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Bay Area Future Salon @ TechShop San Francisco

April 30, 2013

trillionsbookCrosspost via Bay Area Future Salon Leader Mark Finnern (@finnern). (SF Bay Area locals can get Bay Area Future Salon event notices here):

At 6pm on Tues April 9th 2013, at TechShop San Francisco, we hosted Mickey McManus (@mickeyymcmanus), author of the thrilling new book Trillions: Thriving in the Emerging Information Ecology, 2012. Check it out for more on future of pervasive computing, with trillions of connected devices coming.

To get the conversation started I sent three questions to Mickey.
He even added a fourth, regarding action items for business. Enjoy them below:


1) You mentioned a connection/communication problem/layer that Nature has solved, that we humans haven’t. Which one?

I think the most fundamental one is that at some point Life agreed on one basic currency to not only store information but also move it around and exchange value. Today we have over 50 ways to move basic information and no common container to store meaning beyond the basic bit, byte, and packet.  But even moving info misses the bigger solution that Nature found. DNA in the form of genes is a liquid currency that drives economic value. We take it for granted that we can use human genes inserted into goats to make new transgenic drugs. Imagine how sad (or non-existent) life would be if each organism had it’s own currency. We would have had no Cambrian Explosion, we wouldn’t have you or your family or friends. Life would be a small set of one off experiments. Life also uses this common currency as a sort of Natural archive. The ocean and all the organisms in it and on the planet are Life’s “backup drive.” Nature hit on the idea of promiscuous peer-to-peer replication and storage, and now you couldn’t get rid of the gene for Blue eyes no matter how hard you tried.

2) Is there any chance for privacy in a world of a trillion connected smart nodes?

I think like any powerful technology we’ll come to an uneasy peace with connectivity, privacy, trust, and security issues. It won’t be pretty but we cope with garbage because we value the products our industrial processes create and try to minimize waste. We are usually only a few feet away from 120 to 240 volts of alternating current and somehow we don’t electrocute ourselves most days, even when we have nice shiny metal objects in our hands that would fit perfectly into those little slots. We’ll probably have a pretty bad transparency outbreak or two and policy and cultural acceptance will swing from one extreme to the other, but humans are good at doing the right thing once they’ve tried everything else.

Will we lose some privacy? Yes. Before we had indoor plumbing we didn’t have quite as much privacy, but that was a fairly recent shift (my home is my castle is not that old a concept). Will we be “naked?” Probably, like we were for most of prehistoric times. Will we develop new social norms to hide that nakedness? Probably. It’s interesting to consider the challenges of trying to keep something private when everything is connected and can sense what’s going on. In World War 2 the axis and allies faced this challenge and pulled together a bunch of really smart mathematicians (and some magicians) to try to break through the enemy’s veil (Bletchley Park and cryptographers), but they also had some really smart minds thinking about hiding us back into the noise (those magicians I talked about who created fake inflatable tanks and towns and a host of ways to misdirect and confuse the enemy). In the age of Trillions, we won’t need Bletchley Park and a bunch of boffins. Likely we’ll all have Bletchley Park in our pockets.

Today we think we have some bit of privacy, but it’s largely an illusion. Consider the recent paper that Yves-Alexandre de Montjoye and team just published about the identity of cell phone users, and you get a hint at what is already lost.  That being said, we can’t just expect things to turn out well. We’ll need to work to secure private information (and the property rights of those who own their information) through end-to-end encryption.

3) What surprised you when researching your book?

I guess the brittleness and shortsightedness of our current computing infrastructure. A number of the web links that we found as references to critical research in the early stages of our writing were dead and unreachable by the time we got to the final manuscript. Somehow we have fooled ourselves into thinking that efforts like the Internet Archive, or what Google or Amazon do with their cloud services will protect us from data loss. “We’ll just make extra copies!” they say. Not realizing that while Google may have redundancy, there aren’t any spare copies of Google around. I suspect our grandchildren will be very proud that we have many copies of those cat videos but not one existing copy of some critical research findings. On the positive side, the patterns in Nature that have to do with process, like my favorite, “Generativity,” are inspiring and thought provoking.

4) What can businesses do to prepare for this coming world of massive connectivity and big data?

A. I think there will be an “Internet of Things” bubble, like any new paradigm there are moments of irrational exuberance. But bubbles aren’t always bad. They fertilize the foothills of the next mountain. If I were a company I’d learn the ways to make it through the bubble. Bubbles are an awful lot like Vegas. Only two kinds of people make it through a casino with more money than when they came in. The lucky (we can’t really help them), and the smart (the card counters). We wrote Trillions for the card counters, those who want to learn the rules of the game.

