I recently gave a talk at ARE2012 about emerging interactions in the networked city. It’s a broad overview of ubicomp and how it is modulating our experience of ourselves, each other, and our environment. I’ll be writing a follow-up article with more info.
[This paper was originally published for a government report on discontinuity & change management.]
We live in a time of large-scale, non-linear change driven by the twin engines of globalization and hyper-connectivity. Change is, of course, constant but we now have such extreme visibility into the farthest corners of the world that the amplitude of change appears much greater than ever before. Many of us are, for the first time, globally connected and wired to real-time data streams that carry information and emotion across the world instantaneously. When we look through this lens of hypermedia we are confronted by fast-moving, asymmetric complexity that seems to be slipping out of control. The landscape is moving more quickly than we are able to respond. This is deeply challenging to our sense of security.
As Americans, we face a highly multipolar world. We feel the decline of U.S. exceptionalism and the attendant existential crisis of this realization; the ongoing global financial malaise and the emerging debt crisis threatening to break apart the European Union; the rise of China as a dominant world power and the implicit criticism of democracy that comes from its economic success; and the evolution of Islam as an explicit criticism of western prosperity. We are realizing the massive power of finance & energy cartels while struggling with ultraviolent drug cartels. We feel the impacts of domestic unemployment amidst weekly reports of record corporate profits. Capital is moving away from mature western markets for the young labor pools of the developing world. Fund managers are betting more on decline than investing in growth. There is a growing sense that western governance is failing in its charter to effectively manage the prosperity & security of its citizenry, and that selfishness, partisanship, and corruption have undermined the political process.
In the United States there is arguably a crisis of confidence in governance. We face extreme partisanship among policy makers and their apparent inability to effectively govern on domestic issues. Congress has a 20% approval rating. 73% of Americans believe the country is moving in the wrong direction. On domestic issues, the popular narrative of U.S. governance is one of bickering, incompetence, and failure.
So if there is a crisis of confidence, is there an actual crisis in governance? Recently the debt Supercommittee failed to agree on a solution for the deficit. This past July, the largely-manufactured budgetary impasse shook confidence in U.S. governance contributing directly to the S&P downgrade of our hallowed AAA credit rating. To quote the S&P report, the downgrade “reflects our view that the effectiveness, stability, and predictability of American policymaking and political institutions have weakened at a time of ongoing fiscal and economic challenges”. Even closer to home, the American Society of Civil Engineers recently reviewed U.S. infrastructure with a grade of “D” stating that it would take $2.2 trillion over the next 5 years to bring our roads, bridges, railways, water and energy systems, and waste treatment capacity up to 1st world standards. These are the fundamental needs required to keep a country functional & efficient.
Looking at recent statistics, the U.S. Commerce Department charts wages & salaries at only 44% of GDP – the lowest since 1929. Corporate profits, on the other hand, now contribute 10% of GDP – the highest on record since that auspicious year, 1929. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates unemployment at 9% though real measures of unemployment that include the under-employed and those who have given up looking for work are estimated closer to 16%. Among young adults age 16-24, 50% are without work – the highest number on record since 1948. The majority of unemployed no longer receive state benefits. Tens of thousands of service members are returning to joblessness & homelessness. The 2010 U.S. Census Bureau estimates that 46 million people are living in poverty – 15% of the nation. This number has been increasing annually for the past 3 years. These trends are undermining the legitimacy of the US government both at home and abroad, and contributing to the social unrest sensationally illustrated by the rise of both the Tea Party and Occupy Wall Street movements.
Typically, when we observe these statistical trends in other countries we see a growing segment of the populace more exposed to gang indoctrination, co-option by religious fundamentalism, and coercion by home-brewed militias. This unfortunate reality is not lost on policy makers, as telegraphed most recently by Congressional attempts to reconfigure the legislative landscape of the Homeland as a domestic battleground.
While national statistics are indeed worrisome, the situation at the local & regional level is more varied and offers some hope. There is a shift towards state’s rights as illustrated by the more libertarian aspects of the Tea Party and the GOP narrative against so-called big government, but also in many state legislatures on both sides of the aisle. While often ideologically driven, this shift towards state governance is a response to the limitations of central management across such a large and complex territory as the United States. Perhaps more interestingly, we see a shift to municipal power as urban populations swell and major cities take ownership of their roles as economic engines. Mayors are gathering more influence over state and federal policy, and are making more lucrative partnerships with global allies.
Yet, there are huge budgetary challenges for both states and municipalities, with states often pushing their own budgetary problems down to the county & city level. There is even talk of an emerging municipal debt bubble as cities issue more bond debt to cover their existing debt costs. The U.S. just witnessed the largest municipal bankruptcy in history when Jefferson County, Alabama, failed to cover its sewage bonds. This is the downward cycle of U.S. infrastructure & budgetary mis-management laid bare.
The picture of local and regional governance is a patchwork of attempts (successes and failures) to address the many challenges confronting us locally and handed down from state and federal institutions. As higher-order governors lose legitimacy, states & regions will work to sidestep their authority and to innovate around budgetary shortfalls and non-local obstacles. Progressive states agitate for marijuana legalization and same-sex marriage, conservative states assail big government and immigration, southwestern border states are dealing with the spill-over from Mexico’s narcowar, and many regions across the country are absorbing diverse and extreme climate impacts potentially driving food production, water supplies, and population movements. So while large, productive cities are generally seeing more cohesion there is a significant risk of increased balkanization across regions and states.
U.S. governance is clearly challenged on many domestic fronts. In operational terms, we’re falling short. Governing institutions are too big and too slow to respond to such accelerated change. If we’re failing to manage the present, how can we prepare for the future? There is too much complexity to effectively predict change and yet there’s too much institutional friction to adequately invest in broad resilience. This combination poses tremendous risks to domestic security. The snapshot of social unrest in America arises from two primary drivers: the fear of U.S. decline and the sense that Democracy is no longer working (represented by the Tea Party and OWS movements, respectively). Both are rooted in a lack of jobs, diminishing access to prosperity, and growing insecurity in the face of poorly managed discontinuities. When government fails to meet it’s charter, it loses legitimacy. When conventional channels for change are closed, the gap widens between governors and the governed.
For better and for worse, a lot of innovation happens in the gaps. There is innovation in governance itself, as in the Gov 2.0 & OpenGov initiatives to standardize operational data across organizations, to publicize the data, and to invite the public to work with the data and develop 3rp party applications. Deputizing the crowd to help with governance can offer tremendous opportunities for innovation, as exemplified by tools such as Oakland Crimespotting and the Everyblock platform. The citizenry is becoming more digital and addressable with direct polling, crowdsourcing, and experiments in electronic voting. Transparency initiatives, such as the Sunlight Foundation, build web platforms to track and reveal the influence of money in politics. The growth in mobile/social/location platforms empowers tremendous opportunities in civic innovation, as does the emergence of embedded instrumentation in the built environment. Tech collectives and hacker spaces, experiments in local and digital currencies, slow food and Buy Local movements, increased community volunteerism and more public-private partnerships – all of these examples build local resilience and enable communities to take care of themselves.
Many of these efforts follow open source models that enable fast innovation and iteration across diverse non-local nodes, avoiding hierarchies and direct leadership in favor of feedback loops and emergent self-governance. These models gained popularity with the open source software movement but have since expanded to include innovation in open hardware and fabrication, science and robotics, economics (there is an estimated $10 trillion informal economy growing in the gaps globally), and political movements. Open source templates have enabled new models of power such as Occupy Wall Street and Anonymous, many aspects of the Iraqi insurgency, and the dangerous ecosystem of adaptation and innovation found in the IED marketplaces of Iraq and Afghanistan. The ability to maintain such open source models of organization has been radically empowered by mobile telephony, SMS, and social media. The ability to globally broadcast, communicate and collaborate has enabled a new breed of citizen reporting pushed out through platforms like You Tube and Twitter. Rapid SMS communication across mobile devices enables fast stigmergic coordination that can mobilize people en masses with a moment’s notice. The Green Revolution in Tehran, the Arab Spring, and the periodic support calls sent out by OWS groups are all examples of how borderless, frictionless hyper-connectivity empowers a patchwork of active tribes, locally and virtually.
