Tag Archives: society

Nominate Joshua Harris for Director of MIT!

Okay, here’s something of a guest-post. I got a message a few days ago from someone who I’m reasonably convinced is actually Joshua Harris – subject of the movie We Live In Public, which I mentioned a while ago. Why am I convinced that this out-of-the-blue contact is from the actual Josh Harris and not some imposter pulling my leg? Well, I don’t think an imposter could pull off the degree of chutzpah on display here; you see, Joshua Harris wants me – and all of the rest of you, too – to nominate him for the post of Director at MIT’s Media Lab.

No, seriously. Here’s his message to you, verbatim:

dear futurismic readers:

my name is josh harris and i build human chicken factories of the future (or what i call The Wired City).  the idea is to build the future out as far in advance as possible NOW so that we will gain perspective on the world that we are walking into 15 years from now.

i figure any loyalish futurismic reader can extrapolate where The Wired City is headed so i’ll leave that to your imagination and comments.  if elected as the new Director of the MIT Media Lab i promise to hear any and all futurismic reader ideas and suggestions.

read/view the links below, if it what i am saying makes sense to you then by all means please nominate me for Director of the MIT Media Lab.  and pass the word along.


josh harris candidate – Director, MIT Media Lab

Here’s some contextual content for you to browse through, as supplied by Harris himself:

(For my money, the TechCrunch link at the top is the one that’ll get you up to speed quickest.)

And here’s the blurb from a one-sheet run-down on the Wired City project:


(The Internet Television Network)

The Wired City (TWC) orchestrates millions of hours of audience “self surveillance” into a hierarchical system that generates compelling broadcast and netcast quality programming.

Key production elements of The Wired City include:

  • Real-time chat video switching (next generation social graph).
  • 24/7 netcasting studios that efficiently process mass data signals generated by the audience.
  • Massive multiplayer online gaming element (winning audience members get to live on set and get special powers and privileges).
  • Hollywood style production values produced by and for netcasting audiences.
  • Hearts and minds.  Audience members are letting each other into their homes and lives (the camera is turned on them).
  • Bonafication.  Audience members get their 15 minutes of fame every day.
  • 1 million hours of net generated programming is distilled into one hour of prime time broadcast programming, every day.

Key commerce elements of The Wired City include:

  • Micro aggregation of mass audiences returning broadcast quality CPM revenues.
  • A more direct relationship/bond between audience and sponsors.
  • Coordination of mass audiences as tastemakers and influencers generates traction with sponsors.

Relevant Professional Background – Josh Harris

  • CEO – Operator11 Exchange Corporation (2006 – 2007): Web 3.0 Internet television network.
  • We Live In Public, LLC (2000 -2001): Art project designed to dramatically produce home surveillance (subsequent film won Sundance Grand Jury Prize for documentary in 2009).
  • Quiet (1999): Art project as net studio prototype of The Wired City (compared to Truman Capote’s “Black and White Party” by MOMA NYC).
  • CEO and Founder Pseudo Programs, Inc. (1994 -1998): Internet television network.
  • CEO and Founder Jupiter Communications (1986 – 1994): Internet research and consulting (went public 1999).

And here’s the MIT action that Harris wants to combine with his Wired City idea: a computer system that can precisely identify mouse behaviour patterns from camera footage. In real-time.

If you have no idea who Joshua Harris is, then I’d suggest you should find out; his is a pretty fascinating story, whichever way you look at it. Those of you who do know who he is are either thinking “hell yeah, give the guy the job!” or “giving him that job would be madness of the highest order”… or possibly both at once, which is the camp in which I find myself. There’s no doubt at all that Harris is a loose cannon of prodigious proportions, but it’s also impossible to deny that he saw the rise of the soc-net participatory panopticon and the ultimate ethical outer limits of “reality” television programming long before either actually existed, and he made that vision an undiluted (and pretty terrifying) reality.

He’s a smart guy, possibly dangerously so, but it’s dangerous intelligence that has the best chance of thinking outside the cliches and seeing the futures that we don’t want to imagine; partner Harris with the MIT boffins to regulate the more extreme ethical weirdness, and The Wired City could be a crucial experimental window into our ubicomp-everyware-lifelogged near-future, a Stanford Prison Experiment for the twenty-teens… not to mention a form of reality television more deserving of the name.

