10 Futurist terms and memes that everyone should know about
PDF download 3MB: Gerd's 10 useful futurist terms and memes
Read more in my new book Technology vs Humanity
I recently ran across George Dvorsky’s nice post on io9.com entitled ’20 Crucial Terms Every 21st Century Futurist Should Know’. Last week I figured I should share my own list of terms and memes that I either created myself or borrowed, derived or remixed from others, as well. Certified authorship of these memes is probably less important, btw, and is often hard to define (see the good old ‘data is the new oil' theme). Therefore, I shall take no credit for having invented those that are not clearly mine.
For some of them, I am using a Twitter hashtag so that you can easily find my related posts. In addition, you can also peruse my shared reading updates on GerdFeed.com to read more on most of these issues, or discover new terms that I am developing.
A plethora of recent research predicts that many repetitive or highly standardisable jobs such as bookkeeping, checkout clerks at retail locations or simple financial analysis will soon be ‘automated away', i.e. these tasks will increasingly be handled by intelligent software and robots, smart machines and so-called intelligent digital assistants (which will far surpass what Apple's Siri or MSFT's Cortana can already do today).
I sometimes call this ‘basic AI’, and much of it is already in ‘good' use by products such as GoogleNow or via companies such as Narrative Science, Inc, whose software actually constructs (aka writes) articles for Forbes, or in new medical remote diagnosis devices such as the Scanadu.
If software and machines can indeed take over these jobs, in the near future, we may soon need to redefine what it means to ‘work’ or ‘earn a living’ – and we just may have to decouple ‘work’ from earning a living. This will present a huge challenge not just for individuals and their employers, but also for governments and educational institutions.
My neologism #workupation describes this coming fusion of ‘work' and ‘occupation', i.e. a future in which whatever we feel compelled to (i.e. what we occupy ourselves with) might simply become our ‘work’. If, for example, I occupy myself with making my community safer by increasing collaboration between citizens and local governments, it may just be considered the ‘work’ that I chose to do which is then remunerated as part of something like a guaranteed minimum income; i.e. some ‘pool of money' I can tab into so I can be freed up to engage with useful tasks as I see fit. Musicians, artists, writers, activists, entrepreneurs, technologists and others may get a nice boost from this switch from ‘working' to make a living to ‘workupation', and technological or structural unemployment as a consequence of automation and the inevitable rise of smart machines might be at least partially addressed this way.
Deriving a monetary benefit from workupation will certainly differ remarkably from how we earn a living today, as our occupations could become uncoupled from monetisation. My home country, Switzerland, has been debating such a possible unconditional basic income initiative that would ensure a monthly stipend for every citizen. I am not entirely sure if this approach is sustainable, though; and it certainly seems headed for abuse, but… we shall see.
Related: read my Guardian guest post on ‘the future of knowledge in the coming era of intelligent machines'
2) Digital Obesity
With an ever-increasing amount of information, data, media and other content available anywhere, anytime and at a much lower price (well… mostly for free or for what ‘feels like free‘), many of us are becoming somewhat addicted to the constant flow of info-streams, updates, nudges and notifications in much the same way that junk food, sugar and common food additives leaves some of us always craving more – witness the unsurprising interplays of endorphins and social-media-highs.
One thing is for sure: the sheer volume and increasing velocity of ‘stuff' that we are bombarded with every minute of our waking lives is increasingly hard to deal with. Soon, global hyper-connectivity at very low cost plus cheap yet amazingly powerful mobile devices and omnipresent social media buzz will likely
cause even more (over)consumption – it’s cheap / free and it tastes great! The result: we are getting ‘digitally fat’.
Many of us (me included, to some extent) have already become always reachable, always-on and always in-the-flow. Some recent studies propose that in average people are now working about 20% more than before the SoLoMo (social-local-mobile) computing revolution. The resulting #digitalobesity is dead-certain to pose serious risks to our mental health, creativity, productivity and general well-being – and I can certainly feel this challenge in my own life. Therefore, our digital information and media diet needs to be managed just like our physical diet – more is not usually better, and neither is ‘faster’ (ouch). But an all-or-nothing approach probably won’t work, either – so how can we still be ‘in the moment’ (see below) when at other times we must always be ‘in the future’? And at the same time, offline is becoming the new luxury, as well!
This is by far the most popular meme I have cooked-up (or remixed?) since 2013, during the ‘Snowden summer’. As data really becomes the new oil (pardon me for using that good old 2006 metaphor) and eventually exceeds the value of the fossil fuel economy i.e. approx. $8 Trillion per year, it will also become the main trigger for (digital) wars or other serious cyber-conflicts, as evidenced by the ‘war’ that the EU commission waged against Google’s cheekily hidden belief that ‘everything that happens must be known’ (to borrow a term from Dave Eggers’ book ‘The Circle’). Make no mistake about it: data is power, more data is more power….and smart, networked and interconnected data is the ultimate power. And yes, Google / Facebook et al want to be able to remember everything.
