Louisville's Keith Robbins filmed this panel featuring philosopher Sandy Goldberg, architect Emiliano Gandolfi, game designer Jane McGonigal and the artistic director for Diavolo, Jacques Heim at the 2008 IdeaFestival discussing breakthroughs, the importance of failure and their sources of creativity. In addition to some great conversation, this ten minute video features a favorite quote of mine.
It looks like the cubesat revolution is making its way into pop culture. Incorporating the theme of inexpensive access to space into what looks like a new alternative reality game from game designer and IdeaFestival presenter Jane McGonigal, this video raises a question that will, sooner or later, be asked in boardrooms.
Forget information strategy, by 2020 the relevant question for every company will be, "what's our space strategy"?
In other news, we have had a lot of questions about the Signtific Labs page, and in order to whet your appetite, we are proud to present the following sneak peak at the first Signtific Lab Experiment, which will be debuted by our game designer Jane McGonigal at Webstock 2009 in New Zealand from February 16 - 20. Enjoy the video, and stay tuned for more updates.
I'd be remiss if I didn't also point out that KySat-1, a cubesat engineered and built by Kentucky graduate engineering students to get Kentucky kids excited about space and space technologies, may well reach orbit this year. You may follow the action on the Kentucky Space blog.
According to BusinessWeek, futurist Ray Kurzweil, who has appeared at the IdeaFestival, and X-Prize founder Peter Diamandis, who has not really should, are creating "Singularity U," a new school "aimed at exponential advancements."
In June, Singularity University is scheduled to open with a faculty replete with scientific celebrities, and an initial class of 30 students at NASA's Ames Research Center in Silicon Valley. The subjects taught over a nine-week period are a menu of the disciplines whose exponential advancement Kurzweil suggests will overturn the world as we know it—nanotechnology, robotics, artificial intelligence, biotechnology, energy, and more.
Peter Diamandis, chairman of the X-Prize Foundation and co-chancellor of the university, said he called Kurzweil after reading The Singularity Is Near about two and a half years ago. He asked whether Kurzweil was interested in launching a program similar to the International Space University, a space technology program that Diamandis founded at Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Kurzweil agreed.
You can define tinkering in part in contrast to other activities. Mitch
Resnick, for example, talks about how traditional technology-related
planning is top-down, linear, structured, abstract, and rules-based,
while tinkering is bottom-up, iterative, experimental, concrete, and
object-oriented. (Resnick is very big on creating toys that invite tinkering.)
How important is the human exploration of space? One argument take you're unlikely to hear in most debates over the wisdom of going to the stars involves a calculation by Dr. J. Richard Gott, a Louisville native, Princeton Astrophysicist and speaker at the IdeaFestival this September.
In 1993 he used the Copernican Principle to assess the odds for human survival and came up with the near certainty, statistically speaking, that humanity would go on for at least another 5,100 years.
The Copernican principle makes reasonable guesses about the future using one known fact and the assumption that there is nothing special about this moment in time. In 1969, Gott used the principle to accurately predict, for example, how long the Berlin Wall would stand.
Suppose you want to forecast the political longevity of the leader
of a foreign country, and you know nothing about her country except
that she has just finished her 39th week in power. What are the odds
that she’ll leave office in her 40th week? According to the Copernican
Principle, there’s nothing special about this week, so there’s only a
1-in-40 chance, or 2.5 percent, that she’s now in the final week of her
It’s equally unlikely that she’s still at the very beginning of her
tenure. If she were just completing the first 2.5 percent of her time
in power, that would mean her remaining time would be 39 times as long
as the period she’s already served — 1,521 more weeks (a little more
than 29 years).
So you can now confidently forecast that she will stay in power at
least one more week but not as long as 1,521 weeks. The odds of your
being wrong are 2.5 percent on the short end and 2.5 percent on the
long end — a total of just 5 percent, which means that your forecast
has an expected accuracy of 95 percent, the scientific standard for
The "Space Colonization Imperative" suggests that humans should have a space colony up and running on Mars in the next 45 years, since, applying the Copernican principle, the space program is half way through its expected life span. If we don't have a permanent base on Mars by then, it might be too late.
