[Notes] The Inevitable
2016 is the Best Year to Start Up So Far
Because here is the other thing the graybeards in 1050 will tell you: Can you imagine how awesome it would have been to be an innovator in 2016? It was a wide-open frontier! You could pick almost any category and add some AI to it, put it on the cloud. Few devices had more than one or two sensors in them, unlike the hundreds now. Expectations and barriers were low. It was easy to be the first. And then they would sigh. “Oh, if only we realized how possible everything was back then!”
So, the truth: Right now, today, in 2016 is the best time to start up. There has never been a better day in the whole history of the world to invent something. There has never been a better time with more opportunities, more openings, lower barriers, higher benefit/risk ratios, butter returns, greater upside than now. Right now, this minute. This is the moment that folks in the future will look back at and say, “Oh, to have been alive and well back then!”
Hole the Self to Expand the Self
But I celebrate the never-ending discontentment that technology brings. We are different from our animal ancestors in that we are not content to merely survive, but have been incredibly busy making up new itches that we have to scratch, creating new desires we’ve never had before. This discontent is the trigger for our ingenuity and growth.
We cannot expand our self, and our collective self, without making holes in our heart. We are stretching our boundaries and widening the small container that holds our identity. It can be painful. Of course, there will be rips and tears. Late-night infomercials and endless web pages of about-to-be-obsolete gizmos are hardly uplifting techniques, but the path to our enlargement is very prosaic, humdrum, and everyday. When we imagine a better future, we should factor in this constant discomfort.
“Take X and add AI.”
The AI on the horizon looks more like Amazon Web Services — cheap, reliable, industrial-grade digital smartness running behind everything, and almost invisible except when it blinks off. This common utility will serve you as much IQ as you want but no more than you need. You’ll simply plug into the grid and get AI as if it was electricity. It will enliven inert objects, much as electricity did more than a century past. There generations ago, many a tinkerer struck it rich by taking a tool and making an electric version. Take a manual pump; electrify it. Find a hand-wringer washer; electrify it. The entrepreneurs didn’t need to generate the electricity; they bought it from the grid and used it to automate the previously manual. Now everything that we formerly electrified we will cognify. There is almost nothin we can think of that cannot be made new, different, or more valuable by infusing it with some extra IQ. In fact, the business plans of the next 10,000 startups are easy to forecast: Take X and add AI. Find something that can be made better by adding online smartness to it.
AI Product Ideas
[Interior design product — what about making it a VR walk-through program to sell to interior decorators/architects to pitch clients?] The design details are altered and tweaked by the pattern-finding AI based on customer response, then inserted back into new interiors for further
Jobs & Emergence
It is a safe bet that the highest-earning professions in the year 2050 will depend on automations and machines that have not been invented yet. That is, we can’t see these jobs from here, because we can’t yet see the machines and technologies that will make them possible. Robots create jobs that we did not even know we wanted done.
AI = Alien Intelligence
Our most important mechanical inventions are not machines that do what humans do better, but machines that can do things we can’t do at all. Our most important thinking machines will not be machines that can think what we think faster, better, but those that think what we can’t think.
Some mathematical proofs have become so complex only computers are able to rigorously check every step, but these proofs are not accepted as “proof” by all mathematicians. The proofs are not understandable by humans alone so it is necessary to trust a cascade of algorithms, and this demands new skills in knowing when to trust these creations. Dealing with alien intelligences will require similar skills, and a further broadening of ourselves.
Humanity’s New Roles
They will force us to reevaluate our roles, our beliefs, our goals, our identity. What are humans for? I believe our first answer will be: Humans are for inventing new kinds of intelligences that biology could not evolve. Our job is to make machines that think different — to create alien intelligences. We should really call AIs “AAs,” for “artificial aliens.”
An AI will think about science like an alien, vastly different than any human scientist, thereby provoking us humans to think about science differently. Or to think about manufacturing materials differently. Or clothes. Or financial derivatives. Or any branch of science or art. The alienness of artificial intelligence will become more valuable to us than its speed or power.
