Author Archives: ted

042: John Danaher on “Will the Future be Ruled by Algorithm?”



In this episode we talk with guest John Danaher, a lecturer at National University of Ireland, Galway and blogger. He has coined the term ‘Algocracy’ to describe a future state of rule by algorithm. We define the term and talk about how modern day algorithms like dating websites, military drones, and tax fraud detection are growing in influence, creating the possibility for algorithmic decision making to unseat democratic institutions and even personal will. Can we really say we are in a democracy if opaque, incomprehensible systems are making many important choices for us? How can we be certain that the algorithm has our interests at heart?

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041: What are the Reasons to Protect Privacy?



In this episode we build on our previous podcast on privacy by examining, from a philosophical point of view, what the instrumental and intrinsic benefits to privacy are. Is there some fundamental, moral reason to protect privacy, or is it simply a way to prevent various misuses of data? If misuse is the real issue, would a co-veillance society be trustworthy enough to simply give up privacy? Or is it intrinsically wrong, like torture? We also discuss how privacy and security are often at odds with each other, and how privacy can be understood as an issue of information flow.

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038: Can We Predict the Future?



This week’s podcast asks about the benefits and problems associated with both hard “mathematical” prediction and soft “storytelling” prediction. We discuss the limits of mathematical prediction in terms of theory, randomness, chaos, and non-computability. We discuss the limits and benefits of storytelling and scenario planning as predictive tools as well, and we also discuss the self-reference problem, which can apply to both types of prediction. Finally we discuss the fictional discipline of psychohistory as imagined by Asimov, and wonder whether truly working prediction machines could exist without lacking transparency.

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037: What is the Future of the Sharing Economy?



This week’s episode is about the sharing economy. We discuss the term and try to decide if the companies that use it are really doing anything new or just using a buzzword to screw workers and evade regulations. We discuss Airbnb, Uber, Lyft, Fold.it, Couchsurfing, Seti@Home, Streetbank, Zipcar, eBay, and craigslist. Are these sites really just sophisticated barter systems? If so, what about math trades and offer networks? Is the sharing economy, like outsourcing, just a stop on the way to the much more profound automation economy?

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036: What is the Future of Hell?



In this week’s episode, we wonder if it’s technologically possible to create eternal suffering and torture someone forever in a digital hell. We cover the question of why someone might torture a digital being or nano-enabled Prometheus. Punishment? Spying? Research? Is the persuasive power of hell justification enough? Is it unethical to cause pain to simulated people? Is a right to die connected to the desire to live forever? At the end of the podcast, we discuss and ultimately dismiss the proposition called Roko’s Basilisk (WARNING: some people are very disturbed by Roko’s Basilisk.).

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033: What’ll be the Impacts of Self Driving Cars?



Everyone knows by now that self driving cars are coming soon. Somewhere in the next 3-20 years, the human driver will become a thing of the past. What will happen when these capabilities come online? We talk through the obvious and not so obvious consequences of self driving car technology, from unemployment of taxi drivers to reclaiming parking spaces from idle vehicles — and ultimately theorize that the ownership model will change drastically.

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032: Are we Wielding Technology or Yielding to It?



In this more conversational episode, we discuss the abstract dichotomy of wielding technology rather than yielding to it. We discuss this wielding/yielding metaphor with regard to form factors, for example how is using a smart phone different from augmented reality glasses, or what’s the fundamental difference between a high functioning AI assistant that can act for you versus an Intelligence Augmentation technology such as nanobots in the brain that can do your thinking for you. Ultimately we discuss how yielding feels creepier than wielding and how product and societal design can influence whether someone feels more like they are yielding or wielding.

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031: Who are the Top Ten Living Futurists?



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In this week’s podcast we list the top ten living futurists. These are people who are highly influential in the area of futurology, either for being skillful popularizers or originators of major new ideas. Listen and find out if you agree with our choices. And if you think we made any major mistakes (either misguided inclusions or omissions) please let us know via an email or a comment. We may not agree, but if you make a good case we’ll mention you in next week’s podcast.

030: What is the Future of Emotional Computing?



In this week’s podcast we tackle Emotional (sometimes called Affective) Computing — when computers read and respond to human emotions. We discuss the types of sensory data computers can read, like faces and inflection but also heat-mapping and pupil dilation. We also discuss how this capability might lead to a future that’s worse for liars but better for the impulsive or depressed. Will better emotional computing lead to video games that adjust their difficulty to keep you from getting too frustrated or to movies that never let anyone get bored?

