There will be a Revolution of Technological Evolution.
Neural interfaces. Mass virtualization. Biotechnology. Nanotechnology. Genetic technology. Self Replicating machines. Robotics. Molecular machines. Artificial intelligence. Quantum computing. Open hyper-speed communication networks. Immersive reality experiences. We will eventually reach a point where technology ceases to exist and simply becomes one with us. What we will become — enhanced humanity. Smart biomaterials and computing will converge. Ripples in the fabric of humanity will be so meaningful and profound that everything in front of us will be new; it will be the same scale as something like the big-bang theory. The entire breadth and scope of the meaning of how we perceive our existence and what it means to be human will expand exponentially into a new realm of enhanced human and hyper-intelligence. We will become better. Faster. We already are technology: we are bio scientific creatures, but at some point in the future, we will form zero distinction between technology and nature within society — it will be a different world.
To simply become biologically and technologically one sounds perhaps too far a leap, but futurists, scientist and scholars, as well as the renowned technologists Ray Kurtzweil & companies such as Google and Autodesk have aligned to teach the effects of exponential technology; while the broader community has joined together to accept the phrase “The Singularity”. In doing so, through leveraging rapidly accelerating enabling technologies, we as a culture have begun the early process of transforming the fundamental fabric of nature on the planet into a smarter, healthier, cleaner and more enabled world. When this happens, there may be such little differences between the so many things that we currently think of with extreme bias or prejudice, as night and day — even contemplating the scope would confuse the purpose or intent of where things started.
Darwin may be debated in real life society — but on the computer there are what’s called “evolutionary” algorithms and evolutionary computation. These algorithms are capable of using logic which reflects fundamental (albiet rudimentary) attributes that exist within the fibers of life. Read more here.
“It is not the strongest [...] nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is the most adaptable to change.” -Darwin
So, how will this change things? In so many ways that it’s incomprehensible — but if we start with the concept of our surroundings and sustainability, we of course have our economies and our products. How will products be built in the future?
Let’s start with design. One of the big things that will most likely converge into a single evolutionary function is the currently coupled yet divergent nature of design and technology. This is something I’ve contemplated quite a bit lately and believe is important for us in the current state of our society to realistically consider.
“Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.” -Leonardo da Vinci
Steve Jobs once said, “Design is how it works” — he is absolutely 100% correct about this statement in every single way. Design, indeed, is how it works — if it’s not designed well, it doesn’t work — and from an architectural perspective design applies to the structure and the framework of things, but the nature and meaning of design is not in the framework.
Design is elegance. Design results in clean aesthetic. It’s not “the form” V. “the function” — beautiful design is the form perfectly infused and married with the function. It’s in the sheer smooth beauty of the form that wraps ever so perfectly in an ergonomic and comfortable way as if it was made to fit like a baby being cradled by the soft touch of a mother, and yet somehow at the same time has the utility of a computer or a new device. This is design. Design is seamless, and sometimes invisible. Design is all about coupling the simplest most elegant visual aesthetic with the most natural experience and presenting it to the user in a way that they simply know how to use and understand what to do. No one should have to tell you where to touch or which levers to pull when something is designed well. A good design is like a smoothly eroded skipping stone in the palm of your hand, smooth, no sharp edges, and with a freshwater river right in front of you. The first time you are presented with a good design, it should intrigue you with it’s beauty, and have a simple, clean and accessible interface (if it’s a computing device) and the rest should just happen naturally. A good design should be complex but seduce, and draw you in, then feel seamlessly natural to interact and pleasingly easy to experience. There is no other design more superb than that which in good taste and with subtle contours, reflects and fits to the elegance and curves of the natural human form.
Everyone should be aware that they need to employ well crafted elegant design in what they do, or it will be an inferior product experience in the hands of almost all people (other than maybe hardcore technologists).
