I had the idea that I had enemies in the U.S., but I had some political reactions… My thinking was partly madness and partly irrationality, but in some ways might have had enlightened receptions at the same time… -John Forbes Nash, Jr.
Where is humanity going? Our technology empowers the individual… but to what end? This is a (growing) list of people, institutions, websites and concepts central in this discussion (from where I stand). People here are listed by year of birth.
I’m very familiar with everything listed here. I’ve read the articles/books, watched the movies, and sometimes even met the people. Use this list to jump into the conversation. We need you. [Larger list of people here]
- Writes about transhumanism and artificial intelligence
- Prolific blogger
- Created the Lifeboat Foundation
- teaches Philosophy of Postmodern/Global/Future Studies
- wrote a great overview: Savages, Cyborgs, and Saints (six possibilities for the future of humanity)
- author of Get Smarter (a response to Nicholas Carr’s Is Google Making Us Stupid?)
- wrote critique of the Singularity University called Flunking Out
- Gave 98 minute talk at Future Salon NYC, “Putting the Human Back Into Post-Human” in which he states even if artificial intelligence is possible humans will stay one step ahead using “exo-cortical technologies.” [I used a similar term -- 'networked-intelligence' -- to direct the vision of my company GNIC.]
Jane McGonigal (1977 -
- Game designer
- Helped to create The Superstruct Game, a “massively multiplayer forecasting game.”
- Helped to create World Without Oil, a “massively collaborative imagining of the first 32 weeks of a global oil crisis.”
Michael Wesch (1975 -
- Assistant professor of cultural anthropology at Kansas State University
- Created the viral YouTube video The Web is Us/ing (10+ million views!)
- Gave this phenomenal talk (YouTube and the Politics of Authenticity) at the Personal Democracy Forum in 2009. I met him a few hours later, and we spoke for 10-15 minutes. He is awesome. Very creative, mild mannered and humble.
- Personal website
Nick Bostrom (1973 -
- Director of The Future of Humanity Institute at Oxford University
- Co-founded Humanity+ (formerly The World Transhumanist Association)
Jaron Lanier (1960 -
Mark Dery (1959 -
- author of The Pyrotechnic Insanitarium: American Culture on the Brink (includes good chapter named ‘Wild Nature, Wired Nature: The Unabomber Meets the Digerati’)
- personal site
Bill Joy (1954 -
- co-founder of Sun Microsystems
- author of Why the Future Doesn’t Need Us
- expressed his worried about technology in a TED talk called What I’m worried about, what I’m excited about
Andrew J. Holden
- Created the Cyberpunk Educator (also available as a free – and legal- download). Here’s the official website.
Kevin Kelly (1952 -
- founding executive editor of Wired magazine
Francis Fukuyama (1952 -
- political economist
- 3 hour interview on C-SPANN
- author of Our Posthuman Future
Ray Kurzweil (1948 -
- Inventor, writer and futurist
- Writes about artificial intelligence, transhumanism and the technological singularity
Peter Sloterdijk (1947 -
Donna Haraway (1944 -
Vernor Vinge (1944 -
- professor of mathematics, computer scientist, science fiction author
- popularized the concept of a ‘technological singularity‘
Thomas de Zengotita (1944 -
- author of the book Mediated: How the Media Shapes our World and the Way We Live in It and the article The Numbing of the American Mind
David Cronenberg (1943 -
- Film maker
- Created the movie eXistenZ. Explores reality vs. virtual reality, philosophical concept of realism, future of games, human/computer interaction, etc.
- Created the movie Videodrome (includes a character inspired by Marshall McLuhan).
- Created the movie Crash (based on novel by J. G. Ballard) with James Spader. Explores how our technological environment (especially cars) changes our sexuality.
Theodore Kaczynski (1942 -
- terrorist (aka the “Unabomber”)
- author of Industrial Society and Its Future (aka the “Unabomber Manifesto”)
Michael Gorman (1941 -
- former president of the American Library Association
- wrote the skeptical Google and God’s Mind and the tongue-in-cheek followup Revenge of the Blog People
Stewart Brand (1938 -
- Created The Whole Earth Catalog, “an American counterculture catalog published,” between 1968 and 1972.
Albert Borgmann (1937 -
Alvin Toffler (1928 -
- Former associate editor of Fortune magazine
- Author of the 1970 bestselling Future Shock
- Interviewed by Newt Gingrich on C-SPAN2 BookTV (3 hours)
Douglas Engelbart (1925 -
- inventor of the computer mouse
- author of Augmenting Human Intellect: A Conceptual Framework (1962)
Born in the 20th Century
Terence McKenna (1946 – 2000)
- Speaker (many hours of audio lectures) and writer
- 18 minute description of the future of language
- A great introduction to his thought. Ignore the silly New Age intro and YouTube user. He makes fun of these sorts of things in the first few minutes.