Gaps in governance empower innovators and competitors alike. Actors exploit the gaps and seek to influence or undermine governance in order to open more gaps. Super-empowered individuals like Bill Gates and Eric Schmidt work to influence conventional channels of policy-making while restructuring the regulatory landscape to better enable their businesses. Activist billionaires like Warren Buffet, George Soros, and Sir Richard Branson use their weight and influence to change world affairs, as do libertarians like Peter Thiel and anarcho-capitalists like the Koch brothers. Some super-empowered actors are feral and may not appear to be powerful yet manage to inflict exceptional discontinuities on their targets. Arms dealer, Victor Bout, has been a significant driver of unrest in Africa. The head of the Sinaloan cartel, Joaquin Guzman, has helped deconstruct Mexican governance into a lawless war zone. Henry Okah, the leader of MEND in Nigeria, used a small group of lo-tech saboteurs to target critical pipeline infrastructure reducing crude output by 50% and costing western oil interests billions in production revenue. Cartels and criminal networks operate on international scales moving billions of dollars to influence authorities and outwit enforcers. Tech-enabled sociopolitical collectives like Anonymous and Wikileaks deputize themselves as moral enforcers, exposing secret agendas and arbitrating punishment. These actors walk the same stage as multinational corporations and NGO’s that have no built-in allegiance to the United States or, in some cases, to democracy itself. All of these actors exert their will on the world by building influence and exploiting the gaps. All of them are empowered by hyper-connectivity and cheap computation to coordinate, collaborate, and influence at all scales.
This is an age of hypermedia and hyper-politics. There are almost 3 billion internet users, globally. There are over 5 billion mobile subscribers – this is 77% percent of humanity. Last year, in 2010, over 6.9 trillion text messages were sent & received. Humanity has global, instantaneous communication; immediate amplification of emotion, ideology, witnessing, discovery, innovation, and iteration. We are sharing what works and what doesn’t in all domains and endeavors. Everyone is being lifted by this rising technological tide. Small-scale power is amplifying exponentially through ubiquitous computation and mobile communication. Power is re-distributing across the globalized, hyper-connected landscape in such a way that a small, minimally-funded group can generate exponential disruptions. In a mediated world, we see a new war of narratives competing for mindshare across hypermedia, cultivating borderless affinities and ideologies, and offering a global voice to disenfranchised and exploited groups. Top-down governance, unable to extend control so far over such large-scale discontinuities, is yielding space to flattened hierarchies and self-governance. All institutions are being forced to evolve and adapt to this new landscape, as all efforts to suppress it will inevitably fail and only drive more turbulence.
Complexity is an expression of information, and hypermedia is a complexity feedback loop of revealing, sharing, and iterating. Hypermedia, in all it’s varied forms, is injecting unprecedented amounts of information into our awareness. This widening perception of complexity drives behavioral uncertainty as people and institutions feel increasingly overwhelmed and lost in the noise. The world wide web has driven massive discontinuities into almost every business model, organization, and political objective. Mobile telephony coupled to social networks has given voice to the real-time status of the majority of people on the planet. In this maelstrom of asymmetrical disruption, chaos appears to be the new norm though this will likely reveal itself to be the turmoil attending a broad shift towards a new order of stability.
Complex systems across many scales have moved into a late conservation phase and are beginning to release their organizational capacity. Legacy institutions have grown far too optimized and narrow to absorb the turbulence unleashed by globalization, ubicomp, and mobile telephony. Systems have destabilized in order to make the phase change into whatever next basin of stability awaits. Governance is necessarily challenged and states will inevitably give some degree of power & influence as capital flows out of the West; as more empowered actors take the global stage; as non-local relationships shift affiliation and allegiance; as borders are antiquated by the internet and the cell phone; and as over-extended unions fracture and balkanize. Centralized control structures are not adequate to manage such large scales of nested and inter-dependent complex adaptive systems. But fortunately, the same drivers that have introduced so much discontinuity and have challenged governance as we know it are helping construct the new forms of distributed, participatory governance. Hyper-connectivity, hyper-visibility, and hyper-empowerment are driving a global peer review of legacy institutions in a patchwork attempt to define Civilization 2.0. The process is turbulent and the future is cloudy but we’ll likely land on solid ground eventually.
I’ve just returned from a very interesting workshop in Washington, D.C. about fast-moving change, asymmetric threats to security, and finding signals within the wall of noise thrown up by big data. These are tremendous challenges to governance, policy makers, and the intelligence community. I’ll have more to say on these topics in later posts but for now, here’s a round-up of the most popular posts on URBEINGRECORDED in order of popularity:
Occupy Wall Street – New Maps for Shifting Terrain – On OWS, gaps in governance, empowered actors, and opportunities in the shifting sands…
Getting to Know Your Ghost in the Machine – On the convergence of ubiquitous computation (ubicomp), augmented reality, and network identity…
The Transhuman Gap – On the challenges facing the transhuman movement…
The Realities of Coal in the Second Industrial Revolution – On the energy demand and resource availability for the developing world…
Meshnets, Freedom Phones, and the People’s Revolution – On the Arab Spring, hyperconnectivity, and ad hoc wireless networks…
And a few that I really like:
Back-casting from 2043 – On possible futures, design fictions, and discontinuity…
On Human Networks & Living Biosystems – On the natural patterns driving technology & human systems…
Outliers & Complexity – On non-linearity, outliers, and the challenges of using the past to anticipate the future…
Thanks to all my readers for taking the time to think about my various rantings & pre-occupations. As always, your time, your participation, and your sharing is greatly appreciated!
I was driving through the Tenderloin the other night – one of the most socio-economically depressed areas of San Francisco. Across a long wall someone tagged “Occupy Wall Street” in big letters with a clean font and preceded by the Twitter “#” hashtag notation. It was a big, funky chorus bridging the grimy street with a shimmering virtuality beckoning from the other side. A shiny enticement to both residents and passers-by, yet it instilled in me that there are some hard reasons why Occupy is still a bit pale, demographically. The Tenderloin is where people fall to the bottom of the American heap, struggling every day just to try and get by. I can’t speak to their cellphone use but I’m guessing most aren’t on Twitter.
In America, poverty & homelessness are specters stalking the nightmares of the middle class. The stigma is crushing and many studies show how hard it is to fall out of society and fail normative expectations, forced to walk as a ghost the rest of us don’t want to acknowledge. We’re all “temporarily embarrassed millionaires”, to quote Steinbeck, but most are scared to death we’ll wake up from the American Dream wearing dirty rags and begging for pittance.
Amidst the looming failure of governance and the siphoning of capital into the hands of elite gamers the system starts to reveal interesting and exploitable gaps. The gaps opening up between the ruling elite, the body politik, the business world, the towers of old-world power, global supply chains and international demand structures, and the organic messiness of the street lashing together its own ad hoc infrastructure, battening down against the hard approach of a faceless Winter. A lot of innovation happens in the gaps.
When a control system releases it’s organizational capacity, the system tends towards a period of turbulence. Turbulence can be thought of as a widening of constraints on energized systems, ie things start getting wonky & unusual. Institutions are challenged. Stability & confidence are shaken. Calcified bureaucracy cedes power to fast, open-source iterations. Hierarchies flatten, though riddled with super-empowered outliers, revealing design patterns more akin to fuzzy biology than the mechanized Taylorism of the Industrial Age. A mycelial hypermedia of distributed, tech-enabled, self-empowered collectives emerges. The landscape is shifting so quickly that even the rules of the game are being forced to adapt. And not in any particularly easy way, mind.
