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May 06, 2005
No more

Anyone following this weblog will know that it's been sporadic at best for a long time. It seems sensible to make it officially dead, rather than occasionally trickle a couple of posts in every few months. So there'll be no more posts here for the foreseeable future.

Even though I rarely post anything here, I feel that I should every time I happen across something vaguely future-oriented elsewhere. But reposting things friends have found and posted to their sites doesn't make for a worthwhile weblog, and I'd prefer to relieve myself of that nagging obligation.

Keeping a topic-specific weblog going is a lot more work than a personal weblog in my experience -- research takes more time and there's more of a pressure to maintain a standard for one's peers. I can't hope to devote the time to this.

Also, these days, there are far more sites posting futures stuff than when I started the site, so it's not hard for people to find interesting things elsewhere. Maybe Overmorgen well get going again someday, but for now it's definitely closed. The archives will stay as they are.

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March 28, 2005
No more comments

I've switched off the ability to post comments on this site -- there's not much happening here these days and I spend far more time deleting spam comments than I do researching and writing stuff to post. (Yes, even with MT-Blacklist installed, it's not worth the trouble to allow comments.)

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February 20, 2005
Augmented reality

If, unlike me, you've been keeping up with this stuff, this probably isn't news. But if you're like me then this is quite "wow, this could be cool...": A demonstration of augmented reality computer graphics, laying computer-generated imagery over views of the real world. There's another demo available here. I didn't quite realise it had come so far. I can't wait to see what the games industry does with it in the real world. One day. (via Haddock I think.)

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Long Now Lectures

I don't think I've seen this before: The Long Now Foundation has a series of lectures available free for download on a variety of, long-term issues (they suggest you umake a donation if you like them).

I came across that via a summary of Paul Hawken's lecture from last year about the long-term history and future of the environmental movement. It's going to be big apparently.

I must admit that I get a little annoyed by some of the coupling of environmentalism and spirtuality/religion that pops up occasionally. To quote one comment from that page: "I was under the impression that greens were generally spiritual and/or members of liberal/tolerant religious denominations." I'm not sure why one must believe in imaginary gods and/or spirits to believe we're screwing the world, but it often seems to be assumed.

Anyway, I'm drifting off the point. Good futury downloady goodness, go listen/read.

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February 04, 2005
National Intelligence Council's 2020 project

Two things here. First, Mapping the Global Future, a report on a project geared toward looking at the world in 2020. The full document is available free as web pages or a PDF and is lengthy, solid and pretty detailed. It includes four possible scenarios, which it emphasises aren't exhaustive or mutually exclusive:

  • Davos World provides an illustration of how robust economic growth, led by China and India, over the next 15 years could reshape the globalization process—giving it a more non-Western face and transforming the political playing field as well.
  • Pax Americana takes a look at how US predominance may survive the radical changes to the global political landscape and serve to fashion a new and inclusive global order.
  • A New Caliphate provides an example of how a global movement fueled by radical religious identity politics could constitute a challenge to Western norms and values as the foundation of the global system.
  • Cycle of Fear provides an example of how concerns about proliferation might increase to the point that large-scale intrusive security measures are taken to prevent outbreaks of deadly attacks, possibly introducing an Orwellian world.

Those summaries are taken from the executive summary, which begins with a mapping of some certainties to related uncertainties, which I rather liked.

The second thing is the computer model the report used, which is available online as The International Futures Model. It seems to be some kind of database of statistics that lets you create alternative scenarios for different countries. I say "seems to be", as I've had some problems getting it to work (never mind understanding it, which is another challenge entirely).

On a Mac, I couldn't open the dropdown menus in Firefox and the site kept generating errors in Safari. Internet Explorer was a little more successful, apart from the erratic positioning of some submit buttons although I did get stuck in impenetrable lists of files and folders and now just get errors all the time.

So, if you happen to have any luck with it, and can tell us whether it's any good or not, please do post a comment below...

(via Haddock)

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What's Next

What's Next is an Australian bi-monthly (is that twice a month or once every two months?) futures newsletter that seems to summarise events and trends in a dozen categories. They have a sample of a single category and you can sign up if you have £95 to spare... (via Steve Bowbrick)

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25 year prediction timeline

"Naimark" (I can't see a real name on the site) posts about a predictions timeline s/he created for Ars Electronica in 2004. There are 500 predictions, each tied to a year over the next 25 years, and there are two lists of predictions ordered by votes. The votes only indicate how insightful, clever, funny or interesting a prediction is, so they're not as useful as votes along a single axis, but better than nothing. All good fun.

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Internet predictions database

The Pew report on the Internet links to Imagining the Internet, an intriguing idea: a database of predictions about the net from the early 1990s. It would be nice if it was easier to browse the database, rather than have to think up search terms, but it's fascinating nevertheless and the search seems to work well: education, music, movies, terrorism, etc. There's a lot hidden away in there.

You can also submit your own predictions, for what it's worth.

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The future of the Internet: An American survey

The Pew Internet & American Life Project completed a survey late last year in which they asked over a thousand Internet users (mostly long-term early adopters) how they saw the net changing. The full report is available as a free PDF.