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028: Review of Thomas Piketty’s CAPITAL IN THE 21ST CENTURY, Part 2: Futurist Perspective and Criticism



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In this second part of our review of Capital in the 21st Century, we look at Thomas Piketty’s ideas from the point of view of speculation and futurism, and consider some of the criticisms of the book. Last week in Part 1, we covered the book’s basic ideas about how to measure and talk about inequality, so if missed that check it out first. In this follow-up we cover Piketty’s demographic projections and whether they hold up in a world of AGI or emulated brains, as well as whether Baby Boomers will live forever and perpetually own the world. We also cover criticisms such as Larry Summers’s and wonder whether his argument isn’t more Marxist than he indicates.

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027: Review of Thomas Piketty’s CAPITAL IN THE 21ST CENTURY, Part 1: Summary



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In this part one of our review of Thomas Piketty’s Capital in the 21st Century, we cover the book in detail and summarize its arguments and conclusions. In the next part, to be released next week, we will look at Piketty’s ideas from the point of view of speculation and futurism, and consider some of the criticisms of the book. But this part will cover the book’s basic ideas about how to measure and talk about inequality, its data sets, the illusion of meritocracy, “Vautrin’s lesson” from Balzac’s Pere Goiriot, and will explain the relationships Picketty theorizes among the capital-income ratio, the rate of return on capital, and the growth rate of the economy, as well as the savings rate.

Some of the formulas mentioned in the podcast might be easier to see spelled out:

First Fundamental Law of Capitalism

α = r x ß

Capital’s share of income equals the rate of return on capital times the capital/income ratio. For example, if ß = 600% and r=5% then α = 30%

Second Fundamental Law of Capitalism

ß = s/g

Over time (asymptotically) the capital/income ratio tends toward the savings rate over the growth rate. In low growth, the past eats the future.

Finally it’s key to mention the inequality:

r > g

Which Piketty says is not a law of nature but an observed constant throughout history. Despite drastic changes in the form and uses of capital r seems always to be higher than g.

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025: What Does Utopia Look Like?



We’d all like to live in a better future, and for ages men have imagined what a theoretical best future might be like. What would a utopian society truly look like? Does the answer lie in external approaches like abundance, decentralization and transparency, or internal approaches like drugs, wireheading and genetic engineering? Is it even possible to formulate a Theory of Fun for human beings, that would define the contours of a world that could exist in perfect equilibrium where the people living in that world never die or get bored?

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024: Will the Future be More or Less Unequal?



In this podcast we examine the issue of inequality from the point of view of game design and ask whether a variety of resources are likely to become more or less unequal in the future. In addition to the obvious monetary dimension, we also discuss inequality as it relates to fame, user base, creativity tools, communication, health, and other resources that affect quality of life. Ultimately we decide that inequality will increase in resources that by their nature propagate themselves, like money and fame, and will likely decrease in resources that are close to reaching a point of diminishing returns, such as food and communication.

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023: What is the Future of Net Neutrality?



In this week’s podcast we talk about the big topic of Network Neutrality. We define the term and talk about the differences between neutral and biased (or ‘diverse’) networks. We cover the history of the phone network, the Carterfone, and neutrality regulations in the U.S. We also cover the two major reasons to prefer a neutral internet: the more commonly mentioned threats to innovation and free speech that biased networks engender, and the less commonly discussed technical reason that dumb networks are more efficient and therefore faster. With the FCC in the process of gutting what’s left of net neutrality in the U.S. right now, it’s important to understand this seemingly dry issue that, as the internet takes over more and more of our lives, gets more and more important. Will we wake up and require network neutrality through our political process? Is it possible to create neutral mesh networks through unlicensed spectrum? Will we simply accept the costs to freedom and innovation that biased networks will bring?

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022: Will the Future be Dominated by Games?



On this podcast, we talk about games and the future. Eric Zimmerman has pronounced this the “Ludic Century” and has said the 21st century will be defined by games. We approach this idea from three points of view: first we talk about games as an entertainment medium and whether they might grow relative to passive entertainment like reading or watching video. Second, we talk about the emerging field of game design theory and what it can learn from, and teach to, existing social sciences like psychology and economics. Finally we discuss how life itself in the future might increasingly resemble a game in many ways.

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021: What Are the Different Types of Intelligence Augmentation?



