The Exponentials Are Here

Here they are, The Exponentials, the generation once weakly called 'Z', the ones behind the millennials. For the Exponentials technology is not interesting in and of itself. They grew up in an Aether of internet with phones faster than supercomputers of old. Starting in the 90s we began to separate. Each year of being alive in the Exponential generation looks different from the last in enough profound socio-technical ways that lumping them is impossible. When my 10 year old next door neighbor came over with a robot that balances on its own that you drive with a phone and asked me (27) and my brother (23) if we ‘had this when we were kids’ we could only laugh and explain that when we were kids computers weighed 15 pounds and gyroscopes cost thousands of dollars. He didn’t really understand.

Exponential technological change has created a segmentation of experience between generations that takes years to change, not decades; and it’s getting faster.

Let’s quickly compare a 6 year old’s general technological landscape since 1990:

A child born in 1990 (me) used a computer plugged into the wall that was a heavy box when they were 6 years old and a very text-heavy internet at 56k dialup. A child born in 1995 could have had broadband internet allowing them to upload and download rich media. A child born in 2000 could have had wireless internet and a laptop to work with and a few more videos with some social media blossoming up. A child born in 2005 had wireless internet by default with multiple communication and networking channels all in rich media. A child born in 2010 can potentially access virtual reality and definitely has omnipresent smartphone access with infinite communication channels, 3D printing access, and even access to entirely new kinds of money. A child born in 2015 will have mixed reality headsets and holographics, intelligent inferential computing, potentially even 4D reactive printing materials, quantum computing access, ‘action voxels’ such as synthetic biology and swarm robotics, their real-world becoming programmatic.

This is why the only generational definition that matters is Exponential. Each ‘childhood’ experience is now defined by vast leaps in technological capability. Each specific experience looks different in what tools and toys are around. Yet each childhood experience is unified by a dark thread: the unaddressed trauma and cost of the weight of human action on the world.

The Exponentials are here, they swim in the Internet and they think with each other in rich hypermedia as their default way of being. There is no lost dream for them, no economy that should be working better, only the tools to build a better one. They care about the real, deep issues and they have little luxury for distractions on rat races and exploitation. They can’t be told to stop because they have too many resources for moving forward. They don’t just appear on talk shows, they make them daily for fun. For them technology is used in context, yet not marveled at as its own achievement. Only the actions matter. There is no other option than deep social reform.

The teens of Parkland are our signal. The Exponentials have arrived. These brave humans are riding the ripples of convergent technological ability to fix real and very old issues. We waited for super heros when they are already among us. The Exponentials are already working, picking up on the threads left behind by the previous generations. The Exponentials have no distinctions between what is allowed and what should be done. They care not for titles and honors, only for the safety of their friends and loved ones. You cannot convince them that the world is ‘ok’ and they should just wait it out because they know better, in their hearts and minds. They cannot and will not stop until the world has been cleaned up. They are articulate, able to query global expertise at the tap of some fingers, and soon with merely looking and thinking into EEG readers on their headsets.

Each year the technological tools at their disposal will only get exponentially more powerful. Their networks will only get exponentially more interconnected. The movement is here. The Exponentials have arrived.

It is all other generations’ duty to help them and invite them into the meetings. They’ll find their way eventually, so let’s network with them now. Millennials, drop your cynicism, let go of your shields. Forget the faded vision of capitalism past. Join your brothers and sisters of the Exponentials to create a golden chain into the new future. One where we do not hide from trauma, nor wallow in it, rather network with each other to transform trauma into action. A world where we know only two things: problems are inevitable, and problems are solvable, together.

The real exponential change of our time is in the people ourselves: we have the means to communicate with light and radio. There is no more need to stay in the shadows. Rise up and find the others. Rise up and we are uplifting the world.

The jewel of our age, the ones who swim in cyberspace as fish, unaware of the novelty of their medium, these are the ones who will connect the dots. The Exponentials are here. Let’s get to work brothers and sisters, the next phase has begun.

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If you are an Exponential, check out Teens Dream video contest & social platform as an avenue to get your goal out there and connect with other change-makers.

I helped start this contest back in 2014 under the Global Co Lab which I'm on the board of. Connect with me for more info.

Humanity the Super-Organism: Fostering a Realistic Idealism

Humanity the Super-Organism: Fostering a Realistic Idealism

Humanity is an adolescent super-organism. We still lack a broad understanding of ourselves as we are: nodes of a holistic system. Our current journey is one of personal discovery. We humans find ourselves in a systemic environment featuring immense inequality and pockets of persistent violence. Yet even this is only a fleeting moment, temporary equilibria.  If we are to move beyond this moment we must better understand our place within it. "The economy" is not some “other” outside of us, it is us; it is the emergent pattern of our activity. We are the Invisible Hand. Today the system prizes techno-trinkets and abstracted capital wealth; tomorrow it must prize humanity. 

