Thursday, November 14, 2013

The Future of Startups

The Director of the Future Planet Research Centre, David Hunter Tow, predicts that the Startup culture will provide the key to a more productive, peaceful and sustainable planet by offering a new era of creative work and training with the potential to reduce poverty and conflict, while focussing on solutions to the looming crisis facing the planet from unstoppable climate change.

The Startup phenomenon can be likened to the first industrial revolution in the 18th and 19th centuries that radically transformed all aspects of world society by improving living standards and providing new ways to release the creative potential of new generations.

 A whole new culture is emerging based on providing support for a new breed of Startup entrepreneur through business structures and processes that include-incubators, accelerators,  mentoring and training and equity partners. Startup enterprises now number in the tens of thousands and embrace virtually every significant social, business and industrial process. This nascent culture is rapidly evolving into a global force - gaining structure by coalescing around a number of Hubs, Networks, Ecosystems and Industry and Application Sectors.

Major Hubs are currently based in most of the world's larger cities including- London, Berlin, Istanbul, Helsinki, Tel Aviv, Stockholm, Auckland,  Singapore, Beijing, Bangalore, Sydney, Paris, Sao Paulo, Moscow , Reykjavik, Tallinn, Chicago, Manilla, Milan, New York and Barcelona, as well as the major iconic San Francisco/Silicon Valley nexus. At the same time a number of emergent hubs are gathering momentum in most urban regions of Africa,  Middle East, Asia and South and Central America.

No process or application, no matter how entrenched or fiercely guarded by its traditional custodians will be exempt from the impact of the Startup’s disruptive agenda, with every activity embedded in the operation of  modern civilisation likely to be transformed into a more streamlined and productive form- available primarily via inexpensive digital mobile platforms.

This re-engineering is occurring not just in the traditional online service sectors of retail, marketing, advertising, entertainment, travel and media, but increasingly in the professional service areas of knowledge management- education, healthcare, law, insurance, design and finance. Industrial sectors are also flexing up with smarter solutions, supporting engineering, mining, manufacturing, agriculture, construction, energy, transport, distribution, supply and communications, developing as well as developed countries.

But this shift to a smarter planet isn’t solely a big enterprise or big city initiative. In the near future every small town and regional community will also spawn its own Start up ecosystem. It will become a way of life offering a new form of work and play, with creativity the main currency.

It is gradually dawning on Government and the commercial and industrial establishment  that this is going to be the future way to create a new generation of viable businesses and economy. In the process it will likely disrupt and displace the existing 20th century paradigm for building a civilisation, taking no prisoners. And if today's enterprises want to survive they will very quickly need to this new world order.

But for the larger enterprises in particular this will be an almost impossible task. Social and technology commentators, big business and Governments until now have largely underestimated the significance of this revolution , seeing it as an add-on phenomenon, complementary but not essential to the functions of the traditional economy.

Big mistake.

Misreading the significance of past economic disruptions such as the explosion of small desktop computers and the Internet has led to the demise of many seemingly invulnerable organisations. Just ask IBM about its near-death experiences in these areas. The economy and our social fabric is undergoing the next wave in a series of rapid and radical global changes that will dwarf the original industrial and digital revolutions.

The Startup phenomenon is just the latest in a rolling wave of technology driven changes reshaping our relationship with the planet and triggering a whole new way of survival. And most significantly it is achieving this by releasing the full global potential of human creativity.

And the reason for this burgeoning hyper-growth cycle at the start of the 21st century is because it is meshing simultaneously with a number of other revolutions including those of the sciences, arts, knowledge and artificial intelligence, education and work, as well as advanced digital technology and social development.

The primary mover and shaker- the heart and soul of all these revolutions is the Internet/Web, with its payload of exponentially increasing information, now available to all via commoditised mobile portals. This represents the next phase in the democratisation of the world’s storehouse of precious knowledge, driven by the imperative to fulfil the potential of the vast under-educated populations of Africa, Asia and the Middle East that have previously missed out on our planet’s bounty. It creates a level data playing field by allowing any citizen with a mobile phone or tablet regardless of location or income, to access a common knowledge universe.

Piggy backing on this pinnacle of this human intellectual achievement is the education sector which is now well on the way to providing the means of delivering this vast treasure trove in easy to absorb bite size chunks via virtually free MOOCs – Massive Online Open Courses, providing equal access to quality education and training at all levels within across the planet.

And right on its heels, leveraging the benefits of this educational bounty is the revolution in work practice- now catalysed by the Startup industry.  

The nature of work is now undergoing a dramatic transformation, flexing up to allow the transfer of skills from cheaper as well as high quality expat off shore sources of labour. But Startups have the potential to take this transfer to another level; to redress the global employment problem, eventually providing opportunities for skilled employment at the local community level.

A major Startup Hub- the Founder Institute , with chapters in 55 cities across 30 countries has just declared that over 1000 companies with a total portfolio value of $5billion have  graduated from its program in the last four years. 

And the Institute and other countless incubators around the world are not just attracting the typical demographic of  twenty to thirty year olds with computer science and software engineering backgrounds, but entrepreneurs of all age groups - middle aged executives, trade and factory workers and housewives- even retirees still chasing their lifetime dreams; all with the vision and wisdom of hindsight that only serious life experience can provide- ready to grasp the opportunities that a younger generation cannot yet conceive of.

Following a hobby or passion has always been an intrinsic part of human nature.  It is no different in the digital age. The over fifties, sixties, seventies and even eighties now utilise the web as much or more than the under thirties and in a more active way than passively downloading music or videos. Surveys have shown they are also more astute at utilising social media for real benefit. The software skills required to transform that hobby or creative idea into a digital app is the simplest part of the equation- capable of being easily and inexpensively outsourced to an expert or automated app generator. After all, the technical skills required to design a blog or website used to be challenging for the average citizen. Not anymore. Now anyone can use a free template from Google and be up and running within ten minutes. The same is happening with app technology.

This is the new world where age is not a barrier but an advantage and where creative content and innovation is king.

The infrastructure required to support this new work/play revolution is also dirt cheap; an old warehouse with some discarded tables and chairs and cheap commodity smart phones and laptops or servers- sufficient even for graphics and game developers. For brain storming or practical sessions with an engineering or financial expert with forty years heavy duty industrial experience - a comfortable coffee bar or a friend’s garage is sufficient.

Cities or precincts that were once derelict and dying such as exist in Detroit, Denver, East Berlin or devastated New Orleans are finding a new lease of life by Startup communities; at the same time solving another endemic problem in society- unemployment and crime. Street kids, high school dropouts and jobless university graduates can be rapidly absorbed into this culture with some initial mentoring and training, offering creative opportunities and refuges no different from the arts and crafts sectors that have adopted similar supportive practices for decades. In fact there’s now a significant overlap and synergy between technology and arts communities, sharing creative spaces, ideas and marketing strategies.     

No wonder established enterprises of all hues- from the technology giants such as Google, Microsoft, Apple, Sony, Cisco, Verizon, Samsung, Yahoo, Amazon and IBM as well as Government agencies and big business in manufacturing, energy and banking- from NASA to Goldman Sachs, GE, Cisco, Shell, Phillips, Siemens, Panasonic, Ford and Toyota  are cashing in on this potential bonanza, supporting and mentoring Startup communities- not so much to make an immediate profit but just to gain a footing in this ultra-competitive new survival game.  

Most have either spun off their own internal Startup divisions like IBM or like Google are having a bet each way, aggressively offering to support other promising hubs such as the recently expanded Sydney Incubator tapping into the network of Australian University students.

For those enterprises that don’t or can’t adapt to this new universe, the gig will be up. Just as the empires of ancient times - the Romans, Greeks, Persians and Chinese dynasties or later British, Portuguese, Dutch, French and Spanish colonisers- all thought they were masters of the universe with their new technologies of guns and ships; but eventually overreached and lost the plot, misreading the pro-nationalist signals and  new awareness of a changing world.