Carl Sagan (1934 – 1996)
- astronomer and popularizer of astronomy and science
- created the famous television series Cosmos (available online at Hulu)
Robert Anton Wilson (1932 – 2007)
J. G. Ballard (1930 – 2009)
- Author of books like Crash (made into a movie by David Cronenberg) which explore how technology (like cars) are changing our sexuality.
Philip K. Dick (1928 – 1982)
- science fiction author
Timothy Leary (1920 – 1996)
- Popularized LSD, icon of the 1960s counterculture
- Former lecturer at Harvard
Marshall McLuhan (1911 – 1980)
- Media and communications theorist
- great 44 minute lecture on McLuhan by Terence McKenna
Born in the 19th Century
Buckminster Fuller (1895 – 1983)
- Inventor, designer, architect, philosopher
- See The Buckminster Fuller Institute (they have an annual $100K design challenge)
Vannevar Bush (1890 – 1974)
- Described his vision of the Internet in As We May Think (1945)
Pierre Teilhard de Chardin (1881 – 1955)
- Philosopher and (ex) Jesuit priest
H. G. Wells (1866 – 1946)
- Science fiction author
Friedrich Nietzsche (1844 – 1900)
- Philosopher (German) and classical philologist
- Wrote books like Beyond Good and Evil and Thus Spoke Zarathustra
Born in the 17th Century
Mary Shelley (1787 – 1851)
- Wrote Frakenstein
- Repository of eclectic information on eclectic topics (psychedelics, the future, spirituality, philosophy, etc.)
- Wonderful example of how websites used to be designed creatively.
- Hundreds (thousands?) of short, fantastic video lectures
- Relevant talks include ones by Bill Joy and Jamais Cascio
- Source of very weird and awesome torrents (audio, text, video)
Brainstorming is a way for a group of people to explore a subject. It gives the group new perspectives and ideas.
I created this post in collaboration with 14 others. They were participants in an “unconference” called BarCampMilwaukee in early October 2009. First I researched the topic for an afternoon and synthesized it. Then our group used this research and brainstormed the act of brainstorming for an hour. I further synthesized our results below:
Preparation: What to Do Before you Brainstorm
- Explain the problem and its history clearly
- Invite people with different backgrounds and expertise
- Write the objective of the session prominently
- Lay out possible criteria for solutions, but don’t set too many limits.
- Set clear time limits for the session.
- Distribute rules to participants
Rules: Give these to Everyone Ahead of Time
- The more ideas the better. Brainstorming is about generating as many relevant ideas as possible. Don’t edit yourself.
- Criticism is not allowed. Don’t assign value to ideas. Don’t evaluate their practicality either. The group can do this afterward when they organize the results of their brainstorming.
- If you are passionate don’t overpower the group. Instead channel that energy to encourage others.
- Build on others’ ideas
- Turn phones off or set to vibrate
- Keep the session fun, playful and absurd
- Wild ideas are wonderful
- Encourage everyone
- Groups of 5 or 6 people may work best
- Session under 30 minutes
- Participants should be comfortable
- Watch the clock
- Keep the discussion somewhat focused. Help the group come back to brainstorming if they start to criticize, evaluate or discuss implementing ideas too much.
Techniques to Generate Ideas
- Consider brainstorming something absurd first. This can start everything off in a good mood. It also sets an example for good brainstorming as the leader can point out the rules and guidelines when relevant.
- Use Post-it notes. Leader asks a question. Participants write answers on post it notes even if they speak them aloud. They place them on a wall and arrange them in clusters. Then they suggest literal and metaphoric titles for each cluster.
- Explore ideas from different perspectives. What would a 19th Century farmer or a house wife on the West Coast think?
- Explore scenarios. What would we do if we had only half our marketing budget? What if we had double the budget?
- List ideas with different qualities. What ideas would cost $1 to implement? What about $1 million? What if we had 16 people on our team? What about 4 people? How could we accomplish our goal if we only had 6 months? What about 2 weeks?
- List cliches about the subject. For example, while discussing the implications of technology people always say, “technology isn’t inherently bad, but it can be used for bad.”
- List movies and novels which depict the subject. Dr. Dan Novack used this technique well to explore possible futures of humanity.