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Standing Tall Atop Technology: Retiring the Wheelchair

Once when I was young, around 9 I think, I slipped while exploring tide pools at Crystal Cove State Park in California and fell on a sharp rock. It stabbed me just below my right knee. It was quite a violent blow and it caused quite a trauma in the moment; I think my body still remembers it because my leg is demanding I touch the scar as I write this! Yet it did not hurt. Quite the contrary, I could not feel anything at all. For a brief yet timeless moment, I was paralyzed. I will never forget the feeling. I was not afraid or sad; I was stunned and morbidly curious. Suddenly I could “hear” my previously quiet motor system yelling, screaming at my legs to move; but they simply would not. I tried and tried from inside my mind to will my legs to move and they just could not. As I experimented with this new problem and the delirious state of shock took firmer hold, I actually ended up finding it funny. I remember my mom yelling to me asking if I could get up, to which out I sort of half-chuckled and replied, “I can’t.”

Every time I recall this story I am thankful that control quickly returned, and that I can move my legs today. After that moment I became aware of just how precious it is to have control over one’s limbs, and how fragile the human body really is. The experience left me with a lasting impression and a heightened appreciation for the power of walking. To have something taken from you shows you how beautiful it is. I think of those who have found themselves bound to wheelchairs and it saddens and frustrates me. There has to be a way to bring their mobility back, to give them the gift of walking again! Now, as the 21st Century gets firmly underway, there is hope on the horizon.

The World Cup demonstration signaled the world: a new era is dawning; an era where standing tall is a reality for all.

The wheelchair is a powerful enabling technology, but it is also an ancient technology; it has unfortunate and intractable trade-offs. Being in a wheelchair places you in a kind of nether state, just below full mobility and full participation. You are seated while others stand, always looking up. You cannot take the stairs. You cannot drive an unmodified car. You are not part of the "main" world; you are part of another world imposed on you by the limits of an ancient technology. Thanks to human decency expressed in laws like building codes requiring ramps wheelchair users are integrated into society, but those measures will never be enough to fully empower. Wheelchairs do not provide an equality of experience for those who must use them. Wheelchairs are a flawed technology, a compromise from an ancient time.

The long era of the wheelchair is finally beginning its end. Exoskeletons will bridge the gap and grant real mobility and independence to the previously chair-bound. No longer will paralyzed or otherwise immobile people be forced to sit while others stand; they too will be at eye level with their peers.

I think this will be a boon not just for the physical well being of those who have found themselves in wheel chairs, but for their mental well being too. No one wants to feel helpless, or somehow less than others. Every individual should have the right to be in charge and in control of his or her life and exoskeleton technology enables this more than ever before. Those who would have been locked to a chair in the previous century will literally be able to stand tall and reclaim a huge part of their lives.

Sophie Morgan using Rex, a joystick-controlled exoskeleton.
 “Until you have been in a wheelchair for years you cannot understand what it’s like to stand up, physically or emotionally,” says Sophie. 
“It was a bizarre feeling. I’m 5ft. 10in. And the floor looked so far away. I felt safe, but it was all an emotional blur. Afterwards I couldn’t believe that I had been walking around, and wanted to do it all over again.”
Her boyfriend Tom said, “it was the first time I’ve seen her standing up.”
“It was wonderful to be eye to eye with each other. We just hugged and hugged,” added Sophie…
 

While the World Cup demo may have seemed clunky, it was quite unique and revolutionary. Unlike previous exoskeletons that are controlled by joysticks or controllers, the World Cup suit was controlled by thought. This is a major shift as well, granting the fluidity of experience that comes with action mirroring intent directly. So much of the power of walking comes from its ability to fade away from conscious thought, to let us ferry ourselves around our daily lives without any need to think how we’re doing it. My brief brush with having my normally unconscious cycle of intent to action broken showed me how powerful it is. Giving this fluidity back to chair-bound people will be monumental. They will once again be able to move with action mirroring intent, able to navigate the world on their terms.

With this tech costs are still high and performance is clunky, but that is only temporary. Exoskeletons and the brain computer interfaces that will make them fluid to use are digital technologies, and as such they are enjoying the benefits of rapid exponential progression. Over the coming years exoskeletons will get better, faster, cheaper, smaller and “smarter” to the point where they be fluidly controlled by thought alone and even may be able to fit under clothes. Like all truly powerful enabling technology they will fade away into the background of their users' lives. I think we'll see this quality of exoskeleton before 2020 at a cost that is manageable for a middle class individual, with further cost reductions on the horizon.

Yet exoskeletons are just the beginning. Eventually we will have the medical prowess to repair any damage, and even augment beyond physical limits. For now, exoskeletons will be an incredible bridge technology enabling a better quality of life.

“The future is already here — it's just not very evenly distributed.”