Now the new technologies keep exploding relentlessly, with the Cloud, mobile technology, virtual reality, the Internet of intelligent objects, big data, artificial intelligence, robotics,  massive bandwidth, software defined networks, more flexible database structures and open source software, setting the pace.

But just over the horizon lurks the next generation of technology powered by – the intelligent Web with human like intelligence, quantum computing and teleportation, direct thought transfer via sensory headbands, the Precog society where prediction is the norm, insect sized drones and giant social observatories such as the original billion dollar EU FuturICT blueprint. Also the emergence of the global human superorganism- the response to increasing globalisation in the face of intractable global problems requiring urgent solutions such as climate change and conflict.

And each time the technology explodes it exposes more opportunities as well as existential risks to humanity. The current generation of dominant tech providers- Google, Microsoft, Apple, Amazon and Facebook are already looking vulnerable; with Google overreaching just like the ancient empires; and Facebook’s invasion of user privacy- likely to go the same way as Myspace; and Apple- passed its innovative peak, likely to become another producer of commodity devices such as Nokia. Even Microsoft is on the ropes unable to make the paradigm shift needed to survive the new world order with Bill Gates’ job as chairman on the line.

Big enterprises have a habit of believing their own rhetoric of infinite growth with a delusional mantra of taking over the world in their market niche. Unfortunately they never studied physics and the limits of computation, information and energy, as the power of entropy inevitably dissembles their structures.  

So the traditional notion of an individual's job and work-related role is already outdated. Work value in the future will be measured in terms of contributions to personal and organisational goals, together with social utility, whether for a two person startup or two thousand employee company.

By 2025 most tasks in heavy industry such as mining, construction, manufacturing and transport will be largely automated and robot-assisted. But such projects will also be increasingly managed and resourced on a real-time basis within the Web's global knowledge network- driven by innovative algorithms generated by next-gen apps.

By 2030 organisational boundaries and work practices will be fluid and porous, with individuals moving freely between projects, career paths and virtual organisational structures; adding value and in turn continuously acquiring new skills, linked to ongoing vocational programs.

And Startups will play the leading role in generating this new innovative world of work and play as a hothouse for generating new ideas and skills. Opportunities for Startups will therefore abound. Why? Because  every current major provider of products and services whether- big pharma, big banks, big media, big agriculture, big construction, big government or big cities etc  will be desperately in need of a makeover with their clunky and inefficient 20th century legacy systems not cutting it in the 21st roller coaster super competitive world.

Likewise professional services in marketing, healthcare, travel, law, media and finance will be dominated by apps and algorithms generated by small agile second and third generation Startup companies.

A revolution in social development is also changing the way populations are coping with massively expanding populations and dwindling resource options, by returning to smaller self- sufficient and cooperative urban communities linked by high bandwidth communication and transport networks which will facilitate work, food  and water security and learning opportunities in a Startup age.

Although big factories using automated robotic processes for producing industrial components - steel, concrete, glass, cars, turbines, trains and solar panels will still be essential using a mix of advanced technologies such as 3D printing, the streamlined and flexible information services needed to manage, market and optimise such products are more likely to be created by the host of future creative Startups- not the few software goliaths still lingering from of the 20th century.   

This future downsizing of the enterprise aligned with local community structures augers well for the nascent Startup industry with its naturally flatter decentralised architecture, allowing a more flexible capacity to adapt to market signals rather than through rigid centralised control communications. Startups also have the capacity to upscale more flexibly using cloud-based frameworks and by forming cooperative networks rather than expanding centralised silos.

And Startups are not only leveraging new information technologies but also the new sciences of materials, biology, chemistry, physics and energy including- graphene- the next electronics replacement for silicon; artificial photosynthesis- the future hope for solar energy; optical physics- for invisibility cloaking and super lasers, quantum computing and information teleportation ; synthetic biology- for growing organs and creating organisms to clean up pollution. Even gene sequencing machines, atomic microscopes and analytic laboratory processes are being downsized to desktop level, closing the comparative cost differential between rich and poor countries and large and small enterprises.

And governments are loving it- because Startups are offering a silver bullet to generate prosperity- a low cost simple way to foster new industries and jobs without the burden of expensive infrastructure, offering the next generation entry to a better life.

The fight against big enterprise corruption, bribery, price gouging and market cartels by big enterprise also benefits in a down sized decentralised app society. There have been numerous recent exposures of the underlying level of corruption, bribery, conflict of interest and contempt for customers within the finance and banking industries, as well as major sectors of the mining and construction industries. But if government regulators have failed to prevent the misuse of shareholder and public funds then agile Startup competitors offering cheaper, safer and more convenient services, may do the job for them.

An example is the payments sector. Many smaller agile groups from technology and infrastructure poor African countries such as Kenya have taken the lead in these services of convenience and already provide perfectly viable mobile phone money transfer and business transaction services via text and a pin number, bypassing expensive western banking services.

Both banks and private equity funds are now scrambling to join the Startup race. But the banks are slow to shed their conservative no-risk attitude to lending and the large venture capital funds are being outflanked because of their elitist attitude, refusing to get involved until they are sure the Startup is well on its way to stardom. But in a future high risk roller coaster world there is no such thing as certainty and the professional funds are now at risk of  being outflanked by the more nimble networks of crowdfunders and syndicates of wealthy Angel investors, happy to take a gamble, offering both seed capital for visionary ideas and serious followup investment for likely winners; gaining the advantage of an inside rails run to grab the major payoff  prize.

But the Startup has a much more important role to play in today’s world.

The latest climate report predicts our climate will be irrevocably changed within thirty years if we don’t change direction – despite all the current advances in renewable energy technology and efficiency savings.

By focussing on innovations in sustainable energy and poverty reduction- rather than trying to emulate another superficial social media or marketing billionaire, today’s Startups can play an essential role in saving the planet and its human cargo, including themselves.

This is an indicator of the potential power of the maturing Startup industry, as a global phenomenon which also might just save the planet through the unleashing of an explosion of  innovation and idealism; designing more resilient and sustainable systems, reducing the pressure on the planet’s ecosystems and supporting more cohesive communities; at the same time generating new pathways to peace through cooperative globalisation- offering hope for future generations in a time of existential crisis.

Today's Startup is therefore not only a powerful force for change but also for survival. They are also beginning to gain the upper hand in the marketplace of ideas. A tipping point is already emerging. There is now more investment capital available than viable projects. No more the demeaning cap in hand pleas by desperate entrepreneurs for funding - prostrating themselves in ridiculous speed pitching marathons- often losing control over their IP in the process of a desperate race for assistance.

Now there are many more alternative funding options to tap such as crowdfunding and Angel syndicates- more financial supply than startup demand; Universities, such as Stanford, MIT and Sydney as well as tech companies and government agencies are also competing with established VC firms, with many lower-tier VC firms caught in the squeeze, at risk of going to the wall.

So now it’s the VC firms turn to do the pitching and make concessions for a limited supply of viable Startups. How things change.

For the entrepreneurs and founders it means more control, more funding choices, and shorter lead times.

The centre of gravity of the talented app developers and entrepreneurs is also shifting away from the US back to their country of origin. Until recently at all levels of science and technology the US has been living on borrowed overseas intellectual capacity. For the last fifty years it succeeded beyond its wildest expectations in seducing the most talented of the world's minds to assist achieve its scientific and technological dominance, with offers of scholarships, state of the art research facilities, career paths, permanent residency and financial packages an order higher than their own countries could offer. And during the last fifty years hardly a research paper of any significance was published without input from a researcher of European or Asian origin. And the American economy prospered beyond all expectations.

But now the game is over, with governments across the world able to offer their talented graduates and entrepreneurs the necessary home grown incentives and facilities to pursue their careers in their own countries; at the same time contributing to their own national development.

