Three Futures

Paradise, Hell, or Overrated?

The Inevitable

Understanding the 12 Technological Forces That Will Shape Our Future

Kevin Kelly 2016 Bvtn 303.483 KEL


Kevin Kelly consumes content, and writes about it. But does he make? anything physical, like webservers or book printing plants? These are the economic chokepoints, and with industry consolidation, the owners of his future. Techno-serfdom.


In real life, we make two steps forward and one step back, until war (engendered by thwarted expectations) takes us ten steps back. On average, we advance over time, and the future will be better, but each increment of better will be harder to do. We won't get there by watching stunts on youtube.

Missing from the index: power (political and electrical), physical resources, pollution, savings, investment, insight, relevance, meaning, invention (except of crime), discipline, contemplation, poverty, charity, peacemaking, freedom, reputation, honor, responsibility ... This is perpetual adolescence, not a future for resposible adults.

You Are Not A Gadget

A Manifesto

Jaron Lanier 2010 Bvtn 303.4833 LAN


Jaron Lanier makes music, and worries about free content. But when sorta-OK content can be created almost for free by a surplus of willing providers, and copying is free, why pay for more?

In 1930s Africa, Karen Blixen (Isak Dinesen) writes of illiterate natives paying semiliterate letter writers to write letters and read them. In a rich educated society, those who want to can write and read their own letters. Certainly there are superb letter writers and discerning readers available, but why should we hire them? Perhaps an even richer society will dispense with professional musicians and actors and writers, and (aided by some technology) democratize the creation of vast quantities of personalized entertainment.

If Lanier's personality matches his writing, I probably don't want to meet him.

p10 Lanier writes that MIDI "locks in" notes and that MIDI "has become to hard to change". That's bullshit, MIDI is like ascii, a format to convey some kinds of messages. MIDI can be the timing controller for delivering much more complex messages, including subsampled timing and URLs for very complex behaviors. "Change IS hard", and requires effort. Don't grouse, do better.

p11 Lanier writes that "a UNIX program is often similar to a simulation of a person typing quickly". Another standard interface, but we can move 3D highdef animations that way. Most importlantly, a "quickly typed" message can initiate programs of arbitrary complexity (which someone has to imagine, design, write, and debug).

p11 Unix tends to "want". No, it is a paradigm for description of processes. Some processes fit the paradigm better than others, which privileges such processes. That's an annoyance for those who would priviledge other processes, but they can write design tools to mitigate the annoyances.

p12 I was trying to do what MIDI does not ... UNIX was too brittle and clumsy for that. Or perhaps Lanier is too brittle and clumsy (and vague) to discover a design that accomplishes his goals. A real time operating system (there are *nix versions) that do this, and with the right hardware they can achieve any time granularity he wants. His problems stem from the nature of stored-program digital computers, which process streams more efficiently than they process interrupts. Context switching is expensive. Brains are interrupt-driven, and digital hardware can be, too.

p13 What happened to trains, files, and musical notes could happen to the definition of a human being People have many definititions, and many proclivities. They can become sponge-like filter feeders, or goal-seeking free swimmers. Computer owners don't want them idle, and don't want them making expensive context switches, so they design the interfaces to channel us into a predictable stream: bits out, fungable user data back.

Frustrating. Lanier does not like what people are becoming, and I don't either. But he (seemingly) sees solutions in limits and control and top-down impositions (such as a structure for micropayments in return for individual data), because individuals make bad choices. What makes his own bad choices better than the rest of ours?

Lanier is the anti-Kelly, but "the truth" is not on a line somewhere in between. The truth has as many dimensions as there are people, and when individuals actively collaborate, those dimensions get explored. There is no mass market solution for individual exploration without freedom of association (and dissociation). Stick to the DNA of a free society, and don't restrict interaction for efficiency, profitability, or security, and amazing collaborations and ideas will emerge. Some amazingly bad; hopefully those failures will be public and instructive to the other seven billion of us.


The Myths of Technology Change

Bob Seidensticker 3006 Bvtn 303.483 SEI

Read cover to cover, this places hype about future technological marvels in context.

Seidensticker is my kind of party pooper. At some point, all parties need pooping, so we can start looking for the next party. He is more earnest and fact-driven than Lanier. As a lover of facts, I enjoyed this book.

My engineering philosophy is "that won't work, but this might." "Won't work" is my raw material. Here's a whole book full.

The basic ideas: most breakthroughs aren't. Real breakthroughs take years or decades to get noticed, then grow exponentially (driven by rapid adoption) until they fill their niche. Chips are not the first - printing presses and mass produced literature were the 16th century's hardware and software.


ThreeFutures (last edited 2017-07-08 01:13:34 by KeithLofstrom)