Leadership of Technological Change (35 min video)

A recent keynote, at USNI’s West Conference, Jan 2013, San Diego, CA. The talk has three parts:

1. A brief intro to evolutionary developmental foresight, a strategically useful theory of change for leaders,

2. A selection of important developmental (highly probable) opportunities, disruptions, and threats I think we can expect in coming years due to accelerating technological change,

3. Strategies for innovation, management, and foresight (IMF) with respect to technological change that can be employed by middle and senior mgmt.

Those who want one quick takeaway may enjoy the last minute, starting at 35:06, which wraps up with a Navy innovation brand vision for an Open Oceans GIS Platform. I think something like this could be a big win-win for Navy global transparency and partnership activities, and with luck, some Navy service leader is out there now championing a variant of this idea.

Hope you like it! As always let me know your thoughts below or by email (johnsmart{at}accelerating{dot}org),  thanks.

Chemical Brain Preservation: How to Live “Forever” – A Personal View

Here’s my 45 minute talk on Chemical Brain Preservation at World Future Society 2012. Given the progress we’ve seen in the relevant science and technologies it’s a topic I’m presently very optimistic about. I had a great audience with lots of questions at the end, but in the interest of brevity I’m just uploading the talk. Let me know your thoughts in the comments, thanks!



A number of neuroscientists, working today with simple model organisms, are investigating the hypothesis that chemical brain preservation may inexpensively preserve the organism’s memories and mental states after death. Chemically preserved brains can be stored at room temperature in cemeteries, contract storage, even private homes. Our 501c3 nonprofit organization, the Brain Preservation Foundation, is offering a $100,000 prize to the first scientific team to demonstrate that the entire synaptic connectivity (“connectome”) of mammalian brains can be perfectly preserved using either chemical preservation or more expensive cryopreservation techniques.

Such preserved brains may be “read” in the future, analogous to the way a computer hard drive is read today, so that either memories or the complete identities of the preserved individuals can be restored or “uploaded” in computer form. Chemical preservation techniques are already being used to scan and upload the connectomes of very small animal brains (C. elegans and OpenWorm, zebrafish, soon flies). Though these scans are not yet sufficiently complex to extract memories from the uploaded organisms, give them a little more time, we’re very close now to cracking long-term memory. We just need to know a bit more about this process at the protein/receptor/gene level: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Long-term_potentiation

Amazingly, if information technologies continue to improve at historical rates, a person whose brain is chemically preserved in 2020 might have their memories read or even fully return to the world in a computer form not centuries but just a few decades from now, while their children and loved ones are still alive. Given progress in electron microscopy and connectomics research to date, we can even forsee how this may be done as a fully automated and inexpensive process.

Today, only 1% of people in developed societies are interested in living beyond their biological death (see When I’m 164, David Ewing Duncan, 2012). With chemical brain preservation, this 1% may soon have a validated, low-cost method that will allow them to do just that. Once it becomes a real option, and recovery of simple memories has been demonstrated in model organisms, this 1% may grow larger as well.

I am particularly excited by chemical brain preservation’s ability to improve the social contract: what benefits we may reasonably expect from the universe and society when we choose to live a good and moral life. I believe that having the option of chemical brain preservation at death, if the science is validated, may help all our societies become significantly more science-, future-, progress-, preservation-, sustainability-, truth and justice-, and community-oriented in coming years.

Would you choose chemical brain preservation at death if it was widely available, validated, and inexpensive? If not, why not? Would you do it to donate your brain to science? Your memories to your children or others who might want them? Would you be willing to come back in person, if that turns out to be possible? If it is sufficiently inexpensive, would it be best to preserve your brain at death, and let future society decide if either your memories or your identity are “worth” reanimating? Please let me know what you think in the comments, thank you.

Abundance, 2012 – Why You Should Read This Book

Every few years a few truly great general interest books on technology, human problems, and social progress come along. Books like Carson’s Silent Spring, 1962. Toffer’s Future Shock, 1970. Piel’s The Acceleration of History, 1972. Drexler’s Engines of Creation, 1986. Moravec’s Mind Children, 1988. Hawken’s The Ecology of Commerce, 1993. Stock’s Metaman, 1993. Simon’s The State of Humanity, 1996. Brin’s The Transparent Society, 1998. Kurzweil’s The Age of Spiritual Machines, 1999. Rhodes’s Visions of Technology, 1999. Friedman’s The Lexus and the Olive Tree, 1999. Wright’s Nonzero, 2000. Lomborg’s The Skeptical Environmentalist, 2001. Wallace’s Moral Machines, 2008. Kelly’s What Technology Wants, 2010. Pinker’s The Better Angels of Our Nature, 2011. Kenny’s Getting Better, 2011. Ridley’s The Rational Optimist, 2011, and Bowles and Gintis’s A Cooperative Species, 2011. Now comes Diamandis and Kotler’s Abundance, 2012, a member of this rare and special class.

To read books like these is to improve your ability to think, to see viable futures, to create and take control of your life’s path, and to live in a way that best advances society as a whole. In short, they upgrade your world view, by addressing the most important questions and conversations of our era. How do we best steer our accelerating technologies to create social progress? What are the great human problems our technologies create? What greater problems can they solve? How and why does technology improve itself even in spite of human failings? What is technology becoming, and how is it changing us?

Abundance helps us understand that we are not entering a “post-scarcity” world, but rather an abundance world. Scarcities and competitions will persist at the leading edge of civilization, and the winners will profit more than everyone else. But at the same time, our accelerating technologies are creating vast new abundance in living standards, and so much capability to take care of our environment, that the scarcities of today will be distant memories just a few generations from now. As long as we rise to the challenges.