So the Startups of tomorrow will be much more evenly distributed with a more level playing field and the world can look forward to an explosion in creative and innovative potential across all nation states. In tomorrow’s world there will be no alpha nation. Each Startup ecosystem will develop its own expertise in its own way, which it will then share with the world.

By the mid-forties the earth’s climate will have irredeemably changed to something much more violent and unpredictable if we stay on our current trajectory, even accounting for the growing use of renewable energy sources and greater efficiencies The best we can now hope for is to slow Armageddon down, but we may not be able to reverse it.

Climate change triggered by global warming will dominate every business and social decision within the next decade. Every country, community and company has to make it front and centre in their planning processes- what to produce, how to produce it, where to produce, in order to minimise energy consumption and slow the release of carbon.

The Startup culture will play a pivotal role in this process- the key to the planet’s redemption. But only if its focus shifts to developing sustainable processes and products rather than infantile notions of  becoming the next billion dollar enterprise.

Let’s hope that the current and future generation of  founders don’t lose sight of the real priority facing planet Earth and have the wisdom to avoid being dazzled by ephemeral dollar signs.

Otherwise they too will be swept away by its inevitable apocalyptic endgame.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

The Future of News

David Hunter Tow – Director of the Future Planet Research Centre, predicts that by 2030 current news will cease to become the dominant news format, as thousands of reporting services instead switch to a Future Reality. But with the Surveillance state looming as a major social disrupter it must re-examine its role as the primary protector of democracy.

By 2020- most major print media will have adopted a mobile multimedia model as traditional advertising streams dry up and the news is reduced to short headline summaries and specialist reporting of leisure activities, social events, conflict and crime, supported by algorithmic analysis.

Current and breaking news feeds, captured largely by citizen reporters and tiny robot drone cameras in war zones, urban and remote  environments, will receive limited exposure only, before being consigned to the archives of Big News - exobytes of information automatically scanned for useful patterns from which future news scenarios can be extracted. These scenarios will offer an endless smorgasbord of projections and entertainment, to which society will become increasingly addicted, replacing current reality television. 

Special editions and feature articles relating to past events will continue to be produced in reduced quantity, but online future short-burst information- text, video and audio streams, will be increasingly popular, generated by specialist forecasting channels and distributed directly to clients via new vogue fashion devices- digital jewellery, headbands, glasses and watches.

A small core of traditional broadcasters such as Public Television and Aljazeera will remain focussed on hard breaking reality news, but the main switch will be to web streaming channels covering every topic, mostly blandly personalised to individual taste; viewable anywhere, anytime, primarily on mobile media pod screens in 3D. These personalised channels will be ubiquitous, producing a mix of future scenarios and entertainment; with the line between past, present and future becoming increasingly blurred.

By 2030 future news will have become the new norm, with the media evolving as differentiated streams available from thousands of web hubs,  aggregation sites and social media news networks in three broad formats- headlines and short synopses of future events competing with traditional breaking news feeds and the few remaining wire services; in-depth reviews and features relating to past and evolving narratives, merging with independent blogger storylines; and third- scenario analyses leveraging past and current trends, feeding back to create ongoing news hyper-loops.

By 2035 this process will be linked to the exploration of alternate virtual futures, combining with societal predictions to become the dominant entertainment as well as news format. News, entertainment and sport will then become truly interactive, overlapping with online gaming, available within 3D holographic environments such as full sensory Holodecks, for maximum immersive reality effect.

Generating future news scenarios will have become the new creative buzz and the largest media growth segment – catalysing new ideas and startup generators, as humans commit to virtual future-based realities in everyday life.

But already a wild card has been thrown into the futures mix- the rise of the Surveillance State. The Orwellian PRISM, XKeyscore and Tempora Internet search and intercept programs initiated by the NSA and GCHQ in concert with other spy organisations across the world are also about creating their own future news programs.

Following the end of the Cold War the prestige of the US and European spy communities was in serious decline. But with the advent of the September 11 attack, the failed wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and the subsequent global war on Jihadist terror, combined with the support of a draconian Patriot Act - they were back in business.

With the collaboration of the major global telecomm and social media companies and a subservient US judicial and political oversight process, George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four vision of a dystopian society- an omnipresent surveillance state enforcing mind control and persecuting all independent thinkers, had finally arrived. 

But this time there is no going back. Most domestic and foreign phone and Internet communications are now monitored and archived for possible future analysis in the US, Middle East, Europe, Russia and China. And just like a fast food addict the NSA and other spy organisations are gorging themselves on more and more junk data, to ensure that no pattern, regardless how trivial, escapes its infinite obsession with ‘Persons of Interest’.

But true to form like the bumbling Keystone Cops, the NSA hired thousands of outside contractors with access to top secret information to guard its vaults and manage its data treasure trove. What were the odds that sooner or later at least one of those contractors would have the moral courage to become a potent Whistleblower? And even with the evidence stacked against them the national intelligence agencies continued to lie about the nature of the enterprise and the amount of data actually intercepted.  ‘A postage stamp sized area compared with a basketball court’ was the analogy given by the NSA to Congress.  And then to cap it off, when the alarm bells rang and the gig was up, the White House administration set up a review committee with- you guessed it – the very same Director of National Intelligence and some ex buddies in charge.

Surveillance technology is now evolving at warp speed creating unprecedented Future Shock to civilisation’s social fabric. Although there has been universal outrage against this unprecedented invasion of human rights under the pretext of pre-empting global terrorism, the Future News Machine is running hot and there is no end in sight.

So as history records it, this was the beginning of the largest spy operation in the West waged against its own populations in human history; invading the rights of citizens regardless of fundamental constitutional safeguards- enough to make George Orwell turn in his grave. This has created a future reality in which everyone is likely to end up a Person of Suspicion and sets the scene for the next phase of the future news narrative- the rise of the Precognition (Precog) state.

What better method of creating an Orwellian future than continually trumpeting the ability of the machine to predict the next big terrorist attack. We’ve already had one scare campaign, with the withdrawal of US embassy staff from the Middle East. And of course nothing happened. But according to the NSA it would have without their machine’s timely intervention; and you can bet there’ll soon be lots more proof of concept panic attacks in the future.

In this way the future news cycle becomes embedded in society’s psyche. No-one is interested in the past or present when knowing what’s about to happen tomorrow is far more exciting.   It’s then just a small step for a Surveillance state to reach the next level of social control- the Precog state- with the capability of inferring the physical intentions of every citizen by using algorithms to measure their cognitive condition.

Cyber components and sensors such as pacemakers and brain signal headbands are already commonly embedded in humans and monitored by the latest phone apps; allowing doctors to track the wellbeing of their patients and save lives. So it’s just a small step to use such systems to translate the intent of an individual into signature patterns which may then be passed to a control system monitored by surveillance robots.

It’s not hard to imagine this as the ideal decision feedback for a Precog machine, capable of triggering a lethal reprisal to block  such premeditated actions in real or future time. The problem is of course that the consequences of such pervasive intrusion are likely to be catastrophic for humanity- triggering social paranoia, decision gridlock and worse.

In the meantime, while the spies fiddle with their fetish for more data and power- the world burns.

By 2040 human survival in the face of global warming will have become the paramount issue facing humanity- far outstripping any terrorist threat. This will require a radical strategy of using predictive analytics as a means of pre-empting some of its worst impacts- similar to using back-burning to defeat a fire by getting ahead of it and setting up containment lines, turning it on itself. The fire and most of the damage it causes can be stopped in its tracks and ultimately defeated. 

Giant Social Observatory models will provide the computational power to predict future outcomes using advanced algorithms to interpret signals and forecast viable interventions. Thousands of automated forecasting algorithms will work to get ahead of the looming Armageddon,  covering critical trends in energy sufficiency, food and water availability, materials and resource logistics, infrastructure, economics, stock markets, crime and conflict; exposing and pre-empting the potential risks, threats and flaws, before major damage is done.