Technology is amazing, awe inspiring and the trajectory of acceleration, at least to me is just significantly impressive. I am magnetized towards technology with every ounce of my being — it’s not clear to me why, but it consumes me at times, how incredible the attributes and fundamental nature of technology operates. I see it as almost our primitive way of replicating nature. Things like Moores law, network effects, the effect of networks on the proliferation of technology itself, viral coeficients, bass diffusion, the diffusion of innovation and chasm theory. Of course Ray Kurtzwiel’s abstraction of Moore’s law (check out all the awesome charts here) which clearly displays the fact that technology has been accelerating exponentially since far before the days of the transistor — leaving us only to draw the hypothesis that it will continue to accelerate at an ever advancing rate, despite the physical “known” limits of current silicon or fabrication methodologies — until it eventually hits a slope that resembles what would be considered the “grand” ultimate technological “S” curve of humanity. So, we are on a wild ride of technological acceleration, right now — today, and the most incredible phenomenal part is, it is just going to keep getting faster.
Everyone should be aware that all industries at any time are vulnerable to technological disruption, and many are beginning to recognize this is actually the fault of none other than a function of their own design — disruptive innovation springs up, changing models and entering new channels — it is difficult for the incumbent to compete (unless possibly if they participate through segmented internal innovation, a venture investment wing or new partnerships).
*In my opinion, the best disruptive innovations are introduced by adding a single *new* outstanding technology (perhaps combined with an existing technology) that’s iterated with multiple selectively incredible designs coupled with software attributes that have the ability to create huge scale & network effects. So the perfect new product remains the same — an iterative combination of design and technology.
The Power of Exponential Technology.
Technology today, like nothing else, has the ability to proliferate across borders; breaking barriers of both language and ideologies to create seamless communications and the single enabler of this is the computer network. Technology if left frictionless has the ability to normalize global economies at a rate unprecedented. It has the ability to transmit any and all information from a single individual to potential billions of the world. Technology can consume, interpolate, analyze, and communicate data using grids of servers running completely automated complex algorithms and data crunching software connected to a simple networked “smart” mobile computers. Data and information that a single lone human without this device is incapable of comprehending, and most likely even understanding.
The most interesting thing about technology products is not “what” they do necessarily — although of course this MUST be the most interesting thing about the product that contains the technology. But — the technology itself, that’s a separate thing. You have to dislocate the two in your head and realize that a product alone is nothing without some type of technology but the technology contains it’s own very unique attributes for which various really interesting scientific characteristics can be leveraged for the purposes understanding how that technology will react within certain conditions and constraints of a physical environment.
For example, the importance of the diffusion of ideas and the diffusion of innovation for any new radical technology to reach it’s eventual potential market scale.
Or the aggregate combination of multiple technological advancements in modem technology as it reaches market stasis. (read this article from KurzweilAI on the law of accelerating returns ) — the coolest thing to notice here is the way there are many small “S” curves, from which the larger exponential curve is comprised. It is this ability for new technologies to build and grow from themselves that makes them so incredibly powerful.
“If I have seen farther it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.” ~Newton
The concept/notion that multiple new technologies can be combined in aggregate to form new markets that never existed, to exponentially scale in both capabilities, in market adoption size, and in income generation capabilities is truly powerful from both a social and an economic perspective. When the ability exists to replicate these characteristics and qualities within a completely friction free and virtual context, where objectified life itself has become virtualized then the limits will be unbounded by today’s known physical constraints which can play a factor on potential growth if the correct environmental and design factors are not met.
I mentioned earlier the importance of idea and innovation diffusion. The notion of mapping Diffusion to the “S” curve of technological adoption, where it maps the vertical axis to percentage market share in both cases. The book “Crossing the Chasm” is a must read.
Another really interesting quality of technology — from within the context of a network scale model, the potential to reach exponential, sustainable growth certainly is very real. The difficult factor is when determining the ability to create the initial starting point with emerging technologies and how likely it is that those technologies will get adopted from the onset by the target customers. I like Steve Job’s approach, that the customer doesn’t know what they want — but this is a different topic. The point is, when introducing a new technology, at the beginning, it can seem very difficult — even unbearable from a development perspective — but, if the product is of truly meaningful and lasting value it is much more likely for this characteristic to exist. So, at the beginning of any startup that is looking to create truly meaningful research and development efforts, exists a dip at the investment stage where costs are higher than revenues (or income) — in a technology company that has the ability to reach exponential scale, this is known as a “J” curve. ”J” curves are very very interesting and cool — you can read more about them on wikipedia.