The United States government is failing to adapt or effectively shepherd its populace into the 21st century. Many western nations share a similar sentiment. They’re falling left & right to the slipperiness of the behavioral economy and to top-tier predators drawing capital out of weakened states and widening the gaps between people & power. Meanwhile, gangs & cartels and urban collectives (oh, and the estimated $10T – trillion! – informal economy) are all pulling the weave apart further and staking their territorial claims. The landscape is ragged and hungry and a bit unhinged. Many of us are growing nervous feeling the hot breath of the meathook future on the back of our necks.
“You will not hear me, you will not listen to me, so I will stand in your face and you will be forced to see me.”
Occupy Wall Street is an expression of this sweaty fear & creeping nihilism in a world that looks decidedly different than the one we were raised to expect. It’s an empowered disenfranchisement: the realization and acceptance that the American people no longer have a say in the conversation about our country. “You will not hear me, you will not listen to me, so I will stand in your face and you will be forced to see me.” This is what Occupy says. And it says it encamped in front of your hallowed institutions, deploying local food & health services, brewing ad hoc energy supplies, coordinating collective actions, surveilling the local PD and running mobile counter-ops, holding signs to the media cameras and managing international PR campaigns. This is a new model of power emerging across technologically-savvy collectives, economically detached on the ground but coordinated with well-healed and influential sympathizers among the extended technorati. You get amplification, charitable donations, shout-outs, drop-ins from mayoral candidates, and as-needed mobilization of supporters who still have to hold down their day jobs and take the kids to school. Of course, the PD knows all this & knows how to exploit mobile social media as well.
The Short Message Service (SMS) was implemented in 1992 and is now ubiquitous and coupled to an insanely sophisticated global supply chain. A large driver for cellphone adoption, these discrete packets of information passed almost immediately across non-local nodes have proven extremely powerful. With very lightweight protocols and minimal hardware demands, SMS is fast becoming one of our primary signalling pathways. Witness the simple observation that mobile-enabled teens are constantly texting, rarely speak on the phone, and disregard email almost entirely. More info, less work. Now make sure every one of the somewhat feral and vaguely radical protestors occupying the park across from your ridiculously powerful and possibly sociopathic local tax base, eg The Federal Reserve… make sure they all have SMS mobiles. And make sure all the other urban clans have them too so they can share updates & anticipation, coordinate a distributed response, propagate the sticky phrases and hashtags, and rapidly pass counter intelligence to every single global node. Oh, and there’s this thing called Twitter that will take your SMS and push it out to a broadcast subscriber list that’s being crawled by every journalist, intel org, and revolutionary sympathizer across the modern world.
Of course the NYPD is scared and twitchy. Of course the DHS is yelling at all jurisdictions to get this under control. The true sign of fear will be revealed if they send in the National Guard – a tacit admission that the police are more sympathetic to the protesters than the economic cartels. And if you wanna get really meathook, peep the vid of the armed, self-appointed border guards standing against the Arizona Police Department to defend Occupy. “Using our 2nd amendment rights to defend our 1st amendment rights” was the money quote from that one.
Pundits and old-century analysts can’t get past its slipperiness. It doesn’t look like how protests were supposed to look. It won’t fit into a neat soundbite or flashy statement of demands. This gets really annoying for a mainstream press corps empowered by semantic containment.
Occupy Wall Street is an exceptional sociocultural hack. Grabbing eyes & hearts, they’re making it OK to protest again in America. After 911 the normative pressure around dissent & protest shifted, making it very un-American to disagree with and or show criticism of The U S of A. Occupy is quickly becoming view-fodder for the mainstream media. Spin it any way you like but OWS is grabbing the spotlight globally. Expect the election cycle to raise it as a common talking point – a good reason Occupy can safely find heat indoors for the Winter, come back swinging in Spring. This normative shift allows the many many folks who aren’t yet willing or simply can’t come sleep in the streets to be active & connected sympathizers helping spread the word, defend the narrative, and get downtown at 2am on a Thursday to stand against an expected police action. Social media invites participation at all scales.
People talk of so-called “new models of work”. Remote specialists coming together around a shared task, doing the work with a minimum of resources, taking value, and collaborating with adjacent like-minded ad hoc clusters. All enabled by information technologies and responding to shifting economic realities. BTW, capital is leaving the West and moving eastward and into Africa. Brazil is doing OK as well, I hear. But these new models of work are the same 21st century design patterns iterated on by Anonymous, WikiLeaks, and the Mexican cartels (with varying degrees of flamboyant and or enigmatic leadership). Another eye-opening newsblip from the past week is word that Anonymous is going after Los Zetas cartel (or possibly not). Thing about the Zetas… they don’t just hang out in cyberspace. You don’t wanna be trolled by Zetas.
So yeah, DHS is nervous. They see all these small fires and worry that one will flame up into a real conflict, or that their ranks will be taken over by legitimate militants/gangs/cartels/etc… Meanwhile, China is quietly laughing at us, gently suggesting to the world that maybe Democracy isn’t really all that necessary for a decent house, a reliable job, and good prospects for your kids. It’s worth considering what this means for U.S. diplomacy and the project of Democracy.
The sympathy that boomers have with OWS is rooted in this emigration of prosperity away from our shores. They did fine, my generation is fighting to hang on, and the younger generation can’t get a job. Of course, the Boomers think OWS should be using the tried-and-true models of the 1960′s, not this crazy post-modern artwar stuff. But they lived in a very different world and, ironically, it’s the protest movement of the 60′s that hardened the economic jungle and trained it against the Left.
The front of the emerging cultural war is everywhere & nowhere.
Occupy is a new creature bred to adapt to a markedly different environment. It uses similar design patterns from Tahrir Square and Tehran. It’s the new hyperpolitics enabling virtualized ideologies & coordinated actions by distributed collectives. Like everything else being spread across the real & virtual, the front of the emerging cultural war is everywhere & nowhere. The focus now is on prosperity and equality but it’s tugging at the sweater threads of our entire industrialized economy, already well-frayed & tattered from the wear & tear of the new millenium. Occupy is a statement about failure & fear and a realization that the people who have been entrusted to keep it all together for us are no longer acting on our behalf.
It’s a scary place to find yourself, falling into the gaps. But there’s tremendous potential there as well. And it’s likely a manifestation of far deeper and longer evolutionary imperatives brought to bear on the aging and deprecated foundations of industrial civilization. We are due for a major upgrade. New features & workflows are direly needed, and please patch some of those nasty bugs we’ve been complaining about for centuries. It would be really nice if we could all get back to work helping the world get a little better, day by day.
[This article was picked up by Business Insider.]
“Facebook really represents a battleground for ideas. It’s becoming an area for propaganda, for influence, for memetics, for advertising, for marketing. It is like any other public square: highly diverse and opinionated, potentially volatile and easily influenced by third parties.”
Click through the above link for the rest of the article.
Egyptian recording on mobile. From NYT.
The course of recent events across the Middle East & North Africa have highlighted both the power in organizing & reporting protest movements using network technologies and the weakness inherent in their corporate & state-controlled architectures. While social media & mobile phones have not explicitly created the revolutions we’re witnessing in Egypt, Libya, & Bahrain and the protests mounting in many other regions, they are making it much easier for collective actions to coordinate, inspire, and outwit the authorities. Conversely, ruling classes are now far more savvy to the threat these tools bring and will quickly act to shut down internet & SMS services that might undermine their authority. The tension in this dynamic emerged in 2009 when Chinese Uighurs in Xinjiang had mobile access removed by the government in an attempt to quell their uprising. And these tactics have played out repeatedly since as design patterns for resistance & rebellion formalize into institutional playbooks.