Future News Channels will provide windows to publicise and present the results of the modelling to the broader population on a continuous basis- giving those communities who might be worst affected by such extreme events prior warning, empowering them to take decisions vital to their own survival.

Researchers in business and academia already make predictions about a vast number of phenomena, at least over the short term- such as corporate earnings, the weather, impacts of droughts, fires and food shortages as well as economic and market movements, commodity prices, retail sales, employment statistics, real estate prices, disease pandemics, political analyses and more recently conflict and crime hotspots. 

But most of these are relatively short-term scenarios, analyses and indicators   which will be extended further into the future- most importantly in areas that could save lives, using for example more advanced collection methods- micro satellites, robotic swarms, crowdsourcing and networks of dedicated citizen volunteers, to provide excellent opportunities to supplement traditional reporting and data collection  methods.

By 2050 a form of social Superorganism encompassing the majority of humans will begin to emerge as an outcome of the cooperative creativity and crowdsourcing already evident - with the fusing of artificial and human intelligence linked to the sentient Web 5.0. Most technological and social trends and fashions will be based on the memes and decision capability of such a Superorganism. But far more importantly it will allow survival actions to be taken much faster and in a more coordinated way.

The Web is rapidly becoming the heart and soul of humanity’s survival kit in which all knowledge and events whether generated by humans, other life forms or machines will be stored and processed. Once encapsulated, knowledge can be mixed and matched, processed and recycled ad infinitum just like waste matter, until finally emerging in a form that humanity’s superorganism will feed on for its survival in the future.

But the Web’s power could be lost if the surveillance state destroys the trust of its users. It has already started to fragment and is likely to balkanise in the near future as countries and companies withdraw their data to their own jurisdictions to protect intellectual property and trade secrets.

So the intrusive programs of spy organisations across the globe are likely to bring about their own undoing as the Web technologies based on trust such as the Cloud and Mobile Apps collapse- destroying the future- in its place creating chaos and anarchy. 

By 2050 therefore, to counter this collapse of trust, Future News will need to restore its credibility by turning itself into something of critical significance – a more trustworthy and effective weapon in the fight for human survival and the defeat of the Precog/Surveillance State.

No more a craven apologist to power elites. It must position itself as the critical link between humanity and a democratic state as civilisation evolves. It must return to its roots- documenting and projecting the progress of all cultural, political, scientific and technological experience of life's existence, without fear- into the far future. 

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

The Future of Big Enterprise

The Director of the Future Planet Research Centre- David Hunter Tow argues that the credibility of the Enterprise brand, particularly Big Enterprise, has been severely damaged in recent times and can only be remediated by meshing more closely with the entrepreneurial technologies of the Web and the norms of a more sustainable and ethical society.
But the future doesn’t wait for perfect solutions and the Big Enterprise is now caught in a roiling sea of change, having consistently failed to adapt to the social and technological imperatives of the 20thand 21st centuries.

The modern enterprise has emerged as a relatively recent force in social development; the child of earlier corporate and other business models, supposedly a more dynamic and entrepreneurial entity than previous structures, allowing individuals to cooperate more efficiently to achieve a range of common legal, financial and social goals.
But it is not just rooted in the capitalist system, although its primary goal is usually the generation of a return on investment for its risk takers, whether private or public. Its goals may also be of a social, non-profit or purely philanthropic nature.

Along the way it has acquired the usual mix of fellow travellers - investors, shareholders, partners, regulators ideologists and lobbyists. But when operating as a typical risk taker, it has been allocated special privileges such as limited liability, low or non-existent tax breaks and other special exemptions including often State sanctioned dispensation to exploit the assets of the Commons- the natural endowments of the planet. These can include- previous heritage sites, mineral rights, natural forests and farming land, fresh water sources, unpolluted air and often intellectual property; originally reserved for the public as a natural right for their health and general wellbeing.
Particularly since the 20th century the Enterprise has proudly emerged bigger and bolder, acquiring ‘multinational’status and systematically utilising mass production and development methods largely based on fossil fuels, to exploit and degrade the planet’s resources- blanketing cities, waterways, farming land and forests with acrid poisonous residues, often causing endemic disease and misery as it went.

Toxic mining and processing wastes still pollute rivers and estuaries, killing the marine life and destroying the health and livelihoods of many dependent communities. And this still continues in many developing and developed countries such as Australia, Canada, China and the US where petrochemical companies continue to spew out lead and other heavy metals as well as fracking and tar sand residues, polluting the pristine farming land and groundwater.
The modern enterprise may therefore be more entrepreneurial, dynamic and socially aware than its predecessors, but such travesties are still common and acceptable because along the way the ethics of larger enterprises got hijacked by their executives and regulators who lost sight of the fact that they had an obligation to act for the wellbeing of the community at large as well as maximise shareholders profits. Public servants in Government agencies also went along with this form of criminality and a revolving contractor door began creating massive conflicts of interest between regulators and managers, which continues unabated today.

And so began the era of the Big Enterprise-where corruption and the ‘winner takes all’ mantra became the behavioural norm within business oligopolies including- Big Pharma, Agri, Oil and Chemical, Defence and Armaments, Media, Retail and Commerce, Banking and Finance and Construction and Engineering industries; because might was right and scale was power and influence and smaller enterprises often became collateral damage, unable to compete effectively for market share.
And because Big Enterprises became so profitable and powerful, Governments continued to provide carte blanche for their exploitation of the planet’s finite assets and pollution became routine, particularly by Big Miners such as Chevron, which still refuses to pay compensation for massive destroyed tribal habitats in the Amazon and Big Banks that stole the savings of small investors and pension funds during the GFC and Big Agri companies like Monsanto which established seed monopolies over farmer’s rights on the back of patented plant genes and Big Pharma that tried it on with human genes and Big Manufacturers of consumer goods that outsourced their production to substandard factories employing child labour in developing countries with no legal safety protection.

And the bigger they got, the more they assumed that the Commons was available for the taking, until today much of the original resources of a pristine planet has been stripped bare and big enterprise continues to consume them at 150% of sustainable capacity.
To counter the bad vibes it encountered from this pernicious behaviour, Big Enterprise also gathered an army of apologists and cheer leaders in the form of PR and lobbyist minions to sanitize their actions. They also recruited security companies to protect their stolen assets against pesky indigenous and activist groups who were outraged by their behaviour. Also police and spy agencies such as the NSA began collecting the names and personal records of those who interfered with lucrative enterprise arrangements such as price fixing and illegal waste disposal, on the pretext of preventing terrorism.

At the same time the creative accountants and corrupt auditors found ways to minimise the tax paid by enterprises, including tech giants such as Google and Apple, through the use of global tax havens or by channelling profits through minimal tax zones.
And really this litany of corruption and abuse has not been improving. If anything it has got worse in the 20th and 21stcenturies. So despite the tens of thousands of sustainable small and medium law abiding enterprises with a conscience – mainly family businesses not intent on taking over the world, enterprises have been getting a reputation for exhibiting psychopathic, anti-social behaviour. In other words, if anything this cancerous growth in the corporate/enterprise sector has been metastasizing at an exponential rate.

Not a pretty picture. And eventually something had to give.
Finally in the late 20th and 21stcentury the tide began to turn. A new form of social enterprise emerged- the activist NGOs –such as Greenpeace, Human Rights Watch and Transparency International. These have gained traction- finding ways to fight back against the goliaths by exposing their excesses and successfully taking legal action. And smaller enterprises, like farmers markets and small scale renewable energy developers are becoming more innovative, creative and agile, offering a more personal and fairer option to the communities of which they are a part.

