future

VISIONEERS, or how to stop complaining and start fixing global problems

It's not everyday that you get to see the future happening right before your eyes. We're so focused on the day to day, paralyzed by uninformative and amygdala-stimulating news reports, that we rarely allow ourselves to take some time off to think about the future of humanity. The challenges we face today seem so out of our reach, and we feel so insignificant, that even when we do ponder about what's coming next, it's no more than a mere intellectual exercise.

However, there are people who not only think about the future constantly, but proactively make plans on how to improve it, and often deliver on the promises. Last week I was privileged enough to be part of such a group at the XPRIZE VISIONEERING conference in Los Angeles.

xprize

Presenting on the XPRIZE stage.

XPRIZE is the child of my dear friend Peter Diamandis, and what this project has accomplished in just a few years is nothing short of extraordinary. The story goes that Peter's childhood dream was to become an astronaut, but he didn't qualify for NASA's standards of physical aptitude. So he decided he would go to space himself.

Most people would stop at that thought, knowing that it would remain a child's dream and nothing more. Then again, Peter is not like most people. He was so determined to go to space so much that over the past twenty years he almost single-handedly rekindled global interest for space exploration. The 1996 Ansari XPRIZE – a $10-million prize awarded to the first privately financed team that could build and fly a three-passenger vehicle 100 kilometers into space twice within two weeks – was the reason that led Richard Branson to start Virgin Galactic and his private space enterprise, and many say it gave Elon Musk the inspiration to pursue Space X.

xprize

Since then, XPRIZE has become the new standard for disrupting innovation in areas where things had been stagnating for decades, either due to market failures or because of circumstances beyond any individual's control. The concept is simple: put out a $10/$20 million prize for the first team to do X, x being whatever currently unresolved challenge humanity is facing. Many teams compete in a friendly "coopetition", but only the best wins. The genius idea behind this approach is that the total amount of capital spent and value generated is much greater than the prize to be won. Teams collectively spend huge amounts of money, sometimes hundreds of millions of dollars, in the off-chance of taking home the $10 million prize. But in the process, they jumpstart in their country and community an ecosystem of innovation in a sector that had been stagnating for years. The winners will open source their technology for the benefit of all humanity.

xprize

Since its creation, XPRIZE projects include:

  • super-efficient vehicles that achieve 100 MPGe (2.35 liter/100 kilometer) efficiency, produce less than 200 grams/mile well-to-wheel CO2 equivalent emissions, and could be manufactured for the mass market
  • successfully launching, landing, and operating a rover on the lunar surface.
  • doubling the industry's previous best oil recovery rate tested in controlled conditions by exceeding 2500 gallons per minute (with at least 70% efficiency of oil collected over water)
  • a mobile device that can diagnose patients better than or equal to a panel of board certified physicians
  • free Android apps to spread reading, writing, and arithmetic skills, and prove their effectiveness over an 18-month period in African pilot communities

The list keeps growing every year.

So how do they decide what the next XPRIZE is going to be? Every year the team organizes in Los Angeles a two-day retreat called, quite appropriately, VISIONEERING. In the spirit of friendly coopetition, visioneers form teams and compete for the best idea, voting democratically at each stage. Some of these ideas might go on to become the next XPRIZE.

This year I was asked to lead the Future of Work session as visiting expert.

Publishing my first novel, "A Tale of Two Futures"

Almost two years in the making. Finally finished my first novel. This is my Christmas present for you.


What will the future look like, and what can you do to change it?

A Tale of Two Futures is a sci-fi young adult novella that tells the story of an average day in life in two very different futures, one where things have gone terribly wrong, and the other where things have gone amazingly right.

The future will either be beautiful beyond imagination; or dismayingly horrifying, much worse than sci-fi dystopias have prepared us for.

The difference between the two futures lies in the choices we make.

Most people think that the world is too big, too immense for any individual to have an impact, because anything we do is merely a drop in the ocean. But what is an ocean, if not a multitude of drops?

Find out more on the book's page: http://federicopistono.org/books/tale2futures

The book is available for Kindle, iBooks, PDF, and ePub. As always, it's published under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike license and all files are DRM-free.

How Should Humanity Steer the Future? Social Evolution Through Massively Decentralised Distributed Resilient Networks

See video

I entered a Scientific American contest with an essay titled "Social Evolution Through Massively Decentralised Distributed Resilient Networks" on How Should Humanity Steer the Future. Help me win by reading and rating the essay here :D http://fqxi.org/community/forum/topic/2074

Direct link to the PDF file: http://fqxi.org/data/essay-contest-files/Pistono_steer-humanity-futu.pdf

Book Project: http://opensourcesociety.net/

Essay Contest Guidelines: http://fqxi.org/community/essay\

Video link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a7HenehoarY

A Tale of Two Futures

What will the future look like, and what can you do to change it?

A Tale of Two Futures is a sci-fi young adult novella that tells the story of an average day in life in two very different futures, one where things have gone terribly wrong, and the other where things have gone amazingly right.

