The Gupta Option 2019 – Superstruct field report from the DCAR of the future

May 18, 2009
Vodpod videos no longer available.

Vinay Gupta just forwarded us this lovely report from the future of the DCAR, produced as part of the brilliant Superstruct online futuring game (curated by the Institute for the Future, by the way, whose latest 10 year forecast we have been profiling here).

This is a wonderful piece of future theatre, synthesizing issues of electronic democracy, internally displaced peoples, state failure, and global pandemics.  Scenario planning exercises should all be this fun.

Thanks Vinay!

Advertisements

GPS accuracy could start to drop in 2010

May 17, 2009

gps

A new US GAO report has found that organisational factors in the US Air Force’s contracting and budget management process may result in decreased accuracy or even failure of the global GPS system, starting in 2010.

From the report:

The Global Positioning System (GPS), which provides positioning, navigation, and timing data to users worldwide, has become essential to U.S. national security and a key tool in an expanding array of public service and commercial applications at home and abroad. The United States provides GPS data free of charge. The Air Force, which is responsible for GPS acquisition, is in the process of modernizing GPS. In light of the importance of GPS, the modernization effort, and international efforts to develop new systems, GAO was asked to undertake a broad review of GPS.

The report reviewed the Air Force’s replacement programme for the ageing GPS satellites and that,

“If the Air Force does not meet its schedule goals for development of GPS IIIA satellites, there will be an increased likelihood that in 2010, as old satellites begin to fail, the overall GPS constellation will fall below the number of satellites required to provide the level of GPS service that the U.S. government commits to. Such a gap in capability could have wide-ranging impacts on all GPS users, though there are measures the Air Force and others can take to plan for and minimize these impacts.”

It concludes, “it is uncertain whether the Air Force will be able to acquire new satellites in time to maintain current GPS service without interruption. If not, some military operations and some civilian users could be adversely affected.”

Commentary

We have become so dependent on GPS in many ways over the last 5 to 10 years.  Crowd sourced crisis mapping, rapid disaster response, and large force co-ordination all depend on GPS and location awareness abilities.

I would love to see a scenario play out whereby aid, development and military organisations invest increasing resource on such advanced location aware technologies, only to have them fail or decay.  What would such a scenario look like?

Obviously the US military won’t let the system fail.  A commentary on TidBITS writes that, “even if the satellite constellation drops below 24 satellites, that doesn’t mean that GPS service will fail altogether. It does mean that the level of accuracy that both military and civilian users have become accustomed to – which is actually higher than promised – may degrade significantly.”

Alternative systems also may come online in the coming years.  The EU is developing a civilian GPS system called Galileo, scheduled to come online in 2013, and the Russian GLONOSS system may be repaired as well (the system was developed in 1995, but fell into disrepair due to lack of funds.  It has been promised to come back online by 2010, but there are doubts about this).

It is likely that the US Air Force will fix the system before disruptions become critical.  It is also likely, however given the history of bureaucracy and budgetary inflation at the Pentagon (see the F-111, B-1, or F-15 debacles for case studies), that these repairs won’t be done in a timely or efficient manner, but only at great expense and with great fanfare and inefficiency after the fact.


IFTF 10 year forecast: Civil Society, New Commons

May 5, 2009

newcommons

We continue our series reviewing key themes from The Institute for the Future’s latest 10 year forecast.  In this post, Civil Society: New Commons

The next theme we will be reviewing from the IFTF’s new 10 year forecast is that of culture.  The IFTF writes,

Even as our natural commons seem on the verge of collapse, a host of new commons offer an alternative look at capitalism: a new set of principles for organizing resources to meet the needs of human society in the 21st century.  Geographically agnostic, digitally supported, new commons are emerging as institutional forms that may well provide the resilience necessary for adapting our rapidly changing ecologies.

The IFTF goes on.  “New commons are shared resources that are managed from the bottom up to create new platforms for generating wealth and value – in the spaces between private and public, social and economic, digital and physical.”