B. Make a list of ten companies that make things that you’ve never thought of partnering with before. Now imagine what would happen if you all sorts of exhaust data that today you throw away and exhaust data that those other companies throw away and decide instead to keep it and remix it. What new forms of value could bubble up out of the trillions-commerce that is on its way?  Consider what you could do with those strange bedfellows today to get a head start.


Waiting for Union Reform

October 14, 2010

I had the privilege of seeing Davis Guggenheim’s superlative new documentary, Waiting for “Superman” last night with Iveta. The film gives powerful evidence of the unique, critical importance of great teachers in achieving globally competitive student performance, and it confronts a major sociopolitical issue, teacher’s unions, and the ways these unions now block any kind of useful reform in U.S. education. I recommend you visit the website, donate, and of course tell all your friends to see the movie.

We should think hard about real solutions to the U.S. high school education crisis, and recommend them to our congresspersons. The film makes pretty clear that American HS teacher’s unions need to be reformed, as soon as possible. Bob Bowdon’s documentary The Cartel, 2009, makes similar points, in a more heavy-handed fashion. Both are really worth seeing.

One idea might be to make it easy for additional, merit-rewarding unions to emerge in competition with the two existing large and corrupt ones, the NEA and the AFT, to give teachers a choice between multiple unions at each school. For more on the broad scope of the sad story of union monopolies, which are in their own ways just as bad as corporate monopolies, you might read The Teacher’s Unions, Lieberman, 1997, Power Grab, Moo, 1999, Conflicting Missions?, Loveless, 2000, The Worm in the Apple, Brimelow (most popular), 2004, and The War Against Hope, Paige (former U.S. Education Secretary), 2009. No Child Left Behind in 2001 was an important step forward as it mandated comprehensive tests, which told us how poor our children’s writing and reading and arithmetic performances are, but the teacher’s unions responded by teaching superficially to the tests, which are themselves not testing the right things, and resisting all other changes in behavior, incentive, discipline, etc. The only clear successes we’ve seen have emerged from the best of the charter schools, like the 80+ KIPP Schools around the country. We have the data we need. Now it’s time to act.

One bold but very unlikely solution would be a Federal one, to temporarily outlaw collective bargaining for teachers in failing schools, until American performance on STEM, civics, global awareness, and critical thinking can be brought back out of the gutter into which it has fallen. Teaching is unique among professions in that it lays the foundation for the abilities of the next generation. Bad teaching weakens the democracy. Just having the conversation about radical reform would benefit our nation. Obama, are you listening?

Teaching must become a desirable, high paid job, like we see in Korea and other countries that value education, and for most teachers, it should probably also become a short term job, where typical teachers are expected to stay for 10 years, and great teachers for a maximum of ten more, where they mentor other teachers. This is what we see in technology industries, so why not teaching, which is increasingly about preparing people to innovate and deal with the consequences of continuous technological change?

However we handle it legally, it seems pretty clear to me and I’ll bet the data would support the idea that the majority of high school teachers today should be young. Teaching young kids takes a lot of energy, and keeping up with our modern, accelerating world requires the rapid learning of youthful teachers. Japanese culture has a phrase, Gakkyu hokai, which translates to “classroom breakdown”, where bored, tech-savvy youth, as young as elementary school, simply stop paying any attention to their teachers once they realize that they know virtually nothing about the new digital world the kids inhabit. Gakkyu hokai is a problem with all first world classes today, and it will only get worse. Young, tech-savvy teachers can solve that, and be the analytical, numerate, and literate mentors and coaches the kids need. We also need teachers who have some business startup experience, because more than ever, knowledge and service work involves an entrepreneurial and creative mindset, and the ability to take calculated risks.

A good percentage of high school teachers should be able to start in their mid 20’s, shortly out of college. Any B.S. or higher degree, and a year of training, should be sufficient to get into the trainee pool, and teacher trainees should be aggressively weeded out in the first five years. While hiring a minority of older, second-career teachers would bring wisdom and life experience to the teaching pool, typical track teachers might finish their maximum 20 year stint by their mid-40’s, so they can easily start a second career. They would have had high salary during their time as teachers. If they make it to 10 years, they might get a quarter pension, and if they make it to 20, a half-pension. But they would all be encouraged get back in the private workforce at that point. This more part-time model can be compared to the standard, failing model to see which produces a better outcome.