The future will either be beautiful beyond imagination; or dismayingly horrifying, much worse than sci-fi dystopias have prepared us for.

The difference between the two futures lies in the choices we make.

What people are saying

In a perfect snowing stormy afternoon, I read at once, the genial stratospheric story 'A Tale of Two Futures' by Federico Pistono, who seems to inspire the reader, to choose between two social worlds. The audacious science fiction story transcends you, into a futuristic high tech world, and touches the sun, with beautiful immortal violin and piano notes.
—Maria Altschuler

Introduction

The more you know about science, the harder it becomes to write good science fiction. Anyone can take an idea, maybe inspired by some Hollywood sci-fi blockbuster, grab a laptop, start typing, and make stuff up along the way. If you understand a little bit about science, technology, and most of all society, you’ll realise that there aren’t many credible science fiction stories around (with some notable exceptions).

We have a very bad record of predicting the future. Almost anything written before the 1970s offers no suggestion of the possibility of the emergence of the Internet, or anything that resembles it – which is one of the most remarkable events in history, and certainly the most relevant of the last 40 years. There are countless stories, set at least a century from now, that still have people driving cars and working 9-5. There may be noiseless flying cars, using some miraculous technology currently unimaginable, but you can be sure that humans are still driving them.

Typically, science fiction stories are not about the future. In reality, they are stories about the present, plus some fancy new gadgets. Yet, fundamentally speaking, three things remain unchanged: the human condition that has dominated most cultures so far (competition, jealousy, and the search for power), labour for income, and the infinite growth paradigm.
I understand that it’s easier to have familiar elements in the story to facilitate the connection between the characters and the reader. One needs to identify with the people and the stories to feel empathy, to be captured, to be drawn into the universe of the book. That’s alright if you write historical novels, or if you want to indulge your readers with fantasy stories. But if you write science fiction, I think this approach is a cop out.

If we want to show how humanity may evolve, if we want to inspire our fellow humans to create a better version of society, we must transcend our present condition. And while many might think that this implies cognitive enhancements, cyborgs, or even mind-uploading and the transcendence of the body altogether; I think those are neither necessary, nor sufficient conditions (and perhaps not even desirable) in order to achieve real transcendence.
It’s our intention, our purpose, that drives us. It’s our purpose that makes us proactively do things, rather than be driven by inertia. And depending on the purpose we have, depending on the goals we set for ourselves, results may vary substantially.

In a linear and mostly predictable world, the worst that can happen is usually not that bad, and one has the time to remediate. But in an exponentially changing and chaotic environment, a few misaligned steps at the beginning might result in a horrifying, terrible future; and the errors we make will be exponentially more difficult to fix.
And so it is my goal to present you with (what I think are) two plausible futures, given where we are now and what we know today. They are parallel stories, set in a pre-singularity world, a few decades from now.

Beware that these two stories do not follow the usual Campbellian monomyth of the hero’s journey, described by Joseph Campbell in The Hero with a Thousand Faces as follows: “A hero ventures forth from the world of common day into a region of supernatural wonder: fabulous forces are there encountered and a decisive victory is won: the hero comes back from this mysterious adventure with the power to bestow boons on his fellow man”. Almost every story – from Star Wars to Harry Potter, from The Matrix to The Lord of The Rings – follows this basic pattern. If that is what you’re expecting from this book, then you should stop reading now, or else you’re in for a disappointment.

I decided not to follow the monomyth structure. There is no call to adventure, no trial and quest, no unexpected turn of events, no ascension, no apotheosis, and no atonement. An acute reader might ask themselves why in the galaxy have I decided to commit a novelist’ suicide, and diverge from the typical narrative structure that works so well, and generally sells accordingly. The answer is simple: the raison d’être of this book is to show a realistic, average day in a life, in two diverging futures, without false pretences or literary stretches (well, not too many).

My aim is to attempt to show credible scenarios with which anyone can identify, however foreign or far-fetched they might look at first. Please note that I don’t think the real future will be like the ones I’m describing. I would be mad to believe that I could foresee exactly how things will unfold. I am merely presenting you with a perspective, something to think about, which might influence your decisions; and this in turn will become part of the system of feedbacks loop that truly governs everything that happens.

I can’t tell you what do to, or even how. But I can show you something you might not have thought about before. My feeling is that both the dystopias and the utopias usually presented in popular culture are really quite underwhelming, no more than a pallid shadow of what could actually happen. In other words, I believe the future will either be beautiful beyond imagination; or dismayingly horrifying, much worse than sci-fi dystopias have prepared us for.

The choice is up to us all.

Most people think that the world is too big, too immense for any individual to have an impact, because anything we do is merely a drop in the ocean. But what is an ocean, if not a multitude of drops?

The book is available for Kindle, iBooks, PDF, and ePub. As always, it's published under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike license and all files are DRM-free.

Syndicate content