The dark side of augmented reality

What are the negative consequences of widespread augmented reality, a la Google Glasses?  “Sight” (2012) is a short science fiction video imagining some of them.  Spoilers after the embed.

The protagonist (or villain) is cut off from some of the world, as e27 observes.  He has little opportunity to experience things physically (does he taste the food, really?) or intuitively (the entire date is augmented).  Gamification blots out experience, and cheapens it.  Finally, bad actors can abuse the system.

It’s useful to compare “Sight” to “Google Glasses: A New Way to Hurt Yourself” (2012).  The latter differs in tone, being comic rather than dystopian, but also in subjects.  “Google” identifies another set of AR problems: communication misfires, physical injury, ad spam, and police surveillance.

As forecasting tools, these kinds of anticipatory sf videos are quite useful.

(via HackerNews)

One future for higher education

Maybe American education will allocate more resources towards preparing students for jobs in health care.  Consider this breakdown of what the US spent money on earlier this year:

Health care vies with housing for lead position.  And the medical sector wins if we disentangle the two components under “Housing”, namely rent/mortgage versus utilities.  Moreover, housing and utilities are subject to bubbling, as we’ve recently learned, whereas health care isn’t likely to pop anytime soon.

Let me use this single datapoint to anchor a scenario I’ve been brooding about for a while.  Call it Health Care Nation.  The US economy is flat, except for the medical sector.  That’s where the jobs are, thanks to a combination of huge elderly population, rapid turnover in some areas (nursing), continuous cost growth, and no way for this to falter until most of the Boomers die.

So for education this means increased teaching to health care.  More premed programs, plus more allied fields (med tech, for example).  More med schools.  K-12 starts tracking potential health care workers earlier and with greater care.

What happens to other fields, which could dwindle?  How does this impact the use of technology?

The Facebook phone as future artifact

Here’s an example of futuring through artifacts: a day in the life of a Facebook phone user.
For example,

I make a few free calls throughout the morning, using the phone’s Skype integration. It’s as simple as holding the thumbs-up button and saying my contact’s name. Most of my friends have a similar device; those that don’t, I can still reach via their desktop. Everyone keeps a Facebook tab open these days in case they miss a call.

Lunchtime, and my screen fills up with coupons from local merchants. I dismiss them all with a tap, head to my favorite sandwich place, point the phone at a QR code reader. Hey presto: my tenth sandwich is free. The Facebook OS was rolled out with a massive small business partner program; Zuckerberg always said that was where the big money was.

Setting aside the question of Facebook actually offering such a thing (I say 50-50 odds), this is a useful futures exercise.  Imagine a future, then create an artifact from it.  Conceive of what life would be like with it.

Science fiction writers guessed at 2012

A group of American science fiction writers imagined what 2012 would be like in 1987.  Their predictions were buried in a time capsule, and just now hauled into daylight.

It’s a fascinating, short read.  Partly for the things these guys got wrong:

the most plausible future scenario is all-out nuclear war.

Probate and copyright law will be entirely restructured by 2012 because people will be frozen at death, and there will be electronic means of consulting them. Many attorneys will specialize in advocacy for the dead.

America and the U.S.S.R. preserve an uneasy accord, each testing the other’s will within well-defined limits

it is very good at last to see this much industry located off-planet, this many permanent space residents and increased exploration of the solar system.

And the occasional near hit:

Oil is running out, but shale-extracted oil is getting cheaper. The real shortage in much of the world is…water.

The one which moves me is from Jack Williamson:


If we had a time-phone, now in 1987, we would beg you to forgive us. We have burdened you with impossible debts, wasted and polluted the planet that should have been your rich heritage, left you instead a dreadful legacy of ignorance, want, and war.

(via MetaFilter)

Datamining the future

Perhaps big data will give rise to better forecasting. Case in point: experiments in analyzing piles of data about violence to predict its next forms.

Based solely on written reports of violence from 2004 to 2009, the researchers built a model that was able to foresee which provinces would experience more violence in 2010 and which would have less. They could also anticipate how much the level of violence went up or down.

If we keep generating ever increasing amounts of data, and our tools continue to develop, we should expect more of this kind of thing.

(via Slashdot)

The limits of extrapolation

When extrapolation goes wrong is the theme of a recent Oil Drum post.  Tom Murphy focuses on the problematic assumption that an upward curve will continue in that direction.

He offers good examples of this problem, pointing to mining, transAtlantic transportation, a Simpsons scene, and space travel. The trick is to look ahead to where an upward curve flattens, then turns downwards.

Prediction market gets it wrong

Popular prediction market Intrade thought the US Supreme Court would nix Obamacare, but got it wrong.  Shares of “US Supreme Court to rule individual mandate unconstitutional” traded high right up to the decision, ending up between 70 and 80:

Interesting to see that spring swing, from rather low on up to high.

Barry Ritholz thinks this reveals a classic weakness of prediction markets, “[f]utures markets are really a focus group unto themselves”.


 When the group is something less representative of the target market, they get it wrong with alarming frequency. Indeed, the further the traders are as a group to the target decision makers/voters, the worse their track record.

(thanks to Steven Kaye)

Modeling the future of oil

Three possible futures for oil prices come from the US Energy Information Administration.  They break down, rather obviously, into low, medium, and high prices:

What goes into these price futures is not so simple:

Factors considered in AEO2012 that affect supply, demand, and prices for petroleum in the long term are:

  • World demand for petroleum and other liquids
  • Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) investment and production decisions
  • The economics of non-OPEC petroleum supply
  • The economics of other liquids supply

It’s a useful report, given the huge impact oil prices have on the world.