The other change and it’s a big change, is that the community has finally turned against Big Enterprise, becoming sceptical of its anti-social practices and the hype and lies in the form of deceptive marketing and glossy advertising campaigns; increasingly caught out by the social media, activists and whistle blowers. Their greed and naked criminality is being exposed like never before and governments are slowly being forced to act on their constituent’s behalf.
Enterprises and their shareholders and executive employees cannot hide anymore in gated enclaves behind bland anonymous websites, immune from the consequences of their actions. Through pervasive sensors and eyes in the form of the smartphone cameras of citizens, every action of the Enterprise is being monitored and reported. With the imminent advent of the Internet of Things or sentient objects, the pervasiveness of watchful sensors will ramp up exponentially.

When Big Enterprises pollute or destroy habitats in Africa, Asia or South America, with their products sourced from death trap factories, or supply chains packed with illegal conflict minerals, the world will be watching. The outcomes of enterprise actions will be reported in the social media as they regularly are now within milliseconds and that record will remain as a stain in the digital archives for perpetuity, accessible by prosecutors. There are now not just a handful of investigative reporters tracking the perfidy of big business, but the eyes and ears of citizens everywhere.
As well as the increasing crackdown on Enterprise corruption another revolution is underway. It is called Sustainability. To remain in synch with community aspirations in a globally warming world shareholders are being encouraged to punish enterprises that cause harm to the planet and its life forms, whether through use of fossil fuels, pollution or fraudulent practices, by withdrawing their investments.

Big Enterprises must not only produce profits for their shareholders - often Funds representing the savings of everyday citizens, but must also prove the delivery of socially sustainable benefits for the communities such as local indigenous groups from which they draw their sustenance in return for token jobs and royalties as in PNG. And the pressures for this investor-driven change are now enormous.
No more banks marketing fraudulent derivatives or rigging borrowing rates or Walmart outsourcing garments made by women and children working for a pittance in the fire factories of Bangladesh.

All too often enterprises have are adopted a head in the sand attitude when confronted with anything that impacts their short term profits and executive bonuses – repeating the pathetic mantra- ‘It’s just business’ as a justification, similar to that of mafia murderers- as if business and society’s ethics can be separated. How can any reasonable planning forecasts for energy supplies, vehicle exports, wheat harvests or fashion garments be calculated without taking into account major geopolitical issues such as global warming and conflict affecting those markets. And yet this is exactly what many big enterprises and governments employing dozens of market analysts still produce.
Buy there’s a whiff of panic in the air from Big Enterprise. The fossil fuel extractors are beginning to realise that a large proportion of their oil, coal and gas reserves may now have to remain in the ground, where their assets will become liabilities. The major tourist hotel chain operators are also starting to sweat as they realise that the luxury resorts built in tropical hurricane zones such as North Australia and the Caribbean will have to be written off, as well as assets in the vast no go areas of the planet- those becoming lethally hot or potentially flood prone. Instead the scope for the smaller eco-friendly enterprises has expanded for those that don’t leave a footprint on the planet or believe eternal growth is mandatory.

So Global Warming and the concomitant need to mesh with the sustainability and ethical goals of the broader community are now emerging as two massive constraints and shapers of the Future Enterprise.
But a third factor has emerged that has caught most of the bigger businesses totally flatfooted.

This is the competition from the tens of thousands of next-gen innovators involved in entrepreneurial Startups funded by thousands of smaller non-bank investors, covering every application and industry that was once the exclusive domain of the Big Enterprise.
The services sector is now in turmoil with thousands of small agile enterprises based in cooperative hubs in every major and many minor cities across the globe; cashing in on new opportunities to re-engineer traditional ways of doing business without the need for massive PR budgets or bribes.

And an increasing proportion of the population is becoming technically savvy and better educated, particularly in the massive emerging populations of India, Africa, Asia and Latin America. Global conglomerates across the planet are being stripped of their mystique and gatekeeper roles. They are also being stripped bare by the new wave of creative apps, with agile Startup groups disrupting every traditional industry process, from 3D manufacturing to mobile payments, from personalised healthcare to online education, from local eco-tourism to flexible online travel reservation; using clever algorithms linked to the Internet and powered by cheap smartphones and pads
The smaller enterprise is becoming more innovative, creative, agile and competitive, offering a more personal and fairer option to the community. Innovation and creativity are the new buzzwords and the citizen beneficiaries are loving it.

And this is just the beginning.
The future enterprise will from now on be dominated by technology- from the Internet / Web and every other innovation that goes with it including- Virtual Clouds, Social Networks, Mobile devices and soon the Internet of Things - all available at a relatively low entry and maintenance cost. Technology will not just be an external enabler but will impact the very heart and soul of the enterprise, changing its structure and ability to compete in radical ways; allowing the smaller players to compete on a level playing field.

As the technological basis and norms of society shift, so the structure of the enterprise will also be forced to adapt.
And so we come to the fourth factor in the evolution of the Future Enterprise- the Virtual Enterprise.

The Virtual Enterprise- VE is much more opportunistic and is already here. It does not require its employees to be gathered under one roof or even in one country or controlled from one centralised management team. The VE marks the beginning of a networked distributed architecture obsoleting the traditional siloed hierarchical model of the 20th century.
In such a fast-moving logistical revolution, skills and techniques as well as materials have to be available on demand. Outsourcing of every process- from HR to Manufacturing to IT, including strategic decision-making, will therefore become the new norm.

The workforce, partners as well as customers will be global as well as local, with lightning paced decisions made to optimise production or marketing as opportunities arise and where resources, including skilled and unskilled contractors- even robots, are ready to go. We see virtual flexibility today in the skilled expat diasporas and migration from high unemployment zones of Europe and Asia, supporting every industry from the mining to construction to finance.
Smaller enterprises will have a significant advantage in such a world- without carrying the enormous overheads and legacy of a large enterprise. The virtual enterprise will allow them to scale up or down as required. Without the artificial dichotomy of workers and management, a much more cooperative and flexible model of social evolution can be introduced.

This is likely to lead in fact to the structure of the future enterprise eventually meshing with that of the Web, at the same time connecting with community needs and aspirations on a symbiotic local, regional, national or global basis. Such a pervasive networked architecture utilising a Web based on much cleverer virtual Software Defined Network – SDN and Data Linked Architectures, will apply equally for big and small, public and private enterprises. This will facilitate distributed and largely autonomous decision-making, with the capacity to dynamically route information and intelligence- human or artificial, to key decision nodes as algorithms begin to dominate the management of more complex processes.
Organisational boundaries will become increasingly fluid and porous with individuals moving freely between projects and career paths adding value at each step, in turn allowing them to acquire new skills linked to ongoing advanced learning programs.

So today’s lumbering enterprise behemoths will likely be largely unrecognisable by 2030 - smaller, networked, far more flexible, agile, scalable and opportunistic as well as cooperatively tuned to the needs of the community as well as the customers they serve, eventually on a largely autonomous basis.

They will also apply the latest knowledge within a far more ethical and non-combative environment; cooperatively as well as competitively, applying sustainable methods of energy conservation and high standards of ethical governance.
Sound too good to be true?

Not really – just a logical and inevitable outcome driven by changes in the global environment which are already largely in train and in which the enterprise of the future will play an increasingly significant role.


