Tag Archives: World Future Society

Pirates: Rational Profit Maximizing Entrepreneurs of the Sea

Pirates are awesome.  Economics: also awesome.  The combination?

Check out this report: The Economics of Piracy.  It uses data from 1500 Somalian pirates to look at the future of international piracy.  An excerpt:

Pirates would appear to be the very essence of rational profit maximizing entrepreneurs described in neo-classical economics. Expected profits determine decisions based on the information available. The supply of pirates, therefore, is closely related to the expected benefits of being a pirate and the associated risk adjusted costs.

Yep. You read that right. Pirates are economics bad-asses.

The paper, which looks primarily at Somalian pirates, explores piracy in several arenas, and concludes that incidents of piracy will substantially expand in the coming years, primarily due to the rising income disparity betwen pirates and non-pirates.

How big a problem is piracy? In 2010, the cost of piracy to the international community was between $4.9 and $8.3 billion.  Off the coast of Somalia, the total income to pirates, from piracy, was between $75 and $238 million in 2010.

Thinking about hitting the high seas as a Somalian pirate? You can expect to earn between $168,630 and $394,200 over a five year career. If you choose the next best legal alternative, you’ll probably make $14,500 – over your entire working life.  At those prices, piracy doesn’t look so bad.

To combat piracy, the paper recommends the formation of a Global Contract Group, as well as new developments to asymmetric law and law enforcement.

Check it out.  Worth a read.

The Future of the Internet: Regulation (Part 3 of 3)

Today, at the World Future Society 2011 Conference, I joined members of the Weiner, Edrich, & Brown team on a panel about Youth Trends.  I identified three trends related to the internet and social media.

Disclaimer: I am a Googler, however, nothing in this post has been influenced by confidential information or is a commentary on any insider knowledge about any of the topics I might be addressing.

First Trend: Real Names
Second Trend: Reputation


The last two trends related to increasing accountability.  Organizations are holding end-users accountable for real names and for confirming their identities.  End-users are holding organizations accountable for their actions, and making decisions based on the reputation of those organizations.

The third trend deals with regulation – governments holding organizations accountable for their actions.  Going forward, the internet is going to be a much more regulated space.  It will be far less of a Wild West, and much more of a New York; a big, full, mature city, with regulations guiding actions of both organizations and end-users.

The European Union is at the forefront of this regulation.  On May 25th, the EU implemented a law surrounding cookies, which are essentially technology tracking devices.  The privacy law, often referred to as a “do not track” law, requires websites within the EU to obtain a visitor’s consent before installing a cookie in their browser.

The EU also has been discussing a “Right to be Forgotten” law.  The law would require websites in the EU to allow users to demand that organizations delete all of that user’s data, whether it’s personal data or unflattering photos.  The EU has been throwing this idea around for a few years; Viviane Reding, the Vice-President of the European Commission, gave a speech about this concept in 2010.  You can read a transcript of her controversial speech here.

The United States has been getting onboard with the “Right to be Forgotten” initiative.  While some of the policy specifics differ with those of the EU, “the EU and U.S. already agree on some general concepts, such as the idea that privacy safeguards need to be designed into Web products from the start.” They also both agree that all end-users should have the “do not track” option.

As any technology does, the internet is growing up.  We’re starting to figure out how it can be useful, harmful, or fun.  The next steps in that evolution are real names, reputation, and regulation.

The Future of the Internet: Reputation (Part 2 of 3)

Today, at the World Future Society 2011 Conference, I joined members of the Weiner, Edrich, & Brown team on a panel about Youth Trends.  I identified three trends related to the internet and social media.

Disclaimer: I am a Googler, however, nothing in this post has been influenced by confidential information or is a commentary on any insider knowledge about any of the topics I might be addressing.

(First Trend: Real Names)


Increasingly, internet users are considering the reputation of organizations before they put their data into those organizations’ websites.

In the early days of the internet, few organizations had been around long enough to have an established reputation of any sort.  Not only that, but the implications of giving your information, or data, to a website weren’t clear.  Some might argue the implications are still not clear.

When end-users enter their information into a website, most are not sure where that information goes.  When users enter information into websites, they don’t really know where that information goes, or what the website does with it.  This could be for a variety of reasons.

  • End-users don’t read the privacy policies.
  • Privacy policies are written in legal-ese – even if end-users do read them, they aren’t elucidating.
  • Companies do not have policies surrounding end-user data.
  • Companies do have policies surrounding end-user data, and don’t want end-users to know what those policies are.

Google+ is a new social networking site, hosted, obviously, by Google.  The importance of company reputation, in the social networking space, can be summed up by this comic:

Up next: Regulation

Edit 7/17.  Check out this Doghouse Diaries comic on Legalese:

The Future of the Internet: Real Names (Part 1 of 3)

Today, at the World Future Society 2011 Conference, I joined members of the Weiner, Edrich, & Brown team on a panel about Youth Trends.  I identified three trends related to the internet and social media.

Disclaimer: I am a Googler, however, nothing in this post has been influenced by confidential information or is a commentary on any insider knowledge about any of the topics I might be addressing.

Real Names

The internet has traditionally been viewed as the Wild West of technology.  It has been an unspoiled frontier, waiting to be discovered, tamed, and understood.

Part of that mystery and allure has been the ability traipse around the internet anonymously.  Sites like 4chan, Omegle, and Chatroulette, are based on the anonymous nature of internet interaction. Even traditional chat clients like AIM, gaming websites like Kongregate, of social media outlets like Twitter, only ask for a username – a made up nickname – that doesn’t have to be your real name.

Increasingly, the internet is shifting towards a model based more on individual accountability.  Facebook has algorithms that attempt to detect whether or not you’ve put in a real name.  Google+ is asking users to input their real names, too. Right now, the internet is trending towards asking users for their real names.

