The ‘Next Big Thing’ always promises to be the cure for all our ails – but inevitably the high promises tarnish and all our best efforts fall back to earth. For as long as we’ve had technology, we’ve believed in its capacity to craft a perfect world – even though we ourselves are far from perfect.
Author and philosopher Erik Davis has spent twenty years dissecting our attitudes toward technology, utopia and belief – and writes about a future where we ‘wise up’ enough to understand the human value of our imperfections.
Here’s a bit of a taste of our wide-ranging conversation about faith, reason, utopia, and why we seem to make the same mistakes over and over again…
All the way back in 1994, Bill Gates quipped, “Banking is necessary – banks are not.” For billions of ‘unbanked’ in the developing world, banking happens through a smartphone app – no branches, no tellers, and no ATMs. How does a bank inspire trust – or trust its customers – when it’s all inside a smartphone?
Banking futurist Andrew Davis shares his vision of a future where banks protect privacy as well as your money, a world where everyone, everywhere becomes a banker.
Here’s a clip of Andrew talking about ‘open banking’ – the coming revolution where banking becomes about your data just as much as today it’s about your money:
One of the most interesting innovations in banking involves the analysis of mobile usage to measure the creditworthiness of an individual or business. This article from the World Bank explains how it works.
For two and a half thousand years, cities and politicians have grown together. The city gives politicians a platform, a stage – and a demanding public. Always economic powerhouses, our cities also hold the key to an urban future where city-states like Singapore rise in prominence.
We talk to Sydney City Councillor Jess Scully about how best to grow a ‘world city’ like Sydney over the next billion seconds – and what it means to have a political career in a time when every citizen has social media to amplify their voice, their beliefs – and their anger.
The future is here – and it’s local. In this clip, Jess talks about the importance of Sydney to Australia’s economy:
In our interview, Jess mentions the DECODE Project – designed to give people rights over the data collected about them. Read about DECODE here.
The City of Sydney wants to increase the housing supply – and this article explains why that’s more difficult than it might appear.
Solar power cost $100 per kilowatt hour when energy futurist Ramez Naam entered the world. Last year, the UAE signed a 20-year contract for solar power at a four thousandth the cost. For Ramez Naam it’s no longer a question of if renewables, it’s a matter of when: the data proves it. Energy has been mixed with politics from the beginning – so over the next billion seconds, how do we talk ourselves out of our coal culture and into a sustainable future? Ramez Naam makes a convincing case for a future where we profit from the sun.
Here’s an excerpt:
There are some amazing things happening in the renewable energy space, as shown in this chart about a typical week of energy generation in South Australia:
Ramez gives a lot of talks about energy futures, here’s a recent one given in South Africa – a nation with some energy problems…
Ramez has also written a series of blog posts on the energy future – the first is linked here.
Finally, here’s that infamous photo of Australian Treasurer Scott Morrison, on the day they passed a lump of coal around in Parliament:
It’s growing increasingly difficult to know where the truth lies. We’ve gotten very good at our electronic fakery – from photoshop to ‘deepfakes’ to synthetic audio of Obama so accurate it’s indistinguishable from the real thing.
All of this feeds into a growing online community which instantly separates into tribes, then tunes out any competing with a cry of “fake news!”
Series Two of The Next Billion Seconds takes a look at the intersection of technology, truth and our future, beginning with frequent guest John Allsopp, revealed in the ways he teaches his children the spirit of inquiry, to help them discover where the truth lies.
Here’s a brief excerpt:
Here’s a few links to topics covered in our conversation:
We invite three series 1 guests to join Mark in studio for a final featuring a freewheeling conversation about myths, artificial intelligence, slaughterbots (!), and what happens when four billion people suddenly show up online.
Are the robots going to rise up in a “Singularity” that will first threaten our jobs, then our very existence? Dr. Ken Goldberg, Chair of the Robotics program at the University of California, Berkeley, tells us that while things are moving quickly, we’re moving into a world of ‘multiplicity’ – where multiple intelligences grow together to create a uniquely diverse world of human and machine minds.
While video games have only been around for about 40 years, games themselves are as old as humanity because we learn about the world by playing with it, finding the ‘wiggle room’ in every system – social or mechanical – that we encounter. Indy games pioneer and author Eric Zimmerman understands games and the culture of play so well he can tell us where it’s all going – and how we’ll get there.
What is Bitcoin? How does it work? And why is the whole world going gaga for ‘magic internet money’? Mark Jeffrey – author of one of the first books on Bitcoin – explains how cryptocurrency happened, and why it’s about to change everything about money forever. Here’s a quick peek:
This one is – by far – our most downloaded episode to date.
The decision to make the World Wide Web a free-to-all source of news had consequences no one expected, leading us down a path of advertising, analytics, targeting and profile auctions that leave us increasingly exposed to big data systems that know us better and better.
Here’s a video that presents an accurate picture of how all that works in practice – and be warned, it’s all a bit scary:
Robert Tercek has watched all of this develop – and, in his early days at MTV, helped it happen. Should we repent our ways? Can we? Here’s a clip:
One of the the fun sides of doing a regular podcast is when a special event comes along, and taking the time to cover it in detail. In this case, it was an announcement from Google that their Alpha Go artificial intelligence program had taught itself how to be better than any human player – in 3 days.
We sit down again with John Allsopp to review and explore some of the themes explored in the first half of series one: the tensions between algorithms and flexibility, between the future and the past, between the human and the machine.