Wednesday, July 10, 2013

The Future of Reality 2.0

The Director of The Future Planet Research Centre- David Hunter Tow predicts the emergence of a new reality- Reality 2.0, based on a combination of advanced Virtual Reality, Artificial Intelligence and the creativity of the emerging human Superorganism  by 2040, as an essential step in helping avoid the potential destruction of human civilisation.
A schism is emerging in the fabric of reality from a human perspective.
This is not a rending of the spacetime continuum, but a radical shift in the reality of human perception and existence.
On the one hand is our existing notion of reality- Reality mark 1.0,  governed by the four forces of nature- gravity, the strong and weak nuclear forces and electromagnetism, that have shaped our world since its birth four and a half billion years ago and in which we as the modern human species have evolved.
Since our civilisation took off around 15,000 ya we have harnessed many forms of energy – water, wind, steam, electricity and nuclear. At the same time we have reaped the riches of the electromagnetic spectrum, using probes of all wavelengths for communication and the exploration of our universe. This has eventually enabled us to conceive a richer reality, to expand the old limits limits and begin to throw off the shackles of Reality 1.0.
And then about fifty years ago something changed – something profound; the arrival of computers that enabled humanity to digitise, process, store and disseminate the information substrate of our world – both natural and man-made, eventually guiding it through networks to a multiplicity of destinations.
Eventually this networked information infrastructure morphed into the global Internet and its acolyte the Web, enabling the emergence of the current ubiquitous information world and a new reality- Reality 2.0.
Within this new reality things have been moving at lightning speed. Basically our civilisation is rapidly taking a new form- becoming increasingly digital. All human processes and procedures encoded as algorithms and knowledge have been systematically digitised and at the same time have become largely dependent on the Internet- the primary driver of our digital revolution.
We are in fact, through our social networks, smartphones, tablets and future glasses, watches and wearable electronics, being rapidly linked in a giant multidimensional network as one living system, co-dependent - sharing a common computing/communication resource as one organism – a Superorganism.
And now the new Superorganism is starting to flex its muscles, to create its own world, shaping it to its own needs. And our reality will never be the same again.
The major enablers of Reality 2.0 include all forms of digital  and virtual reality including-- Augmented reality, Simulated and Artificial reality as well as Artificial Life and Artificial Intelligence – all based on the power of The Intelligent Web Mark 4.0.
We may now have the genesis of a radically different Reality, but it is still immutably coupled to our original Reality 1.0, because both are governed by the same laws of physics embedded in the wider Universe.
If Reality 1.0 fails – so does Reality 2.0 and any future realities, like a set of dominos – because the laws of nature such as Thermodynamics- governing  entropy and the conservation of energy and information demand it. Our realities are small beer in the overall cosmic enterprise, centred around one small rocky planet of which there are probably millions in our galaxy, rotating around an average sized main sequence sun along with 10 billion similar others in one of 100 billion spiral galaxies in our universe, which in turn may be just one of a  trillion others capable of supporting life.
So it’s early days in our evolutionary trajectory, but already an extremely significant shift has begun for every human being.
This might suggest we are heading towards Ray Kurzweil’s fabled Singularity- an unlimited technological nirvana in which our control over the universe and its unlimited power will be itself unlimited. But reality is never that simple.
Along the way there’s been a complication- Global Warming. And global warming is about to put a giant spanner in human hubris.
Two thousand years ago there were less than 100 million homo sapiens on planet earth. One thousand years ago still less than 300 million; a hundred years ago a billion inhabitants and now the world’s population has exploded to 7 billion, heading towards 9 billion by 2050.
Our use of fossil fuels has also increased, over 50 fold in the last 200 years since the industrial revolution; but particularly over the last fifty years-and that’s when things started to really get out of control. The level of carbon in our atmosphere has  now reached the apocryphal 400 parts per million, most of which has been generated by use of fossil fuels, the highest since early humans walked the earth. And still our appetite for oil and gas and coal continues to soar.
Global warming or more euphemistically Climate Change continues unabated, despite all the good works relating to renewable energy, sustainable and conservation technologies. In addition according to the latest expert analysis, we are depleting our planet’s resources such as food varieties, productive soil, fresh water, clean air, animal and plant biodiversity and many minerals, at a rate equivalent to 150% of its sustainable capacity.
There’s not much you can seriously plan for without factoring the impact of global warming into the equations and models of the future- whether it’s war or peace, food and water security, human migration, education and health, engineered  infrastructure, social institutions and democracy. But many Governments and fossil fuel producers still blandly play out scenarios which largely ignore or downplay its impact.
As a result Reality 1.0 is rapidly becoming unsustainable for human survival with the inevitable collapse of our civilisation likely to be getting very imminent by 2030; just in time for the next generation, when the cycle of growth in the major economies of the world will likely come to a grinding halt and then go backwards.
In addition, climate change together with hyperfast environmental and technological change is at risk of being amplified at the social level by The Darwin Factor or Evolutionary Thrashing
Evolutionary thrashing is the sting in the tail of Darwin’s Theory of Evolution.
Evolution only works when the system that is evolving, has adequate time to adapt to its changing environment; by mutating its DNA in the case of biological systems or by changing its planning and production models in the case of manmade systems such as cars, in response to its customer’s needs. Either way if the system doesn’t adapt quickly it usually dies or goes out of business- which it regularly does.
In other words, evolutionary thrashing occurs when evolution doesn’t have time to do its coping thing before the next wave of change occurs.  And if this keeps happening in accelerating mode then the system will never be able to reach an accommodation with its environment; which generally means it’s doomed. 

In the meantime on the technological front there’s no shortage of fixes for rapid fire climate variation, including new types of renewable energy and more efficient methods of utilising existing energy sources- even fossil ones.
All these fixes are largely now dependent on the ubiquitous power of the Internet/Web and here’s the problem. This jewel in the crown of our civilisation is now under heavy fire not only from trashing due to the violent tantrums of global weather, but from criminal gangs and autocratic regimes seeking to hack its vital knowledge. Without access to this massive global computational/knowledge powerhouse, increasingly globally distributed through Clouds and mobile technology, most of the R&D  and production technology driving today’s applications and services-  from engineering to manufacturing, to construction  and agriculture and communication, will falter and eventually implode.
Previous analysis in this blog has predicted the potential risks if the imbalance between the needs of society and available computational capacity widens. If global warming continues on its upward trajectory and the cost of repairing the damaged infrastructure, both physical and social, continues to escalate, eventually most of the earth’s remaining resources will be depleted just in the struggle to survive and we will be left without the means to overcome the basic problem.
It’s a vicious circle. Humans need to get global warming and cyber sabotage under control in order to avoid its capacity to trash our ecosystems and infrastructure, or else we lose the capacity to maintain the core services of our fragile civilisation. But to get the impacts of runaway warming under control and maintain our standard of living, we need to utilise every advance in technology and creative computational power at our disposal, which is primarily dependent on the Internet and World Wide Web.
So if Reality 1.0 is rapidly becoming unsustainable, how do break out of this catch 22 and transition to a better life in Reality 2.0. How do we prevent the quagmire of Reality Mark 1 from sucking the life out of our planet and us.
The answer is very carefully, using the most advanced technology and human innovation we can muster, from a meta vantage perspective.
Roman generals did the same thing. When they needed to get a true picture of the progress of battle they stood on the nearest hill not down in the chaos of the fighting.
Which brings us to the centrepiece of the Reality problem and perhaps its solution.
Firstly we have no choice in this transition as a society. Our current reality has been irredeemably damaged and is provably unsustainable. This is not our planet’s problem- it’s our mindless stewardship of it.
So our attitude has to change. There is no alternative. If we don’t reduce fossil fuel consumption a Venusian sauna climate will make life a living hell for future generations. Our economic mindset also has to change. It is locked into a perpetual growth/profit cycle which is demonstrably suicidal. So our transition to Reality 2.0 needs to be radically but delicately managed through a new meta medium and a new mindset.
This new medium or layer of social and technological change needs to act as a buffer, allowing us to remediate Reality 1.0 without being swept up in its carnage, while at the same time transitioning to a new level of cognition.
That extra layer will be a combination of advanced forms of Virtual Reality and Artificial Intelligence combined with human ingenuity and compassion.  
Artificial Intelligence- AI, is already embedded in thousands of processes and algorithms including – the diagnosis and treatment of human diseases, the optimisation of the design and production of artefacts - whether electronic, biological, mechanical or chemical, with the capability to become automatically more flexible through self-adaptation. AI technology is increasingly based on many processes that are innate in nature including- evolutionary algorithms, rule based cellular automata, neural networks, the human immune system and insect search and foraging techniques.
At the same time a quantum leap in the range of the Internet is about to explode through the Internet of Things in which any object equipped with an intelligent interface such as a sensor or actuator and even a brain/computer interface can be connected to the Web and managed as easily as a Personal Computer or phone.  
This will be a major step in connecting the world- our original reality, with the emerging one.
Virtual Reality is also making great strides in creating simulations of natural organisms and events from viruses to dinosaurs as well as increasingly life-like gaming, providing a potential escape hatch in the form of parallel worlds. It means we can already visit and explore the wonders of this world without impacting its sanctity. It can enhance our ability to apply intelligent solutions to simulate and  manage the weather, harness the sun’s incredible power, design exotic materials based on super-strong grapheme and invisibility optics, perform remote surgery and space station repairs, manufacture organs using 3D layering techniques, use virtual money and understand mass human behaviour through analysis of social network data. We have also started to create virtual life through the medium of cyber-agents, robotics and synthetic cells. 
In other words we are beginning to create a simulated reality of our world and life based on the power of the Web and human creativity.
By 2040 the power of Reality 2.0 will be hugely amplified by the mind power of the emerging Superorganism – the connected brain power of 8 billion cooperating humans linked to the computational capacity of a quantum Internet as well as an Internet of trillions of intelligent objects.
This may just provide the breathing space and intelligence we need to remediate the damage we have caused to our pristine planet.
But it’s very easy to forget that all this promise is contingent on the successful and ongoing reclamation of Reality 1.0 – the avoidance of a hollowed out planet. It’s not a one-off. This will remain a monumental challenge for future generations.

