Blue Gold for beginners

I was literally in primary school when I first heard the expression “blue gold”… Coming to think of it, I am now under the impression my teachers must have been two very enlightened ladies… It was in the late 80s!

I heard again and again -over the years- that “the wars of the new century will be fought over water supplies”… certainly humanity wouldn’t reach that low as to fight over such a primary necessity, I instinctively thought. 

A few decades later, I only partially changed my mind.

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How big a crisis?

Crisis are cyclical, and the global financial crisis dated 2008 left scars in our social tissue that are still far from healed. While the top 1% recovered almost entirely in a fairly quick fashion, the larger part of western population’s wages keep shrinking in terms of real purchasing power, now contributing to the rise of right wing populism, the resurgence of racism, white suprematism, sovranism and protectionism.

This scenario ignited a race against time where automation is challenged by the risk of authoritarian drifts within our society.

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Migration vs Automation

A lot of the western public debate is currently revolving around forms of protection to shield our economies from emerging ones.

The shield can take the form of a trade war, of a brexit, or less metaphorically, that of a wall at the border.

While we fight with our fear of migrants however, we are neglecting the rise of a much stronger workforce that is bond to eventually end the concept of work as we know it: Robots.

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Physiognomy and A.I.

Physiognomy is often described as the pseudo-science of inferring character from facial and physical characteristics.

What is fascinating about it is the idea that as we age, we bring with us the signs of who we are. Our wrinkles hide the story of our predominant facial expressions through the decades. Our posture says a lot about our employment and status. Our mouth shape and mandibular position are significant of how we wanted to portray ourselves through time, menacing or friendly for example.

There are however also concerning aspects to this pseudo-science, and in particular as our ability to process Big Data enhances, physiognomy is going to play with the edge between good and bad science: the more we store images and videos of faces, expressions, and human interactions, the more opportunities A.I. will have to examine training material and learn prejudice and discrimination.

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Faster Democracy in faster century

We live in a fast era: technology change fast, we rarely have the time to analyze the same input twice, we multitask, we are addicted to novelty and have a idiosyncrasy for anything old.

Our century is arguably faster than any previous one, and our democracies are inherently slow hardcoded from the constitution up to follow the same paradigm that generated them decades or centuries ago.

Our democracy should, and can be faster.

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Political Fluidity

We often hear that we live a fluid political climate.

I already discussed how I do not see this as a momentary glitch in an otherwise sound political system, but rather as the natural consequence of our technological evolution; something that has not yet reached the tipping point too.

So what do we mean when we speak about political fluidity today? It is a concept related to how the electorate is mutable and their support to a leader or party is purely momentary, and could change at any time. While this was obviously always true to some degree, it is now becoming more true than ever.

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Top 10 ways in which 2019 will shape the future

Full disclaimer: …any of those “10 things that…” you see around is an attempt to score high on google… however in my defence the reason it is also a clear and itemized framework for ideas that may become full posts in future.
Also, there are some notable missing trends, for example the technological backlash that started in 2018, but that I see more like a phase, than something that will shape decades to come.
Finally: the order is entirely arbitrary.

Here we go!

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Hyperhumanity and biology

Information technology began evolving in the modern sense of the expression around the middle of the last century, and is still a work in progress today.

Brain-Computer Interfaces (BCI) are undergoing early research stages today, and we should expect them to similarly develop through many years or decades.

The world as we know it -by then- might have changed extensively.

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Recap 2018 – Putting it all together

Robots will bring down 30% of the jobs within a decade.
Neoliberalism is starting to be antagonized by vaste parts of the population, igniting the fire of populism.
Social Media exploited and society fell for it and social divisiveness is already building up.
In short, the Belle Epoque of our century has come to an abrupt end: the mandatory happiness that characterized the first 15 years of our century, is quickly transforming into anger.

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Private Debt Apocalypse

I like the title… It’s a little apocalyptic, but it conveys the idea. We all know about public debt, a constant reminder of how many countries have been living beyond their means for decades now. I am not talking about public debt tho, I am considering private debt, and specifically the debt of individuals, as opposed that of companies.

When we say that many people in western countries live beyond their means, at an individual level means that each person has an average debt of several thousand euro / dollars. For many a large portion of it constitutes their mortgage, but also student debt, and even just the credit card debts account in average for several thousand dollars/euro.

If you google today “unemployment rate  2030” you will find wildly ranging estimates, only rarely they are lower than 30% tho.

When you have hundreds of millions of unemployed people being unable to repay their debt, you may as well call that a private debt apocalypse.

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Neonomadism

I get to read from time to time about these hippy digital nomads that seem to be living the best life from some tropical beach. Rarely you get to bring the topic to a conversation and not see the distinctive look of jealousy appearing on someone’s face: tropical life, away from everyday traffic, commute and stress, flexible working hours… what’s not to like?

