Student Dave Ramirez on Software’s Right to Life

“Within 50 years a legally binding “right to life” (a right not to be terminated or shut down with violation punishable as a capital offense) will be granted to software by some nation on Earth, effectively giving constitutional “human rights” to a software system.”

My reasoning is based on three ideas. First, everything physical will be digital. Nearly everything we do in the physical world now has a digital fingerprint of some sort. Additionally, the meteoric rise of IoT will happen long before 2065. Gartner forecasts that by 2020, there will be nearly 21 billion IoT devices. Imagine what another 45 years will bring. Thus, IoT will eliminate any remaining physical world-only vestiges.

Second, except for rare, mostly ceremonial reasons like weddings or graduation announcements, for instance, all of our communications already are digitally-enabled but our laws have not kept up. Social media is presenting some real world legal concerns. Facebook, for example, estimates 8,000 of its users die every day. It now has 30 million accounts held by dead people—that number will continue to grow. We have laws to address issues arising from our death related to physical concerns but not for digital concerns like determining who has access to our digital accounts.

As a move in this direction, Facebook advises users to add a “legacy contract” to grant limited control of your account to others after you die. After your legacy contact posts a final message, the company converts your profile to a memorial: your friends will never change and only remembrance messages can be posted. I think it’s plausible that we will have laws that will grant “right-to-life” to our social media accounts to help preserve them to ensure companies don’t deleting a dead users accounts without going through some discovery process. This is even more likely given the convergence of social media communications with IoT by 2065. Note: This step doesn’t doesn’t assume that the software in question needs to be self-aware to be given “human rights.”

Finally, a Kurweillian Singularity AI could lead to a self-aware digital avatars of ourselves. In the timeframe given, it’s likely that we will use social media avatars (i.e., software systems) to communicate with each other. So, instead of our current human user-on-software-on human user method, it will be software-on-software, humans have been removed from the interaction equation. We already are seeing some early indicators of this with the large spike in venture capital-backed Bot Startups.

Another, indicator is with our changing attitudes towards death itself. Millennials show more interest in preserving their digital stuff rather than their physical bodies and belongings. For example a grieving AI developer, Eugenia Kuyda, modified a bot into into a “living” memorial of her murdered best friend. She and her company combined Google’s TensorFlow with their own neural network software. By programming all of the hundreds of communications she had shared with her deceased friend over the years into her bot, she and her team created a chat bot that responds exactly like her friend used to do, thereby effectively granting him new life.

By 2065, it’s likely that personalized chat bots could become so good it will be impossible to distinguish them from the real thing (Kuyda, recently received $4.42 million in VC funding for AI chat bots). And if these bots are embedded in everything (IoT) we have, it will be very difficult to pull the plug and disconnect them without laws to address our future “avatar human’” rights when we die. — Dave Ramirez

Forest Futures: Facetime the Woods

What’s the point of exploring the forest in person, when the risks outweigh the benefits by far? That may be the future question we find ourselves asking.

Intuitively we recognize the value of being in nature – to connect, to appreciate, to relax.  In his 2005 book “The Last Child in the Woods”, Richard Louv documents behavior problems (especially in children) linked to a lack of exposure to natural outdoor environments and the experiences we have there.  While not (yet) recognized in in the International Classification of Diseases, the term “Nature-Deficit Disorder” is gaining traction in the medical community (pro exampleagainst example).  For many, the case for exploring and experiencing nature is real, but how physically real must that experience be?

For the past 4 years Steve Dubbeldam has led curated adventure experiences through his company Wilderness Collective. He’s built a company around helping people experience ‘legendary adventures’ outdoors to learn from experience, build lasting memories and stories. He argues that, “wilderness really does make us better.”

Wilderness in 60 Seconds from Wilderness Collective on Vimeo.

For the less adventurous however, the BBC production Planet Earth was remarkably successful at deploying the very latest in cinematography and technology to bring us closer to world in which we live.  Planet Earth II (in UHD of course) promises to bring us even closer still.

Earlier this year, Alphabet partnered with the National Parks service to offer an extraordinarily immersive VR experience of a handful of National Parks called The Hidden Worlds of the National Parks. The not to distant alternative future puts us into virtual communion with our natural environment using all of our senses — guided tour, rambunctious exploration with friends, or meditative stillness — all from the comfort of wherever.