In this context, mobiles offer immediate & direct communication with allies while social networks offer distributed coordination and instantaneous global reporting. Indeed, the ability to capture and share information across the world is ultimately the most threatening aspect of such hyperconnected protest movements. Social networks like Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube empower protesters to be field reporters,capturing atrocities and inviting the rest of the world in to see. It is this universal witnessing that makes a local protest into a global movement. It brings normative pressure from the free world into old and rigid totalitarian regimes. Once such regimes could easily crush uprisings with limited exposure. Now they find themselves cast on the world stage in a glaring spotlight. Dispersed & sympathetic legions of like-minded freedom hawks mobilize around these events lending moral & technical support to ensure their success. Aging dictators wrinkle in the sun as their every word & action is shared & deconstructed by the world at large. And so these rulers move quickly to try and shut down the networks, to hide from the light and roll their rule back into the pre-dawn of geographic isolation.
And yet the revolution spreads. Mobiles & social networks transmit ideology & emotion, outrage & courage. Everyone wants in on the spectacle and the hope of real change that it invokes. It might not be too hyperbolic to suggest that True Democracy, co-opted and tarnished by Western realpolitik, so often used as an excuse to prop up the very dictators who’ve held these people in fear for decades, might break out through the networked world, demanding its due and even resuscitating the anemic corpus of the American protest movement.
But this assumes many things. Douglas Rushkoff and others have begun to point out the relative weakness of the internet and of mobile networks. Corporate choke points quickly buckle under government pressure and the threat of national security. So people naturally look for ways to build resilient networks that can resist the hunger & fear of power. Ways to route around the censorship.
Of course, revolutions are not the only things that need resilient ad hoc networks. Increasingly, large-scale construction projects require on-site network support, with or without internet backbones. Emergency relief, as we saw in the Haiti earthquake in 2010, also require fast response to restore communication networks. Any sufficiently large regional disaster could knock out communications & database access leaving first responders in the dark and victims & families struggling to find help & relief support. It’s important to understand that these services require local networks but don’t necessarily require internet access. In emergencies its critical that quickly-scalable ad hoc regional networks can be deployed to restore basic communications and access to necessary information, be it status updates or institutional knowledge bases.
Venessa Miemis has a great round-up of the many players in this field, highlighting 16+ Projects & Initiatives Building Ad-Hoc Wireless Mesh Networks. From her list its impressive how many groups are working on solving these problems.
Mobile phones are a valuable infrastructure that often gets overlooked in discussions of resiliency. Everyone has a phone so everyone is a potential node. Research in wireless meshnets that use mobile phones instead of carrier backbones offer localized solutions for resilient networks. If a city loses it’s carrier support, if AT&T & Verizon are offline, mobiles can default to a lilly-pad model where voice & data move from phone to phone, hopping across the community through wireless overlaps. The phone becomes the hot-spot and a personal IP address. This allows information to pass from across the mobile meshnet until it reaches an internet uplink, such as a Meraki node. In this manner individuals can still coordinate resources & activities if, say, an earthquake or a dictator has taken mobile carriers & ISP’s offline, and can hop to a strong wireless uplink outside the range of blackout.
To look forward, local mobile meshnets could be used as distributed processing clusters, like a SETI At Home for mobiles. Consider the processing power latent across a city of 20 million mobile subscribers, such as Tokyo. As smart phones integrate more diverse sensors, mobile meshnets could be addressed as distributed sense platforms, analyzing air quality, for example, or deputized as camera arrays. [Klint Finley expands on this idea over at ReadWriteCloud.] Consider what could be done with an API for addressing clusters of mobile sensors. [Update: Imagine the types of shared augmented reality experiences that might be possible across localized mobile meshnets... eg bands could push experience layers out to their audiences during concerts - any venue could run a layer that would automatically sync with a user's phone/headset when they entered it's radius of activity.] When mobiles have the ability to firewall from selected authorities or create opt-in experience zones users might develop incredibly sophisticated tools for distributed in-field utilities. Of course, so might criminals and insurgents… and regimes.
There’s a tremendous amount of work advancing these technologies. The events in the Middle East & North Africa, coupled with the creeping authoritarianism and neglect in western countries, are lighting a fire under innovators to figure it out. Likewise, major mobile manufacturers are exploring this space to anticipate consumer demand and create differentiating features to compete in the impacted & accelerated smartphone marketplace. The internet & mobile communication have rapidly proven themselves to be indispensable to the lives of billions of people. Any efforts to exert power and authority over them on a mass scale while run into fierce challenges born from the simple nature of human ingenuity & adaptation. And yet, there are many reasons we should not take such access to mobile communications and the internet for granted.
John Gilmore’s famous quote (and Mark Pesce’s analysis) applies here: The Net interprets censorship as damage and routes around it. Whether that censorship comes from corporations, dictators, or acts of god is immaterial.
[Update: Check out the World Community Grid for crowd-sourced cluster computing. Would be great to see them include mobile when the tech catches up...]
[Definitely read this Tech Crunch post, Humans Are The Routers, by the founder of the Openmesh Project, Shervin Pishevar.]
I’ve put together a research brief summarizing my recent work looking at 3 examples of emerging non-state power. These models indicate that many of the technologies enabling rapid, ad hoc global communication & collaboration are being adapted by criminal & ideological groups to grow international supply chains and build sophisticated financial networks. While there are certainly many non-state challenges in the current geopolitical landscape, in this brief I focus on the Mexican narcoinsurgency, the MEND resistance in Nigeria, and the nexus of illicit drugs & terrorism in northern Africa.
From the intro:
Cartels, militias, insurgencies, and terrorist groups leverage mobile communications & rapid collaboration to grow & manage globally-distributed ad hoc networks that overlap in complex international shadow economies.
Traditional state governance is being challenged by the ubiquity of personal technology and the rise of multinational corporate powers, ideological factions, insurgencies, militaries, militias, and criminal groups. Laboring under inefficient bureaucratic structures, over-reaching foreign policy, legislative deadlocks, corruption and co-opted representation, traditional states are less capable of governing in ways that support social welfare. As a result, communities, collectives, and distributed ad hoc organizations are being forced to innovate strategies for resilience & prosperity in ways that increasingly lie outside the conventional models.
These networks have become sophisticated enough to rival many corporations in capital & influence. Yet, unlike most corporations, they are wholly opaque & unaccountable, relying on illicit goods, drugs, and violence to grow their markets and remove obstacles to business.
This report highlights some of the more disruptive methods that not only seek to re-establish socio-economic influence and control in the face of great disparity, but also directly challenge state authority at levels formerly impossible for non-state actors.
Full PDF here (8 pgs).
Image from Wired Magazine.
[Cross-posted from Signtific Lab.]
Researchers at VU University Medical Center in Amsterdam have applied the analytic methods of graph theory to analyze the neural networks of patients suffering from dementia. Their findings reveal that brain activity networks in dementia sufferers are much more randomized and disconnected than in typical brains. "The underlying idea is that cognitive dysfunction can be illustrated by, and perhaps even explained by, a disturbed functional organization of the whole brain network", said lead researcher Willem de Haan.
Of perhaps deeper significance, this work shows the application of network analysis algorithms to the understanding of neurophysiology and mind, suggesting a similarity in functioning between computational networks and neural networks. Indeed, the research highlights the increasing feedback between computational models and neural models. As we learn more about brain structure & functioning, these understandings translate into better computational models. As computation is increasingly able to model brain systems, we come to understand their physiology more completely. The two modalities are co-evolving.
The interdependence of the two fields has been most recently illustrated with the announcement of the Blue Brain Project which aims to simulate a human brain within 10 years. This ambitious project will inevitably drive advanced research & development in imaging technologies to reveal the structural complexities of the brain which will, in turn, yield roadmaps towards designing better computational structures. This convergence of computer science and neuroscience is laying the foundation for an integrative language of brain computer interface. As the two sciences get closer and closer to each other, they will inevitably interact more directly and powerfully, as each domain adds value to the other and the barriers to integration erode.
This feedback loop between computation and cognition is ultimately bringing the power of programming to our brains and bodies. The ability to create programmatic objects capable of executing tasks on our behalf has radically altered the way we extend our functionality by dematerializing technologies into more efficient, flexible, & powerful virtual domains. This shift has brought an unprecedented ability to iterate information and construct hyper-technical objects. The sheer adaptive power of these technologies underwrites the imperative towards programming our bodies, enabling us to excercies unprecedented levels of control and augmnetation over our physical form, and further reveal the fabric of mind.