The smarter the web gets, and the more our society moves to teacherless education, just in time education, and continuous education models, the more our political system should recognize that full-time teaching, for most teachers, isn’t typically a lifetime job, just as full-time learning isn’t a lifetime activity. This happens by default in America’s top universities, where long term professorships are rare. I think it should happen a lot more at the public high school and junior college level as well.

We need to reorient our public education systems to emphasize a continuous and diverse supply of high-quality short-term teachers who are literate, numerate, lifelong learners, accomplished-in-themselves, and willing to teach for the love and challenge, not the security. If they have tech, entrepreneurship, trade, or other useful skills going in, they should get serious bonuses. We want caring, exceptional teachers who the students want to emulate, across the board.

How much longer can we wait around, and watch our next generation of children get demotivated and unserved by our existing public educational system, which has turned into a job security program for a very large and well funded group of untouchable, unfirable, unaccountable adults? Our nation’s future is at stake.

Update: I’ve since discovered that Governor Jim Gibbons (R-Nevada) last year proposed eliminating collective bargaining for teachers. Geoffrey Lawrence of the (conservative) Nevada Policy Research Institute has a good writeup in favor of this policy. It focuses on the big issues: tenure, which must be eliminated, the blocks against youth and experienced non-teachers joining the teaching pool and competing with traditionally-educated teachers, and problems with current teacher certification, which is irrelevant to teaching quality as presently structured. While I don’t agree with permanently taking away collective bargaining rights for workers in any full-time profession, I do think many professions, including teaching, can benefit by having more part-timers competing against full-timers on merit to do the same job, and letting the data decide who’s better, and that politicians need broad powers to intervene in failing systems, to temporarily suspend both collective bargaining and corporate rights in any critical industry that has experienced massive failure, to create alternative forms of unions and teacher certification, pay systems based on merit, better and faster feedback, and a greater ability to fire lemon teachers. Let’s hope something useful happens soon.

Open Innovation Future Salon: An Interactive Event

August 27, 2010

This month the SF Bay Area had a really fun Future Salon: Open Innovation and the Future of Organizations on Wed 11 August 6pm to 9pm at SAP Labs in Palo Alto. BAFS leaders Mark Finnern, Alvis Brigis, and myself worked with the speaker to make it as interactive as possible.

Cesar Castro (see his bio below), the founder and CEO of DiscoveryCast, a new collaborative ideation and innovation platform, spoke during the first half. He gave us a fascinating survey of recent trends in open innovation. One of several new things I learned about was FailCon. A conference that reviews spectacular recent failures, mostly in entrepreneurship, and what we can learn from them. An awesome innovation of Bay Area culture. Failcon 2010 is 25 October.  You might want to put that one on your calendar if you are in the area.

And U.S. salon leaders, you might consider contacting Cesar to talk at one of your salons as well, if you think your group would be interested in getting into this topic.

Cesar posted his slides to Slideshare afterward. Slideshare is a great platform I recommend to all our salon leaders. Here they are:

Mark also introduced SAP’s newly developed ideation platform: Idea Place, which we used to collect results of an Ideation Challenge during the second half of the salon. The group of 40 or so attendees broke out into about 8 different groups for about a half hour, and worked on expressing concise ideas for the following question:

Ideation Challenge: You are elected to the PCAST (President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Tech) advisory board. You have access to up to $500 million in Federal Funding and the ability to propose new investments, legislation, executive orders, or other actions. What is the most important thing you can advise the federal government to do or try to stimulate U.S. innovation, economic productivity or jobs in nanotech, biotech, or infotech (the technology “golden triangle”) within the next three years (Obama’s re-election horizon)?

Thirty days after the salon, we will be posting our top suggestions placed on Idea Place to the Open PCAST website, a new platform for collecting citizen feedback on federal strategy and policy in science and tech.

This salon was a great experiment, and it taught us something in how to facilitate these kind of talk + small group salons. Having a small group activity, with a minimum of 30 minutes (probably 45-60 is better), that also involves output to an online platform (wiki, idea collection system, etc.) makes for a fun, creative and personalized event. I hope all of us do more of them.

More on our speaker: Cesar Castro is Founder and CEO of DiscoveryCast, a company that has developed an online collaborative brainstorming platform. He founded DiscoveryCast based on his experience in innovation, crowdsourcing, and corporate social networking. He is also an adjunct professor at the University of San Francisco School of Business, where he lectures in the area of innovation and changing the corporate culture to embrace new innovation models.