The ability to reach mass scale can be achieved of course through viral marketing but it is much more powerful, as shown by Apple, when a physical product with incredibly great design creates physically viral product features that are clearly distinguishable from surrounding noise (for example, the first design/tech mobile product elegantly allowing for multitouch display) — this creates the ability for someone who sees the product and sees the multi-touch ability to immediately form a viral link in their mind since, at the time, multi-touch had never really been done well before. This viral attribute results in free physical marketing — via word of mouth. The best kind of marketing because it is free and comes from someone you trust. This creates market adoption growth potential all by itself. A great example of this is hair-dye from Europe. One of the very first physical products to go viral was a physical technology: woman’s hair dye! Something that had never existed before, was a clearly obvious trait, it was something people saw, understood was bright and different, and which then took off like wild fire across Europe with very little marketing needed. Yes, hair dye is technology too.
The point is that physical products can contribute to exponential growth capabilities of a product and if the product/market has the potential to be really big, I believe is very very interesting. The physical alone is not enough, though to truly make this capability powerful — the ability to scale over a network must exist, which means the product must be a “network-enabled” product. Network enabled products with both physical AND web based viral features have a theoretical ability to reach market adoption at an unprecedented speed if the appropriate capital and consumer adoption rates exist — this is because the combination of physical and network based attributes can create something close to a double exponential — which means basically it takes much longer to “lift-off” but when it does, the rate of acceleration happens much more quickly. In the prior example, it’s not exactly a double exponential (it’s more of a scaled coefficient) but never-the-less, the resulting curve will contain similar velocity properties.
Technology has so many incredible attributes. In fact, there are several great books on the topic, there’s no way for me to map them all out here – but the properties of viral products and exponential growth is probably one of the most important. I would recommend reading the following:
[to do - list out my top 10 favorite high tech books -- reference Bob's way better list too]
The Art of Our Convergence.
We as a culture imagine, invent and persist by creating our own socially accepted “hive-mind” self fulfilling prophecies. We function with crowd like dynamics in a stateless machine where the introduction of ideology creates stimuli of which transformation becomes inevitable. We not only predict our own future, we revel in it every step of the way. This is the underlying attribute of a society, of social behavior, and of our own doing. The incredible nature of it is — it just happens naturally. It’s an adaptive attribute of being human, in fact it is most likely one of the key differentiators of what it means to be human — our view of the future; and the struggle to maintain acceptance and identity of self while we collectively define and drift towards the eventuality of our collectively socio-culturally defined acceptance of the future.
This is a sociological, psychological, and in some ways physiological phenomenon — but I believe it manifests itself, in more places than any other, in art. It is the pure notion of creativity that sparks and catalyzes the ability for ideas to be nurtured, designed, engineered, and grow. It is the beautiful rebellious abstraction of life and our external interpretations of our surroundings found within art that creates ideas that inspire, intrigue, and captivate those people with the means to which already believe. It is engineering that builds the palette and composes the polymers of the paint, and even the fibers of the brush, but it is most certainly the presence of the artist with vision, passion, and perhaps pain that creates the painting.
Da Vinci. Creator. Inventor of flying machines — after he invented them, how long did it take for us to learn to fly?
Da Vinci. The Artistic Creative Struggle.
Da Vinci envisioned flight and many other inventions. He enjoyed the active study of anatomy, art, science and was an incredible visionary. His contribution to the world was not only some of the greatest art to ever be known to our world; it was so much more than that. He translated ideas into tangible images that will forever stay with us, images that are both beautiful and filled with torment. Images that compel us to think, to dream and to love. Ideas that created such lasting impact on the world that we will never be the same. It is because of the impact of a few powerful ideas, early in the trajectory of the vector of the world where the potential exists to create true and meaningful, lasting beautiful transformational change. He helped create a renaissance — so amazing, so aspirational.
