use of this unique and powerful ability? As it turns out, I came up with quite a few factors. How we work, how we play, how we interact — a whole lot of our modern lifestyle encourages us to avoid long-term thinking and planning.
All of this perpetuates a shallowness of thought that impacts our decision making in so many spheres. Too often, our political system is hobbled by thinking that expects simplistic, slogan-ready solutions to increasingly complex problems in an increasingly complex world. Higher education teaches yesterday’s skills for jobs that soon won’t exist, instead of developing critical thinking and other adaptive skills in anticipating the needs of tomorrow. In short, all this living for the moment makes us forget there is a world that lies beyond the fifteen minute horizon and we are suffering for it.
While we face some very big challenges in the coming century, I do think we have it in us to deal with them. But it might mean making some changes to how we think about today and tomorrow.