Thursday, March 30, 2006

What We Can Do With Our Technology Very Soon

I’m going to step away from the day-to-day for a moment. This may or may not fit into the P2P Foundation meme but it is certainly part of the discussion. But for now, let’s dream;
It will be a world where what you see and hear is what you choose to see and hear. It is a world where the anomie of modern life will give way to a mesh of relationships based on common interests and real values. It will be a world where who you are, isn’t based on your credentials, isn’t based on your money, but is based on who you know and what you have done.
Ian Welsh calls it The Flash Society – a world where help is a word away, where tribes and guilds enmesh their members in a web of friendship, obligation, duty and protection. The technology is almost here, and the social norms are already changing as in the recent formations of Social Networking sites like myspace.
Imagine then that everything is transmitting. You are transmitting your location and whatever other information you choose to transmit. Every shop, every house, every road, every car, every item in every store – indeed everything manufactured or tagged, is tagged with information.
You wear a PDA on your wrist with a full screen, or for the truly daring a pair of visors. That PDA or visor is set both to transmit and to receive – and more importantly than receiving to screen. For in a world where every store is transmitting its location, what it sells, and its specials; in a world where all the roads are transmitting their current traffic load; in a world where those in your tribe are letting you know if they are busy, available, or inviting you to join them for a party, movie, coffee or conversation – in such a world, as with the internet today, the problem is getting the information you want.
So as you walk, shopping, you set your PDA to tell you what stores are selling shoes, to show their location relative to you, and to show any specials on high-top sneakers. If you are a fireman, your PDA is automatically downloading the fire code history, floor map and water main locations of buildings and with a simple command they come up for you. Because that information is encrypted only people like yourself, police and building inspectors can see it, your ‘Guild’.
Information is presented the same way it often is today in computer games – in iconic form or as simplified colors. Choose to see all the restaurants in a few blocks and each one might come up as a symbol – the brighter it is the closer it is, the more green it is on a spectrum of red to green the more expensive it is, and the symbol itself varies by the type of food – perhaps a roman arch for Italian food, golden arches for fast food, and a fortune cookie for Chinese.
In such a world, the world you see is the world you need to see at any given time. Those who need directions see both a mini-map and a line running in the direction they need to go. Those who are heading to Customs see a list of the documents they need, those who want food or to find a lawyer see that. And a policeman sees those who have called for help – but they don’t see him on their display unless he chooses to let them.
This expands deeply into the work world. Imagine doing inventory in such a world – you look at each section in order and your PDA does the counting for you. Indeed, depending on transmitter power you might be able to take inventory without ever leaving your office. And fraud, in such a world, is mislabeling or unlabelling items – as people will tend to assume the virtual world and the real world are the same thing.
All of this will probably eventually be controlled both verbally and kinesthetically. A pair of gloves with multiple sensors, or for those who choose, full sets of clothes are used to give instructions through intricate bodily motions. In the same way that typing is learned, people will learn to control their data devices without even thinking about it, switching fluidly from view to view; changing the information they are transmitting with a quick and nearly unconscious movement of their hands, their bodies, An ‘information data dance’; and creating new functions the same way we string words together by the rules of grammar to create sentences we’ve never said before and may never say again, yet which seem to us as nothing special.. The motion of pupils will also be tracked, and matched against the gestures of hands to select items visible only in a person’s visor or PDA.
Socially this world will be one where who you know has much less to do with the physical than it does today.
This has already begun with many Millenials, the "anti-consumers". Their lives right now are either played out in MMRPGs or in Live role-playing games. Many claim they have more friends on-line than IRL (in real life). Yes, it's about who they know, and how they connect with those people. Sure, a lot of kids their age are still consumerist, but - there is change coming, and you see it in these kids, both in my daughter’s age group and younger. The millenial generation believes in social capital in a way that I have not seen in a generation since the depression babies. In the case of the depression babies, it was all they had. In the case of the millenials, it is because the tools to make communities are now much more powerful, and have much more leverage.
They certainly believe in it far more than my generation did - which formed sub-cultures and cults by the bucket (Goth, Punk, Valley Girls), but somehow did not find the community it was looking for. Instead, the alienating forces of broadcast were abundant, and either people built pyramids, or they became, like me, lone grey wolves, carrying with them a one person sense of their role in a world. already having networks of virtual friends spread in a far net geographically. Nor can these friends be dismissed as not “real” friends, they are often truer friends than those who are friends by accident of geography, spending their time and money to help people they know mainly online. Indeed I am, personally, closing in on the point where more of my friends and business associates are people I originally met virtually than ones I met physically. And these are real relationships as measured by both money and time – thousands of dollars and thousands of hours have been spent on them, and earned by them.
My guess is that the most important of these will form out of groups centering around mutual interests and hobbies and form into long enduring networks of reciprocal\symbiotic friendships which will turn into societies with formal dues and duties. They have been called Flash tribes in the past, for the way they will be able to protect their members by quickly dispatching help to their aid and indeed I expect the first forms to be mutual aid societies, where social norms and the sharing of personal dreams that comes so easily in the virtual world leads to strong expectations that members will be there for other members who need help. It is this beginning which made me call them militias or tribes – because they will be tied together at first mainly by custom.
When traveling you will reach out to see who in your tribe lives in the area and can act as a guide, or a host. When doing research you will see who is an expert in your tribe. When doing business you will tend to use members of your tribe first, because you will know that strong social approbation will fall on those who fail to live up to their duties to a tribe member.
Oddly this world, if it turns out as it should and is not locked down by the interests of the modern world into a pattern more suitable to the current day, will also give individuals a great deal more functional freedom. Today the truth is that most people are effectively wage slaves. People work so they can do things after work, not live to work. They are dependent – their food, their energy, their clothes – everything they have, everything they need is completely disassociated from their own efforts, and fewer and fewer are able to independently generate the exchange needed to pay for those items without entering to a situation where most of the value of their work is appropriated by others.
In the new world, a world of micro-local production, or micro-local energy production where every building both consumes and produces energy; a world where design and manufacturing is simplified so that it moves into the reach of small groups of people or households, will allow many more people to actually offer the world whatever it is that they can make and produce. And in a world where the world is your customer – the odds of finding the people who want what you produce increases substantially, since if there are only a few thousand in the entire world that will be enough, while in the past unless those people happened to live near where you lived the market effectively did not exist. The younger bloggers I read are all into making things, and I'm part of an active, thriving, on-line art community. We have close to 1000 people in a local online group, creating new things every day. Kids are enthralled by Make magazine, Ready Made, anything to do with being creative and innovative and making stuff for yourself.
So, What I have described is half prediction – half plan. Some of it will happen due to the simple nature of technological change. Other parts can happen or not, the potential is there, but it is not necessary that it turn out that way. There is always a lot of money to be made in monopoly and oligopoly situations and there are always people who will seek to create the bottlenecks, government grants and gates necessary to allow them to take a toll from everyone who wants certain goods or services. The job market's like Office Space without the office, just a choice of flair and, a solution that's getting pushed hard with retail's new big slogan, "express yourself! with our stuff!". What some might call creativity and innovation others might see as living in a fantasy world, however self-sufficient, almost as bad as George W.'s. Whether it's in fullblown LARPing or Bacardi and Axe commericals.
One battle of this generation will be to ensure that those who want to make the future profitable to a few – to the winners of the last fight – are not successful. If they are, a lot of freedom and a lot of prosperity will have to wait, or will be realized elsewhere, by those who cannot afford to allow the past to strangle the future.


