This might sound unlikely at first, and it won’t be felt right away. But it’s important to realize that when we look at the Internet of Things, we’re seeing a technology, or rather a technological system, that will not just pose challenges for governments, but change them completely. In all of history, there has never been anything like the constant and intimate feedback loop that the Internet of Things is creating between citizens and whoever is on the other end of their data.
The conclusion I couldn’t escape is that the Internet of Things will be the most powerful political tool we’ve ever created. For democracies, the Internet of Things will transform how we as voters affect government — and how government touches (and tracks) our lives. Authoritarian governments will have their own uses for it, some of which are already appearing. And for everyone, both citizens and leaders, it’s important to realize where it could head long before we get there.
This next Internet is going to make Big Data truly gargantuan, with real consequences for our political lives. Instead of small survey samples with noticeable error margins and carefully worded questions, the device networks will generate many details about our lives — all the time. The end result will not be a stream of data, it will be a tsunami of information that will offer governments and politicians overwhelming evidence about our real-world behavior, not just our attitudes and aspirations.
From a political perspective, this is a radical change.
The basis of a democracy is voluntary civic engagement: A person’s participation in setting government policy is intentional and a matter of choice. In democracies, citizens express their preference through activism and voting. Historically, governments and politicians eager to do a good job interpreting citizen intent also relied on opinion polls, conversations with civic groups, social science research, and huge record-keeping projects like the census. Politicians have long tried to interpret citizen intent and manipulate it through rhetoric and campaign tricks.
But pervasive device networks will change the rules, making voluntary conversations among elected officials, political parties, lobbyists and civic groups less important than the plethora of near-perfect data generated by the objects around us. Occasional activism and petition-signing will be overshadowed by volumes of behavioral information cleverly extracted from the Internet of Things.
2. Podcasts Are Saving NPR
Seriously, so many good podcasts. Marketplace, Invisibilia, This American Life, RadioLab, Note to Self, Serial, Actuality, On the Media….
For the first time in six years, National Public Radio, better known as NPR, is on track to break even financially thanks in part to the rising popularity of podcasts.
While the nonprofit’s stations are primarily dependent on federal funding, corporate sponsorship, and individual donations to stay on the air, the company has suffered from deficits and leadership changes in the past few years, leading to cutbacks and layoffs of its talented staff. But not this year. Along with some steps to reduce costs and develop new strategies, the Internet is helping to save the radio star.
NPR president and CEO Jarl Mohn first shared the news with The Associated Press. A longtime radio and TV executive, Mohn told the AP that podcasts are attracting younger listeners to the network, but not because it’s altering its message—just its medium.
“We don’t have to change the essence of who we are to get a younger audience. We just need to tell great stories,” Mohn told the AP.
This is a pretty big deal—NPR, founded in 1970, stands as one of the great American symbols of old media, along with network television and print newspapers. But even as new media upstarts have rapidly accumulated millions of dollars in venture capital to “disrupt” those stodgy incumbents, NPR has held steady, making inroads with younger audiences and new revenue opportunities. For NPR, evolving with listeners’ changing choice of platform has allowed the company not just to adapt to the new digital media era, but to thrive, at least for now.
3. A World Without Work
No TL;DR. It’s a long piece worth reading.
Futurists and science-fiction writers have at times looked forward to machines’ workplace takeover with a kind of giddy excitement, imagining the banishment of drudgery and its replacement by expansive leisure and almost limitless personal freedom. And make no mistake: if the capabilities of computers continue to multiply while the price of computing continues to decline, that will mean a great many of life’s necessities and luxuries will become ever cheaper, and it will mean great wealth—at least when aggregated up to the level of the national economy.
