What kind of future do you dream of?

To me, the ideal future is a lot like the present, but, to paraphrase Carl Sagan, with human beings who have more of our strengths and fewer of our weaknesses. I’m a techno-optimist and I hope that technology will continue to make us more efficient, more intelligent, and more human.

How can good work today make tomorrow better?

Good storytelling passes down ideas to the next generation, so that hopefully they have an advantage that we didn’t have. And that they don’t repeat our mistakes. Good work should have that effect.

What can and should we do now to achieve it?

Tell stories in the most thought provoking way possible. To me, this means making them interactive and explorable rather than passive. I’m excited about creating new possibilities by combining existing technologies. The future should involve things we’re not even thinking about right now, so the first step is to keep thinking differently and continue trying new things.

You’ve talked about the internet giving us the ability to work together to create things that would otherwise be impossible. What is the next impossibility we are overcoming?

The ability to make stuff. Check out Raspberry Pi... cheap, configurable computers are going to change the world. Also personal fabrication. Amazing things are happening with 3D printers and computer controlled milling machines. DIY culture is more powerful than ever.

What will change in the way we use machines?

I hope we’ll get back to building machines instead of just using them. I’m afraid of closed source. As the Maker’s Bill of Rights states “If you can't open it, you don't own it.”
I’m also really excited about the potential of new interfaces. Not that I want a mobile phone built into everything I own, but smart sensors and common protocols may enable us to understand ourselves and our lives in more granular ways, and to interact with our surroundings in some new novel ways. I’ve seen the surface scratched with home automation - things like the Nest Theromostat, Nike+/Fuel Band, Wii, etc. I’m eager to see interfaces with greater levels of detail so we can have simple high-level interactions, but quickly and easily dig down to the more granular preferences, options, and details.

What can the small simple actions of many add up to?

To me? Data. And data with the right angle can tell you amazing things about the world. No time in history have small actions been more powerful, as they can now be quantified so readily. I honestly believe the power of combined human intelligence is the strongest force this planet has ever known.

Does more accessible and malleable data lead to more knowledge? Does it help us know each other better? Can it bring us closer together?

All of the above - but not without effort. Data alone doesn’t create knowledge, it requires intelligence and research. Tools that bring us together can also push us apart. First and foremost we need drive, compassion, and a heavy dose of curiosity.

What is data unable to tell us?

Honestly, data doesn’t tell us very much at all. Data is usually the result of a very precise question, specifically a quantitative response to some kind of sensor. It’s not our eyes that see, it’s our brains. In this sense the term “tell” is problematic, data can provide a picture that we can use to tell thousands of stories. The real answers in life come from deep reflection, analysis, and play, which all start from data... but virtually none of the pursuits end there.

This excerpt is from American Dreamers, available now at Sharp Stuff.