- “Cube” the subject. Explore it in 6 ways: describe it, compare it, associate it, analyze it, apply it, argue for and against it
- Ask the journalistic questions. Who, what when, where, why, how?
- Use creativity software. Some software can suggest new ways of looking at ideas and problems.
How the Facilitator Can Revive a Slowed Session
- Read every 3rd idea
- Keep a few ideas private as backup
- Ask everyone to stand up
- Rearrange the furniture
- Continue the discussion while walking outside as a group
How to Use Technology While Brainstorming
- Cellphones provide little or no benefit. Turn them off or set to vibrate.
- Possible guideline: allow people to use laptops as long as they would not be embarrassed to show the group what they were doing
- Maybe one person can have open laptop to research questions the group has
- Maybe people could use laptops to access the Internet if the sessions slows down. Taking a break for 5 minutes to surf the web may revive the discussion.
Tools to capture ideas
- FreeMind – Pros: free, open-source, light weight; Cons: 2-dimensional
- CmapTools – Pros: free; Cons: 2-dimensional
- Outining software – Pros: simple; Cons: limited structure, 2-dimensional
- ZeFrank’s ‘Brain Crack’ episode – Inspiration to move beyond brainstorming and to implement ideas. Remember we often judge ourselves by what we think we can do, but others judge us
by what we’ve actually done.
I will propose a session in which we brainstorm the act of brainstorming (because I love reflexive systems). That’s a technique groups can use to explore an issue or solve a problem. Below are notes I’ve prepared ahead of time. I’ll update this post after the session.
Never, mathematicians say, has there been an individual like Paul Erdos… [He had] more than 1,500 papers to his name…
Concentrating fully on mathematics, Dr. Erdos traveled from meeting to meeting, carrying a half-empty suitcase and staying with mathematicians wherever he went… [New York Times, 1996]
According to legend he’d live with a colleague for a week or two. Together they’d collaborate and write a paper. He eventually published with 458 mathematicians! He was a like a bee pollinating flowers.
- attention span
- intelligence (is Google making us stupid or smart?)
- privacy (NSA wiretapping, Total Information Awareness, Facebook funder connected to CIA’s In-Q-Tel)
- sense of space (William Gibson‘s ‘cyberspace‘)
- politics (Iran protests, smart mobs)
- sexuality (how is hyperreal pornography changing sexuality?)
Later I’ll digest our discussion and write a chapter of a book in progress. I’ll list everyone as a collaborator/co-author. This method of writing is awesome because it combines the manic passion of face to face brainstorming with the diversity of geographically remote collaborators.
Couchsurfing.com is a safe way to meet 1 Million people worldwide. I traveled this way last spring for two months speaking at universities which hosted our Digital Literacy Contest. My profile lists some of the 20+ amazing people I’ve met along the way. Most of them are creative and progressive people who march to the beat of their own drummers.
I’ve stayed with graduate students studying everything from physics, moss, sociology, hypertext and supply chains. I’ve stayed with a sales executive in the banking industry and a music school student studying violin. There was the guy who had breakfast for years on Sundays with one of my undergraduate idols, Douglas Hofstadter, and said, “Oh, Doug? He’s okay… a good self-promoter.” (!)
“Few, if any, presentations at conferences in the coming years will manage to combine the intellectual depth and delivery skills shown by Software Freedom Law Center director Eben Moglen in this penetrating analysis of privacy and technology.”
Get the full talk here:
“To build a working model of the human being permitting at least theoretically effective prediction of future behavior, even if just good for a point, or two or three or four of additional leverage over your future commercial behavior based on information you have voluntarily supplied, is one of the most exciting business models of the 21st century.
It promises to replace commercial broadcasting, for example, by well targeted, highly useful, deeply appropriate advertising interweaved with your media stream in a way that you approve of because it brings you information you need at the moment that you want it most, and therefore biases your choices and controls your conduct at a level of efficiency 20th century mass market advertising only dreamed about.
Structures of social prediction based upon your click stream, your payment habits, your stored contact lists, your photographic libraries, your shared video preferences, your Amazon wish lists, and all the rest. Structures of social prediction and control based upon mining that data offer opportunities for government or private market use employment for the control of human beings that are very exciting indeed.
Oh, but it’s not real control. It’s only control over what I eat, or where, or what smell like. It’s only control over how I do my dating, and whether I have this or that, or the other automobile in the parking lot. In other words, it’s only really about the superficialities of my life, right?
Ask yourself how deeply the political parties in the electoral democracies of the West are involving themselves in this same thing. And ask what the consequences are of that kind of data mining applied to the actual movement of elections.
