Companies take a deep dive into the stacks of a sci-fi library to find out how we might react to new tech.
Tagged with “future” (144)
When Tim O’Reilly talks, Silicon Valley listens. In this special episode, O’Reilly tells us about his new book "WTF," which argues that the technology industry has become tone-deaf—and that the only way to avoid mass technological unemployment and achieve shared prosperity is to rethink the algorithms that govern our whole economy.
For a sane, humane, and skeptical perspective on what’s happening to Silicon Valley and why our high-tech economy seems to be failing us, there’s no better source than Tim O’Reilly, the master trend spotter and founder of computer book publisher and events company O’Reilly Media.
whatsthefuture-cover.png This week the podcast features an in-depth conversation with the admired entrepreneur, investor, and author, whose new book WTF: What’s The Future and Why It’s Up to Us was published by HarperCollins on October 10.
In the interview—and in the book—O’Reilly shares the mental maps he uses to make sense of emerging technologies and their impact. And he argues that if we want to avoid the worst side effects of AI and automation and learn the lessons of networked platforms like Amazon, Google, Facebook, Airbnb, Uber, and Lyft, we’ll have to "discover what rules produce a better game" across government, business, and the financial system.
O’Reilly came to prominence in the 1990s as the publisher of the animal books, a famous series of technical and programming manuals, and as one of the first advocates and defenders of the open source software movement. In the 2000s he helped to define the boom in Web-based services that came to be called Web 2.0. Later, he cofounded O’Reilly Alphatech Ventures, a seed-stage venture capital firm that was one of the first to invest in startups like Chartbeat and Foursquare. In short, O’Reilly seems to possess a wide-angle lens on the technology industry that helps him see these big trends before they’re visible to everyone else.
One of the messages of the book is that "bad maps shape our view of the future," as O’Reilly puts it in the interview. Building off a reference to a 1650 map that mistakenly showed California as an island, O’Reilly argues that Microsoft’s outdated maps of the computer industry led it to stumble in the 1990s as the share-and-share-alike values of the open source software movement enabled the rise of new platforms like Amazon and Google.
But no one has a perfect view of the future, and even the makers of today’s defining platforms—Uber, Lyft, Airbnb and the like—have only recently begun to understand the nature of the platforms they’ve built, O’Reilly argues. He describes them as matching marketplaces that will only thrive when they’re designed to serve all sides—both passengers and drivers, both renters and hosts.
“That marketplace model is central to the business model of these companies—more central even in some ways than the app,” O’Reilly says. “The wonderful user experience, the automated payment, all these things, you see how they come together. And the point is that technology periodically makes new things possible, and it takes us a while to figure out how to put all the pieces together.”
Perhaps the most important theme running through the book is that lessons from today’s networked technology platforms can be applied back to the larger economy.
“We tell the algorithms what to do, and we don’t quite understand what we’re telling them,” O’Reilly explains in the interview. “Facebook says, ‘We had this great idea, we’ll create this reinforcement loop in the news feed,’ and their theory was that that would make for this rich social experience where people would be more connected to their friends. But what they didn’t realize was that it would amplify hyper-partisanship and that bad actors who would come in and try to influence people. And I try to draw, again, parallels to the broader economy, because we also have in our economy a set of algorithmic instructions to companies that are enforced by financial markets. In the same way that Facebook tries to tell their programs ‘Show people more of what they like,’ we tell companies ‘Make money.’ We tell companies, Optimize for shareholder value. Treat people as a cost to be eliminated.’ So again I’m trying to make the argument from technology. What we learn is: it’s time to adjust the algorithms.”
How do you design the future? Today we talk with cyberpunk founder and design theorist Bruce Sterling and feminist/activist writer Jasmina Tešanović about speculative design, design fictions, open source hardware, the maker movement, and the soft robots of our domestic future. Plus we go behind the scenes of the creation of a design fiction by Bruce, Jasmina, Sheldon Brown, and the Clarke Center—a video installation called My Elegant Robot Freedom.
The Internet was built by idealists who believed that greater access to information would inevitably lead to better outcomes for humanity. Jaron Lanier was one of those utopians, a pioneering inventor of virtual reality. But Lanier calls the Web as it has evolved a “giant manipulation service,” and he fears that virtual reality, the next frontier of tech innovation, could absorb the misogyny of gamer culture. Nicholas Thompson, the editor of newyorker.com, asks Lanier if there’s a way to do things better.
In the latest ‘Geeks’ Guide to the Galaxy’ podcast, Simone Caroti discusses his critical survey of the Culture series by sci-fi author Iain Banks.
03 | Fast, smart and connected: All technology has a history (and a country) - Boyer Lectures - ABC Radio National (Australian Broadcasting Corporation)
Professor Genevieve Bell reveals how new technologies change life, but rarely in the ways we anticipate. How might the origin stories of the typewriter, the robot and electricity equip us to invent the future?
02 | Fast, smart and connected: Dealing lightning with both hands - Boyer Lectures - ABC Radio National (Australian Broadcasting Corporation)
Professor Genevieve Bell looks at how personal computers and the internet have reshaped our lives, and the possibilities we’ve imagined for ourselves and each other.
01 | Fast, smart and connected: Where it all began - Boyer Lectures - ABC Radio National (Australian Broadcasting Corporation)
Professor Genevieve Bell explains why she’s returned home after decades in Silicon Valley, and explores Australia’s role in building our current digital world.
We all have a future self, a version of us that is better, more successful. It can inspire us to achieve our dreams, or mock us for everything we have failed to become.
What do you want to be when you grow up? This is a question we ask children, and adults. In American culture the concept of the future self is critical, required. It drives us to improve, become a richer, more successful, happier version of who we are now. It keeps us from getting blinkered by the world we grew up in, allowing us to see into other potential worlds, new and different concepts, infinite other selves. But the future self can also torture us, mocking us for who we have failed to become. We travel to North Port, Florida, where the principal of a high school did something extreme and unusual to help his students strive for grander future selves - a noble American experiment that went horribly wrong.
Science fiction has always been an outlet for our greatest anxieties. This week, we delve into how the genre is exploring the reality of climate change. Plus: new words to describe the indescribable.
Jeff VanderMeer @jeffvandermeer, author of the Southern Reach Trilogy and Borne, on writing about the relationships between people and nature.
Claire Vaye Watkins @clairevaye talks about Gold Fame Citrus, her work of speculative fiction in which an enormous sand dune threatens to engulf the southwest.
Kim Stanley Robinson discusses his latest work, New York 2140. The seas have risen 50 feet and lower Manhattan is submerged. And yet, there’s hope.
British writer Robert Macfarlane @RobGMacfarlane on new language for our changing world.
Throughout the show: listeners offer their own new vocabulary for the Anthropocene era. Many thanks to everyone who left us voice memos!
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