The Future: Better Than Human

“It was tempting to dismiss the disquiet about the future as a timeless part of human nature. Maybe, as Horowitz suggests, it came from our desire for an external event to unleash personal change. Or as a reaction against living in a world of constant change (source).”

This is an interesting read as I sit here drinking my coffee on the tip of a new year.

It’s hard to believe you’d have an economy at all if you gave pink slips to more than half the labor force. But that—in slow motion—is what the industrial revolution did to the workforce of the early 19th century. Two hundred years ago, 70 percent of American workers lived on the farm. Today automation has eliminated all but 1 percent of their jobs, replacing them (and their work animals) with machines. But the displaced workers did not sit idle. Instead, automation created hundreds of millions of jobs in entirely new fields.


This is not a race against the machines. If we race against them, we lose. This is a race with the machines. You’ll be paid in the future based on how well you work with robots. Ninety percent of your coworkers will be unseen machines. Most of what you do will not be possible without them. And there will be a blurry line between what you do and what they do. You might no longer think of it as a job, at least at first, because anything that seems like drudgery will be done by robots.

We need to let robots take over. They will do jobs we have been doing, and do them much better than we can. They will do jobs we can’t do at all. They will do jobs we never imagined even needed to be done. And they will help us discover new jobs for ourselves, new tasks that expand who we are. They will let us focus on becoming more human than we were.

Let the robots take the jobs, and let them help us dream up new work that matters.

Wired: Better Than Human

Apple ‘baby mac’, 1985

baby mac
Hartmut Esslinger, Apple ‘baby mac’, 1985

Simply beautiful piece of work – like all good design it still feels fresh and inviting today.

… it could be as radical as possible – and that nade it the best kind of challenge.
concept A and B were well founded in proven statements, so concept C was my ticket for a voyage toward
a mysterious destination. it would also become the winner. (…)

From Hartmut Esslinger’s early apple computer and tablet designs (Designboom)

China now has 1.104 B mobile users

Statistics released December 23rd by China’s Ministry of Industry and Information Technology (MIIT) say that as of the end of November 2012, there were 1.104 billion mobile phone users in that country, an increase of nearly 118 million people during the first eleven months of 2012 (tech crunch).

This would mean that about 82% of China’s population currently uses a mobile phone (though as commenters noted below, many of these mobile phones could have dual sim cards, which was not taken into account in the MIIT’s report). The number of 3G phone users reached 220 million, or about 20% of mobile phone users. Broadband Internet service users increased by 24.03 million in the first 11 months of the year, while the number of mobile Internet users increased by 111 million to 750 million. From January to November 2012, mobile communications revenue in China totaled 724.53 billion yuan (or about $116.26 billion US dollars), an increase of 11% over the same period last year.

Full report on techcrunch.

“There is an ugliness in being paid for work one does not like”

The greatest satisfaction you can obtain from life is your pleasure in producing, in your own individual way, something of value to your fellowmen. That is creative living!

When we consider that each of us has only one life to live, isn’t it rather tragic to find men and women, with brains capable of comprehending the stars and the planets, talking about the weather; men and women, with hands capable of creating works of art, using those hands only for routine tasks; men and women, capable of independent thought, using their minds as a bowling-alley for popular ideas; men and women, capable of greatness, wallowing in mediocrity; men and women, capable of self-expression, slowly dying a mental death while they babble the confused monotone of the mob?

From: How to Avoid Work

Chuck Close on Creativity


The supremacy of work ethic and process over idleness. Just do – and the rest will follow.

Inspiration is for amateurs — the rest of us just show up and get to work. And the belief that things will grow out of the activity itself and that you will — through work — bump into other possibilities and kick open other doors that you would never have dreamt of if you were just sitting around looking for a great ‘art ida.’ And the belief that process, in a sense, is liberating and that you don’t have to reinvent the wheel every day. Today, you know what you’ll do, you could be doing what you were doing yesterday, and tomorrow you are gonna do what you didid today, and at least for a certain period of time you can just work. If you hang in there, you will get somewhere.


