3

The Future Now blog points to an article in Wired (because the blogger himself wrote it) which presents a number of new suggestions that would replace the word "Cyberspace". Institute For The Future have asked a number of smart people for their suggestions.

To me this is a clear signal that the mythical place called "cyberspace" is now a natural part of our lives.

I have another suggestion for a name based on Karl Popper's idea about the three worlds.

World 1
The physical world of objects and biological entities which exists without humans
World 2
The world of mental objects and events
World 3
The world of products of the human mind like writings, songs and other non-physical ideas

To understand these a bit more, think of a novel. A novel is a number of words ordered into a World 3 object, printed in a book which is a World 1 object and read and perceived into your mind i e translated into World 2 objects.

What we can see today is an explosion of World 3 objects which by far outnumbers the World 1 objects. One driving force behind this seems increasingly to be the urge to create a number of World 2 experiences. The vast number of World 3 objects gives us a feeling that we live in a virtual world.

What is "cyberspace" if not a collective word for all World 3 objects we relate to. I think the word "cyberspace" could and should be replaced by the word "World 3" or why not "the third world". This could have the dual purpose of reload and reclaim the phrase "the third world" as well.

Happy new year to all!

The future is of at least some interest to all of us, even if the majority is not as explicit about it as I am. But even I feel that it is valuable to reflect on what was once in a while. It is crucial to understand both the present and the past to be able to talk about the future. What happened in 2005 that will have lasting effects on the world? A lot of different things of course but there are some things that comes to my mind, and which will be parts of my future analysis for some years.

  • The public perception of the relation between man and nature got skewed a considerable bit. The tsunami in Asia, the hurricanes in the Mexican gulf and the earthquake in Kashmere made it clear to us that we are not in control as much as we have persuaded us to believe during a century of mostly man made catastrophies. Not even USA, the most powerful nation on the planet, was neither prepared for nor able to manage the effects of Katrina when it hit New Orleans, this seems to have been an awakening.
  • The pandemic threat got a more scaring face during 2005 - the Avian Flu. The reports about the flu from the first weeks of the year is, from a European perspective, increasingly frightening. The way Turkey is handling situation is in focus, and all governments are trying to stop panic from occur.
  • Our collective reactions to these catastrophies showed that we live in a new connected world where Internet was used by millions of people around the globe to spontanous organize in a way not being seen before. Internet and digital technologies like blogs, wikis, SMS and digital cameras in cell phones made it possible for people to report, analyse and communicate freely creating emergent organizational structures almost instantly. Wikipedia became one of the focal points where current information was integrated with scientific and historic facts. All this happened when most of the journalists and politicians where still asleep, or sitting in a plane heading for the catastrophy area. If we really are on our way to wire up humanity to reach new collective behaviours, I think we saw the first manifestation of that in 2005. BBC has a short article on what they call the rise of the digital citizen
  • The oil peak discussion caught on in the public perception, and the reason was of course due to the rocketing price on crude oil. Now the pressure is getting higher on oil producing countries to actually reveal their future production capacity, facts and forecasts which traditionally have been secret. An interesting question is if, how and when the oil industry is going to make the required huge investments in different part of the oil chain to be able to meet the huge demands of tomorrow. The most crucial point in the chain seems to be the refinery shortage which makes it difficult to provide enough gasoline, diesel and other refined products to the consumers. Some analysts say that the current price on crude oil at $50-60 is the new normal level, but since we stress the whole capacity of the oil chain and the production and consumtion levels are dangerously close, more fluctuations of the price are most likely, even if the energy market is becoming much better in dampening out the fluctuations when they occur. In 2006 and the following years we will see many new industrial and national initiatives to adapt the energy structures to this new situation.
  • Several sources have during this year started to compare present times to the medieval era and I agree that there are some similarities, even if there also are huge differencies. Both then and now the society seems to be in a transformation phase, with a lot of stress caused by crumbling societal structures, looming threats of diseases, wars and turbulence due to increases in the power of spiritual forces. I think that the key message is that we now have started to believe that we live in a transition period where most of our current luggage and attitudes are obsolete and that we now are slowly thinking along the lines that we have to start recreating the society from bottom up again. Remember, after the medieval times came the renaissance, which is constituted by the emergence of the individual, the nation state and new patterns of culture, economy and knowledge i e the modern society.

So welcome to the new medieval times! Let us start forging our new structures so that we can once more reinnovate our civilization.

2

Podcasting is exploding in it's use and both public service radio employees as well as individuals with something to say is participating in this frenzy. More and more people respond and rather downloads podcasts to their MP3 players rather than turning on the radio. It is like the pirate radio of the 21:st century, but now it is on a global scale and it is peer-to-peer which makes it scalable and soon ubiquitous.

Fueled by technologies like the Web, MP3, RSS, broadband connections and the soon ubiquitous MP3 players in the shape of mobile phones or small matchbox sized gadgets the audio media is being completely revolutionized. Broadcasting schedules is replaced by release dates. A mass medium with geographic limits is turned into a niche medium with global reach. Traditional radio, which for the most part today is controlled by the record industry and plays the same tracks lists on all the channels, is replaced with a myriad of small individual audio shows. Controlled by no one!