Image by .faramarz.
“The purpose of this guide is to help you participate constructively in the Iranian election protests through twitter.” So opens the #iranelection cyber war guide for beginners just posted today and widely distributed across the web through Twitter. The guide continues with precise information about what behaviors and syntaxes on Twitter are now being watched by the Iranian security apparatus; which hashtags are legitimate and which are state honey pots used to identify and block IP’s; how to pass new open proxies to those within the Tehranian resistance; and smart guidelines for those considering launching Denial of Service attacks on State websites. The author has compiled a brief & succinct guidebook to help global non-Iranians better help those in Iran who are trying to ensure that these events are not hidden from the eyes of the world.
The guide closes with: “Please remember that this is about the future of the Iranian people, while it might be exciting to get caught up in the flow of participating in a new meme, do not lose sight of what this is really about.” To me, this is about the future of all people.
As Clay Shirky noted, the events in Tehran mark a hugely important historic moment. Under an old theocratic and belligerent rulership, the modernist progressives from Iran’s urban center, Tehran, are using mobile communications and social networks to bypass the State and reach out to the world. Ahmadi’s swiftly-imposed net blackout has failed against the ingenuity of tech-enabled university students and the eagerness of sympathetic geeks across the world to help fight The Man (in this case, the authoritarian and repressive regime of the Ayatollah, the Guardian Council, and President Ahmadi-nejad). This marks a large state change in global power dynamics. In an age moving rapidly towards ubiquitous networked mobile computing, transparency and representation are the emerging foundations of civilization, simultaneously empowering the principles of Democracy while de-legitimizing the very notion of the State.
Perhaps even more surprising is the critical role of Twitter as the de facto global, real-time, open communication and collaboration channel. Using SMS, every mobile phone user on the planet has the ability to message Twitter and reach out to a global network. Twitter’s architecture guarantees an exponential distribution of information, and their lack of public shareholders allows them to take a more humanitarian posture. Protesters in Tehran were getting messages to hi-value nodes like Stephen Fry, John Perry Barlow, and William Gibson who then retweet the message to hundreds of thousands of their followers. By Monday #iranelection was the #1 trending term across Twitter and has stayed there since. Twitter is the primary channel for information coming in and out of Tehran regarding the contested election of it’s president – in a critical middle eastern Islamic nation, oil-rich with an aggressive posture towards the US and it’s allies, and who is poised on the brink of becoming a fully nuclear state. The out-of-left-field social networking phenomena has been so valuable to the goals of US interests in Iran that the U.S. State Department requested that Twitter postpone it’s scheduled service downtime.
The regime is now evicting reporters from Iran. The challenger, Moussavi, is likely not much different from Ahmadi-nejad. Both are pre-approved by the Ayatollah and Guardian Council. The pro-Moussavi population wants to see voting irregularities investigated and their “moderate” candidate approved as president. Tehran’s tech-savvy are redefining the fundamental relationship between people and governments. All power structures should be watching the events in Tehran and across the web. The people are getting smarter and bolder.
This is the age of empowered collectives striding across a globalized, hyper-connected world. In a virtualized information space, borders are less meaningful and countries are loose contextual buckets through which people interact. The swift assistance provided by western techies is not really about the US helping Iran, it’s about good, aspirational people trying to help other good, aspirational people. The playing field is leveling as humanity learns more and more about itself, overcoming fear and stereotypes and ignorance simply by communicating more effectively.
There will be a reaction as states work to retain power, upping their game to adapt to the new tech. And there will be darker consequences of these new tool as the All-Seeing Digital Eye rises over the land. We struggle now to free information but the next big struggle may be to secure it. All coins have two sides and all technologies will be bent to human will. Hopefully we’re all getting a little bit better at cooperating with each new day.
***This was written in a bit of a rush before I jet. Here are a couple more links:
Here’s a list of good info links.
Lyn Jeffery of IFTF writes Field Notes from the Iran Twitter Stream.
SF Gate article: SF Techie Stir Iranian Protests.
Jamais Cascio: The Dark Side of Twittering a Revolution.
And Hillary Clinton Defends Twitter Efforts for Iran.
I stayed in Las Vegas for a few nights this week to see Jane’s Addiction at The Pearl. A large part of me loathes much of what Vegas is (and by “Vegas” I’m mainly referring to The Strip and its satellites – no offense to the folks who live in the city) yet I can’t help but be mesmerized and amazed at the sheer scale of fantasy on sale there in the wasteland of the Nevada high desert. It is by all accounts an impossible mirage, timeless and ephemeral, drawing in the seekers, fleecing them, and sending them back home like it never existed. Inevitably, it seems it will fall back into the desert as Lake Meade dries up and the drought deepens, leaving behind skeletons of a once mighty empire. Caesar’s Palace may retain it’s name but Nero is the ruler of today’s Vegas.
Anyway, here are my tweets from the trip, in chronological order:
- Heading off to Sin City for glittering nights & saltine days before it all dries up & blows away. #NIN/JA2009 New Aeon Rat Pack 8:55 AM May 17th
- Have successfully played my role as cattle/combatant/customer in SanJoseAirport security theater. Now matriculated to cargo. 10:22 AM May 17th
- Tarmac running to the jetwash mirage of Las Vegas. 12:06 PM May 17th
- Vegas directs its formidable will at constantly maintaining the illusion of plenty. Super Size everything while the desert bides its time… 4:41 PM May 17th
- Vegas, in a nutshell: http://twitpic.com/5ew00 10:21 PM May 17th
- everything about this city is designed to separate me from my money. call me the mark. 12:29 AM May 18th
- Vegas commodifies dreams and the easy score, selling back crumbs at criminal markups, preying on mammon & ruin. 12:02 PM May 18th
- A sign of my age: hoping to trade my #NIN/JA floor tickets for seats. 1:13 PM May 18th
- Little fluffy clouds march relentlessly across the ancient Nevada desert as spacemen floating high above tweet us thermospheric thoughts. 1:45 PM May 18th
- As growth stalls, Vegas withdraws into the strip to focus on sustaining the mirage. The illusion thrives at the expense of the sprawl. 2:35 PM May 18th
- Recent NPR story spoke of tracts of abandoned LV tenaments haunted by erratic chirpings: the sound of fire detectors with dying batteries. 2:40 PM May 18th
- About 2M people inhabit Las Vegas. Nellis AFB brought federal stimulus; the mob & Howard Hughes built The Strip. 5:19 PM May 18th
- Deserts are like seas, vast & deep. In this The Strip is a glowing lure above the gaping maw of a dark desert angler. 5:25 PM May 18th
- You think you’re about to score a nice meal but really you are the prey about to feed something much larger. 5:26 PM May 18th
- got tix sorted. now heading to The Pearl for NIN/JA with @jingleyfish & friends. w00t! 7:28 PM May 18th
- Goddamn i love Jane’s Addiction 12:31 AM May 19th
- crawling the vegas strip with the good dr 1:17 AM May 19th
- new dreams waking with the sun on the fiery vegas strip, raging towards another night 5:49 AM May 19th
- ack. marinating in ambient cigarette smoke on the casino floor. 4:31 PM May 19th
- your trowelled-on cake facade masks the withering age of dessicated bones, too long standing on sore heels to hawk & bark a distant fantasy 4:37 PM May 19th
- Ruminating w/ @jingleyfish about the resource usage profile of the Vegas strip. How much does this desert fantasy consume? Is it a threat? 5:52 PM May 19th
- To paraphrase the bubbling hatery, is Vegas a “cankar needing to be excised”? Carbon tax would likely crush phallic wavings of Wynn et al. 5:56 PM May 19th
- sleepless pineal cascade, flush with endogenous indole, wondering if im really still stuck in this airport 7:27 PM May 19th
- on the ground rolling back to santa cruz. crowd-induced stabby mysanthropy subsiding. actual sleep nigh iminent. 10:24 PM May 19th
Some rough notes from the weekend on the Northern California coast… I’m trying to get at the core of my general orientation towards the world. It’s coming into focus at the nexus of evolutionary biology & technology. Or…
How does evolutionary biology express through culture & technology?