I never had painter’s block in my whole life.

From Chuck Close on Creativity, Work Ethic, and Problem-Solving vs. Problem-Creating by Maria Popova

Not Science Fiction: The dream of the medical tricorder


Along with teleportation, speech-driven computers and hand-held wireless communicators that flip open, the medical tricorder was one of many imaginary future technologies featured in “Star Trek”. Ever since, researchers have dreamed of developing a hand-held medical scanner that can take readings from a patient and then diagnose various conditions. Now, nearly five decades after “Star Trek” made its debut in 1966, the dream is finally edging closer to reality.

…[AliveCor] has developed an iPhone case with two electrodes that can perform an electrocardiogram (ECG). Dr Topol recently used a prototype to assess a fellow passenger on an aircraft who was suffering from chest pain. He concluded the passenger was having a heart attack, and the plane was diverted. Other firms are also developing medical add-ons for smartphones. MobiSante, based in Redmond, Washington, has devised a smartphone-based ultrasound system that was granted FDA clearance in early 2011. A hand-held ultrasonic probe plugs into a smartphone, which generates and displays an image. It costs $7,500, a fraction of the price of a conventional ultrasound.

Medical technology: The hand-held diagnostic devices seen on “Star Trek” are inspiring a host of medical add-ons for smartphones

“December” MV by AppleGirl

An original Christmas short by AppleGirl a.k.a. Kim Yeo Hee released in 2011. Super cute and the use of birthday balloons as Christmas decorations not something I’ve ever thought, surprising considering we are supposed to be celebrating someones birthday. Apple Girl is known for her break-through use of iPhones as back-up band.

The collapse of the music industry and the future of higher education

Once you see this pattern—a new story rearranging people’s sense of the possible, with the incumbents the last to know—you see it everywhere. First, the people running the old system don’t notice the change. When they do, they assume it’s minor. Then that it’s a niche. Then a fad. And by the time they understand that the world has actually changed, they’ve squandered most of the time they had to adapt. It’s been interesting watching this unfold in music, books, newspapers, TV, but nothing has ever been as interesting to me as watching it happen in my own backyard. Higher education is now being disrupted; our MP3 is the massive open online course (or MOOC), and our Napster is Udacity, the education startup.


The possibility MOOCs hold out isn’t replacement; anything that could replace the traditional college experience would have to work like one, and the institutions best at working like a college are already colleges. The possibility MOOCs hold out is that the educational parts of education can be unbundled. MOOCs expand the audience for education to people ill-served or completely shut out from the current system, in the same way phonographs expanded the audience for symphonies to people who couldn’t get to a concert hall, and PCs expanded the users of computing power to people who didn’t work in big companies.

Those earlier inventions systems started out markedly inferior to the high-cost alternative: records were scratchy, PCs were crashy. But first they got better, then they got better than that, and finally, they got so good, for so cheap, that they changed people’s sense of what was possible.

In the US, an undergraduate education used to be an option, one way to get into the middle class. Now it’s a hostage situation, required to avoid falling out of it. And if some of the hostages having trouble coming up with the ransom conclude that our current system is a completely terrible idea, then learning will come unbundled from the pursuit of a degree just as as songs came unbundled from CDs.

Napster, Udacity, and the Academy. Clay Shirky on what the collapse of the music industry teaches us about the future of higher education.

Rise Alarm Clock

Rise is a "delightfully simple and unique" alarm clock, now available for your iPhone/iPad/iPod Touch. Shows promise. I prefer UI’s like this to the more heavy handed skeumorpic style seen in most of Apple’s offerings.

Kusama’s Obliteration Room

Yayoi Kusama’s interactive Obliteration Room begins as an entirely white space, furnished as a monochrome living room, which people are then invited to ‘obliterate’ with multi-coloured stickers.

Over the course of a few weeks the room is transformed from a blank canvas into an explosion of colour, with thousands of spots stuck over every available surface.

TateShots have produced this timelapse video of The Obliteration Room covering the first few weeks of its presentation at Tate Modern. It was conceived as a project for children, and was first staged at the Queensland Art Gallery in 2002.