“This is not a race against the machines.”
“Fixed things became services.”
So in order to run in real time, our technological infrastructure needed to liquefy. Nouns needed to be verbs. Fixed solid things became services. Data couldn’t remain still. Everything had to flow into the stream of now.
Flowing → Free →Beyond Free
A universal law of economics says the moment something becomes
In a real sense, these uncopyable values are things that are “better than free.” Free is good, but these are better since you’ll pay for them. I call these qualities “generative.” A generative value is a quality or attribute that must be generated at the time of the transaction. A generative cannot be faked or replicated. It is generated uniquely, for that particular exchange, in real time. Generative qualities add value to free copies and therefore are something that can be sold.
Here are eight generative that are “better than free.”
…Hardcover books command a premium for their immediacy, disguised as a harder cover.”
…Personalization requires an ongoing conversation between the creator and consumer, artist and fan, producer and user. It is deeply generative because it is iterative and time-consuming. Marketers call that “stickiness” because it means both sides of the relationship are stuck (invested) in this generative asset and will be reluctant to switch and start over. you can’t cut and paste this kind of depth.
…When a copy of your [gene] sequence costs nothing, the interpretation of what it means, what you can do about it, and how to use it — the manual for your genes, so to speak — will be expensive. This generative can be applied to many other complex services, such as travel and health care.
…In part, this is what you get with iTunes on the cloud. You pay for conveniently accessibly music you could download for free somewhere else. You are not paying for the material; you are paying for the convenience of accessibility; without the obligations of maintaining it.
[Physical version of book you could get digitally for free. Concert for band you can listen to for free.]
…But they [fans] will pay only under four conditions that are not often met: 1) It must be extremely easy to do; 2) The amount must be reasonable; 3) There’s clear benefit to them for paying; and 4) It’s clear the money will directly benefit the creators.
“Generative intangibles will rise above the free.”
The steady titanic tilt toward dematerialization and decentralization means that further flows are inevitable. It seems a stretch right now that the most solid and fixed apparatus in our manufactured environment would be transformed into ethereal forces, but the soft will trump the hard. Knowledge will rule atoms. Generative intangibles will rise above the free. Think of the world flowing.
4 Stages of Flowing
grabbed at little cost, enable amateurs with little expertise to create new products and brand-new categories of products. The status of creation is inverted, so that the audience is not the artist. Output, selection, and quality skyrocket.
Effects of Printing
From printing came journalism, science, libraries, and law. Printing instilled in society a reverence for precision (of black ink on white paper), an appreciation for linear logic (in a string of sentences), a passion for objectivity (of printed fact), and an allegiance to authority (via authors), whose truth was as fixed and final as a book.
“People of the Book favor solutions by laws, while People of the Screen favor technology as a solution to all problems.”
Creating Ecosystems of Ideas
We see this effect most clearly in science. Science is on a long-term campaign to bring all knowledge in the world into one cast, interconnected, footnoted, peer-reviewed web of facts. Independent facts, even those that make sense in their own world, are of little value to science. (The pseudo- and parasciences are nothing less, in fact, than small pools of knowledge that are not connected to the large network of science. They are valid only in their own network.) In this way, every new observation or bit of data brought into the web of science enhances the value of all other data points.
We’ll come to understand that no work, no idea stands alone, but that all good, true, and beautiful things are ecosystems of intertwined parts and related entities, past and present.
Netflix = Libraries?
Amazon’s Kindle Unlimited enables me to read any book in its 800,000-volume library without owning books, and PlayStation Now lets me play games without purchasing them. Every year I own less of what I use.
[Libraries do this, but with more expensive, physical book, CDs, and DVDs. Some are even doing this digitally. How can Netflix exist if this access is a public good delivered by Libraries? Is this a chance for Government to disrupt the private sector?]
Cloud = Our Extended Soul
If McLuhan is right that tools are extensions of our selves — a wheel an extended leg, a camera an extended eye — then the cloud is our extended soul. Or, if you prefer, our extended self. In one sense, it is not an extended self we own, but one we have access to.
