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Preparing Adi for Ray Kurzweil’s World

by Mike Levin SEO & Datamaster, 01/03/2013

I read Verner Vinge’s Rainbows End last last year, and it kicked my ass into realizing how close we are to an unrecognizable world. Then, one of the world’s wackiest inventors and prophets of technological singularities and other stupid human tricks becomes a director of engineering at Google. A world of autonomous robots and self-driving cars is what my daughter Adi is going to grow up into, and it is my job to equip her. And I barely even have those thoughts together for myself for self-help in my own time and place. But at 42 years-old, I think I’m finally getting down a system.

My plan is to write a book. But with almost half a century behind me, I still haven’t done so. I’m more of a stream of consciousness guy, and I have plenty of that. But that won’t do any good for Adi. Concepts need to be developed. Good stories need to be crafted. This takes time, and goes against my “flying by the seat of my pants” style. In this blog post, I resolve this.

Writing a book and blogging are two somewhat conflicting needs, because with a book, you go back and revise, refine and rewrite. You sort of live in the past, or at the very least, a captured moment. You massage ideas ever closer to some perfect form, coming up with the best way to say something, and pruning out all the garbage that’s besides the point. It is often quoted and sourced, that if I had more time, I would have made it shorter.

Blogging on the other hand—or journaling, or a diary, or whatever you want to call it—captures your immediate thoughts. Some folks go back and refine their blog posts to greater perfection. Some spend a lot of time thinking out their blog posts, the way you would a chapter of a book or a college paper. And of course, there are those who take the contents of their blog and work it into a book, either making best-of extracts such as Joel Spolsky’s Joel on Software, or massaging it into an overarching story, like Chris Anderson’s The Long Tail.

This blog-to-book approach is probably the best approach for me. But on the whole, I’m not going to put the level of research and refinement into individual blog posts as many do. I’m going to forge relentlessly forward, allowing my blog to work as sort of a memory imprint of each day. I do so prefer the daily journal approach, just so long as the big picture and the plan doesn’t get lost in the daily grind.

This getting lost in the daily grind is rarely so exemplified as in how my occasional articles get buried on my blog in short order by my digest posts from my Tweets, or my Recently Read posts from Instapaper. Yes, it’s cool to document even these little micro-thought events of monitoring news and other people’s articles. But it’s like what a co-worker friend, Matt Wurst @mwurst, of mine just said of auto-tweeting runner tech: “2013 may be the year I start unfollowing people who auto-tweet their running data. We get it. You run.”

I tweet, I read, and I follow news. And I let it excessively dominate my personal blog, even when I have plenty of my own original content and ideas to put forth. Between RebelMouse and my Digest/Reading list, my consumption activities dominates my entire homepage, and my original thoughts, and indeed real work, is excessively buried.

So, this becomes something of a New Years Resolution. I am exactly the type of person whose daily thoughts could lead to big, exciting things. So far, I’ve done HitTail and 360iTiger. I’ve got much more like that in store, but I have to overcome the sort of resistance that the daily grind and old outdated expectations and roles saddle me with. I have to revise these expectations and roles to allow myself to forge as I wish to forge into the future, so long as what I produce is in line with and of sufficient value to my employer.

I believe it is. A YouTube video that I casually did on the unboxing of my Raspberry Pi (I was one of the first to get one) has reached over 300K views virtually on its own. I’m sure it will reach a million before it’s life is over. I have successfully repositioned myself from being a Windows-head to getting onto free and open source (FOSS) Linux. I use it as servers, and now as my main desktop OS with Ubuntu.

The servers I use are virtual in nature, at Rackspace and on my keychain as USB drives that boot on the desktop of all Linux, Mac OS X and Windows. The servers I use are of real hardware in nature, including tiny microservers like Raspberry Pi and the Sheeva Plug—which anyone can afford and start building an empire on. And finally, on occasion my servers are full rack-mounted iron, as when I was sysadmin, installer, devops, and all the rest for the original HitTail.

So the value I have to deliver to an audience is akin to the switching of religion and worldviews. This is why there is so much hatred surrounding Windows vs. Mac, Android vs. iOS, anything vs. Raspberry Pi. People invest an awful lot into whatever they happen to be good at now, and its easier to vigorously and often blindly defend the platform rather than learn something new. I’m here to offer up a viable pathway to getting onto some of these new things with minimal pain and maximum enjoyment. That’s my role. That’s what my book will be about. That’s what my daily joural entries will cumulatively build towards, providing material to mine for the book.

Another thing I have to get over is holding back these blog posts over perfection or being finished. I’m sure I have more of these things in draft form all over Google Docs and iOS Notes than I have published. I have to learn to pull the trigger sooner and more frequently to capture the idea online. Publishing online has more meaning than having it in personal notes, due to the Cialdini public commitment and consistent behavior principles. Commit to something in writing in a public way, and you’re more likely to do it. Simple as that.