But even leaving aside questions of how to distribute that wealth, the widespread disappearance of work would usher in a social transformation unlike any we’ve seen. If John Russo is right, then saving work is more important than saving any particular job. Industriousness has served as America’s unofficial religion since its founding. The sanctity and preeminence of work lie at the heart of the country’s politics, economics, and social interactions. What might happen if work goes away?
he U.S. labor force has been shaped by millennia of technological progress. Agricultural technology birthed the farming industry, the industrial revolution moved people into factories, and then globalization and automation moved them back out, giving rise to a nation of services. But throughout these reshufflings, the total number of jobs has always increased. What may be looming is something different: an era of technological unemployment, in which computer scientists and software engineers essentially invent us out of work, and the total number of jobs declines steadily and permanently.
This fear is not new. The hope that machines might free us from toil has always been intertwined with the fear that they will rob us of our agency. In the midst of the Great Depression, the economist John Maynard Keynes forecast that technological progress might allow a 15-hour workweek, and abundant leisure, by 2030. But around the same time, President Herbert Hoover received a letter warning that industrial technology was a “Frankenstein monster” that threatened to upend manufacturing, “devouring our civilization.” (The letter came from the mayor of Palo Alto, of all places.) In 1962, President John F. Kennedy said, “If men have the talent to invent new machines that put men out of work, they have the talent to put those men back to work.” But two years later, a committee of scientists and social activists sent an open letter to President Lyndon B. Johnson arguing that “the cybernation revolution” would create “a separate nation of the poor, the unskilled, the jobless,” who would be unable either to find work or to afford life’s necessities.
4. Cybathalon 2016
Ok… The name is not great but the concept is solid. They probably only chose that name because I own the name Ultralympics. Right? Right… Besides, I would suggest that drugs are technology as well.
The Olympic Games are a competition for the fittest and most talented able-bodied humans on Earth. The Paralympic Games are a competition for the fittest and most talented humans on Earth with physical and intellectual disabilities. To compete, paralympians take advantage of assistive systems, some of which are becoming increasingly cybernetic, combining traditional prosthetics with robotics. ETH Zurich and the Swiss National Competence Center of Research in Robotics have an idea of where we can take this.
It’s already the case that the Olympics are heavily influenced by technology. Aside from the 2012 controversy over whether paralympic sprinter Oscar Pistorius had an advantage in his carbon-fiber prosthetic legs, there are continual incremental advances in drag-reducing suits for swimmers and runners. Any event which requires hardware (shooting, archery, cycling, and so forth) is only going to become more heavily skewed towards tech, as human performance improvements will inevitably be eclipsed by technology, simply because it’s a lot easier to improve technology than it is to improve humans.
The athletes who have benefited the most from technology are arguably paralympians, who have a significantly heavier dependence on tech, and therefore more to gain as tech improves. Things like prosthetics are transitioning from passive systems to active ones, capable of sensing a user’s intent (through nerve or brain interfaces) and use motors and actuators to more effectively replace a real limb. The goal right now is to be able to provide capabilities similar to that of a human limb, but eventually, we’ll transcend biology, which is part of the reason why we need an entirely new type of competition.
The Cybathlon is a championship for racing pilots with disabilities (i.e. parathletes) who are using advanced assistive devices including robotic technologies. The competitions are comprised by different disciplines that apply the most modern powered knee prostheses, wearable arm prostheses, powered exoskeletons, powered wheelchairs, electrically stimulated muscles and novel brain-computer interfaces. The assistive devices can include commercially available products provided by companies, but also prototypes developed by research labs. There will be two medals for each competition, one for the pilot, who is driving the device, and one for the provider of the device. The event is organized on behalf of the Swiss National Competence Center of Research in Robotics (NCCR Robotics).
“You can tell whether a man is clever by his answers. You can tell whether a man is wise by his questions.” (Naguib Mahfouz)
If you were forwarded this newsletter and enjoyed it, please subscribe here: https://tinyletter.com/peopleinpassing
I hope that you’ll read these articles if they catch your eye and that you’ll learn as much as I did. Please email me questions, feedback or raise issues for discussion. Better yet, if you know of something on a related topic, or of interest, please pass it along. And as always, if one of these links comes to mean something to you, recommend it to someone else.