  • Why do you shy away from nanotech here? Many in the nanotech industry are touting brain-computer interfaces are likely before 2050 (for better or worse). Visors? PDAs? Suits? We are looking toward the strong possibility of direct meshing of networked nano-computers and human brains.

    Of course, this brings with it the often explored subject of AI or technohumans and how they will treat or value the rest of humanity, and a host of other moral questions. Nano-pollution is already a major problem.

    And then comes the question of "what you see and hear is what you choose to see and hear", and the possibility that it moves in the other direction. What happens when your PDA/visors/nanobrain is infected with a virus carrying coca-cola ads that constantly pollute your information input / vision? Or worse... Watch out when the corporatocracy or comes calling in the new market of consciousness. Also presents an entirely new military 'theater'.

    Many questions around security and encryption have been brought up around this subject. The security may fail poorly - for example, if you break the encryption, you could stalk anyone, monitor police movements, know exactly where expensive inventory is stored or the weakest security point in its transit. Then, perhaps, comes the business (in addition to the fraud you mention) of mis-information or mis-tagging, which disguises things with false tags.

    IMHO this entire direction is in part an outgrowth of some of the downsides of western civilization and modernism, in which value is placed on the new, on growth, on intelligence, but the result is often devoid of wisdom, quality over quantity, tradition, sense of place or any kind of sound holistic or ecological approach or connection.

    By Anonymous Eli, at 3/31/2006 05:55:00 PM  

  • Really great vision of which I'm convinced that is a large part of the truth, though perhaps not the full picture. It reminds me of that novel of Neil Stephson, The Diamond Age, where this scenario is described. What you describe I see happening, but its weakness is that it fails to create a society by itself, it rests on it. If you loose your job, find yourself without means of subsistence, say in a period of economic crisis. Will these networks effectively prevent you from falling. I think not. They cannot replace either a traditional family system, which they still have to an important extent in Asia; or a state-based social security system, which is in crisis but still functional. I personally believe that the best scenario is the basic income guarantee, based on the simple ethical premise that we cannot let anyone die from hunger, lack of shelter. With such a basis, we can form intentional communities; without it, we'd have Somalian clans vying for scarce resources, not communities of common interest in a world of abundance.

    Michel Bauwens

    By Blogger Michel, at 3/31/2006 07:50:00 PM  

  • Rather than 'a' society, I see and endless sea of societies or
    meta-tribes. These tribes will will make sure their members have subsistance or fail. In addition, another tribe that may rely on a failing tribe would assist as well (at least in my mind). As far as nanotech is concerned, I just read about one surgeon that has succesfully rewired hundreds of human brains with various electronica. However, I do not see embeded nano controlling high functions in near term. Who would trust it ?

    By Blogger digiblade, at 3/31/2006 10:49:00 PM  

  • Yes, interesting what they are doing with brain/techno surgery (and some wireless as well). There are some interesting essays on this out there - who would be the early adopters of embeded nanotech that allows you to 'think' (compute) millions of times faster than your biological brain, have absolutely perfect memery and is networked... early adopters would likely try it with the promise that it is reversible. But, if it expanded your access to information and consciousness a million times over, the likelyhood is that we have no way of even speaking about the experience effectively with our current facilities, let alone predicting problems/moral issues/social implications. It may be that once tried, no one would go back to the solely biological...

    Dont get me wrong - I would not be the first to sign up.

    By Anonymous Eli, at 4/01/2006 07:14:00 PM  

  • Do you know the book The Support Economy, by Zuboff ? ... similar premise

    By Blogger Jon Husband, at 4/14/2006 01:23:00 PM  

  • The Support Economy Zuboff ?http://www.thesupporteconomy.com/index.shtml
    just looked it up.
    The summery is very similar...yes.

    By Blogger digiblade, at 4/14/2006 02:02:00 PM  

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