A rude awakening from the asleep-at-the-wheel kind of bliss during which we traded our most personal data for the ‘free’ usage of those amazingly convenient apps, platforms and services in a string of endless Faustian bargains came via Edward Snowden's PRISM & NSA disclosures in the summer of 2o13 (read my ‘why the Prism affair is a game changer' 2013 piece for context)
Today, though, it is becoming abundantly clear that a pivot point has been reached and that the game has been tilted; we (the users) have indeed become instrumentalized – as another popular meme aptly summarizes: ‘if you don’t pay you are the content’. While this may not yet be obvious to a large percentage of the population (at least in the U.S. or the UK, it seems) I expect that this dilemma will rapidly become apparent to everyone once we have more serious ‘data fukushimas’ – and this is just a question of time. Datawars are here to stay and in my opinion we urgently need global ‘data non-proliferation agreements' just like we have existing nuclear non-proliferation agreements. Plus, soon, the next next big and shiny thing that has all the big tech companies and cloud-cartels frothing with excitement – the ‘Internet of Things’ or even more magnanimous – the ‘Internet of Everything’ – will blanket the world with billions of networked devices from eyeglasses and connected wrist watches to traffic lights to environmental sensors that will track literally everything that goes on, anywhere in our homes. A global digital rights bill will be crucial, imho, because I don't think there is any way to stop this trend or even slow it down. If technology has no ethics, who will make sure we don't end up in a world that has none?
Snowden's NSA revelations of 2013 made quite a few people very angry; many others have become seriously concerned about hosting their data in the U.S. where all technology companies are subject to a more and more totalitarian reading of the Patriot Act and other laws that are a result of the 9/11 attacks. Increasingly, people, companies and governments will want to ensure that their data remains only theirs – and this is where #datamyning comes in. I found this cool neologism in 2013, via Trendwatching.com, and have started to use it more frequently because I think it is a lasting trend. There has been a growing interest in technology that promises to protect an individual’s privacy (such as ProtonMail, OwnCloud, Spideroak, Blackphone etc, all of which I have tried or am currently using) but considering the costs will it only be the well-off and privileged that will be able to retain some anonymity, buy their privacy or MYne their data? Will we then end up with a kind of ‘richprivacy'? In the near future it may be an inadvertent result of Moore's law that only those with ample resources can still be private – a scary scenario that certainly will add a new angle to the inequality debate.
Maybe the lucky ones will be those among us that don’t need to be on social networks because they simply don’t need a powerful social graph to generate business for them; those that can afford to have someone run their own email and file servers; those that can use encryption with everything they do, including mobile phones… All others shall fall prey to the mighty siren servers of the Internet (as Jaron Lanier calls them) because they simply can’t resist, don’t know any better, don’t care and can’t afford it
#broadbanding describes the trend towards using broadband and mobile Internet access as a replacement (or shall we say a booster and alternative) to broadcasting. Hulu, the BBC iPlayer, Netflix and the pretty cool Swiss-based Wilmaa can rival cable or satellite TV, Google News and apps rival print newspapers, Flipboard can rival magazines, Pandora has already replaced terrestrial radio etc – you get the drift. Broadbanding is a serious challenge to broadcasting, and the only solution (for both) is convergence. The media users of today are no longer just mere recipients of ‘stuff from the top' i.e. broadcasts; they are no longer mere passive consumers of securely monetised content beamed at them from above. Interaction is increasingly important, and so is customisation and personalisation. Broadcasters, studios and TV networks around the globe are beginning to realize that the more people connect on high-speed, mobile and social networks, the more their previous ‘attention monopoly’ is shrinking, or at least, being watered down. The traditional, large and very lucrative mass markets are now converging with a global mass of niche markets, and TV is rapidly being absorbed by the Internet. TV is no longer a product i.e. box or a device – it is a service or an experience, and it lives in the cloud. Broadcasting meets broadbanding – and this is good news for the TV and movie industries!
Telecommunications, media & entertainment, television and broadcasting used to be more or less separate industries, with telcos focusing on infrastructure and networks, and entertainment companies focusing on content production and its monetizable distribution. Now, as fast mobile broadband is engulfing the world and social media companies are becoming the new broadcasters (yes… we are the content…), we are quickly moving toward a world in which telecommunications / ICT and the various media sectors are converging. I call this TeleMedia Futures. The cable companies are losing the battle for the millenials as those ‘cord-nevers' prefer Netflix and Hulu to stream HD content ‘over the top' to their smartphones, tablets/phablets and smart TVs. And as they’re watching ‘House of Cards' or ‘Lilyhammer' on their iPads or whatever-tablets, many people simultaneously use Twitter, Whatsapp and Facebook on their smartphones – SocialTV is bound to be a huge business that arises from TeleMedia convergence. Telcos, ISPs and mobile operators need to co-create a new ecosystem with content producers and distributors. Interdependence is the future.