Another thing missing is the outline of the book. I have a very broad one-page life-plan, which I still firmly believe in. All this—everything—is ultimately about the education of my child, and preparing her for success by whatever measure she chooses to use, in this crazy everything’s changing world that we’re on the verge of. Future-trends are here. We are living them.

We are just over 5 years into iPhone. Google Glasses are not far off. And that’s the easy stuff to see coming. There’s leapfrog after leapfrog of what’s going to be possible with new miracle materials, from near room-temperature superconductors, to the million-uses of graphene. There’s the inevitable near-100% efficient solar panels, which won’t be panels anymore because any surface area can have a coating of the stuff.

Computer mice are about to become a thing of the past, because touchscreens are so obviously superior to those who have not been handicapped by the old way. Keyboards may even go away, as you won’t really need them to use computers anymore. Computers as we know them become a “grandpa” device, because just about anything can be proximity connected to anything else, and giving some particular appliance special status as “the computer” will just seem silly. It’s all computers, just with different capabilities.

There will be a battle between keyboard aficionados, who insist that there are things you simply can’t do any other way, and the new generation of voice recognition hand-gesture folks who keep trying to enlighten old luddites how much better and high bandwidth input things have actually become. The keyboard folks will make the “understanding things at lower levels” arguments, and the youngins will retort that unless you’re doing machine code, you’re just choosing your abstraction-level one way or the other, and voice and hand gestures are no less legit than strokes on some arbitrarily laid-out buttons. Old-schooler’s won’t buy it, because of their smugness in being able to turn anything into a server (i.e. automation device) while the hand-gesture people are limited to the latest and greatest tools.

Against that backdrop, immersive 3D massive multiplayer first-person worlds that used to be Second Live and World of Warcraft, but which are today Minecraft and Crisis 3, will be some immersive and engaging, that people will be literally dropping off the planet. Future versions of Amazon Prime and Subscriptions will enable these shut-in’s behavior, shipping everything they need to live and poop-in-place—and devolve. As much as I put them down, they will defend their life choices with very legitimate arguments, such as perfectly valid virtual economies existing in these worlds that have exchanges with the real worlds, so you can order your Amazon Prime stuff.

Did I mention new economies? Well, Bitcoin is one of those favorite things to put down, because it doesn’t have the power of government and armies and tax collectors behind it, so no ultimate rule-of-force to stabilize the value of this imaginary currency. It is worth exactly as much as baseball cards or tulips as currency. Scarcity and the requirement to perform work to generate a currency unit can be enforced, but the willingness for someone to exchange that unit of currency for another more “believed-in” form of currency is not assured. Economies might become international, distributed, and dissociated from any particular governments. Then again, they might not.

Did I say distributed? Well, there used to be this big argument about whether you centralize or distribute resources. One approach had one set of risks and benefits, and the other approach had another. You could see this in water supplies, electricity production, and even centralized mainframe computing vs. personal computers. Based on the state of technology and society, one or the other always looks like the winner, and they appear to be mutually exclusive.The truth is, when the resource is computing power or information, and ever since distributed revision control systems like git and Mercurial, it is no longer a mutually exclusive choice. You build distributed infrastructure with each node having the power of a centralized system, and all changes propegate across the network. That way, any “node” can take over as the new center. It’s more-or-less the way the Internet was built so as to be nuke-proof. Put all your eggs in one basket, then copy that basket all over the place.

Something called “universal memory” is going to eliminate the on-state and the off-state of computers. Computers will no longer lose their memory when you turn them off. The iPhone has already made it feel like this is happening. But it really will happen. Flat screens will not only become higher resolution than paper, but they will become cheap and flexible so that any surface can also be screen. On occasion, those screens will morph into shallow 3D shapes for tactile feedback of keyboards, or just to create a satisfying “click” when virtual buttons are pressed. Cameras, wifi, huge processing power, and all the rest of those computer parts just seamlessly blend in with the flat screen stuff, and is often wearable like clothing.

Power and bandwith remain challenges. Power edges ever closer to free, but getting that power into electronic devices before they deplete their charge is still a trick. Batteries get better, so a day of charge becomes a week of charge. But space-challenged form-factors like glasses still really have to struggle, with hidden power sources in other parts of cloths, but which complicates stuff. Apple-quality design and that “just works” feeling still the sought-after ideal. Bandwith gets a bit better, but the “big trunks” of fiber optics and satellites are still owned by greedy companies, so mesh-network enabled ad hoc internets become pretty good at email, but not at video streaming. Packets have an even harder time getting through and have to take increasingly clever routes for those who don’t pay the gatekeepers.

