Reading. Most of us do it every day and it is so ingrained from
such an early age that it is difficult to imagine that there is
another way of doing it. Yet, there is.
On Tuesday, I had the opportunity to sit down with Adam Gordon,
the vice-president of marketing for Live Ink, to discuss
his company’s revolutionary new technology—Live
Before explaining the technology, however, have you ever
wondered why we read the way we do? That is, why do we read words
in block text – such as you are doing at this very moment.
I am no historical scholar but I suspect the answer goes back
thousands of years and it is partly dependent on writers need to
make efficient use of limited resources. First, stone tablets; then
papyrus and, ultimately, pulp-based paper.
In much the same way that the QWERTY
keyboard has become the de facto way we write on computers – even
though it has been demonstrated that there are more efficient and
faster methods of typing –
the same can be said for how we read. But instead of dealing with
one hundred years of established tradition – as in the case of
QWERTY keyboard – printed text in block
form has been around since Johannes Gutenberg printed off his first
In the near future, however, the resistance to this long-held
paradigm will begin to fade. I am not suggesting that printed block
text will fade away overnight, but a convergence of technologies
has now created an environment in which a different method of how
we access the written word has been created. (cont.)
With oil over a $100 a barrel and some analysts predicting it’ll
go as high as $300, it is easy to think that the future will be
more expensive than today. I, however, have a decidedly different
take on the future, I believe it is going to be cheap—very
On another front, Applied Bioscience recently reported that it sequenced the genome of a
Nigerian man for $60,000. It was only a few years ago that Craig
Venter sequenced his genome at a cost of $70 million and, last
year, James Watson spent $2 million sequencing his genome. In the
not-so-distant future, there is an excellent chance we will all
have our genomes sequenced for less than $1000.
One of my favorite quotes comes from Kurt Yeager who once said:
“In periods of profound change the most dangerous thing is to
incrementalize yourself into the future.” I was reminded of
this quote because although I often speak to businesses about the
future of technology, I frequently encounter push back from
executives who are mostly interested in identifying ways to
incrementally improve their businesses or products. In short, they
are looking for improvements in the range of 10%.
I constantly remind them, however, that we are no longer living
in an era of linear growth – a 10% improvement might have been
sufficient to keep them competitive in the past, but it is no
strategy if they desire to be in business in 10 years. To achieve
that goal, they must be on the lookout for how 10X improvements
will transform their business. (Ray Kurzweil, in this excellent editorial , also
emphasizes this point.)
To this end, I recently came across a couple of articles that
highlight this point. The first addresses how a number of researchers are looking to increase data storage by “a
factor of a hundred.” It is difficult to contemplate how a 100X
improvement in data storage might transform education, media,
advertising and even health care, but it is imperative that
professionals in these fields start thinking along these lines
When Charles Darwin first proposed writing his landmark book on
evolution, The Origins of Species, his editor suggested
writing a book on pigeons because, in his words, “Everyone is
interested in pigeons.” Fortunately, Darwin chose to ignore the
advice. I am reminded of the story because even though Darwin’s
theory was proposing only that species make modest, incremental
changes over long periods of time, it was – and in many circles
still is – a revolutionary idea.
What then happens if evolution is not just incremental in nature
but rather exponential? That, too, is a revolutionary idea –
especially since it could impact us within our lifetimes.
Well, we are now approaching a time when this exponential theory
of evolution will be put to the test.
If you accept the notion of evolution, you will agree that the
earliest life appeared on earth approximately 4 billion years ago.
Complex cellular organisms showed up 2 billion years ago, and the
first multicellular organism about 1 billion years ago. The first
reptiles and dinosaurs made their appearance 300 million years ago;
the first primates 40 million years ago; homo sapiens appeared
160,000 years ago; Cro-Magnon man 40,000 years ago; and modern
civilization as we know it began about 10,000 years ago.
Thinking about this much progress over such an extended period
of time is difficult. Years ago, Carl Sagan, the famed astronomer,
offered up a “cosmic calendar” to make such progress more
comprehensible to the layperson. He asked that they imagine the
entire history of the universe as being compressed into a single
Last fall, I had the opportunity to give the keynote
presentation at the Wisconsin Hospital Association’s annual
meeting. The title of my talk was “The Future of Health Care.” At
the behest of the conference organizer, I provided an advance copy
of my presentation so that they could make copies for the
participants. The only problem was that the organizers asked for my
presentation a few weeks in advance and the pace of technological
change – especially as it relates to the health care industry – is
so rapid that I was compelled to update a number of slides prior to
As proof of the accelerating pace of technological change, I’d
like to just walk you through a few weeks of technological and
scientific advancement in the health care industry. In October,
researchers at Chonnam National University in Korea announced that
they had created a microscopic
robot small enough to travel through blood vessels. The robot
is so capable that once it is inside a blocked artery it is able to
release drugs to dissolve blood clots. According to this 2007 study, deaths from severe heart attacks
after hospital admission have already been halved in the past six
years. As a result of advances such as this microscopic robot, it
is reasonable to believe that we will continue to make even more
In early November, researchers at the Institute for Advanced
Bioscience in Tusuroka, Japan successfully demonstrated that they
had used inkjet printers to “print” human
stem cells. The significance of this advance is that society is
now one step closer to creating implantable organs. (cont.)
One of the biggest and most exciting trends in technology is that of “convergence” – or how different technologies will combined with one another to create entirely new devices. These devices, in turn, will go on to change human behavior in unique and unexpected ways.
Convergence, as a trend, is nothing new. The printing press did not materialize out of thin air. First, paper, and then ink, and ultimately moveable type had to be created before Gutenberg could create his historic device. The radio, television, computer and Internet are also the result of a convergence of various technologies.
