Archive March 2012

Thinking Jobs in the Future Robert Hickson Mar 23


Writing on the Atlantic’s website, Alan Jacobs notes the error in assuming today’s leisure activities will be tomorrow’s jobs. In particular he argues that it is a fallacy that most jobs will involve searching and assimilating data (I could also add that machines may replace people in collating and analysing data).

Alan challenges the thesis of Malcolm Gladwell’s book Blink: The power of thinking without thinking. He states

… patience and self-reflectiveness are going to be in much shorter supply than quickness of judgment.

Of course in some situations (like a power grid about to go offline) you do want quick judgement and action. But in other cases more information may not make the situation clearer or suggest an appropriate response. So reasoning and reflection are the skills we need to improve not just how to do a better search.

Gaming the system Robert Hickson Mar 18


In an earlier post I noted the emergence of game playing to solve real world problems. As you may expect, Silicon Valley is establishing companies to do this. One is Innovation Games. They are already working with some large multinational companies to help improve strategy and determine which products to focus on, as well as using games for more mundane things like figure out how to prioritise. But what caught my eye was how they are also using some of their games to get communities more involved in helping identify budget priorities for local governments. They have blogged about one initiative in San Jose, CA.

The most surprising result was that participants voted to increase taxes (to help, among other things, fix the footpaths), contradicting a widespread belief. They were also restrained in their spending (meaning that didn’t blow the budget). Only a small number of people (87) played, and these were already motivated and engaged community leaders and citizens. I’d expect you’d get something messier if you  dragged enticed people in off the street. The San Jose council has indicated that they’ll take note of the games results in their Budget deliberations.

Gaming to entice public participation isn’t new, it’s just getting more sophisticated. Last year Landcare Research, in association with the Institute for the Future and a friend of mine, tried out the Foresight Engine to generate ideas for a future for Christchurch.

What interests me about Innovation Games is the effort they invest in facilitating some of their games. They aren’t just gimmicks.  The San Jose game included council experts who could answer questions about the impact of decisions. So the decisions weren’t uninformed, and game players had to negotiate with each other to agree on priorities and budgets.

It would be worthwhile trying out similar approaches here. It is often lamented that we don’t have good discussions about important issues and that decisions can be influenced too much by perceptions or myths. Games of the type employed by Innovation Games and others may help us break through to that level.

What say we use gaming to have a more productive discussion about whether and what state assets to sell, and if sold what to use the sale proceeds for?

Or as a way to get more New Zealander’s interested and engaged with the Constitutional Review?

Or something perhaps closer to SciBlogs readers hearts, and timely with the creation of the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment – How much and how should we invest taxpayers money in research for economic, environmental and social good. (I’m taking as a starting position that tax dollars should be invested in what used to be called research, science and technology).

The point isn’t to let “the public” decide, but to get us all more informed and engaged in big national decisions. Crowd sourcing sites like iPredict don’t have that function.

Upload my brain? Robert Hickson Mar 01


Another self-made man (and it always seems to be men) is throwing money at digitizing the mind. Dmitry Itskov, a young media entrepreneur, has announced he  is recruiting a team of scientists to, within the next decade no less, transplant human consciousness into a robot. After that it will, he hopes, be a short step to downloading minds so we can all live forever. Unimaginatively he calls the project “Avatar”.

As I noted in one of my first postings, digitising the mind is becoming de rigeur for technophile futurists. They happily gloss over the woeful state of our current understanding of how the brain, and mind, work. The conference where Mr Itskov’s announcement was made (and he organised) seems to be the typical gathering of like-minded techno-optimists (with a yogi thrown in for diversity and spiritual credibility) common  for some classes of futurists. A good (futures) event for me is where you have a broad range of different views and outlooks, and where the real nutty issues (seldom technological) are debated.

Mr Itskov would like to team up with DARPA, who also have their own less ambitious Avatar project. They just want to develop a system to enable a soldier to team up with a robot.

If wealthy folk like Dmitry Itskov really want to improve longevity, I hope he is also putting some of his money toward improving health care in Russia and elsewhere too.

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