I often wonder, with all of the technological enablers today, with the rapid prototyping abilities, the engineering research labs, the not yet commercialized technology — if he were to launch a new product today, what would Da Vinci build?
Ok… maybe… and what else… ?
There have been tons of literature, books, even songs and yes, indeed movies — anyone remember the Da vinci code?
There’s probably no other work of future fiction that translates so clearly and directly into direct parallels that exist today as current day devices and technology, than Star Trek. I could be wrong, but it seems like Star Trek sure came up with some really great ideas (great creative writing! wow) and a bunch of these ideas started getting realized in the actual tech we use on an every day basis. Have a look at the image below, a picture speaks a thousand words as they say — don’t even think I need to write anything else. Just check out the picture (note there are a couple extra sci-fi films added at the end for extra effect).
People may (or may not) realize it; The Matrix is filled with philosophical analogies, metaphors, entendres, myths, symbols and meanings that communicates from with it’s characters and story. It’s quite well done in fact, especially in the very first film. I’ve mused about this stuff before, but it’s worth mentioning again, because there are lots of parallels in this film from the past, present and future. Neo, awakens at his computer — trying to discover who is sending him these strange messages. He arrives at a destination where he is given the conscience choice to take the red pill or the blue pill — it’s all quite theatrical and intensely visual joyride with direct parallels to Alice In Wonderland, another very metaphorically interweaved and symbolic film.
The whole thing at this stage is about interpretation, and this link is probably my favorite so far, equating taking the Red or Blue pill to rolling out Agile Software Development across an organization. Personally, I think that if anything is “Agile” development, it’s the scene with the Architect — The Matrix and Neo are iterative lean agile development. For sure.
Let’s get to some actual intelligent analysis of The Matrix, which is an epic film. First of all, there is some really great philosophy in the film that we should all consider when we think about ourselves; rooted in Descartes, it’s expands in the metaphysical, and perhaps even beyond, into unified string theory and theoretical multi-state quantum. It’s the question of “what is real” — from a fundamental, actualization of the meaning of how we see, hear, consume, process, interpret, cycle, store, and feed back information is such a way that we believe our version of reality to be the version of reality that exists.
Perceptions. We think that the little things we see, from one fleeting moment to the next, has meaning as we connect observance with information we’ve already stored in our minds, and we draw a likely conclusion often based on our needs. Some people can interpret things, read into them so poorly that the conclusions drawn are so far from the truth that it is ridiculous. Within this process of formulating what is perceived to be real, some people can imagine the strangest things. If one of those people acts as a communicator to proliferate that message from perhaps one delusion of some bizarre theory based on established biases, either intentional or not, it creates new perceptions. Depending on how rational we are, we may attach hypotheticals or probabilities to this, so as to not directly support one theory or the other; there is simply not enough evidence. We can apply some level of game theory if we understand it, and draw a few more conclusions, but most games in life are just not able to be designed with the appropriate environmental constraints to create the required dilema and can easily be “gamed” through a multitude of ways (especially when it’s clearly a game and we apply information asymmetry for purposes of extending the game state). The purpose of this all is that the ability to distinguish between what “is” and what “isn’t” real is most likely one of the most critical aspects of peaceful self realization that a person will ever have – and for some people can truly be a very “real” struggle. This is all very Descartes.
And it could be, as speculated with “wax” theory, that this is simply one state of reality, that persists in one form of existence, and the other version is merely a candle flame away; or in today’s world of advanced science: a simultaneous quantum leap away. Theory tells us that multidimensional states are already existing at all times and the process of activating and experiencing the state is a complex scientific endeavor that will seems as if it’s at a plateau after many years of research but is likely headed into rapid exponential acceleration. That’s the thing about perceptions of reality. You never know unless you do the real science. I think quantum physics is very Descartes also.
Such is the epitome of Descartes conundrum. Descartes’ “wax” theory analogy describes the various states of reality present in matter, of which he used to justify the separation of how we perceive the current existence of what reality is, versus the actual states of reality that exist:
“The senses inform us that a piece of wax has a specific shape, texture, smell… But these characteristics soon change when the wax is brought near a flame.”
