Douglas Coupland has done so much more than name a generation (“Generation X”—post-Boomer, pre-Millennial, from his novel of that name). He is a prolific writer (22 books, including nonfiction such as his biography of Marshall McLuhan) and a brilliant visual artist with installations at a variety of museums and public sites. His 1995 novel Microserfs nailed the contrast between corporate and startup cultures in software and Web design.
Coupland is fascinated by time. For Long Now he plans to deploy ideas and graphics “all dealing on some level with time and how we perceive it, how we used to perceive it, and where our perception of it may be going.” A time series about time.
On Thursday October 13th at the SFJAZZ Center, the digital news outlet Quartz is producing a one day conference called “The Next Billion“, and have offered Long Now Members a 40% discount.
The Next Billion is a metaphor for the future of the internet — mobile, global, exponential growth in emerging markets, as well as the growth of next level tech in more mature markets. At The Next Billion conference, they’ll explore how networked innovation in every sector is transforming business, society and opportunity across the globe.
If you are interested in purchasing a ticket and would like the discount code, please write into firstname.lastname@example.org with your member number and we’ll be happy to help you.
In 01996: The Long Now Foundation was established to foster long-term thinking and responsibility in the framework of the next 10,000 years.
In 02007: The Long Now Foundation’s Membership program was launched. The list of our 1,000 Charter Members is here.
In celebration of Long Now’s 20th anniversary our Member Summit will be a day dedicated to long-term thinking. We will have components of the 10,000 Year Clock on display–which will later be installed in West Texas.
Our staff will give updates on our projects (including the Clock). Long Now founders and Board will be on stage, but we’ll also have talks & discussions led by Long Now members, hundreds of whom will travel to San Francisco for this event.
The Interval at Long Now, our bar/cafe/museum, will be at the center of the Summit. The Interval is full of Long Now-related information & artifacts, including Clock of the Long Now prototypes, passenger pigeons, thousands of books, and the art of Brian Eno.
There’s much more–dinner from Off The Grid food trucks, drinks from The Interval menu, a festival of short films about long-term thinking co-curated by our members, and more. Tickets are still available.
Join us at the Summit and help celebrate the first 20 years of Long Now!
Cities and urban regions can make coherent sense, can metabolize efficiently, can use their very complexity to solve problems, and can become so resilient they “bounce forward” when stressed.
In this urbanizing century ever more of us live in cities (a majority now; 80% expected by 2100), and cities all over the world are learning from each other how pragmatic governance can work best. Jonathan Rose argues that the emerging best methods focus on deftly managing “cognition, cooperation, culture, calories, connectivity, commerce, control, complexity, and concentration.”
Unlike most urban theorists and scholars, Rose is a player. A third-generation Manhattan real estate developer, in 1989 he founded and heads the Jonathan Rose Company, which does world-wide city planning and investment along with its real estate projects–half of the work for nonprofit clients. He is the author of the new book, THE WELL-TEMPERED CITY: What Modern Science, Ancient Civilizations, and Human Nature Teach Us About the Future of Urban Life.
We have received an email from Jill Tarter, former director of the Center for SETI research, on a new outreach on behalf of the Breakthrough Listen Initiative. They want to hear from the general public on their ideas for new approaches for finding evidence of extraterrestrial technological civilizations. They are looking for 1 page descriptions, with specific attention paid to:
Descriptions that reach Jill Tarter by 15 August, 2016 will be incorporated into the subcommittee’s deliberations later that week. Please send your approach to email@example.com.
Thursday July 14, 02016 – San Francisco
In Kevin Kelly’s view, a dozen “inevitable” trends will drive the next 30 years of digital progress. Artificial smartnesses, for example, will be added to everything, all quite different from human intelligence and from each other. We will tap into them like we do into electricity to become cyber-centaurs — co-dependent humans and AIs. All of us will need to perpetually upgrade just to stay in the game.
Every possible display surface will become a display, and study its watchers. Everything we encounter, “if it cannot interact, it is broken.” Virtual and augmented reality (VR and AR) will become the next platform after smartphones, conveying a profound sense of experience (and shared experience), transforming education (“it burns different circuits in your brain”), and making us intimately trackable. “Everything that can be tracked will be tracked,” and people will go along with it because “vanity trumps privacy,” as already proved on Facebook. “Wherever attention flows, money will follow.”