Peter Diamandis, Founder and Chairman of the X PRIZE Foundation, Co-Founder and Chairman of Singularity University, and pioneer of the personal spaceflight industry, is eminently qualified to write this book. He is both a visionary and an accomplished entrepreneur, with a passion for new horizons, and a deep ethical interest in global development. His practical, results-oriented perspective permeates the book, and frankly, it jumps right into the reader’s psyche long before the end. His co-author, Steven Kotler, is a writer of vast experience, and it shows. Of all the books listed above, Abundance is perhaps the easiest to read, and digest. The writing is amazingly straightforward and clear. You can finish it in just a few evenings. If you are an influence leader with your family and friends I recommend getting a copy for them as well. If they are reading- or time-challenged, get them the MP3 audiobook. For special books like this, I recommend listening to the audiobook first in your car, then reading and annotating the book a week later. There’s no better way to deeply understand important ideas than to hear them more than once by different modes, then to summarize them when done. If you can, post your thoughts on the book in an Amazon Review, and discuss and debate it with others when you are done.

If Diamandis and Kotler don’t do a video documentary to follow up this achievement, that would be a shame. The images and themes in this book are so well chosen, I’m convinced that Abundance: The Movie would change millions of lives and minds. The book shows how to get beyond hand-wringing and finger pointing for those who want to create a better world. Instead, we can actively seek out and celebrate examples of what works, incentivize innovation, aggressively back the best of the innovators and disruptors, and help clear the many roadblocks out of their way. I found Abundance to strike a realistic balance between sustainability and innovation. It makes clear we aren’t just here to be change-averse stewards of the past, or the status quo. Humanity craves more freedom, intelligence, ethics, and ability, not just for us, but for every living creature. Increasingly, we’re figuring out how to achieve what we dream.

Singularity University, co-founded by Peter and the eminent futurist and innovator Ray Kurzweil, is an educational and entrepreneurship organization dedicated to defining and addressing the grand challenges of human development. I am an advisor at SU. Every year I’m privileged to meet the 80 students of their Graduate Studies Program, and every year I’m blown away by the vision, drive, ethics, and creativity of these students. I’ve also known several of them before they attended SU, and it’s magical to see how much more practical and effective they become once they’re part of the SU network. Peter and Ray have created an amazing environment, and it begins with the right mindset, the right world view. Unless you can afford to attend their GSP or their shorter Executive Program, reading this book is the closest you’ll get to creating the Singularity University mindset for yourself. I have been thinking about these issues as a technology foresight professional since 2000, going on 12 years now. This book left me significantly more optimistic, practical, and empowered than when I began, and I’ve got several friends now reading it as well.

Abundance, as I see it, has four main themes: 1. Mental blocks that keep us from seeing the world as it really is, 2. Grand challenges of global development, 3. Accelerating technological progress, and 4. Accelerating human ingenuity. Part One tackles the mental blocks that keep us from seeing accelerating change, and challenges us to improve our perspective. I think these 48 pages are the most important, for most people. If you have time for nothing else, just read this section. Part One helps us see how our culture and our human biases conspire to keep us cynical, passive, fear-driven, selfish, ignorant, and disconnected. Meanwhile planetary acceleration continues faster every year, with or without the awareness of us as individuals, organizations, or even nations, and it’s a strongly positive sum game for global civilization. The Chinese researcher who discovers the cure to the cancer that your partner will get in twenty years will soon be your hero, or she should be. The more innovative, wealthy, intelligent, and “cooperatively competitive” the world gets, the more human conflict migrates to where it belongs, at the leading edge, in the world of creative ideas, not in the realm of human rights, securities, and freedoms, which become increasingly clearly protected and defined. Will America turn away from its long history of openness to immigrants, freedom, thought leadership, and technological greatness, and increasingly reward ideology, bigness, and cronyism? The choice is before us.

Parts Two through Six alternate the last three themes. We’re introduced next to Exponential Technologies, and we begin to appreciate the disruptions to come, and the special tools that every wise society needs to employ. The reader considers a special set of Grand Challenge problems, and their looming solutions: The final spurt of Population Growth (in Africa and Asia only, it’s pretty much over everywhere else). Sanitation. Water. Food. Energy. Education. Health Care. Freedom. Potential pitfalls of exponential technology like the growing rich poor divide, corruption, pandemics, military conflict, and terrorism are relegated to the Appendix. This is nervy yet ultimately a smart call. Abundance focuses our attention on all the problems that can be noticeably improved or eliminated in the next ten to twenty five years. The problems in the Appendix can and will be solved as well, but likely not nearly as fast.

The fourth theme, rising human ingenuity, collective intelligence, and cooperative competition (institutions and rules for competition that maximize GDP and innovation per capita, see Acemoglu and Robinson, Why Nations Fail, 2012, for a lot more on that) is treated in two groups of three chapters, so in essence it’s the largest theme of the book. While Diamandis and Kotler make an excellent case that our Grand Challenge problems can be solved. They also make it very clear that these solutions won’t happen if we don’t keep striving. As always, a subset of motivated, visionary, talented, and practical entrepreneurs, innovators, policymakers, and philanthopists will lead the way, and the billions who are presently marginalized will do most of the heavy lifting, in pursuit of a decent quality of life, not the diversions of luxury.

Books like Abundance help us to get our bearings in a sea of change. They remind us where we are, and where we are going. The more people read them, the more purposeful and effective we all become. We’ve got big problems to solve, and Abundance is one of the best guides to the near future that you could ever ask for. I hope you’ll read it, learn it, and share it far and wide. Let me end with Peter’s 16-min TED talk, which is a great entry into the book.

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