In this very short episode we do a simple thought experiment set at a mathematics competition. Three characters, each with a very different apparatus of enhanced intelligence, compete. One is highly educated, one is enhanced to be able to learn more quickly, and one offloads the complex tasks to an AI or crowd-sourced network. We discuss the pros and cons of these three approaches and consider what that holds for future developments. What would you rather be: an educated, enhanced, or offloading mind?

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020: What is the Future of Television?



What is the future of television? Will today’s golden age continue? We discuss the current television model and why TV hasn’t been disrupted to the degree film and other media have, the real scarcity and artificial limits that are keeping it there, and make a prediction about the next ten years of television content. We also discuss charging viewers on a cliffhanger, superstar effects after unbundling, and bifurcation of budgets. Will serial video lose its flow as it moves online? Or might a combination of recommendation algorithms and massive online film libraries create a deadly-compelling flow similar to “The Entertainment” from David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest?

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019: Who Controls a Future of Decentralized Technologies?



There is no doubt  decentralized powerful technologies are coming, and the conventional wisdom is that you cannot control these things easily. In this episode, we discuss drugs, security, and general purpose computing as decentralized technologies that resist control. Will it be possible to control nearly invisible life-logging technologies of the future? What about gun control in a world of 3-D printing? What do surveillance and piracy have in common? What do you think would allow us to keep our freedom while protecting against existential risks? Why do they freeze the pre-criminals in Minority Report? This topic gets big fast, so hold on to your hats! Keep the emails and comments coming, we love to hear from you!

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017: What New Job Opportunities Will Exist in an Automated Future?



Today’s episode focuses on a thought experiment — assuming technological unemployment happens and capitalism continues in its current form, what new platforms might allow average folks to monetize the remaining scarce resources? What kind of jobs and economic platforms might arise in a future of automated labor? We discuss current platforms like Kickstarter and Etsy and we wonder about their continued robustness. We also propose a platform for monetizing the attention of the unemployed and discuss the possibility of monetizing slack computing resources through Distributed Autonomous Corporations. We discuss the wisdom of making many small bets over single large bets and wonder whether a distributed black mail platform is in our future.

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016: What is Super-Now Prediction?



Today on the podcast we talk about a simple way to predict the future — simply exaggerate current trends. But this doesn’t lead to accurate prediction, it leads to “Super-Now” predictions where everything is shinier, faster, or on steroids, but nothing is actually new. We cover a lot of classic and modern Sci Fi that fails in this regard and talk about several of the people who are pushing back against the conventional wisdom that the more things change, the more they stay the same. We discuss the movies SLEEPER, STAR WARS, WALL-E, IDIOCRACY, SECONDS and ETERNAL SUNSHINE, and work by Greg Egan, Cory Doctorow, David Marusek, Ramez Naam, Ray Bradbury, Gary Shteyngart and Albert Brooks.

“I’m appalled by the notion of ‘eternal human verities’ — a loathsome concept, foisted by brooding, husk-like academics, proclaiming that people will forever be the same, repeating every Proustian obsession, every omphaloskeptic navel-contemplation, and every dopey mistake of our parents and their parents all the way until time’s end. A horrible concept that is-fortunately disproved by history and science and every generation of bright kids who strive to climb a little higher than their ignorant ancestors. And to raise kids of their own who will be better still. The greatest story. The greatest possible story.” (David Brin)

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015: What Would be the Cultural Impacts of Increased Longevity?



In this episode, we ask how culture would be impacted by radically increased lifespans. We go over the main arguments made by longevity research experts like Aubrey De Grey and Ray Kurzweil, and we discuss Sonia Arrison’s book 100+. We discuss expanded health spans and acknowledge that a right to die would be even more important in a world with such technology. What kind of impacts would this type of technology have on work, leadership, inequality, social services, and family? Would we design high-efficiency people to defeat starvation? Would term limits apply to immortal individuals? Are we heading for a nightmare world where the poor are condemned to death and the rich live forever?

Addendums/Corrections:

Right after we recorded this, Peter Diamandis and Craig Venter started another new longevity company, Human Longevity, Inc.

In the podcast Jon says Pasteur proved germ theory in the 1860s. That’s not exactly right. Agostino Bassi proved germ theory way back in 1813, but it was Pasteur’s more rigorous later experiments that further cemented his findings. However that information still hadn’t reached the President of the United States’s doctors in 1881, when doctors removing a bullet from James Garfield did not use antiseptic, leading to his death.

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014: How Might We Respond to Technological Unemployment?