He is a former Research Director at the Institute For The Future (IFTF) where he led the Signtific Project, the Institute’s study of the future of science and technology. Before joining IFTF, Cesar served as Vice President of Business Development at InnoCentive from 2001 – 2006, one of the leading open innovation platforms. As VP Business Development, he was responsible for recruiting innovative companies from around the world to join and post their R&D challenges on the InnoCentive platform. He worked with organizations in the life sciences, defense, manufacturing, food, and chemical sectors. He also worked at the Industrial Research Institute, Shell Chemical Company, and MBA Polymers (a Bay Area clean-tech company). Cesar has conducted projects on the future of science and technology, open innovation, crowdsourcing strategies for corporations, and network-centric innovation. He has written forecasts and given speeches on open innovation in heath care, the future of science and technology, trends in global health, and using networks (and crowdsourcing) to enhance innovation practices.

He holds a B.S. in Chemistry from Loyola College in Maryland and an M.S. in Macromolecular Science from Case Western Reserve University. He can be reached via email at or via his Open Innovation blog.

Three questions of Dino Karabeg

May 25, 2010

Anticipating our Wednesday Future Salon, I asked our speaker Dino
Karabeg three questions. Here are his answers:

1. What is the single thing that everyone can do that has the greatest
lever for change into a positive direction?

Create trimtabs for systemic change. I will take one half hour to
explain what this means and to plead my case, then I will give the
participants a chance to either challenge it, or to roll up our sleeves
and begin doing it.

2. What is the greatest danger you see for us?

I believe that our greatest danger is that we may be engaging in
contemporary problematique in a symbolic way, to use Murray Edelman’s
expressive term. What if we may be recycling our trash and perhaps even
riding bicycles (as I myself do), and as result receiving all the
biochemical rewards of right-doing, while at the same time avoiding to
raise to the challenges that are presented to us? I will invite the
Future Salon members to a bit of meta-thinking and meta-design –
What can you and I do that really can lead to a radical positive shift?
I will raise this question by proposing a candidate answer.

3. What is your greatest hope?

My motivation is an anticipation of the next Renaissance. I even dare
believe that I can see how this might happen in some detail. But I have
ethical qualms about focusing my speech on this enticing vision,
because there is still some work that we need to do to make it possible.
This is why I chose this rather technical title.

Join us this Wednesday, 6:00 PM, at SAP Palo Alto. Please RSVP.

Bay Area Future Salon: Trimtabs for Systemic Change

May 12, 2010

Trimtabs for Systemic Change. Bay Area Future Salon, Wednesday May 26th. Please RSVP

BAFS leader Mark Finnern offered me, Miguel F. Aznar, a chance to host the Future Salon because I met someone (speaking at the May 1 BIL conference @ UCSC) whose ideas call for a Future Salon.  Join us Wednesday, May 26, to listen and share.  Dino Karabeg, professor of Informatics at the University of Oslo, describes his presentation this way:

“When we shift focus from symptoms of systemic dysfunction to systemic change, an uncommonly rich and inspiring action space becomes available. ‘Trimtabs for systemic change’ are acts that are small enough to be feasible, which can add up to make our civilization change course and guide us along a new and different direction of progress.

In this talk I will present nine prototype trimtabs in key areas including corporate business, informing, scientific research, education, healthcare, and design. Those examples have been developed at the  University of Oslo with external collaborators during the past fifteen years and implemented in practice in varying degrees. Part of the presentation will focus on a strategy for worldview and value change. This thirty-minute lecture will set a stage for further development of these ideas through dialogue.”

We catch him the evening before he returns to Oslo, so don’t miss this salon.

Dino Karabeg has been at the University of Oslo since 1992, where he is a professor in the Institute of Informatics.  See more information: Invitation to Self-Organizing Collective Mind workshop, Knowledge Federation Elevator Pitches, blog  Holoscope for the Buckminster Fuller Challenge, blog Trimtabs for systemic change, and introduction to book manuscript.

Bay Area Future Salons have the following structure: 6-7pm is networking with light refreshments proudly sponsored by SAP; 7-9+pm is the presentation followed by questions and discussion. Please RSVP

SAP Labs North America, Building D, COIL (Co-Innovation Lab). SAP is located at 3410 Hillview Avenue, Palo Alto, CA 94304[map]. Free and open to the public. Please spread the word and invite others, but be sure to RSVP so we know how many people to expect.

All the World is Becoming a Game

February 24, 2010

Here is a must-see 28 min. video (3 parts), Is Your Life Just One Big RPG?, by futurist Jesse Schell, head of a 60-person game company (Schell Games), author, The Art of Game Design, CMU Professor, and former Disney Imagineer.