Descartes is also well known for autonomous thought — the ability to think for yourself. Descartes posits that you must have a “good mind” and “apply it well”. He writes:
“Everything I have accepted up to now as being absolutely true and assured, I have learned from or through the senses. But I have sometimes found that these senses played me false it is prudent never to trust entirely those who have once deceived us…Thus what I thought I had seen with my eyes, I actually grasped solely with the faculty of judgment, which is in my mind.”
So, Descartes, because of his beginning discovery of the separation of our own perceptions from reality and even further from truth or knowledge — became a highly skeptical man. Despite his skepticism, he was certain of one thing — his own existence, and so he coined the phrase ”Cogito ergo sum” which is the famous “I think, therefore I am”. It was the only way out for him from his conundrum; thinking. Otherwise known as a characteristic of “intelligence”.
I referenced this video once before but it’s worth watching again in the context of this article.
Hilary Putnam‘s version of Descartes’ conflict is the “Brain in the Vat” problem:
“Imagine that a person’s brain has been removed from the body and placed in a vat of nutrients which keeps the brain alive. The nerve endings have been connected to a… computer which causes the person…to have the illusion that everything is perfectly normal. There seem to be people, objects, the sky, etc.; but really, all the person is experiencing is the result of electronic impulses travelling from the computer to the nerve endings.”
Now, this is way way out there in “hey that’s not cool” zone, but it causes us to really question the metaphysical aspects of existence, perception and reality in a more direct way. There are of course lots of problems with this, like the “phantom limb” or “phantom eye” problem, but it’s such a bizarre spin of metaphysics for the purposes of explanation, that it’s not really worth considering in a literal sense. The idea is that our perceptions are clearly separate entities from our reality.
Others have equated parts of the Matrix to theories of Nietzsche. Nietzsche was a regarded philosopher who degenerated into an abuser of opiates, who further went insane approaching a horse at the end of Piazza Carlo Alberto, ran to the horse, threw his arms up around its neck to protect it, and then collapsed to the ground. Dead.
To me, the most defining part of The Matrix is the scene with the Architect, where he is clearly distinguished as the hero of the world, it is his sole responsibility to save Zion, but in doing so, he may lose the one he loves, who he met in the Matrix:
“You are here because Zion is about to be destroyed. It’s every living inhabitant terminated, it’s entire existence erradicated. Rest assured. This will be the 6th time we will have destroyed it, and we have become exceedingly efficient at it.” -The Architect
This is both epic and comfortably familiar at the same time. Neo is on the classic Joseph Campbell’s hero’s journey:
“A hero ventures forth from the world of common day into a region of supernatural wonder: fabulous forces are there encountered and a decisive victory is won: the hero comes back from this mysterious adventure with the power to bestow boons on his fellow man.”
Ok — going with a personal story on this one, since I live in LA…
I live in a building between Hope and Grand. That’s not an analogy or a pun, it’s just where I live (but it could make some good song lyrics) — anyways.
Side story: The reason I like my building is because it was built with all “green” materials, and has a very awesome and friendly staff who always looks out for you and remembers your name — but most importantly was that it is very well designed and my wife likes it. That’s what made the difference in the end.
So, back to the story. One day, in my building between Hope and Grand, all the elevators were stalled — it was not possible to go up or down. It was a bit frustrating, but I tried my best to not get upset because obviously people were busy doing something important. There were all these security guys and people looking, to be honest, a bit paranoid and suspicious. I asked what was going on to some of the friendly and helpful staff, and they told me:
“They are filming a movie right now. It has some pretty big celebrities in it, but we really can’t tell you who… and we can’t tell you what it’s called”
Really? I thought to myself, having worked in the film industry and been around a handful of cast & crew and/or on set scenarios myself. I suppose the producers were worried maybe some of the info about the film might leak out and people would find out about it, maybe make a similar film before that one came out. Makes sense to be careful on set, but… this was where I live, so… kinda annoying actually — anyways. I got over it.