Detailed topics include:

  • Identity commons: identity commons provide the tools for individuals to manage their online identities as a publicly accessible but privately maintained resource – freeing personal virtual identities from private Web sites.
  • Learning commons: learning commons generate sustainable resources, such as open-source curricula, open academic journals, and open databases – in response to failing public and private institutions.
  • Money commons: money commons pool financial resources using peer-to-peer strategies as alternative to traditional, more constrained financial instruments.
  • Infrastructure commons: peer-to-peer structures combine with new and old technologies to provide infrastructures that are communally shared and collectively managed.
  • Urban commons: urban commons layer information, media, and networks on the built environment to create new collectively maintained urban civic and cultural spaces.
  • Policy commons: policy commons leverage tools for electronic democracy as well as open-source social solutions platforms to provide richer policy discussions – and options.
  • Food commons: locally supported food production systems focus on biodiversity and genetic variability as a means of fostering sustainable food webs.
  • Biocommons: shared repositories of bio-information, from open pharmacy platforms to genetic genealogy and ethnobotanical databases, provide alternatives to patenting and privatisation of basic forms of life.
  • Health commons: health commons leverage the collective value of health and health care – from health and wellness “mobs” to bottom-up databases of treatment outcomes – to reinvigorate the global health infrastructure.

The Forecasts also includes two examples; Children’s Health Commons and Open Health.  The latter is quite interesting.

Open health is a paradigm shift in the global health economy, drawing on open innovation platforms, new health commons, and new forms of cross-institutional cooperation to create new health strategies and better outcomes at less expense.

From an HFP perspective the latter is particularly interesting.  Concepts such as the “Food commons” and “Infrastructure commons” seem somewhat rosy-eyed and overly optimistic.  Then we reflect on the very real and very “commons”, open sourced nature of projects such as the Appropedia, an open-source wiki for sustainable and appropriate technologies in development.  Appropedia is bottom-up, open sourced, and indeed a smashing example of “Infrastructure commons”.

Might other nascent examples of concepts in this theme already be found amongst us?  Might this not be so rosy-eyed after all?

Next in the series, Politics: Open Source Warfare.


IFTF 10 year forecast: Economics, Islamic Influence

April 30, 2009

economics_islamWe continue our series reviewing key themes from The Institute for the Future’s latest 10 year forecast.  In this post, Economics: Islamic Influence

The Forecast writes, “financial innovation creates new financial instruments – new kinds of mortgages, bonds, insurance, or even currencies, for example – as well as new kinds of capital.”

One in five people in the world is Muslim. Following the laws of Islam, Muslims eschew interest and avoid risk. But Muslim societies are entering into a global economy through new financial products and instruments – sukuk and takaful – that are designed to provide economic opportunities to Muslims in keeping with their faith. For a world in which many financial instruments have recently proven excessively risky, these products may also point to reforms that reach well beyond the Muslim world – and suggest new strategies for economic development worldwide.

The summary goes on to explore the following aspects of financial innovation:

  1. Islamic finance: innovation in Islamic financial instruments opens the global economy to the Muslim population – and also models possible financial reforms for non-Muslim investors.
  2. Alternative currencies: in online worlds as well as local communities, people experiment with leveraging alternative currencies to generate new wealth – and new exchanges with official currencies.
  3. Health as wealth: health becomes an investment and risk-management strategy for boomers as they strive to manage financial uncertainty and diminished assets.
  4. Health credits trading markets: personal health investments formalised and traded like personal carbon credits as people leverage health as a social good.

HFP has already seen examples of alternative currencies in play in local Transition Town economies.  The concept of health credits, combined with more stable fiscal influence, is a compelling alternative to current currency markets.

Next in the series we review,”Culture: New Commons.”


Special series on the Institute for the Future’s new 10 year forecast

April 24, 2009

The Institute for the Future is one of the oldest and best futures think tanks around.  They recently published their “10 year forecast“, which integrates a variety of key trends and drivers into a beautiful framework.

From the executive summary:

As we look out from 2008 over the next decade, we see a planet in which the ecologies of life are dissolving before our eyes.  Their constituents are disappearing, or migrating, reconstituting themselves anew.  We see this process mimicked in our own social and institutional systems, as the familiar forms in our landscape also begin to dissolve – to be replaced by something that may be hard to recognize if we look for well-known structure and recognizable boundaries.  This year’s forecasts point us beyond these shifting structures to what may be the emerging life forms.