On the other hand, while this may sound like a dream-life, there are still many good reasons that keep us attached to our “homes”: not just our actual home, but our belongings, the nearby places we cherish like the local church, library or mall, our loved ones, and of course our jobs.

When you think of it this way, it is amusing what we call digital nomads: they only became such by making their home a digital place… it is actually their digital sedentism that enables them to be physical nomads!

The fact is: we are all digital migrants in the process of getting there… they are just a little ahead of the curve!

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Meta A.I.

We are used to think of AI as a futuristic technology from sci-fi movies, and at the same time we hear about AI being integrated more and more into our real world tools and devices.
It is pretty clear those two AI are not the same thing, in fact:

  • Narrow AI is real, it’s here today and is a non-sentient and single-purpose form of AI.
  • Wide, or General AI is not real or not yet real: at this point in time it only exists in sci-fi literature. It is normally described as multi-purpose, sentient, and often self-aware.

The idea of singularity, is normally associated with General AI, however I previously proposed the concept of microsingularity, as essentially a form of singularity that is related to a specific narrow AI.

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Hyperhumanity and time

Most of us live a symbiotic relationship with our mobile phones: it would be in many way a brain enhancer, but the data flow has a terribly slow bottleneck: our senses.
We use hand movements to provide an input to the device, and vision to acquire the output of our requests: typically reading.

Cutting out the middle man -our senses- would make for a portable computer that acquires inputs from our thoughts and returns information directly in the short term memory of our brains.

Scientists around the world are working on what is called a brain-computer interface, aiming to cut out the middle man -our senses- and ultimately developing a super-portable computer that acquires inputs from our thoughts and returns information directly into our brains.

This fascinating technology is at the very early stages of research, and it has the potential to open humanity to an unprecedented range of possibilities:

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Individualism

Romanticism was a cultural movement that gained momentum towards the end of the 1700s in Europe, and is still far from being a concept of the past: whenever you describe a “romantic” sunset or movie, you are the living proof that Romanticism and its focus on emotions has influenced our culture to this very day.
Another strong focus of romanticism was individualism: starting from Beethoven and continuing to me and you, individualism kept growing stronger and gained the status of cornerstone of western culture.

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Multisingularity

We describe as singularity the moment when A.I. will outperform human intelligence. The concept is of strong significance because if human intelligence is capable of creating A.I., anything that outperforms human intelligence should by definition be able to improve A.I., and this would cause an iterative chain effect that will bring A.I. to a demigod-like status in a relatively short time.

There is one catch tho: to define outperformance, or improvement over something, we should be capable of measuring and comparing it first. I am not really wondering if we are, I am arguing -instead- that it is completely impossible.

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End of an era

Do you remember capitalism? Marx, the law of supply and demand, the requirement for scarcity, a workforce…

I don’t want to make this a technical talk on economics, and I probably don’t have the means, however it seems obvious that when industry builds new machines aimed to goods production, the reason is lowering the cost of production and raising the profit in one of two ways:

  • keeping the price unchanged, and therefore increasing the margin;
  • gaining a competitive advantage by lowering the price, and therefore selling more units

What happens, tho, if robots become capable of doing any physical labour? And no, I am not talking about science fiction…

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Democracy Miniaturisation

After the fall of the USSR, we immediately saw many European countries splitting into smaller entities, and even after that momentum slowed down, there never was an inversion, but rather a consolidation that took different shapes all the way to the present.

At the same time glocalization has grown to become a mainstream cultural trend: on one hand we keep globalizing as we did for decades, assimilating more and more foreign cultures into our own, enhancing the migration flows and letting our society becoming more diverse, but on the other hand we become more and more aware of what makes our own local culture unique exactly because we now have more elements to compare ourselves with others, thus enhancing the personal bond with our local community.

These two factors work in synergy with many others, and together they are providing an impulse towards a miniaturisation of our democracies.

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Hardware Softwarization

Is a building still a building if no one built it, but rather… printed it?

Apis is a startup based in San Francisco that is hitting the news for having 3d-printed a small house in 24hours. 3D print is destined to lower hugely the costs of buildings -and virtually anything else-  and as a result to revolutionize the way we think of our hardware, of our objects, and therefore the sanctuary called a “home” where we like to collect them all.

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Trendy Elders

There was a time when western societies used to respect their elders, just like most other cultures.

Something then changed, but what?

To answer, the question “why don’t we -as a culture- respect the elders” must be reversed, and we should ask ourselves why do most cultures do so, and what makes us different.

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Mandatory Happiness

A quick chat with friends, and a couple of overheard conversations sparkled it all.

The chat was about how no one wants to be dragged into the downward vortex of negativity, we all heard it hundreds of times, I have been actively portraying the idea for like 20 years now, and yet, hearing it back chewed and served as a mainstreamized concept, scared me, for the first time in 20 years.

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