All our technological and social progress will be lost in the blink of an eye if destruction from an out of control planet, short term greed or ongoing conflict continues to dominate out future. 
These are not sci-fi fantasies. Humans are quite capable of destroying their future and have come perilously close to it many times in their short history. It’s basically just luck that we’re still here.
But if we can finally extract ourselves from the day to day confusion and focus on regaining the long term potential benefits of a sustainable and peaceful world, eventually our two realities will seamlessly merge and our future descendants will thank us.


Tuesday, April 9, 2013

The Future of Surveillance

The Director of the Future Planet Research Centre- David Hunter Tow, predicts that by 2030 the equivalent of a global PreCognition machine will be in operation with everyone  a Person of Interest as portrayed in The Minority Report film.
The state of surveillance and reconnaissance technology and its multiple applications  is now evolving at warp speed creating unprecedented Future Shock to civilisation’s social fabric.
Surveillance is already big business- very big business and is likely to continue to expand exponentially into the foreseeable future, attracting the good, the bad and the ugliest elements of society.

The problem is that without careful controls,  the runaway consequences of such a pervasive and intrusive phenomenom is likely to be catastrophic for humanity.
The main technological and social components of the  global surveillance trendline are already emerging; woven together into a dense matrix from which there will be no easy escape.

They include-

 The Knowledge Web
The most important component is the Web/Internet itself- the core asset and artefact of our civilisation, leveraging the knowledge of our society.  

This massive information network is already evolving into something beyond society’s capacity to control- the means of generating and accessing all civilisation’s knowledge content and application. It now connects over 3 billion humans and in the near future trillions of computing devices, machines and sensors. It already allows  a dense interchange of information, expertise and ideas relating to the sciences, arts and social experience that support all aspects of human existence on planet earth.
All knowledge advances, including not just basic data, but the algorithms, processes and techniques used to processs information, are being funnelled at hyperspeed into its heart, like a giant black hole swallowing the energy of billions of suns.

And emerging from the other side just like a white hole is a whole new universe- the promise of a cornucopia of untold intellectual riches and wisdom. Giant science and social observatories are now being constructed- models containing trillions of variables to assist in forecasting the future; reducing the risks that could wipe out our world in the blink of an eye- catastrophic economic, environmental or existential collapse.

The Web itself is rapidly moving to the next level- becoming more intelligent and self-determining; adapting and learning with the computational intelligence of billions of human and cyberagent minds; rapidly taking on the characteristics of a living superorganism.

 Once encapsulated, content can be mixed and matched, processed and recycled ad infinitum just like matter, until it finally emerges in a form that in  the best scenario will benefit humanity and allow it survive and achieve its potential in the future.

But there is an alter ego- a dark side to the Internet/Web. In order to achieve this magical transformation, this perpetual knowledge generator at the heart and soul of our civilisation,  it must also become a superb surveillance machine, with intelligent sensors to act as its eyes and ears- everywhere.
The following categories of sensors are now commonly used  to support the Internet/Web

Embedded Sensors-
Sensors are incredibly important, because without them to monitor the processes and systems of our planet, including our own bodies, our wonderful chocolate factory would quickly die. It  can only operate as a supersystem if it is fed a continuous diet of up to date, relevant and reliable information.

By linking to a variety of intelligent sensors, some incorporating the distributed  ability to process signals using artificial intelligence, the Web can capture the raw material it requires to weave our social matrix and is already doing so in increasing volumes, as its appetite for problem solving expands.
Sensors therefore must therefore also evolve  to become smarter- becoming more like multi-component systems, which can now be constructed in a vast variety of forms. For example- as force and field detectors embedded in the limbs of autonomous robots, capable of working on complex tasks with humans; as clouds of tiny artificial insects or smart dust that can automatically cooperate to monitor deadly environments without risking human lives; as nano-biosensors small enough to enter and navigate human cells to keep us alive; as the instrumentation of unmanned drones capable of locking on to a target and activating a kill switch against human beings; and as road location catseyes, continuously  communicating with driverless cars to avoid accidents and gridlock.

But rapidly changing climate and social change triggered by global warming will be the main driver for this technology in the future,  requiring intelligent sensors embedded in every form of natural and man made ecosystem; allowing for constant adaptation and maintenance, utilising closed feedback loops linked to the Intelligent Web for its solutions.
Such smart sensor networks are already operating in every sphere of work and social activity including-

Maintaining engineered Infrastructure- embedded in roads, bridges, dams, pipelines, grids and power stations.
Monitoring ecosystems-  natural systems  such as-forests, rivers, water, soil,  air and energy resources providing feedback to regulatory authorities to protect their integrity and survival.

Coordinating manufacturing and logistical facilities-  factories, plants,  container centres, warehouses, ports. airports, railways, traffic systems etc to efficiently manage the manufacture and delivery of products and services.
Personalising Health - advances in smart phones  and mobile technology equipped with biosensors have opened up unlimited  opportunities to monitor and support an individual’s health needs on an unprecedented personal basis- delivering just in time interventions linked to the latest diagnostic and treatment algorithms on the Web. Also using nanosensors to track disease pathways at the cellular and molecular level.

Managing Disasters and Conflict -  protecting the security  of those living in war and conflict zones – including law enforcement precincts in cities and urban areas; using a  range of sensors to protect and monitor the security of communities and public assets. These are increasingly delivered by smartphones as well as pervasive CCTV cameras, mobile robots and in the future small agile drones.

 Satellites / Probes – Eyes in  the Sky-

Ssensor systems, involving high resolution cameras and global positioning devices attached to space based telescopes, aircraft, balloons, unmanned drones, explorers  and probes of all types are now widely used to detect the electromagnetic spectrum of the planet’s resources in most wavelengths- optical, infrared, ultra violet, radio etc. The results are used to feed data to web based or smartphone apps for analysis covering-  weather forecasts, disaster interventions, animal distribution, ecosystem health, 24 hour communications and video news footage..

.Military / Spy networks - satellites track the world’s most secret military and government installations and test sites using software that enables surveillance of the remotest areas on the planet. This information is also used for research, using images from Google Earth satellite maps to replace traditional archaeological methods; by Governments to monitor border integrity and NGOs to safeguard wildlife against poaching in protected areas. Powerful probes and remote autonomous vehicle landers are increasingly used in space exploration  to obtain fly by views of planets, moons and asteroids and in the future mining options.
Drones / UAVs – these are likely to become common in the future, sharing airspace with piloted aircraft. They are currently used for surveillance spying and kill missions, but in the future will be used for reconaissance by most governments, NGOs and private corporations.