The theory of the long tail states that new communication technology will open up the market for all these small niche products and services, which in the past wasn't possible to provide widely or to have in stock. Amazon.com used to be the major example of this phenomenon, a book store which provides millions of titles instead of the few thousand you have in your local bookshop. I think podcasting will take the role as the major example for the long tail phenomenon.

For public service radio podcasting means a huge opportunity to reach all those listeners who are interested in a specific subject but has a packed schedule, an intellectually demanding work and maybe is on the move all the time. The traditional listening patterns for this growing group has been related to car travels to and from work every day. But even there the available time is step by step being invaded by phone calls and the need to relax or concentrate in the transition between two places. With podcasting the interested listener can subscribe to the programs they want to listen to and bring them along in their pocket until the right moment suddenly appears.

When MIT started to publicly publish their lecture notes on the web it was a revolution. Prepared and packaged knowledge became available to universities and individuals all over the globe. When podcasting now is entering the scene complete lectures is the next step. Soon everybody on the globe will be able to "directly" listen to lectures of the academic giants, when they like and how often they like. Stanford took this step a number of weeks ago but choose to make their lectures and other speeches available in Apple iTunes (http://itunes.stanford.edu/) which basically is the same technology as podcast but a different distribution technology.

There are also emerging podcasting versions of knowledge hubs based on different subjects. ITConversations is a site collecting, promoting and producing audio recordings from conferences, interviews and speeches, and provide them free to the listeners. Everybody is welcome to participate and record an event and provide it to the database.

The reason why podcasts is increasing so quickly is the availability of cheap and easy to use infrastructure, widespread knowledge about recording but probably most of all because the listeners are ready to pick their favourite audio input themselves, listen when they have time and pause the program when they are interrupted (which everybody increasingly is). All this without having to surf the radio for a specific program at a specific time only to listen to the currently promoted songs by the record industry.

In a conversation in the Summit on the Information Society in Tunis the other week I heard an African man talking about the importance of technology convergence and was using podcasts as an example. The point was how important it is that what is produced in the west is possible to distribute to the other 5 billion people on the planet. A podcast is nothing else than an audio program, but due to it's niche nature it has a wide range of subjects which can be more diverse but also more concentrated and filled with both more knowledge, perspective and culture than traditional radio ever will be. This knowledge is due to technology convergence possible to transmit to a whole country in the poorest part of the world, and there being listened to by millions of people just using a radio costing a few dollars.

Podcasting is spreading exponentially and since it will be more easy to speak to the computer than produce a blog posting, I think the written blogs will soon be outnumbered by audioblogs a k a podcasts.

On a larger scale i think podcasting (and possible videocasting)

  • will further fuel the emergence of the horizontal society where groups of likeminded people are having meaning creating conversations with each other in stratas or closed groups
  • will broaden the knowledge chasm between those who already have knowledge and those who already have turned of the knowledge society
  • will be a great enabler for spreading knowledge globally and more specificly to the poorer parts of the world
  • will be an important driver in the process of lowering the threshold of Internet technology even more and make the online society available to a wider group
  • will drive people further from the traditional broadcasting media and punish both the model of online advertising as a mean to finance the production but also the broadcasting medias as tools for marketing other stuff like music and clothes

1

It is interesting when I hear several people comment on an article in Wired about the future and it's need for futurists and some even send me emails about it. Since some time ago I have been focusing more on consulting in general strategy issues, but maybe I shall turn back to where I was heading some years ago - Back to the future!

In january I noted a trend towards an increased interest for the future again (see my blog - in Swedish) and it seems to be growing for every day. That is fine, but... is anybody actually taking action or is it just entertainment?

The reason I quit my job as Technology Watcher at Volvo IT 6+ years ago was that even if the management were listening because they thought it was interesting (entertaining?), no action what so ever occured as a result. Maybe I was missing the point or was looking to much for concrete results? Maybe I was just the corporate jester??

Do you, as a reader of this, have a story describing a situation where thinking about the future actually has made a difference I would be more than happy read about it. Send me an email and tell me about it! I would like to start a collection of these stories that could encourage both me and others focusing on the future again.

The excellent trendwatching.com has recently noticed the trend minipreneurs. Minipreneurs are individuals using the available business, production and distribution platforms to run their small business. Some of them are picking together their platforms from parts available as building-block business services on the Internet, others are using the availability of free software and cheap web hotels and some just start by using exisiting platform like e.g. the online auction site eBay. A recent US survey tells us that 724.000 americans have their primary or secondary income source from eBay. A Mastercard study states that there are about 5 million "Web-driven entrepreneurs" in US representing 25% of all small business.

In an article some time ago in MIT Technology Review (The Tech Boom 2.0), the author noted that (at least a class of) entrepreneurship, which have been restricted by the availability of venture capital, not will be so for much longer. The availability of high quality Open Source software decrease the time (and then required money) for an entrepreneur to actually create something that works.

The driving forces behind this trend is of course the communication possibilities which opens up for markets of both building blocks to potential entrepreneurs and
also a market place for the global market of potential 6 billion consumers. Trendwatching notes some other important driving forces behind this trend as well.