#contvertising is my own portmanteau / remix describing the coming convergence of content and advertising; a world where the ‘people formerly known as consumers’ have dramatically more control over what they want to hear, see and watch at almost all times, which sooner or later means that successful marketing, advertising and branding (and PR!) has to become content, in itself, as well. In a way, what happened to the music business could easily happen to the marketing and advertising industries, as well – but thankfully, there are bound to be much better ways to adapt as most marketing is going from running mouse-trap cartels to brands becoming magnets. Going forward, a great story – one that consumers really don’t want to miss – is what will matter most, not more ‘great interruptions’. As media channels are increasingly fragmenting and we have a mass of many niches rather than a few ‘mass media’ outlets, this becomes even more important. The ‘cont’ piece, btw, could also stand for context which means relevance, timeliness, usefulness – pretty much the opposite of traditional marketing. Content + Conversation + Context = the Future of Advertising.
8) Humarithms (Androrithms) and Machine Thinking
Lately, it seems that any concept and undertaking heavily based on machine intelligence, automation and smart algorithms is a good thing (witness Google's recent hunger for buying AI outfits), and anything that’s based on humanness, imagination and intuition (loosely defined as ‘knowing without knowing’) is not. The truth could not be more different: while so-called big data applications and machine intelligence based on algorithms have clearly mind-boggling economic potential as far as much increased efficiency and hereto-unknown business intelligence is concerned, it would still be far-fetched to decide to base one’s critical decisions solely on what some usually ill-related data tells us, since more often than not ‘we measure the wrong thing and therefore we do the wrong thing’.
So-called big-data hubris is only the beginning of what I like to flag as #machinethinking (another good tag) i.e. the belief that my products or services are machine-like, my clients and customers are machines, and in fact the entire world is a gigantic buying and selling machine, and all I need to do is figure out a better way to program it. Therefore, I have created the fairly blunt neologism of #humarithms as a kind of antidote to algorithms – in my opinion every amazing algorithm will need to be humanised to be sustainable i.e. it must be made useful by a human interpretation which can actually read between the zeros and ones.
A most bizarre conflux of heaven & hell seems to be the new bottom line when looking at many recent tech innovations (such as Google Glass or the Oculus Rift) as we often find ourselves thinking that ‘this could be awesome… or utterly horrific’. Anything from face recognition to drones to the ‘internet of things' now seems to come with that built-in duality of appreciating the convenience, but being fearful of the numerous side effects. A case in point is GoogleNow: yes, it’s great to get those cut ‘cards’ with personalised reminders and snippets that actually matter to me as I go through my day (based on what Google knows about me… i.e. everything), from traffic jams to weather to restaurant recommendations, but at the same time, GoogleNow also makes eerily clear that Google is indeed ‘watching me’. Heaven or hell?
Clearly, in any case, I am no longer just searching, I am ‘being searched’ as well. And this phenomena is new, indeed, at least in this typical exponential
fashion of this new digital world: 5 years ago most major innovations were mostly just useful i.e. kind of heavenly (such as the Kindle, Google Maps or yes, Facebook) and only the somewhat more paranoid or outright luddite users would see some ‘hell’ behind it. Today, this has changed dramatically: almost every shiny new thing appears to have some ugly devils already packaged into it.
So yes, Nest is a cool innovation, but what if Google actually monitors my energy consumption, and feeds its data to anyone that can sneak under the hood? Google Glass is cool, but what if it records everything that goes on within 10 feet of my geeky girlfriend, or what if every policeman wears it? A smart wristwatch could be cool – but how would I not get addicted to glancing at it the entire time? Networked cars are cool, but what will they do with my driving records and who could hack them to thwart me from arriving on time?
#hellventech (changed tag!) is the unavoidable future of technology. Ethics are challenged, again.
10) Being in the moment
Technology is increasingly nudging us to get better at the impossible mission of multi-tasking (‘check this out while you wait for that to happen’) and to constantly ‘find out more’, verify, plan, or in general be more forward-looking, especially on mobile devices that are increasingly becoming our external brains. This results in many of us living in a constant mental hamster-wheel of ‘so what is next’ or ‘what is happening elsewhere’, making it much harder for us to focus on what is actually happening at this very moment, in this very location, with those people that are actually here. Yet many important things actually depend on us being solidly in-the-moment: relationships, realizations, learnings, revelations, experiences and beliefs. How will we resist that mad urge to be more efficient by always being somewhere else at the same time? Note: the new hashtag for this will be #ITMtrend (as of today)