I have no idea whether MIT would even honour a mass nomination of Harris to the directorship of the Media Lab or not… but I went and nominated the guy anyway, because I’m a sucker for visionary outliers, and because discovering the surprisingly unknown story of the Quiet project totally blew my mind. If you’re a sucker for mad genius too, or if you think we should be experimenting more boldly with the effects of complete mediation of the human experience, maybe you should nominate him too.

To nominate Joshua Harris for Director of MIT’s Media Lab, go to this webpage, enter your own information as nominator, and the following for Harris as nominee:

  • Name: Joshua Harris
  • Phone:  310 801-2294
  • Email: mjluvvy@gmail.com

[ Yes, I am taking this at face value; no, this is not a joke post. ]

The greys are coming! From generation gap to economic turf-war

Props to George Dvorsky for flagging up this Salon interview with Ted C Fishman, promoting his new book Shock Of Gray, which is all about the recent rapid increases in human longevity, and the knock-on effects of such. Perhaps we’ll finally shake off our geographical differences only to get caught up in an economic tug of war between the elderly and the young:

As baby boomers start to approach the age of 65 in large numbers, do you foresee a civil rights movement for older adults, given that generation’s history of activism?

There might be a civil rights movement, but people won’t recognize it as a civil rights movement. They’ll see it as an economic turf war. When you get the resources of a society, you get the respect. You can see this in Europe right now, where the population is somewhat older than it is here. The debt crisis has really caused a huge and quick reckoning with the crisis in pension funding and hundreds of thousands of people are coming into the street. They made promises to themselves and now they find that they can’t keep those promises. In some ways, they’re battling their past selves.

But they feel like they are fighting a younger generation.

Yeah, I think that’s right. But in the long run the battle will not be for who gets what share of the public financing. It will be a more traditional civil rights issue, which is: Evaluate me on my abilities and my skills, not on my weaknesses. The older population is a hugely diverse one. If the image of an older person is going to be exclusively that of an enabled, sharp, cognitively with-it, older person who can work into their 70s and 80s, then we’re ignoring a huge part of the population that will need our help.

Not exactly a new idea, but one that probably isn’t getting the attention it deserves; longevity is kind of sneaking up on us while we bicker about other matters.

Here’s an idea that’s new, though, or at least it is to me: longevity as an accelerator of globalisation.

You argue that when wealthy nations started to age, that actually sped up globalization.

Right. Aging economies — Japan and Europe and the United States — are shopping the world for youth. The traditional workplace is changing to drive older people out — the cost of healthcare and pensions weighs very heavily on global companies — and places such as China have a population that it could send to the cities unburdened by age and the cost of age. Globalization really is a function of demographic change. When you go into beat-up, industrial towns you can feel it. You can see that older workers who used to be on the factory are now doing minimum-wage work at big-box stores on the edge of town. And then China has factories that contain tens of thousands of workers, without a single soul that’s over 25 years old. And you think, the only important thing about these workers is their youth.

Unspoken but implicit in that statement is longevity-as-driver-of-immigration. In fact, the more I think about it, the more I wonder whether the widespread tensions over immigration levels aren’t just a convenient proxy for concerns about the economics of greying…

Implanted obsolescence

We privileged early-adopter types are increasingly accustomed to our technology becoming obsolete… but what happens when the technology in question is actually a physically-embedded part of you? Suddenly your upgrade path is a little trickier than hopping on a Boris-Bike and going to your nearest Apple store. Tim Maly points out the risky side of early-adopter human augmentation tech:

On the ground, the realities of the only brain-mounted interface I know of – cochlear implants – are brutal. Here’s a taste: You can’t hear music. For a sense of what that’s like, try these demos. The terrifying truth is that once you’ve signed up for one kind of enhancement (say, the 16 electrode surgery) it’s very hard to upgrade, even if Moore’s law ends up applying to electrode counts and the fidelity of hearing tech.

If you are an early adopter for this kind of thing, the only thing we can say for sure about it is that it’ll be slow and out of date very soon. Unless they find a way to make easily-reversible surgery, your best strategy is to wait for the interface that’s whatever the brain-linkage equivalent is to 300dpi, full colour, high refresh screens.


Medical advancements demand sacrifices. Someone needs to wear the interim devices. Desperation is one avenue for adoption. Artificial hearts are still incomplete and dicey-half measures, keeping people alive while they wait for a transplant or their heart heals. This is where advances in transplants and prosthetics find their volunteers and their motivation for progress. It’s difficult to envision a therapeutic brain implant – they are almost by definition augmentations.