It will be interesting, and somewhat troubling, to watch the progression in mobility and rehabilitation technology during the first half of the 21st century. We may see overlaps of technological fixes, with biological fixes emerging while exoskeletons are still being refined.

The progression may be: first richer people get exoskeletons while poorer people are still relegated to wheelchairs, then poorer people will get exoskeletons while richer people have moved on to biological fixes, then poorer people will get the fixes while richer people perhaps have moved onto augmentation.

Although I personally think that augmentation will be a surprisingly level playing field of cost and adoption. Synthetic biology is shaping up to have very strong grass-roots potential. But that’s a discussion for another time…

Still with the state of financial equality on Earth, and particularly medical care in the US, the benefits of exoskeletons will be unevenly distributed at first. Decent ones are on the market as of 2016 for $40,000. But like all digital technology, exoskeletons will become a commodity eventually. 

From exoskeletons to stem cells, new technology is seeing wheelchairs nearing the end of use.  In the 21st century we will finally be able to retire a technology that has been with us since the 6th century BCE. We will finally be able to grant every human true mobility and control over their lives, to let them stand tall and walk on their terms.

A few generations from now, kids will learn of the amazingly progressive and empowering laws in the US and other nations that helped wheelchair-bound people integrate with society, and it will likely just confuse them.

"Why build ramps? Why didn't you just fix everyone’s legs? Or give them new ones!"

"Because we didn't know how… but we learned."

- JH

Winds of Imagination, Waves of Change

A philosophical and metaphorical musing on looking to the horizon of the future.

This universe is full of waves. Even particles are waves at their deeper more meaningful quantum level. So it is with change. 

Think about standing in an ocean. There are small waves you can make, ripples that radiate from you effecting limited space, but still impacting the whole system even if just slightly. Then there are the grand waves, the ones that come from out beyond the horizon. These grand waves are fueled by wind. In the world of humans it is much the same, although now metaphorical. Humanity generates a powerful wind of imagination and desire. The waves of change are fueled by our combined imagination, under no one's sole control, yet effecting all. 

Now that we humans are networked together directly this wind is growing in strength, and the waves it is making are growing larger than ever before. These cannot be controlled, but they can be noticed. 

The oceans taught me this. If you wish to catch a wave, first you must see it coming. You may not know how high it will be, or exactly where it will break until it is just in front of you; but if you have been watching the wave arrive it will not surprise you. You will be ready, and if you place yourself in front of it just so, you will ride it. 

Yet you must be vigilant. If you do not notice the wave until it is upon you, it will crash over your head. If you rush too far out to meet a wave it will pass by and break behind you leaving you stranded far from shore. If you catch a wave too late, only just as it is cresting, you will fall off its crest and smash into the trough below. You may try to duck under the waves as they come, preferring to let them pass you by but this is a losing battle; your breath will tire eventually and the waves are relentless. Change, like an ocean wave, can be immensely destructively powerful. But if you pay attention, you can ride the change.

This is how I look at the horizon of the future. I do not look to the future to predict specifics, I look to identify the bumps on the surface of possibility, the tell-tale signs that a wave of change is available to happen. 

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This is the work of foresight, of analyzing trends: to see the wave of change before it breaks, to follow its latent potential all the way until it finally rears up and reshapes the world, and to share that knowledge with others so that we may all ride together. Change comes inexorably, it is a constant of the universe. Waves pulverize shells to sand and mold lumpen stones into spheres. Life constantly evolves. Stars are born live and die. The galaxies spin and collide and coalesce. All matter and energy is seeking all that is allowed in the universe, spinning out in an elegant dance of radiant permutation. Whatever is possible has a chance of happening. 

The system of humans on earth is not some amusement park wave generator, we cannot simply “turn off” the waves of change we make. The change we bring is fueled by that endless growing wind of imagination and desire, of questions asked and answers sought. We are a part of the system that is the universe and so are enveloped in its constant of change. We are the universe expressing possibilities, we are a mechanism by which it changes itself, changes ourselves. We are a seething, roaring ocean.

In this moment, there are monumental waves on civilization’s horizon, ones grander than we have ever seen before. Waves of change fueled by winds of recombinant networked imagination, the strongest winds society has ever generated. The crests will keep getting higher, to ride the waves will become ever more perilous. From fire to nuclear weapons the potential to fall off the crest has been growing with the height of the fall. Synthetic biology, programmable matter, quantum computing, these are waves so immense that they are only now finding land, only now starting to rise up and show us their true height. Even the grand waves of traditional computing and digital networking are still rearing up, still not fully washed over the world. Yet already we see what they have brought. Some people have ridden them well, many more have been left behind.

We cannot fight change; to fight change is to fight nature. But we can ride it. We can harness change so that it may be useful, so that it may propel us forward. If we teach each other how to, we can all ride together; and if we catch the waves of change just right, it can even be fun.

- JH