Schell introduces some epic themes, among them:

  • Games as psychology experiments. Successful games are in fact clever experiments in creating positive sum mental transactions (real or imagined). In this highly connected world, good psychology will blow up in size and economic value far, far faster than we’ve ever seen before, yet much slower than we’ll see tomorrow. How few of us realized that Facebook, Zynga, etc. would grow as quickly as they have? Only those who knew how many bored and underutilized folks are waiting to have their free time taken over by something better than cable TV, and who are now just a click away from engagement in a game.
  • Game architectures moving into physical reality. We will learn to use the better tricks of virtual world games in all our important physical world activities, governance, work, education, etc. Schell cites fellow game designer Lee Sheldon’s classes at Indiana University, which use experience points (class and online discussions, homework, tests, outside experience gained and written up during the course) rather than peer-relative curves to “level up” students through the course and assign the ultimate grade. Presumably this is more fun and engaging for today’s student, and it has been increasing student participation as well.
  • The hunger for the real. As Pine and Gilmore noted in their prescient The Experience Economy, 1999, the more the world becomes a game, the more we want to feel connected to something real. Schell’s best quote of many great ones: “We live in a bubble of fake bullshit.” Amen. We can expect this bubble to keep accelerating in pervasiveness and allure, too.
  • Technology divergence versus convergence. As with biological species and subcultures, divergence is far more the rule. Convergence is the exception. Those who’ve read my speculative works know I argue this as a 95/5 Rule (95% of the time, complex systems look divergent, 5%, they look convergent). The tree of technology differentiation continues to grow, though once any tree gets big enough, the rate and importance of new divergence slows (new variety becomes just twigs on the end of the tree, rather than big trunks lower down on the tree).
  • The near and farther future effects of games on society. Many of the social effects of virtual games may get worse before they get better, but they should be much more positive forces in the longer run. I’ve written about this as a possible fourth law of technology, one that seems generalizable to most disruptive new technologies, from cities to cellphones. Schell essentially scares the bejeezus out of you in the last five minutes of this talk, talking about the coming dehumanization we may see with first generation effects of these games. Perhaps without knowing it, Schell is channeling young-adult fiction writer M.T. Anderson and his brilliant dystopia, Feed, 2004, which eloquently describes a soon-emerging world where kids get internet implants in their heads at birth and as a result, have degenerated to something resembling futurist H.G. Wells Eloi, passive units to be manipulated by near-Singularity corporations. Fortunately, Schell opens the door at the end to recognizing that these technologies will also be powerful forces for positive behavior change, personal growth and intellectual advancement as well. I’d like to hear a lot more about all that, frankly.

Futurists, if you have ideas about that or anything else, feel free to share them, thanks!


January 30, 2010

Future Salon - Starchild and Accelerating Earth Welcome to the community blog of the ASF Future Salon Network!

If you are a Salon leader, or a thoughtful future-thinker interested in posting here for the benefit of our community, please email FS Network Director Brian Hill or ASF President John Smart to talk about blogging here.

Future Salons are free monthly educational, activist, and social foresight events, presently in 15 locations around the world. Salons are fun, discussion oriented events, created by volunteer Salon leaders (perhaps you?) to make our rapidly changing world more fascinating, manageable, profitable, and positive-sum for all of us. We strive to be both doing-action-project oriented, and thinking-idea-prioritizing oriented.

Our first Future Salon started in Los Angeles in 2001. Our fifteenth opened in Singapore late last year. Some Salons are very active, others are semi-active, and a few have been inactive for years, with Salon members in those cities waiting for new leadership (you?).

Salons currently exist in the following cities: Bejing, Boulder, D.C., Honolulu, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Manila, New York, Palo Alto, Philadelphia, Seattle, San Diego, Santa Cruz, Second Life, Singapore, and Tuscon.

Do you live in one of these cities? Visit the Future Salon Network Page and join their Facebook, Google, Meetup, or Yahoo Group to get event notifications. If you want to help run the Salon, email the moderator and see if you can join the moderator team. Or start your own (with a different name of course) so your city has more than one! Future Salons are affiliated with the Acceleration Studies Foundation (ASF), a nonprofit engaged in outreach, education, research, and selective advocacy with respect to issues of accelerating change.

Finally, we’ve created a Facebook Page for the Future Salon Network, to which blog posts here will flow.

We have 395 fans over at the page already. Become a fan if you haven’t already. Thanks for reading, and Come Back Soon!