Requirements of human biosurvivial & social identity (compare to Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs):
water, food shelter, fecundity, mortality, socialization, cognition, communication, migration, lineage, history, myth, aspiration, discovery, expression, emotion, time, transcendence.
Global comm networks are rapidly bringing the world closer and changing human cognition in ways we cannot yet fully see. What are the impacts and consequences of the emerging self-identification of the human species? How will we manage the human agency? Do we have a global strategy yet, or just a Balkanized polyculture of mostly-competing sub-identities? (Obv. the latter.) Compare to the Greek & Roman consciousness that embodied emotional states & psychological constructs in the mythic drama of deities & demigods. The western religious myth of Earth as resource and Earth as purgatory elevated us above the natural world. The planet is now urgently reminding us that we are within the natural world – a subset embedded in a much larger and ultimately self-interested system.
The assertion of the natural world compels us towards alignment with biomimetic solutions & protocols. Or towards oblivion as we are corrected by the planetary system. We cannot destroy the world before it limits our ability to do it damage. The compulsion towards environmental protection is a species-wide awareness rising from our very cells and fueled by our growing awareness of our impact on the planetary ecology. Adapt or perish.
Socio-economic & ecological adaptation is not on a uniform schedule. Diverse states & peoples have their own schedules to work out as they march up the pyramid of civilization. Does this demand caretakers & parent states? Globalization is a normalizing force, but inequities between self-appointed parents and emerging economies will grow, as will the ability of smaller networks to inflict their will on states, NGO’s, & global systems. This democratization of technological empowerment is yet another major current working through our species. We’re getting stronger yet the morality(?) & responsibility expected to wield this power is not uniform across cultures & peoples. Core biosurvival needs remain the primary driver, exposed to shifting climates and diminishing conventional energy sources. There will be (more) blood.
The race is whether the technologies of liberation & salvation will outpace the technologies of destruction & exploitation. Of course, the real technology underneath both is the human brain – a much more subtle & powerful tool, highly malleable but stubbornly resistant to overt change.
To the title of this post, I was on a tech support call with AT&T/Apple this afternoon. Facing surprising SMS overage charges on my mobile account, I wanted to know if Twitter apps like Tweetie might be using the SMS channel to conduct their transactions. I figured not but the Tweetie site gave me no info.
So I asked the support person, who knew about Twitter (better than AT&T) but not about whether Twitter iPhone apps use SMS. She put me on hold to ask a support specialist. About 15 minutes later she came back with a reasonable response (“they probably don’t use SMS”) and a suggestion to talk to the app vendor.
All this had me thinking about the huge inefficiency at play with the responder trying to locate the specialist, get their attention and time, probably juggling multiple phone lines, to then give me one person’s measured response. I imagined a not-too-distant future where the call responder typed my query into a local Twitter-clone running on the tech support network inside AT&T/Apple. This query would immediately push out to subscribers – some required by their manager to subscribe to all tech support feeds, and others who just want to see the problems customers are encountering. I then imagined that some of these subscribers would run search filters on the messaging stream in order to be alerted to those queries they were most interested in tracking.
So somewhere in the bowels of tech support there’s a guy who is a Twitter power-user, or an engineer who wrote the SMS api’s, or a community developer that helps 3rd parties like Tweetie write iPhone apps… and they get pinged every time a tag of interest comes across the network. They see “iPhone Twitter SMS” and respond with the info. With enough of these transactions the call responder will have an archive of tech support tweets they can search through to see if someone has already responded. Of course, this archive provides another layer of analytic data that can be mined to get more info about the problem areas most often reported to tech support.
This concept isn’t particularly new. Businesses have been trying to do this with IM for years. The difference is that IM only gets you access to one person at a time and you have to think to contact them specifically. Then you get caught up in a conversation when you really just need an answer. The Twitter broadcast model quickly gets your query out to a pool of possible responders. Even more importantly, by subscribing to the posts of others throughout the business (eg sales, dev managers, support, evangelists, brand managers, etc…) employees extend their sensors out to include many more valuable inputs. Once they get beyond a certain size, most businesses inevitably Balkanize into distinct units that gradually build up walls and grow insular. Enterprise Twitter (for lack of a better term) would help dissolve these boundaries. This is especially critical in an age of convergence where even the most diverse businesses are feeling the need to integrate and build interoperability across their portfolios.
Again, enterprise Twitter isn’t a new concept but it’s one that so far seems to have escaped either the demand side of the equation – businesses (I’m constantly amazed by the deep endemic failures of communication within companies), who desperately need better & more efficient forms of internal communication; and the supply side, which remains unable to provide any sort of internal enterprise-grade broadcast messaging solutions.
[Updated: Check out Mike Gotta's note on Enterprise Version's of Twitter.]
Here’s a selection of my tweets from the O’Reilly Emerging Technology Conference this past week. These are the ones I think grab the juicy nuggets from the speaker’s presentations. [In temporal order with the earliest (ie Monday eve) listed first.]
Tim O’Reilly: “We have greatness but have wasted it on so much. ”
We have an unprecedented opportunity to build a digital commonwealth. #etech
Work on something that matters to you more than money. This is a robust strategy. #etech
Niall Kennedy: Energy Star rating for web apps? Thinking of clouds & programming like tuning a car for better gas mileage. #etech
Cloud computing: no reasonable expectation of privacy when data is not in your hands. Not protected by 4th amendment. #etech
Alex Steffen: Problems with water supply are based in part on our lack of beavers. #etech
Social media for human rights. http://hub.witness.org #etech
Gavin Starks – Your Energy Identity & Why You Should Care. see http://amee.com #etech
Maureen Mclugh – Consider that technology may be evolving in ways that are not particularly interested in us. #etech
Becker, Muller: We have under-estimated the costs and over-estimated the value of our economy. #etech
Becker, Muller: We assume economic trade must be the primary framing of value in our lives. Why? #etech
Design Patterns for PostConsumerism: Free; Repair Culture; Reputation Scaled; Loanership Society; Virtual Production. #etech
NYT: emerging platforms, text reflow, multitouch, flexy displays, smart content, sms story updates, sensors, GPS localized content. #etech
Jeremy Faludi: Buildings & transport have the largest impact on climate change. Biggest bang for the buck in re-design. #etech
Jeremy Faludi – Biggest contributor to species extinction & habitat loss is encroachment & byproducts from agriculture. #etech
Jeremy Faludi – Best strategies to vastly reduce overpopulation: access to birth control & family planning, empowerment of women. #etech
Tom Raftery: Grid 1.0 can’t manage excess power from renewables. Solution: electric cars as distributed storage. #etech
Considering the impact of pluging AMEE (@agentGav) data in ERP systems for feedback to biz about supply chain impacts. BI meets NRG ID.
Mike Mathieu: Data becoming more important than code. Civic data is plentiful and largely untapped. Make civic apps! #etech
Mike Mathieu: Take 10 minutes today and pick your crisis. Figure out how to create software to help. #etech
What is #SantaCruz doing to make civic data available to service builders? We want to help SC be healthier & more productive.
Mark Fraunfelder: “I haven’t heard of anybody having great success with automatic chicken doors.” #etech [re-emerging technology]
Realities of energy efficiency: 1gallon of gasoline = ~1000hrs of human labor. #etech
Kevin Lynch: Adobe is saving over $1M annually just by managing energy. #etech
Designing backwards: Think about the destiny of the item before thinking about he initial use. (via Brian Dougherty) #etech
RealTimeCity: physical & digital space merges, people incorporate intelligent systems, cities react in accord w/needs of pub welfare. #etech
Oh my we’re being LIDAR’d while Zoe Keating plays live cello n loops. ZOMG!!!
zoe keating & live lidar is blowing my mind at #etech 1.3M points per sec!