  • The strive to be in control of your own destiny (and your income) in turbulent times
  • Enterprising is chic
  • The risks of trying are much smaller than traditional entrepreneurship
  • There is a market for the unusual (see the trend Nouveau niche) - there is a market for the creations of the Generation C (a recently noted trend from Trendwatching)

Where is this trend going? It is obvious that this is just another evidence for larger macrotrend that it becomes shorter distance between idea and realization. The individual is stepwise becoming more powerful in acting when we add new tools to extend the brain.

Who are the losers and winners here? We will definitively see more sneaking cutting-ins into value chains by individuals and small businesses who see a possibility earn money. This will be a risk for all those who are selling directly to consumers. The long term winners (as usual) will probably be those who provide the tools to all those gold diggers out there.

What I recently have been calling the chemistry revolution, is continuing to roll over us. Young kids are using drugs more than ever and markets seems to be growing. The difference in the future is that the drugs don't have to be illegally brought here from drug supplying countries. They can be made in a garage or dorm anywhere.

The technical development in the arena is making drugs more and more easy to make and both knowledge and equipment are more readily available. The new drugs will also become safer and have no detectable effects on the user - which will make them very difficult to discover. Of course societies will still try to stop drug use, but if the prices drops it will not be as interesting for illegal groups to import and sell drugs anymore. Much of the social and criminal side effects will disappear as drugs become even more common.

In an article in the American magazine Foreign Policy Peter Schwartz notes this about the present.

The model drug of the future is already here in the form of crystal methamphetamine, a drug that is sweeping the United States and making inroads abroad. It's cheap and easy to make little more than Sudafed doctored up with plant fertilizer. One hundred percent of the profit goes to the manufacturer; no intermediary or army of couriers is required. Made of locally acquired materials in the garage or basement, the drug's production is nearly impossible to stop. Only the stupid and incompetent get caught.

And this about the future

Thirty-five years from now, the illicit professionals who remain in the business will be custom drug designers catering to the wealthy. Their concoctions will be fine-tuned to one’s own body and neural chemistry. In time, the most destructive side effects will be designed out, perhaps even addiction itself. These custom drug dealers will design the perfect chemical experience for those who can afford it. The combination of cocaine with skiing, sex, or other intense physical activities is common today; likewise for pot and making music. In the future, there will be custom drugs for meals, golf, gardening, and more. Like crystal meth today, some drugs will reach the point of home manufacturing. And they will all be designed to make their use invisible to others—no red eyes, nervous tics, or lethargy.

If you are in doubt take a look at Viagra sales and the doping problems in sports and athletics. The authorities seems to be too slow to keep up with new drugs today, so what will happen in ten or fifteen years from now. This is really an interesting challenge for the society of the future.

Just as the legal system is struggling with new realities of intellectual property in a digital age, it will struggle to control innovation in the chemistry of pleasure. We may even wistfully look back at a time when there were smugglers to be chased and coca fields to be burned. The bad guys were brutes, largely foreign or inner-city hoodlums. The new drug sellers will be chemists, most likely caught on tax-evasion charges. Users, too, will be harder to hate. They'll look a lot like you and me.

Blogging and mobile phones with built-in digital cameras reinforced a slowly growing trend of citizen journalism. During the tsunami this winter the trend really picked up speed since the fastest and most reliable sources for information was blogs in several levels which each collected, valuated and referred other sources of information.

The next step is of course to melt together citizen journalism with other distributed information gathering systems like the open collaborative encyclopedia Wikipedia.

To watch this in real life check out the entry for the tornado Katrina which is currently coming in over New Orleans.

This kind of spontanous collaborative information systems is here to stay and will definitively be a threat to other news providing services.

Trends to note: citizen journalism, collaborative information systems

It is usually said that the Asian economy will grow enormously the coming decades. But how much and when? Business Week collected some predictions and showed these graphs that estimates how much. Could be wrong with quite much but is still indicating the coming of the Asian era... Anyone betting against?

Read the Business Week article

I got the tip from Bildts Comments an excellent blog with comments from a clever and well connected former prime minister of Sweden. I don't necessary share his political views but I find his high level perspective and perceptional abilities interesting.

Capital intensive consumer industries are always struggling for maintaining their margins. Especially when that industry is maturing and reach the end of the S-curve. Think about the automotive industry which no longer is growing and where the only reason for today's margins are the popularity of the SUVs.

In that mature phase many industries are stuck in the value chain between the strong suppliers on one side and powerful customer groups on he other. The Internet has been playing an important role in organizing both suppliers and customers and has made these distributed, and somtimes competitive, actors an increasingly collaborative group.

This development is still going on and now it has come to organizing purchasing or funding for individuals who don't have anything else in common. Fundable - www.fundable.org is a service which is a framework for organize collaborative purchasing or funding. Think of the possibilities emerging when you have 100 potential buyers behind you when negotiating a purchase of a silver metallic BMW Z3. How much discount can you get? What kind of other special offers?

Will fundable be the service that break the collaborative purchasing ice like eBay was the key that released the gates for online auctions?