Category: Technology

The Inevitability of the Machine

As long as we’ve been making computers, we’ve been trying to make them beat us at chess. That sounds like an odd thing to do with a computer out of all possible things that can or could be done with one. Until you spend a little time figuring out how one makes a computer that can beat a human at chess.

And then you get it. And then you’re scared to death.  Continue reading “The Inevitability of the Machine”

The Hard Problem

Within the first few pages of the second to last chapter of the important book Whiplash: How to Survive Our Faster Future  by MIT Media Lab director Joi Ito and Northeastern University’s Jeff Howe, I found a jarring sentence. It came as part of an introductory description of how MIT Media Lab Synthetic Neurobiologist Ed Boyden looks at the human brain.

To Boyden, “The brain is more verb than noun.” Continue reading “The Hard Problem”

So Much Winning: The Power of Intellectual Curiosity

In the late summer and early fall of 1771 Benjamin Franklin, on travel in Ireland and Scotland, met with James Watt and Adam Smith. The same James Watt that developed the steam engine that started the industrial revolution. And the same Adam Smith whose Wealth of Nations would introduce the world to the formal concepts of capitalism five years later. If there’s an answer to the “fly on the wall” question for me, it’s hard to think of two conversations I’d want to hear more.  Continue reading “So Much Winning: The Power of Intellectual Curiosity”

The only thing you have left these days is endless opportunity

 

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We are on a mission to fight anti-intellectualism. Ignorance is a choice. Back our campaign HERE.

 

All these damn gadgets and gizmos are making people stupid. Get your head out of your phone and see the world around you they told me.

One deployment I read every book that Malcolm Gladwell ever wrote, and about two dozen others, on a Kindle that fit into the cargo pocket of my utilities by light of an elastic LED headlamp because we lived at night. When I got back, I liked Gladwell on Facebook. Years later, Facebook told me he did an interview with some guy named Tim Ferriss on something called a podcast. I downloaded that podcast for free on my phone while I sat at a red light on my way to work. And I listened to it seconds later. I listened for two hours, in my car, to and from work.

I learned what Gladwell ate for breakfast and who Tyler Cowen was. And that Gladwell had his own podcast. I listened to it and learned everything about the UC college system and something called the human capitalization rate (one of the most interesting things I’ve ever learned) and what happens when rich people give to rich colleges. I learned about the Mennonite faith and the first female Prime Minister of Australia. And the best way to shoot a foul shot, as long as you don’t mind looking silly.

Years ago my son was diagnosed with Autism. I was depressed. A friend of mine shared a commencement speech on Facebook that an author named George gave at his university. It was a moving message. And it helped pull me up from my funk a bit. I liked him on Facebook. Some time later, Facebook told me he had written an article on a presidential candidate for a magazine. So I read it and I was inspired again. I dug out his contact info from an old friend and sent him an email to tell him I appreciated his work and that it had inspired mine. And I shared some of mine with him in a link on an email. It took five minutes. He wrote back the next day and told me I might be on to something. And to keep going. And I kept going.

Back to that Feriss guy.

I subscribed to his podcast by clicking one button and searched his entire catalog at that same red light. He had someone named BJ Miller on. Miller started a different kind of hospice for terminally ill patients that focused on feeling the world around you until you couldn’t, no sooner. My mom died of ALS. In hospice. It was horrible. What Miller told me as I sat in traffic on my way to work was that it shouldn’t be that way. He told me about his different way. And then I realized how palliative end of life care is very similar to parenting severely impaired special needs kids, like my son. And then I realized something needed to be done to help people like my family continue to feel the world until they couldn’t. Because it’s hard for us to do it on our own. Too much of it is pain. Like dying. So I started a non-profit corporation Care For Us. I built the website for free on wordpress.com with the help of a 15 minute learning module on HTML coding from Khan Academy.

Here is our site.  Go there. Support that too if you can. We were up and running and helping people in 90 days. Check out the logo. I chose it from one of 80 designs 50 graphic designers competed to give me on a sight called 99designs.com. It took a week, most of which was reviewing the amazing work people sent me from all over the world.