The forecast touches on a variety of important themes and trends.  Among the themes are:

  1. New Diasporas
  2. Financial Innovation
  3. New Commons
  4. Open-Source Warfare
  5. Food Webs
  6. The Blue Economy
  7. Innovation: Enabled!
  8. Pervasive Eco-Monitoring
  9. Neuro-Futures

    Heady, powerful, and innovative stuff with profound consequences for humanity in general, and humanitarianism in particular.  

    We will be excerpting a trend per day for the following few days here on the HFP blog, giving time for adequate digestion of each one.  We hope you enjoy this series of posts and, as always, look forward to your comments on and off the blog.


    The Buxton Index; a measure of long term planning interest

    April 7, 2009

    The Buxton Index is an idea which measures the length of the period, measured in years, over which the entity makes its plans.

    The late late pioneering computer scientist Edsger W Dijkstra discusses it in an essay, here:

    The Buxton Index of an entity, i.e. person or organization, is defined as the length of the period, measured in years, over which the entity makes its plans. For the little grocery shop around the corner it is about 1/2 years,for the true Christian it is infinity, and for most other entities it is in between: about 4 years for the average politician who aims at his re-election, slightly more for most industries, but much less for the managers who have to write quarterly reports.

    The Buxton Index is an important concept because close co-operation between entities with very different Buxton Indices invariably fails and leads to moral complaints about the partner. The party with the smaller Buxton Index is accused of being superficial and short-sighted, while the party with the larger Buxton Index is accused of neglect of duty, of backing out of its responsibility, of freewheeling, etc.. In addition, each party accuses the other one of being stupid.

    The great advantage of the Buxton Index is that, as a simple numerical notion, it is morally neutral and lifts the difference above the plane of moral concerns. The Buxton Index is important to bear in mind when considering academic/industrial co-operation.

    What is the average Buxton Index of the average aid organisation?  3 to 5?  How does this relate to the planning time frame of various state and non-state partners?  Should it be more?  Do they line up?  Does this explain anything?

    PS – Thanks to Futurismic for the tip.


    The importance of words for seeing the future, or, you need to think “stick” before being able to use a stick

    March 31, 2009
    Photo credit: Bianca Dijck, Flickr  

     

     

    Photo credit: Bianca Dijck, Flickr

    Jake Dunagan, a Director at the Institute for the Future writes about how language characterizes our ability to see the world around us and, critically, envision outcomes in the future.

    In “Look Forward, and Carry a Big Stick“, he observes that Russian developmental psychologist Lev Vygotsky compared the differing cognitive mechanisms that apes and humans use to perceive and interact with the world around them. “Both apes and humans can use a stick as a tool, but, Vygotsky argues, an ape must actually see the stick before he can think “stick.” A sufficiently developed and linguistically enabled human, however, must think “stick” in order to actually see the stick.”

    In a recent post, “Resilient, durable or agile?  A metaphor for future aid organisations“, Chris Watkins suggested that thinking about the meaning of the words we use to define our future was “just semantics” and somehow therefore less relevant to humanitarian aid.  Vygostky’s findings suggest that not only are “semantics” important for understanding the world around us, but that in fact they are essential, especially when thinking about the future.

    This has radical implications for how we envision, and strategize, about the future.  Dunagan writes,

    In terms of the way humans envision the future, humans are much closer to the ape in our thinking – our possibilities tend to be more confined to what we can already see (or have seen) than what we can freely imagine. To deal with the enormous global challenges we face and to create a more responsible and just society, we must learn to become more human in our relationship to the future.

    What does this mean?  According to recent findings, Dunagan points out, our brains see the future in terms of the past and present. “Therefore,” he writes, “we must construct our media, our objects, and our built environment as an aide de futuribles to our brain’s capacity to imagine possible futures.”

    If the future is a stick we have to see in order to think, then those concerned with creating better futures should start making their favorite sticks and start whacking others in the shins with them!”  

    This is exactly what we were trying to do with our post on resiliency versus agility, a theme we will continue to explore in future posts.