An avenue to irreversible early adoption is arenas where short term enhancement is all that’s required. The military leaps to mind. With enlistment times measured in a few short years, rapid obsolescence of implants doesn’t matter as much; they can just pull virgin recruits and give them the newest, latest. If this seems unlikely, consider that with the right mix of rhetoric about duty and financial incentives, you can get people to do almost anything including join an organization where they will be professionally shot at.

Picture burnt-out veterans of the Af-Pak drone wars haunting the shells of long-deserted strip-malls, sporting rusty cranial jacks for which no one makes the proprietary plugs or software any longer… you can probably torrent some cracked warez that’ll run on your ageing wetware, but who knows what else is gonna be zipped into that self-installing .deb?

Meanwhile, Adam Rothstein brings a bit of Marxist critique to the same issue, and points out that the same problems apply to external augmentations:

It is easy to envision these uncanny lapses between classes occurring when we start fusing bodies with machines, because to imply that our bodies can easily be obsolete machines threatens a certain humanist concept of our bodies as a unifying quality to our species. But we don’t have to start invading the body to find differences that affect our ability to stratify ourselves into classes. If the equilibriums of the relations of production can develop a rift between first and third world without personal technology, between upper class and lower class both before, and as we start to use computers to identify ourselves as class member, why would one not also occur between “cutting-edge” and “deprecated” classes as technology becomes more “personal”–magnetizing that one kernel social structure not yet susceptible to fracture and evolution? At what point will our devices themselves reinforce the equilibriums of choice they themselves provide, by being the motive force for separating individuals into groups? If not by lasting only as long as their minimal service contracts in a planned obsolesce that intensifies the slope of device turnover, then by active means? An app only for the iPhone 8, that can detect models of the iPhone 5 and below–letting you know that you’ve wandered into an area with a “less than savory technological element?” When will emergency services only guarantee that they can respond to data transponder calls, and not voice requests? The local watchman has been phased out, in favor of centrally dispatched patrols that require phones to access. Isn’t it only a matter of time before central dispatch is phased out for distributed drone network policing? The ability to use a computer is a requirement for many jobs. When will the ability to data uplink hands-free be a requirement?

Insert unevenly-distributed-future aphorism here.

Rejoinders to Coupland’s pessimism

Another guest-article in list format from Gen-X prophet of gloom Douglas Coupland has appeared, this one at The Globe & Mail; cue the sort of bleak “it’s all uphill from here” head-shaking that appear to be the man’s stock in trade of late. Some samples:

1) It’s going to get worse

No silver linings and no lemonade. The elevator only goes down. The bright note is that the elevator will, at some point, stop.

Gee, thanks, Doug. I needed that. We all needed that. More coffee, anyone?

14) Something smarter than us is going to emerge

Thank you, algorithms and cloud computing.

The transhumanist lobby see that one as a net positive, provided we’re steering things in the right direction; on days less fraught than this one, I’m usually inclined to do the same.

20) North America can easily fragment quickly as did the Eastern Bloc in 1989

Quebec will decide to quietly and quite pleasantly leave Canada. California contemplates splitting into two states, fiscal and non-fiscal. Cuba becomes a Club Med with weapons. The Hate States will form a coalition.

Old news, whether you listen to sf authors or sociopolitical pundits. Or both.

28) It will become harder to view your life as “a story”

The way we define our sense of self will continue to morph via new ways of socializing. The notion of your life needing to be a story will seem slightly corny and dated. Your life becomes however many friends you have online.

Harder? I think it’ll become easier, because our definition of “story” will shift; indeed, it has already started. At this point I’ll bring in a guest rejoinder from Jeremiah Tolbert’s own responses, which are well worth a read:

Narrative struc­ture didn’t invent itself, you know.  We’ve been struc­tur­ing our expe­ri­ences as story since we could paint on cave walls, or even before.  The idea that our life will instead be how­ever many friends we have online, I just don’t buy it.  It sounds like some­thing Facebook would pitch to ven­ture cap­i­tal­ists, not a real futur­ist pre­dic­tion.  Yes, your social net­work will be impor­tant.  But we’ll define our sense of self by it?  Is there going to be a fun­da­men­tal alter­ation of our brain chem­istry at the same time?

I’d add that Coupland seems to be buying into the persistent but poorly-argued riff about how online ‘friendships’ are devaluing the meaning of friendship itself; again, I think we’re just moving to a point where the spectrum of friendship is becoming wider, more granular. I think we’ll have a similar number of friends to what we’ve always had; ‘friends’ in the Facebook sense are something different entirely, something that people under the age of thirty seem to understand quite instinctively. Don’t let the kids freak you out, Doug.

