London Futurists news, 4th Nov 2014

Dear Futurists,

Here is a short set of news items that you might find of interest…

1.) For software developers – interfacing to powerful technology systems

London Futurists has the mission of serious analysis of radical scenarios for the next 3-40 years. But sometimes people ask me: are there projects they can get involved in today, to build interesting new products, using fast-changing powerful technology systems?

In this newsletter, I’m going to briefly mention two options. The first involves Google technology systems, and the other (item 3, below) involves Microsoft technology systems. Both apply particularly to software developers (and to people who want to work closely with software developers).

On the weekend of 15-16 November, GDG London are holding a DevFest at Google’s “Campus London“, 5 Bonhill St, London EC2A 4BX. It’s free to attend, and features a series of presentations by rockstar developers. You can read the details of the speakers here, and the schedule for the whole weekend here. Among the ones that have caught my eye are the following presentations:

  • Introduction to Google Glass and Android Wear
  • Rock it, Roll it, Race it: Building games for Chrome with Google Cloud Platform
  • A very brief introduction to data processing @ Google.

Speakers come from a range of companies, including Shazam, Mozilla Corporation, Motorola Solutions, Sony Computer Entertainment, The Guardian, Games With Brains, and Google.

Although the event is free, it’s essential to register in advance, and I understand that tickets are running out fast. You can use this link to register.

2.) A technical community that is looking for volunteers to help with events

GDG London, mentioned above, are part of the worldwide GDG network – where “GDG” stands for “Google Developer Group”. These are independent groups of developer and hacker enthusiasts. You can read more about this network here.

The reason I mention this is because there’s already a personnel overlap between GDG London and London Futurists. And GDG London are looking for a few extra volunteers:

  • To help run the DevFest menioned above
  • To help grow GDG London over the next 6-12 months.

If you’re looking for a community where you can contribute some of your time to help spread practical knowledge about software technology, you’ll have a chance to indicate your willingness to help, during the registration process for the London DevFest event.

I’ll be personally helping with some tasks at the DevFest, and might see some of you at the check-in desk on the Saturday and/or the Sunday.

3.) Future Decoded Tech Day – Wed 12th November

A set of interesting presenters are speaking at a “Future Decoded” day at London‘s ExCeL centre on Wednesday 12th November:

  • Prof Brian Cox, OBE, Physicist – who will “will take us on a journey into the future, pondering the future of the universe and subjects closer to home such as renewable energy. Brian will open our minds to what the future holds and leave us excited at the opportunities it will bring.”
  • Michael Taylor, IT Director, Lotus F1 Team – “During Michael’s presentation he will reflect on the contributions F1 has made the automotive industry, share his thoughts on some of the most exciting innovations just around the corner and ponder on what the Future of F1 may look like and how his team could develop a competitive edge.”
  • Sir Nigel Shadbolt, Co-founder & Chairman, ODI Open Data Institute – “Nigel draws together this multidisciplinary expertise to focus on understanding how the web is evolving and changing society. He is passionate about how humans and computers can solve problems together at web scale.”
  • Dr David Braben, FR Eng OBE – “Back in the early 80s David co-created the space-trading game Elite which now holds legendary status amongst gamers from that era. Fast forward to current day and Elite is back in the form of Elite Dangerous. David will share some of his history and talk about what the future holds for the game of Elite.”

And that’s just the morning. As you can read here, the afternoon features a set of in-depth technical workshops, on topics such as:

  • Visual Studio for Cross Platform Apps
  • Demystifying Data Discovery & Big Data
  • DevOps – What is it and what can we learn from practitioners?
  • Building Apps in the Cloud
  • Developing Solutions for the Internet of Things

The whole day is being organised by Microsoft, and the sessions in the afternoon explain to developers how to take advantage of Microsoft tools and systems. As such, this “Future Decoded Tech Day” is a kind of parallel to the GDG London DevFest mentioned earlier. (But whereas the GDG event is largely volunteer-driven, this Microsoft event has much more of a corporate flavour.)

Future Decoded is free to attend – but you do need to register in advance, here. If you register and attend, you’ll have a chance to win a Surface Pro 3.

4.) Decentralized Autonomous Organizations (DAOs) – Sat 8th November

Perhaps the above mentions of corporate goliaths Google and Microsoft leave you a bit nervous. Do corporations like these have too much power over us?

You might, therefore, want to check out the technology that is likely to make it easier to form “decentralized autonomous organizations” (DAOs).

As Ethereum CCO Stephan Tual writes, in his description of this Saturday’s London Futurists event “The upcoming decentralization singularity”:

DAOs operate completely transparently without human management, and are no longer subject to voting or other control by their creators or any other stakeholder.

DAOs utilise some of the same revolutionary “blockchain” technology that underlies the Bitcoin cryptocurrency. The implications are potentially very far-reaching:

Ethereum is a worldwide, decentralized singleton in current development with a go live date of March 2015. Ethereum’s promise is to leverage this singleton to build a new web, but without the webservers, and therefore without the middlemen so costly to everyday’s transactions.

Ethereum can be thought of as a programmable distributed network. This has implications going far beyond the seemingly obvious applications such as financing agreements. The fact that decentralized networks, are, by their very design, resistant to tampering and fraud, also permits a range of other solutions to everyday problems regarding identity and verification which are currently solved at great expense. Voting machines, healthcare software, registration of legal documents such as wills, transfer of title to goods and land, reputation systems, and even traffic navigations systems or social networks can be build on a network where users stay in control of their personal information — and funds — at all times.

