Thursday, August 27, 2009

It's been a couple weeks since the last post. Vacation happened, and since then its been full steam moving into a new house. There just haven't been enough hours in the day (or previously, enough computers in Northwest Maine) to get a post in edgewise. Caroline's been writing about the trip if you're interested.

Time. There's never enough of it, is there? And even when there has been, I always find a way to procrastinate it away. I've got all sorts of projects I'd love to start: video games and books, robots and companies. But you've got to prioritize, and a paying job and enjoying life keep winning out over hobbies for me.

The future is a lot larger now then it will be when we get there. There's these great big bubbles of potential, both personal and global. From the apocalyptic to the Utopian, from the romantic to the entrepreneurial there are all sort of feasible occurrences. If you believe in free will, any of them might happen. If you believe in the many world's theory of quantum mechanics, they all will. There's this great winnowing process where Paul the scientist comes into existence through the death of Paul the poet and Paul the chef.

I think that's part of the reason the future holds such an allure for me. Before its actualized, its a much broader topic then anything else. You can see these conflicting outcomes: robotic war and global peace, and in a sense they're both valid. Understanding the past is a search for One Truth, but understanding the future requires you to search out all the possible truths. The past is analogous to Newtonian physics, following a prescribed set of rules, and the future quantum physics: these interesting interference patterns of possibility.

The Future According to Paul: it might not come true, but I hope to at least capture a thread fate discarded in stringing out time.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

As farming goes, so goes the world

The bureau of labor statistics says that 0.7% of the population worked in farming/fishing/forestry in 2006. That's already a tiny pecentage, and advances in robotics are likely to drive it even lower. From the same site, construction and extraction employee 5.5%, maintenance and repair 4%, production 7% and transportation 7%. To me, that seems like a pretty exhaustive list of the basic requirements for survival: shelter, food, and even all the mass produced products we fill our homes with, and the time to distribute everything. And don't forget that our houses are bigger then ever, we eat more then ever, and we consume more products then ever. So what if we somehow shared these tasks? What would your day be like?

Monday through Friday, you'd arrive at work at 9. Until 9:03 you'd work in the garden. 9:03 - 9:30 you'd help a neighbor build his house. That done, you'd spend until 10:04 producing goods for your home: chairs, electronics, boots. 10:04 - 10:23 you'd keep the machines giving you this amazing productivity maintained and working, then you'd drive around until 10:47 dropping off the food and products you'd produced earlier. You could now wipe your brow, and call it a day. Less then two hours, and you've produced everything you need.

On the one hand, this is an over simplification: you haven't spent your 2 minutes preaching the word of God, or your 5 minutes teaching elementary school children. At the same time, a slight reduction in consumption and a slight increase in efficiency could account for all the remaining positions.

So it appears we could get by working an hour a day, or one day a week. Technology is driving these requirements down as well: how long before the 24 minutes spent driving around can be taken over by a robot? What do we do with the other 4 days of work we do? And why can so few people spend their days writing music or painting art?

We have a day's worth of really critical work each, and its falling. Its like musical chairs: everyone's trying to find their full employment, but there's just not enough. So we've got a massive legal system, and billions spent on advertising, convincing people they want more then they need. Why? What if employment was optional? Give rewards to those who do it anyways, especially those who do jobs that nobody else wants to or can. Sure, people would choose not to work who otherwise would, but couldn't we muster a couple hours a day? What would life be like then?

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Who owns what

There's an interesting debate occurring around the concept of imaginary property. Physical goods lend themselves to an easy understanding of ownership, primarily because transferring an object from one person to another necessitates the first person losing possession of it. With media, however, that situation changes.

Emailing you a song in no way degrades my own copy. Similarly, ITunes can sell thousands of copies of a song with essentially no marginal costs. Is the song still property? Companies think so, and consumers seem to as well, albeit in different guises. The entertainment industry wants to be able to restrict you from redistributing the content they've “licensed” you. The consumers are a less homogeneous group, but there does seem to be a desire to be able to keep a product they've paid for, and sell it when they're done.

As a society we're riding out the inherent discrepancy between what technology allows and what a seller wants. Reselling a traditional product undercuts the original producer, but marginally, as each consumer can only perform the act once per product. Even if a company wants to stop resales, there's a pragmatic difficulty to it: they aren't involved in that transaction. Traditional crimes, like theft, murder and rape, have a victim actively involved in the crime. Copyright infringment is like anti-sodomy and drug laws, in that a third-party demands a transaction between two other people stop.

I've noticed in articles pointing out a problem with DRM (technology that prevents you from using electronic products in a way the producer doesn't like) a lot of musicians have started positing comments. They'll argue that this is their job, and that they need DRM so people will buy their product.The example that sparked this post included the comment that I was a stranger, so he didn't trust me, so that's why he needed to put DRM around music he produced.

I realized that that was fair, but that I didn't trust him either. And its not him, specifically, its the record company who's representing him. Microsoft and Walmart (among others) have both sold people music and promptly decided they didn't want to support the servers necessary to ever change computers or upgrade your OS without losing every song you bought. Amazon's Kindle had the technology to read aloud to the blind which an Author's group made them disable. Amazon retains the rights to delete books you've purchased through them. And if you fall outside of the rules on content you could face a $1.92 million fine or potentially 10 years in prision.

Those are really just a small sample of cases where DRM or the DMCA have been used to cause real harm. Shady companies, generally large ones, have been using them as tools to harm consumers. There's finally some degree of consumer backlash brewing, and it will probably harm independent musicians who just want to make a sale. But unfortunately, the alternative of accepting a contract where the product I just purchased can be taken away tomorrow is just poor business sense on my part. I refuse to buy any products a company can remotely disable. If a company would just guarantee lifelong access and access to a secondary market, I would be happy to embrace that DRM, and we could move forward against piracy. But as far as can tell, that's not what the entertainment industry wants.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Introductions All Around

Welcome one and all! This is “The Future according to Paul”, my first ever blog. I'm excited to finally be starting one. Growing up in the 21st century, particularly being involved with computers as a major, I've watched the blogosphere grow from a quirky niche in a nascent technology to a whole new form of media. At its onset I never believed I'd contribute to a blog: what did the world care about what I have to say? Popular perception in the early days of blogging was a bit like the current perception of twitter: that it's just a growing mass of the meaningless minutiae of other people's lives.

What's changed? Partially, I'm a slightly more confident individual then my pubescent self. My sphere of interests has expanded past the myopia of middle school to topics generally interesting. I've also started to appreciate the archival nature of the Internet. It's young and exciting, so we lose track of the novelty that easy storage of our thoughts presents. Being able to look back at my thoughts forty years in the future, organized by topic, seems if not valuable at least interesting. Thus was born a new blog into this global web.

With the barrage of text the Internet uses to overwhelm our attention, I thought it important to label this latest volley with the topics I expect to be discussing. As the title suggests, my interests point forward in time. My cares about popular culture is already starting to atrophy. I don't go on adventures, or work in a public facing position I can accumulate anecdotes from. Rather, my thoughts tend to dwell on some slightly obtuse topics: quantum physics and procedurally generated content, the social impact of cheap recording devices and the necessities of work in an automated age. In short, the future. I hope you'll enjoy what I've got to say, and that you'll share your own insights here.