Blog Archive for the ‘Futures’ Category

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Dissident Futures at YBCA

Posted on Wednesday, October 16th, 02013 by Austin Brown
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On October 17th, Yerba Buena Center for the Arts opens their new exhibition, Dissident Futures which will explore how we think about possible futures through a variety of media, with a thematic focus on utopian, speculative, and pragmatic concepts.

A range of programs will be presented in conjunction with the exhibit, in collaboration with Long Now and other Bay Area organizations.

Dissident Futures presents art that investigates possible alternative futures,  particularly those that question or overturn conventional notions of innovation, such as existing power, economic and technological structures.

Long Now has partnered with YBCA on three events throughout the exhibition:

Opening Night Party

Friday October 18th, 8:00pm to 10:00pm
Free for Long Now Members (check your email for promo code!)


Project Nunway

Saturday November 2nd, 7:00pm
with Long Bets table (make predictions without the $50 Prediction fee)

Dissident Futures Art and Ideas Festival

Saturday November 23rd, 1:00pm to 10:00pm
Long Now staff present on The Manual for Civilization at 2:00pm, Free with RSVP


The Imagined Future of 02013

Posted on Monday, May 6th, 02013 by Charlotte Hajer
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Long Now’s Long Bets project is founded on the premise that we can improve our long-term thinking by holding ourselves accountable for the predictions we make about the future. By revisiting our forecasts as time goes by, we reveal the subtle mechanics of society’s evolution, and teach ourselves something about what kinds of visions might turn into reality.

Jerry Lockenour, a professor of engineering at the University of Southern California, has turned this premise into a lesson plan. Students in his Technology Development and Applications class are going back to the future: they are studying a 01988 issue of the Los Angeles Times’ Magazine, which offered a vision of the futuristic LA of 02013.

“In class we study emerging science and technology that can change the future,” he said. The magazine helps students see the relevance of the developments they are reading about in textbooks and professional journals, he said.

The 01988 feature offers a detailed description of a day in the life of a fictional family. Written in consultation with more than 30 futurists and experts, the article offers prospects for the technological innovations, environmental challenges, economic issues, and demographic shifts we might expect to deal with in 02013.

The LA Times itself recently interviewed Lockenour’s students to evaluate the quality of its 01988 predictions. “To their surprise, the students – some of whom weren’t even born when [the magazine’s] look into the future was published – found that many predictions have become reality.” Though robots have not quite become a staple in our households, we do indeed drive our cars with the aid of “electronic navigation systems,” schools have embraced the interactive learning potential of computers, and the population has indeed exploded.

To read the complete feature – and compare its vision of the unimaginable future to today’s present moment for yourself – please visit the LA Times’ website here.

Humanity’s Last Game

Posted on Thursday, April 11th, 02013 by Charlotte Hajer
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Former SALT speaker and professor of religion James Carse distinguishes between “finite” and “infinite” games:

“A finite game is played for the purpose of winning, an infinite game for the purpose of continuing the game.”

We might think of games as things we ‘play’ – as make-believe universes in which we might wander around for a period of time, engaged in activities that have little to no bearing on our ordinary lives. But ordinary life can, in many ways, also be thought of as a form of ‘play’. In the real world, too, we (mostly) play by the rules; we employ strategies in order to achieve certain objectives, and we interact with fellow players.

At last week’s Game Developer’s Conference, designer Jason Rohrer presented a new game that brings all these different dimensions of ‘play’ together. In response to a design challenge prompt that asked developers to come up with “the last game that humanity will ever play,” Rohrer designed a game that is both infinite and finite, lived and ‘played’ – and very, very long term.

Rohrer’s game is intended not to be played for another 2,000 years. In order to ensure its longevity, he built its board and pieces out of solid machined titanium. Anticipating a temporal language barrier between himself and future generations, he wrote the game’s instructions in the form of symbols and visual diagrams.

In order to ensure that the game would not be played before its time, Rohrer buried it at a precise but unknown location in the Nevada desert – and turned the process of finding it into a game itself. At his conference presentation, Rohrer gave each member of his audience a sheet that listed 900 unique GPS coordinates. Taken together, these handouts contained a million possible locations, only one of which corresponds to the game’s actual site. If one person checks one of these GPS coordinates each day, it is guaranteed that the game will be found within one million days, or 2,737 years.