[Great reframing of what could be seen as ‘personal brand’]
5 Deep Technological Trends Accelerating Accessing (Over Ownership)
- Dematerialization (“Software is eating the world”)
- Real-Time On Demand (Uber for X)
- Decentralization (Bitcoin/blockcahin; “Flows are harder to own”)
- Platform Synergy (“Platforms are factories for services; services favor access over ownership.)
“New socialism” = “Sharing economy”
When masses of people who own the means of production work toward a common goal and share their products in common, when they contribute labor without wages and enjoy the fruits free of charge, it’s not unreasonable to call that new socialism.
What they have in common is the verb “to share.” In fact, some futurists have called this economic aspect of the new socialism the “sharing economy” because the primary currency in this realm is sharing.
Facebook as “an informational commune”
More than 1.4 billion citizens of Facebook freely share their lives in an informational commune. If it were a nation, Facebook would be the largest country on the planet. Yet the entire economy of this largest country runs on labor that isn’t paid. A billion people spend a lot of their day creating content for free. They report on events around them, summarize stories, add opinions, create graphics, make up jokes, post cool photos, and craft videos. They are “paid” in the value of the communication and relations that emerge from 1.4 billion connected verifiable individuals. They are paid by being allowed to stay on the commune.
Controlling the Sharing
“Inside every working anarchy, there’s an old-boy network.” — Mitch Kapor, founding chair of the Mozilla open source code factory
A Bunch of Crowdfunding Sites
Each of the 450 or so fan-funding platforms tweak their rules to cater to different groups of creatives or to emphasize different results. Crowdfunding sites can optimize for musicians (PledgeMusic, SellaBand), non-profits (Fundly, FundRazr), medical emergencies (GoFundMe, Rally), and even science (Petridish, Experiment). A few sites (Patreon, Subbable) are engineered to supply continuous support to an ongoing project like a magazine or video channel. A couple platforms (Flattr, Unglue) use fans to fund work that has already been released.
Recommendation Engines Are Hugely Important
These recommendation filters [Netflix, Amazon, etc] are one of my chief discovery mechanisms. I find them far more reliable, on average, than recommendations from experts or friends. In fact, so many people find these filtered recommendations useful that these kinds of “more like this” offers are responsible for a third of Amazon sales — a difference amounting to about $30 billion in 2014. They are so valuable to Netflix that it has 300 people working on its recommendation system, with a budget of $150 million.
Types of Filters
“More filtering is inevitable because we can’t stop making new things. Chief among the new things we will make are new ways to filter and personalize, to make us more like ourselves.” — Kevin Kelly
The Dollar Value of Our Attention
Take a book, for instance. The average hardcover book takes 4.3 hours to read and $23 to buy. Therefore the average consumer cost for that reading duration is $5.34 per hour. A music CD is, on average, listened to dozens of times over its lifetime, so its retail price is divided by its total listening time to arrive at its hourly rate. A two-hour movie in a theater is seen only once, so its per hour rate is half the ticket price. These rates can be thought of as mirroring how much we, as the audience, value our attention.
“The only things that are increasing in costs… are human experiences.”
New Interactions = The Future of Technology
The first technological platform to disrupt a society within the lifespan of a human individual was personal computers. Mobile phones were the second platform, and they revolutionized everything in only a few decades. The next disrupting platform — now arriving — is VR.
The future of technology resides, in large part, in the discovery of new interactions.
“Growth comes from remixing.”
Quantified Self → N=1, You as Baseline
In formal studies, you need a control group to offset your bias toward positive results. So in lieu of a control group in an N=1 study, a quantified-self experimenter uses his or her own baseline. If you track yourself long enough, with a wide variety of metrics, then you can establish your behavior outside (or before) the experiment, which effectively functions as the control for comparison.
By taking this information [like glucose levels] and feeding it back not in numbers but in a form we can feel, such as a vibration on our wrist or a squeeze on our hip, the device will equip us with a new sense about our bodies that we didn’t evolve but desperately need.
“…companies have become the proxy data gatherers for governments.”