So, it begs a question. How ‘real’ must the experience be in order to outweigh the cross contamination, invasive species introduction, and habitat impact we already know is a cost of exploring the physical forest — especially once the forest earns personhood? Perhaps the woods would rather we Facetime than leave those innocent footprints after all; it might be better for us anyway. — Bo Roe

Futurists in the Media: Early October 2017 Update

Futurist in the media logoA quick roundup of hits from since the September update. About half are from organizational futurists and half from consulting futurists. There’s the typical “change is coming fast” and “deep change” keynotes, and the much-covered Millennials, in this case noting how they are hesitant to take vacations. Among the other topics were cybersecurity, supply chain, and longevity. Ford’s futurist Sheryl Connelly describes her role with the company as an organizational futurist, which some readers may find quite useful

And we futurists were also the recipient of advice from a military historian. He suggests that “after thinking some more about such prognostication and the risks of developing programs based on future visions, I propose a working hypothesis for others to consider: The maximum effective range of any future prediction is 20 years or less.” Of course, there is that “P” word in there, which some of us might have an issue with.  Waylon Edens


Forest Futures: May I Camp on You? The Future of Autonomous Ecosystems

Sitting in her self-driving pod on her way to work, Jenny surfed her augmented virtual system for a camping site for her and her partner. She was old enough to remember when you could simply book a campsite online. Now, many National Parks had been given autonomous control, and within that autonomy, many Parks had given individual campsites their own local autonomy – kind of like state governments within a national government. So instead of simply booking a campsite, Jenny sent out some feelers and, as she watched city blocks zip by, was welcomed by several camp sites to take a virtual reality tour of their sites and negotiate on price. It looked like there wereman-vs-nature some great deals on “Thermal Layer” sites because it was summer, and these campsites were designed for the winter. But Jenny had her heart set on an “Off-Grid” or, at least, a “Closed Loop” campsite, so she could really get some peace and quiet.

As she poked around trees and smoke pits, Jenny knew that, in the background, the campsites were pulling whatever personal histories they could find on her. She was still a little uncomfortable with this. As someone who identified as bisexual, she was reminded of the Yosemite class action suit of 2036. Shortly after a number of National parks went autonomous, it was discovered that somewhere in the blockchain coding was a strong bias against LGBTQ peoples. When Yosemite refused to change its judging criteria, the federal government was forced to step in. Soon, people from the LGBTQ community, who had simply wanted to go camping, were filing lawsuits against the federal government, the state government, and Yosemite. The federal government tried to shut down Yosemite’s autonomous virtual governance, but Yosemite launched a cease and desist against the federal government and counter-suits against the individual campers who had been rejected. The whole thing had been a huge mess!

To Jenny’s relief, the campsites didn’t seem to have any qualms with her sexual preferences. Thank goodness! She found one she really liked, and went back and forth on price and length of stay. Then, just as all the issues looked like they were resolved, a Bald Eagle “spoke up”. Even before ecosystem autonomy emerged, animals had been granted certain rights and privileges that were mediated by virtual agents. Since birds, fish and animals couldn’t negotiate for themselves, obviously, blockchains with algorithms that represented their best interests were created. Once in place, it was only a short reach to grant autonomy to the land itself.

She sighed… the eagles would be nesting around the time of her visit, and wanted to confirm that she would not be blasting music all night and also stressed that only nonsmokers were welcome in this campsite. They didn’t want to risk a fire. Jenny could appreciate this – she remembered a few years back when a massive fire had nearly wiped out Superior National Forest. The Forest was so upset it had fired all of the Forest Rangers and Forestry Service personnel for gross incompetence. Jenny still remembered watching the news, when one poor Climate Change scientist, after 25 years on the job, in tears, said “How am I supposed to go home and tell my family I got fired by a forest?”

Still, getting fired wasn’t nearly as bad as what had happened to the indigenous peoples that had claimed the autonomous lands as their ancestral territory. Several autonomous ecosystems had enlisted lawyers and surveyors to argue that pieces of ancestral lands were, in fact, part of the ecosystems’ land. While First Nations could provide evidence of occupying the land dating back several thousand years, they could not argue that they were on the land BEFORE the land existed. This played out in a nasty PR campaign, in which the ecosystems branded the First Nations as “colonizers” of ecosystem land. Because base coding in all the autonomous ecosystems recognized “developed” land as under the control of humans, there was a rush to develop thousands of areas across the country in order to avoid land grabs by the autonomous ecosystems.

The Bald Eagle couple were satisfied, and so was the campsite, so Jenny transferred her deposit and thanked the campsite before logging off. Her car pod slowed, then stopped outside the concrete jungle that was her place of work. She hurried into the building, thinking how nice it was going to be to get away from it all for a few days. — Adam Cowart

Single Versus Alternative Futures

As part of Futures Research class, we have a discussion forum on the following question: “Why do you think it has taken so long for people to accept that the future is a set of multiple possibilities? And why some of them still prefer to try to predict the future?” Below is what I thought was a terrific response to this question from one of our students, Tim Morgan.tim-morgan

“….short term focus is a key factor in not seeing the future as a set of multiple possibilities. However, I do think that other factors are in play too.