His column also drew a response from one of my favorite writers on big space themes, Paul Gilster. His "Odds on a Human Future" post also describes Dr. Gott's thinking on the matter.
Using the sonorous qualities of a famous kinetic sculpture has her point of departure, Cocktail Party Physicist Jennifer Ouellette describes how science and the arts might make use of the discovery of phonons - the rough acoustical equivalent of photons.
Just as we can manipulate light with mirrors or pipe it through fiber optic cables, she describes how phonons might be manipulated in unusual ways. For example, material science might create "blind" and "deaf" materials, substances that do not interact - that have "bandgaps" in other words - for certain optic and sonic frequencies.
In The Infinite Book, mathematician and cosmologist John Barrow writes about the many ways in which humans approach the idea of forever.
Using a play by Karel Čapek about a women named Elina Makropulos, who chooses, then after 342 years, renounces, immortality, and another novel by Arthur C. Clarke, Barrow raises an interesting problem and then follows with a surprising insight.
The question is this: wouldn't an infinite life exhaust friends, experiences and knowledge? Wouldn't it ultimately be boring? Barrow:
[Philosopher] Bernard William's mediation on the case of Elina Makropulos convinces him that death is a bad thing, because it closes of possibilities that would otherwise be open to us. None the less, immortality should not be preferred to mortality - at least if we retain or present human nature - because mortality imbues life with its most important goals. Thus, although at any moment there is good reason to try to live longer, there is no reason to continue living forever. This dichotomy is similar to some of the features of infinite series that we have encountered in previous chapters. We have seen that it is possible for the sum of an infinite number of terms to have a property that is not shared by any member of the series. Williams's dichotomy is not dissimilar in its jump to a negative conclusion, despite all that has gone before.
I like here how Barrow uses a mathematical example (in the supplied italics) to illustrate that a future, even one the runs infinitely long need not be the same. Its sum - its meaning if you will - need not be predictable.
Having set the table, here's how he applies that unpredictability:
All these evaluations of the pros and cons of living forever that we find in the works of philosophy are similar in one interesting respect. There is never a mention of anyone but oneself.... Elina Makropulos didn't look to future of helping other people.
By this I think he means that in any eternal future, shared meaning can result in infinite possibilities. Predictable?
What makes forecasting hard, according to Saffo, isn't predicting the outcome, but accurately mapping the edges of what might happen. Since change is linear - we can't take one event and extrapolate into the future - what might happen must sometimes be imagined. Saffo:
Science fiction is brilliant at this, and often predictive, because it plants idea bombs in teenagers which they make real 15 years later.
The Long Now Foundation links to a helpful Harvard Business Review piece authored by Saffo that describes "six rules for effective forecasting." An executive summary of that article is here.
Financial analyst Nassim Taleb, who will be at the IdeaFestival in September, followed Saffo in February and discussed "retrocasting" - essentially, how we get the future wrong by misjudging the past. "Black Swans", those history making events that sail into the present, Taleb explained, are often "wrongly retro-predicted. We pretend we know why the big event happened, and so entrench our inability to deal with the next world-changing improbable event." I liked this thought:
We compute probability from the success of the survivors instead of paying attention to what didn't happen, but might have.
There are two places whence random things occur, according to Taleb. They are "Mediocristan," which is a realm of random events dominated by the average, and "Extremistan," where spectacular successes and the long tail dominate. Taleb:
You can say there will be a few monsters and lots of midgets and the world will be changed by the monsters, and that’s all you can say.
According to the blog entry for the event, Benoit Mandelbrot convinced Taleb that energy powers Mediocristan, while the main dynamic of Extremistan involves the uncertainty of information. Anything social, anything that involves the brilliance and bane of language, anything you might read on IFblog, hails from Extremistan.
Audio, video and blog entries from the Saffo and Taleb Long Now seminars may be found here.