It turns out, the movie was Inception. I guess, from what I’ve heard, they shot the elevator sequence where I live. Inception is quite an interesting film, I would suggest you watch it if you havent – go buy it online. Good stuff. It directly tackles the power of a dream, an idea, in such a very interesting and beautifully portrayed way. It came out two days before my birthday but, I didn’t end up seeing the film for quite a while after — I did think it was a very intriguing and well directed piece of fiction. It’s all about stealing ideas from other people’s dreams — think about the psychology of that. Strange but incredible. So, what does it look like in the world of the people who steal other people’s dreams? Like this:
Message? The power of a dream can and will change your world. Amazing.
Nature is By Design.
Nothing on this planet is more incredible than the design found in nature. Flowers. Bees. Nectar. Trees. Ladybugs. Beatles. Lightning bugs. Honey. A Leaf. A Butterfly. A Seed. Turns out, nature had it all figured out far before you ever thought of it and nature not only does it smarter, it does it better. Nature is amazing. It’s breath taking, beautiful, efficient and intelligent — in a compact design comprised of unique genetic biodegradable encoded molecules. Here are a few examples:
The metamorphosis and transformation of the butterfly is quite an incredible instance of self renwal and the ability for nature to dramatically adapt into something new while maintaining the same life form. I think there are many analogies in life, business, science and software development — but also in the basic plasticity of the human brain’s ability to adapt and learn to recognize new things (the butterfly is certainly an abstract analogy in this case). The amazing thing is how cool butterflies are — very frequently referenced in film, studied in some sciences and used as reference for patterns in fashion and in the creation of new styles. We are influenced by nature all around us.
“What the caterpillar calls the end the rest of the world calls a butterfly.” ~Lao Tzu
Eyes of the Fly
It turns out that one very unexpected idea for biomaterials was to study existing life forms at the nano scale and become inspired leading towards synthetically recreating bio-structures already present in real life. This is a truly intriguing phenomenon, as it leads towards an eventuality where our actual materials are made from synthetic materials, theoretically, that can co-exist with and will last naturally or biodegrade naturally when we dispose of them. Like, the potential to never have to kill another elephant for the same material properties of ivory, or the ability — similar to already existing biodegradable plastics, to synthetically make “smart” materials that biodegrade in a way that increases the sustainability of our environment and world. This is not the only thing, though it is a huge positive aspect, also, when creatures are studied at such a close level, the engineering of nature is discovered — which leads us to understand how some very small, precise and complex mechanisms function; things that we would likely never otherwise understand. The eye of an insect is one of those things, especially for optical and lens technology, or for immersive camera technology — and many other aspects. Become mesmerized by the already architected world as seen from the electron microscope peering into the eye of a mosquito, it’s SO cool!
Check out the published work from ’07 on Nanotechnology (“Bio-inspired fabrication of antireflection nanostructures by replicating fly eyes”). Here are some excerpts from Wang’s research:
“Our contribution is the ability to replicate a biological structure and then measure its physical properties and find out why a particular structure exhibits unusual properties”
“By doing so, we are trying to find an effective fabrication path that follows the evolution of Nature for making extraordinary nanostructures.”
“The surface of the fly eye is covered by highly packed protuberances, which potentially increases visual efficiency through increased photon capture for a given stimulus”
“By measuring the reflective spectra, we demonstrated that the replica was an efficient antireflection structure of visible light at an incident angle up to 80°. Such a grating would be particularly useful surface since it could increase the transmission of incident light through the cornea.”
To Design or Evolve?
Steve Jurvetson gave an incredible, amazing and in my mind awe inspiring talk on this topic at Google, entitled: “Meaningful Innovation: Whether to Design or Evolve?” The depth and meaning contained in just a few of the statements he makes alone are worth the entire length of most videos. From a creation perspective when it comes to robotics and software algorithms, we can design evolutionary algorithms using machine learning that from a theoretical stand point can perform the act of creation better, faster and in a more precise manner that is also more effective — if the algorithm is designed this way. So, what does this mean — how and in how many ways does this change the dichotomy currently found existing between design (either as done by people or as found in nature) and the progression of exponential technology? I’ll leave that as a question for the viewers.