In what other fundamential ways is the world sure to change? Well, surely in the way we educate our children. School is effectively putting your child in strangers’ hands for the better part of their formative years, so as to get some free babysitting. There’s bullying. There’s dumbing-down to the lowest common denominator. And when its all said and done, that old “Office Space” type eeking by with laziness and keeping your head down just won’t work anymore. Intelligence, competency, creativity really shine with communication systems like the Internet on this planet. So long as the net continues, these attributes will be as good as currency.

Did I say currency? Well, eventually true easily-flowing microcurrency has to fall into place. It exists in a few places already, such as in the Apple App and iTunes Stores. You pay for things 99 cents at a time, and it seamlessly goes batched up against your credit card or phone bill. Google with AdWords also has a form of microcurrency with advertisers paying 25 cents at a time for clicks. But these, and other forms of similar microcurrency, are held captive by HAVING to be for digital goods in the store, like music and apps. Even PayPal, which is making great strides to breaking that hasn’t reached critical mass in that anyone could shoot 25 cents to anyone else on the planet, just because they think you’re awesome. When that happens, daily journal blogging like this could become a career. Make me rich 25 cents at a time! Tell a friend!

This bodes enormously well for people with great personalities, humor, or other entertaining skills deliverable over the net or its various peripherals. There’s objects and devices for 3D printers. There’s video programming. There’s all sorts of artistic endeavors. But then, there’s what’s most important to me: the critical knowledge underlying how the world works.

The original Google empire was cobbled together from any old hardware the guys found lying around. They improved and refined this until Google was legendary for having over 100,000 servers. In today’s world of half-billion-dollar datacenters powered by waterfalls, this seems ridiculously small. Number of servers and the precise way they’re configured, their operating systems, proprietary extensions, and even how they receive backup power, are all closely guarded secrets. But the big secret is there’s not that much special going on there anymore. An average Joe could cobble together a datacenter in their home based on off-the-shelf parts that could give the Google’s original 100K server farm a run for its money.

So, energy approaches nearly free. Easily reproduced physical stuff becomes cheaper. Non-reproducible scarce things like great entertaining personalities becomes as good as currency. Incompetence becomes harder to hide and talent has an easier time ascending to its righteous place in the spotlight. And unfortunately, it becomes forever easier for a small number of clever individuals to run the fun for everyone with home-spun nukes, killer bugs, grey goo, and all that miserable stuff.

Some group of people will take “healing the world” upon themselves, advocating Asimov’s Three Laws of Robotics for drones, and that sort of thing. They’ll have to have a scary-awesome snooping spying espionage tech to be meaningful. They will have a difficult time installing themselves as some sort of tech-police, although there will be many who believe that must exist. So, they’ll mostly have to act in secret, which will only make them more feared and hated than the terrible threats they’re looking for.

There will be an equal number who believe any infringement on freedom should be met with the fullest power of that same tech to keep itself free—with underground nets, encryption, decentralized whack-a-mole services and databases. These information freedom fighters will be advocating double-edge swords for all. Peace through mutually assured destruction. Fight guns by arming everyone! When the futility of such an argument dawns on them, they will eventually advocate getting the hell off the planet to start new colonies as the only way to protect the human race. It’ll be the Green movement versus the Environment Deniers for a new deadly-tech age.

It’s going to take a good long while before these pictures I drew are daily realities. But we are inching towards it, and the rate at which technology is advancing is finally beginning to accelerate. We’ve been talking about the technology hockystick curve for a good long while. We stop talking about it because it never really seems to take hold. It’s taking hold now—just not evenly across the board for everyone in society. It’s there for those who seek it out. It’s there for those who can divine a path from amongst seeming ambiguity and chaos.

I believe that as things change and uncertainty rules, there will be an increasing hunger for the sort of knowledge and truisms I’ll be peddling. It’ll include stuff like various recipes for rebooting society. Verner Vinge had a profound impact on my thinking recently. Ray Kurzweil—one of the world’s leading thinkers on this unbelievable futures—just became one of Google’s heads of engineering. Comfort and familiarity with the unbelievable, and a strong grip on the reins of the underlying components so that nothing really comes off like magic is what I’m trying to achieve. Maybe even make my audience a master of those underlying components.

My next step now in getting from stream of consciousness to book is to bring some organization to these blog posts. I need a way to mine out the best articles and content. A way to expose these articles to a bigger audience for even more feedback and refinement. I have to balance commentary on the state of things right now with more timeless evergreen articles that won’t come off as antiquated to Adi. I need to write and collect my personal stories, both old, and new. I need to impose some sort of structure, order, or outline that will get fleshed in and refined over time, and become my book.

This blog post is a step in that direction.