Through better targeting of effort and resource, in a fashion which we can think of as entrepreneurial democracy on the march? Or for kinds of vote suppression and discouragement of voters, interferences with the effective use of the franchise, which we would have no difficulty characterizing as anti-democratic and largely despotic?”
Have you ever said a word so many times that it loses its meaning?
One experiment in Roger-Pol Droit’s book “Astonish Yourself: 101 Experiments in the Philosophy of Everyday Life” is to call yourself by name out loud for 30 minutes. Your name will eventually lose meaning and sound strange.
This could inspire a fun genre of puns. Make a phrase where a strange word repeats many times. Play with various endings like “-ing”, “-er”, “-ist”, or “-ism”. Make the strange word repeat so many times that anyone who reads your creation will walk away thinking, “I never thought about it, but that word is so strange.”
Here is one example I created:
- Quoth the quote man: “Quoting quotes hath hampered the quoter for ages. Non-quoters agree: be of note, create your quotes.”
Do you get an “information buzz” surfing the web until 2am?
Love to follow your curiosity manically down tangential paths and wind up with 20+ Firefox tabs open?
I am creating networks of these people. They are autodidacts–inspired, self driven, independent thinkers. People who experience ‘flow’ (fully immersed, energized focus on an activity) by filtering information through their mind.
These networks are local, national, and global.
What characteristics do these people have?
- Sincere curiosity?
- Ability (time and money) to pursue their curiosity?
- Fun loving?
Ways to Attract
How can we attract more people to these networks?
What events would attract these sorts of people? I created the Digital Literacy Contest for this purpose. What words would we use to describe these events?
- Information flow/buzz
- Sincere curiosity
- Interstitial network
Information Sources, Inspirations, Metaphysics
To which information sources do they subscribe (blogs, magazines, newspapers)? What tools do they use to organize information?
Who are their inspirations and heroes?
- Buckminster Fuller
- Marshall McLuhan
- Terence McKenna
- John Brockman
- Daniel Rourke
- Joseph Campbell
- Clifford Pickover
What are their metaphysics? What models do they use to think about life? About information? About learning?
- Information flow comes gradually. Like spinning a bicycle wheel. Or using a Dynaflex.
What do they think about the future?
I’d like a 3-d, navigable, web of ideas. Much like TiddlyWiki which is “a non-linear personal web notebook”. Only I’d like my creation to be visual. I want to see the nodes connect, like a mindmap (like FreeMind).
This is a diagram (click for a better, larger real example of the diagram):
Each node in the web would be an idea. The highlighted node would be displayed in full. Linked nodes, depending on their degree from the highlighted node, would display limited information.
Each node would contain:
- A title
- (eg “Changing Media”)
- On all displayed nodes
- (eg “Data decay is accelerating man’s fall from the Golden Age by obscuring the Great Conversation [GC].”)
- On nodes directly connected to the highlighted node.
- (eg “Hesiod wrote of a Golden Age with no individual property and very little strife. Plato said writing would deteriorate our memories. Each new media format has a shorter life. Data decay will get worse. In the GC humans stretch discussion out over the ages. Info decay may be hampering our ability to communicate to the future generations. We no longer have a stable info format to support a stable, long term conversation. Without an anchor in the GC, we reinvent the wheel and loose collected wisdom. Like fish in progresively dirtier water, the abstract substance in which we exist–of which we are equally hardly aware–may be deteriorating. This is the continuation of the Fall from the Golden Age. Changing media may quicken the deterioration.”)
- Only on the highlighted node.
It would be easy to navigate. Like the ones below, a right click & mouse movement would zomm in/out. Simply clicking a node would hightlight it red and bring it to the center. The web of nodes would reorganize.
This is a thumbnail of the larger, real example:
How to do this:
Prefuse (an “Information Visualization Toolkit) seems to be the best way to do this.
“Prefuse supports a rich set of features for data modeling, visualization, and interaction. It provides optimized data structures for tables, graphs, and trees, a host of layout and visual encoding techniques, and support for animation, dynamic queries, integrated search, and database connectivity. Prefuse is written in Java, using the Java 2D graphics library, and is easily integrated into Java Swing applications or web applets. Prefuse is licensed under the terms of a BSD license, and can be freely used for both commercial and non-commercial purposes.”
The specific examples are from: http://prefuse.org/gallery/
It would be a web like Graph view:
“Storyspace is a hypertext writing environment that is especially well suited to large, complex, and challenging hypertexts. Storyspace focuses on the process of writing, making it easy and pleasant to link, revise, and reorganize.”