Kurt Vonnegut’s Daily Routine

I’ve always been a sucker for process, especially formulating a daily routine. This sense of order was first drilled in me by my grade 6 teacher, who was a force to be reckoned with, and an expert on the to-do list, a craze of which still seems unabated. Her desire for order and structure in her classroom pails in comparison to my experience in trumpet studio at Humber College where Don Johnson would etch out our daily routine, forbidding any contact with the opposite sex until after a rigorous regime of long tones and controlled blatts and squawks.

From an article by Maria Popova is a letter from Kurt Vonnegut to his wife where he outlines his daily routine.

Dearest Jane,

In an unmoored life like mine, sleep and hunger and work arrange themselves to suit themselves, without consulting me. I’m just as glad they haven’t consulted me about the tiresome details. What they have worked out is this: I awake at 5:30, work until 8:00, eat breakfast at home, work until 10:00, walk a few blocks into town, do errands, go to the nearby municipal swimming pool, which I have all to myself, and swim for half an hour, return home at 11:45, read the mail, eat lunch at noon. In the afternoon I do schoolwork, either teach of prepare. When I get home from school at about 5:30, I numb my twanging intellect with several belts of Scotch and water ($5.00/fifth at the State Liquor store, the only liquor store in town. There are loads of bars, though.), cook supper, read and listen to jazz (lots of good music on the radio here), slip off to sleep at ten. I do pushups and sit-ups all the time, and feel as though I am getting lean and sinewy, but maybe not. Last night, time and my body decided to take me to the movies. I saw The Umbrellas of Cherbourg, which I took very hard. To an unmoored, middle-aged man like myself, it was heart-breaking. That’s all right. I like to have my heart broken.

From Brain Pickings.

Improving Creative Reasoning through Immersion in Natural Settings


From the study abstract:

Adults and children are spending more time interacting with media and technology and less time participating in activities in nature. This life-style change clearly has ramifications for our physical well-being, but what impact does this change have on cognition? Higher order cognitive functions including selective attention, problem solving, inhibition, and multi-tasking are all heavily utilized in our modern technology-rich society. Attention Restoration Theory (ART) suggests that exposure to nature can restore prefrontal cortex-mediated executive processes such as these. Consistent with ART, research indicates that exposure to natural settings seems to replenish some, lower-level modules of the executive attentional system. However, the impact of nature on higher-level tasks such as creative problem solving has not been explored. Here we show that four days of immersion in nature, and the corresponding disconnection from multi-media and technology, increases performance on a creativity, problem-solving task by a full 50% in a group of naive hikers. Our results demonstrate that there is a cognitive advantage to be realized if we spend time immersed in a natural setting. We anticipate that this advantage comes from an increase in exposure to natural stimuli that are both emotionally positive and low-arousing and a corresponding decrease in exposure to attention demanding technology, which regularly requires that we attend to sudden events, switch amongst tasks, maintain task goals, and inhibit irrelevant actions or cognitions. A limitation of the current research is the inability to determine if the effects are due to an increased exposure to nature, a decreased exposure to technology, or to other factors associated with spending three days immersed in nature.

Creativity in the Wild: Improving Creative Reasoning through Immersion in Natural Settings. Via Take a Hike to Boost Your Creativity.

‘Magic’ Phone Booth Lets Children Talk With Santa

Brazilian telecom company Oi sets up a phone line to the ‘North Pole’ for the holidays. PSFK reports.

In Rio de Janeiro, Oi set up a ‘magic’ pay phone that allows children to call and speak with Santa Claus. As the children were talking, retired actors on the other end of the line could see them on a video monitor, allowing for real-life conversations as opposed to an automated script.
The holiday magic didn’t stop there. While the children were talking with ‘Santa,’ small gifts would appear on the step behind them. It even began to ‘snow’ as the building opposite the pay phone was lit-up into a winter wonderland using projection mapping. For the icing on the cake, there were passing ‘elves’ and children’s choir that would emerge to sing holiday carols.

Read more.