In the last chapter of The Clock of the Long Now, Stewart Brand writes that

“Infinite games are corrupted by inappropriate finite play. Governance (infinite) is disabled when factional combat (finite) becomes the whole point instead of providing helpful debate and alternation of power. Cultures (infinite) perish when one culture seeks to eradicate another. Nature (infinite) is dangerously disrupted when commercial competition (finite) lays waste to natural cycles. Finite games flourish within infinite games, but they must not displace them, or all the games are over.” (1999:161).

Rohrer has not only taken this to heart, but has in fact taken it a step further: the finite board game he has buried in the desert is ultimately intended to be the simple starting point for the infinite game of long term thinking.

Neal Stephenson’s Hieroglyph Project Launches

Posted on Tuesday, March 26th, 02013 by Austin Brown
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Towers that reach 15 kilometers into the sky and autonomous 3D-printing robots on the Moon aren’t just great fodder for sci-fi; they’re also plausible enough to be considered as audacious, but realistic engineering goals. That sweet spot is exactly what the Hieroglyph project is aiming for. A collaboration between Arizona State University’s Center for Science and the Imagination and sci-fi author Neal Stephenson, Hieroglyph seeks to bring engineers and authors of science fiction together to develop and illustrate scenarios in which “Big Stuff Got Done.”

Neal Stephenson explains that Hieroglyph is working to put together a collection of sci-fi that avoids dystopian tropes and instead focuses on positive, inspiring possibilities:

The idea is to get SF writers to contribute pieces to an anthology. These pieces would all be throwbacks, in a manner of speaking, to 1950′s-style SF, in that they would depict futures in which Big Stuff Got Done. We would avoid hackers, hyperspace, and holocausts. The ideal subject matter would be an innovation that a young, modern-day engineer could make substantial progress on during his or her career.

A tower 15 kilometers in height is the scenario Stephenson is exploring, with help from structural engineer Keith Hjelmstad. The Hieroglyph website will serve as a hub and forum for sharing moonshot-style thinking like this; it’s already got Stephenson’s Tall Tower and the aforementioned Moon robots, a scenario being developed by Cory Doctorow.

The Conversation: 1 motorcycle, 9 months, 40 interviews & countless futures

Posted on Thursday, March 7th, 02013 by Austin Brown
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Over much of 02012, Angeus Anderson rode a motorcycle across the United States. Along the way, he recorded conversations with 40 different people espousing diverse critiques of the present and a plethora of visions for the future, “thinkers and doers, from transhumanists to neoprimitivists, urban farmers to musicians.” These interviews, produced by Anderson and Micah Saul, are called The Conversation.

Anderson spoke with Long Now’s Alexander Rose about the 10,000-Year Clock during the early part of his trip. He’s since concluded his travels and reflected on the ideas and perspectives he encountered by mapping the concepts covered to those who discussed them.


Browse all the episodes, or explore the concept map.

How long is humanity’s future?

Posted on Friday, March 1st, 02013 by Austin Brown
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Much like the Centre for Existential Risk at Cambridge, the Future of Humanity Institute at Oxford spends significant effort grappling with scenarios that could lead to the human species’ demise.

The Institute is headed by Nick Bostrom, a scholar of philosophy, physics, computational neuroscience, and mathematical logic. Aeon Magazine’s Ross Anderson recently spoke with Bostrom and several other researchers at the Institute to ask what kinds of risks we should really be taking seriously:

The risks that keep Bostrom up at night are those for which there are no geological case studies, and no human track record of survival. These risks arise from human technology, a force capable of introducing entirely new phenomena into the world.

Studying risk of any kind leads inevitably to questions of statistics and probability – things human intuition is generally very very bad at comprehending. Fortunately, what nature did not give us, we can still nurture in ourselves. Bostrom is relentless is his mathematical and logical approach to the probability of different possibilities and the utility they afford the human race.  Depicting his utilitarian approach, Anderson paraphrases Bostrom’s explanation for why studying existential risk is so valuable:

We might be 7 billion strong, but we are also a fire hose of future lives, that extinction would choke off forever. The casualties of human extinction would include not only the corpses of the final generation, but also all of our potential descendants, a number that could reach into the trillions.