Julian Bleeker cites David A. Kirby: “Diegetic prototypes have a major rhetorical advantage over true prototypes” #etech
Julian Bleeker: Stories matter when designing the future, eg. Minority Report. #etech
Julian Bleeker: “Think of Philip K. Dick as a System Administrator. #etech
Rebecca MacKinnon: Which side are we helping, River Crabs or Grass Mud Horses? #etech
Kati London: How can we use games to game The System and how can they be used to solve civic problems? #etech
Nathan Wolfe: Trying to fight pandemics only at the viral human level ignores deep socioeconomic causes of animal-human transmission. #etech
Nathan Wolfe, re: viral jump from animal to human populations: “What happens in central Africa doesn’t stay in central Africa.”
Nathan Wolfe: need to work with % of population w/ hi freq of direct contact with animals for early detection of viral transmission.
Nathan Wolfe: Vast majority of biosphere is microscopic, mostly bacterial & viral. Humans: very small piece of life on Earth. #etech
[This is a reply I left recently to a Global Futures question about the near-future of the web. It goes a little off-topic at the end but such is the risk of systems analysis. Everything's connected.]
Within 10-15 years mobile devices will constantly interact with the world around us, analyzing objects, faces, signage, locations, and anything else their sensors can engage. Camera viewfinders will identify visual sources using algorithms to match them up with cloud data repositories. Bluetooth and GPS will interact on sub-channels silently exchanging relationships with embedded sensors across devices and objects. A user’s mobile device will become their IP address hosting much of their profile information and mediating relationships across social nets, commercial transactions, security clearances, and the array of increasingly smart objects and devices.
Cloud access and screen presence will be nearly ubiquitous further blurring the line between desktop, laptop, server, mobile devices, and the objects in our world. It will all be screens interfacing between data, objects, and humans. Amidst the overwhelming data/content glut we will outsource mathematical chores to cloud agents dedicated to scraping data and filtering the bits that are pertinent to our personalized affinities and needs. These data streams will be highly dynamic and cloud agents will send them to rich media layers that will render the results in comprehensible and meaningful displays.
The human sensorium and its interaction with reality will be highly augmented through mobile devices that layer rich information over the world around us. The digital world will move heavily into the natural analog world as the boundaries between the two further erode. This will be readily apparent in the increasing amount of communication we will receive from appliances, vehicles, storefronts, other people, animals, and even plants all wired to the cloud. Meanwhile, cloud agents will sort through vast amounts of human behavioral information creating smart profiles and socioeconomic and environmental systems models with incredible complexity and increasing predictive ability. The cloud itself will be made more intelligible to agents by the standardization of semantic web protocols implemented into most new sites and services. Agents will concatenate to tie services together into meta-functions, just as human collectives will be much more common as we move into increasingly multicellular functional bodies.
The sense of self and our philosophical paradigms will be iterating and revising on an almost weekly basis as we spread out across the cloud and innumerable virtual spaces connected through instantaneous communication. Virtual worlds themselves will be increasingly common but will break out of the walled-garden models of the present, allowing comm channels and video streams to move freely between them and the social web. World of Warcraft will have live video feeds from in-world out to device displays. Mobile GPS will report a user’s real-world location as well as their virtual location, mashing both into Google Maps and the SketchUp-enabled virtual map of the planet.
All of this abstraction will press back on the world and create even greater value for real face-to-face interactions. Familial bonds will be more and more cherished and local communities will take greater and greater control of their lives away from unreliable global supply chains and profit-driven corporate bodies. Most families will engage in some form of gardening to supplement their food supply. The state itself will be hollowed out through over-extended conflicts and insurgencies coupled with ongoing failures to manage domestic civic instabilities. Power outages and water failures will be common in large cities. This will of course further invigorate alternative energy technologies and shift civic responsibilities to local communities. US manufacturing will have partially shifted towards alternative energy capture and storage but much of the real successes will be in small progressive towns rallying around local resources, small-scale fab, and pre-existing economic successes.
All in all, the future will be a rich collage. Totally new and much the same as it has been.
These are my brief (and very rough) notes from 5 minutes ago summarizing some guidelines I feel are critical for application & service development:
The cloud is everywhere.
Applications grab eyes.
Mobile/desktop/cloud – Don’t draw partitions.
Seek integrations across platforms.
Scale services by UI. Eg editing photos on a mobile is not appropriate but capturing images and uploading them to a workspace is.
Provide ubiquitous workspaces.
Communicate, Collaborate, Create, Share
As with much of the digital world, corporate transparency is greater now than it ever has been. Witness yesterday’s Adobe Analyst Meeting – a closed door, invite-only industry event at which analysts of all stripes were treated to Adobe’s financial strategy for the year to come. Within those exclusive walls, many industry agents were typing away on laptops and mobiles but they weren’t just live-blogging or recording notes for a report or article to be edited by their gatekeepers and published later. They were also broadcasting SMS messages to the masses in real-time through Twitter, micro-blogging their instantaneous thoughts, reactions, and sub-channel conversations to thousands of vicarious third-parties.
These raw feeds are perhaps a much more accurate representation of such events – or at least constitute a valuable nuance to the conversation – but their true merit is in their subversive tunneling to freedom through the garden walls, broadcast to the masses. I was annoyed that I couldn’t attend my own company’s briefing but then I got a lot of the meat from trolling the analyst tweets. This raises numerous issues. Should the company defend the tower and let me get the info second-hand through the emotional filters and bullshit detectors of the invitees? Or is it in their interest to include me and the rest of the public so they can at least have a better bet at controlling the message? Is there value in creating such walled gardens in the first place if anyone can breech your security with a simple 140 character message? Is it cost-effective? Do companies impose checkpoints to remove potentially threatening mobile devices? Can you trust people to stick to the talking points or do you allow that the genie is out of the bottle and the natural process of selection will actually help your company do a better job? Transparency and democratized digital broadcast is crowdsourced quality control. It’s a natural feedback mechanism for regulating the evolution of ideas.
These days, if an exclusionary body refuses to share beyond the in-crowd, at least one of those insiders will probably share it with the world. Information is free and the closed companies see their brand suffer as they try in vain to crush the dissenters on a global and very public stage. Their insular reporting hierarchies inevitably ensure that the same ideas and strategies eventually become recycled again and again, and that the truth is filtered through the instinct of self-preservation. Secrecy is like evolution in a vacuum or asexual reproduction. There is little pressure for real change beyond the cold, hard truth of the quarterly earnings report.
Is it even possible to keep secrets anymore? Do you remember all the conspiracy theories you read about in college? Have you noticed that most of them have now been recorded as historical fact? Have you considered that within 10 years the majority of elected officials will have public digital paper trails stretching across the fabled Information Superhighway? And there will be bands of saavy developers eager to crunch the data from those paper trails and render them in pretty visualizations that really show just exactly how honorable/charitable/pious/two-faced/depraved your future senator really is.
Even the analysts are known, willingly opting in to the public timeline of Twitter. All of their names are published at Sage Circle for anyone to see and follow. In fact, in order to really productively use many of the new open social tools & services, the user is highly incentivised to opt-in to their own public transparency. Everyone who wants to speak with power enough to reach the masses (or at least a few handfuls of them) must embrace the open platform. And if you’re professional, you need to use your real name. Therein lies the rub: to be competitive businesses need to have their product managers, their evangelists, their analysts, idea makers and trend-setters all dialed in to the social web. Communication and sharing and an openness to take feedback from your users is becoming crucial for the corporate body to humanize and interact with the eyes of the world. Effective product development must include the people buying your product, otherwise you end up designing for imagined ghosts. Hence, the increasing migration of analysts and audiences to Twitter. Then as a company you end up with your intelligence agents working for you but writing to their audience. And you have an empowered audience that’s publicly-yet-privately back-channeling their loathing of your corporate shill right in front of them, like the now legendary and immediately ground-breaking SXSW smackdown of Tara Hunt.