Few laws hold corporations back from integrating as much data as they can; therefore companies have become the proxy data gatherers for governments. Data about customers is the new gold in business, so one thing is certain: Companies (and indirectly governments) will collect more of it.
Coveillance: Symmetry in Tracking/Big Data
If today’s social media has taught us anything about ourselves as a species, it is that the human impulse to share overwhelms the human impulse for privacy.
For eons and eons humans have lived in tribes and clans where every act was open and visible and there were no secrets. Our minds evolved with constant co-monitoring. Evolutionarily speaking, coveillance is our natural state. I believe that, contrary to our modern suspicions, there won’t be a backlash against a circular world in which we constantly track each other because humans have lived like this for a million years, and — if truly equitable and symmetrical — it can feel comfortable.
Impossible in Theory but Possible in Practice
A Wikipedia is impossible, but here it is. It is one of those things that is impossible in theory but possible in practice. Once you confront the fact that it works, you have to shift your expectation of what else there may be that is impossible in theory but might work in practice.
“The genius of eBay was its invention of cheap, easy, and quick reputation status.”
The technetium — the modern system of culture and technology — is accelerating the creation of new impossibilities by continuing to invent new social organizations. The genius of eBay was its invention of cheap, easy, and quick reputation status. Strangers could sell to strangers at a great distance because we now had a technology to quickly assign persistent reputations to those beyond our circle.
More Technology = More Choice = Slightly More Good Each Time
Additionally, it may seem counterintuitive, but every harmful invention also provides a niche to create a brand-new never-seen-before good. Of course, that newly minted good can then be (and probably will be) abused by a corresponding bad idea. It may seem that this circle of new good provoking new bad which provokes new good which spawns new bad is just spinning us in place, only faster and faster. That would be true except for one vital difference: On each round we gain additional opportunities and choices that did not exist before. This expansion of choices (including the choice to do harm) is an increase in freedom — and this increase in freedoms and choices and opportunities is the foundation of our progress, of our humanity, and of our individual happiness.
Things Currently Viewed as Negative/Scary Could Be the Opposite
The good news may be that it cultivates in us an expanded sense of what is possible for humans, and for human life, and so extremism expands us. The bad news may be that this insatiable appetite for super-superlatives leads to dissatisfaction with anything ordinary.
Ignorance Grows (In A Good Way)
Previous discoveries helped us to recently realize that 96 percent of all matter and energy in our universe is outside of our vision. The universe is not made of the atoms and heat we discovered last century; instead it is primarily composed of two unknown entities we label “dark”: dark energy and dark matter. “Dark” is a euphemism for ignorance. We really have no idea what the bulk of the universe is made of. We find a similar proportion of ignorance if we probe deeply into the cell, or the brain. We don’t know nothin’ relative to what could be known. Our inventions allow us to spy into our ignorance. If knowledge is growing exponentially because of scientific tools, then we should be quickly running out of puzzles. But instead we keep discovering greater unknowns.
Google Search: Revenue = 27 cents, Costs = 0.3 cents
In 2007, I calculated the cost to Google to answer one query to be approximately 0.3 cents, which has probably decreased a bit since then. By my calculations Google earns about 27 cents per search/answer from the ads placed around its answers, so it can easily afford to give its answers away for free.
Sharing, though excessive to some now, is just beginning. The switch from ownership to access has barely begun. Flows and streams are still trickles. While it seems as if we are tracked too much already, we’ll be tracking a thousand times as much in the coming decades. Each one of these functions will be accelerated by high-quality cognification, just now being born, making the smartest things we do today seem very dumb. None of this is final. These transitions are but the first step in a process, a process of becoming. It is a Beginning.
Every Action We Take Online Programs the Larger Machine
The Inevitable Conclusion: It’s Just Beginning!
continue to lean in the same direction it has for the last 30 years: toward increased flowing, sharing, tracking, accessing, interacting, screening, remixing, filtering, cognifying, questioning, and becoming. We stand at this moment at the Beginning.
The Beginning, of course, is just beginning.