They can monitor a range of information sources, vastly reducing the operational risk in conflict areas; allowing surveillance by sensors that can record full motion video, infrared patterns. radio and mobile phone signals. They can also refuel on remote short airstrips, extending effective air range by thousands of kilometres.

Nextgen drones will be autonomous and smaller, able to navigate and eventually make target decisions, controlled by  complex algorithms and Web feeds; eliminating human operators from the decision loop entirely.  They will be used by every type of organisation - criminal networks, private security businesses, NGOs and social activist groups, providing a variety of logistical, security, news gathering and research services.
But many legal, ethical and regulatory issues remain to be resolved before UAVs will be able to operate in lockstep with human controlled vehicles. There is now fierce pushback by the community against another method of individual privacy invasion.

Intelligent Devices
With the imminent arrival of the Internet of Everything the focus will be on every object in relation to surveillance - machines, electronic devices and systems that can communicate with other machines as well as human users will be the first objects of interest to  be caught in the net. These will include complex systems such as supersmart phones and robots as well as everyday home and office devices such as  cameras, TVs, printers, video recorders, toys,  game consoles, microwave ovens, toasters, fridges etc, all equipped with forms of embedded sensors and actuators including chipped product and ID codes. Eventually  trillions of such active objects including life forms – plants,  animals and humans- will be linked to the Internet through a variety of communication protocols including including DNA sequences and brain interfaces.

Robots of all types will be pervasive in the home,  workplace and industrial areas including- humanoids, capable of intereacting and cooperating with humans in work areas such as retail stores and factories or performing home support services- initially cleaning, food delivery, health and companion support.  They will eventually be capable of more sophisticated decision-making and autonomous operation equal to humans in every activity and finally acting in surveillance / supervisory mode.

 Social Networks /Media

Humans are also expanding their remit in the surveillance game in the form of citizen reporters, scientists and observers, using smartphones to gather information from their local environment, then feeding it through social network media.  Social networks such as Facebook and Twitter already provide feedback on the latest breaking news across the globe, particularly in entertainment, crime and disaster areas, often creating ad hoc networks to provide alternative coverage when standard communication fails as in Haiti-  offering critical on the ground suppport and impact assessment as first responders.

Phone cameras have already proved the single most important surveillance tool available to communities in times of crisis;  also a tool for democracy that has already proved crucial in capturing proof of abuse during the Arab Spring. Citizen reporters, and community activists  equipped with such devices constantly feed the Web with realtime events, capturing evidence of illegal activities and promoting events of public interest through crowdsourcing. The social media therefore provides a significant back channel in disseminating realtime information around the globe like a Mexican wave, as well as signalling emerging trends such as disease epidemics and political developments.
In addition, activist NGOs, whistleblowers and mass movements- Greenpeace, Wikileaks and Occupy all contribute to this channel, providing background monitoring and surveillance of big business and  Government corruption; a form of ethical surveillance crucial to a democracy.

 Cyber Espionage

Cyber espionage is now rife around the world. Serious cyber attacks are a daily occurrence particularly between nations such as  China, US, Russia, Britain, Iran and Israel, with the intent of covert acquisition of national secrets, Intellectual property, financial assets and personal information.
But cyber espionage is also a form of intrusive surveillance.

Current cyber malware such as Stuxnet, Flame, Duqu and Miniduke are all primarily surveillance and  reconnaissance weapons capable of performing spy missions as well as crippling vital target infrastructure. This routinely involves  copying critical screen images, websites, emails, documentation and network traffic in general.- performing extensive data mining, copying, transmitting and deleting files for espionage purposes.
The Pentagon’s Plan x is a good example of the exploding surveillance syndrome now overtaking society. It aims to create a  new surveillance and operations system to map the digital battlefield of cyberspace and  define a playbook for deploying cyberweapons. It will provide a realtime graphical rendering of this cyberworld showing ongoing operations and realtime flows of networked data around the world like a large scale computer game. This visualisation or surveillance model of cyberspace requires intensive reconaissance of both friend and foe. But it is already out of date- a model more appropriate for the sci-fi films of the nineties. It will soon be superseded by a much bigger prescence – a multi-dimensional cognitive model in which  players are linked directly to the Intelligent Web.

The US is also assembling a vast intelligence surveillance apparatus to collect information about its own citizens as well as those overseas actors perceived as terrorist risks, integrating the resources of the Department of Homeland Security, military , local police departments and FBI. In the near future this will be expanded to encompass the whole range of US and overseas allied security agencies. This machine will collate information about thousands of US citizens and residents many of whom have not been accused of any wrongdoing, to assist the FBI initially in its ongoing eternal and surreal war against home grown terrorism.
According to news reports there are now almost 4000 federal, state and local organisations working on domestic counterterrorism projects, following the 2001 attacks. Obviously this is  getting out of hand, making it virtually impossible to achieve any realistic goal for achieving a coordinated system.

There are also a number of legislative bills relating to Internet surveillance awaiting ratification including – SOPA, PIPA and CISPA. The  first two speak to copyright protection of content on the web threatening to close down any remotely implicated site,  which opponents say infringes on the right to privacy and freedom of access to the Web; while the third  relates to the monitoring of private citizen information or spying on the general public, in the name of investigating hypothetical cyber threats and ensuring the security of networks against cyber attack.

All three have met with fierce opposition from advocacy groups such as the American Civil Liberties Union  and the Electronic Frontier Foundation, as ignoring the legal rights of supposed infringers and excessively intrusive and draconian.
Future Shock

While the benefits of the future Interne/Web are enormous in terms of greater knowledge leading to a higher quality of life and a safer existence for humanity, there are concurrent significant downsides which will quickly escalate, potentially  leading to a loss of control of humanity over its destiny. 
The existential risk is that transition to such an always on and pervasive entity as a global  surveillance machine, monitoring  a large proportion of the planet’s  natural, engineered and cultural environment, could  lead to a big brother society in which everyone is a person of interest.

The major disruptions noted as already emerging, relate to the inevitable erosion of citizen privacy  and equitable access to the the Internet in the name of security, with new US laws such as SOPA  and CISPA due to be enacted. These purportably aim to provide greater protection for intellectual property and personal rights but at the same time have the potential to erode democratic rights. 

In other words the beneficial potential of the Internet/Web is at risk of being subverted, emerging instead as a vast spying or surveillance machine.

But this is just the beginning of a slippery slope in human rights attrition.
The surveillance mechanisms outlined will inevitably lead to much greater personal freedoms restriction, which in turn will increase pressure for some form of predictive capacity to choke off dissent. This is likely to escalate no matter what legal safeguards are adopted.

In the paranoid world of the spy/surveillance agencies, networks will become impossibly entangled – much more so than in the current geopolitical/security maze. If there are 4000 domestic agencies in the US currently involved in covert surveillance, how many more are there internationally and how many will there be involved in the surveillance game when the cyberespionage paranoia really explodes?

Who is friend or foe when every nation and major organisation is spying on every other?
As mentioned, prediction/forecasting models are already in widespread use – and so they should be in a world threatened by global warming and economic collapse.  Projects such as the FuturICT Social Observatory, although not gaining EU funding in the immediate future will continue, monitoring vast amounts of information, searching for trends and elusive signals to save the planet.

It is good science when forecasting is applied to reduce risks to our civiliisation. But when such mechanisms abuse power by tightening control over populations it is the beginning of an unravelling of democratic standards.
Autocratic and fascist states throughout history have applied such techniques to their people, punishing political enemies and dissidents in the process. The current surveillance technologies amplify this potential for misuse a thousandfold, exploiting the Web as civilisation’s greatest asset for potential benefit, turning it instead into a quasi Surveillance/Precog machine with the capacity to predict an individual’s movements and actions.

Governments have lost the ability to solve this problem.

Even if there is the will it has become too complex.

The Future is at a tipping point- and the outcome does not look promising.