To this end, I recently came across three articles on three different technologies which, when they converge, could change everything from how we educate and entertain ourselves to how key aspects of our economy operate.
The first is virtual reality technology. This insightful article from TechCrunch discusses the new “RealityV experience” developed by Intelligence Gaming. It is part virtual reality and part video and it is now being used by the Army to help soldiers train for real-world situations – such as dealing with a hostile crowd in a foreign country.
The video below provides an excellent overview of the technology:
Congratulations to best selling futurist and Future Blogger contributor Jack Uldrich who finished second in his bid for the Minnesota Independent Party nomination for U.S. Senate. Given his late entry into a 7 competitor field that included winner Dean Barkley, who served a short stint in the U.S. Senate as Paul Wellstone’s replacement in 2002, it was a very admirable effort. Barkley was also the endorsee of former Minnesota Governor Jesse Ventura, whose gubernatorial campaign he successfully managed in 1998. Jack easily finished ahead of the Independent party’s endorsed candidate and the rest of the field on his way to capturing 12.4 percent of the vote.
I caught up with Jack today to get his quick take on the role of foresight in the political process.
JH: What kind of response did you get as a futurist running for office?
JU: It didn’t help or hurt. I actually changed the description of what I do to ‘Business Technology Forecaster” to make it more accessible. People’s perceptions of futurists are sometimes more pie-in-the-sky than pragmatic, though in the long run, the impact of accelerating change will necessitate that we all become futurists.
JH: What role do you think foresight should play in politics?
JU: It’s absolutely critical. Look at all the big issues: energy, the economy, climate change, healthcare, social security – they’re all being dramatically impacted by accelerating technological change. Take energy for example – there are so many technologies that will be available sooner than people think that you can’t have a rational conversation without factoring these in. Social Security is another big issue. We have a 10 trillion dollar debt, but a 70 trillion dollar commitment to prepare for in the future. Given the life extension technologies on the horizon, even this number will rise significantly.
JH: How will the impact of foresight in politics evolve over the next four years?
JU: Washington needs to begin addressing these issues now. If they don’t, these issues will be hoisted upon them very quickly. Like an 800lb brick.
JH: How do you feel now coming off the campaign?
JU: I’m glad to have gone through the process, learned a lot and am very thankful to my supporters. I’m disappointed to not have the chance to face-off against Al Franken and Norm Coleman, as I feel that I could have elevated the conversation in a number of critical ways.
Jack served as Deputy Director of Strategic and Long Range
Planning in Governor Jesse Ventura’s
administration and was previously a Strategic Planner for the
In a conversation I had with Jack today he emphasized that he
elevate the level of discourse as only an independent can and
raise awareness of issues that our society will be facing in the
years ahead as a result of rapid technological advancements. These
include the impact of
increased life expectancy, not only as it relates to the threat
of social security bankruptcy and healthcare, but other socio-political
ramifications as well.
As a bestselling author on
nanotechnology he is sure to take on this and other hotbed
issues too and will
incorporate his study of new technologies into government.
The future of computing has many different aspects and it is not
my intention with this post to provide a detailed explanation of
each. Rather, I merely want to share with readers who are
interested in the future of computing some interesting and
For those looking for a broad-based overview of how computers
will change our lives, I highly recommend this detailed report by
Microsoft Research entitled “Being
Human: Human-Computer Interaction in the Year 2020.” The second
chapter, in particular, is very insightful and documents five major
transformations: 1) The End of Interface Stability; 2) The Growth
of Techno-Dependancy; 3) The Growth of Hyper-Connectivity; 4) The
End of Ephemeral; and 5) the Growth of Creative Engagement.
For readers seeking a slightly more technical understanding of
where computers are headed, I’d recommend this press release by
Gartner, Inc. It covers a number of “grand challenges” which will dramatically
alter how future computers operate and are used.
Succinctly, the major changes are:
1. Never having to manually recharge devices.
2. Parallel Programming.
3. Non-tactile, Natural Computing Interfaces. (This corresponds
with the Microsoft report.)
4. Automated Speech Translation
5. Persistent and Reliable Long-Term Storage; and
6. Increasing Programmer Productivity 100-fold.
It is notoriously difficult to comprehend the compound growth
potential of exponential forces driving innovations in computing,
nanotech, and solar power, but pro futurist and regular future
Uldrich does a great job explaining this counter-intuitive
phenomenon in his latest book Jump the Curve . Therefore I was
thrilled to come across this short & sweet video synopsis of
exponential potential by the man himself:
By employing comprehensible metaphors and gradually relating
accelerating change to our lives, Jack succinctly and effectively
gets the idea that “the really big change is still ahead of us”
across (no small feat). So if you’re looking for a link to send to
your non Accel-aware buddies, co-workers or relatives, this is
I highly recommend it for anyone interested in the future. Among
some of the key points I took away from the book were:
1. Uncouple the art of forecasting from prediction. As I
stated in this piece a few days ago the future is unknowable,
but this doesn’t diminish the importance of forecasting. It does,
however, suggest that all of us should take everyone’s predictions
with a healthy dose of salt. As Voltaire said, “Doubt is not a
pleasant condition, but certainty is absurd.” It is good advice to
heed when contemplating the future. Far too many variables are at
work to predict the future with much accuracy.
2. Don’t adopt a fixed mind-set. Related to this point
was the author’s warning against adopting a fixed mind-set with
regard to the future. Too often, people with a particular mind-set
see only things that fit their pre-conceived worldview. For
example, I tend to be very optimistic about the future. (A
case-in-point is this piece I wrote on human longeveity.) Therefore, it
is all that much more important for me to guard against fitting all
future technological advances into this optimistic mind-set.