Like journalists, analysts are no longer totally bound by an allegiance to their lords nor to the companies they scrutinize. They become like moonlighting Ronin. They broadcast to the world from a niche stardom and semi-famous personhood that carefully (or not-so-carefully) balances the party line and the ratings of the viewers. In the face of even limited fame and empowerment, how does company loyalty measure up to increased outsourcing and diminishing employee perks? All life, it seems, will bend towards the viewership, simultaneously revealed and true, yet inevitably influenced and state-shifted by 5 or 6 billion eyes and the inescapable quantal fact of Heisenberg’s Uncertainty. In a totally measured and watched world, is Truth just a state of observation, a sufficiently-probable collapsing of the waveform undergoing the formality of actually occuring, to paraphrase McKenna quoting Whitehead. The soul becomes visible as the mind manifests to all eyes.
Information – Truth, whether it exists fundamentally or is just a state of mind – indeed wants to be free and this fundamental law works through the human species and the technologies we extrude. We are still animals and our tools must help us adapt and thrive. This is more clear now than ever as our actions leave deeper and deeper footprints across the digital terrain we walk. We are being recorded and we are recording, capturing more and more facets of our human experiment written onto spinning platters like prayer wheels in the virtual breeze. The New Journalism will find even the most exclusive events, the narrowest niches, the darkest secrets and the most banal subcultures and capture them, radiating out to the digital world into the very Akashic Record of Our Times. Life is the new media, rich in all it’s texture, drama, subterfuge, and transcendence. As the military struggles with soldier bloggers, embedded third-party reporters, wired insurgencies, and the ever-present satt feeds waving down from far up above with just a passing glint of sunlight, the injustices and atrocities wrought by man & machine are cataloged equally alongside silly cat pictures, personal bios, frat videos, copyright violations, knowledge wiki’s, satellite imagery, and reams & reams of pornography. All acts are caught and surveyed by the one unblinking eye, like Sauron or the Illuminati or the gaze of God.
The world is getting much smaller and simultaneously incredibly huge and diverse. Global instability will be balanced by local resilience, and hierarchical corruption will struggle against networked transparency. CCTV’s will merge with YouTube & reality TV and life will reveal itself on a scale never before known. The cloud is breaking out of the browser and out of our servers spreading to mobile devices and HUD overlays, objects & artifacts. Reality will be radically augmented, participatory, and unbounded. We will fragment and unite, solve et coagula. And tweeting as we go, televising & recording the revolution for all to witness.
I’m heartened to find the Metaverse Roadmap, sponsored by the Accelerating Studies Foundation. While I’ve been moaning about the shortcomings of immersive 3D technologies, they’ve been defining the template for progress. Much of their thoughts align with my own, painting an exciting future of convergence across modalities, devices, and workflows.
The emergence of a robust Metaverse will shape the development of many technological realms that presently appear non-Internet-related. In manufacturing, 3D environments offer ideal design spaces for rapid-prototyping and customized and decentralized production. In logistics and transportation, spatially-aware tags and real-time world modeling will bring new efficiencies, insights, and markets. In artificial intelligence, virtual worlds offer low-risk, transparent platforms for the development and testing of autonomous machine behaviors, many of which may be also used in the physical world. These are just a sampling of coming developments based on early stage Metaverse technologies.
In sum, for the best view of the changes ahead, we suggest thinking of the Metaverse not as virtual space but as the junction or nexus of our physical and virtual worlds.
From Mark Pesce’s recent presentation at Personal Democracy Forum 2008::
Hyperpolitics: American Style
It is as though we have all been shoved into the same room, a post-modern Panopticon, where everyone watches everyone else, can speak with everyone else, can work with everyone else. We can send out a call to â€œfind the others,â€ for any cause, and watch in wonder as millions raise their hands. Any fringe (noble or diabolical) multiplied across three and a half billion adds up to substantial numbers. Amplified by the Human Network, the bonds of affinity have delivered us over to a new kind of mob rule.
…These newly disproportionate returns on the investment in altruism now trump the â€˜virtue of selfishness.â€™
…Sharing is the threat. Not just a threat. It is the whole of the thing.
A photo snapped on my mobile becomes instantaneously and pervasively visible. No wonder sheâ€™s nervous: in my simple, honest and entirely human act of sharing, it becomes immediately apparent that any pretensions to control, or limitation, or the exercise of power have already collapsed into shell-shocked impotence.
Twitter has gotten a lot of mixed attention lately, both as a rising phenomenon but also for failing to fix its capacity issues as quickly as people seem to expect. The issue at hand, as expressed by Twitter Dev, is that the platform was not originally written as a messaging system. Indeed, it was built on a content management model.
Recall that Twitter was originally about posting what you are doing at the moment. As such, it was essentially constructed as a public microblog that happened to include mobile support. But very quickly the Twitter user community realized the power of broadcasting and co-opted this feature to grow a very large social netwoork. Twitter became an extension of sms and all of the new API clients that started popping up.
Now with almost 2 million users, many of whom are tweeting multiple times a day, the content management system is maxxing out. Imagine if 2 million people were posting 160-char messages to Blogger daily… Frankly, it’s amazing that Twitter is doing as well as it is. So now the Twitter dev team is rebuilding every component from scratch to explicitly construct a robust global messaging system.
What’s really interesting is that the Twitter community has effectively turned Twitter into something it wasn’t intended to be. The desire to rapidly communicate with affiliates across the globe is so strong, and the power of broadcast is so compelling in the web2.0 era, that the very DNA of Twitter is being forced to mutate to support this demand. The spark of “what am I doing right now?” set flame to social media and the connection of communities. We want to know what’s going on with all the people we’re interested in. We want to know them professionally, philosophically, and personally. And we want to speak our mind and emotions and will to them.
I’m constantly taken by the casual intimacy of Twitter friends – people I’ve never met yet I know that they had a rough interview, or their cats are hungry, or they are giving a lecture tomorrow, or just saw a crazy person dancing on Wall St., or that they think Indiana Jones represents the Marxian class struggle. Normally you only get this spread of data about someone if you’re close friends and physically near them on a regular basis.
We want to socialize and share and we have an instinctual feeling, waking up from the haze of 50 years of corporate push-media, that life itself in all it’s minutia is far more entertaining than anything Fox or NBC can throw at us. Or at least, it’s just as entertaining and engaging and, at it’s core, so much more real. The simulacrum cannot mess with us, ala Real World where we were sold scripted caricatures in the guise of “reality”. Twitter, YouTube, MySpace, Blogger, etc… These are the new reality media platforms and we’re all the new empowered content creators, scripted or real. Culture is going digital and the once-static web archive is waking up as a dynamic organism managing and sharing the very whims of it’s creators.
Through this process we’re getting to know each other and ourselves and our world very quickly as knowledge is distributed globally and minds are linked across worlds with zero lag. Culture is iterating faster than ever and we’re only at the very beginning of what is clearly becoming a huge revolution for all of humanity, whether or not each person is immediately touched by the wires. Life is virtualizing and the abstracted mental content of our world is increasingly archived and shared and commented upon and iterated on itself from all across the world. The power and reach of our minds is expanding out through our devices and the exocortical software agents we now have managing so many of our subroutines. We are cyber even without the implants and wetware. The individual is wiring into groups, like cells aggregating into functional bodies, towards greater communicative and iterative power.
The human species is beginning to truly know itself and grok it’s identity and function. As our eyes open up to perceive more and more of our world, we gaze at our creations and atrocities and the spark of soul sits in judgment, our conscience asserting itself. The democratization of media and the transparency of behavior is fundamentally altering the power balance away from the dominant elite towards the will of the people. In a very strange and sweet way, Twitter is part of this process of sharing and reinforcing the similarities between us all.