Read: Omens by Ross Anderson

Seeds Are the New Books

Posted on Tuesday, February 26th, 02013 by Andrew Warner
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The Basalt Public Library in western Colorado has recently started lending seeds out to members. The members “borrow” the seeds with their library card, grow the plants, and harvest the best fruits’ seeds to give back to the library. The library gets better seeds back, while the members get to enjoy most of the harvest and learn more about the embodied art of gardening in the process.

Saving seeds itself is not a new idea–it is an ancient practice that goes back to the invention of agriculture. But combining a seed bank with the modern library is a novel answer to the threat of digital irrelevance, and one that can help preserve the thousands of endangered heirloom varieties that we have cultivated over civilization’s history.

As books and other media start to make the cloud their permanent home, libraries inevitably face the question of how to stay relevant in the future. Part of the answer will probably always be free access to information resources, but the trend seems to suggest that this will become far less pertinent with the proliferation of ebooks, online classes, book-scanning projects, and general free digitalized information.

It is easy to forget that libraries are some ways, very radical institutions. It’s true, you have to be quiet, but the idea that everyone should have access to as much information as possible is a beautiful and powerful concept. When one considers that seeds and the DNA they contain are one of the original information storage devices, it’s almost hard to understand why libraries haven’t always included seeds.

Long Bets – 02013 Update

Posted on Friday, February 8th, 02013 by Austin Brown
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Predicting the future is hard.

Long Bets is a project by The Long Now Foundation that is testing how hard it really is, and maybe making us just a little bit better at it. The site allows users to post Predictions of at least two years’ duration. Should someone disagree with the likelihood of a prediction, they are welcome to Challenge it and produce a Bet. Real money is put on the line and eventually goes to a charity nominated by the winner.

We’ve recently made judgments on several Bets and wanted to review the outcomes:

We’re also starting a Facebook Page for making and discussing predictions about the future.

Edge Question 02013

Posted on Wednesday, January 16th, 02013 by Andrew Warner
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This year’s Edge question is up, and it has the usual breadth of analysis we have come to expect over the years. For the uninitiated, is one of the best not-so-secret secrets of the internet. Founded in 01996 by John Brockman, Edge asks a “big picture” question every year to scholars who think about systemic issues in creative ways. The answers have always been enlightening, and it has always been worth a few hours of time to read through them each year. This year, as in past years, the Long Now Board is well represented, as well as the scholars who’ve spoken in our lecture series.

The question this year is “What *should* we be worried about?”. Below you will find the responses of Long Now affiliates, although we also recommend reading through the rest of the responses.

Long Now Board:

SALT speakers:

How to Win at Forecasting – an Edge conversation with Philip Tetlock

Posted on Monday, December 10th, 02012 by Austin Brown
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Former SALT speaker Philip Tetlock spoke with Edge recently about his research into forecasting. In 02005, he published Expert Political Judgement: How Good is it? How Can We Know?, for which he spent over a decade recording and assessing the predictions made by public policy experts. He found them to be not much better than coin-flipping, but was also able to specify that “Hedgehogs” (those holding a single grand theory and fitting events into its framework) did much worse than “Foxes” (skeptical, flexible thinkers).

In his conversation with Edge, he expands on what makes Foxes better predictors, using Nate Silver as a jumping off point, and offers an update on his work since Expert Political Judgement:

Perhaps the most important consequence of publishing the book is that it encouraged some people within the US intelligence community to start thinking seriously about the challenge of creating accuracy metrics and for monitoring how accurate analysts are–which has led to the major project that we’re involved in now, sponsored by the Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activities (IARPA). It extends from 2011 to 2015, and involves thousands of forecasters making predictions on hundreds of questions over time and tracking in accuracy.

Exercises like this are really important for a democracy. The Nate Silver episode illustrates in a small way what I hope will happen over and over again over the next several decades, which is, there are ways of benchmarking the accuracy of pundits. If pundits feel that their accuracy is benchmarked they will be more careful about what they say, they’ll be more thoughtful about what they say, and it will elevate the quality of public debate.

By the way, the forecasting contest he mentions is accepting submissions.