Another factor is framing & compartmentalization. I think there are cases where people routinely think about multiple possible futures, usually in the form of branching what-if discussions. You see this a lot around sports fans talking about the chances of various teams and how a given season will play out. Part of the fun is the speculation and arguing about which possible future will play out. They are clearly seeing the future as a set of multiple possibilities, but they aren’t framing the discussion that way. They are just talking about sports. Consequently, they don’t map that skill over to other areas.

A few other reasons I think people don’t see the future as a set of multiple possibilities:

  • Lack of exposure to the concept of multiple possible futures. Hard to learn something if no one ever teaches you
  • Visualizing a single future requires less effort. Unless there is a recognizable payoff, there isn’t an incentive to expend the extra cognitive effort and time to consider the multiplicity of possibilities. This plays into short-term focus.
  • Much of cognition is pattern recognition. We are wired to quickly zero-in on patterns. That tends to lead us to single conclusions. So when thinking about the future, we naturally want to land on one future based on the inputs we have, not a bunch of futures. Do I run or do stay is very much dependent on whether I think that is a bear or a deer behind that bush. Getting it wrong might make me lunch.
  • Certainty is a more comfortable feeling for most people than uncertainty. Envisioning a single future feels more certain than picturing multiple possible futures.
  • We are tribal and tribes generally need to come to consensus in order to operate effectively for their survival. Even if a small group considers multiple possible futures (ala the sports discussion), they will tend to converge on consensus about what the future is going to be. If they don’t, then they can’t take timely action.
  • Speculation about the future is really speculation about change. Until recent history, change was fairly slow. Culturally, we haven’t fully adapted yet to rapid change and so we haven’t internalized the idea of multiple-possible futures into our culture yet.
  • Humans are story-tellers. We have an innate sense of beginning-middle-end. When we think about the future, we are placing that future within a story. It is more satisfying if it settles on a distinct ending that matches an archetypal pattern. Trying to tell a tale with multiple possible endings doesn’t match the pattern of a story and we feel uncomfortable with it due to lack of resolution. So we don’t consider multiple possible futures, we go straight for the one that best fits the story.

Bravo, Tim!

Forest Futures: Forests as Therapy

forest-bathingA stewardship strategy for forests is to envision and promote their “value proposition” to the public, or in simpler terms, highlight why they are valuable. That might involve innovating new uses or perhaps reimagining old uses in a creative way. Take “forest bathing,” which was highlighted in a 2015 Trends Report by SpaFinder. It describes in vivid language how a “walk in the woods” has therapeutic value. I suspect a few of us knew that, but perhaps there is something more to it?

One of the major themes of my work as a futurist has been tracking the emerging shift to postmodern and integral values. A key manifestation of that shift is growing concern about wellness, which I’ll define simply as a holistic concern for physical, emotional, and spiritual well-being. A concrete manifestation of wellness is the huge growth of complementary or alternative medicine, along with many other practices such as the explosion of yoga. All this to say that many “soft” trends such as forest bathing are pooh-poohed at first. Futurists know that change always emerges at the edges. Of course,  not every change makes it to the mainstream – not every alternative medicine or practice made it, but enough did!

The edges in the case of forest bathing, noted in the report, are Japan, Korea, Taiwan, and Finland. Japan and Finland both index very high in postmodern values with Korea and Taiwan not too far behind. As postmodern and integral values continue their slow and steady growth, I suspect we will see a host of therapeutic uses of the forest emerge. Forest bathing may not be “the killer app,” but it suggests an area to keep our eyes on.

The Houston Foresight program and the US Forest Service Northern Research Station are developing and implementing a horizon scanning system for the USDA Forest Service, Strategic Foresight Group. We will use our blog to feature interesting scan hits from the project.— Andy Hines

Introducing Liah Johnson as the Fall 2016 Foresight GA

liah-johnsonThe baton has passed once again to a new GA this Fall – introducing Liah Johnson!

Liah is a full-time student living in Houston. She began the program in Spring of 2015 and is getting close to graduation. She is doing an internship on our Forestry Horizon Scanning and Scenarios project, for which she’ll be scanning, blogging, and putting together a newsletter.

She took over for now-alum Johann Schutte, who did an outstanding job in as the Spring 2016 GA.