Because ethereum agents live as independent processing units on a decentralized network, making use of existing services instead of reimplementing basic functionality is common sense. A decentralized version of Ebay could for example interact with an escrow contract, a reputation service, a postal delivery tracking service and a distributed storage layer.

If you’d like to understand more, and become involved in this discussion (from either a sceptical or a supportive standpoint), please RSVP here and come to this meetup.

Note that this event is (like our more recent one) going to take place in UCL, rather than Birkbeck. The logistics details are on the event page.

5.) The dark side of Augmented Reality – Mon 17th November

Several readers have asked me to let them know about events where I’ll be speaking. One of them is at the Augmented Planet event which is being held at Google’s “CampusLondon” on Monday 17th November (which is, as it happens, the day after the above-mentioned GDG London DevFest). The event is looking at the future of “AR” (Augmented Reality). See here for the list of speakers.

Many of the presentations at that event will be looking at positive future for AR. The presentation I will give is, instead, entitled “Anticipating a hostile reception for Augmented Reality”:

The rapid spread of high-powered mobile cameras, coupled to smart computer vision software, could lead to a number of different scenarios in the 2020-2024 timescale. In some of these scenarios, there will be hostile public reaction to augmented reality. People will fear an unprecedented invasion of their privacy, and may organise widespread resistance to new systems. This talk will consider the extent to which any such fears might be justified, and will explore a possible “dark side of AR”. Topics covered include the rate of change, similarities and dissimilarities with the reception of previous waves of technology, the development of social norms, and options for smart tech to prevent misuse of AR systems.

Attendance is free. If you want to attend, click here to register.

6.) Biological immortality and the future of humanity – Fri 7th November

Whereas Augmented Reality is relatively near-term technology, the next event concerns something further afield – something, indeed, that will take most attendees outside of normal comfort zones.

I’ll quote from the Google+ Event page:

On this edition of The Age of Reason special guests David Wood, Roen Horn & Nikola Danaylov will be joining us to discuss the importance of biological immortality for the future of humanity.

This Hangout On Air is being run by a group I haven’t worked with before, so it’s a bit of an experiment for me. However, I’m in great company: Nikola Danaylov runs the highly successful Singularity 1 on 1 weblog. The other panellist, Roen Horn, hosts “The Eternal Life Fan Club”.

This event is an experiment for me in another sense: the timing is advertised as 9pm to 10.30pm Eastern Standard Time on Friday evening. That works out to be 2am to 3.30am UK time on Saturday morning. So I’m not expecting many UK-based London Futurists to listen in real time. But you can catch up with the YouTube recordingafterwards. Readers of this newsletter who are based in the Americas (and I know there are quite a few of you) will find it easier to tune in live.

7.) Transvision review: the social angle to transhumanism – Sat 6th December

Almost every time I talk to groups of people about the potential upsides of accelerating technology, the question arises: “Won’t this technology mainly benefit the people who are already well-off? Shouldn’t we focus instead on solving the problems of the people who are experiencing poverty and malnourishment?”

The Transvision 2014 event that is taking place in Paris on 20-22 November will be spending three days exploring this topic of the social consequences of accelerating technology. Different speakers will be covering a range of questions, including:

  • Among all the issues facing human society, what is the priority of seeking to reduce inequality?
  • Is rapid technological progress likely to increase the problems of inequality, or instead decrease them?
  • Does positive technological development need a movement to organise it – such as a transhumanist or technoprogressive movement – or is it sufficient for people to support individual technological and social initiatives?
  • What should be done to encourage a more positive view, among the general public, towards a transhuman potential?
  • Just as transhumanists believe it will be possible to improve the human body, better than biological evolution has accomplished, will it also be possible to improve the operation of the economy, beyond the performance of the free market?
  • What kind of alliances should transhumanists be building with other progressive, rationalist, activist movements?
  • What can the various different transhumanist and technoprogressive movements around the world learn from each other, and from historical antecedents?

Two weeks after this event, I’ll be giving a 90 minute review of what I see as the highlights of these three days of dialog. If you can’t make it to Paris for 20-22 November, please consider attending our review event on Saturday 6th December. For more details, see here.

8.) The prehistory of London Futurists

That event page, by the way, includes a short history of Transvision conferences, going right back to the very first one, held in Weesp, The Netherlands, 5-7 June 1998. That event was followed by events in Stockholm in 1999 and London in 2000.

The London 2000 gathering – more details here – can perhaps be viewed as the grandfather of all London Futurists events. This is an extract from its website:

TransVision is an annual gathering of (mainly) European transhumanists and other people who are interested in how contemporary & future technological developments could best be used to overcome the biological limitations (including death, disease and unhappiness) of the human condition. Not just the potential  benefits of scientific progress will be discussed, though, but also the very significant dangers of war or accidents with advanced technologies. Topics may include cryonics, sustainable mood enhancement, life extension & food supplements, nanotechnology, AI, mind uploading, the (technological) Singularity, genetic engineering, ‘transhuman’ music and art, smart drugs, wearable computers etc.

Fourteen years later, are we making progress in understanding these topics? I’d like to think so, but there’s still a long way to go!

// David W. Wood
Chair, London Futurists

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