Access replaces ownership for suppliers as well as consumers. Uber owns no cars; AirBnB owns no real estate. On-demand rules. Sharing rules. Unbundling rules. Makers multiply. “In thirty years the city will look like it does now. We will have rearranged the flows, not the atoms. We will have a different idea of what a city is, and who we are, and how we relate to other people.”
In the Q&A, Kelly was asked what worried him. “Cyberwar,” he said. “We have no rules. Is it okay to take out an adversary’s banking system? Disasters may have to occur before we get rules. We’re at the point that any other civilization in the galaxy would have a world government. I have no idea how to do that.”
Kelly concluded: “We are at the beginning of the beginning—the first hour of day one. There have never been more opportunities. The greatest products of the next 25 years have not been invented yet.”
“You are not late.”
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Seth Lloyd is a professor at MIT whose areas of research include quantum information and quantum computing. He will discuss the current state of quantum computer progress, where it stands in life’s long process of comprehending and harnessing information in the universe, and what the prospects are for the field over the next few decades.
Lappajärvi has caught the attention of safety case experts working on radioactive waste management company Posiva Oy’s underground dump for used-up nuclear fuel at Olkiluoto, Western Finland. These experts are tasked with predicting how Posiva’s repository will interact with the region’s rocks, groundwater, ecosystems, and populations throughout nuclear waste’s multi-millennial time spans of dangerous radioactivity. From 02012 to 02014, I spent thirty-two months in Finland conducting anthropological research on how safety case experts see the world, how they relate to one another, and how they reckon with various spans of time in their professional lives.
When I returned to my home institution Cornell University in August 02014, I wrote a three-article series for NPR’s Cosmos & Culture blog. In it I described how safety case experts envisioned Finnish landscapes changing over the next ten thousand years. I explained how they study a present-day ice sheet in Greenland and a uranium deposit in Southern Finland as analogues to help them think about Finland’s far future ice sheets and nuclear waste deposits. I suggested that, in this moment of global environmental uncertainty some call the Anthropocene, it becomes a pressing societal task to embrace long-termist “deep time thinking.”
I continue this line of thought here by exploring how safety case experts study prehistoric places – like Lappajärvi crater-lake – to forecast how Finland will change one million years hence. I present these prehistoric places as tools for imagining distant future worlds. I advocate that societies at large use these tools to do intellectual exercises, imagination workouts, or thought experiments to cultivate their own deep time thinking skills. Doing so is crucial on a damaged planet wracked by environmental crisis.
Safety case experts make mathematical models of how the Olkiluoto repository might endure or fall apart in the extreme long-term. They assess the nuclear waste dump’s physical strengths. This is the crux of their work. However, they also develop more qualitative, speculative, quirky approaches in their Complementary Considerations report. A hodgepodge of scientific evidence and PR tools aimed at persuading various audiences of the facility’s safety, this report plays a supporting role in their broader safety argument. And it contains a fascinating thought experiment: a section called “The Evolution of the Repository System Beyond A Million Years in the Future” (p197-200).
Safety case experts also use prehistoric Littleham mudstone in Devon, England as a tool for forecasting Finland’s far futures. In Devon one can find copper that has survived over 170 million years without corroding away. The copper was long encased in the sedimentary rock. Complementary Considerations predicts a similar fate for the huge copper canisters Posiva will use to secure Finland’s nuclear waste. It also suggests that – because Littleham mudstone is more abrasive to copper than is the bentonite clay to surround Posiva’s canisters – the canister copper might see even rosier futures.
Safety case experts see the distant pasts of mudstone and copper in England as tools for envisioning the distant futures of bentonite and canisters in Finland. They see the distant pasts of a Southern Ostrobothnian crater-lake as tools for envisioning the distant futures of an Olkiluoto repository’s local geology. Deep time forecasts are, in this way, made through techniques of analogy. Visions of far future worlds emerge from analogies across time (extrapolating from long pasts to reckon long futures) and analogies across space (extrapolating across distant locales sometimes thousands of miles apart).
Yet, as safety case experts and their critics both cautioned me, one should not take these deep time analogies too seriously. There are, of course, limits to what, say, native copper in mudrock in Devon can really tell us about manufactured copper pieces in clayin Olkiluoto. Differences between repository conditions and these prehistoric places are, for many, simply too vast to make reasonable analogies between them.