At my day job, yes everything else is in the margins, my company gave all of us a free membership to a meditation app called Headspace. I downloaded it on my phone by pressing three buttons and using my thumbprint to verify it was me. And every day after I park my car, and turn off my morning podcast, I sit in the parking garage and complete a guided meditation study for ten minutes. On my phone. It’s changed my life.

Mornings are for podcasts (Tyler Cowen, Tim Ferriss, Ezra Kline, Stephen Dubner, Malcolm Gladwell etc.) and meditation. The ride home is for the five books a month I burn through on Audible. Which gives me free books to download in 20 seconds for my membership with Amazon that gives me free shipping with things I can buy from my phone with one click. It helps that I have a long commute. Which got shorter when WAZE told me how to beat the traffic every day.

And the blog I started, for free, with my thoughts and all the information in the history of the world at my fingertips and 30 minutes worth of web design on wordpress.com, had a million and a half people read it last year. It got so big I had to start an LLC. I used Legal Zoom. 15 minutes. You’re reading that blog now.

I’m asking for your funding to grow it more through my Kickstarter campaign HERE.

Because in 2017, you have to run away from knowledge and capability on purpose. And all this damn technology and these gadgets are giving us, is nothing less than endless opportunity. Ignoring all of it in the name of whatever it is you believe, is dangerous.

As Seth Godin, who I found when someone retweeted on Twitter, said:

“That’s the true danger of anti-intellectualism. While it’s foolish to choose to be stupid, it’s cultural suicide to decide that insights, theories and truth don’t actually matter. If we don’t care to learn more, we won’t spend time or resources on knowledge.

We can survive if we eat candy for an entire day, but if we put the greenmarkets out of business along the way, all that’s left is candy.”

Information is everywhere these days. And it comes at you fast. But you are in control of what you choose to pay attention to. I’m not going to feel bad any more about looking down on those who choose to spend their precious mind space on cable news or garbage click bate. Because they’re vote counts just as much mine and they’re not working hard enough at earning it. And they’re hurting our country.

You used to be able to say that they just didn’t know any better with a straight face. No more. Not knowing any better is a choice. Ignorance is a choice. Fight it like our future depends on it. Because in democracy, it does.

We are on a mission to fight anti-intellectualism. Ignorance is a choice. Back our campaign HERE.

Star Wars: A Social Commentary

If you’re going to make a prequel to the most iconic, imitated and merchandized movie in modern American culture, you’ve got some pretty heavy decisions to make before doing it. And if you decide to make that prequel end at pretty much the exact moment that the iconic movie begins, and 40 years have passed since you stopped filming the first one, then you’ve got some more decisions to make. And some problems to solve too. Like making people dead or 40 years since aged appear to be neither. Or making spaceships move and sound the same even though special effects technology has been reinvented several dozen times over. I’ll spare you the spoilers. They did just fine with both of those. And as a lunatic Star Wars geek since long before it was cool to be a lunatic Star Wars geek, I loved every minute of it.

I realized something about halfway through my second viewing of it though. Something that you would probably miss, unless you were sitting next to a curious seven year old who got his first WIFI enabled iPad when he was three. It occurred to me, when he leaned over and in his extra loud whisper voice asked, as the heros of the movie were hatching their plan to get their hands on a society saving piece of data, “why don’t they just download it from the cloud?” And there it was. Somewhere between a mouthful of popcorn and a draw on my 90 ounce diet coke, it occurred to me that the fantastic Star Wars drama Rogue One, was an accidental social commentary on the great stagnation of our times.

Chances are, you’re going to need me to unpack that one a bit.

One of the fun decisions that the makers of Rogue One made, very effectively so, is to cinematically keep true to the futuristic technology levels shown in the first Star Wars movie. In the 40 year old Star Wars, there were space ships and light speed travel and special reactors powering things. They had vehicles that levitated and machines that harvested moisture from the atmosphere. There were no wheels inefficiently conquering surface friction on just about anything. Nothing appeared to be burning anything to propel it. And there were robots everywhere with real artificial intelligence to the extent that they had their own limited free will and personalities. In almost every way, it was a glimpse into the far distant future. And what 1977 would have you believe, in a way that recreating it in 2016 makes painfully obvious, is that fantasy future is powered by computer technology that would have been nearly obsolete by about 1995. screen-shot-2016-12-28-at-7-59-36-am

