Monthly Archives: June 2014

The session I staged at FooCamp this year was deliberately meant to be a fun, none-too-taxing diversion at the end of two brain-baking days.

It was based on (not only a quote from BSG) but something that Matt Biddulph had said to me a while back – possibly when we were doing some work together at BERG, but it might have been as far-back as our Dopplr days.

He said (something like) that a lot of the machine learning techniques he was deploying on a project were based on 1970s Computer Science theory, but now the horsepower required to run them was cheap and accessible in the form of cloud computing service.

This stuck with me, so for the Foo session I hoped I could aggregate a list people’s favourite theory work from the 20thC which now might be possible to turn into practice.

It didn’t quite turn out that way, as Tom Coates pointed out in the session – about halfway through, it morphed into a list of the “prior art” in both fiction and academic theory that you could identify as pre-cursors to current technological preoccupation or practice.

Nether the less it was a very fun way to spend an sunny sunday hour in a tent with a flip chart and some very smart folks. Thanks very much as always to O’Reilly for inviting me.

Below is my photo of the final flip charts full of everything from Xanadu to zeppelins…


A quote I used in Dan Saffer's session on smart devices using data collection to attempt predictions around what their users might want:

“Today's devices blurt out the absolute truth as they know it. A smart device in the future might know when NOT to blurt out the truth.” - Genevieve Bell

Also got to point everyone there to Steffen Fiedler's fantastic 2011 project "Instruments Of Politeness"


Personal 3d Printing has been overhyped for a while now, so I’ve found myself tuning out more and more, despite using them nearly every week in my work.

A couple of weeks back I met Steve Schell, co-founder of New Matter, and it got me excited again about personal 3d printing for the first time in ages. I mean, they kind of had me from the Anathem reference, but that wasn’t the SF link that I think has the most resonance…

They’re running a crowdfunding campaign (natch) that’s ending soon, and seems to be going great guns. Their pitch is, well, not everyone wants to fire up solidworks or even sketchup every time you want something – what if it was more like an infinite vending machine where you picked from a catalog of design? It’s also a lot cheaper than competitors – $250 bucks… and they’ve called the first one the ‘Model-T’…

No, the SF story that springs to mind isn’t one of Neal Stephenson’s but part of William Gibson’s “Bridge trilogy” – namely the “Lucky Dragon” chain of convenience stores that have brought replicator-like vending machines to the corner store…

New Matter’s not there yet – the objects in their ‘vending’ library will have to be more useful and durable than the typical mainly decorative 3d printed spamjects you find so prevalent at the moment – but well worth tracking I think.





Steven Johnson drew my attention to this stream of twitter (all these years later ‘tweets’ still makes me cringe) from Marc Andreesen.

Andreesen is now famous as a venture capitalist, cheerleader of The Californian Ideology, and perhaps most of all for the quote/essay ‘Software is eating the world’.

I have a lot to be thankful to Marc Andreesen for – he, in part, invented the software that effectively gave me (and you, probably) a financially-viable life messing about with what I love – networked technology.

So – assuming you can’t be bothered to click the link – what does he say?


It starts like this.

Screen Shot 2014-06-20 at 9.56.39 AM

Reminds me of “Maximum Happy Imagination” from Robin Sloan’s excellent “Mr Penumbra’s 24hr Bookstore”.

“Have you ever played Maximum Happy Imagination?”

“Sounds like a Japanese game show.”

Kat straightens her shoulders. “Okay, we’re going to play. To start, imagine the future. The good future. No nuclear bombs. Pretend you’re a science fiction writer.”

Okay: “World government… no cancer… hover-boards.”

“Go further. What’s the good future after that?”

“Spaceships. Party on Mars.”


“Star Trek. Transporters. You can go anywhere.”


“I pause a moment, then realize: “I can’t.”

Kat shakes her head. “It’s really hard. And that’s, what, a thousand years? What comes after that? What could possibly come after that? Imagination runs out. But it makes sense, right? We probably just imagine things based on what we already know, and we run out of analogies in the thirty-first century.”

After a lot of stuff that anyone with mild extropian/protopian/Rodenberrian exposure might nod along to, Andreesen’s stream of consciousness ends like this.

Screen Shot 2014-06-20 at 10.12.21 AM

His analogies run out in the 20th century when it comes to the political, social and economic implications of his maximum happy imagination.

Consumer-capitalism in-excelsis?

That system of the world was invented. It’s not really natural. To imagine that capitalism is not subject to deconstruction, reinvention or critique in maximum happy imagination seems a little silly.

If disruption is your mantra – why not go all the way?

He states right at the start that there are zero jobs in the sectors affected by his future. Writers on futures such as Toffler and Rifkin, and SF from the lofty peaks of Arthur C. Clarke to the perhaps lower, more lurid weekly plains of 2000AD have speculated for decades on ‘The Leisure Problem’.

Recently, I read “The Lights in the Tunnel” by Martin Ford which extrapolates a future similar to Andreesen’s, wherein the self-declared market-capitalist author ends up arguing for something like a welfare state…

Another world is possible, right?

I’ll hope Marc might grudgingly nod at that at least.

It’ll need brains like his to get there.

Reading is a technology for perspective-taking. When someone else’s thoughts are in your head, you are observing the world from that person’s vantage point. Not only are you taking in sights and sounds that you could not experience firsthand, but you have stepped inside that person’s mind and are temporarily sharing his or her attitudes and reactions. As we shall see, “empathy” in the sense of adopting someone’s viewpoint is not the same as “empathy” in the sense of feeling compassion toward the person, but the first can lead to the second by a natural route. Stepping into someone else’s vantage point reminds you that the other fellow has a first-person, present-tense, ongoing stream of consciousness that is very much like your own but not the same as your own.

– The Better Angels of Our Nature, Steven Pinker.