In this podcast we return to the idea of technological unemployment: if it’s happening, what should we do? We consider three ways technological unemployment might be defeated: rising standards of living might outrun inequality, education and cognitive enhancement might solve our retraining problems, or new platforms and needs might emerge and create new demands. But if that doesn’t happen, we have three types of options. We cover the range of options from recidivism to artificial scarcity, to enhanced social safety nets.

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013: What is the Future of Communications Interfaces?



In this week’s podcast, we discuss common communications and computer interfaces in science fiction and ask whether those AI assistants and videophones really make sense. We retell David Foster Wallace’s story about the failure of the videophone from Infinite Jest, and we argue that Samantha from Her would be just as annoying as Microsoft Clippy. We also wonder whether the mind-to-mind connections in Nexus are as likely to take off as a future Snapchat might be.

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011: Review of McAfee and Brynjolfsson’s SECOND MACHINE AGE



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In this extra-long podcast, we review the important new book from MIT’s Andrew McAfee and Erik Brynjolfsson, THE SECOND MACHINE AGE: Work, Progress, and Prosperity in a Time of Brilliant Technologies. The first half is a detailed, Cliffs-Notes version of the book’s arguments for those that have not read it; others may want to skip to our criticisms, which begin in earnest at 00:38. The book details how technological progress is driving growth of both ‘bounty’ and ‘spread,’ and makes a compelling argument for the possibility of technological unemployment occurring. It also makes suggestions for the long and short term, and there is where we have most of our disagreements with the authors.

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A COMPARISON OF NEGATIVE INCOME TAX WITH BASIC INCOME

In the book the authors argue that a negative income tax is preferable to a basic income because a negative income tax will better incentivize people to work. But is there really any substantive difference?

(1) Negative Income Tax

(As described by Friedman/McAfee/Brynjolfsson in the Second Machine Age)

MILTON FRIEDMAN: “Under present law…if you happen to be the head of a family of four, for example, and you have $ 3,000 of income, you neither pay a tax nor receive any benefit from it. You’re just on the break-even point… The idea of a Negative Income Tax is that, when your income is below the break-even point, you would get a fraction of it as a payment “from” the government. You would receive the funds instead of paying them.”

MCAFEE AND BRYNJOLFSSON: “If the negative income tax rate were 50 percent, the person making $2,000 would get $500 back from the government, which is $1,000 (the negative taxable income) times .50 (the 50-percent negative income tax rate), and would thus have total income for that year of $ 2,500. A person with zero income would get $ 1,500 from the government, since they had $ 3,000 of negative taxable income.”

The Math:

  • Break-Even Point (BEP): $3000
  • Negative Income Tax Rate (Rate): 50%
  • Formula: Income + (Rate)(3000 – BEP)

chart2

Summary:

Sets an income floor at $1500. Each $1 earned adds $0.50 to your bottom line.

(2) Basic Income

(Calibrated to match the negative income tax example)

The Math:

  • Basic Income (BI): $1500
  • Tax Rate (Rate): 50%
  • Formula: BI + (1-Rate)(Income)

chart2

Summary:

Sets an income floor at $1500. Each $1 earned adds $0.50 to your bottom line.

CONCLUSION

As you can see, the Negative Income Tax and Basic Income systems produce very similar results. We’re not sure how Negative Income Tax is supposed to do a better job of incentivizing work.

In particular, we can’t make sense of the book’s claim that “Below the cutoff point in the example…every dollar earned still increases total income by $1.50.” Using their own numbers it seems that every dollar earned below the cut off point only earns $0.50.

There are real potential advantages to a Negative Income Tax: most importantly that it can more easily be implemented using existing infrastructure, a fact which McAfee/Brynjolfsson do acknowledge in the book. We happen to think this particular advantage vastly outweighs any theoretical premium on work.

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010: What Will Remain Scarce in the Future?



In this week’s podcast, we do the thought experiment of what happens in a theoretically super-abundant future: what things remain scarce and still retain economic value? Further, as we approach that point, where are the safe areas to try to find work?

We list all the scarce goods we can think of in four categories: scarcities of time such as Attention, Convenience, First Release, Novel Real-time Experiences, Originals, Potential, scarcity of space such as Land, scarcities of matter like Computation and Raw Materials, and scarcities of what we call human interaction like Empathy, Goodwill, Belonging, Privacy, and Status.

Please help us add to or defeat the items on this list. What are we missing?

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