About the same time that the original Star Wars was being filmed in the mid seventies, Gordon Moore, co-founder of Intel made his proclamation that would be referred to ever since as Moore’s Law. Moore claimed that computing capability would double every 18 months. Over the last few decades, his assessment has been correct. In the 60’s we sent men 240 thousand miles to the moon and back on a rocket designed to go even further, Mars perhaps, using a navigating computer with 265 thousand times less memory than my Iphone. screen-shot-2016-12-27-at-5-58-30-pmWhich means even a decade or so later when Star Wars came out, what we saw on the screen, cd ROMs with secret plans, buttons instead of touch screens, vacuum tube televisions and data ports you had to plug a giant robot phallus into to transfer info, looked futuristic. Because it was. But when we had to duplicate it and pretend it still was forty years later, it looked, well, kind of silly. 

So what right? Clearly I spend too much time thinking about what things say about us as a society. That’s entirely true. But consider this. In 1969, we were conducting space travel and flying super sonic passenger flights. We had no WIFI or even internet, almost no data storage or computing capacity and nothing that resembled the cloud. Today, my 11 year old operates an iPhone hundreds of thousands of times more powerful than anything we had then, and we haven’t flown super-sonic passenger flight in 13 years. And America is no longer capable of manned space flight. What space flight is happening, is limited to low earth orbit. Because over the last 40 years, the world of bits (computers) hasn’t just outpaced the world of atoms (everything else), they’re no longer even headed in the same direction.

But why?

There’s a few thousand pages you could put into that question alone. But I’ll hopefully leave you wanting more instead. You could take the path that Paypal founder, Facebook Board member and venture capital investor Peter Thiel takes. Thiel who famously critiqued Silicon Valley’s output by saying,”We wanted flying cars, instead we got 140 characters.” believes that the barriers to entry for industries like energy and automobiles are too high because of things like regulation and a failing education system and a lazy baby boomer generation that rode the coat tails of their parents to a comfy life with no problems to solve. Thiel believes that we have deep societal and government structure flaws that we could overcome, if we get it together to get it moving again. Which is probably why he spoke at the Republican National Convention.

Or you could listen to economist and author Tyler Cowen who takes another spin on it. He thinks we’re pretty much done innovating, for awhile, as an American species. We’ve picked all the “low hanging fruit” over the last 400 years or so, with free land, immigrant labor and technology, now it’s time for it to slow down. And it has.

So who’s right? Thiel? Cowen? I don’t know. As it tends to be with massive systems discussions like the economics of innovation, it’s complicated. But I like to put my mental energy into a space that it’s likely Cowen would find silly and optimistic. It sounds like this. There was a lot of money made in Silicon Valley over the last few decades connecting the world and creating a future that, from a consumer software and electronics perspective outpaced even the great creative mind of George Lucas. And now some of that money is going towards combining the first principles of Silicon Valley-lean agile start up aggression- with old dinosaur industries like automobiles and aerospace. Elon Musk is launching rockets at Space X, putting solar power on houses with Solar City and building electric cars and charging stations at Tesla. Amazon founder Jeff Bezos is stealing Musk’s employees to come work for his own space company Blue Origin. And Google is making cars that drive themselves.

The point is this. I don’t know if Cowen or Thiel are right. It doesn’t really matter. Because it’s moving again. And the types of people moving it appear to have the resources to get it moving for real. And our job, as a people, is to expect it to keep moving. And to see the value in progress and innovation beyond things that make our lives easier. It was easy when we had no choice, when we needed to make rockets and technology to keep up with Russia and stave off nuclear annihilation. Without that push we’ve lost a bit of the oomph though. But we need it back. And quickly. 2.7 billion industrialized Asians are going to happen over night. And if we do it with last century’s energy and transportation technology, it’s just another type of annihilation.

It’s time to start seeing the world like a seven year old who looks at a problem and asks with the great curiosity and wonder, “why don’t they just use the cloud?”  In 1977, that was a crazy idea, even for the future. But as Google founder Larry Page said, who was once told the idea of translating all the books in the world into data was crazy, “Good ideas are always crazy, until they’re not.”

And right now, that guy and his buddy Elon are building a zero emission car that drives itself. Which sounds crazy right?

Until the world needs it. Until it doesn’t.