This confirmation of identity has to be the next step in the evolution of the internet. Without confirmed identities, the internet will never act as a forum for highly secure transactions, such as serious banking or voting.

Of course, there will always be proponents of anonymity.  Christopher Poole is one such proponent. On the internet, he’s known as Moot. Moot is the founder of 4chan, and, more recently, Canvas, both of which are anonymous message boards.  A few years ago, he spoke at TED, creating a case for anonymity.  The video is definitely worth watching.

Up next: Reputation

Statisticians: New Champions of the Future?

At the World Futures Conference, we were bestowed a large compendium of academic and scholarly journal articles, called Strategies and Technologies for a Sustainable Future.  It features numerous authors and topics from automobile future scenarios to creativity paradigms.  If one thing is true of conferences, it’s that they provide a plethora of reading material.  I’m just starting to dive into this particular tome now.

How are we measuring progress?  Generally, the answer is GDP: Gross Domestic Product.  But is that really the best way to determine how humanity is moving forward?  How do we really measure quality of life?

Jan Lee Martin, a futurist speaker and writer in Australia, says that economic, monetary measures don’t reflect quality of life. What we need, Lee Martin says, are new measurements that accurately capture what really matters to us.  So, what is that?  What should we be measuring?

Lee Martin included a chart from the OECD.  It shows what people have been measuring, since the 1920s, to determine quality of life. [Click the image for a larger version, in pdf format.]

Lee Martin lists a number of measurements that might be more useful to consider than the traditional economic metrics.  Among them, she lists:

  • Resiliance
  • Happiness
  • Fairness
  • Diversity
  • Democracy
  • Sustainability

Economist Simon Kuznets said, “A nation’s welfare can scarcely be inferred from their national income.”  Yet, we insist on using it as our primary measurement for progress.

To determine human welfare, what else should we measure?  Is this all-inclusive, too-inclusive, or lacking in some area?  What would you add?

Update: Found this on TED today.  Statistician Nic Marks asks why we measure a nation’s success by its productivity rather than the happiness and well-being of its people.

Singularity Summit Summary

As I’m sure you’ve gathered based on the copious amounts of tweets and blog posts that have clogged your proverbial tubes, this past weekend was Singularity Summit.   I told you we’d discuss the future of humanity, waxing poetic on everything from mechanical brains, to life-and-death, to human and artificial intelligence.  And discuss we did.

The weekend was incredibly well-organized in terms of content.  Appropriately, we started out with an overview of the Scientific Method, which was essentially a survey of the history of science.  The first day delved into the intersection of humans and computers, focusing specifically on artificial intelligence.  The program contained a number of talks about adding technology to the human brain.  We heard from the world’s First Cyborg and learned how to become Superhuman with haptic interfaces. We heard from the infamous Ray Kurzweil.  The day finished off with a tantalizing preview of the topics to be discussed on Day Two, with discussions on the real power of cells and the emulation of biological systems.

Day Two took a definitively more biological approach to the future of humanity.  We looked at the idea of aging as an illness and talked more broadly about the future of the environment.  We heard from our first female speakers, who discussed limb regeneration and DNA.  More discussion of artificial intelligence ensued, this time from the perspective of Evolutionary Psychology.

The final talk was given by James Randi, well-known skeptic of pseudoscience and the paranormal.  He asked if there really was any such thing as a “Scientific Consensus.”  In providing a more general discussion, as did the first talk on the Scientific Method, this capstone talk perfectly wrapped up a weekend of intelligent, and sometimes conflicting, speculation.

In comparison to the World Futures 2010 conference, this was a much smaller event.  That’s probably due to the specificity of the topic.  “The future of humans and technology” is much a broader topic than “The Future.”

The demographic at Singularity Summit was much younger.  It was also much more male.  That being said, the networking at Singularity Summit was far superior, although that perhaps was due to hooking into the conference’s Twitter stream.

The best parts of conferences like these are the networking opportunities, the new ideas, and the book suggestions.  It’s rare in day-to-day life to feel overwhelmed with new, exciting information.  After a weekend filled with eye-opening theories, I now have a very deep book list that I can’t wait to get started on, new people in interesting fields to get to know, and many, many fresh ideas to research.

Overall, not a bad way to spend a weekend.

The Jungle Paradigm

The following short quiz consists of four questions.  According to common lore, this riddle is one of those ones that children understand immediately and adults are a little slower to grasp.

1. How do you put a giraffe into a refrigerator?

Correct Answer: Open the refrigerator, put in the giraffe, and close the door.

2. How do you put an elephant into a refrigerator?

Did you say “Open the refrigerator, put in the elephant, and close the refrigerator? ” Correct Answer: Open the refrigerator, take out the giraffe, put in the elephant and close the door.

3. The lion king is hosting an animal conference. All the animals are required to attend.  Which animal misses the conference?

Correct Answer: The Elephant. The elephant is in the refrigerator. You just put him in there.

4. To get to the animal conference, you  have to cross a river.  But the river is guarded by crocodiles, and you do not have a boat. How do you manage it?

Correct Answer: You jump into the river and swim across; all the crocodiles are attending the animal conference.

I’m not sure where this is originally from.  However, in researching, I found out that this is an example of an elephant joke.  Elephant jokes are supposedly representative of the 1960s culture of the US and UK, in that they “dismiss conventional questions and answers, repudiate established wisdom, and reject the authority of traditional knowledge.”

If so, I think they’d be very interesting to futurists and singularitarians, like James Randi.  He’s notorious for forcing his audience to rethink their assumptions, which is essentially the purpose of elephant jokes.