Back to Coupland:

34) You’re going to miss the 1990s more than you ever thought

Again, I’m with Jeremy – I already miss the nineties a whole lot, and pining for the rootless and jagged freedoms of one’s adolescence is hardly a new development. One suspects Mister Coupland is projecting somewhat. He closes with:

45) We will accept the obvious truth that we brought this upon ourselves

And here, Jeremy hits it out of the park:

I thought this was sup­posed to be a pessimist’s guide?  That’s the most opti­mistic pre­dic­tion about a fun­da­men­tal change in human nature I’ve read yet!

Exactly; if there’s one thing that could really pull our civilisational arse out of the fire, that’s it. It won’t be pleasant while it’s happening, granted, but I’ve long suspected that it’s the key to surviving the crescendo end-phase of the planet-bound stage for intelligent lifeforms.

This is probably old news to people who’ve followed Coupland’s output for longer than I have, but man, he really likes to wallow in that existential angst thing, doesn’t he? Which isn’t to claim that I’m not prone to moping myself (again, the nineties are never far away in this household), but this list is saturated with the same “everything sucks, not least of all being aware of how much everything sucks, and so there’s nothing to do but constantly remind ourselves of how much everything sucks” attitude that so repelled me while reading JPod. In my most secret of hearts* I pride myself on being more cynical and both-sides-of-the-story than most people, but there’s an odd relief in finding that I’m not actually the biggest pessimist on the planet. Perhaps it’s the easing sensation of realising I never had a crown to cling on to?

And just to complete the spectrum, BoingBoing has a guest-post counter-list to Coupland from one Jim Leftwich, whose treacly animated gif of an outlook makes me feel like I’m inhabiting the rational and considered middle-ground for the first time in my life to date.

3) Memes are going mainstream Every day new memes will appear, others will be repeated, remixed, and amplified, and others will fade. Cultural in-jokes will abound. Your grandma will send you image macros for the lulz.

My mother already does; sadly, spending twelve hours a day connected to the internet hive-mind means that I’m about five years ahead of her comprehension thereof. She’s just discovered LOLcats; I now understand how I managed to piss so many people off with them back in 2005**.

5) It’s going to get fresher and tastier The growth in farmers’ markets will make locally grown fresh produce more accessible to more people all the time. Neighborhood and backyard gardens and greenhouses, with heirloom varieties, chickens, and beekeeping combined with a more fun cooking culture will increasingly supplement and in some cases replace processed and commercially prepared foods.

Actually, I’d much rather this worked out than Coupland’s requiem for lettuce. Fingers crossed.

10) You’ll get by and make the best of it Because after all, that’s what most of us do. You can help by connecting to and sharing with the people around you, both locally and in your virtual common interest circles. The stronger we are socially and otherwise interconnected, the more effectively we’ll take on and respond to challenges. Shit happens, but remember to reach out to help when you’re able and receive when it’s necessary. We really are all in this together, regardless of how they slice us up into groups and categories.

Again, agree with the basic premise (“we’ll get by”, I mean – it’s what we do as a species), but I suspect the global village will have to get a lot more fragmented before we reach the point that we realise we’re all the same (ref. item 45, above). But maybe Leftwich is spot on when he says we can make things better if we reach out and help when we’re able to. So, let’s start right now: let’s all think happy thoughts in Doug Coupland’s direction before bundling the poor guy into the office hug machine.

[ * Well, that’s that cover blown, I guess. ]

[ ** Only kidding, Mum, you know I love you. But seriously, forwarding chain emails; not wise. ]

Wired suggests supplementary skill-sets for the 21st Century

Dovetailing rather neatly with Kevin Kelly’s piece on technological literacy last week, Wired has an oddly-formatted but provocative piece that they’ve entitled 7 Essential Skills That You Didn’t Learn In College. Those seven skills are:

All fairly pertinent, and very Futurismic as well… though I’m not sure how “essential” the remix culture aspect is. I’m inclined to think – perhaps uncharitably – that anyone aspiring to be an artist or creator who hasn’t already grasped those basic truths by observing the world around them is never going to get it, no matter how clearly you spell it out for them. Am I being unfair?

It’s a decent enough list, but not exhaustive by any means – what would you add to it? Or, equally, what would you remove?