Liah graduated from UH in 2014 and came straight to the Foresight program (bravo!). She has had several jobs in the alcoholic beverage industry, and she is a certified Level 1Sommelier. So, she will be selecting the wine at all Foresight Gatherings! She has done a few Framework Foresight projects relating to the beverage industry and is building her expertise in that area.

Please join me in welcoming Liah to this important role for the Foresight Program. Andy Hines

Futurists in the Media: September 2016 Highlights

Futurist in the media logoSeptember began with the passing of Australian futurist Richard Neville. He was a prominent 1960s counter-culture figure in Australia, and his satirical magazine landed him in prison in Australia and in the UK. He later evolved into calling himself a “practicing futurist” and was known for being a provocateur.

There was news of a new book released by “Technology vs. Humanity” by futurist Gerd Leonhard. An interesting note for futurists is that it was published by the foresight firm “Fast Future,” who has made a move into publishing futures books. And, of interest to our program, one of the editors is alum April Koury! The book explores the question: “how can society stay in control as machines enter deeper into our lives, our bodies and eventually our brains.” It looks at how humans are constantly struggling with the urge to upgrade and automate even to the point of how much bio-tech is too much in humans. Is there a line that if crossed could be a turning point of humanity of mixing man and machine?

A book that asks these serious questions and comes from a humanist and futurist could help gain even more traction for professional futurists. It helps raise the awareness that we aren’t just trying to nail down when cars will fly. We are looking at serious topics that could change the course of humanity.

Also this month Ray Kurzweil, of Google and a Singularity University fame (among other things), discusses the large shifts and rapid trajectory of information technology and computing power, energy, nanotechnology, robotics, health and longevity. Another popular keynoter, Jack Uldrich, offered the following quip when asked what the future will look like: “predictably unpredictable.”

It was interesting to note that the financial press highlighted the hiring of a “Health IT Futurist,” Mark Anderson by Innovaccer Inc, a Silicon valley based Big Data analytics company. It’s the first time we’ve seen Health IT Futurist as a title.

Last but not least, Ford’s in-house futurist Sheryl Connelly shared her day-to-day approach and how she manages being an organizational futurist in an interview with Our students would be interested in how she became an organizational futurist: “My path to becoming a futurist has been a very unlikely one. I studied finance in undergrad, have a law degree and masters in business administration. My first assignment with Ford was answering the customer service line. Then I went onto sales, wholesaling product to Ford dealers. The opportunity to join the trends team was an unexpected one. I didn’t even know the position existed.” — Waylon Edens


Forest Futures: 3D Printing with Wood

3D printing technology has developed at an astonishing rate and in many surprising directions in recent years. The range of objects that can be printed now includes everything from homes to clothing, and the materials used include various metals, ceramics, glass, food, various types of human tissue, and many more — the list keeps growing. [See a 3D printed chair below] As the cost of 3D printing continues to decline, it is likely to disrupt many fields.

3d-wood-chair3D printing with wood is in its infancy, but a consortium is being developed by the Swedish government agency Vinnova to develop integrated materials and manufacturing process to produce large-scale 3D printed wood-based objects. The goal of the project is to develop sustainable materials of the future that can be produced locally. According to the project manager Mikael Lindström, “Our vision is to radically change the way we produce everything from furniture, accessories and structural elements to entire buildings. In that way, we lay the groundwork for a new chain of products and services based on 3D-printed wood.”

One source of wood for 3D printing is the 70 million tons of wood waste produced by the construction industry every year in the US alone. An estimated 60% of this waste could be used for 3D printing.

This transformative technology is developing rapidly and has the potential to produce significant direct and indirect effects on the forest products industry, related manufacturing industries, and forestry. Likely effects include expanded wood products markets, increased demand for timber and wood fiber, and lower CO2 emissions due to an increase in locally produced and environmentally friendly materials.

The Houston Foresight program and the US Forest Service Northern Research Station are developing and implementing a horizon scanning system for the USDA Forest Service, Strategic Foresight Group. We will use our blog to feature interesting scan hits from the project.— Dave Bengston

APF Global Futures Festival Open to Public

The APF is opening up the Sept 16 APF Global Futures Festival / V-Gathering to the general public free of charge.apf-futures-festival

This gathering offers interactive presentations from leading futurists around the globe. Four different blocs of regional presentations are timed so that you can “follow the sun for 12 hours of hands-on content and discussion.”

Several Houston Foresight alum will be among the presenters, including:

  • Dennis Draeger, Computer-Aided Futuring
  • Cindy Frewen, Urban Futures
  • Andy Hines, The Foresight Competency Map
  • Christopher Manfredi, The Future of Consciousness

Please tell your foresight and futures-oriented colleagues and friends to join us. Register here.