But I am only half-interested in whether these techniques ought to persuade us of Posiva’s repository’s safety. I let the engineers, geologists, chemists, metallurgists, ecosystems modelers, and regulatory authorities sort that out. Instead, I find a unique intellectual opportunity in them. I wonder: can safety case experts’ techniques be retooled to help populations reposition their everyday lives within broader horizons of time? Can farsighted organizations like The Long Now Foundation help inspire general long-term thinking?
One does not have to be a Nordic nuclear waste expert to benefit from the deep time toolkits I present here. An educated public can too reflect on how analogical reasoning can stretch one’s imaginative horizons further forward and backward across time. For example, many drive through rural regions where stratigraphic rock layers are visible on highways carved into rocky hills. When doing so, why not visualize what the surrounding landscape might have looked like in each of the past times the rock faces’ layers respectively represent? Are the imageries that come to mind drawn from forest, mountain, desert, or snowy environments out there in the world today? What analogical resources did your mind tap to imagine distant past worlds? What might these landscapes’ far futures look like if they were to have, say, Sahara-like conditions? What about Amazonian rainforest-like conditions?
Scenes in which radically long time horizons enter practical planning, policy, or regulatory projects – with Finland’s nuclear waste repository safety case work as but one example – can be sources of tools, techniques, and inspiration for thinking more creatively across wider time spans. And groups that advocate long-termism like The Long Now Foundation have a key role to play in disseminating these tools, techniques, and inspirations publically in this moment of planetary uncertainty.
Vincent Ialenti is a National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellow and a PhD Candidate in Cornell University’s Department of Anthropology. He holds an MSc in “Law, Anthropology & Society” from the London School of Economics.
Monday June 20, 02016 – San Francisco
Deciding when to stop your quest for the ideal apartment, or ideal spouse, depends entirely on how long you expect to be looking, says Brian Christian. The first one you check will be the best you’ve seen, but it’s unlikely to be the best you’ll ever see. So you keep looking and keep finding new bests, though ever less frequently, and you start to wonder if maybe you refused the very best you’ll ever find. And the search is wearing you down. When should you take the leap and look no further?
The answer from computer science is precise: 37% of the way through your search period. If you’re spending a month looking for an apartment, you should calibrate (and be sorely tempted) for 11 days, and then you should grab the next best-of-all you find. Likewise with the search for a mate. If you’re looking from, say, age 18 to 40, the time to shift from browsing and having fun to getting serious and proposing is at age 26.1. (However, if you’re getting lots of refusals, “propose early and often” from age 23.5. Or, if you can always go back to an earlier prospect, you could carry on exploring to age 34.4.)
This “Optimal Stopping” is one of twelve subjects examined in Christian’s (and co-author Tom Griffiths’) book, Algorithms to Live By. (The other subjects are: Explore/Exploit; Sorting; Caching; Scheduling; Bayes‘ Rule; Overfitting; Relaxation; Randomness; Networking; Game Theory; and Computational Kindness. An instance of Bayes’ Rule, called the Copernican Principle, lets you predict how long something of unknown lifespan will last into the future by assuming you’re looking at the middle of its duration—hence the USA, now 241 years old, might be expected to last through 2257.)
Christian went into detail on the Explore/Exploit problem. Optimism minimizes regret. You’ve found some restaurants you really like. How often should you exploit that knowledge for a guaranteed good meal, and how often should you optimistically take a chance and explore new places to eat? The answer, again, depends partly on the interval of time involved. When you’re new in town, explore like mad. If you’re about to leave a city, stick with the known favorites.
Infants with 80 years ahead are pure exploration— they try tasting everything. Old people, drawing on 70 years of experience, have every reason to pare the friends they want to spend time with down to a favored few. The joy of the young is discovering. The joy of the old is relishing.
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Since the mid-01980s Kevin Kelly has been creating, and reporting on, the digital future. His focus is the long-term trends and social consequences of technology. Kelly’s new book, THE INEVITABLE: Understanding the 12 Technological Forces That Will Shape Our Future, is a grand synthesis of his thinking on where technology is heading in the next few decades, and how we can embrace it to maximize its benefits, and minimize its harms.
Kevin Kelly is the founding executive editor of Wired magazine and is a founding board member of The Long Now Foundation.
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