Accelerating Times #29 | Four Advances, Smart Agents, New Baby, The Foresight Guide | 21 Jun 2016

#29 | 21 June 2016

Hello my Acceleration and Foresight Friends!

How are You? As I’m sure you’ve noticed, change continues to accelerate, most particularly in our infotech, nanotech, and robotics domains.

While our social and political worlds improve at a snail’s pace, our scientific and technical worlds are beginning to sound like science fiction, and a technological singularity in this century now seems quite likely to many observers. It’s a truly amazing time to be alive, and every year forward from here just gets crazier. Dealing intelligently with all this accelerating change has never been more important.

This issue is a reboot of ASF’s monthly newsletter, Accelerating Times. ASF is changing it’s name to the Foresight Foundation, and this newsletter will be produced in conjunction with our new startup, Foresight University, as my career focus in recent years has shifted to foresight development in a world of accelerating change.

I hope you find it worth your precious time.

I. Four Advances. There are four recent advances in particular that I think you should understand. The first is deep learning, a brain-inspired approach to machine learning that hundreds of AI startups are implementing now, which will make our software and hardware incredibly, and scarily, more useful in the next decade. The second is smart agents, intelligent software assistants that will soon be watching us and conversing with us, with detailed personal models of our interests and values, and acting as our trusted coaches and proxies in the world. The third is basic income, a new set of social and financial benefits that societies with advanced automation will institute to deal with the economic disruption of technological unemployment. Basic income, which has been trialed several times around the world already, will free many people to pursue more fulfilling lives and careers. The fourth is definitely the strangest advance of all—life suspension, a soon-to-be-validated and inexpensive way for anyone, in any country, who might want to reach the postsingular future to preserve themselves now, at the end of their biological lives. I think this advance in particular is going to change some hearts and minds, and I’ll have more to say about that later.

II. Reading. I’ve started a ten-part blog series on Medium (a great new posting and reading platform), called Your Personal Sim, on this new world of smart agents and the deep learning systems behind them. I’m seeking 50 likes on each post, so please check it out and if you think it’s useful foresight, please like any post that you find personally valuable! 

Part 1 and Part 2 explain why I think agents are the most important IT advance we’ll see in the next generation, over everything else now striving to emerge. Part 3 covers new advances in mediated reality (mainly AR and VR) and the latest, Part 4introduces deep learning, which is the reason today’s agents will keep getting incredibly smarter every year. The remaining parts will consider how our personal agents, which will increasingly help us advance our political interests and inform our votes, will enable some big social, political, and economic changes, including basic income.

At the same time, as co-founder of the Brain Preservation Foundation with Ken Hayworth Ph.D., I’ve started a multi-author Medium series on life suspension, for those who want to understand this strange yet amazing new set of technologies, choices, and policies, soon to be in front of us. Let me know what you think!

The Economist remains the best general foresight weekly on the planet, IMO. Consider a trial subscription, and give it just two hours, one evening a week, to skim all the punny headlines, then read and socially share (Twitter, FB, whatever) your favorite article (or two), and you’ll become a better skimmer, reader, thinker, speaker, and writer. I know I have! For example, see this great one-page article (free, registration required) on the best evidence-backed changes to improve our schools. In today’s environment, politicians have little freedom to bring these changes. But in a coming world where our personal agents advise us in how to vote and legislate to protect our interests, and how to bypass slow sociopolitical systems entirely and just “do it ourselves”, these changes will happen.

r/Futurology is another powerful new reading community. They’ve got 6M futurists there now! It’s my new browser homepage, and 20 min evening pleasure. Perhaps yours too?

Cutie Pie Feb 19III. Personal. My wife Iveta and I have a new home in Los Gatos, with great hiking across the street. Let me know if you are in the area and want to hike and chat. We are also blessed with a nine month old girl, Beatrise, our first. It’s been electrifying watching her learn more every day.

I think children epitomize Sullivan and Nomura’s The Laws of Lifetime Growth: Always Make Your Future Bigger than Your Past (2007), which is a nice quick read on personal foresight. So let me ask: Are your future plans always a bit bigger and better than your past plans? That will keep you an intelligent optimist (I recommend joining Intelligent Optimism’s 300,000 member FB group for great posts on science and progress) and always thinking like child.

As we’ll all soon realize, our personal software agents will continually grow and think like children. So why not us too? We all deserve a better future.

IV. New Book. My new 500-page book, The Foresight Guide, goes online June 30th, in a free, commentable blog format, at The Guide strives to be the best intro on Earth to futures thinking and the field of foresight. The Guide’s primary audience is students, of every kind. It is culmination of a three-year effort with my fantastic colleagues Susan Fant, Josh DavisAnna-Leena Vasamo, and Zhan Li at FERN. Interested in joining a free, fun, and very empowering volunteer-run foresight network? Please check FERN out!

After June 30th, I look forward to your online feedback on the Guide, on any page you like, or by private email if you prefer. Let’s showcase our amazing field of amateur and professional foresight to the world as best we can, together. After three months of feedback and revisions, we will produce a condensed version of the Guide as an Amazon book and e-book. The full version will always live on the web, as a community-edited intro to our field, written from an acceleration-aware, universal, and evidence-based perspective. Let me know if you’d like to contribute in any way to improving or disseminating the Guide, thanks!

Finally, Kevin Russell, ED at Serious Wonder, myself, and a small group of futurists and entrepreneurs are presently building an educational startup around the book, Foresight University (4U). I’ll have more on that next time, but for now, here’s our splash page. Interested in joining the 4U team as an instructor or team member? Shoot me an email with your credentials and some ideas on how you might help our venture flourish.

Thank you for reading, and for doing your part to advance our precious global foresight culture!

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John Smart
CEO, Foresight University
President, Acceleration Studies Foundation