There's not a whole lot of surprises ("high-speed connections will proliferate"), but when you're aggregating peoples' opinions it would be a surprise if you didn't come up with common sense results. I'd be interested to see the results of the same questions asked of people who have only been online a short amount of time, or of people from a variety of countries (the report is focused on America). The questionnaire took the form of stating a prediction and asking whether the respondent agreed, disagreed or challenged it. Here's the report's own "at a glance" summary:

  • Most experts expect attacks on the network infrastructure in the coming decade. Some argue that serious assaults on the internet infrastructure will become a regular part of life.
  • The internet will be more deeply integrated in our physical environments and high-speed connections will proliferate -- with mixed results.
  • In the emerging era of the blog, experts believe the internet will bring yet more dramatic change to the news and publishing worlds. They predict the least amount of change to religion.
  • Experts are both in awe and in frustration about the state of the internet. They celebrate search technology, peer-to-peer networks, and blogs; they bemoan institutions that have been slow to change.

The report includes plenty of quotes from the respondents which make for more interesting reading that the plain statistics. (Thanks Glynn.)

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Disruptive technologies in home audio

Coming back much closer to home, Noise Between Stations has a good post describing the current and impending changes in the types of products available for home audio systems. Thankfully it goes beyond the usual hand-waving about "digital lifestyle media centres", or whatever the current buzzphrase is. Home audio technology appears to have been remarkably stable: components and all-in-one systems with compatible interfaces, and usable lives far longer than more complex computer technologies. It seems inevitable that computers will merge in some way with home audio/video, but I doubt anyone's sure exactly what form this will take in the mass market.

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February 03, 2005
How to leave this universe before it dies

A quick whizz through some links littering my desktop begins with 'Escape from the universe', an article from Prospect that suggests ways we could leave this universe for another, parallel, one before this universe expands to the point where it freezes.

Nice to see some really long-term thinking, and Foe neatly summarises the article's options:

  • Find a naturally occurring wormhole
  • Send a probe through a black hole
  • Create negative energy
  • Create a baby universe
  • Build a laser implosion machine
  • Send a nanobot to recreate civilisation

The last is by far the most fun/scary: send a self-replicating nanobot through a tiny wormhole. It builds factories to recreate itself and then, using stored DNA, begins to recreate us (or, at least, whatever our descendants are).

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December 15, 2004
The Pro-Am Revolution

A couple of weeks ago UK think tank Demos published The Pro-Am Revolution: How enthusiasts are changing our economy and society, a report available for free as a 70 page PDF. As the blurb says:

The 20th century witnessed the rise of professionals in medicine, science, education, and politics. In one field after another, amateurs and their ramshackle organisations were driven out by people who knew what they were doing and had certificates to prove it.

The Pro-Am Revolution argues this historic shift is reversing. We're witnessing the flowering of Pro-Am, bottom-up self-organisation and the crude, all or nothing, categories of professional or amateur will need to be rethought.


A Pro-Am pursues an activity as an amateur, mainly for the love of it, but sets a professional standard. Pro-Ams are unlikely to earn more than a small portion of their income from their pastime but they pursue it with the dedication and commitment associated with a professional.

While some of the newspaper coverage has painted Pro-Ams largely as geeks or anoraks the report pulls in everything from competent gardeners, rock climbers, rappers and the Grameen Bank as well as computer programmers and astronomers. Which is all well and good but I wonder if this isn't casting the net a little too wide. If, as Demos suggests, "perhaps 58 per cent of the British population engage in some kind of activity that could be described as Pro-Am", is it not a uselessly flexible descriptor? It feels to me more like a re-branding exercise: what were once thought of as deeply unfashionable "hobbies" can now be seen as worthwhile pastimes that make society a better place.

I'm also not entirely convinced that we've seen as large an increase in Pro-Am activity as Demos proposes. I need more persuading, but it's a slippery thing to get figures for and some of the report's examples probably don't help: The UK's volunteer Territorial Army, the subject of a page and a half description, has seen its size reduced post Cold War. But either way, it's certainly worth acknowleding the existence of "Pro-Ams" and realising the breadth of activities they take part in because, as the report suggests, they can be vital sources of innovation that the more rigidly trained and hierarchy-bound professionals may lack.

Worth a read and it's certainly worth keeping the world of amateurs/hobbyists/Pro-Ams in mind when thinking about how a particular field is changing.

Incidentally, Tom Coates' (Weblogs and) The Mass Amateurisation of (Nearly) Everything... and its predecessor, Clay Shirky's Weblogs and the Mass Amateurization of Publishing are worth bearing in mind too. The former is like a more narrowly focused (and perhaps Pro-Am!) version of the Demos report, looking at how the internet and computer technology have opened the doors to amateur writers, animators, musicians, film-makers, etc. The latter suggests that now everyone can be a publisher the publishing industry has been drained of financial value, reducing scarcity; it's so simple to publish there's no way to make money from it and so everyone is an amateur.

And Wired's 2003 article on amateur air traffic controllers is always worth another look.

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