Jamais Cascio has a tough act to follow, but he’s perfectly qualified to address the last session’s topic, “The Future We Will Create”. As the co-founder and senior correspondent for Worldchanging.com, he (we, as I’m a correspondent and chairman of the company) have written 4,000 stories about the environment, markets, the second superpower, poverty alleviation, and an amazing range of solutions to the problems that face us all.
Jamais gives an ultra-rapid tour of some of these solutions: inflatable shelters, distributed power generation, landmine detecting flowers, ultra-high efficiency vehicles and cities that make it so you need to drive less, biomemetic approaches to design, computer climate modeling, fab labs, cradle to cradle design, one laptop per child and Gapminder.
Focusing only on negative outcomes can blind you to the possibility of success. “Pessimism is a luxury of good times” – it will kill you in bad times.
The solutions featured on Worlrdchanging have certain things in common: transparency, collaboration, willingness to experiment and an appreciation of science. They make the invisible visible – people change their behavior when people can see what their actions mean. Having a visible gauge of gas mileage can change how people drive. Wall-mounted devices that show the power consumption of a house can change people’s energy footprints.
Openness can be scary, but it’s also critical. Open access journals like the Public library of science are making knowledge access to the whole world. Open access sequencing of disease allowed scientists in the developing world key information on important diseases of the developing world. And the open sequencing of SARS was critical in ensuring that a rapid response was possible.
A growing number of people live life mediated through the lens of a camera – which, increasingly, are part of cell phones. Mobile phone minutes are now an alternative currency in Kenya. Phones may be critical for projects like Witness – a web portal will allow cellphone users to upload their photos and video, which opens up the program to the growing “digital generation”.
Imagine a similar web portal for documentation of environmental change? It would give voice to people affected by this climate change, but also give every day citizens a chance to participate in solving these problems: EarthWitness, perhaps.
(Jamais makes it clear that Witness is not affiliated with this idea and that, at present, it’s purely an idea, not yet a project.)
While we need better documentation of environmental crime, the EarthWitness project might look at good news, not just the bad. “It would show us the world we’re leaving behind and the world we’re building for generations to come.” Open source hardware hackers are building linux-enabled phones – we could build our own phones as well as the servers they speak to.
This site could also serve as a collection point for environmental data reported by atmospheric sensors… which could also be attached to people’s cellphones. There’s an existing project using sensors mounted on pigeons – it wouldn’t be hard to build these tools into phones. Uppsala Biological has a module that can process blood test results and upload them from the field.
Imagine that your phone could sense Avian Flu – this could be a critical part of Larry Brilliant’s INSTEDD initiative. Mashing up this data on maps would give visualizations of what people all over the world were seeing about their neighborhoods, collaborating to create maps that have information we can’t get from satellite imagery.
Bottom-up technology-based collaboration might allow us to work together to fix the future. “Another world isn’t just possible – another world is here. We just need to open our eyes.”